BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Halloween Hussies

November 03, 2011 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex

Halloween just passed and with it came the usual slew of posts about women and their slutty Halloween costumes.  The consensus seems to be that women feel pressured to dress sexy for Halloween.  Hugo Schwyzer had one of the more intelligent posts,

the problem lies in the compulsory sexualization that is so much a part of today’s Halloween celebrations for teens. A lot of us are more upset by the absence of options than by the absence of fabric; we know that pressuring girls to act sexy is not the same thing as encouraging them to develop a healthy, vibrant sexuality that they themselves own. I don’t have a problem with “sexy bar wench” costumes; I have a problem when those sorts of costumes are the only ones young women are expected or encouraged to wear.

Now I don’t disagree that compulsory sexualization is wrong. Compulsory anything is wrong. But I don’t know that compulsory sexualization is what we are seeing. In fact, I think it might be the opposite.

A while back, one of my friends asked Facebooklandia why women love Halloween so much. One of the women answered, “Most women love Halloween because they can dress all sexy in public and no one thinks they are hookers.” In other words, it isn’t that women feel compelled to dress sexy. It is that Halloween is one of the few days you can dress like that and get away with it.

On Halloween, I can wear those awesome, thigh high, vinyl boots without other women giving me the stink eye. And since everybody else is letting it all hang out, the smarmiest dudes attention will be spread around. I’d wear those boots every day during the winter if I could.  They are warm as shit. But it would make for some very awkward work meetings. (That’s me hanging out in my winter gear. That’s totally what I’m wearing when I write these posts.)

As to the absence of options, it seems people think us poor little girls can only manage to buy pre-made costumes in a plastic bag. It so happens that I am lazy and that is often what I do. But Halloween is creative time. The best costumes are the ones people make. One of my friends taped a bunch of smarties to her pants. And voila! Smarty pants! Instant costume. We aren’t shackled to what some crap store feeds us. Perhaps we should be lamenting a lack of creativity?

To be fair, Schwyzer’s article is about teens. And most of what he says is spot on. I suppose I can understand why people are creeped out by really young girls dressing like prostitutes. I can only imagine how people reacted when my nine year old ass actually did dress like a prostitute. My seven year old friend was my pimp. Her sign said, “Bunny, $100 a trick.”  It was my sister’s idea. I think she was either trying to get rid of me or damage me for life. (I know you read this blog, Sister. I blame you for everything.)

One of my parents probably should have intervened at that point. What can I say. My father would do or accept almost anything for a laugh. (OMG. I think he was a hipster! Did they have hipsters in the 1940s?) Almost thirty years later, I could write a thesis on why that was inappropriate? But I don’t think I felt pressured by society to be sexy. In fact, I’m fairly certain that society was appalled, which is exactly why my father and sister found it so hilarious.

I’m sure a psychiatrist could have a field day with this little tidbit.  But the point is this. Maybe if we didn’t police what women wear every other day of the year, we wouldn’t want to let it all hang out on Halloween. And perhaps if we stopped treating kids like they are brainless automatons and gave them an empowering education about sexuality and a little respect for prostitutes, they would make different choices. Even at nine, I would have understood.

That’s my two cents. Mostly this post gave me an excuse to wear my boots and snazzy Anarcho-Drunkard t-shirt. Like Joe says, “Those molotov bottles don’t just empty themselves.” You all can buy one here. (Sorry it took me so long to snap it, dude. I’ve been busy… and drunk.  Hope you like the pic. I’ll expect a vodka tonic for every five sold. Just don’t buy me any more of those chocolate martinis. They were almost the death of me.)

Love it or Leave It

October 07, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

None of us has control over the place or time of our birth.  We come into this world subject to the rules, whims, inequities, and injustices that those who came before us imposed by force.  Is it truly a democratic society if you are compelled to obey rules you never agreed to?

I objected to the idea that we are compelled to follow those rules in response to a blog post by Doctor Biobrain.  The doctor’s response was that my parents had actually agreed to the rules on my behalf and that, by staying here past my eighteenth birthday, I too was agreeing to them.

I objected to having to abide by the decisions of corrupt representatives in a fixed system.  The response was that, by staying here, I had agreed to abide by whatever they decided.   Any objection I made – about corruption, about non-inclusion – was met with the same answer.  If I don’t like it, I can leave.

Love it or leave it.  Or, at least, deal with it or leave it.

Where exactly are we supposed to go?  Is there anywhere on earth that is outside the grasp of the Eurocentric, racist, patriarchal system that has used violence to exclude most of us for hundreds of years? More importantly, are people really so unquestioning of violence and coercion?  Dr. Biobrain says,

so it’s part of the agreement that anyone who breaks the agreement can be severely punished. And anyone who seriously attempts to permanently end the agreement can be put to death. And again, this is all in the agreement. And if you choose not to follow the agreement, yet don’t want to face punishment, you have only one option: Leave.

Over and over Doctor Biobrain insisted that it was my choice to live here, as though everyone on this earth has equal opportunities to go anywhere they want.  As though everyone has the resources to start over.  As though everyone is free of attachments.  As though immigration laws in countries around the world weren’t written by classists and white supremacists too.

And when exactly did this love it or leave it rule begin to apply?  Does it only apply for rules made after women and minorities received the right to vote?  Or are we really saying that rules imposed by a tiny faction are sacred?  Are we really saying that our only recourse is a corrupted election system – a system complete with gerrymandering, felon disenfranchisement, corporate media, and impossible financial barriers?

Love it or leave it is a cop-out.  It’s a way for people to avoid the fact that the system was designed for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many.  Love it or leave it is a lie.   It is a pretense of freedom where little exists.

But the sad fact is that Doctor Biobrain is not wrong about how our “democracy” works.  He is exactly right.

Where Doctor Biobrain is wrong is in suggesting that it is the best we can do.  The doctor is wrong in accepting that “might makes right,”  wrong in saying that our system is “EXTREMELY fair,”  and wrong in believing that what we have is truly a democracy.

Dr. Biobrain is wrong, but not alone.  In fact, I would argue that the central conflicts in our society aren’t between democrats and republicans or between conservatives and liberals.  The central conflicts are between those who feel the system was meant for them and works for them and those that don’t.

Those of us for whom the system does not work, and wasn’t meant to work for, cannot accept “love it or leave it.”

Clothing Mandatory, From Burqas to Bandanas

July 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics, Religion

We have too many damn laws, rules, regulations and customs dictating what people can and cannot wear.

Schools require kids to wear uniforms. Work – from military personnel to the nearly identical suits most desk sitters wear – requires uniforms. Clubs have dress codes. Restaurants have dress codes. Cities and even countries have laws governing what their citizens can and cannot wear in public. Why?

Admittedly, it’s easier to pick out a cop if she is wearing a uniform. And you could probably make a case for health issues when it comes to wearing some kind of covering in a restaurant kitchen. But mostly, clothing rules are about social control. We want to be able to identify people. We want to know whether or not they subscribe to the dominant culture’s attitudes, prejudices, gender roles, and power structure.

Schools support school uniforms for the same reason the military requires them, because uniforms denote obedience and conformity. Clubs have dress codes to enforce dominance by class and race, from country clubs that require a suit and tie to dive bars like Kokoamos (sued for refusing entry to people with dreadlocks).

Cities also get in on the action. Riviera Beach, Florida is arresting people for baggy pants. Other cities have ordinances against your underwear showing. In New York, you can get arrested for covering your face during a protest. Why? Because minorities wear baggy pants. Because political dissidents cover their faces during protests.

Of course, the most stringent codes and social norms relate to gender. It starts with the first pink or blue onesie someone gives you at the baby shower. For the rest of your life, what you can wear safely in public is determined largely by whether or not you were born with a penis.

School uniforms are uniform only by gender. One school in South Carolina has said a girl will not be able to graduate if she wears pants to her graduation. Prom means wearing a dress for girls or a suit for boys. Transgressors will be denied.

And while most (if not all) laws against cross-dressing have been taken off the books, that doesn’t stop harassment. One man is suing the New Orleans police department for threatening to arrest him for wearing a kilt in public. (Note to self: Naked breasts strewn with plastic beads, no problem; wearing traditional and mildly gender-bending Scottish garb, not so much.)

Transgender people cross the gender line and face discrimination at every turn. Most workplaces in the U.S. can legally discriminate against transgendered people, as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act does not protect them. Far worse, at least one transgender person is murdered on average each month of the year. And the murders of transgender people all too often remain unsolved.

Most cisgender women have a little more leeway in the choice between pants and skirts. (Although, Conservative Christian group Focus on the Family just started allowing women to wear pants this year.) But women have to worry about “modesty.” Women must walk that fine line between whore and oppressed. Wear too little material on your body and people will say you are asking to be attacked. Wear too much clothing on your body, a burqa for instance, and people will say you are oppressed.

Islam isn’t the only religion to dictate dress. Orthodox Jewish women must cover their elbows, knees and head in the name of modesty. Sometimes they wear scarves. Other times they cover up their hair with wigs. Meanwhile, Hasidic Jewish men, in 90 degree Miami heat, dress in wool outfits meant for winter in the Polish ghetto.

Monks and nuns wear robes not very different from a burqa. Certainly, they are equally desexualizing. True, nuns no longer wear the restrictive habits of the middle ages, some even wear no habits at all. The Catholic Church; however, isn’t happy about that and is reportedly conducting an investigation into nuns’ lapses.

How are any of these regulations legitimate?

The idea that women must dress modestly holds women responsible for mens’ behavior, as though men are wild animals who can’t be expected to have self control. Assigning clothing by gender is only an attempt to clearly delineate who gets what privilege in society. Forcing minority groups to dress like the majority is just the majority exerting its dominance. And requiring protesters to be identifiable just makes it easier for authorities to find and intimidate them.

During the holocaust, Jews were forced to wear yellow stars and homosexuals forced to wear pink triangles. Slaves in the United States wore tags. Indigenous people in colonial Guatemala wore intricate patterns that told Spaniards what village they came from (clothing used in the civil war of the 80s to identify “subversives”). In Iran today, women are forced to wear headscarves, but Laila Al-Marayati and Semeen Issa, of the Muslim Women’s League, remind us that in 1979 veils were prohibited in Iran.

Whether the society is marking people for oppression or forcing them to conform, it all amounts to coercion. And coercion is wrong.

Dominant groups often make claims that their rules are for some higher purpose. French President Sarkozy says the burqa is a symbol of oppression and a barrier which makes women “prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.” He claims that his burqa ban is about the rights of women, despite the fact that many women who wear the burqa say that it is a personal choice.

But does Sarkozy’s claim hold up to closer inspection?

Are not burqa wearing French women still French women with all the rights of French women. Isn’t it the job of the French government to make sure their citizens know their rights and are able to exercise those rights?

Sarkozy would be more believable if he started a campaign to advise all French women of their rights. According to Amnesty International, France falls far short when it comes to protecting the rights of domestic violence victims. If Sarkozy is so interested in protecting women, wouldn’t making sure French women know their rights (and fully funding programs for victims of domestic the violence) be a more appropriate priority?

The burqa ban is not about the rights of women, any more than forcing women to wear skirts at work is about the rights of women. It is about symbolism. The French government does not like the symbolism of a people setting themselves apart. Many feminists do not like the symbolism of the burqa. But if we are going to start banning symbolism, we can’t stop just there. How about banning $60,000 French couture dresses – symbol of the criminal disparities in wealth in this world.

There may be some cases where requirements about what people put on their bodies are necessary. But life and death cases are few and far between. Anyone trying to impose their will on others better have much better reasons than the ones they’ve come up with so far.