Monthly Archives: August 2011
Two Austrian sisters say their father locked them up and both sexually and physically abused them for over 40 years. Now 45 and 53 years old, they lived under this tyranny nearly their entire lives, as reported by The Guardian.
The father, identified as Gottfried W. (Austrians don’t fully identify suspects) threatened his daughters with a pitchfork, a stick, and firearms, repeatedly threatening to kill them if they resisted. The sisters also have mental deficiencies, which the violence may have caused or worsened, further enabling the abuse. Gottfried also forbade contact with the outside world. All of this left the women withdrawn and dependent.
Yet last May the older sister fought an attempted rape, knocking down her now 80-year-old father. Both sisters fled. Days later a social worker discovered Gottfried on the floor. The sisters have been taken in by social services and are receiving psychiatric treatment.
The case only became public last week.
It is all so reminiscent of another Austrian, Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned and raped his daughter in a dark, windowless cellar, where he forced her to live for 24 years.
Makes you wonder what’s up with Austria. Yet in a country of over eight million these cases are the only two of this kind. You might actually expect the opposite in this country. Men who commit incest tend toward authoritarianism (unlike Austrians generally, who came in dead last on a scale measuring autocratic leadership styles) and believe children should obey parents at all times.
But the two men who so savagely raped their daughters fit the profile well. Gottfried
continually bossed and threatened his entire family, while Josef’s children described him as a “dominating tyrant” who frequently beat them.
In incestuous families, there is usually little affection and the mother’s role is often reduced, often due to physical or mental illness. Again, true of these two families.
As a repeatedly abused victim herself, Gottfried’s wife was unable to help her daughters. Josef’s wife was unaware of the cell her husband had built to hold their daughter, and so was unable to intervene. Even as babies were born, Josef simply told his wife that their long lost daughter had left the babies at their doorstep.
Men who commit incest believe that men are entitled to fulfill whatever sexual desires they might have. And they see children as sex objects.
When I first heard complaints about sexual objectification I didn’t get it. I didn’t know what a sex object was. I thought feminists were complaining about grown women and men just being sexy. And the world seemed a bit dull to me without a little sexiness, which I define more broadly than the narrow notions that tie women in knots.
Later I came to understand that when a person is seen as a sex object she (usually) is seen as an OBJECT. A thing. An object thing that is all about sex, and little else. A sex object is not seen as having feelings, a life, dreams, human potential. A sex object exists to satisfy someone else’s purposes. In these fathers’ behaviors we find the more brutal outcomes of this way of seeing.
No, the problem isn’t Austria. The problem isn’t men. The problem is patriarchy, manifested in male dominance over women and girls and less powerful men and boys, sexual objectification and the disempowerment of women.
Even when girls and boys get the same negative message about sex, girls seem to come out worse.
Many young people only get silence from their parents on the subject. But silence communicates: Sex is unmentionable, shameful.
Parents often worry that raising the subject will lead kids to have sex. Actually, when parents talk, their children are less likely to become sexually active, and more likely to behave responsibly.
“Don’t touch yourself there.” Another message linking sex and filthiness.
The advice doesn’t always work as hoped. Sex therapist Lonnie Barbach tells of one little girl who, “put that extraordinarily dirty place directly under the faucet of the tub in order to wash it more thoroughly and was pleasantly surprised to find that the water created a most intense sensation which culminated in orgasm.”
Other little girls aren’t so lucky.
Here’s the downside to the parental rebuke. Touching yourself is exactly what sex therapists advise when women have trouble achieving orgasm. Because they often don’t understand how their bodies work.
In fact, while parents may scold both boys and girls, the reproach seems to have a more negative impact on girls. Boys who don’t touch themselves, and who don’t have sex, will have wet dreams because their bodies need regular ejaculations to create fresh sperm. This clues boys in to how their bodies work.
Girls don’t always figure out how the clitoris works. It’s an organ that’s small and hidden, and girls’ bodies don’t force orgasms. Women can go their entire lives, having many babies, without ever experiencing one.
Most young men masturbate, but only half of young women do. Perhaps this is why.
But parents give boys more positive messages about sex, too. “Never waste a boner,” a male student volunteered when I asked what sorts of parental advice they’d heard.
Girls probably won’t hear anything remotely similar.
We’ve all heard how boys are told to sew their wild oats before marriage, while girls are encouraged to abstain. Some dads have even taken their daughters to “purity balls” and vowed “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.” A little extreme. And the notion of “covering” a daughter seems a little creepy. But it reflects the larger society’s concern with girls’ “sexual cleanliness.”
Girls and boys get different messages on sexuality from parents. And even when they don’t, girls’ sexuality can be more damaged.
While protecting Big Oil and billionaires, right-wingers brazenly push cuts to programs – many life-saving – that largely affect women: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition programs for women and children (WIC), and prenatal care. A woman’s right to choose is under intense attack with Planned Parenthood and Title X on the chopping block, despite providing low income women with birth control, cancer screenings, and tests for STDs, including H.I.V. And then there’s Rep. Joe Pitts’ proposed bill allowing hospitals to refuse to terminate pregnancy even to save a woman’s life. All famously reported in a New York Times piece entitled “The War on Women.” Nothing’s gotten any better since.
Why attack women?
Balancing the federal budget on the backs of the middle-class and poor (where so many women reside) so that wealthy interests and campaign contributions may thrive seems like a good deal to many politicians.
But why the laser-like focus on limiting women’s reproductive rights? Not a lot of money in that. But it’s a vote getter. Still, why is this stance so appealing?
Karen McCarthy Brown, Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, suggests that limiting women’s reproductive rights creates a sense of stability and empowerment for many. In command of the bodies of women, the power of the flesh, and life, itself, it’s a big deal. Plus, those who value order and stability benefit by “understanding” that men are men and women are women, each in separate spheres, and each knowing their place. So the world becomes simpler and more manageable in black and white. It can all be a huge psychological relief to those doing the controlling and for those who feel the world is under control.
Pretty sad that some coerce others to gain this relief. Surely there’s a better way.
Relatedly, on an interpersonal plane, men who seek to feel empowered by dominating their partners sometimes destroy contraception, hoping their wives or girlfriends will feel more trapped and dependent by the need to care for children.
And then there are your political tyrants. Steven Conn, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State, tells us that in the 20th century the most despicable regimes were fixated on controlling women’s reproductive lives. Outlawing abortion and closing family planning centers were among the Nazis’ first moves. Eventually abortion became a capital offense. Stalin outlawed abortion in 1936. Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu banned contraception in 1966. By 1986 miscarriage became a matter of criminal investigation. China still coerces women into abortion and sterilization. Interesting that Conn observes:
The day after the evil Ceausescu had been executed, the National Salvation Front issued two decrees; it lifted the ban on the private ownership of typewriters, and it repealed the laws that policed pregnant women.
The eerily similar workings of right-wing extremists lend an ironic twist to their claim of being all about freedom through free markets. Women must be controlled, but markets must be free?
But what’s a little nonsensical hypocrisy among right-wing despots?
This post is part of a web carnival promoted by a coalition of women’s organizations to discuss the current attacks on historic gains for women and mobilize women voters in 2012. See the Twitter hashtag #HERvotes.
Now that polygamist and FLDS Prophet, Warren Jeffs, has been handed a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls (“wives”) I wonder what will happen to his fold. Will they question? Will any leave? I wonder, because if fate had gone differently, I could have wound up living among them. Which seems horrifying.
I come from a long line of Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains to live in what was then Utah Territory – far from U.S. law. Some of my ancestors practiced polygamy. When Utah eventually sought to become a state, and the U.S. government declined because of “plural marriage,” the Mormon Church deemed the practice no longer necessary. My family went along with the new teaching, but others escaped to the Utah/Arizona border, and parts beyond, feeling they must follow God’s true law.
I am eternally grateful that my own family chose as they did.
That said, in my youth I did not feel entirely free from the threat, as I was taught that polygamy was the way of Heaven (a notion deemphasized today). Contemplating that not-so-heavenly reward, I could only envision my husband’s dalliances dissipating all the energy from our so-called “relationship.” How could I experience the strong love, bonding and connection that I deeply desired?
And according to Mormon prophets, polygamy did not seem to have much to do with love. As Brigham Young taught:
(Men), never love you wives one hair’s breath further than they adorn the Gospel, never love them so but that you can leave them at a moment’s warning without shedding a tear.
Wives should put aside all desire for the exclusive and romantic company of their husbands. Rather, they should simply “receive, conceive, bear, and bring forth” in the name of Israel’s God. They should not be concerned with whether they were loved ‘a particle’ by their companions. That was not what the principle was about.
Mormon past and Fundamentalist Mormon present claim polygamy a higher form of marriage. Really? The Bible says the greatest commandment is love, so wouldn’t a higher form of anything include it? So you see why I’d prefer a different sort of life.
Unlike the isolated FLDS, I had friends and schoolmates with different views from those I’d been taught. Television and movies conceived the world differently. I read books and listened to radio. I have long hoped that FLDS members might one day hear alternate voices, and consider alternate choices, too. If you don’t even think to question, do you really have any choice?
Doubt entered Kathy Jo Nicholson’s mind when her polygamous prophet (Jeffs’ father) died – despite prophesying he would live until Christ’s second coming. Most stayed true to their beliefs. But Kathy Jo began to wonder. Later she met a questioning man, fell in love, eloped, and left the fold.
Today Kathy Jo worries about family left behind, trapped in a world they don’t think to question.
During his trial, Jeffs threatened that God would bring “sickness and death”
to prosecutors. According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
After Judge Barbara Walther dismissed the jury, Jeffs began reading from a piece of paper that he claimed contained “Jesus Christ’s own words.”
“I will wrest your power. I shall judge you. I shall let all peoples know your unjust ways,” he said. “I will send a scourge upon the counties of prosecutorial zeal to be humbled by sickness and death.”
Didn’t happen. Jeffs asked his fold not to read news accounts. But did some read anyway? He prophesied he’d be freed before trial took place… so his flock built him
Sometimes prophetic failure brings questions. Sometimes it does not. I can only hope that at least a few minds will open, and that if I had lived among them, my mind would have been one of those.
For more on this topic, see “What’s Love Got to Do with It: Earthly Experience of Celestial Marriage, Past and Present,” in Modern Polygamy in the United States by Cardel Jacobs with Lara Burton, Oxford University Press, 2011. Also see The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a World (Brazos Press, 2006) and New Man, New Woman, New Life both by Carrie Miles, Ph.D., University of Chicago and senior scholar in residence at Chapman University. And check out her Empower website (www.EmpowerInternational.org),
and blog. http://carriemiles.wordpress.com/
Are women more beautiful when they are thin, thin, thin? Are they more beautiful when their hips are thinner than their heads?
Ralph Lauren apparently thinks so. Check out these images of model, Filippa Hamilton before and after photoshop:
Before photoshop After photoshop
Ok, I’ve definitely been duped by insane notions of beauty. But these go too far.
I don’t care how much the camera gazes at this eerie image, telling me it’s beautiful, I don’t buy it.
Oddly, this bizarre figure is making me rethink the attractiveness of considerably less touched-up photos.
Does Britney Spears really look better thinner? Many will say yes, but (surprising even myself) I don’t. I’m happy to report that I think Britney looks just as beautiful smaller or “bigger” (she’s not really that big).
Recently the new Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton, was photoshopped making her tiny waist appear impossibly thin. Is the new wasp-waist more lovely? I think not.
Fortunately, Germany’s most popular women’s magazine, Brigitte, has chosen to stop using professional models, keeping to real, non-starving and non-photoshopped women. What a breath of fresh air! They may be more attractive, taller, and thinner than average, but at least they’re not abnormal.
I vote for the real woman, any day!
A version of this piece was originally published Nov. 1, 2010.
Bad news to update ladies. Looks like two years late Brigitte recanted their decision. Kinda sucks.
By Robert Rees
We are bombarded with thousands if not tens of thousands of images every day. Occasionally, two images come into such sharp contrast that they can’t be ignored. Such was the case when I opened the New York Times on Sunday, May 2. On page ten of that issue is a color photo of a 23 year old Congolese woman. The caption says her lips and right ear have been cut off by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Her shorn head, the blackness of her face, the swollen pink oval around her mouth where her lips had once been (like the exaggerated lips of “Sambo” or minstrel characters once popular in American culture), and the sideway glance of her eyes as someone (perhaps her mother) touches her remaining ear with what seems tenderness. It is an image so heartbreaking as to make one weep.
In Ways of Seeing John Berger says, “The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it. Such authority as it retains is distributed over the whole context in which it appears.” Thus . . .
Immediately across the page from this photo is a full page Lord & Taylor ad of a beautiful white woman with long flowing dark hair, green eyes, perfect lips and two ears from which dangle long bejeweled earrings. She is arrayed in such opulence—necklace, pendant, bracelets, a giant opaline or turquoise ring, that the contrast with the Congolese woman is shocking. The juxtaposition of the two images is heightened by the fact that the Congolese woman wears a simple hand-crafted red and black blouse whereas the model wears what looks like an expensive hand-knitted ivory-colored chemise over a pink lace skirt. She holds in each hand a knitted handbag (“only $89”), each covered with roses and each holding a small dog, so laden that she seems barely able to hold them up. This cornucopia of luxury, this picture of desire would never be found in the Congo, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The ad’s caption—“We all have our creature comforts. . . Some of us more than others”—is so ironic as to be almost beyond irony. The motto compounds the irony: “Shop more. Guilt less.”
Again, John Berger, “A woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste—indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. . . . To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men.”
The Congolese woman, like the Greek Princess Philomela whose husband Terus cut out her tongue so she could not reveal that he had raped her, has likewise likely been raped and brutally silenced. The severing of her left ear compounds the violation. She will be so disfigured that probably no man will ever touch her again and no compassionate god will turn her into a nightingale.
The woman in the Lord and Taylor ad will be ravaged by the eyes of a million men who will yet never touch her skin except in their imaginations. And yet in her wildest imagination this white goddess could never see herself in the place of the black tongueless Congolese woman, nor the Congolese woman ever imagine herself in such a space as the woman in the ad inhabits.
Both of these images are part of the world we live in, although we tend to keep them in separate compartments of our consciousness. The one is horribly real, the other an unreal arrangement by Madison Avenue designers. On another day when they are not juxtaposed, we might consider each separately, but when they are thrust before us in such stark relief, we can turn from neither–only ponder what they tell us about how some of us have more creature comforts than others and how we can remain “guilt less”—and that we are somehow complicit in both.
Robert A. Rees teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
This piece was first posted Sept. 17, 2010
Many women agree to sex they don’t want. University of Texas, Austin researchers say the reasons vary. Some consent to maintain relationship. Others think it’s the “nice” thing to do. Some are just doing what they think is expected. A few want to avoid a fight. This can be a problem. Or, unexpected benefits may arise. Today, let’s look at the downside.
Some women are pleasers, uncomfortable saying no. Ironically, one woman’s religion got her saying yes by encouraging passivity and keeping her naïve. “Persistence from a partner, emotional games, alcohol, passivity, and difficulty saying no were all important factors,” she said. “I felt nervous, unsure and confused. I didn’t want to make the other person angry with me. When things didn’t go the way I trusted them to I didn’t know what to do. These experiences all occurred before age 19, after which I got stronger and wiser.”
Some fear rejection. “I had a friend in high school who made it seem like the only way I could be cool was if I shunned everything I thought was right,” one woman lamented. “I would have sex just so she would have more respect for me. I hated every experience I was having.”
More commonly, women fear losing boyfriends. “I was stupid and thought sex would keep my boyfriend around,” one woman explained. “I was 17 years old and it didn’t work.”
Others try to compete with the fireworks of internet porn, which too often brings distress.
A few seem more coerced than consenting. “When I was 17, I dated a guy who was 26. I didn’t want to lose him, so when we made out, he would force my head down for oral. He would hold my head there for a long time, even if I was crying.” Yet she voluntarily continued to see him because she “figured this was part of what I needed to do to be datable.”
Saying yes when we’d rather say no becomes a problem when the motive is avoiding negative or painful outcomes, say the UT researchers. Performing acts that repel us, that go against our values and that create feelings of self-betrayal – damaging self-respect – weigh heavily. Desperation, shame and remorse arise.
These relationships are best left behind.
“Boys will be boys,” suggested one third of the women who answered my survey on ogling, which asked why some men stare at women’s body parts. Most of these women said their partner’s lingering eyes bothered them at least a little. But if men are “just that way,” maybe they’re less annoyed?
Is it true? Does the male sex drive include an imperative to stare at breasts and bottoms?
Maybe not. Only half of the women I surveyed had dated these distracted lovers. Others said they would be offended if their significant other behaved that way. I never experienced an ogling boyfriend, myself, until my last semester in college.
No. They don’t all do it.
I’m not saying non-oglers never notice feminine charms. Just not in the staring mode that so many of us find rude.
In one, Florida State University men were asked to assemble a puzzle of Lego blocks. A 21-year-old woman was asked to assist. She wore jeans, a T-shirt, a ponytail and no makeup. Flirting was off limits and she kept eye contact and conversation to a minimum.
Later, the men rated her attractiveness. Single men found her most attractive at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle, a finding replicated in other studies. Lap dancers, for
instance, get higher tips that time of the month.
But men in relationships found her least attractive while ovulating. Why?
They were relationship guarding. It seems they unconsciously saw the young assistant as more threatening to their relationships when she was most attractive. To resist temptation, they told themselves, “She’s not that hot.”
Another Florida State study found a similar phenomenon. After words like “lust” or “kiss” were quickly flashed, men and women were shown a sequence of photographs and images. Singles gazed longer at attractive pictures of the opposite sex, and they lingered when asked to look at new images.
But those in relationships behaved differently. They looked more quickly away from attractive faces, using subtle mechanisms to rein in a wandering eye. As if to say, “Tempt me not!”
On the other hand, when University of Kentucky researchers made it difficult to focus on good-looking faces, people tried harder to see the forbidden fruit. And afterward, they felt less satisfied with their partners and found cheating more appealing.
Or as Dr. Maner, the lead researcher put it, “We shouldn’t want our partner to be looking at lots of other people, because that’s bad for the relationship. At the same time,” he continued, “preventing them from looking doesn’t help either, and can backfire.”
Self-policing works. Policing your mate may not.
Ogling is not simply a “boys will be boys” phenomenon. Many men are more centered on relationship-guarding than eyeballing the curves that pass by.
Warren Jeffs, 55-year-old “Prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he had recently added to his harem of nearly 90 “plural wives.”
When Texas Rangers raided his compound in 2008, many were outraged at the infringement on his sect’s religious rights. And Jeffs repeatedly insisted his religious freedom was violated at trial.
Yet the raid, prompted by a prank call to an abuse hotline, provided evidence that more than one-quarter of Jeffs’ “wives” were underage. And in several journal entries, Jeffs said God told him to take more and more young girls as brides “who can be worked with and easily taught.” And, since 105 males are born for every 100 females, you do have to marry younger to do polygamy.
Yet Jeffs claims it the highest form of marriage, bringing exaltation in heaven.
As if pedophilia weren’t problem enough, there’s more trouble in paradise.
Girls and women are basically property. Jeffs writes of summoning the parents of one 14-year-old and informing them “of their girl belonging to me.” He describes wives as “honorable vessels, property of your husband’s kingdom and the Kingdom of God on Earth.” Fathers gave their daughters to him and were rewarded with young brides of their own.
Wives were expected to serve him. Much evidence against Jeffs came from a wife-training tape instructing girls how to please him sexually and win favor with the Lord. He quoted revelations from God as he instructed wives on becoming comfortable nude, grooming their body hair, and group sex.
You have to know how to be excited sexually and to be excited to administer that comfort and strength. And you have to be able to assist each other. No one sits around, everyone assists each other.
On assisting each other, it might help if roughly ninety-five percent of women weren’t straight.
While Jeffs was “appointed” by God to engage in this behavior, other FLDS men were not. “If another man, not appointed, were to do this,” he said, “they would lose priesthood.” He warned his wives to tell no one of this “higher order.”
The wife-training tape seems to include sounds of sobbing. Were the girls less pleased at their call to sexual service than their husband was?
Girls reluctant to have sex with Jeffs were sent away.
But young men were driven out of the community, as well, on trivial charges like watching “inappropriate movies.” If you’re going to be polygamous in a world with equal numbers of women and men, you’ve got to subtract a few men.
Jeffs also reassigned the property and families of men he found threatening, breaking up around 300 families. Ross Chatwin had been fine with polygamy, until this happened to him. “Polygamy is not the problem here,” Chatwin insisted, “It’s the dictatorship.”
Interesting that Chatwin had no problem so long as he had plenty of wives and possessions. He remains blind to the troubles of girls, women, and boys sent away.
Here we find patriarchy in the old sense: older, powerful men wielding control over women and younger and more powerless males.
All-powerful and living without limits, Jeffs seems never satisfied. On the wife-training
tape he says, “OK, six ladies. I wish I had a seventh.” At another point he exclaims, “I need more than one wife to be with me at a time.” Ninety wives and counting… Monogamous men may wish they had more. Apparently, nothing’s enough for polygamous men, either.
Meanwhile, his wives must share just one man, and not one they’re necessarily attracted
to. His pleasure at their expense. A friend of mine wrote a book on 19th century Mormon polygamy. Any wonder he titled it In Sacred Loneliness?
Jeffs indulges his ravenous appetite, ultimately unquenchable, as his wives gain little gratification.
Is polygamy really so heavenly, Mr. Jeffs?
The Norwegian terrorist who killed scores of people in late July was motivated by racism, particularly Islamophobia. But he is also a misogynist. It’s not unusual for racism and sexism to go hand in hand. But why?
It’s the destructive and suicidal Sex and the City lifestyle (modern feminism, sexual revolution) [that] we are taught to revere as the truth. In that setting, men are not men anymore, but metrosexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticizing soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.
Futrelle says Breivik’s rants are typical of “manosphere” blogs, which his manifesto
plagiarizes in part. When a prankster posted his quotes anonymously, they got the “thumbs-up” – at least until his identity was revealed.
Other obsessions of Breivik/the manopshere include no-fault divorce, STDs, and women
manipulating men with their feminine charms. Worried that Islam will out-breed Westerners, Breivik advocates limiting contraception, banning abortion, and discouraging women from education and full-time careers, which “will involve certain sexist and discriminating policies but should increase the fertility rate.”
Breivik’s misogyny doesn’t surprise Michael Kimmel, a feminist who studies men, and who says that racist and sexist right-wing movements are largely about manhood. Men who are drawn to them feel emasculated by “Nanny States” that demand equal rights for everyone and whose taxes prevent people from making a free and independent living, as they see it.
These same men also feel that feminism makes men “wimpy, more pacifist, less authoritarian, more ‘sensitive’, less competitive, more androgynous, (and) less possessive.” The merging of masculine and feminine is a problem because how can men be superior if women and men are similar, or equal?
They add racism to further inflate their self-worth. As Kimmel describes it:
White Protestants are set against various “others” who aren’t men the way they are – blacks, Jews, gay men, other non-white immigrants – who are variously depicted as either “too” masculine (rapacious beasts, avariciously cunning, voracious) or not masculine “enough” (feminine, dependent, effeminate).
Bringing sexism and racism together, “real men” can feel “better-than” everyone else.
And by “protecting” white women from (so-called) non-white beasts, they may earn
women’s love and admiration, and further reclaim their manhood.
Breivik and men like him are desperate to feel like they are better than everyone else.
Even when they so clearly are not.