Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Female Self-Oppression

I had put Elfriede on my main bookshelf. This means that I am through with her and ready to move on. Hold on. Its time to hit the brakes for awhile and cruise with this uncomfortable subject matter. In fact, it is not just uncomfortable subject matter, but uncomfortable reality. As I tried to sit through 5 minutes of the movie Thirteen today, I must be honest and say that it is the reality of female self-oppression that scares me.
So, back to Elfriede. While her sentences are simple, this does not mean they are not worth contemplating. This is just the reason that they are.
First quote, p. 3.: "if someone has a fate, then it's a man, if someone gets a fate, then it's a woman."
"Has" is an active verb and implies control while "gets is passive and implies that the fate was imposed without any choice in the matter.
p. 31. "paula herself has never learned to choose and to decide. paula experiences everything in the passive voice."
For how many women is this their reality?
p. 33. "all the tenderness happens with paula's first body, the thrashings which come from dada, happen to her second body, her mother, has to absorb everything with her first body, that's why it's already so worn out and tired."
The majority of physical and sexual abuse that women endure, is perpetrated by people that they know and care for.
Need I say more tonight? I don't think so as I am ready for pissed off tears.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Women Climbing Ladders

I've been reading a depressing book for the last two days, Elfriede Jelinek's Women as Lovers. Contrary to what the title might have you assume, the female characters are in my opinion not lovers as they are merely passive vessels capturing the semen and patriarchal accoutrements of their trajectors.
For me, the book was an excercise in depersonalization. I had to remain distant from the characters and the story in order to read it and not throw the book across the room in despair. In many ways my depersonalization was quite similar to what the characters underwent through Jelinek's writing style. There are no capital letters in this novel. Often names are reduced to the first letter for example "b." The writing is basic with no frills. Very simplistic thoughts with no unneeded description in order to better reflect the lives, thoughts, and goals, of the characters. The goals of the characters were very simple: to try to climb up the rungs of the social ladder in villages and towns in the alpine countryside of Austria.
bridgette and paula were the main characters. Both had dreams of climbing the ladder. bridgette was forever practical. She just wanted a practical man who would help her up a notch even if he literally repulsed her. The sex scenes between them were repulsive. Grunt, grunt and it is over. bridgette's only pleasure being her future pleasure of a husband, house, furniture, stable identity as wife and mother.
paula attempted to be practical with her seamstress apprenticeship but became lost in the media definition of love. Her big mistake was to think that she had fallen in love and like many 15 year olds that I see at the local alternative high school or in mommy's groups, she paid the price. She paid the price, while Mr grunt grunt inseminator didn't. But what's new about that?
Nothing really. Its Jelinek's writing that is so gripping. The writing so matches the behavior. I felt like I was in the mind of the bridgette and paula as their dreams were simple and uncomplicated just like Jelinek's sentences. Plus, because the writing has been stripped to the bare minimum, it is hard to deny the classism that lies beneath.
bridget's mom is a single mom, bridget like her mother has no education and works as an unskilled bra seamstress. bridget wants to move up and even if she is ridiculed and must use her body to jump a rung, she will. susi her competition, would actually be jumping down a rung but would offer the puffy male heinz, a higher rung. paula is already at a pretty low rung but she wasted the money invested on her with her seamstress apprenticeship on the loser erich.
getting up the rung requires work, which bridgette understood, not easy media driven romantic fulfillment as paula chooses.
Poor paula, when she finally tries to gain some control over her life in the only way she is given the opportunity, through prostitution, she is shunned to the lowest rung from whence bridgette came, the bra factory.
I have no great words of wisdom after this read. If anything, I remind readers to always remember how women are affected by classism and economic oppression even when they are not directly mentioned. When we think of immigration policies, remember the women. When we think of trade policy, think of women.
As Shilamuth Firestone wrote nearly a century ago:
Marx was on to something more profound than he knew when he observed that
the family contained within itself in embryo, all the antagonism that later
develops on a wide scale within the society and the state.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Random Quotes and Thoughts on Poverty and Globalization

I have two books that I am reading now, Urgent Message from Mother by Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. and The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. I also just listened to Amy Goodman's interview with Arundhati Roy on Democracy Now. All of these writers' differing thoughts are swimming around in my head right now as I try to come up with my own opinions or better yet questions. Solutions or answers are out of my reach.

Let me start with 2003 figures from the Women's Environmental and Development Organization that Bolen references.
Global military spending is at $900 billion, while estimated costs for meeting basic human needs globally in 2003 would have been:
$21 billion for shelter
$19 billion to eliminate starvation and malnutrition
$10 billion for clean safe water
$7 billion to eliminate nuclear weapons
$4 billion to eliminate landmines
$5 billion to eliminate illiteracy
$5 billion for refugee relief
$10.5 billion to stabilize population
$24 billion to prevent soil erosion
Total: $105.5 billion

These are much better ways to use the $900 billion we spend on war and defense.

Jeffrey Sachs also believes that it is possible for the basic human needs of all individuals on this planet to be met. In fact, he boldly goes so far as to say that extreme poverty could be eliminated by 2025. He also mentions the money spent on the military which in the United States alone in 2005 was $450 billion, while the U.S. spends a mere $15 billion to address global poverty.

$900 billion vs. $105.5 billion
$450 billion vs. $15 billion

Keeping in mind that I have only read up to page 50, Jeffrey Sachs argues that countries must advance technologically if extreme poverty is to be eliminated. He describes an economic ladder where Malawi is one of the countries on the bottom rung and where the lack of rain, depleted soil, and AIDS have left people dying, starving, or barely surviving.

Bangladesh is a few rungs up with its sweat shops. While Sachs admits that the conditions in these sweat shops are horrendous, he writes of how much opportunity the predominately women workers have compared to those who live in rural communities.

India, is even better off with its call centers and "export services." And China, well China is just swell.

At this point, I am feeling apprehensive. Is working in a sweat shop economically better than living off of your own land? Maybe if you can live off of your land and voluntarily choose to work in a sweat shop. But while people may voluntarily choose to work in a sweat shop, they do so because their options are limited. Because working at a sweat shop and having a few capitalist perks is much better than the other alternative: starving to death.

And what about India and China? What is life truly like for a person who works in a call center or in China's booming economic adventures? What about all of those in India and China who are not benefitting from the call centers and other technological advancements? Is there some sort of mythical "trickle down effect?" My thought is "No."

How lucky I am to happen upon Arundahati Roy's interview.

According to Arundhati Roy, while President Bush was in Delhi 60 widows from Kerala came to protest and bring attention to the tens of thousands of farmers who have committed suicide because they were in debt. Are all of these farmers and their families supposed to move to a place where they can work in a sweat shop or in a call center? Do you suppose that these farmers speak English well enough to work in a call center?

Democracy Now quotes President Bush speaking in India:

The markets are open, and the poor are given a chance to develop their talents and abilities. They can create a better life for their families. They add to the wealth of the world, and they could begin to afford goods and services from other nations. Free and fair trade is good for India. It’s good for America. And it is good for the world.

Most likely some are creating a better life for their families. Some are leaving extreme poverty behind. But what about everyone else. Arundhati Roy says "after 15 years of economic liberalization, we have more than half of the world's malnutritioned children. We have an economy where the differences between the rich and the poor, which have always been huge, has increased enormously."

Roy describes informal street businesses in Delhi being cleared for the upcoming Commonwealth games with Walmart and Target replacing them. Those in positions of power ask: “If the poor can't afford to live in the city, why do they come here?” They come "here," Roy explains, because they are being driven out of their villages by development projects and the corporatization of agriculture.

Jeffrey Sachs may have a point, extreme poverty can be eliminated by 2025, by driving people from their villages and cities simultaneously, in essence by killing them off.

What will be left are those working in sweat shops and call centers, forwarding their countries' positions on the ladder of capitalism ie. democracy. Most will be supportive of this semblance of economic progress as the alternative is bleak and they are awarded just enough toys to feel satisfied....

So far, I find Sachs' position too simplistic. I prefer to think of Arundhati Roy and the grassroots groups that inspire her. Jean Shinodo Bolen would call these "Women's Circles." They may not be made up entirely of women but I can guaratee that women have a primary role. I have seen women's grassroots energy in action. Nothing to me is more inspiring.

I think back to Rilke and how he wrote that one has to live questions until they eventually lead to answers. The questions must be explored at the grassroots level because this is where the answers will appear. They will appear in microcredit establishments and at sit-ins in ChevronTexaco terminals in Nigeria. They will also appear in international opportunities for sharing like those that La Via Campesina provides.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


I discovered a new word yesterday, "quirkyalone." I discovered it in the way that many new words may be coined and discovered in the 21st century, through the internet.

Here's an explanation of what it means to be "quirkyalone" from the website,

We are the puzzle pieces who seldom fit with other puzzle pieces. Romantics,
idealists, eccentrics, we inhabit singledom as our natural resting state. In a
world where proms and marriage define the social order, we are, by force of our
personalities and inner strength, rebels. For the quirkyalone, there is no
patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone. We want a miracle. Out
of millions, we have to find the one who will understand. Better to be
untethered and open to possibility: living for the exhilaration of meeting
someone new, of not knowing what the night will bring. We quirkyalones seek
momentous meetings.

I am both these things, quirky, and most often alone. Similar to the definition, I consider myself an idealist, and an eccentric and feel very comfortable being single. I have no problem doing just about anything by myself.

I remember the first time I went to see a movie by myself, "Pulp Fiction." I felt a little strange, somewhat pathetic. What are people going to think when they see me by myself, sin of all sins! A single woman, alone! Thankfully I got over that one. Even though I must be honest, I do get pangs of loneliness every once in a while when I go see a film in a theater by myself.

I eat at restaurants by myself too. Most often I have a book with me. It isn't quite as fun as with friends and good conversation but it is doable. So are hikes. Those I prefer to do by myself as it gives me the opportunity to remind myself of how undefinable and awe inspiring nature is. So many layers of sound, texture, color, smell,...

I walk down streets at night, alone. That may not be the smartest but I am hyperconscious when I do it and I listen to my gut. Sometimes you just have to if you want to live your life to its fullest while being alone.

Traveling is something else I have done my myself. Again, sometimes its nice to travel with someone else and get out of your own head all the time. Or so that you will try soemthing you don't usually try. It gets you out of your routines. But at the same time, I love traveling by myself and being completely open to whatever the journey brings and whomever it is that I meet along the way. I suppose all of these traits make me a prime example of a person who is "quirkyalone."

It did make my day seeing a word that somewhat defined me. I have felt very undefinable, especially for a woman. No, I am not in a partnership. No, I am not in any hurry to be in one. Yes, I know that my biological clock is ticking but I spend enough time with youth. I am always glad to know that there are times that I can just go home and be alone. Yes, I could be a lesbian, but then again, maybe I'm not. In short, I am not definable by my relationships.

That is what I liked about "quirkyalone." Looking at Emily Dickinson's photograph I felt like I too was part of a group and was definable, for better or for worse.