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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Book Review – Resistance Behind Bars

March 02, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated WomenResistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women by Victoria Law

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A while back, I wrote about how frustrating it was that people were not paying attention to the prison hunger strikes in California and elsewhere. But as little attention as men’s resistance gets, women’s resistance gets even less. And while it is true that there are many more men than women in prison, it is also true that, per the sentencing project:

The number of women in prison, a third of whom are incarcerated for drug offenses, is increasing at nearly double the rate for men. These women often have significant histories of physical and sexual abuse, high rates of HIV infection, and substance abuse. Large-scale women’s imprisonment has resulted in an increasing number of children who suffer from their mother’s incarceration and the loss of family ties

Long before Orange is the New Black, Victoria Law wrote about the history of prisons and how women have resisted. The book is broken down by issues – health care, sexual abuse, education, labor… For each issue Law shares the stories that prisoners have shared with her about how the system has affected them. She puts their stories in historical and political context. And she shows how those women pushed back.

I’ve read a lot of books, articles, and research about women in prison over the last 10 years, but this book covered new territory. Most people focus only on the victimization of the women. Rarely do you hear from the women themselves. Even more rarely do you hear about the grievances, court cases, self organized groups, hunger strikes, whistle blowing – about the women’s agency.

And unlike most of the material I come across, this book is written from a radical perspective. It doesn’t set out a handful of legislative reforms that could make things better. In fact, it shows how legislative reforms have hurt the women. Even reforms like The Prison Rape Elimination Act that were ostensibly meant to help prisoners, ended up hurting women prisoners. Women are written up for sexual misconduct if they have any contact with other women in the prison. No hugs. No high fives.

Instead of legislation, you will get an extensive list of recommended reading, some resources for prisoners, and encouragement to reach out to these women and support them in how they chose to resist.

View all my reviews

 

 

Book Review – Sex at the Margins

May 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Book, Inequality, Sex

Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue IndustrySex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry by Laura Maria Agustin My rating: 4 of 5 stars Laura Agustin has a remarkable ability to turn things on their head.If you read her blog, you’ll be familiar with the narratives that she contests. But the book really brings it all together. The narrative is that all women who do sex work are victims. Nobody would ever chose to do that work. They have been coerced or duped. They need to be rescued. Triple that for migrants. But who is a migrant? Why are some people called migrants while others are called travelers, tourists, expats? A privileged person might go to another country to work a bit and have an adventure. But a poor person is only seen to be pushed out because of conflict or pulled in to earn money and nothing else – as though a worker is the only thing they are. Never do you hear that a poor woman wants to migrate in order to get new experiences or find herself. That’s just reserved for the wealthy. Why is sex work treated so differently from other work? Why is it assumed to be worse than housekeeping, nannying, working in a factory, or investment banking at Goldman Sachs? Domestics are exempted from even the most basic employment laws. They are at the beck and call of the family they work for, often 24/7. Most people say that freedom and flexibility are the things they most want from their jobs. Yet we are all blind to that desire when it comes to women who are choosing between sex work and domestic service. It is difficult to find a rational reason for people to look at sex work as so much more exploitative than all the other types of work out there. Why is it so clear to people that sex work is problematic, but so difficult for people to see how dehumanizing other work is? Even more problematically, many of the women who work in the rescue industries are more than happy to use poor women as domestics while they pursue their careers. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me is the history of how the helping industry came to be, how middle class women with few options made careers out of charity work. But charity work requires victims to be saved, whether or not those people want the “help”. It is always difficult to find the balance between considering the social circumstances and systemic injustices that limit people’s choices while still respecting people. All people, regardless of their constraints, should be seen as full human beings with the ability to make decisions. Too often we see problems as statistics and certain people as acted upon only. This book tips the scales back in the direction of full human being. View all my reviews

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.)

Food, Water, Air and Care

October 27, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Inequality, Politics

Remember Maslow’s hiearchy of needs?  Sure you do. It is usually presented something like this.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
You start at the bottom with the most basic needs.  As basic needs are met, you go up the pyramid.  I’ve seen a few of these pyramids.  They usually list the same stuff for basic needs – air, water, food.  They always forget the same basic need – care.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases). – Katherine Whitehorn

I often think of those two quotes, especially when people ask why there are so few women anarchists and libertarians.  The recent anarchist survey came back with 82% of the respondents being men.  Libertarian surveys also have lopsided results.

Why?

When I lived in California, I worked for a small nonprofit that assisted caregivers of people with brain impairments. I picked up the phone one day and spoke to a client who had just received her first bit of respite.  That’s where we provided money for the caregiver to hire someone for a couple hours.  The woman had been taking care of her husband since his motorcycle accident a decade before.  She was crying.  She said it was the first time away from her caregiving responsibilities in all that time.

Our program was paid for in large part by tax dollars, both state and federal.  Who do you imagine that woman was going to vote for when the time came?  Do you think arguments about taxation being theft are going to persuade her that she should forgo those precious few government-funded moments of freedom?  How does your vision of freedom actually help her?  Are you going to go take care of her husband for her?

The vast majority of our clients were women, more than 80%.  Nationwide, the vast majority of people providing care for aging or disabled family members are women.  And even where men do provide care, they usually spend a lot less time doing it.  All that care has a cost.  Caregivers are stressed out.  They are depressed.  They earn less money.  They don’t take care of themselves.  They are struggling.

Women are seen as caregivers.  Women see themselves as caregivers.   It is what society expects of us.  The expectation is that we are supposed to want to play that role, to relinquish our freedom willingly out of selfless motherly/daughterly/wifely love.  Why would talk of freedom be expected to resonate with people who aren’t even allowed to want it?

There is a small part of biology involved in the idea that women are caregivers.  Those women who are able and choose to get pregnant have a biological caregiving role.  But the caregiving role that women are expected to play goes way beyond what is biologically determined.  The ability to get pregnant does not make someone caring.  Once a child is out of the womb, there is no biological rule about who should or would do the best job of caring for them.  The fact that women are the caregivers in our society is socially constructed.

That doesn’t just suck for women, by the way.  It sucks for men too.  I worked for divorce attorneys for many years.  Some of those bitter, “men’s rights” activists do have a legitimate gripe.  I saw many men get screwed in their divorce because, historically, the default was for kids to be with their mother – the caring one.  I saw kids begging judges to live with their father, only to be denied.  It happens.  I hate to agree with those schmucks on anything, but the sun shines on even a dog’s ass some days.

And if the gendered nature of caregiving weren’t damaging enough, our “independent,” nuclear family focused, transient society has taken away the collective caregiving that women have historically depended on.  Now we are expected to take care of our kids and our aging parents, often at the same time, and with little or no help from other family members or the community.  Is it really a surprise that, as women’s caregiving responsibilities increase, they become more liberal?

I don’t claim to have definitive answers on why women aren’t responding to anarchist and libertarian philosophies in the same way men are.  But I do think that the gendered nature of caregiving, how little most men talk about caregiving, how central caregiving is to our lives, and how much caregiving restricts our freedom has to be a factor.

And I find it interesting, in the context of this discussion, that so many anarchist and libertarian women are childless or did not participate in the raising of their children – Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, for instance.  I would be very curious to know how many anarchist and libertarian women are mothers.  Most women are mothers.  If we can’t reach mothers, we can’t reach women.

The fact is that every one of us had our baby diapers changed by a woman.  And there is a damn good chance that your adult diapers will be changed by one to.  Complete independence and freedom are an illusion.  It is an illusion that women are not in a position to hold.  We are interdependent.  And we are only free in so far as everyone is willing to share in taking responsibility for the caregiving that is a fundamental need for all humans.

Whoever is addressing the real life situations that women face is going to get their attention – whether that is liberals offering government social programs, conservatives offering church social programs, or anarchists offering something new.  Talk to me about how to have the freedom to pursue my dreams without leaving a mountain of young, old, sick, and dying to fend for themselves and I’ll listen.

Poor Women Feed the World

September 24, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about women using women.  In it I commented on privileged women using poorer women to clean their houses and raise their children – women who have low salaries and no benefits.

But the truth is that all of our lifestyles are built on the backs of poor people (and women in particular), even if we don’t have the direct exploitative employer/employee relationship.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,

Rural women in particular are responsible for half of the world’s food production and produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries.

And yet while these women are feeding us all, estimates are that 70 percent of the worlds poor are women.

It isn’t just an issue of small-holder agriculture either.  Women are overrepresented in all aspects of the grossly underpaid food system.  Women are the majority of wait staff, fast food workers, and counter attendants.

The latest occupational employment report shows the U.S. median wage at $15.57 per hour.  Workers in the food industry typically make little more than half that.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “more than two-thirds of all low-wage workers in 2003 were in service-type occupations, mostly in food service jobs.”

Every step of food production  – from the farm worker to the food processing plant to the food prep worker to the counter help or wait staff – relies on millions of underpaid workers with few (if any) benefits and little security.

How is it that the people who do the jobs most fundamental to survival are so undervalued?