Tag Archives: violence

Human rights should begin at home

Ever since I first considered becoming a parent, I wanted a daughter. My partner concurred, vehemently. We have two now, lovely beings both, growing up all too fast for us to prepare them for the world that lies ahead. We wanted daughters because there aren’t enough in India. Our country loses, gets rid of, far too many daughters, in utero, in infancy, in youth… and we felt it our responsibility to do a little to redress the skewed sex ratio. We won the chromosomal lottery, twice, on that count.

We have two daughters to offer to this world. How do we offer them a safer world to explore?

Amid the seemingly endless orgy of violence that appears to be endemic to our cultures, from India to the US, violence directed against women in particular, Eduardo Galeano’s words have been haunting me. Growing up in the traditional family culture he describes, I was quite stunned when I first read him, decades ago. I keep returning to them now, as a parent myself to two daughter, trying to change this culture, starting at home:


the dark room,
the icy shower,
enforced fasting,
forced feeding,
the ban on leaving the house,
the ban on saying what you think,
the ban on doing what you feel,
and public humiliation
are some of the methods of punishment and torture traditional to family life. To punish disobedience and discipline liberty, family tradition perpetuates a culture of terror that humiliates women, teaches children to lie, and spreads the plague of fear.

“Human rights should begin at home,” Andrés Dominguez told me in Chile.

From “The Book of Embraces” by Eduardo Galeano.

Whether it is guns or men’s penises, in India or the US, the talk these days is all about tougher laws, bans, hangings, castration, capital punishment, stemming from an angry desire for vengeance in the wake of heinous crimes. Maybe these will bring some change for the better. I sure hope so. But the violence, like the misogyny, is too deeply embedded in our cultures for these to be sufficient deterrents. It lies too deep, and too close to the surface of our daily domestic lives for us to see, acknowledge, and attempt to stop it.

The violence is within us, reinforced by these traditions which “humiliate women, teach children to lie, and spread the plague of fear.” Therefore, any lasting change to the culture of violence must also start within us, when we challenge these traditions, change them, teach new ones to our sons and daughters: based on respect and kindness, rather than power and obedience.

I sense the implacable anger of women in India right now, and hang my head in shame for my gender, for what we men have wrought against our better halves.

Bringing more daughters into this world is only half the answer. We need to raise our sons better too, in better families rebuilt without the traditional violence shadowing our daily lives. We need to change the culture so that it doesn’t continue to warp them in the ways it has already warped us into accepting so much violence as routine.

Human rights must begin at home.

The brutalization of beauty

Yesterday I wrote about beauty, and how we humans have evolved to seek it, appreciate it, understand it, create it. Today I am confronted by the dark dark side of that human coin, a slap-in-the-face reminder of how we humans are also capable of utterly destroying beauty, and innocence. In an age when violence, against “other” humans, against nature, and most particularly against women, is eroticized and fetishized, here stands Sunitha Krishnan: simple, beautiful, strong survivor of horrendous sexual violence, trying to shake us out of our jaded apathy, asking us not for empty sympathy or charity, but respect and human dignity. Powerful:


I am speechless. And as a man, I struggle not to seek some place to hide my face from such ghastly evidence of what my gender has wrought.

My deepest utmost respect to Sunitha Krishnan and to those on whose behalf she speaks. How can we complain about our lots in life, or exalt the progress made by humanity, when such brutalities as she speaks of are still allowed to flourish, and the victims of this global trade we hush up, have salt rubbed into their raw wounds by a criminally indifferent society? Here’s a real life victim of sexual violence fighting for the human dignity and rights of other victims of sexual violence and slavery. Move over Lisbeth Salander. If only you could emerge from the pages of the books and mete justice on these perpetrators, and the silent majority who turns a blind eye.

[Hat-tip to my sister Vaijayanta who works with other victims of the HIV epidemic and other social injustices in India]

On the grotesque portrayal of women in films

Over on ScienceBlogs, a kerfuffle has been brewing this week, starting apparently with a male blogger delving into some old literature on the psychological effects of pornography and what it says about male aggression and violence towards women. Not surprisingly, the dude got into hot water with fellow female science bloggers and feminists because the studies in question, and his original post, asked the wrong question: what are the effects of watching pornography on how aggressively / violently men may subsequently act towards other women?

But what about the violence already perpetrated against the first set of women, the ones already brutalized in the course of the making of the pornography
Apparently, says the dude (in a revised blog post), the two questions are separate, kinda like asking if drilling for oil in the deep ocean is bad in the first place vs. asking what are the effects of oil drilling when it inevitably fucks things up! Really?! As scientists, it seems, we should be interested in the potential effects of viewing porn on aggressive behaviors by men towards other women – but what about the actual violence that has already been perpetrated against the women in said porn? Which of the two questions should really concern us most as human beings and scientists? Why must science limit itself to the superficial male-centric question about effects, but not get to the root causes about violence against women? To put it back in terms of the oil spill metaphor du jour: is it enough if we ecologists merely focus on the after effects of the BP spill and clean up, but never challenge the whole notion of drilling in such dangerous ways for a substance we really shouldn’t be dependent upon in the first place? Why not work towards finding a good answer to that deeper question so that the more superficial one never has to be asked at all?

All this brings to mind some thought-provoking discussion about what pornography does to women, men, and healthy relationships between the two, which took place when Robert Jensen visited us at Fresno State last year. Rather than pontificate from my own limited expertise in these matters, let me to refer you to Jensen’s excellent book “Getting Off: Pornography and the end of masculinity” based on his own research and experience as a participant in the feminist struggle against pornography. I was surprised to find no reference to Jensen’s work on ScienceBlogs – and daresay that the male scientists/bloggers in particular should at least give him a read before shooting their mouths off. 
Allow me, then, to pull you in a different direction, and ask about the violence against women in mainstream (supposedly non-pornographic) cinema (or what passes for it in your nearest multiplex these days of summer). Especially cinema that is supposed to be about liberated women enjoying the fruits of the feminist movements of the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve been really troubled for some weeks by the egregious depiction of women in that supposedly post-feminist female centered mainstream movie, Sex in the City 2 – even the trailers made me gag, and I hoped, dearly, that women would turn against it en masse. Alas, enough viewers (women, mostly?) turned up to watch it worldwide to put it among the top 3 films when it opened. Mercifully, most film critics tore the movie to shreds – and sharply and entertainingly enough to the point I thought the reviews alone were worth the movie having been made! 
In particular, I want to share this incisive non-rant from my current favorite film critic Dr. Mark Kermode over on BBC:
Lest you dismiss this as another (un)rant by another man, here’s the review by Lindy West that Kermode points out as being unreadable-on-air.
So, tell me, whatever happened to feminism? Why are we stuck between so much pornography on the one hand, and such ghastly fare in the mainstream “chick-flick” genre on the other?

Aren’t these enough to make you join Dr. Kermode in his rallying cry for another revolution?