Friday, May 16, 2008

Daughter and Citizen

This morning, NPR's Morning Edition had a segment on the Ladies in White, a group of women in Cuba who have organized to protest their spouse's arrest.

I was surprise that the segment did not mention the Mothers of the Plazo de Mayo in Argentina. The Madres official website is in Spanish, but I did find a related (or possibly the same?) organization, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. There is also a documentary about the Madres (which, is btw, listed on the excellent site, Women Make Movies.)

In these cases, the women have organized themselves around their status as mothers, grandmothers, and wives. They make their demands based on the authority granted to them as mothers and wives, rather than relying on the authority granted to them as citizens. In each case, I suspect, this is based in part on the idea that their government, in arresting/disappearing their husbands and children, has demonstrated that it no longer respects citizenship, so an effective protest must be rooted in some other identity category. It's an interesting method, I think.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

They just keep coming back

Warning: This post contains links that are potentially triggering to victims of sexual violence.

Via Iraq Today, I came across this article, which reports that Iraqi women have reported been sexually harassed and assault by KBR employees.

An Iraqi woman, who worked as a cleaning lady, told British diplomats that the head of KBR had asked her to stay the night and promised to double her wage in return.

Her refusal resulted in a pay cut and she was later dismissed.

Two Iraqi cooks, who confirmed the woman's claims to Foreign Office staff, also lost their jobs shortly afterwards, the Times reported.

They had worked in the canteen and said that KBR managers groped Iraqi staff regularly and paid or rewarded them for sex.

And where have we heard of KBR before? Oh yes, that's right: Jamie Leigh Jones. As I wrote back in December, Jones was an employee of KBR stationed in Iraq who states she was raped by her coworkers and then held in a storage unit by KBR (who also misplaced her rape kit and told she could either staying in Iraq or lose her job).

After reading the article about the Iraqi women who are accusing KRB employees of sexual harassment, I googled "Jamie Leigh Jones" looking for an update and I found this youtube video of Jones testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

In her testimony Jones states that the man who made her a drink the night she was raped told her "Don't worry; I save all my ruffies for Dubai." Jones says she took that to be a joke and felt safe with her coworkers thinking "they were all on the same team."

Now there is a whole lot tangled up in that "joke" and Jones apparent feelings of being part of a team. Over at Racialicious, Latoya Peterson looks closely at the term "oppression Olympics" and uses Andrea Smith's excellent essay Heteropatricharchy and The Three Pillars of White Supremacy to unpack the concept. In the essay Smith writes, that the Three Pillars of White Supremacy "framework does not assume that racism and white supremacy is enacted in a singular fashion; rather white supremacy is constituted by separate and distinct, but still interrelated, logics. Envision three pillars, one labeled Slavery/Capitalism, another Genocide/Capitalism, and the last one as Orientalism/War, as well as arrows connecting each of the pillars together. "

The whole essay (and Peterson's post as well as the comments) is definitely worth a close read. For the purpose of examining Jones' attacker's (or attacker's accomplice's?) joke, however, I am particularly interested in this point that Smith makes in the essay.

What keeps us trapped in our particular pillars of white supremacy is that we are seduced with the prospect of being able to participate in the other pillars. For example, all non-Native peoples are promised the ability to join in the colonial project of settling indigenous land. All non-Black peoples are promised if they comply, they will not be at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. And Black, Native, Latino, and Asian peoples are promised they will economically and politically advance if they join U.S. wars to spread "democracy."

Though this part of Smith's essay is focusing on examining the barriers to making strategic alliances between people of color and Jones is not a person of color, I don't think it's too much of a stretch here to use the above quote to examine why Jones felt "safe and part of a team" after her coworkers made a "joke" that implied that date rape drugs were being saved for Arabic women. In my opinion, the joke made Jones feel like "one of the guys." Before her rape, she is not an other, but part of team; she has "the prospect of being able to participate in the other pillars."

(Please note: I am in no way blaming Jones for being raped and then held hostage by KBR. I just wanted to examine a complicated aspect of her testimony. Being reassured by a racist joke does not equal deserves to be raped.)

Where else have I heard of KBR? Ah yes, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Klein, writing about the aftermath of Katrina, reports

Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that had been pioneered in Iraq. The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar Baghdad gang: Halliburton's KBR unit [Sidenote: KBR is not longer part of Halliburton] had $60 million dollar gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast.

Later Klein describes some of KBR's (or their subcontractor's) practices,

According to one study "a quarter of the workers rebuilding the city were immigrants lacking papers, almost all of them Hispanic, making far less money than legal workers." In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being waken in the middle of the night by their employer (a subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest; after all they could end up in one of the new immigration prisons that Halliburton/KBR had been contracted to build for the federal government.

Hello, Slavery/Capitalism from Smith's analysis.

Maybe KBR should change it's slogan: All Three Pillars of White Supremacy for the Price of One!

Alan Ball Definitely Read this Book

I'm reading Jessica Mitford's book The American Way of Death Revisited. I suspect I will have more to say about it after I've finished, but so far one passage has really stood out to me:

When, in the early eighties, the outbreak of AIDS became a matter of public anxiety, there was panic on the part of funeral directors and embalmers for their own safety. Most mortuaries refused to accept cases where it was believed that the deceased had been exposed to the HIV virus; those who did accept AIDS victims refused to wash, dress, or embalm the victim.
The New York State Funeral Directors Association (NYSFDA), on June 17, 1983, advised members to institute a moratorium on the embalming of AIDS victims. Reaction was quick.
Pete Slocum, a spokesman for the State Department of Health, said that funeral directors had previously been advised to handle the bodies of victims of AIDS as they handle victims of hepatitis B---that is, to wear latex gloves, a procedure that had already been prescribed to prevent spread of any contagious disease and required for health care workers under all circumstances when working with dead bodies. "We have not seen anything that suggests that there needs to be any precautions beyond that."

Threatened with a state bill that would force funeral directors to embalm AIDS victims or risk losing their license, the NYSFDA "lifted it's moratorium on embalming."

This, however, is by no means the ends of the story. It is now cash-in time. The mortuaries that did take AIDS cases began charging healthy "AIDS handling fees," usually $200 to $500. Others used subcontractors to do the embalming, covertly adding the cost by inflating the basic service fee. When the problem began to reach crisis proportions in New York City, the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), with the help of volunteers, surveyed the city's five-hundred-odd licensed funeral homes to identify their AIDS policies. With that information in hand, it put together a guide recommending only forty-two of the five hundred mortuaries to the thousands of friends and relatives of people with AIDS.

I was born in 1982 and I can remember the first time I became aware of the concept of "gayness" was as a young girl watching a television commercial for safe sex practices. (I didn't know what gay meant [I barely knew what sex meant] and I had to ask my mom for an explanation.) I grew up in an era where children were taught the ways that AIDS could and could not be transmitted. (I remember a particular presentation in high school where a women demonstrated how much of someone else's saliva one would have to drink to get AIDS by drinking 16 oz of water [which even accounting for messy teenage kissing was clearly way too much].)

It's passages like this that remind me how much previous generations had to endure and just how recent some of our progress is. I know that people with AIDS and HIV still face discrimination in both America and internationally. I know that gay men and women still face discrimination (in both America and internationally), but I think that if I fail to acknowledge the progress that has been made then I am failing to honor the people who came before me and fought for that progress.

My first thought upon reading this was, I really can't imagine much worse than losing a family member to a disease (a disease that marked them as a stigmatized person in life) and then being turned away from a funeral home. I suspect there's a lot that has happened (that is happening right at this moment) that I simply "cannot imagine." But I'm going to do my best to try to imagine it, to try to listen and learn; that really is the absolute least that one can do.

Edit: Weirdly enough, this week Dan Savage brought in some HIV-educators to answer someone's question about getting HIV from kissing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I hope we don't have to rip out the foundation

My friend Jake invited me to go to North Carolina today to campaign. I couldn't go because I couldn't take off work on such sort notice.

I also couldn't go because of everything Jay Smooth says here. This Ill Doctrine post, btw, is also a pretty good summation of why I don't really write about the democratic nomination process at the moment. Not gonna be more noise about this. (Don't take this as a criticism if you are writing about the nomination process. I love a lot of what I read; I just don't think I have anything new to bring to the table).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bic me

This entry (and 90% of my college papers) brought to you by Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and by Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning. Many thanks to Professor Susan Fraiman for introducing me to both.

This morning I was in the UVA bookstore and the April 2008 Esquire cover caught my eye.

As my sister, Caitlin, says this cover "seems less about hair and more about gender-play...the sexy woman in a man's button up shirt." (Sidenote: What is up with that? Why is it so sexy in a heterosexual paradigm for women to dress up in men's clothes?)

Esquire explains on their website that they are recreating another iconic Esquire cover image, "actress Virna Lisi caught mid-shave on the cover in March 1965."

As a woman who produces enough hair on my face that I feel the need to pluck those little black hairs off of my chin and jawline daily (and use Nair once a week), I saw this cover and felt mocked. Although it might at first glance seem like Esquire is revealing that women do, in fact, grow body/facial hair and go to great lengths to remove it, I think Caitlin's assessment of the cover is accurate. This cover doesn't reveal that women grow facial hair; it obscures that fact. In an excellent summation of my point here, the photographer for this cover says, "There is nothing masculine about Jessica. Even with a beard she couldn't be masculine." This cover is about emphasizing how not masculine Simpson is and the trope for masculinity is being able to grow a beard.

In my opinion, successful drag (and I do mean drag, here; the playful act of performing another gender---not cross-dressing or being transgendered, which is something completely different), plays with the tensions created by a gender binary system. Drag calls attention to gender as a performance, a shell game. Drag says, walk like this, talk like this, wear this; that is the essence of gender. Drag takes, "I am male therefore I shave my face" and makes it "I shave my face therefore I am male [at this moment]."

As a piece of drag, this cover fails (for me). This image of Jessica Simpson does not expose the act of shaving one's face a performance piece that creates masculinity; it reinforces the idea that men alone actually shave their face (and women can only pretend to).

Check out this link to some of Trish Morrissey's work Women with Facial Hair for an example of complex images that I think successfully explode the relationship between facial hair and masculinity. The article accompanying the images is also definitely worth the read.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

- Drawing on the rubber matting of a playground in Pittsburgh
Your tongue lives in your mouth and your tongue is you. He sent his tongue everywhere to see what was doing beyond the metal arch bars and the elastic bands. Across the raw vaulted dome of the palate, down to the tender cavernous sockets of the missing teeth, and then the plunge below the gum line. That was where they'd opened him up and wired him together. For the tongue it was like the journey up the river in 'Heart of Darkness.' The mysterious stillness, the miles of silence, the tongue creeping conradianly on towards Kurtz. I am the Marlow of my mouth."

- Philip Roth, The Anatomy Lesson

I've been grinding my teeth again.