Monday, June 2, 2014

Rebecca Solnit on Struggle to Name the Significance of Isla Vista Shootings as "Watershed Moment in the History of Feminism"

In yesterday's New York Times, Charles Blow continues the post-Isla Vista drumbeat of insistence that men, all men, need to face the fact that we're at the root of the problem of "female objectification and discrimination and violence against women." Contra those who want to minimize said problem, Blow writes flatly:

The statistics on violence and discrimination against women are just staggering. 

Writing for TomDispatch, Rebecca Solnit argues that women and men who want to support them in the battle against female objectification, discrimination, and violence have scored a significant point in the wake of the Isla Vista shootings. She describes the battle with the following soccer-themed metaphor:

It was a key match in the World Cup of Ideas. The teams vied furiously for the ball. The all-star feminist team tried repeatedly to kick it through the goalposts marked Widespread Social Problems, while the opposing team, staffed by the mainstream media and mainstream dudes, was intent on getting it into the usual net called Isolated Event. To keep the ball out of his net, the mainstream's goalie shouted "mental illness" again and again. That "ball," of course, was the meaning of the massacre of students in Isla Vista, California, by one of their peers. 
All weekend the struggle to define his acts raged. Voices in the mainstream insisted he was mentally ill, as though that settled it, as though the world were divided into two countries called Sane and Crazy that share neither border crossings nor a culture. Mental illness is, however, more often a matter of degree, not kind, and a great many people who suffer it are gentle and compassionate. And by many measures, including injustice, insatiable greed, and ecological destruction, madness, like meanness, is central to our society, not simply at its edges.

As she notes, to shout, "Mental illness!," and then imagine we've cleverly summed up the problem here is totally to overlook the fact that there's mental illness and then there's mental illness, and not all cultures go there — to violence, and specifically to violence against women — when mental illness is manifest. She writes, 

In a fascinating op-ed piece last year, T.M. Luhrmann noted that when schizophrenics hear voices in India, they’re more likely to be told to clean the house, while Americans are more likely to be told to become violent. 

I'm going to say it bluntly: I'm frankly appalled at the pushback of so many of my fellow males as the critically important #YesAllWomen discussion unfolds. I had hoped, and mistakenly believed, that we were further down the road in this cultural discussion than it turns out we actually are.

I had thought that at least the many men both gay and straight who read this blog regularly would long since have understood where I stand about these matters, so that they'd long since have realized I'm not bloody likely to entertain absurd explanations full of false diversionary "rationality" that 'splain it all to me, that explain everything about the Isla Vista shootings to my poor little addled head so that I finally understand that this recent atrocity and others like it are  "just" cases of mental illness that have nothing at all to do with widespread misogyny. And only a few men mistreat women, after all (though, as Charles Blow points out, the statistics about violence against women are staggering). 

Have we truly developed so little, we men who claim to occupy the pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder? And what do the fellows trying to convince me of the rightness of these arguments think I've been doing on this blog as I share my reflections on the importance of Ivone Gebara's theological work about how violence against women is deeply embedded in the various religious traditions of the world? Or as I point to Mary Hunt's indispensable analysis of the links between kyriarchy and male domination of women in the Catholic tradition in one posting after another here?

Or as I spentd weeks discussing the equally important work of theologians Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley after both were called on the carpet by the U.S. Catholic bishops for writing such important theological work, and daring to do so in their own female voices? Or as I examine Ruth Krall's probing analysis of the roots of the abuse practiced in one religious community after another by those in power in those communities — typically, men?

Or as I share the insights of male theologians like Matthew Fox, who insist that the theological traditions of the world vastly impoverish themselves and all the rest of us when they seek to exclude the insights of women? 

Or as I repeatedly post (and here) Andrei Voznesensky's soul-shattering poem "Someone Is Beating a Woman," which is a painful, necessary reminder that, yes, somewhere right now, a woman (many women) is being beaten by a man who believes he owns that woman and has every right in the world to use violence against her? You can stake your life on it, Voznesensky wants to inform us. It's happening somewhere right now. It's happening, in fact, many somewheres, but with the same old dreary rationale feeding the violence no matter where it's happening: the illusion too many men have that they own women by divine right.

What do all those fellows who have posted here in recent days, thinking I'd be susceptible to their mansplainin' about violence and mental illness (and no, it's not misogyny, and no, it doesn't implicate me) imagine I've been doing for years now on this blog, as I post these pieces — needlework? Nice embroidery of theological conversations controlled by heterosexual males, which I hope to prettify with some ornamental ruche and lacy frills?

No, I'm convinced we — and by "we," I mean all of us, black, white, green, male, female, gay, straight — have to deconstruct the dominant theological and cultural conversations that have led us, all of us, to such impasse, to the certainty that when a poet tells us that somewhere someone, some man, is beating a woman right this minute, he's speaking the gospel truth and describing the world in which all of us live. As a gay man who has long known in his bones that homophobia is deeply grounded in misogyny, and that the cruelty practiced towards me by more than one straight male over the course of my life (and by many old boys of the opposite gender who have staked their lives and careers on propping up the old boys' network) stems from the need to control women and put them in their place, why would I ever want to maintain toxic religious and cultural constructs that center on the supremacy of heterosexual men?

And which are right at the heart of the problem of misogyny in our culture and other cultures? (And it goes without saying that some heterosexual men have been among Steve's and my best defenders and friends, and some members of our own gay community, both men and women, have been every bit as unkind and unjust to us as any straight person ever has, so that this is not a matter of shouting, "Straight white man!," and having dispensed with all nuance and discussion.)

I suppose I don't get the . . . obliviousness . . . of many men. I don't get the inability of many men to see that the cultural clock has now ticked to a moment at which it becomes incumbent on those of us who are men (and, yes, especially straight men) to listen for a change and to stop the explaining it all to everyone else. And to dispense with the absurd charade which pretends that we have the unique corner on the rationality market.

Because God knows, the world we men have built up to now, which is at present one tick away from extinction, hardly exhibits a great deal of rationality, truth be told, does it?

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