Saturday, 21 January 2017

47. Women's march: Feminism carrying the patriarchal light

The women's march in Paris complaining about the price of bread led to the French revolution, the march of the suffragettes led to women earning the right to vote. Today there is a Women's March in Washington and in many other big cities around the world.

Even though it would seem that feminism is against patriarchy, I would argue that it is not quite so. It is against the invisibility of the patriarchy, it is against its shadows, it is against forgetting what the patriarchy is actually about. The patriarchy has been used as a system to subjugate women but that's mostly a corruption of its function. As a function, it could be simply a phase, an emancipatory process that is has historically been associated with the father but in fact does not belong to any gender. In many respects feminism as an emancipatory movement, is the integration, the appropriation of the patriarchal drive which then takes us to a post-patriarchy.

Why do I want to write about the patriarchal drive? The patriarchal drive is the one that pushes us out of a state of dependency, of ignorance. The one where we are at the mercy of external forces. When women take that torch, the patriarchy is no longer needed.

Claiming control: occupy

As gatherers-hunters, we were at the mercy of luck, finding food, of external forces. Following the patriarchal drive, control was sought and we settled and agriculture and cattle raising began, developing techniques, knowledge, working out a schedule, a discipline.  With this, private property started, and then the issue of inheritance: how do I know that the children who will inherit my property are mine? (Men would ask). Which came with a heavy price for women as it led to control women's uterus, their behaviour, their voice, their friendships, their wisdom and their freedom. Anchoring land equated to controlling women's bodies. That's why it is said that ultimately all wars are about the control of land and the body of women.

Then came the black plague that devastated Europe and triggered the biggest assault over women to force them to take on the role of repopulating the continent. So the patriarchy turned to its nastiest form: production and reproduction were assigned to different genders. The colonisation of America began and in  parallel with this movement that represented an internal colonisation for Europe. Women were denied their voice, knowledge, friendship, access to land and money and ownership of their bodies. Women were disciplined through the persecution and public execution of the so-called witches.

Many centuries later, women were able to reclaim their bodies, but not by letting it at the mercy of chance to get pregnant or not (it was not about going back to nature), but to exert control over their own reproduction. This drive of claiming control, of not being at the mercy of external forces was internalised by women. Contraception (at to some extent the movement for access to safe abortions) are, in fact, patriarchal by nature. It was not about denying control. It was about owning it. In this move, the integration of the patriarchal drive, takes patriarchy to the beginning of its end. It starts to break the role-polarisation were women have control externalised (of behaviour and reproduction)  in men and men have nutrition, contention and care externalised in women.
This is not to say that the patriarchy came to save us and that women were lacking of control. There were some, albeit limited, knowledge of herbal contraceptives and abortives, but through the control over women's friendship this knowledge was not passed on and was prohibited. It is more to do to Rumi's notion that "the wound is the place where light enters you" or Hegel's notion that the wound heals when it finds in itself the solution. So if the patriarchy offered science as a way of cutting the dependence of nature, it was through science that the patriarchal chain on women is being cut. In a way, any intervention is patriarchal.

With this I don't mean to say either that the work is done, because it has not yet been institutionalised. Institutions, laws and science are still biased to take care of the rights and health of men (or not-poor men). Medical research puts special emphasis in rich men health issues, it performs most of its drug tests on men, women are more likely to be prescribed anxyolitics or symptoms being dismissed as psychosomatic. Research also shows that women are more likely to die of heart attacks when they have one, as early signs are not taken seriously. In Law, women (and poor people) are less likely to know their rights and to have less tools to defend them (access to proficient lawyers as in many cases they have to rely in those provided by the state) and even then they are more likely of being confronted by culturally biased judges. Very recently in a very advanced country, like Canada, judge Robin Camp asked a rape victim why she didn't keep her knees together and kept referring her as "the accused". This case caused an outrage. The case was reviewed, he had to go through gender-sensitivity training and he has apologised to the victim but also to the community, understanding that this sort of treatment has a bigger impact on society: undermines the efforts of other victims to come forward, deepens the sense of despair in victims and hurts justice. By no means, he is an isolated case.

This comes out of the patriarchal division of public and private spheres and property. As land is/was divided in public and private property, so are/were women. "Public women" were a property to be shared by many men and there are implicit rules of how women had to behave not to be labelled a public woman. This is why, in cases of rape, the first questions tend to be on the woman's behaviour and which "signs" she was giving. Public places were dangerous places for women. This sounds very old, but it is a code that is working to this day. A "public woman" is just a body to be used, like public facilities in some regard, she is not a person.

Ivette Cooper, Labour MP, will be speaking in Trafalgar square, during today's women march in London. Her speech was already published. A part of it speaks about women in public spaces:

We are marching because a talented woman MP was murdered by a far right extremist and we need to call it out as the terrorism it is.We are marching because we believe what Jo Cox said that we have more in common than what divides us and because we won’t stay on the sidelines any more.And we are not just marching, we’re singing, we are shouting, we’re tweeting, snapchatting, facebooking - standing up to the misogynists, the bullies and the haters who try to intimidate and silence people online just as for years they tried to intimidate or silence women on the street, in the pub, in the workplace.Thirty years ago, many of us marched to reclaim the night. Women in Leeds were being told not to go out after dark, because it wasn’t safe, there were too many attacks.Instead they came together - in Leeds, London and across the country to reclaim the night, to take back the streets. Our new streets are online. Social media are our new pubs and clubs. So just as we stood together to reclaim the night we will stand together to reclaim the Internet too.
Women are more likely to develop agoraphobia, the fear of open and public spaces, and stay at home, safe. Or decide not to tweet or have an androgynous name to post opinions. Reclaiming a public space is a natural step after reclaiming their bodies.

Going back to the light of the patriarchal drive, being born, separating from the parents all follow the patriarchal light. Rebelling against slavery, Moses exodus, Christ dying in the cross with the message "the father will not come to save you", Independence wars, Modernity and its drive to take people away from the dependence on the weather to avoid famines, dependence of "the will of God" to get well after falling ill, and develop modern tools, science and technology to take "control" or at least take action, all these movements of progress are following an emancipation/ patriarchal drive. Of course here there is a danger. In this sense, modernity is about consciousness and assuming responsibility rather than over-promoting a complete detachment or prevalence of rationality over emotion.

Forwards not backwards

The patriarchal drive has a second light: the direction is forward not backwards. It is forbidden to go back to the womb, the matriarchal world (infancy), the dependent state. This equates with the death drive, wishing to go back to mum's uterus, to let go and not engage with reality any more. We march for 40 years if it's needed, but we don't go back. With this prohibition, it brought the demonisation of women, particularly if they were powerful, as they represent the temptation to go back to mum's world. Women then are portrayed as witches, as narcissistic queens, as prostitutes, as corrupted human beings particularly if there are not fulfilling the roles of the good girl, obedient, mostly silent or not confrontative, a doll or happy to be the empty object of desire. Most women leaders and politicians have to deal with this demonisation publicly and Jo Cox suffered the ultimate consequence. It's been years of slow progress and today women are confronting. Today's march is also carrying this light: we cannot go back.

Ivette Cooper will finish her speech with the following words:
We are here because we want to take a stand against Donald Trump. Millions of American women and men voted for him. Marching isn’t enough - we need to persuade, to win arguments, to challenge the deep causes of division and to build a future in common.We stand on the shoulders of our mothers and grandmothers - women who have gone before us and won great victories to get us equal pay, abortion rights, rape laws, child care paternity as well as maternity leave.But we won’t be judged on our victories but on how we deal with the setbacks. How we come together and rebuild when it feels like the clock is being turned back.For the sake of our children and grandchildren - our daughters and our sons - we are here because we will not let the clock be turned back now.
But the need of moving forward not backward will come again in other political discussions: with the attempts of raising tensions again with Russia, or creating a new enemy in China. It will be discussed again in terms of workers rights, education rights, freedom of press, freedom of speech, civil rights...

The need of shedding some light

In any case, it is always important to acknowledge context. Donald Trump's election did not come out of nowhere. It came after almost two decades of stagnant wages, student debt, worse jobs requiring ever higher qualifications, rising death rates, rising opiate addition, new generations being for the first time more likely to be worse off than their parents, foreclosures. Growth as an economical recipe was sold to the public saying that if the cake is bigger, everyone piece of the cake will be bigger, but it was not the case. The cake was made bigger, but all this new excess ended up on the plate of the 1%. Occupy Wall Street back then was a very symbolic gesture. Markets seem to be like these mad forces that can take economies to the ruin like the weather used to ruin crops and cause famines. Now a new modernity is needed to create a distance with these forces and work out how to prevent their potential devastating effects, a reincarnation of Nietzsche to declare the markets dead (or at least the bond markets?) or deprive them from their god-like status, perhaps and take action to curb climate change soon after. A modernity to create a distance that today does not exist between politicians and Wall Street and between ideology and the economics profession as Jo Michell's article in Prime Economics explains: "Trump, ideology and the economics profession".

There is a context too in terms of global affairs and journalism. With news consumed daily, and the pursue of mostly the salient pieces of whatever sort of news, many global events are presented to the public as the weather report would be. It rains. An attack in Turkey killed 30. Kim Kardashian is robbed in Paris. NATO forces doing the biggest war games in Poland since WWII. It simply happens. I was very surprised some time ago, watching an otherwise interesting TED talk by a highly educated prize-winning author saying (in min 14.50) "I want to figure out why so many people around the world hate us". Five years after the twin towers were attacked not even highly educated people had a clue why. They hate us. It rains. It is a fact. Them.
Now it is 2017 and we read news of Donald Trump coming out of 'scary' intelligence briefings stating "we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies - very big and, in some cases, strong enemies". It reminded me, funnily enough, Alec Baldwin explaining how he imagines heaven in an interview of Inside the Actors studio (I could not find the video, though). He said that he imagined that when we die, we are sat in front of a screen, like in the movies and we are explained everything, the "truth" so we can go "ahhhh, now I get it". Apocalipsis in the literal sense. The revelation.

In this sense, Wikileaks, Snowden even if they are different in purpose and circumstance are about this state of ignorance. Of course, there are many voices that have been explaining what's going on even if they don't have access to these exclusive files.

Stop the war on women

Here is the other side of the patriarchy ending. It is not only women claiming streets, using their voice, claiming power and rights, leading public offices... men are modified too. Men need to "occupy" those spaces in their psyche that are vital but that have been abandoned and externalised in these women who won't behave: the ones that provide vital attention, emotional nutrition, digestion and processing of negativity, and provide contention. The Huffington Post has a section on "Building modern men" talking about this subject. The crisis of masculinity that comes from not being able to fulfil the old role of the man as the provider, of feeling impotent in front of the economic reality, not being able to afford health care, being surrounded by an ideology that speaks about meritocracy while it invisibilises systemic distortions, de-politicises people and imposes some sort of tyranny of positive thinking inferring that whatever happens to you: it is your fault; plus cultural pressures on men that prevent them from discussing emotions are leading many of them to addiction and has been contributing to the rise of suicides. Some of them, may be tempted to go back, to blame women (and any personification of their vulnerability), to become reactionary against feminism stating that feminists are women who hate men and life itself (as these reactionary movements tend to come with the ban of abortion and limits to access to contraceptives and sexual ed). A deep sense of shame is linked with this reaction (the shame of not being able to be the man that he is supposed to be) and ultimately with fascist tendencies. Some sort of hypermasculinity that ironically sees itself as a victim. And yesterday we listened to an inauguration speech portraying the biggest economy in the world, the most powerful military force in the world, the nation that leads NATO and dictates the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and one of the few nations with a right of veto in the security council of the UN, a nation that has been bombing multiple countries... as a victim.

Feminism has a lot to offer to men in this moment, should they want to understand what is that part that is missing and how to deal with shame. That caring side that allows us to have pity on our Gollum, our shame, our shadow. The war on women is a war on everyone's feminine side. It doesn't allow men to access these tools, and look for solutions from a different place, without anger against women but rather fighting for rights, reconnecting with politics and moving forward. Staying in the patriarchy when it is time to move on is -ultimately- castrating, slavering and des-empowering, the opposite of what everyone needs.


Friday, 20 January 2017

46. Sometimes democracy hurts

It is interesting reading or listening to political commentators using phrases "how didn't we see it coming". The question here is "who is we?", who is included in this selected group and who is excluded?

'Democracy is not working' is being suggested by 'the losing side', in Brexit, US elections or any other electoral contest of these days. The blame is on: Russia, the FBI, Fake news and fake news sites, Facebook, Wikileaks, the uneducated, the baby boomers, etc, etc.

And then, 'the winners', seem to believe that a tight electoral result grants them the right to impose some sort of 'tyranny of the winner', where the other side should stay silent and let them do what they want, let them get on with stuff as all actions are somehow validated by a result that does not even represent the majority.

'Democracy does not seem to be giving the "right" answer'. It is too unpredictable or uncontrollable for some. "People are looking in too much", "they are looking around, looking at their reality", so "we need an external enemy", "which is one of the easiest way to engineer consensus".

Who is the enemy?

Historically speaking, the neighbour (the neighbouring town, city, country, empire) has been the perfect enemy. The neighbour marks the limit of what's not mine, the place where I don't have sovereignty. His house is not mine. He is not me. The neighbour is a "no". And so most of wars were between neighbouring countries or empires and ended up redrawing limits.

During the cold war, US and URSS were neighbours, who diligently fenced their claimed territories and kept fighting in disputed lands. With the fall of the Berlin wall, and then the iron curtain, the end of history was declared. US prevailed. There was no longer a neighbour to fight against.

So the enemy became internal. The collective solution failed so it is all about the individual struggle. The negativity we felt was now the enemy holding ourselves back, there was no alternative system to compare. So self-help books emerged, positive thinking. We also fought cancer and AIDS -an internal enemy- and terrorism became the political enemy, destructive cells that can covertly attack us inside our territory or hack our immune/defence systems so it does not detect the invasor is there.

Zygmunt Bauman wrote in his article "How Neoliberalism prepared the way for Donald Trump" a reflection on Umberto Eco's essay Making an enemy.

Shortly before his death, the great Umberto Eco drew in his brilliant essay Making an Enemy the following sad conclusion from his numerous studies of the matter: “Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth”. In other words: we need an enemy to know who we are and who we are not; knowing this is indispensable for our self-approval and self-esteem. And he adds: “So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one”. A codicil: “Enemies are different from us and observe customs that are not our own. The epitome of difference is the foreigner”.

Well, the trouble with a foreigner is that all too often he is indeed foreign – not just in the sense of obeying alien habits, but also – and most importantly – in that of residing beyond the realm of our sovereignty and so also beyond our reach and control. It is not fully up to us to make of such people enemies and put our enmity in practice (unless, of course, they cross boundaries with the intention of settling in our midst). If sovereignty consists in the “decisionist” capacity of acting solely on one’s own will, then many a foreigner is unfit to perform the role of a proper enemy according to Eco. In many cases (or perhaps in all?) it is better to seek, find or invent an enemy closer to home and above all inside the gate. An enemy within sight and touch is for many reasons more proficient (and above all easier to control and manipulate) than the seldom seen or heard member of an imagined totality. Already in the Middle Ages the function of the enemy in case of Christian states was perfectly performed by heretics, Saracens and Jews – all residing inside the realms of dynasties and churches by which they had been appointed. Today, in the era that favours exclusion over inclusion while the first (but not the second) is fast becoming a routine measure to which well-nigh mechanically to resort, internal choices assume yet more attraction and facility.

Today is the inauguration day, and America is torn in front of the choice of enemy. Terrorism with all its relevance, is losing its edge in terms of driving people's fears.
Where is the limit of what we are not? For some, it is the president-elect himself, a property developer, salesman and expert hacker of our attention system. For others, immigrants and the fussy entity that conforms the establishment. Some are dangerously pushing for the come back of the golden enemy, Russia, or probably some small "nasty" country that appears as a more legitimate target (North Korea?). Some of those will be driven by interest in the business of a new arms race and making Europe the new disputed territory, but the public is probably more driven by denial that the same America that fantasises through Hollywood with heroic Presidents, wise and impeccable, addressing the world, fighting for freedom and defending "our way of living"... that same America... well, voted for Trump. "Russia is the one that hacked us", somehow surgically impacting the outcome of the election of the swing states (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote). "It was not us, it was fake news" even though scientific predictive models that take into consideration the relative strength of a candidate in the primaries pointed out at Trump as the most likely winner, against what polls were saying. Polls which also offered certainty in Brexit and the Colombian referendum, somehow making an impact on many indecisive voters who decided then not to bother.

Trump's preference -at the moment at least- seems to be China, but it is a not new idea as the encircling of China with 400 military bases has been going on for years, as John Pilger denounces in "The coming war on China". It is the third largest economy after US and the EU. China has an expansionist agenda, but less military than others. They've been investing in Latin America and Africa in infrastructure, trains, energy projects, etc. It's the biggest trading nation and developed a manufacturing sector with low wages and almost no rights whilst US needs to face the consequences of Nafta, the erosion of the manufacturing sector and a fake distribution of wealth through access to credit. US is tempted by the promise of protectionism while we now hear the Chinese communist President Xi Jinping speaking in Davos in the World Economic Forum in defence of globalisation. This is definitely a curious change.

Hacking is about obtaining unauthorised access, but it is also about opening up short cuts, looking at system's vulnerabilities. And one of our vulnerabilities is not looking at the vulnerable. We are easily distracted by celebrities, outrageous statements and with the idea of the external enemy. An enemy is useful in rhetoric terms, it keeps us clean. It is not time for self-doubt in front of an enemy. Easily accepting a narrative that increases military tensions between nuclear powers is dangerous and should be closely scrutinised. There were real political reasons behind the break on the Democrat's administration and forgetting about those would be a distraction. Today we watch a Hollywood version of Les Miserables on TV and can deeply emphatise with their struggle. We can see, from the distance that those miserables were subjected to a system of structural injustice, when there were dreams that could not be and that we could not force a narrative of meritocracy when listening to Fantine's lament:

But are we really paying attention to Les Miserables of our time? Are we able to emphatise with their situation and their struggle?

Plurality means that sometimes we are not right, or that sometimes we are on the losing side even if we are right (of course, we are), we are forced to look at the other side of the argument and rescue whatever truth lies there.
This US presidential election as well as the Brexit vote, some say, gave the wrong answer and the seed of doubt is planted: doubting the system, doubting democracy. Rather than saying that is not working, I'd say 'it's complicated' or even that sometimes 'democracy hurts'. But we should not let this pain blind us to the reality that keeps on moving and is trying to distract us from very important tasks (such as strengthening democratic values and institutions, overseeing all now open trade agreements that will define how work will be distributed and how capital will flow globally) by preparing a menu of enemies,


PS: the 2016 Davos, predicted that Trump would lose and this year they seem to be discussing inequality more seriously...