Friday, December 6, 2013

Reflections on Mandela

My husband is travelling in Europe and called me early this morning, bereft that a character in the series “Sons of Anarchy” had died.  I was still waking up, but was dumbfounded that he called to tell me that, but had nothing to say about the passing of Nelson Mandela.

He is about 13 years younger than me.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my husband was still in junior high while I was preparing to leave for El Salvador to support that country’s march toward justice.  Nelson Mandela was a potent symbol of the injustice of the apartheid system that many of my fellow student activists were fighting to overthrow.

I spent most of the 80’s relearning the world order as my perspective shifted from my conservative parents’ devotion to Reagan and certainty of “American Exceptionalism” to one of horrified recognition that the United States often ignored the blatant behavior of dictators and bullies throughout the world or worse, assisted them in their exploitation and oppression of the people they ruled.  The examples were plentiful, Somoza and Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and scores of generals whose names are better forgotten.   But the most cogent and embarrassing symbol of the United States’ official indifference to the suffering of exploited and oppressed people the world over was the Apartheid regime in South Africa.  It was a caricature of every value that Ronald Reagan claimed we possess.  Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” as a beacon of hope the world over was the provenance of cash and arms meant to continue oppression. 

The President’s insouciance in the face of the violent and disgusting treatment of black South Africans left no space for ambiguity.   Official “concern” about communism in South Africa was laughable in the face of the Apartheid.  A generation of social justice activists, myself included, came of age as part of the wave of divesture that finally forced the US to withdraw support from the Apartheid regime and we learned that we did, in fact, have power.

Nelson Mandela began as a symbol of the Apartheid regime’s fatuous racism and willingness of the powerful to crush dissent.  But upon his release from Robbin Island, his stature only grew.  He demonstrated that one did not have to be crushed by anger and bitterness.   He lived and led by example the principle of liberation theology that oppression equally oppresses both the oppressed and the oppressor.  

I believe that he is the greatest man who has lived within my lifetime.  I am saddened by the loss to the world of this great man.  My sadness is greater still because my husband, who I believe is a good man who cares for justice, is untouched by his passing. 

We have been careless with his legacy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights

Several years ago, when I was completing my graduate studies, I had a dream that I was late to my graduation where I would be recognized for my outstanding academic achievement.  In my dream, I could hear "Pomp and Circumstance" playing and I could hear them calling my name, but I wasn't able to reach the stage because there were mountain high piles of dirty laundry that I had to climb and walk over to get to the stage.  I remember as keenly as if it had happened in true life the struggle to wade through the piles of clothes, feeling the pant legs of my husband's jeans tripping me as I fell into the soft mountain of clothes then half swimming and half crawling to get there as they called my name one final time to take my place on the stage.

Then, like a it was a lost dinner reservation, the speaker on stage moved on to the next name, that of one of my male colleagues and he stepped forward in his graduation gown and accepted the recognition.

My piles of laundry that I can easily manage by tossing the clothes into my high efficiency washer do not compare to the hardship of collecting water and firewood in the developing world.  However, this video illustrates so powerfully how the unseen and uncounted labor of women handicaps us in the marketplace.  Caring for a family is hard work.  I love the closing quote that we should have the right to provide the care, and also the right to not be exploited.  Caring for a family is truly beautiful and meaningful work and it should be counted and it should be valued.

Monday, August 26, 2013


"One day you're there, then all of a sudden... there's less of you and you wonder where that part went...
if it's living somewhere outside of you... and you keep thinking... maybe you'll get it back.  and then you realize ... it's just gone"

This blows my mind.  She wanted "other things', she tells Pete.  I just watched this again this morning; a round up of favorite Peggy scenes from Mad Men.  In this scene she tells Pete that she had his baby and gave it away.  As she is telling him the lines quoted above, I initially thought she was talking about the baby.  But seeing it again, she could be talking about her baby or her ambition.  She chose ambition.

Her ambition was such an integral part of her, so central to her being.  I can read this scene as a metaphor for women having children - at least for ambitious women who have children.  You have a child and it crowds out ambition.  It's there, but the quotidian tasks of child rearing consume you and it feels very sudden.  You are a smart and ambitious person, then suddenly you become invisible.  You think that when the baby naps or when the baby starts pre-school you will get it back.  It's still there and you will get it back.  Then you realize that you made different choices and it's just gone.

Peggy knew that by becoming a wife and a mother, she would be less of herself and even though everything about that time and age insisted that she do so; she chose "other things".

and Pete was incredulous...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

women < fetus

I am a Catholic woman who is squeamish about abortion; but I am also a pro-choice feminist.  So that’s where I am starting.

I am so sickened by the multiple forced miscarriages, violent abortions that the pig of Cleveland perpetrated on the woman he held captive.  It is abhorrent.  But I am conflicted about the potential of charging him for murder.  These are the moments when I am most challenged by my faith and by my political philosophy of life.

The charge of murder is, I believe, what prosecutors want so that they can charge him with a capital crime.  I completely understand the urge of the State to murder that man.  But it somehow feels that the lives of the fetuses are somehow more valuable than the lives of the women.  The life of Ariel Castro in exchange for the lives of the fetuses; but not the life of Ariel Castro for imprisoning three women, holding them in chains, locked in a basement and repeatedly raping them for a decade.  The lives and well being of the women are less valued  (prison) than the potential lives of fetuses (death penalty). 

The State, like Arial Castro, sees women as receptacles of future children.  The women were held captive and in at least one case, one of the women was raped and forced to carry the fetus to term.  Like the State and our broader culture, Castro sees women as sources of sexual pleasure that should be dominated and controlled.  In his view, women have no humanity, no agency.  In the eyes of the State, we also lack humanity and agency.  We are sexualized and objectified, but if we become pregnant then we are forced to carry that child to term because our only value is as receptacles of future children.  The lives of future children are of greater value than our own.

So I am angered that the lives of fetuses are more important than the grave wrong that was done to the women.  I am hurt and sad that as a woman, I am less than the seed of a man.  I am enraged at a State that so clearly tells me that my only value as a human is to be sexually available and make babies.

Fuck you, State.