Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October 2011 Feminist Discussion Group meeting

I have been the moderator for the Feminist Discussion Group at In Other Words (the only nonprofit feminist bookstore still in business in the United States) for some months now. I've finally gotten around to typing up the meeting notes, so here are the notes from the October meeting:

I recently visited Salem, Massachusetts and the Salem Witch Museum.
For the spooky month of October, let’s talk about mass hysteria such as the Salem witch hysteria, McCarthyism, the Jewish Holocaust, Islamaphobia in the modern-day United States, and any other mass hysteria we can think of.
As always, we’ll have a feminist slant on all of the above. Feel free to bring a black cat.

Google “mass hysteria” and you find: the Red Scare and lots of contemporary right-wing things: misogyny, Islamaphobia, homophobia.

The topic of Islamaphobia inspired me to tell the group about the Islamaphobic DVD distributed by the Oregonian during my first year in Portland. About five hundred mainstream U. S. newspapers distributed this, and the Oregonian had the choice to refuse to do so; they used “free speech” as an excuse to do it. I was with a Buddhist sangha at the time, and a meditation teacher who subscribed to the newspaper wrote a blunt letter to the editor and stopped subscribing. To this day I call it the Islamaphobian.

Free Speech isn’t Hate Speech when it’s your hate.

Arab in America = graphic novel about experiencing Islamaphobia

Mass hysteria in South Africa: Tanzania Laughing Institute—was gassed. Group think.

Millennium Hysteria: we discussed our memories of that. St. Louis was a really insane place to be during that time.

Burning Times
The Burning Times –DVD, documentary about the European witch hunts against women. (Burning Time is also the title of a historic novel by Robin Morgan, one of the books I brought to share.)

According to Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly: in the Middle Ages/Renaissance, sugar crops were owned by  the Catholic church. Women doctors told people not to eat sugar, for health reasons. The doctors were women  then—that’s one of the things patriarchal backlash has taken from us. The Catholic church resented this, since they wanted to continue profiting from sugar, and they attacked these women in the Burning Times (also known as the Inquisition or the Witch Hysteria).
The most likely victims of the Burning Times were women who didn’t engage in male society—single, older, not married. Maybe they lived at the edge of the woods; maybe they practiced the old ways: midwifery and herbal medicine.

During the European witch hunt, women were raped and it wasn’t considered torture. The torturers didn’t understand why the women acted traumatized after they were raped.

What started the witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts? A group of girls ages nine and up listened to a Carribbean servant/slave tell supernatural stories. Puritan society was such an austere, drab, patriarchal, anti-artistic, fire-and-brimstone society, that people (especially the most disempowered people, girls) needed an outlet, so the hysteria started. Some of the girls were just acting, some believed it on some level. Accusing people of witchcraft and participating in trials was the only way  girls could have some power in the community; it reminds me of women mediums (fake or genuine) in the nineteenth-century, when spiritualism and séances were all the rage.

Three Sovereigns for Sarah = a mini-series about the Salem Witch Trials, starring Vanessa Redgrave.

“Fear is the ultimate source of social control.” Police, patriarchy—they use force to keep us under control. The power-trippers usually attack on minorities or women.

Misogyny in general as mass hysteria
Hysteria—Hys—the meaning is “from the womb.” So even the word “hysteria” is misogynistic. Fear of the female—big part of why emotion is not accepted in our society. I was a member of a nonviolent communication (NVC) discussion group, with a psychologist as the instructor; he pointed out that we live in a toxic (patriarchal) society in which typically you get to be about a year old and realize that your emotions and the needs behind them are completely unacceptable. A society that doesn’t even acknowledge something as essential as emotion and the needs behind those emotions is a dysfunctional society indeed. Patriarchy and emotions are the root causes of such things as war and violence.
Femme/butch—even in the feminist/queer community, there’s hostility to the feminine, toward femininity. At least two of us have experienced butch lesbians giving off disapproving vibes if we wore a skirt or dress (no matter the style—you could be wearing a hippie skirt with combat boots). Street harassment often displays a weird assumption that women dress to attract men (rather than dress for themselves). Hostility and ridicule are more likely to happen if you wear a skirt.

Beyond Beats & Rhythms: documentary about misogyny and rap (free online access). Cynthia McKenny—wanted hip-hop in politics—about everyone in power—people interviewed were not misogynistic. Originally rap and hip-hop were cool and rad—but eventually these music genres bought into white male patriarchy. Ani DiFranco touches on this in one of her songs.
Child beauty pageants are popular and normalized in America. In other countries, such as Australia, people are trying to stop it.
The worst insults, the most derogatory terms, in patriarchal society are all misogynistic: pussy, sissy, girl, ladies, bitch. Weirdly, even some people who are biologically female embrace this—such as a female TV show character who calls other women “ladies” in a disparaging tone.

Cold War Propaganda: film called A Day Called X. This was a film made in Portland. Why would the Soviets have bombed Portland?!

 9/11 Hysteria was everywhere in the U. S. A. Even in Eugene, OR, people were afraid of terrorist attacks. Nonstop media coverage—one person’s roommate was glued to the TV and she was scared all the time. Terror Dreams by Susan Faludi is about the machismo/misogyny B. S. triggered by 9/11, particularly in WhiteBoyWorld media: a pretense that big, strong male fire fighters came in and saved women (when in actuality there were male and female firefighters saving men and women. This promoted an attitude that women need to have men to protect them (when anyone with sense can see that no, women need to learn self-defense methods and protect themselves; also, it’s ridiculous to want women to be protected by men from other men—both patriarchal and power-tripping).
Crisis—hysteria in the community = increase in violence against women. Honduras = random killings of women have increased dramatically. Haiti also—and traffickers taking women and children—this is the first thing to happen during national disaster.

ADD/ADHD Mass Hysteria. Our society is so over-stimulated all the time, what with the Internet and all—so it’s no wonder kids are over-stimulated and have poor attention spans. TV shows shower kids with ads, more ads and more frequent commercial breaks, so the show is abruptly and frequently interrupted. Nowadays, instead of getting several treasured gifts once a year, kids get toys all year around and receive a huge quantity of toys at X-mas and don’t treasure them but rather wear them out more quickly. I believe there are different ways for people’s brains to work; ADD is treated as if it’s a disease, when it seems to me like just a different kind of brain, like some people are southpaws or some people are introverts (in both of these examples, the minority is demonized).

Anti-Abortion Hysteria. The term pro-choice = rhetoric of shame; just frankly, honestly, say “pro-abortion.” Pro-choice sounds like you’re veiling it; pro-abortion is straight and to the point, with no shame. This issue is discussed in the anthology Abortion Under Attack, edited by Krista Jacob. Lately Democratic politicians have been taking an inappropriate apologetic tone—such as saying, “It’s so sad abortion has to happen.” Actually, it would be a very good thing to have safe and legal and competently performed abortions widely available to women of all colors and economic backgrounds.
In indigenous cultures: abortion is a ceremony. Now, in our culture, you take a day or two off, or get it done over the weekend, you bleed, you wear pads, and that’s it—no ceremony, just detachment, not connecting with your body.

Abortion is different for every woman and is a very personal experience. Some women are upset afterward, others are relieved that they no longer have an unplanned pregnancy to worry about.

Parental consent sends the message that you’re your dad’s property until you’re married and become your husband’s property—an archaic patriarchal system still prevalent in our society. Also, they don’t take into account that a teen could have abusive parents; perhaps the father or step-father or uncle is the one who impregnated her.

During times of famine: it is common for women to have abortions, because it’s folly to increase the population at such a time, when food is distributed thinly as it is. Also, it’s often irresponsible to have a child. If you’re not ready (emotionally or otherwise) to take care of a child, for instance.

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