In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

On Hate Crimes

Two must-read posts: Vox ex Machina and XicanoPwr.

Vox details a handful of recent hate crimes, and points out that these are not individual acts; they are part of a larger and long-standing trend of violence against people who differ from the standard straight white Christian able-bodied man. She writes,

Given the history of hate crimes in the United States, the history that we, as a nation, are only now beginning to address with the arrests of people like James Ford Seale, no, this crime is not special or unique. If we cannot talk about our history, honestly and with an eye on preventing it from repeating itself, then it’s going to do just that.

It’s not a pretty history. It’s a history of lynchings, from Native Americans to blacks to Chinese immigrants. It’s a history of genocidal wars, slavery, forced sterilization, imprisonment in asylums, and discriminatory laws. It’s a history of unspeakable crimes committed against people of color, immigrants, and social “undesirables,” against women, against people of other faiths.

And because we won’t face it head on, every few years, the cycle rears its head.

There’s an urge to talk about hate crimes as individual acts — some crazy racist in some ass-backwards white trash town decided to attack a person of color. Some homophobe in the fly-over zone decided to kill a gay person. That’s it. A crime like any other.

But that’s not it. Hate crimes are unique because, as Vox points out, they’re part of a larger history of targeting traditionally disempowered groups. They’re also different in purpose than most other violent crimes: The purpose of a hate crime is not only to injure or kill an individual; the purpose of a hate crime is to terrorize an entire community of people who share an immutable characteristic. That’s what makes hate crimes different from “regular” crimes. That’s why the argument that “every crime is a hate crime” doesn’t fly. Many crimes involve hate. But hate crimes specifically lash out at a collective group by injuring one of that group’s members.

XicanoPwr points out that hate crimes also have a hand in maintaining traditional power structures:

The truth is, hate crimes function to maintain the status quo; they protect the people in charge, the men and women who are responsible for making important decisions at the highest levels of society. Blame tends to move away from the top, minimizing the possibility that profound changes could ever occur.

When your daily life is tinged with fear, it’s awfully hard to make substantive change. Consider the pervasive fear and threat of violence and sexual assault that women live with every day: It impacts our ability to freely move through society, to travel, to challenge male authority. Turning rape and intimate partner violence into individual, isolated crimes obscures their broader impact.

Further, as XicanoPwr says, isolating hate crimes removes responsibility from those in power — those who benefit from prejudice and hatred. Individualizing crimes that are by their nature collective removes culpability from all of us who help to maintain a system where entire classes of people are less valued and less protected than others.

Continuing to view hate crimes as one-time events perpetuated by people crazed by prejudice (you know, people who aren’t like you or I or anyone we know) against some unlucky individual does not do justice to their true nature. The rash of crimes detailed by Vox and XicanoPwr are not unfortunate incidents between two parties. They are part of an ongoing and wide-reaching epidemic. And they harm many, many more people than those who are named in the police report.

What he said

I don’t want to drag out the Save Monty drama any longer than necessary, but I will point you all to Elaine’s response to my post. It’s worth a read, and I appreciate her engaging these issues. She makes many interesting points, but I think it’s rather obvious that we are coming from fundamentally different places, and there are some gaps that just aren’t going to be bridged. Although, damn, I’ve never had someone call me “anti-animal-rights” before. But it’s your movement, and if you want to draw the “If you aren’t with us then you’re against us” line, I suppose that’s your prerogative.

We’re mostly at an impasse, so I’ll just let Brooklynite do the talking for me:

Criticized for describing animal breeding as “slavery,” Elaine Vigneault comes back with this:

The only difference between a mentally disabled human and a cow is that one is my species and one is not.

Look. I’m sympathetic to the pro-animal cause. I’ve been trending in that direction intellectually over time, and I’ve recognized recently that I really should do more to bring my actions into line with my abstract beliefs.

But even in circumstances where the moral and historical parallels are strong, equating different oppressions is a dicey business. Even if you’ve done all your homework and you’ve tailored your arguments narrowly, you’re going to catch flak. If you haven’t done that — if you just toss out an analogy to appropriate some heft — you’re going to get slammed, and you’re going to deserve it.

There is no good ending to a sentence that begins with the words “The only difference between a mentally disabled human and a cow is…” Not any. If you ever find yourself typing such a sentence, make a beeline for the delete key. Press it and hold it down until the impulse passes.

You’ll thank me later.

One more thing: Let me be clear that I realize Elaine doesn’t speak for all animal rights activists, and that there are many animal rights activists who also cringe at this comparison. It’s unfair to paint all ARRs with a broad brush. So this post is directed specifically at Elaine’s comment, not at the animal rights movement in general (or at least, not at the very large contingent of that movement that would bristle at the cow/disabled person comparison). Like the feminist movement, the animal rights movement is a diverse one. And just as my posts here don’t speak for all feminists and don’t represent anyone else’s feminism but my own, Elaine’s above comment should not be construed to represent anyone’s animal rights beliefs but hers, and my response is directed at her statement, not at everyone who subscribes to the animal rights movement.

Dignity in life

Today a jury awarded a couple 21 million in a wrongful birth case. One in which the doctor failed to inform them the probability of birthing another child with the same genetic disability as their other son:

The couple claimed that Dr. Boris Kousseff failed to diagnose their first son’s genetic disorder, called Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, which is the inability to correctly produce or synthesize cholesterol, after his 2002 birth.

Had the disorder been correctly diagnosed, a test would have indicated whether the couple’s second child also was afflicted and they would have terminated the pregnancy, according to the lawsuit.

I find it of particular interest, that a jury found that not providing this couple with adequate information put them (and the child) in a position of undue hardship. Despite declarations that women only have abortions to avoid stretch marks or to go to rodeos, this jury seemed to overwhelmingly agree that women should be able to have a choice and at least be fully informed. I recognize that our current administration’s policy is of non-education, but it appears that most Americans prefer to be informed as much as possible when it comes to medical decisions of the reproductive nature.

Note, I posted this on my blog a little over a month ago, but felt it was worth re-posting:

I am always uncomfortable writing about issues that I have neither direct experience nor specific education/training in, but ehhh what the hell that hasn’t stopped me before. I more or less give that caveat for the purpose of allowing others the space to correct me or pipe up with their own opinions.

Belle points out that disability rights are women’s rights issues, and I tend to agree especially because my feminism is very much attached to human rights which includes the right to dignity. It is because of this I feel it is necessary to discuss life, disability, and death.

Philosophically a lot of the arguments surround issues of life; quality, sanctity, and definition. Most surprising is how close people are to the issues by virtue of being human, yet seem to distance themselves as far as they possibly can from the mirror of uncertainty of their own life.

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I Wouldn’t Want To Live Like That! Meh, On Second Thought…

“Misery can only be removed from the world by painless extermination of the miserable.”
-Gerhard Hoffman, Nazi propagandist in defense of direct medical killing of all those possessing serious medical disorders

Those first few years of having Systemic Lupus Erythematosus were pretty challenging. Before that I was just “sickly”, but knowing that it was a lot more serious than that shifted my weltanschauung entirely. I still didn’t understand how fortunate I was. Though it was the worst form of lupus, I didn’t experience any of the organ failures that are so common among people with SLE. It was bad enough for me to have significant health difficulties but none of them reached the life-threatening level. So, issues like end-of-life care and custody of my daughter weren’t much more than abstractions that most people my age are happy to put off until we’re much older.

Then along came the cancer and all of that changed. From the moment I was diagnosed, I had all of these decisions that needed to be made because the situation was life-threatening even before I knew it was there. Because my cancer is rather rare, the doctors had to consult with other physicians around the United States in order to see what could be done to give me the best achievable outcome. I would need radiation therapy right away, followed by surgery as soon as the team of doctors could be organized to do it. Even then, the likelihood of me surviving the surgery was not very good.

How do you deal with news like that? At the local cancer support center, we have a special support group for people who are terminally-ill. In those meetings we’ve talked about how each of us reacted and from those conversations it seems that people basically, deal with it like everything else. If you’re a person who is prone to go out and toss back a few stiff drinks or go to the gym and smack a punching bag around, then I suppose that’s what you’ll probably do. I don’t know if I’d say that there’s any one way that a person should react even though I think that some options are definitely better than others. You just do what you need to do to cope while your brain has time to process the next few actions that will need to take place.

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“Those” children

There’s an incredibly powerful piece in the LA Times about a couple adopting an autistic son, and the reactions that they’ve received — Why don’t they have their own children? Did they try IVF? Could they not get a healthy white baby? They really must be saints.

Go read the whole thing, because I really cannot do it justice.

Virgnia Tech and Mental Illness

The reporting on the Virginia Tech tragedy has been cringe-worthy for many reasons. The conservative punditry has been worse (especially the bending over backwards to figure out how we can blame Muslims for this one). But of the myriad causes of Cho’s violence cited by people on all sides of the debate, mental illness has been the primary one. And, obviously, that analysis is solid — no one denies that Cho was seriously mentally disturbed, and was not getting the help he needed. But what worries me is where that analysis is going, particularly in conservative circles — where the answer seems to be, “Lock up the crazies. And blame the ACLU if you can’t.”

If you ask me, if we are going to let these crazies run free, not forcing them to be institutionalized, then we need to goddamn well do a better job of protecting the public from them. There’s a reason why they used to be locked up, and it was to protect society. Virginia Tech totally dropped the goddamn ball with this guy; there’s no reason why they should have to educate dangerous people. I know, it’s all about wishy-washy liberal ideals–can’t deny someone with mental illness their “right” to a college education. “Diversity.” My ass. I hope the families of the dead victims sue the hell out of VT for letting this creep anywhere near their kids after all the concerns were raised by students and faculty. I hope they sue the state for letting him go when they had him. I know suing won’t bring their family members back, but maybe it’ll start people thinking about how to deal with lunatics a little better. You can bet if people are faced with multi-million dollar lawsuits, they’ll use their heads.

I’m sick and tired of these crazies and the shit they do to other people. To hell with the simpering ACLU and all these ridiculous liberal idealists who want them to have “rights” like the rest of us without the responsibilities.

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The Ethics of Genetic Testing

Michael Bérubé, full-time Professor of Dangeral Studies and weekend blogger at Pandagon, has both a post and an article (in the Toronto Globe & Mail) about prenatal testing and some of the ethical issues it raises, in particular where the results are a factor in deciding whether to abort a fetus.

As you may know, Michael is the father of a son, Jamie, who has Down syndrome. He’s written quite extensively about Jamie, both at his now-giant nuclear fireballed blog and in a 1996 book. When Michael’s wife Janet was pregnant with Jamie in 1991 at the age of 36, the doctor suggested amniocentesis “just to make sure.” They decided against the procedure for a variety of reasons, among them that the risk of miscarriage was about the same as the risk of Down syndrome. Another was that the results would not be available until 16 to 18 weeks into the pregnancy, later than they were comfortable with for making a decision about termination, though any severe, life-threatening anomaly such as anencephaly, would be visible on the sonogram much sooner.

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The Vulnerability of the Aged

There’s a weird story developing here in New York involving charges that Brooke Astor’s son is robbing her blind while failing to provide her with proper care.

Mrs. Astor is very, very old — 104 — and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. She’s also quite wealthy (though less so, her grandson alleges, now that her son is stripping the artwork from her Park Avenue duplex and taking millions from her). She’s the widow of Vincent Astor, whose father, John Jacob Astor, died on the Titanic. The Astor family, if you’re familiar with Edith Wharton novels, was one of a few families at the pinnacle of New York society when that was all that mattered. Through much of her life after marrying into the family (and in particular after her husband died, leaving her a philanthropic foundation to run), she was an active philanthropist and socialite, regularly turning up to dedications, fundraisers and events until the age of 100 and giving away millions and millions of dollars.

But in the past few years, her grandson alleges, his father took advantage of Mrs. Astor’s condition to steal from her while neglecting her care. Just how isolated a person who has servants can be is one of those imponderables, but the servants likely keep their mouths shut to keep their jobs — and to make sure they can keep an eye on this frail old woman (a woman who identified herself as Mrs. Astor’s cook told reporters gathered outside the building, “I think it’s great that the truth has finally come out”).

It’s sobering to realize that even money and social connections can’t protect you should you become old, frail, and disoriented. And in some ways, Mrs. Astor is very average:

Whether it takes the form of neglect, physical or emotional abuse, or financial exploitation, elder mistreatment is an emerging problem as the population ages, experts say. If the allegations are true, Mrs. Astor, who is 104, would fit the profile of the average victim: a woman, more often than not white, and among the oldest of the old. Indeed, advocates for the elderly said yesterday the accusations were an example of a problem that has been largely hidden, particularly when, as in this case, they involve another family member.

The very elderly tend to be hidden away from the world, relying on their families for care; the potential for abuse is magnified when there is a loss of control over financial affairs:

The broad outlines of Mrs. Astor’s failing health and the concerns about her care suggest that neither money nor family can necessarily insulate the elderly from the vicissitudes of aging.

She lost control over her everyday affairs, faded from view and has been largely confined to her Park Avenue apartment for the last few years. There her care is overseen by her only child, Anthony Marshall, and her grandson Philip Marshall charges that her living conditions are bad enough to cause him to seek to have his father replaced as his grandmother’s guardian.

Lorraine V. K. Coyle, a Bronx lawyer who specializes in cases involving the elderly, said the allegations suggest that no one is secure from mistreatment. “It makes me tremble,” she said. “What does it mean for people who don’t have those assets?”

As bad as nursing homes can be, they are at least subject to regulation. Family members who are caring for their elderly relatives don’t have any oversight. Moreover, they may be perfectly well-intentioned but just not equipped to provide adequate care. And if they are put in charge of the financial affairs of a relative, the temptation to make sure they get something out of it can be great.

Financial exploitation, he said, “is most likely to occur when you have a sizable estate when the temptation for self-dealing may be greater because they’re concerned that the assets are going to be lost and not inherited.”

Another expert, Dr. Gregory J. Paveza of the University of South Florida, said that often when family members have been selected as legal guardians, “the court’s oversight is cursory at best.” The guardian, he said, “has absolute control over your life.”

It will be very interesting to watch this case developing (especially now that the tabs have gotten hold of the story — The Daily News broke it yesterday) and see what kind of light it throws on the issue of elder abuse.

A “Pleasurable” Sexual Assault

via Feministing, here’s something that is guaranteed to ruin your morning: A severely disabled woman is sexually assaulted at school by a peer aid, and her parents file a lawsuit against the school district. The district refuses to mediate the suit because their expert says that the attack was “pleasurable”: Indeed, “it ignited her female desires.”

Absolutely disgusting. And according to her parents, the woman’s behavior has changed markedly.

Starr and McArthur said Kalie’s behavior toward men has changed since the assault.

“She was loving and trusting. She went everywhere with us,” said Starr. “Now, it takes 100 percent of one person to manage her aggression.”

Starr said Kalie is still sweet and friendly, but will grab men and pinch them.

This is so sad. I hope her parents are able to find a good counselor to work with her and are able to help her through this ordeal. And I hope they sue the hell out of the school district.