social construct

Fem v. Fem; What’s the Point? It’s ALL Female Oppression!

“Us and Them;” Culture and Female Oppression

By T.L. Dayen burka_muell_igfm

Oppression is the anti-thesis of liberty. Women all over the world enjoy different degrees of liberty, so you could say that women all over the world also suffer different degrees of oppression, from the right to equal pay to the right to not be burned alive in our own kitchen. Culture, perhaps more than anything else, is the lens through which these differing degrees of liberty and oppression are perceived. So when feminists attempt to assess and evaluate global female oppression outside the context of culture, conclusions will no doubt be skewed and ineffectual; skewed because conclusions have not allowed for “differing” cultural perspectives, and ineffectual because skewed conclusions are not taken seriously to effect change. Advancement in information and communication technologies have made the world a “smaller” and less unfamiliar place since the 2nd wave feminist movement of the mid-20th century here in the U.S., but unique and personal female experience (most often defined by culture) has been said by many to remain overlooked when assessing female oppression, and remains a source of contention within what has become a fragmented feminist movement. A truly empathetic understanding of Culture, which encompasses ones race, ethnicity, religion, class and even sexuality, seems to be the one factor that continues to divide women and prevent a unified approach to emancipation from female subordination and oppression. However, we cannot risk the danger of allowing culture to justify oppression. Culture explains social norms of female acquiescence, but cultural oppression reflects mandated social constructs that demand female capitulation often by threat of harm.

The Challenges of Cultural Divisions

As females, we need to understand that our everyday lives, responsibilities and personal experiences can be dramatically different from one another dependent upon the social norms of not only where we live, but by those defined by the culture within which we live; even in the same geographic location.   The need to recognize our cultural differences is real and pertinent to the feminist discourse. In this context, representations of all female voices are crucial within the movement to gain the trust and engagement of all women. The feminist perspective within the gay community will be dramatically different from that of the Latina community, and the Latina different from the African [American] community, and African American different from the Muslim community, and the Muslim different from white suburbia or Wall Street, etc. Female oppression is experienced on a level unique to each of our ‘cultures.’ Linda Alcoff writes of this dilemma; “the advocacy of the oppressed must be done by the oppressed themselves,” as it “will have a significant effect on the content [impact] of what is said.” She goes on to warn that the “practice of privileged persons speaking on behalf of less privileged persons has actually (in many cases) resulted in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.” (Alcoff, 78-91). Although it is not always possible on every occasion the movement has a chance to be heard, whenever possible, the empowerment of oppressed voices to speak for themselves is always more potent (and valid). However, I would argue that for those whose voices are invalidated by their own cultural constructs, then sensitive, sensible and cognizant advocacy is not only legitimate but often necessary.

Is Oppression Culturally Justified?

Repression is synonymous with ‘oppression.’ According to the North American English Encarta Dictionary, repression is “being politically or socially kept down by force;” also a “psychological protective mechanism by which people protect themselves from threatening thoughts by blocking them out of the conscious mind.” When we speak of cultural oppression, we have to be mindful that from within an ‘oppressive culture’ there is not a collective sense of injustice, but rather a consensual social construct shared and enforced by the community.   When confronted by perceptions ‘outside’ the purview of those within the social construct, defense mechanisms may be necessary to protect oneself from facing what may otherwise be horrible truths. These can include justification involving explanations that account for history, tradition and religious beliefs, and/or projection, which entails transposition or false equivalents.  In other words, instead of facing a difficult truth we’re confronted with, we may instead choose to assert that the confronter’s situation is similar to our own to dilute or negate unpleasant realizations brought about through otherwise stark comparisons.

I believe that Uma Narayan is doing just that when she compares rampant “dowry deaths” in India to cases of domestic murder in the U.S. No murder should ever be considered “better” than another, but the circumstances surrounding the act can be deemed more or less egregious! Murder is not cultural. What is cultural is the uniformity of victim, motive and method, and of the collective social response. Narayan uses false equivalents between Indian dowry murder and U.S. domestic murder in the defense of her own culture when she says, “fatal forms of violence against mainstream Western women seem interestingly resistant to such ‘cultural explanations,’ leaving Western women seemingly more immune to ‘death by culture’” (Narayan, 62-77).  Domestic murder in the U.S. has no uniformity in method or motive. They are random acts of violence that are often not premeditated or intentional. They are often motivated by spontaneous moments of rage and often facilitated by substance abuse. They are committed by spouses and non-spouses alike who are often not cohabitating at the time of the act. In contrast, Indian dowry murder is a frequent (5,000 annually) act of premeditated murder for dowry profit, committed only by a husband against his wife by burning her to death in only one way that can also be culturally explained as an accident; “pressurized kerosene stoves [that] are in common use in [Indian] homes; a tin of fuel is ‘always kept in reserve’…. A highly flammable nylon sari easily catches fire…signs of struggle do not show up on bodies with 90 percent or more third degree burns.” (Narayan, 62-77). The victim, motive and method are the same in every case and specific to Indian culture.Dowry death

Social and community response is another factor that differentiates fundamental female subordination from ‘cultural’ female oppression. Women are not the only victims of violence; however when they are, they are nearly exclusively victim to men. This is globally consistent and not confined to the U.S. or India. What is not globally consistent is the customary response from local communities, authorities and governments, and that is reflective of culture. Culturally justified female oppression does not – cannot – occur in societies that, 1) have collectively established an infrastructure of support and safety nets for women in need which includes education, housing/shelter, economic, employment and legal assistance, and 2) have collectively recognized civilly, politically and legally, a woman’s autonomous right to liberty. These were once feminist issues in the U.S. and the world, but they are now woven within our collective cultural fabric as “civilly humane” issues. Narayan concedes to “the virtual absence in India of state-provided welfare, education, and medical care…legal services… that would enable Indian women to leave family contexts where they are victims of violence.” She also cites the powerful social “stigma” in India of “women living on their own” that deter even those with financial means to leave abusive situations (Narayan, 62-77). A lack of support structure to address social vulnerabilities specific to women fosters the cultural message to both men and women that these vulnerabilities are tolerable and acceptable and therefore ensuing consequences are ‘culturally justified.’ Even while Narayan admits that “feminist policies and solutions are dependent upon the background social, economic and institutional features of the national landscape,” she actually appears indignant when she says that “some Western feminists seem to have assumed that the Indian women’s movement is “less developed” (Narayan, 62-77). I say she is right, but taking a ‘personal’ offense to the Western observation of institutionalized female oppression in India is not only counterproductive it actually fuels the defensive narrative that female oppression and violence can be culturally justified.

This defensive position taken by women in the international feminist community is not uncommon. An incensed Chandra Mohanty-Talpade gave a seething indictment of Western feminist perspective when she said there are “issues around which apparently all women are expected to organize,” and that this “reinforces the assumption that people in the third world just have not evolved to the extent that the West has.” She asserts that the West has a “paternalistic attitude towards women” whose lives are constrained within the social constructs of “religion,” “domesticity,” “child marriages,” and “illiteracy” (Talpade-Mohanty). If the Western paternal or dominant perspective is the expectation that women should “organize” around the abolition of child marriage, female illiteracy and even forced child birth, than Chandra is correct in her assessment, but severely misguided in her scorn of such an expectation. True liberty allows for personal choice of religion and domestic ambitions such as motherhood. Children and illiterates are not equipped to exercise informed and unshackled personal ‘choice.’ Civically or religiously mandated female behavior under threat of harm or exile is nothing more than culturally justified oppression, whether its child marriage, female illiteracy, forced child birth or even veiling. This is not a matter of evolution, but one of dissolute cultural authority.

Prospects for UnificationChristian female oppression

The 3rd wave or “postmodern” feminist movement of the 21st century may hold the key to recognizing our differences without having to ‘reconcile’ them. Coming from the perspective that differences and even contradictions in the female experience should be welcomed and even expected, perhaps unification against female oppression does not require an objective consensus but rather a subjective coordinated effort. In other words, is it really so much about whom “we” are, as it is about what “oppression” is? Can we objectively define what we are fighting while subjectively maintaining why we are fighting it? Stephanie Riley quotes philosopher Paul Ricoeur when contemplating “bridging the gap” between the complexity of feminists and the simplicity of our cause, “a process of self-attestation takes place as a moment of constituting self-identity: we are, we act, and we suffer.” (Riley). From this approach, a multi-cultural feminist narrative is “free within a text to be appropriated not as an individual possession, but as a shared notion that contributes to change. Feminists reading each other… can share one another’s stories to shape and color their own existence.” (Riley). Part of the nature of our cause is the lack of empathy to our plight. I believe that if the feminist movement is mindful that we should expect of ourselves at least what we are expecting of others, that a balanced unification is possible.

Change is Always Evolutionary and Sometimes Revolutionary.

Evolution cannot occur without change. They are intrinsically intertwined. Change can come slow, as in ‘movement,’ or change can come fast, as in a ‘revolution.’ Regardless of how change comes about it is inevitable and constant. But how it comes about can determine the degree and pace of change. It is generally agreed that the feminist movement began during the Enlightenment Era of the 17th century, and more specifically during the French Revolution. Terms like “liberty” and “freedom” and “social justice” and “self-determination” sparked the courage and insight of an entire generation of women to embark on the long journey that is the struggle for female equality and emancipation from oppression known as the “feminist movement.” Its momentum has been marked in terms of “waves.” The 1st Wave was women’s suffrage (the right to vote). The 2nd Wave was equality and the end of sexism in the work place. It is said we are now in the 3rd Wave or post modernism. This reflects multi-cultural and multi-national feminist identities, issues of female oppression and violence, severe income inequality and women’s health issues. Given the history of the troublesome fragmentation of the movement and its inability to coalesce, this 3rd Wave feminist effort seems to recognize our need to ‘pull together’ the voices of ALL women to affect real, positive and lasting progress for women’s liberties.

The feminist movement is now global.

Groups like the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) that advocates for “equality around the world” and the National Organization for Women (NOW) that advocates for the diverse issues of women in a multi-cultural U.S. and uses the strength and influence of the U.S. within the United Nations (UN) to address multi-national women’s issues, are both organizations that reflect a renewed sense of urgency in the feminist movement to come together as a global force.

Using new networking technologies that can converge and rally millions of women all over the world, these groups focus on petitioning governments whose policies are oppressive to women, educating men to the benefits of a world of full equality, empowering and supporting women in their local communities, as well as staging and sponsoring protests, and national and international discussion forums.   There is also a renewed push to engage women in the political process and encourage women to run for political office. Both the FMF and NOW are educating and encouraging their members to urge their legislators to finally ratify CEDAW; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Adopted in 1979 by the UN, “187 countries have ratified the Convention, pledging to give women equal rights in all aspects of their lives including political, health, educational, social and legal.” (Global Women’s Rights: CEDAW). Shamefully, the United States is not on this list. In fact it is one of only seven countries including Iran and Somalia that have not ratified the only International Treaty that “comprehensively [addresses] women’s rights within political, cultural, economic, social, and family life.” The FMF justly contends that, “the United States compromises its credibility as a leader for either human rights or women’s rights.” (Global Women’s Rights: CEDAW). The feminist movement has yet to inspire a “revolution,” but it’s fair to say we may be closer to such an event then we have ever been.

Conclusion

There’s a term, “Think globally, but act locally.” Originally coined to support the environmental movement, I believe it is completely apropos to the feminist movement. While we all need to have a clear and empathetic understanding of the global challenges that women face in the 21st century, our individual focus needs to be in our own lives and our own communities. Whether you live in Alabama or Bangladesh; whether you’re gay or straight, black or Latina; by working within our own cultural infrastructures and addressing the issues unique to our own experiences, we will surely and steadily change the reality of female oppression on a global scale.

Riley reflects on the words of famous feminist literary icon, bell hooks, discussing our individual needs in relation to our common desires; “she [bell hooks] emphasizes the importance of a feminist theory that would offer everyone, men and women alike, a liberated vision of love and sexual expression. From what humanity is freed differs for each [person], but that something exists from which to be liberated, and that liberation involves love, remains a constant.” (Riley).

We must all be informed by our unique and personal experience, but I would suggest that if we have indeed made a personal commitment to the cause of female emancipation and equality, then we have indeed made that commitment to breach the cultural boundaries between us and them.

Bibliography

Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem with Speaking for Others.” Trans. Array Theorizing Feminisms.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 78-91. Print.

“Global Women’s Rights: CEDAW.” Feminsit Majority Foundation. Ms. Magazine. Web. 6 Dec 2013. <Feminist.org>.

Narayan, Uma. “Cross-cultural Connections, Border-Crossings and “Death by Culture”.” Trans.

Array Theorizing Feminisms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 62-77. Print.      

           National Organization for Women (NOW). Web. 6 Dec 2013 <now.org>.

Riley, Stephanie. “”First” and “Third” World Feminism(s); Does Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophy

Offer a Way to Bridge the Gap?.” Ricoeur Studies. University of Pittsburg Press, 2013. Vol. 4, No.1 pg.

57-70. Web. 11 Nov 2013. <ricoeur.pitt.edu>. (Riley)

Talpade-Mohanty, Chandra. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial

Discourse.” On Humanism and the University I: The Discourse of Humanism. Duke

University Press, 1984.Vol.12, No.3 pg. 333-358. Web. 11 Nov 2013. <jstor.org>.

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After Women Took off Their Aprons, Advertisers Began Taking Off the Rest!

fem 17Once we won our equal liberty to choose our personal “place” in the world, the male ego swiftly began to make sure that women would never forget their universal “purpose” in the world.

By T.L.Dayen

They say “a picture paints a thousand words.” Imagery has the power to elicit emotion and provoke thought. It can also be used to subconsciously persuade or manipulate. Imagery has also historically been used to disseminate propaganda such as the iconic “Rosie the Riveter;” an animated image of a strong-armed woman in a factory uniform intended to convey that it was acceptable to see women; the majority of the domestic work force during the war effort of WWII, as strong and capable. Images can also portray social behavioral norms like iconic Norman Rockwell fem 15paintings depicting ‘normal’ life in middle and working class America from the early to mid 20th century. Culturally, our social norms are reflected through imagery in our media; movies (entertainment mostly) and advertising (expressly to persuade).

Imagery in advertising works to convince, confirm or inform viewers about what they should want, think, identify with or accept as good for them. When advertisers use sexually implicit images to sell a product, it is reaffirming stereotypes that objectify women’s bodies and marginalize their humanity.

Selling Sex

Exploiting sexuality to sell a product is, unfortunately, effective. The ‘sex kitten’ eating Doritos on T.V. prompts the dorritosman to buy the chips because he wants to “get the girl” in the ad, and the woman buys the chips because she wants to “be the girl” in the ad; “We’re a visually explicit culture that’s become comfortable with selling domain names and winter coats on the backs of pretty, naked people” (Thompson, 2011).

Using sex in advertising subliminally links our most primal motive of procreation to the impulse desire for that product/service. In other words, buy the product, get (feel) the sex.

Sell Sex; Buy Sexism

The problem with ‘selling sex’ is that it takes the elemental human drive to procreate (which requires dominant and pliant roles), and attaches it to everything in our lives from food to cars to clothing to cleaning products to insurance. fem 14The dominant/ pliant roles of our sex organs become the roles we identify with as represented subliminally by the products and services we need and use every day. By ascribing the yielding female sex organ to her overall nature and character (as subordinate), advertisers can use sexually explicit imagery to not only potently objectify women’s bodies, but also marginalize female humanity by transforming “actual women into [sexual] objects, devoid of individual will or subjectivity” (Benshoff and Griffin 238-256).

The female body, pliant in sex, becomes the objectified woman, subordinate in life.

Even while women have made stellar strides in education and work force parity since the blatantly sexist advertising of the 1950’s; “an era when women’s roles were confined to the corridor between the bedroom and the kitchen” (Thompson, 2011);

the ‘new sexism’ is simply explicitly sexist imagery without the explicitly sexist messaging. In the 21st century, the message of sexual servitude is “implied.”

“Having lost the argument that women are incompetent, American advertising has had to settle on the argument that fem 18women are [still] attractive” (Thompson, 2011). In other words the iconic domestic dependent ‘June Cleaver’ telling viewers something like, “Your husband will never complain about undercooked eggs again with this new and improved egg timer!” has been replaced with the sexually implicit ‘cleavage and stilettoes’ seductively and silently stepping out of a Lincoln Continental. I call this “objectified female imagery.” This more modern version of sexism has only fed new life into age old social constructs of female subordination, because “American women still develop a sense of self-worth based primarily on how they look, rather than how talented or intelligent they are” (Benshoff and Griffin 238-256).

Domestic dependent submissiveness has simply been replaced by sexual objectification; both are demeaning and subordinate positions of “service.”

What’s even more poignant is that some of worst offenders of this type of sexist advertising are ‘women on women.’ fem 19Women who appeared on a Phil Donahue Show “fashion segment,” un-apologetically defended their unusual preoccupation with ‘perfecting’ their hair, skin, eyes, clothing and bodies. Susan Bordo took note of their naiveté and that “putting on makeup, styling hair, and so forth are conceived of only as free play, fun, a matter of creative expression,” but in reality is, “also experienced by many women as ‘necessary’ before they show themselves to the world, even a quick trip to the corner mailbox.” Bordo expresses her concern that the true messages being sent by ‘fashion statements’ are merely “whimsical and politically neutral vicissitudes [that] supply endless amusement for women’s [apparent] eternally superficial values.” Bordo goes on to say in the context of the fashion and beauty industry, “the specific ideals that women are drawn to embody…are seen as arbitrary, without meaning [by society].”

In other words, obsession with fashion culturally indicates frivolous and superficial priorities.

Bordo’s trepidation with the multi-million dollar fashion and beauty industry is shared by Benshoff and Griffen who assert that this advertising strives to persuade women to “buy their [own] femininity;” be re-made into “some ideal fem 20form” as an “object of the male gaze (objectification).” This, alleges Benshoff and Griffen, actually convinces women “to be complicit in their own objectification.” A massive and still growing fashion and beauty industry in America may be evidence that many women have indeed “internalized the ideology that their self-worth is based upon their public image… that achieving total objectified desirability is the only thing that will give them happiness and fulfillment” and that, “this mythical ideal keeps patriarchal (male) domination in place” (Benshoff and Griffin 238-256). If women are buying sexism, then apparently sexist advertising is working.

Hijacked Sexuality

Full disclosure: as a woman myself, I am frustrated that an industry has “hijacked” my God given sexuality for their profits! Can a woman in the 21st century fully express her innate sexuality without the implication that she is consenting to, even encouraging the sexist messages sent by the objectified female imagery in media advertising? And what of those who feed into the ‘cultural messages’ that are fabricated from objectified female imagery in the media; that a woman’s sexuality is by its very nature literally “there for the taking?”fem 5

Can a woman in the 21st century fully express her innate sexuality personally without the implication that she is “asking for it” publically? I fear that the answer to these questions today is “no.”

Sharon Marcus writes of the misleading dialogue used when legislating rape laws or hearing rape cases; “The rape script describes female bodies as vulnerable, violable, penetrable, and wounded.” A website called “Controltonight.com” ran an ad showing a young woman’s legs with her panties around her ankles lying on what looks like a bathroom floor. The ad reads, “2:19 a.m. She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say NO.” The ad intends to warn against drinking and date rape, but the ‘message’ is that women’s bodies are simply up for grabs by anyone who may gain the advantage to take it – and that’s somehow a woman’s fault. Marcus purports, “the adherents of rape culture see female sexuality as a property which only men can truly own, which women often hoard, which can thus justifiably be wrested from us, which women themselves merely hold in trust for a lawful owner. Rape thus becomes the theft or violation of one man’s property rights by another.”

fem 8If women’s sexuality is not even seen in our law as our own rightful possession, it is no wonder it could be unabashedly exploited personally or commercially by whomever and however it serves to benefit.

Audrey Lorde writes of the uses and power of the ‘erotic’ – in this context, ones ‘passions;’ sexual or otherwise; “We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused and devalued within western society… the erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority.” So a woman’s capacity to “feel deeply” has been equated with weakness, and that “only by the suppression of the erotic within our lives and consciousness can women truly be strong. But this strength is illusory, for it is fashioned within the context of male models of power” (Lorde 188-192).

If we follow Lordes’ premise, then a woman’s capacity to feel her own sexuality is considered “suspect” and therefore only passably expressed within and through our patriarchal society’s consent and capacity to control it.

Conclusion

What came first, female objectification or female objectified imagery? The truth is not what you might think. While media imagery only began in the early 1900’s, female objectification is just one arm of female subordination that has fem 12stigmatized the male/female dynamic for thousands of years. However, in the 21st century human kind is capable of growing beyond our prejudices; capable of a much broader perspective of the male/female dynamic.

In the 21st century human kind is capable of recognizing our two species as ‘different in measure but equal in value.’

This is where the media continues to culturally perpetuate female objectification even as we are collectively capable of moving beyond it. Advertising media imagery is especially harmful because it is scrupulously knitted within the fabric of our consumer based culture. Every decade that passes, fem 4human kind becomes more familiar with women in leadership positions of authority in politics, more acceding to our dependability as an equal successful womanpartner within the home, and more reliant on our equally competent skills in the work place and industry. While this reality of the male/female dynamic may smack of truth, the false postulation of our disparity and subordination continues to be culturally projected before us as sexually objectified minions of the patriarchal social construct.

Women’s sexuality; our very autonomy is reduced to a collective cultural commodity, and only valid through its collective cultural usefulness to the patriarchal bedroom, boardroom or billboard.

If sex is selling, it’s only selling women out.

fem 16

 

References

Benshoff, Harry, and Sean Griffin. America On Film. 2nd. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

238-256. Print.

Bordo, Susan. “Material Girl: The Effacements of Post Modern Culture.” Trans. Array

Theorizing Feminisms. N.Y., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 385-404. Print.

Lorde, Audre. “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Trans. Array Theorizing Feminisms.

N.Y., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 188-192. Print.

Marcus, Sharon. “Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention.”

Trans. Array Theorizing Feminism. N.Y., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 369-

  1. Print. (Marcus, 369-381)

Thompson, Derek. “Are T.V. Ads Getting More Sexist?.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly

Group, 31 Oct 2011. Web. 16 Oct 2013. <theatlantic.com>.

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Hey GOP! Insanity is the Opposite of Learning From Your Mistakes…

Income inequality SHOULD be a result of “personal” ambition and aspiration!

But turn-of-the century GOP trickle-down economics actually creates the very “bottom-feeders” they themselves blame for their provenance by the GOP’s own greedy hand.

By T.L. Dayen

A society’s values and priorities are reflected in how and where it spends and invests its money. Political debates over federal tax policy are not just over the merit of each political Party’s values and priorities, but how federal tax policy can and should affect national economic prosperity.   According to Kerbo (2012), taxation as a means for government investment is a form of wealth distribution that is a normal function of government and can be either progressive or regressive. Historically and today, the role and function of federal taxation is perhaps the most contentious of disparaging issues between our two political Parties. When considering the role federal taxation plays in social stratification,

two time periods of American history provide empirical evidence of the economic outcomes created by these two opposing tax strategies.

The contemporary Republican or conservative approach to regressive taxation was initially put forth in a report by the Republican Study Committee’s critique of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978; influenced heavily by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman’s philosophy of individualism and spontaneous free markets (Jones 2012). The measures presented in this report forged the tax policies known as Reaganomics or trickle-down ‘micro’economics that were intended to spur economic growth and national prosperity (Jones 2012). The contemporary Democratic or progressive approach to taxation is based on an ideology and tax policy put forth by FDR’s 1930’s progressive era New Deal, also known as Keynesian Demand-Side ‘macro’economics. Keynesian macroeconomics remains the bedrock of progressive taxation as a means for economic stability through social mobility and equal opportunity (Himmelberg 2001).

The Progressive Era

Robert Himmelberg (2001) refers to the decade’s pre and post WWII as the “Progressive Era” in where a paradigm shift had occurred in the relationship between the federal government and social and economic issues. The Great Depression (GD) of the 1930’s uniquely encapsulates both the Keynesian macroeconomics that it spawned and the microeconomic policies that caused it. Literature refers to the decade that preceded the GD as the “roaring ‘20’s;” a rather prosperous time for America under three consecutive Republican Presidencies of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. But it also refers to

the ultimate result of that economic model  of minimal taxation, minimal federal investment and minimal business-finance regulations that was the greatest financial collapse in American history.

According to Himmelberg (2001), FDR’s sweeping public intervention into the private sector; that is, unprecedented public/private infrastructure investment in housing, public works, transportation, public lands and various government public infrastructure projects designed to modernize the American civil landscape, inspired the British economist, John Maynard Keynes’ demand-side macroeconomics. Keynes envisioned a mixed economy of a predominantly private sector with an intervening role of government during periods of economic recession. This public/private investment partnership included a progressive tax. FDR’s Revenue Act of 1935 raised corporate and personal income taxes on up to 75% of earnings. But Himmelberg (2001) indicates that the effectiveness of the New Deal relied on more than taxation and investment. It also required three additional new roles of government that would fully define the Progressive Era of the New Deal:

  1. Stricter and new regulations of the U.S. banking, finance and investment sectors and the private business sector regarding wages, hours and worker rights were both needed to counter initial causes of the GD.
  2. Government must have a role, when needed, to provide economic relief and/or assistance for those individuals and markets most in need which included the initiation of farm subsidies for American farmers hit hard by the GD and the implementation of Social Security, unemployment and disability insurance.
  3. Perhaps the most defining aspect of the progressive era, according to Himmelberg (2001), was the idea that government should expect and accept deficits as a normal outcome during periods of investment.

The literature indicates that FDR’s New Deal; specifically the symbiosis of government and business as an effective means of securing national economic stability and socio-economic equity in times of recession and in this case severe depression, was the basis for an unprecedented thriving middle class during the decades that followed into Post WWII. From the liberal perspective, recovery from the GD through centralized distribution of revenue proved that taxation as a means for investment in economic growth and national prosperity can and does produce equitable outcomes (Himmelberg 2001; Madrick 2010).

Trickle-down Economics

David Beito (1989) chronicles the severity of the conservative opposition to FDR’s New Deal policies through economic periodicals and industry journals of the 1930’s such as the American Taxpayers’ League’s Handbook on Taxation and the Wisconsin Taxpayer. The literature paints a general consensus among those fortunate during the GD to have not lost everything, but who in fact experienced significant economic leverage comparatively, as literally incensed by a national attitude of government preying on the wealthy, and Americans exploiting the government as “tax eaters.” According to Beito (1989) those who felt unfairly burdened to pay for FDR’s New Deal government programs were pitted against those who benefited from them.

This socioeconomic class consciousness supported conservative Individualism that persisted into the 1970’s and forged trickle-down microeconomics.

Daniel Jones (2012) explains the rise of trickle-down Reaganomics as the conservative remedy implemented by the Reagan administration in response to the economic woes of the 1970’s. Three economic maladies were at issue:

  1. Soaring inflation
  2. Soaring fuel costs (Mid-East oil embargo)
  3. A national economic decline in productivity

In collaboration with the conservative policy think tank, Heritage Foundation; the Republican Study Committee’s 1978 report described four measures that promised to increase capital, productivity, long term employment and raise income levels and standard of living for all:

  1. Broad and permanent individual and business tax cuts
  2. Elimination of taxes on capital gains
  3. Smaller government and minimal regulations at every level of business and commerce
  4. Reduced deficit through austerity measures to stabilize the dollar.

Upon taking office in January 1981, Reagan removed any remaining economic controls that had been in place by Nixon on oil and petrol and cut taxes on oil profits. That summer Reagan busted the air traffic controllers union and fired all workers who were striking that year. Next, Reagan made sweeping and unprecedented tax cuts to the top tax rate of 70 percent to 50 percent and again in 1986, to 28 percent. This redistribution of wealth to the middle and chart-changes-in-income.topupper class earners through tax policy, according to Jones (2012), was the process that came to be known as trickle-down economics, and Reagan’s supply-side revolution; the antithesis to Keynesian demand-side tax policy. Trickle-down tax policy was intended to create increased investment by the wealthy that would in turn create more opportunity for everyone.

By 2008, thirty years after the 1978 Republican Committee Study and Heritage Foundation supply side economic recommendations followed by three Republican Presidencies:

  • The deficit had been tripled.
  • A massive migration of manufacturing to cheap overseas labor markets led to record high corporate profits but also ballooning unemployment rates and local tax bases strapped for revenue.
  • Minimal or nonexistent federal regulations and oversight culminated in the financial crash of 2008 wiping out pensions, forcing further layoffs and depleting local tax bases.
  • The income gap between the rich and poor was at a historic level (Jones 2012; Madrick 2010).

The literature cites the actual long-term effects of the microeconomic tax policies of Reagan and two subsequent Republican President’s, George H.W. and George W. Bush as the impetus behind not only frequent recessions and high deficits, but that increased costs of health care, housing and education attributed to free market privatization exacerbated government spending on public services and the welfare state; something trickle-down was billed to reduce. Referred to as the “social question,” according to Jones (2012), neither the Reagan nor both Bush Presidencies showed interest in addressing these failures, and in fact, purported that supply-side trickle-down economics simply required a general acceptance that social inequality was an inevitable, yet essential part of economic growth and social progress overall. So, instead of working toward correcting this “glitch” within trickle-down Reaganomics, Reagan conservatives began floating the notion that one’s socioeconomic success or failure depends on an inherent level of “fitness.” Their premise; that

regardless of the socioeconomic “class” in which you find yourself at birth, your financial means are equal to your inherent quality of character and intelligence – Social Darwinism (SD).

Charles Murray firmly alluded to SD when he wrote that public welfare aid supported the “immorality and deviant behavior of the poor” (Kerbo: Murray 1984). In the mid ‘90’s, he and fellow conservative Richard Herrnstein attempted to empirically support the SD theory with research that showed lower IQ scores among the impoverished (Kerbo: Herrnstein and 1994), but their conclusions were staunchly debunked as wildly spurious and their findings grossly misinterpreted. However, this published material is still used today in support of conservative principals of Individualism!

American federal taxation and social stratification today

Contemporary literature available on macroeconomic tax policy draws striking comparisons between the causes and effects of the GD and the financial crash of 2008; specifically an inflated housing market, de-regulation of the financial industry, and prolonged austerity measures neglecting needed infrastructure investment. The literature cites current microeconomic tax policy and austerity measures as preventing a full recovery from the 2008 financial collapse; protracting a broadly depressed economic landscape and historic income inequality. Today, there is call for a renewed ... .com/dmblog/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/stock_market_crash.jpginvestment partnership in the spirit of the New Deal between government and the private sector (Elson 2013; Madrick 2010). An investment partnership requires revenue, but current tax policies are choking government revenue resources. According to Madrick (2010) just 20 percent of American households hold 89 percent of America’s net worth (32 trillion), and that an additional tax rate of just 0.5 percent on this top 20 percent would provide an additional 160 billion per year in federal investment revenue.   Madrick (2010) also cites that certain analysis has indicated every two tax dollars invested could over time again return another three to four dollars in future tax revenue.

American businesses, while they benefit from conservative non-regulation policies, are themselves recognizing that conservative austerity measures and regressive tax policy are reducing American house-hold incomes; inhibiting spending and market demand-side expansion (Elson 2013).

America’s crumbling transportation and outdated energy infrastructure is in sore need of public investment (Madrick 2010; Elson 2013). With high paying American jobs in short supply today, Madrick (2010) quotes a Transportation Committee report from the Federal Highway Administration with a model showing that 75 billion in government investment would yield more than 3.5 million jobs and 464 billion in market revenue. In other words, according to infrastructureMadrick (2010), for every 1 billion invested, 47,500 jobs and 6 billion in market revenue would be created. According to Elson (2013), Business representatives such as the US Chamber of Commerce are actually calling for new government stimulus investment in 21st century transportation and energy infrastructure.

Conclusion

The literature available on federal taxation and American social stratification concurs that there is a correlation between the two. The literature concurs that supply-side trickle-down microeconomics creates greater social stratification and concurs that demand-side Keynesian macroeconomics reduces social stratification. The socioeconomic relationship between federal tax revenue investment and social mobility is not in dispute. Where the literature diverges is what that means to Americans.

The literature advocating for microeconomic Individualism has shown that trickle-down has historically and currently created considerable profit and wealth for those in the top 20 percent income bracket, but also that socioeconomic inequality is an inevitable and therefore necessary outcome of this economic model. Also; that those GOP_Income_InequalityCOLORwho benefit from this economic model are of higher quality of character and intelligence, while those who do not are immoral, deviant, and unintelligent. The literature advocating for macro-economic Keynesian Collectivism does not consider 20 percent of Americans enjoying economic growth to be “social progress;” and that progressive policies have historically provided for National prosperity, at all relative levels of the income scale.

If we are looking for federal tax policy that addresses social stratification; that is, promotes socioeconomic stability, social mobility and equal opportunity, the literature clearly indicates that the current microeconomic trickle-down federal tax policy is in direct opposition to these socioeconomic goals. The literature supports the premise that federal taxation as a means of federal investment revenue has a historic and current role as a viable alleviate to contemporary American social stratification and as a stimulus of social mobility.

References

Beito, David T. 1989. Taxpayers in Revolt: Tax Resistance during the Great Depression. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina.

Elson, Diane. 2013. “Austerity Policies Increase Unemployment and Inequality-But Don’t Reduce Budget Deficits and Government Borrowing.” Journal of Australian Political Economy. 71:130.

Himmelberg, Robert F. 2001. The Great Depression and the New Deal. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Jones, Daniel Stedman. 2012. Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics. Princeton: Princeton UP.

Kerbo, Harold R. 2013. Social Stratification and Inequality: Class conflict in historical, comparative, and global perspective. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Madrick, Jeff. 2010. The Case for Big Government. Princeton: Princeton UP.

The “Other” Original Sin of America

indian 2

Before Slavery there was Cultural Genocide

What 3 Films can teach us about what and if we’ve learned from our egregious history….

By T.L.Dayen

Racism has deep roots within our collective cultural history, and for this reason has not escaped ‘the grand mirror’ of the cinema. Early films depicting ‘race’ simply reflected our collective understanding of it, which needless to say, was quite narrow and well, “racist”. We do have emotional connections with films. Film as art is an outward expression of our internal processes. But films are also a grand mirror of our real and imagined existence. If we can live and dream through film, then we can also ‘learn’ through film about life and our imaginations. So film allows us to explore and affirm who we are and what we believe, but also learn about whom we are and what we believe. We have a century of film history to reveal what this symbiotic relationship has born to us culturally. So it could be said movies are a cinematic documentary of the evolution of our culture; sometimes in real time, and sometimes in retrospect.

Early 20th century understanding of ‘ethnicity’ was limited to white and non-white; white being “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” (WASP), and everyone else being not WASP (Benshoff, Grifffen page 51).   In early American film, “white is positioned as a default category, the center or the assumed norm on which everything else is based.” (Benshoff, Griffen page 53). Non-whites were typically positioned in the periphery of this “assumed norm” of American life and were “represented with certain stereotypes.” (Benshoff, Griffen page 51). These stereotypes were not subtle and were often purposefully exaggerated for theatrical impact; the ‘lazy’ Mexican; the ‘ignorant’ black person; the ‘gangster’ Italian; the ‘savage’ Indian; the ‘fighting’ Irish; etc.Indian 3

By the later part of the 20th century however, cultural differences as defined by our ‘race’, for the most part, began to be seen as the ‘normal’ reflection of our diverse society. Individual opinion on ‘white supremacy’ still was and is, largely dependent on demographics, and lingering racial intransigence is still evident in every aspect of American life. The film industry is no exception, but the days of outright racial stereotyping in film is again for the most part, no longer tolerated by an audience with a more discerning eye toward social integrity. Modern audiences have proven to appreciate a mix of entertainment and education, and some films have had great success in re-visiting past grievances of discrimination, as well as exposing existing racial injustice. These historical accounts can be rich with all the elements of a gripping and moving cinematic drama as evidenced by the box office receipts and film awards of films like Schindler’s List, Dances with Wolves and Lincoln.

The historical genocide of the Native American Indian is one of our nation’s worst racial transgressions. The American Indian still lacks significant civic representation in our current culture, so a realistic and meaningful cinematic representation of their plight should be worthy of analysis.

“Dances with Wolves” – 1990

https://youtu.be/pkWc4UrfyBc

Perhaps no other movie dealing with the plight of the American Indian has touched the hearts of the American movie goer like Dances with Wolves (DW), directed and produced by Kevin Costner. DW is the “highest grossing western of all time” and is said to have sparked a Hollywood renaissance in western genre films. (“Dances with Wolves; Trivia”). It won seven of its 12 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Based on the 1988 novel by Michael Blake, DW takes us to the Great Plains during the Civil War in 1863 as seen through the eyes and mind of Lt. John Dunbar, played by Kevin Costner. What he learns and shares with the viewer provides an intimate window into the clash of cultures that ultimately led to the extermination of the American Indian, but also the psychological factors that could have prevented it.

DW explores the injustice of genocide from the perspective of 19th century Lakota Indians and the U.S. Calvary. Genocide has been committed throughout history on the basis of geo-politics, racism and religion; reasons, but by no means justifications. The character of Dunbar is fully aware of the conflict between Indians and settlers on the dwNorthern Plains, yet he still displays cautious optimism about his prospects for a life on the prairie. This requires a character not prone to blind assumption or gullible to irrational fears spurred by prejudiced hearsay. Roger Ebert, who gave the film Four Thumbs Up, contemplated Dunbar’s character when he said, “A civilized man is a person whose curiosity outweighs his prejudices.” (Ebert). John Dunbar was a civilized man.

Evidence of murder and desperation on the plains is made clear by the skeleton and destroyed wagon that Dunbar passes on the trail, and the eerily bizarre condition he finds his abandoned post, Fort Sedgwick. But even while Dunbar fears the worst fate for those soldiers, without the facts, he must suspend his impulse to accuse, blame or persecute the Indian people who were most likely involved in some way. He first encounters Kicking Bird, a Lakota Holy Man who is quietly attempting to take his horse, Cisco, while Dunbar is bathing in the creek. A naked Dunbar aggressively comes up on the Indian startling him with a loud and abrupt “Hey!” Frantic with fear and surprise the Indian scrambles to his horse and quickly rides away. This encounter illustrates a ‘typically human’ reaction from both Dunbar and the Indian. Dunbar doesn’t ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, and Kicking Bird doesn’t savagely rush Dunbar with a hatchet to take his scalp. The fact that both men reacted ‘rationally’ in contradiction to their preconceptions is not lost on either of them, and this sets the tone which allows for the development of their relationship.

In a study on genocide, David L. Smith, PhD said “In dehumanizing others, we exclude them from the circle of moral obligation. We can then kill, oppress, and enslave them with impunity. Taking the life of a dehumanized person becomes of no greater consequence than crushing an insect under one’s boot.” (Smith, PhD). So, the act of genocide requires ‘dehumanization’.  The contrast between Dunbar’s attitude of respecting the differences between white and Indian, and that of the Calvary and common folk that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” explains to the viewer 070524192730_american_indian_playing_an_instrument_LGhow the native American’s right to even exist was dismissed as easily and coldly as they shot and killed Dunbar’s wolf, Two Socks, who inspired his Lakota name, Dances with Wolves. The lucidity in Dunbar’s efforts to understand and empathize with the Indians, reveals it was indeed the dehumanization of native Americans that led to their genocide – not the presence of American settlers.

It was no mistake that Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Sound and Best Musical Score.  The film relied heavily but adeptly on non-diegetic sound, as the period and the geography of the film provided little audio opportunities from the setting that many other films are afforded. We have one man, a horse and a wolf on the Prairie with Indians who don’t speak English. Yet the film is alive with feeling and thoughtful communication.  The orchestral musical score was written by John Barry who “agreed to score the film immediately after reading the script.” (“Dances with Wolves; Trivia”). His score ‘shows’ the grandeur of the prairie, the utopian harmony of the Indian camp and the pale bleakness of the soldier fort.  We ‘hear’ the silent conversations between Dunbar, Cisco and Two Socks and his Indian connections. We ‘feel’ the confusion and trepidation of a people confronting an unknown future; the excitement of the hunt; the adrenaline of battle; and we ‘sense’ the powerful love between Dunbar and Stands with a Fist. Diegetic uses of sound include the natural sounds of the prairie; wind, a horse’s breath, a buffalo stampede, a lone wagon.  Silence is also poignantly used; the vastness of the ‘American Frontier’; the loneliness at the fort; the peace within the Lakota camp; as well as the tension between cultures either longing to connect or stewing in their resentment and frustration.

Costner’s narration as Dunbar compliments an amazing score. Dunbar provides the audience with the objective clarity of a news reporter, seemingly aware that his words need to maintain the impartial tone of an honest observer void of bias for those who will follow. Of a three day buffalo hunt with his native friends he writes, “They were a people so eager to laugh; so devoted to family; so dedicated to each other. The only word that comes to mind is harmony.” English subtitles add realism to the Lakota people and to the film itself. The cultural wall that separated the Indian and the white man in the 1800’s would never have been conveyed to the audience as powerfully if these Indians had spoken English just for the benefit of the viewer.dw 2

This is a chronological tale told in first person narrative through the eyes and words of Lt. John Dunbar in 1863 Civil war torn America. As a ‘classical’ phase of genre, we follow the protagonist, Dunbar, on a journey of self-discovery. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with “dark political” wars, Dunbar becomes an unlikely war hero after a moment of clarity, or insanity, triggers him to risk his life on the battle field, and in the process, break a protracted stand-off on the Confederate front lines. He is given his choice of post for his ‘courage’, and he decides to see the American Frontier “before it’s gone.” His open mind and longing for peace leads Dunbar to find philosophical meaning and emotional sanctuary with a Lakota tribe. His time with the Lakota forces Dunbar to question the values of his own people. After witnessing the needless slaughter of dozens of buffalo left to rot only for their tongues and hides, he writes “It was clear whoever did this were a people without value and without soul. The wagon tracks left no doubt who was responsible.” When he finds love with Stands with a Fist, the orphaned white women raised by the tribe, his destiny is sealed, and he is renamed “Dances with Wolves” from his observed relations with the wolf he befriends on the prairie. The Ideology of DW can be found in a quote from a Pawnee War Chief killed in 1872, “When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight, it is called murder.” Dances with Wolves allows us to finally grieve and honor the loss of our genocidal victims, and resolve to ‘never forget’.

“Billy Jack” – 1971

https://youtu.be/_rNDsbtwtyI

billy_jack_poster_01Written, directed and starring Tom Laughlin in 1969, and released in 1971, Billy Jack came to personify the counter-culture movement of the mid-20th century. Billy Jack was a half-blood Sioux Indian Special Ops Vietnam veteran, who didn’t ‘pull any punches’ when it came to defending the weak, the outnumbered or the mistreated. It won no awards, and received mixed reviews, but a 2007 expose’ on the Billy Jack Franchise in “Pop Matters” said, “this counterculture icon became a wholesome household word.” (Gibron). His anti-establishment views and Shaman-warrior style came to symbolize the dichotomy of an enlightened generation “fighting for peace”.

Billy Jack (BJ) shines a cinematic light on both flagrant and institutional racism. The issues of the American “counter culture” movement that peaked in the late 1960’s with the growing unrest over the Vietnam War, included freedom of personal expression; gender equality; civil rights of minorities; spiritualism over materialism; sexual freedom; mind expansion through drug use; and non-violence aimed at the military industrial complex.  There were many who were reluctant to accept these changes in society, even spiteful toward its advocates; that believed equality and integration of ideas, gender and race were a dangerous threat to the moral fabric of society.   Systemic fundamental bigotry soon became cloaked in the guise of ‘traditional values’ and ‘morality’, and is still rampant in America today, ‘cloaked’ or not.

In the film, the recluse character of Billy Jack lives outside a small conservative town on an Indian reservation, also home to “Freedom School” run by pacifist, Jean Roberts. The school houses kids who either ran away or were rejected by families who can’t cope with their ‘problematic’ ways.  After her repeated attempts to run away to California, the town Deputy’s 15 year old daughter Barbara tells her father she’s pregnant but doesn’t know who the father is.  When he asks what she means, she replies, “What I mean ‘dear father’ is that I was passed around by so many men, I don’t know whether this baby’s gonna come out white, Indian, Mexican or ‘black’!”   The beating he gives her puts her in the hospital.  She soon finds refuge at the school, which becomes a point of serious contention between the school and the town.Indian 4

Another iconic scene is when the owner of the local sundry refuses to serve ice-cream to Indian kids from the school during a town visit. An older ‘white’ student challenges him but she is interrupted by the wealthy and exalted Mr. Posner’s masochistic son Bernard, who enters and claims he has a “solution.”  He pours flour on their young faces as they sit in shock, and tells the owner, “See, now they’re all white – problem solved.”   The town’s people ask the timorous town Sherriff what he’s “gonna do about those long haired weirdoes”, and during a town council meeting regarding the ‘disruption’ caused by the ‘students’ in the town, one student is referred to as “a filthy little girl” when she asks if it is her ‘sexuality’ that scares them all so much. Ultimately an Indian student, Martin, is shot and killed when the Deputy discovers his daughter has feelings for him.  Billy’s revenge on those who torment the students, the school, or Jean, is bittersweet. The symptoms of bigotry are merely a veneer.

Billy Jack is a parable of ‘good vs. evil’.  We are told the tale through Jean Roberts. The protagonist Billy Jack is the proverbial warrior who places himself between all that is good in his world, and all that is evil.  All that is good is the Indian reservation where he lives, the wild horses he protects from poachers, the Freedom School, and Jean who keeps the dream and vision of the school alive.  All that is evil are the corrupt law authority and ignorant simpletons of the town who shoot his horses for dog food, and terrorize the students of the school for what it and they stand for – equality, creativity, freedom and peace – embodied in his beloved Jean.  In one scene, Billy says, “When policemen break the law, then there isn’t any law – just a fight for survival.” When policemen broke the law or didn’t enforce it, Billy was the law.

billy-jack-quoteIt is a realist ‘social problem’ film, and as Roger Ebert put it, “There’s not a single contemporary  issue, from ecology to gun control, that’s not covered,” (Ebert). We’re taken chronologically through a series of clashes between the ‘good school’ and ‘evil town’; each time Billy appears to protect and to pass his judgment, usually with adept physical might.  But as these clashes intensify, Billy cannot be all places at all times. After Martin is shot and killed by the Deputy, and Jean is raped by Bernard, the film climaxes as Billy hands down his fierce wrath of justice without impunity.  After killing the Deputy and Bernard, there is a shootout and ultimate standoff at a church where Billy is hold up.  Jean pleads with Billy to give himself up; “So easy for you to die dramatically! It’s a hell of a lot tougher for those of us who have to keep on trying!” Out of his love for Jean he surrenders on the demands the school will be protected. Jean cries as she tells Billy she knows how “letting them” handcuff and arrest him will be the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, and in a moving last scene as Billy is led off in a squad car, the students of Freedom school line the street with their fists raised in salute, to Billy Jack.

The films score embodies the premise and message of BJ; of innocence, peace and courage in constant struggle with corruption, hostility and fear. Written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, “One Tin Soldier” spent weeks on the Top 40 List. The musical score opens the film as we see aerial footage of several men on horseback chasing down dozens of beautiful wild horses for slaughter.  The score also closes the film during Billy’s arrest, exit and his salute.   The chorus is as follows:  “Go ahead and hate your neighbor.  Go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of Heaven. You can justify it in the end. There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the judgment day, on the bloody morning after….One tin soldier rides away.”  “[Billy Jack] was more than a cinematic symbol; he began taking the unlikely form of a substantive political force. People identified with the man, seeing an empathetic anti-establishment pose in everything he stood for.” (Gibron). In 2011, Mark Wahlberg’s production company purchased the rights to the Billy Jack franchise (Micciow). Perhaps a new generation can now learn the lessons of Billy Jack’s struggle of fighting for peace.

“Thunderheart” – 1992

https://youtu.be/rEl1x-vhtEU

thunderheart            As a fictional film, Thunderheart is actually based loosely on two real events; the 1973 hold-out at the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee and the 1975 shootout at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that resulted in the death of FBI agents.  The film’s director, Michael Apted, had previously in 1992 directed a documentary surrounding the 1975 shootings titled Incident at OglalaBoth incidents were blamed on the aboriginal militant group, American Indian Movement (AIM).  The group protested social injustices and substandard living conditions on the reservation, and a corrupt pro-American tribal government, whom residents blamed for much of the violence and bloodshed. (“AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins”).

Thunderheart (TH) paints a stark picture of the substandard living conditions on an Indian Reservation, as well as the exploitation of their lands for mineral resources. The U.S. government recognizes 565 Indian tribes in 35 states. Nearly half of Native Americans in the U.S. qualify for federal assistance. Twenty three percent of Native Americans live at or under the poverty line. Alcohol related death is over 500 percent higher; diabetes 177 percent higher; TB 500 percent higher; and suicide double that of average population rates. Suicide among Native American teens is the highest of any demographic in the nation. As of 2000, 47 percent of Native Americans lived on reservations. (“Center for Native American Youth”).

The reservation in the film is located in South Dakota on the outskirts of the ‘Badlands’ National Park; strangely beautiful but less than hospitable. To the Natives who live on the ‘rez’ it is their home, and has been for hundreds of years (on a much larger scale). The natives are poor, living among scattered broken cars and appliances; lacking the resources to have them removed. Their homes are dilapidated and many are ‘makeshift’ from recycled materials; “a modern Indian reservation — which, as the movie reveals, is by now a fancy word for slum.” (Gleiberman). Their children are forced to play among the debris. But the Indians find their solace and their peace of mind in their traditions, each other and in their history.

When FBI agent Ray Levoy (Val Kilmer) first comes to the ‘rez’, he asks, “Where the hell did they send us?” His field supervisor, Frank Coutelle says, “Well Ray, these are your people.” “They’re not my people.” He retorts. Ray’s Rezfather was a Sioux; an alcoholic who died when Ray was seven. He spent his life ashamed and in denial of his heritage. Hesitant and cynical at first, Ray begins to sensitize to the people, their culture and their obvious suffering. Ray’s investigation uncovers several truths. Among them that the tribal government is violent and antagonistic toward the traditionalists, and that the water is making the people sick. Ray also rediscovers a deep connection with his heritage and a people he had denied all his life in shame; much like a country who in their own shame and denial, fenced in an entire race as if to have to look in their eyes would mean to face their collective guilt.

TH is a contemporary western genre thriller. It is a chronological narrative that tells itself in realist form with “a documentary’s attentiveness to detail.” (Maslin). Filming took place in South Dakota and even on Pine Ridge Reservation where the Oglala and Wounded Knee incidents that inspired the film took place. Silhouetted Native Americans in song chant open the film. There is diegetic use of Native song and chant among the natives in prayer and celebration, and during Ray’s visions of ancient warriors performing the aboriginal ‘Ghost Dance’. Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” accompanies the first scene of Ray Levoy on a Washington D.C. freeway. There is some use of Native language, but mostly heavily accented English is used adding diegetic color to the native characters.

Agent Ray Levoy comes to Bear Creek Reservation for an in-and-out ‘sensitive operations unit’ to assist an investigation in the murder of a member of its tribal government in a civil war with the Aboriginal Rights Movement (ARM), and the apprehension of the accused killer, Jimmy Looks Twice. His estranged Native heritage is what prompts Washington to give Ray this assignment in hopes he can “get the natives talkin.” Tentative and dubious at first, Ray soon begins to question the violent methods and tactics used against the traditionalists and, to his own incredulity, begins to sympathize with the cause of the ARM, and his people. The reservation Elders have awarded him a certain level of trust with the natives that he cannot explain, but soon learns they believe him to be the reincarnated Thunderheart, sent to end the war and heal their land.

With the ethereal wisdom of Elder Grandpa Sam Reaches and street smart Crow Horse, Ray learns the tribal government is corrupt and has made a deal with Ray’s field superior, Frank Coutelle, to illegally lease tribal lands to strip mine for uranium, which is poisoning the water. The alleged murder is a cover up of an ‘inside job’ to eliminate anyone who finds out, and frame it on the ARM: Jimmy. When Maggie Eagle Bear is found murdered at the ‘source’ of the Little White River where pollutants from uranium test drilling are entering the water supply, Ray and Crow pineridge-2408e954fd9a00bd7dfe7088acb6b6e448468135-s6-c30Horse take the miscreants including, Agent Frank Coutelle, on a car chase to the “strong hold”; where Thunderheart led his people at Wounded Knee 100 years before, and where he was shot in the back by the U.S. Calvary. Just when it seems Ray and Crow Horse will repeat history, the traditionalists appear on the craggy cliffs surrounding them, holding their assailants at gun point. Agent Coutelle is handed over to Internal Affairs. Crow Horse calls it a “white wash”.

Ray discards the mirage of his prior life and vows to use his ‘white man’s education’ to expose the injustices brought on Bear Creek Reservation, and continue the work Maggie Eagle Bear had started to improve the life of Native Americans. The film ends as Ray silently sits at the cross roads of the reservation exit and the interstate highway – symbolic of the cross roads of Native Americans in 21st century America; evocative of the Native Americans in 19th century America.

There is high degree of explicit ideology in TH. At first for Ray, there’s no difference between the traditionalists and the tribal government supporters – they’re all Indians, or as the café owner puts it, “Prairie niggers”. But soon, his keen senses pick up the clear contrasts. Tribal government supporters or “goons” as they’re called are loud, crass, ge9and aggressive. They dress well, but they’re hollow and speak poorly. They carry guns because they’re impatient. The traditionalists are spiritual and passive family people. They don’t carry guns; they carry a quiet resolve. Outside their native ceremonial dress, they are disheveled, but they have a solid grace about them. They are quick witted and alert and have a kind of knowing that is almost unnerving. Ray becomes known as the “Washington redskin”. Reservation cop, Walter Crow horse calls him the “Federal Bureau of Intimidation.” Yellow Hawk tells him that around there he’s “the FBI – Full Blooded Indian.” Ray is struck by their insight and boldness in the face of impossible odds.

Crow Horse takes him to the Elder, Grandpa Sam Reaches, who tells Ray about his father, his heritage, and his past life as “Thunderheart”; a holy man who died in a massacre 100 years before, “with the others at Wounded Knee”.   Ray begins to have visions of this place – his place. He begins to understand his people and what they are teaching him. When a piece of evidence is found that has the power to clear Jimmy Looks Twice, wrongfully accused of murder, Maggie Eagle Bear tells him, “That’s not power Ray. That’s paper. Power is a rain storm; that river right huey11there. That’s what I have to protect! If Jimmy goes to prison for being a warrior, that’s what he accepts. That’s our way.” When Ray comes upon Jimmy at Grandpa Reaches, he pleads with Jimmy to flee or “they’ll kill” him. Jimmy looks Ray in eye, “Sometimes they have to kill us. They have to kill us, because they can’t break our spirit. We choose the right to be who we are. We know the difference between the reality of freedom, and the illusion of freedom. There is a way to live with the earth and a way not to live with the earth. We choose the way of earth. It’s about power, Ray.” It is this ‘power’ that ultimately frees the reservation traditionalists from their corrupt overseers, and Ray Levoy from his shallow life as the Washington redskin, who now identifies with – and is proud of – his people.

Conclusion

Perhaps we hold Hollywood to standards that our outside of its purview. If film is simply the outward expression of our collective “inner processes”, then how can we expect a higher standard from these cinematic expressions than we expect from the essence of its fabrication? This is essentially “shooting the messenger” isn’t it? The portrayal of race in film has evolved as our understanding of race has evolved. Early films like Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913) depicting blood thirsty pillaging native Americans, or Birth of a Nation (1915) depicting 408595_293644054091547_441726372_nrancorous malicious African Americans, were simply stereotypes that supported our own revisionist history; imagery that justified and even projected our own rancorous, malicious and pillaging history as European American imperialists. The power and endurance of these stereotypes on the social construct are commensurate with our own ignorance and/or insolence of the truth.

With help from our own victims, it would take a willingness to face our collective guilt to begin to explore these truths. Groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Film Committee of the Association on American Indian Affairs, worked to show us that we couldn’t move forward as one nation, unless we understood the true history of its people, as self-incriminating as it may be. The betterment of our society requires a fundamental and unsullied understanding of who we are as a society. We certainly can expect American film to represent all of our citizens and our very real differences in a true and respectful manner, but only to the extent that we expect the same of ourselves.

 

Resources

“AIM occupation of Wounded Knee begins.” History.com. A&E Networks Digital. Web.

17 Apr 2013.

Benshoff, Griffen; Harry M., Sean. America on Film. 2nd. United Kingdom: Wiley –

Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Print.

“Center for Native American Youth.” Facts on Native American Youth and Indian Country. The

Aspen Institute. Web. 18 Apr 2013. <AspenInstitute.org>.

“Dances with Wolves; Trivia.” IMDb. IMDb.com, Inc.. Web. 15 Apr 2013.

<IMDb.com>.

Ebert, Roger. Reviews; Great Movies; Dances with Wolves. Chicago: Chicago Sun

Times, Nov. 9, 1990. Web. <Rogerebert.com>.

Ebert, Roger. Reviews; Billy Jack. Chicago: Chicago SunTimes, Aug. 2, 1971. Web.

<Rogerebert.com>.

Gibron, Bill. “PopMatters; Film.” PopMatters.com. Pop Matters Media Inc., 5 Jun 2007.

Web. 16 Apr 2013.

Gleiberman, Owen. “Movie Review; Thunderheart.” EntertainmentWeekly.com.

Entertainment Weekly, Inc., 17 Apr 1992. Web. 17 Apr 2013.

Miccio, Anthony. “VH1 Celebrity.” VH1.com. Viacom International Inc., 15 Apr 2011.

Web. 16 Apr 2013.

Smith, Phd, David L.. “Philosophy Dispatches; Thoughts on human nature.” Psychology

            Today. Sussex Publishers LLC, 2 DEC 2011. Web. 15 Apr 2013

Maslin, Janet. “The New York Times Movies.” The New York Times. The New York Times

Company, 19 Apr 1992. Web. 19 Apr 2013.

School Choice or State Sanctioned Segregation?

segregation

The Public Funding of Private Education

By T.L. Dayen

The research literature available on school choice (the public funding of private school), is for the most part from the perspective of either support or opposition to the idea of publicly funded K-12 private education. The empirical data on comparative K-12 test scores in math and reading reveals minimal discrepancies, even while there is some dispute on methods used to collect and interpret the data (Usher and Kober, 2011).   The principle and most notable divide revealed in the literature between supporters and detractors of school choice is ideological in nature; and further reveals a rather complex partisan rift in American perspectives on K-12 education economics, politics, religious considerations and socialization (Ravitch, 2013). This literature review will first provide a brief but more detailed explanation of what school choice is, and then present a synopsis of the constitutional, political and ideological arguments published for and against school choice. This literature review will conclude that school choice is the public establishment of segregated K-12 socialization.

WHAT IS SCHOOL CHOICE: School choice is publicly funded private education; that is, private education funded by taxpayer dollars, also known as “Charter” Schools (Charter) (Cunningham 2013; Ravitch 2013). In 2001, the Department of Education issued a mandate that states increase limits on Charters, in order to compete for billions in federal grants issued by the Obama administration’s “Race-to-the-top” school testing incentive program (Ravitch 2013). As of 2012, forty two states had passed legislation that legalized some form of school choice specifically to precipitate Charters. The method by which private education can be and is publicly funded depends solely on the laws of each individual state (Cunningham 2013). These methods include at least one or more of the following (Cunningham 2013; Ravitch 2013):

  • Public space: public facilities for Charter schooling
  • Vouchers: public funds paid directly to individual low-income qualifiers
  • Lottery vouchers: limited open entry application process
  • Dollar for dollar Corporate tax deductible expenses for Charter education scholarships
  • Dollar for dollar individual tax deductible expenses for Charter education

According to Josh Cunningham (2013) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there are as many as 900,000 nationwide K-12 students on waiting lists for Charter admission. While many earlier voucher programs targeted low-income families in urban areas or and/or the lowest-performing public schools (Usher and Kober, 2011), the NCSL and Charter supporters suggest that waiting list numbers would reduce if more states expanded their public funding options for Charter education beyond income and/or performance criteria (Cunningham 2013; Usher and Kober 2011).

THE FIRST AMENDMENT ISSUE: Charter education, specifically the Ohio school voucher program, was challenged in the Supreme Court in 2002 in the case of Zelmann v. Simmons-Harris as a violation of the Establishment Clause; the 1st Amendment (Cunningham 2013; Usher and Kober 2011). However, the court ruled that the state was not establishing a religion through Charter funding, because the funding was provided to parents who then made the ultimate decision to spend it in a religious or secular school. The Court added that Charters “acted to help under-served students in a failing school system” (Cunningham 2013).

Still, many are not satisfied with this ruling. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Civil Rights Division (2012) maintains that these [Court] decisions “do not disturb the bedrock constitutional idea that no government program may be designed to advance religious institutions over non-religious institutions” (“School Vouchers” 2012). As it stands, however, Charter (the public funding of private school) is constitutional in the United States.

TESTING AND PERFORMANCE: The literature reveals a general consensus on comparative public and Charter K-12 math and reading scores (Cunningham 2013; Ravitch 2013; Usher and Kober 2011). The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) conducted a 2013 study on comparative test scores of 27 Charter states. Its findings are representative of similar studies conducted; over half of schools compared performed similarly, while a quarter of Charters performed better and roughly a quarter performed worse than their public school counterparts (Cunningham 2013). There are also indications that public schools in close proximity to a Charter counterpart have seen “modest increases” in test scores, attributed to competitive performance factors, but that this effect “weakens” the further the distance between the schools (Cunningham 2013).

Education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education under both President G.H. Bush and Clinton, Diane Ravitch (2013) makes the argument that test scores focused solely on math and reading do not account for the full spectrum of educational goals in subjects like history, geography, music, art and physical fitness. The NCSL itself reports that even while Charters are required to publish annual test scores, the scope of these criteria can differ from state to state which may or may not include graduation and attendance rates (Cunningham 2013). The Center on Education Policy (CEP) has also taken issue with reporting methods of test scores, in that comparison groups can have different sets of characteristics unique to their own demographic which can lead to spurious results (Usher and Kober 2011).

THE POLITICS OF SCHOOL CHOICE: Michael McShane (2012) addresses the impetus behind the push for school choice Charters. He refers to the Department of Education as an entrenched three prong bureaucracy he calls the “iron triangle” or the “educational industrial complex” which consists of Teachers Union lobbyists, and state and Federal boards of education. He calls this iron triangle, “a nearly impenetrable sub government in public education that has resisted reform” (McShane 2012); reforms needed to address a “three-fold increase” in K-12 expenditures since the 1970’s on a languishing public school system as evidenced by the low National Assessment of Educational Progress (NPEP) scores (McShane 2012).

McShane also makes the connection between the Democratic Party as supporters of public education; and cites $330 million spent on Democratic candidates over the past 5 years by public education interest groups. He purports to speak for Charter supporters in general when he says that before the Charter option, the only option for “reform-side” proponents was to “elect Republicans.” Rather than funding ever increasing budgets for “public bureaucracies,” Charters were viewed as a more cost efficient means of funding education (McShane 2012; Usher and Kober 2011).

Merit vs. Ideology: The literature has shown that despite the impetus discussed above for Charter education, test scores have remained similar to their public counterparts. But this has not stopped the momentum of Charters nationwide. Franciosi (2004) suggests there is deeper motivation to “privatize” public education having to do with a growing anti-government sentiment in the U.S. based on the ideology of “individualism.” Usher and Kober also report a “shift” taking place which is putting more emphasis on the “value of choice itself” and less on rationales of achievement. Franciosi echoes this observation by noting that opponents of Charters perceive public education as a means to “promote national culture or values” and ensure equal educational opportunities to every child regardless of race or socio-economics.

In their Review of Major Development and Research on “School Vouchers,” Usher and Kober cite the Mission Statements of two organizations who have conducted and published studies on Charter education that they say reflect a clearer understanding of Charter support. One, the James Madison Institute supports “limited government, economic freedom, federalism, and individual liberty.” Second, The Cato Institute supports moving “toward a future where government run schools give way to dynamic, independent system of schools ‘competing’ to meet the needs of American children.”

PUBLIC FUNDING WITHOUT PUBLIC OVERSIGHT: Public schools must adhere to strict regulations and laws regarding safety, the learning and physically impaired; discrimination, state licensing and certifications as well as a fairly uniform standard of curricula. Charter schools, however, are exempt from these requirements, and these criteria can vary from state to state. Charters are run; that is, held accountable and overseen by a state appointed “Authorizer;” often the Governor, or other legislative or committee body that overrides the authority of each municipality’s elected public school board (Cunningham 2013; Ravitch 2013). In its Guide for Legislators for School Choice Policy, the NCSL emphasizes the “critical role” of state legislators in Charter performance through the unencumbered authority to automatically close under performing schools and create incentives and rewards for high performing Charters (Cunningham 2013).

Ravitch points to a dangerous potential for “politicizing” K-12 education where decisions may be based on factors other than actual underlying causes that affect performance, and that the complex issues of K-12 education are not best served by politicians who may have multiple conflicts of interest. Opponents also assert that Charters funnel not only material resources away from already underfunded public schools, but also the psychological support of motivated parents and students that public schools need for optimal performance. This combined with the flexibility Charters enjoy in admissions criteria, could set some schools up for certain failure (Ravitch 2013; Usher and Kober 2011).

SEGREGATION: The ADL’s Civil Rights division agrees with Charter opponents by making it their formal position that despite Charter claims of inclusiveness, Charters provide for discrimination at some level. Charters have the legal right to tailor their “educational focus” and are not required to adhere to any structural standards of their premises. This gives Charters the ability to reject applicants based on religion, language barriers, academic achievement, gender, sexual orientation, discipline problems or physical disabilities (“School Vouchers,” 2012).

The literature indicates that the momentum of Charter schools may have more to do with Segregation than either test scores or ideology. A 2012 Buechner Institute of Governance school choice study in the Denver public system found the highest priority when choosing schools was “location” followed by educational “focus,” while less than 25 percent of respondents cited school performance as a concern (Cunningham 2013). Jeffery Henig (2011) points to the “changing landscape” of the American education system; specifically race and ethnicity. According to Henig, by 2001, sixty one of the country’s largest 100 school districts were less than 50 percent “white non-Hispanic students.” Henig cites multiple challenges to educational “coalition building” in multi-ethnic communities that include competing interests of Blacks and Latino’s; referring to conflicts over jobs, resources and affirmative action programs as “guerilla warfare.” He also cites the language and legal barriers to political mobilization for education reform in communities with a high rate of undocumented immigrants, which according to Henig had reached 28 percent in 2003.

Franciosi (2004) agrees that political consensus on issues like education are much easier to achieve when communities have homogeneity in income, religion, race and language. He goes as far as to tie location in school choice to housing prices and values; citing studies that indicate in school districts where parents have a greater say, house prices tend to be higher, where-in larger consolidated school districts, home values fall. Home values, according to Franciosi are also linked to K-12 class size and per pupil spending.

Segregation and Achievement Gaps: The UCLA Civil Rights Project studied the impact of K-12 “peer diversity” and found that it not only reduced prejudice, but heightened civic engagement, critical thinking and overall improved learning outcomes (Ravitch 2013). Ravitch advocates that achievement gaps in adulthood begin with socioeconomic and/or cultural differences of our early childhood home environments, and that “racial segregation contributes to low academic achievement;” therefore, K-12 education should provide for social diversity. Charter segregation can also lead to an unequal educational spectrum beyond “common core” subjects of math and reading. Ravitch points to 2008 budget cuts and strict testing requirements since the 2000’s, as putting a one-sided burden on public schools to compete with their Charter counterparts that may have stronger tax bases and resources to focus equally on history, literature and the arts, which according to Ravitch is equally important by any measure as math and reading in K-12 educational curricula.

Herbert Foerstel (2013) however, is concerned that Charter students could be at risk from the narrowly defined and/or “censored” educational focus that attracts many parents to Charter education.   Literature, history and science are three areas where Foerstel finds inequitable, and in his opinion substandard, instruction when and wherever censorship goes unchecked. Foerstel states that literature is the easiest and first to be censored on ideological grounds. He cites that the American Library Association has determined some 46 of the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been censored or banned in America’s schools including The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. He says American history is the subject students score the worst on Federal testing. Foerstel quotes American History lecturer James Loewen, whose audiences when asked “what caused the Civil War” out of four possible choices, invariably choose “states’ rights” with the lowest percentage choosing “slavery” as the cause. Foerstel says this “corrosive” trend toward Pollyanna patriotism will produce a citizenry “who lack the knowledge and skills to criticize or defend our political systems.” The censorship of science, specifically creationism vs. evolution, according to Foerstel, is not just stunting K-12 understanding of biology, but also geology, astronomy and physics; as “young earth advocates” calculate the age of the universe at 6000 years. Foerstel concludes that taking the position in academia that “Human intervention is contrary to the will of God” dangerously hinders an objective pragmatic effort to tackle critical environmental challenges to climate, natural resources and species extinction.

THE PUBLIC ESTABLISHMENT OF SEGREGATED K-12 SOCIALIZATION: The literature concurs that Charters are publicly funded private education. The literature is in agreement that differences in testing and academic performance between Charters and public schools are not significant. The literature concurs that school performance is not the prime motivating factor for parents in K-12 decisions; but rather the liberty to choose where, what and how their child receives its K-12 education, free from government oversight and/or regulation.

The literature is at odds, however, on how America’s K-12 youth and future citizenry benefit from public funding of private education. Proponents argue that parental satisfaction is the goal of K-12 education. Opponents have serious concerns that because parental satisfaction is based on learned biases, that school choice (Charters) is simply the public establishment of K-12 segregation based on parental biases; which the literature has shown can be economic, ethnic, religious or political. When testing and performance are considered comparable, the remaining data provided by the literature indicates that the ultimate outcome of Charter education appears to be the public establishment of segregated K-12 socialization.

 

References

Cunningham, Josh. 2013. “Comprehensive School Choice Policy: A Guide for Legislators.”

National Conference of State Legislators. Retrieved February 23, 2015 from http://www.ncsl.org

Foerstel, Herbert N. 2013. Studied Ignorance: How Curricular Censorship and Textbook Selection Are Dumbing Down American Education. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Franciosi, Robert J. 2004. The Rise and Fall of American Public Schools: The Political Economy of Public Education in the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Henig R., Jeffrey. 2011. “The Contemporary Context of Public Engagement: The New

Political Grid.” Public Engagement for Public Education: Joining Forces to

Revitalize Democracy and Equalize Schools. (2011). Stanford: Stanford UP.

McShane,Michael Q. 2012. “Turning the tides: President Obama and education reform.”

American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research No. 6. Retrieved

February 21, 2015 from http://www.aei.org

Ravitch, Diane. 2013. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf; Division of Random House, LLC.

“School Vouchers: The Wrong Choice for Public Education.” 2012. Anti-Defamation League:

Civil Rights Division. Retrieved February 21, 2015 from http://www.adl.org

Usher, Alexandra and Nancy Kober. 2011. “Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A

Review of Major Developments and Research.” Center on Education Policy.

Retrieved February 21, 2015 from http://www.cep-dc.org

 

A Feminist Critique

Sorry I’ve been MIA to my readers.  If you’ve read my bio, you know I’m a full time student in Political Science.  My schedule has been challenging, but I had an opportunity to write something for a political philosophy compulsory that I wanted to share with our TFI community.  Enjoy!

T's Toes

“On Susan Mendus and Heidi Hartmann”

By T.L. Dayen

We humans, for better or worse, categorize ourselves by color, ethnicity, religion and income, which are determined by our race, nationality and/or culture. These categories can also indicate our status, which is dependent upon geography. Where we live will largely define the status level of our color, ethnicity, religion and income: the value of our assets. However, there is one fundamental category that crosses all categorical barriers, and is not determined nor bound by geography. Our biological sex is the only human category and status determined by a chromosomal coin toss at conception. This “flip of the coin” will determine whether you are a man (superior) or a woman (subordinate). Only the degree of that superiority or subordination is determined by geography and/or culture. This chromosomal segregation is so entrenched, that it is considered literally, a “law of nature;” when in fact this “law” is only derived from our own definitions of our “natures,” and the values we have allotted to them. More specifically, the ensconced pillars of the social construct of male superiority and female subordination are founded upon the natures of men and women as defined and evaluated by men.

The differences of our sexes are both fundamental (physiological) and socially constructed, but the latter developed from the male perspective of the former; “We are born female and male, but we are created women and men, [by our] socially recognized genders” (Hartmann, H., p. 395).   Susan Mendus (2003), on the writings of Emanuel Kant (1781 – 1804), makes reference to Kant’s musings that a woman’s nature is “distinct and singular;” having to do with “the unit and coherence of the family;” that “woman relinquishes her equality and allows the man to dominate in political life in exchange for her own domination of domestic life;” and finally that men concede to this arrangement because “he loves domestic peace and readily submits to her regime” (p. 306 – 307). But why was/is domesticity considered the “regime” of women in the first place? The nature of a woman’s biology and the natural cycles that control it kept women physically vulnerable and immobile. This made women naturally adapted to the home front (hearth), while men were naturally unencumbered to defend, to govern, to provide (hunt). But this doesn’t explain why Kant also believed that “woman should reign and the man should rule; because inclination reigns and reason rules” (p. 307). Again, women’s bodies were at the mercy of natural cycles over which human kind had no control (menstrual; ovulation; breast milk; reproduction itself); hence naturally “inclined” or adapted to a specific purpose. While man, once again, was not encumbered by nature and had control over every facet of his own body including when, where, and with whom to plant his seed; hence free to “reason” or self-determine and collectively determine; “rule.”

The fact that our biology defines us as superior or subordinate was socially constructed from the male’s perspective that a mysterious and unpredictable natural world associated with females was something that needed to be controlled, conquered, and kept in check by men in order to survive; moreover that nature had intended it that way. But I would ask Kant today, how is the ability to achieve and provide “domestic peace” for a family considered subordinate “inclination,” while the inability, in fact failure, to achieve and provide “domestic peace” for human kind considered superior “reason?” Are we not one human family? Who is really better equipped to provide for the survival of our species?

Generally speaking, women tend toward inclusiveness, compromise, compassion and community; attributes that lend to social justice, equal opportunity and global prosperity. Heidi Hartman (2003), a “feminist socialist,” makes the connection between our “natures” and our economics; “If we examine the characteristics of men… – competitive, rationalistic, dominating – they are much like our description of the dominant values of capitalist society” (p. 401). Indeed one could even say that capitalism and socialism represent the Mars / Venus struggle between our Republican and Democratic political system. But why is one considered superior, while the other is considered weak and ineffective? Perhaps, as Hartmann (2003) posits, pure capitalism is actually a patriarchal system that perpetuates male domination (p. 398). Capitalism emphasizes independence, individualism and personal ambition; characteristics generally well-suited to men, and to a patriarchal society that supports female economic dependence and domestic servitude; as evidenced by the pathetic lack of females in the highest positions of government, industry and finance. A system that primarily increases the likelihood of success for men also increases the likelihood that men will hold the dominant positions of control in society, and as Hartmann (2003) states, “That control is maintained by excluding women from access to necessary resources and by restricting women’s sexuality” (p. 397). So once again, it is not our natures, but the male perspective of that nature that puts females in a position of disadvantage and subordination to the more advantaged and superior male; in this case, economically. I would add that women not only require equal access to necessary resources, but also equal determination as to what a “necessary resource” even is. Equal access to a set standard is one thing; an equal voice in setting that standard is quite another.

As Hartmann stated above, “restricting women’s sexuality” is a tool to maintain male dominance. This is perhaps the strongest connection between our natures and the male fallacy of female subordination: female sexuality. Referring back to our physiology, the female body is seen by man as a compulsory receptacle for his sexual drive, both physically and objectively. The female sexual biology is involuntary, and requires penetration of both her body and her egg by a man who is, by the way, biologically equipped with “choice;” and while a man can chose to ejaculate with or without a female partner, the female can only equate her sexual experience with receiving a man’s seed for reproduction. This is, I believe, the root of the male fallacy that the female is naturally subordinate to the male, without which, men could no longer support their claim of natural dominance. The advances in medical science, that gave women the same biological sexual “freedom,” “control” and “choice” as men had enjoyed since the dawn of time, was no less than a direct mortal threat to the male ego’s dominance over the female race. It is no coincidence that the Party who is fervently working toward eliminating a women’s ability to control her own reproductive process, is also the patriarchal faction of our two-Party system! Not all women need to be mothers neither to contribute to society nor to utilize our innate abilities and recognize “both human needs for nurturance, sharing and growth, and the potential for meeting those needs in a non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal society” (Hartmann, 2003, p. 403).

The origin of female oppression lies in the male perspective of our “purpose” as determined by our “physiology.” While much more could be said on this subject, especially in the context of religious doctrine, in short, the social construct stems not from whom or what woman are, what they do or how they think, but from the fundamental male perception of what women are for. Sexual objectification, divided labor and the resurgence of the effort to repeal women’s reproductive rights all support the archaic premise that the human female is for the purpose of sexual and domestic servitude to man. In other words, the female only exists as a reflection of what the male needs and desires. Mendus’ analysis of Kant’s meanderings on women as inherently incapable of civic authority, and Hartmann’s feminist socialist analysis of patriarchal capitalism as an effective means of maintaining female economic dependence, both indicate the elemental male presupposition that the human female cannot create, but only participate in what is only created by the male. A woman cannot be authentic (creational) when she is merely an image of what serves man, and so her voice can only represent the [male] consortium with which she has aligned. In closing, feminism cannot be about “equality.” It must be about “unity.” Male and female are not two equal wholes side by side; we are two halves of the one whole of humanity. Only through the unity of our consciousness, not the equality of our [socially constructed] roles, will we evolve past destructive and counterproductive socially, economically and religiously constructed gender division.

Resources

Hartmann, H. (2003). The Unhappy marriage between Marxism and feminism: Toward a more

progressive union. Social and political philosophy: Classical western texts in feminist and

              multicultural perspectives. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

 

Mendus, S. (2003). Kant: “An Honest but Narrow Minded Bourgeois?” Social and political

                philosophy: Classical western texts in feminist and multicultural perspectives. Belmont, CA:

Wadsworth  Cengage Learning. (Kant’s Original works published 1781 to 1804). “

Is The Female Imperative Misandry?

T's Toes

By T.L. Dayen

Even with all of the current evidence of the destructive male ego permeating our media and our national consciousness this summer of 2014: the immigration crises, murder and mayhem in Iraq, Syria, I.S.I.L, the Ukraine, Israel and Palestine; the rash of men of color dying at the hands of those “sworn to protect” and no less than five governors under investigation for “abuse of power;” my first blog post must answer the question, “Is The Female Imperative misandry?” After all, that’s the main question many of our visitors will be asking. Am I right? Not that the answer isn’t already known by Stewart and I as a definitive “NO!” but honestly, if a definitive “no” was all it would take to answer that question, then the title of our book could have been “The Female Imperative is NOT misandry!” and it would be settled. But Stewart and I both know, as do you I’m sure, that any mention – at all – of “The Female Imperative” (TFI) equates to misandry in the animal mind of the male ego. SO – my first inaugural blog post on TFI.com unity must clarify this one very important misunderstanding!

Misandry is the “hatred of men.” Feminism, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica [sociology] is; “the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” It goes on to say that “Although largely originating in the West, feminism is manifested worldwide and is represented by various institutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. Throughout most of Western history, women were confined to the domestic sphere, while public life was reserved for men. In medieval Europe, women were denied the right to own property, to study, or to participate in public life. At the end of the 19th century in France, they were still compelled to cover their heads in public, and, in parts of Germany, a husband still had the right to sell his wife. Even as late as the early 20th century, women could neither vote nor hold elective office in Europe and in most of the United States (where several territories and states granted woman suffrage long before the federal government did so). Women were prevented from conducting business without a male representative, be it father, brother, husband, legal agent, or even son. Married women could not exercise control over their own children without the permission of their husbands. Moreover, women had little or no access to education and were barred from most professions. In some parts of the world, such restrictions on women continue today” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Encyclopedia Britannica does not define feminism as the hatred of men, but apparently the recognition and acceptance of the full measure of value of over half of our human population; and by the way, the one half that gave birth to every human being on this planet; yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And yet, as I write this in 2014, my Microsoft Word “thesaurus” tells me that “Feminism” is synonymous with “Radicalism (n.)” – REALLY?? Who among you would consider social, economic and political equality “radical?” Did we not settle this in the late 1800’s after the North won the civil war? Perhaps we haven’t! Perhaps not “all men” were created equal – or should I say “not all humans” were created “equal.” Because equality among “men” is largely determined by demographics; but equality among men and “women” is not a demographic or geographic thing; it is a physiological thing. Our inequality is solely determined by our body parts; no matter where we live, what color we are, how much money we make or the name of our God – female subordination is global and universal.

The Female Imperative is NOT Misandry, but neither is it “feminism.”
TFI is “evolutionism.”

TFI does not advocate for “equality of the sexes.” Stewart and I maintain that our “sex” has nothing to do with our “equality.” Our two human sexes are simply the two human biological functions required for reproduction in the act of intercourse if reproduction is the goal. And of course the female body is equipped to feed her infant offspring. In mathematics, “equal” means “same,” and by these terms, equality of the sexes is physically impossible. In sociology however, “equal” means “non-discriminatory,” and it is by these terms that the male ego uses our physical [gender] inequality as human inequality. The entire global social construct of humanity is built and maintained upon the social attributes, roles and functions of our physical gender differences as assigned by the male ego. Feminism valiantly struggles to challenge the social construct of sexual inequality in vain. As long as it’s about our bodies and the roles assigned to those bodies, the male ego wins, because physically we will never be equal.

From The Female Imperative: “Remember that the dominant male ego cannot tolerate unity or cooperative relation-ship. Division and segregation must be maintained to maintain control and the image of order. To the animal mind of the male ego, “gender” is the most fundamental of these divisions (“primary identity”), and only one’s gender can determine the degree and level of one’s personal liberty (independent self-determination) and civic participation (politics and commerce). In the male ego animal mind, by replacing ordained gender roles with individual self-determination, then gender itself is expunged. If only real men do what men have always done, and only real women do what women have always done, then in the male ego image of feminism, the female disappears and becomes a man (female equality) or the male disappears and the female dominates (man haters). Neither is true of course and in the human mind, both are equally ridiculous. But in the animal mind of the male ego, this image of feminism has effectively precast and forestalled the “female emancipation conversation” into one about “angry women who either want to be men (penis envy) or they hate men (emasculation).”” Excerpt from Chapter 29, page 194.

Evolutionism is not about equality of sex; it is about unity of consciousness.
It is not about the male and female human standing side by side as two “equals.”
It is about male and female consciousness uniting as the two sexual halves of our one human “whole.”

TFI.com unity will continue to explore and explain “evolutionism.”

Empirical Fact and Honesty is NOT “the hatred of men!”

The “anti-feminist” movement (or Men’s Rights Activism (MRA)) occurring in the U.S. today frequently uses the term “misandry” to defend its cause. Men and women of this movement seem to believe that to be pro-woman, one has to be anti-man. This has proven to be an effective psychological weapon against the modern feminist movement. TFI has powerfully and courageously debunked the “misandry myth” for what it is; both a distortion of and distraction from the TRUTH! TFI finally says out loud what no one dares utter for fear of retribution as a “man hater;” that not all men are destructive, but 99.9 percent of the destruction, murder, violence, oppression, torture, greed and lust is perpetrated and perpetuated by MEN! This is not man hating – it is simply a fact. It is not personal! It is empirical! But TFI breaks it down even further; it is not men who commit these atrocities – it is the male ego! We can finally separate the wheat from the chaff and be honest about the fact that humanity is NOT self-destructive – the male ego IS self-destructive.

In looking at the list of crisis’ I laid out in the opening of this blog post, each one of them stems from the out-of-control male ego. Tens of thousands of men, women and children seeking refuge in the U.S. are not fleeing evil women. Evil women in the Middle East are not bombing, shooting, executing, kidnapping, torturing and beheading each other. The wave of those abusing their power in the U.S. whether in law enforcement or politics are not women. This is just the summer of 2014. What about century upon century – tens upon tens of thousands of years? Why can we not finally give ourselves the permission to admit the truth about our humanity – that only men and women of “human mind” (compassionate, cooperative, compromising and communal) are concerned with not just the survival, but the evolution of our race; and that men and women of “animal mind” will continue to grant the male ego free reign over our race and planet to continue its historical and current campaign of domination, death and destruction? TFI is finally giving humanity permission to expect decisiveness to not equal domination; assertiveness to not equal aggression; ambition to not equal greed; motivation to not equal self-service; courage to not equal destructive action.

TFI is not “hating men;” it is rejecting the animal mind of the male ego to continue its leadership over the human race.

TFI is embracing our “humanity.”