Do we still need feminism?

It took me a very long time to say "me too." on Facebook.

I have to explain this because many of my readers are old-school email junkies and don't frequent Facebook or Twitter much. So in case you were doing valuable non-screen-related things this week, this will get you up to speed. There is currently a movement on social media where women, and some men, post "me too," as their status if they are a survivor of sexual assault or harassment. 

It's a good idea. It comes as a response to revelations of celebrity rape and sexual harassment in the past few weeks, and it is meant to show that these are far from isolated incidents. Many, many women experience sexual harassment on a regular basis and far too many have been subjected to rape or assault. 

Creative Commons image by Sodanie Chea

Creative Commons image by Sodanie Chea

Why didn't I quickly jump on the bandwagon then? 

First, I'm always skeptical of these social media campaigns, where you must change your profile picture to this or that or else be branded as a supporter of terrorism or some such. I decided long ago not to participate in those campaigns. It takes several minutes for me to change my profile picture, and being a working class mother of very demanding kids, I can't always guarantee that I'll be able to be on-line long enough to discover and abide by all such trends. I don't want my lack of response to some particular campaign to be taken as a statement. I also know many people with limited internet access for whom keeping up with these things is entirely impossible. If I refrain from all of them, we are all less likely to be blamed and labeled for neglecting one.

But posting "me too" is much easier and less permanent. It also isn't showing support for something but demonstrating a statistic in real-time. So, after some thought, I decided that this is a different situation.

But still I was hesitant. Most of the sexual harassment I've experienced is so mundane that it barely merits a mention and if one hundred percent of all women haven't experienced the same, it is only due to specific and fairly isolated social surroundings. I have been called fat in several inappropriate situations or had the same implied among professional colleagues. it has been many years since random men blocked my path and tried to force me into sexual conversation or made catcalls at me, which apparently means that I am no longer attractive. Either being catcalled or not is a sexual/social signal in a society where a woman's appearance and sexual allure is considered to be a large part of her worth.

I have been asked to clean up the kitchenette in an office where everyone else was a man and been GLAD to have a role because I felt otherwise left out, even though I had a specific professional job to do that had nothing to do with cleaning. Sometimes I don't know what is worse--that men buy into this culture that demeans women or that we do ourselves. 

And that made me hesitate to post "me too" because I do know that so many other women have suffered so much more and I have not been exactly exemplary in my resistance to the male dominated culture. Mostly I have been glad to stand on my mother's and grandmothers' shoulders and accept those benefits of feminism that my generation was lucky enough to inherit without doing much to free my own mind from the treadmill. 

And then there is the fact that I did face actual sexual assault twice and managed to escape, using specific techniques from self-defense classes. This made me perhaps most uncomfortable posting "me too." I did not want to imply by telling my story that women who did not have the good fortune to have the training or who did have the training and either couldn't fight back or simply failed to overpower an attacker are somehow to blame. There is far too much of that blame-the-victim going around as it is. 

I do want women and girls to know that self-defense training can work though. Let's just be clear. I was mostly just lucky.

In one case, I was at a large outdoor festival at night. I was sixteen and had never been on a real date. A man at the party treated me nicely and acted like he wanted to be my friend. I was attracted to him and excited by the prospect of a romantic involvement. But then he very quickly pulled me away from others into a dark field. He squeezed my breast and kissed me forcefully. I tried to back away but he gripped harder. I said "no" and he ignored me.

I had grown up in a culture that said that if I was attracted to him and initially went with him someplace, that I had given my consent. The fact that I was sixteen and quickly decided that the pace of things had gone way beyond what I wanted was irrelevant. Not only my friends, the media and society in general would have judged me to be an impulsive girl who got what she deserved, I thought so too.

I told myself, "That was really stupid. No one would or should help you." As a result, it didn't actually occur to me to scream for help. But I had recently had one of those one-day crash courses in self-defense that parents sometimes put their teenage daughters in, and one of the techniques we practiced was startling an attacker by yelling right next to his ear. I did not want to continue with the encounter and "no" wasn't working. So, I leaned in a bit, got right next to his ear and let loose a wild yell, that went unnoticed by the partiers all around. I have quite a loud voice and it no doubt hurt. His grip loosened and I ran, easily evading him once I reached a more crowded area. 

That night I crawled into my sleeping bag in a pup tent on the edge of the festival, still shivering and alone. As I was settling down one of the older teenage boys I had traveled to the festival with brushed his fingers along my tent and said out loud, "Such a shame. A pretty girl going to sleep alone." His friends laughed and they walked away, not knowing that I had just had to use a self-defense technique to escape a non-consensual encounter. And yet as I lay there I knew those guys weren't dangerous and that they meant the comment in fun. I was even somewhat glad they would call me a pretty girl, even in jest. I had been heavily ostracized and bullied at school for having a disability and being called "pretty" was a strong lure. 

Three years later, I had gained and lost my first serious boyfriend, had lack-luster sex and was started on a life of feeling uncomfortable about--and generally disinterested in--sexuality. I was still occasionally called pretty, but even at 19 that was fading. My first boyfriend and others had called me "fat" many times, though I was actually well within the most limited version of the "healthy" range and I'd love to be that physically fit again. Still I took them at their word. I never felt happy with my looks. I just wasn't that interested. I had more important things to do and I spent my time writing, studying at college and wriggling my way into as many foreign exchange programs as possible. 

One of these was in Siberia. My second brush with sexual assault occurred on that trip. I was studying in a mid-sized city in Siberia called Kurgan. This was 1995 and it was a lawless period. The streets were largely unlit and there were many abandoned buildings and open sewer holes. Organized crime ruled and gangs roamed the streets. Night also fell extremely early, because we were so far north. One evening, I was returning to the place I was staying around ten pm from a small party. Mostly people did not go out alone at night, but I was never particularly popular in social settings and I had not managed to form any close friendships during my stay. I either stayed in my room alone or I walked alone. Those were my choices. Being an adventurous risk-taker who loved learning about other cultures, I just did what I had to. 

So just as with my previous encounter, there are a great many people who might say I deserved to be assaulted. I was after all taking extreme risks. This was not a safe place and I knew it. But that is part of the problem that we are trying to address with the "me too" campaign. Neither iinitial interest nor risk-taking is a justification for assault.

I was walking under one of the few streetlights in town when a man came at me fast from the side. He stepped up and took my arm in a way that could have seemed friendly except that he gripped quite hard. He asked me in a falsely friendly tone how I was doing and where I was going. He told me I shouldn't be out alone at night. He then started to talk to me in a sexual manner that was apparently supposed to entice me. 

I was a naive risk-taker but still smart enough to know this was a very dangerous situation. There was no help anywhere nearby and I knew I couldn't best this larger man in a direct physical confrontation. So instead I used another technique learned in self-defense classes. I pretended (this time entirely falsely) to be interested in him. I joked and laughed and told him I was meeting my friends and my brother. I kept him talking for two blocks, until I was near enough to the building where I lived. The doorways of the apartment blocks were entirely dark as was most of the street. At that time desperate people stole everything, including any unguarded light bulb. Finally, the man's grip relaxed a little as he became more confident of my cooperation. Then I called out cheerfully as if greeting my brother in a dark doorway. His grip loosened further and I judged the second, kicked him hard and ran. Being visually impaired helped in this case. The stairwell I bolted up was pitch black and I could hear him stumbling around as he tried to catch me but I knew every crack in the uneven concrete steps and I reached a door I could lock behind me by memory and by feel. 

I was taught to be prey. Many men are taught that women will flee and the only way they can catch one is by force. I was simply taught to be smart prey, but even so the assumption I held and the assumption of my self-defense instructors was that I would be prey. 

This is why, even though I escaped, even though I am far luckier than many women, I want to support the "me too" campaign. We should not be prey. Sexuality should not be about fear and force and conquest. Being a woman should not be considered grounds for any particular assumptions. 

This is one reason why we still need feminism today. 

We needed it before we had a president who openly declares that a woman's worth is primarily in her sexual attractiveness and appearance. And we certainly need it now that we have such a president. A few months ago The Daily Beast reported that Republican Rep. Robert Fisher (R-NH) wrote under the username FredFredrickson,  “I’m going to say it—Rape isn’t an absolute bad, because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot. I think he’d say it’s quite good, really.”

This kind of attitude still exists today, even in places of power. Rape culture has not been successfully relegated to some small criminal element. Both women and men need to be on guard against it. Both women and men can be legitimate feminists. 

My generation has perhaps been living partly off of the achievements of past generations of women and there are so many other terrible problems in the world to fight against. It is hard to focus on the small, mundane assumptions or the hideous comments of politicians. The "me too" campaign shows how alive and well the scourge of assault and harassment is.

We still need feminism and we still need self-defense classes for our daughters.

What will tip us over into emergency mode?

I'm told it's not nice to discuss climate change in the midst of disasters caused by climate change. I have waited for a month and a half now, but one natural disaster after another has struck. When then should we discuss the climate change that we are creating?

It's as if by speaking of some mythical devil, I might be jinxing those struggling to survive. It's as if by trying to avert worse disasters or to save countless lives in the future, I am somehow detracting from ongoing efforts to help the evacuees of today.

In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, a few weeks ago, I posted a question to a forum made up of primarily wealthy American and British intellectuals and Mensa members to which I was invited by a no-doubt regretful writer-acquaintance. I asked simply, "What type of disaster would it take for you individually to throw off business as usual and devote yourself to fighting climate change?"

Creative Commons by Binny V A of Flickr.com

Creative Commons by Binny V A of Flickr.com

It wasn't the first time I had posted about climate change in the group and I knew most of the members were concerned yet apathetic about the issue. This time not one person responded to my embarrassing and socially inappropriate question.

Good intellectuals in polite society don't call out the economically comfortable over emergencies that require a frugal lifestyle to solve. It isn't done. 

Yes, I should know better. And I do. I didn't pursue the issue and I have held off, thinking I'd speak up more when at least the worst of the late-summer "disaster season" had passed. But after two record-breaking hurricanes, massive flooding and my home state of Oregon disappearing into smoke and flames, I've just about had it with polite society. And now Puerto Rico has been swallowed.

Every year the disaster roster grows. Every year the flood is the worst ever or in 200 years or in 1,000 years, meaning worse than the one the year before as well. Every  year fire season in the west gets longer and more deadly, with parched grasslands literally exploding like gasoline. 

Extreme weather, the most clearly identified consequence of human-induced climate change, just keeps getting more extreme. And each time scientists gather data so that they can later in their professional, polite manner explain with facts and figures--in long, non-soundbite quotes--how these events are connected.

And after each disaster people reset their inner alarm bells to a new, more extreme "normal." 

Very few people ever throw down their iPhone or car keys, stomp their foot and yell, "All right! That does it! I'm ready  to work on surviving and curbing climate change."

But this is what we will do someday. Life could have been easier if we'd done it ten or twenty years ago. But we will do it eventually, like my children finally doing their homework after much dithering. We only get to choose when we face our ecological debt, not if.

It's worth considering how much bigger or closer to home the disasters will need to be before we make a commitment of time and energy appropriate to the level of this crisis. 

If you are ready, here are some things I know of that each of us can do:

  • Speak to your friends about climate change every day. Don't be quiet, just because everyone else is quiet and the corporate-sponsored media downplays the findings of science and the truth of your own senses. This is a crisis as true as any war or medical emergency. It has to be front and center all the time. Pentagon analysts say climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism. The media, politicians and corporations don't want to focus on it because it isn't profitable, but we have to.
  • Write letters to the editor, call and write to political representatives and to corporations involved in fossil fuels, factory farming, automobile manufacture and other key industries and ask them to help curb climate change. Tell them your business will go to the companies that do the most.
  • Support high profile climate action efforts like Greenpeace and Standing Rock. Donate if you can, volunteer, send food and supplies.
  • Organize local groups concerned with climate change. Demand local discussion about climate change in local media, city halls and schools. Don't lose sight of the fact that we are fighting for the survival of our children, as surely as a parent researching a deadly disease that has attacked a child. This is a fight we have to win. 
  • Continue to recycle, insulate your home, upgrade your light bulbs and acquire solar panels. You have probably already done some of this. Technology keeps improving and this sector can also provide you with a good job, if you're looking. Encourage your friends, family and neighbors to take these actions and support local recycling and green energy initiatives.
  • Reduce as much of your consumption as possible. Hang laundry, rather than using a drier. Cook your own food, rather than buying heavily packaged, prepared foods.
  • Think carefully about necessary trips by car or plane. Invest in an electric bike if that would significantly cut down on the miles you have to drive a car. Do the math and you may be surprised at how easily you could bike as part of your routine. Take trains, buses or carpools whenever possible. Spend time researching the options and developing options with your neighbors. Our lives really do depend on it.
  • Buy many things second hand. Repair appliances, rather than buying new. Buy items that last longer. Avoid plastic products that will fall apart quickly. Avoid items with lots of packaging. It seems like minutia but don't loose sight of the fact that this is a fight for survival, primarily the survival of our children and grandchildren.
  • Grow at least some of your own food. Learn to can and dry food. Learn to work with wood and build things. Acquire--second-hand if possible--heavy-duty, long-lasting, non-electric hand tools. Keep chickens or other animals you may need. Step by step become as locally self-sufficient as possible. Enter into barter arrangements with others doing the same thing. Bypass the corporate world as much as possible. It is not only generally better for the environment, it is also good preparation for surviving the part of climate change we can no longer stop. 

This sounds like a lot to do. And it is. That is why I talk about it as a major commitment and a cessation of business as usual. If everyone was working on curbing climate change it wouldn't have to be a major full-time job for us, but for now it does need to be, until it is the focus of our governments and businesses as it should be. The only question before each of us now is whether or not this is my own personal tipping point. 

My list is clearly not comprehensive. Please add your own strategies for curbing and surviving climate change in the comments. Thank you.

Clash: Conversation between the wealthy and the poor at the dawn of a new class war

I love cultural experiences and I've joined a lot of different groups in order to understand different perspectives.

Recently I had a conversation with a group of wealthy intellectuals who I had come to know and enjoy, though their culture is quite different from mine. Yet in this case the clash of cultures and understanding proved too great for much accord and the divide worries me. 

Creative Commons image by Hamza Butt (

Creative Commons image by Hamza Butt (

I will not use names or other identifiers here because the point is not to call anyone out but rather to show a crucial gap of understanding that is developing in our society, due to different groups living inside social bubbles of their own race and class. Because in this particular conversation there was little or no variation between members of the group, I will use an agglomeration of real statements to both shorten and clarify the discussion.

As such, this is a recreation of a lengthy discussion I had with a group that is essentially a foreign culture to me. We are all either Americans or Western Europeans. We are all intellectuals and significantly educated. Most of the group previously had expressed support for the US Democratic Party and/or liberal-leaning views. So we share a great deal, yet I was an exception in the group because I am not of the same economic class. 

I will call one side in this discussion Wealthy Liberal Intellectual (WLI) and the other side Scraping-by Progressive Intellectual (SPI) to illustrate where the divide is, although I was the only person in the latter group at this time. 

Here is how the discussion went:

WLI: Trump's attack on health care is unfortunate. We should be compassionate on health care. However, I doubt the media reports about people in the US being denied essential health care before the ACA are entirely true.  I have certainly never encountered a real person who was denied essential health care in the United States.

SPI: You may not have previously encountered a person who was denied essential health care, but now you have.. I can give you several specific examples in as much detail as you would like. About ten years ago, for instance, I was injured in a fall in the US. My shoulder was partially dislocated, two ribs were broken and one punctured my lung and the lung collapsed 10 percent. I was driven to an emergency room and eventually had an X-ray that showed these issues. I was given a sling and proscribed pain killers. This cost was $3,000. I couldn't pay all of it right away and some was paid for by an emergency fund. However, I was not kept in the hospital for observation. My shoulder was also not repaired but left to heal badly and crooked in a way that causes permanent deformity, pain and weakness in that shoulder. When I later sought advice for the pain from doctors in Europe, I was told that A. the shoulder needed to be operated on immediately to prevent long-term harm and B. the lung issue was life threatening at the time and I was lucky to have survived without adequate medical care. Those interventions would have been extremely expensive and they were beyond what I could pay at the time. I was told that my lung was in a dangerous condition and that I should probably stay in a hospital overnight, however, it would take months to find out if an emergency fund would cover it and I would have to risk putting my family in serious debt to stay. I was not informed at all about the need for an operation to my shoulder. I can give other examples from just my own life and that of my nearest family and friends. This is the reality of the majority of people in the United States before the ACA.

WLI: I'm sorry that you feel life has served you so poorly. You were given health care. You probably shouldn't be complaining about it. And as you can see there was an emergency fund. that you benefited from.

SPI: I didn't say life had served me poorly and I am not complaining. I'm merely presenting the facts of a case. According to medical doctors in Europe this did not constitute "essential emergency medical care." It resulted in long-term harm and deformity. My shoulder is still not the right shape and it never will be because the surgery cannot be done once the injury has healed poorly. There was a very small and inadequate emergency fund. These are simply facts. I have been very fortunate that I did not have much worse complications. In fact, I was fortunate to live and not lose the rest of my sight due to that particular accident. I am also fortunate to have access to European health care, something most Americans don't have. Far from saying life served me poorly, I'm saying I am one of the lucky ones who survived this disastrous system. These problems affected at least half the US population and still affect some. It is immeasurably worse for families with serious and chronic illnesses, such as cancer. 

WLI: This is, if anything, an isolated case. I wonder what you're trying to prove and why it is so important to you to go on about this.

SPI: I read your statement saying that you had not encountered a real person in this kind of situation. I wanted to give you this information and experience outside of your previous experience, because it is the experience of a great many people in the United States.

WLI: Many people still come to the US for health care from countries that have universal health care. Many of our members live in countries, like the UK or Canada, with universal health care. There are major problems there and the United States is still the world leader in medical technology. We would not be able to provide this technology if it didn't offer significant profits. 

SPI: I have experience in a country with universal health care as well, in the Czech Republic, which is not even a particularly wealthy country. I'll admit that health buildings here are often a bit spartan and hospital rooms can be small or if they are large they are shared by multiple patients. But the quality of actual care both in terms of human care and technology is sate of the art. Last winter I had high-risk eye operation to save my residual sight. There have only been about 500 similar operations in the whole world and it is one which requires very specialized technology and a precisely skilled surgeon. 

WLI: You should respect the experience of those who know more than one system. I have heard of there being long wait times for critical procedures in some countries with universal health care. I wouldn't want to give up the benefits of the American system.

SPI: You dismiss any facts I present. When you won't look at specific cases, it is no wonder you haven't noticed any person who was denied health care in the US. Ignoring the facts and continuing to promote this system, when you have said you are for human rights... It's disgusting. It is a life and death issue for a great many people. I have experience with more than one system, in the US, in the Czech Republic and in Germany, even in Zimbabwe and Ecuador. Why is my experience invalid compared with the experience of others? And can you give any specific examples of problems in countries with universal health care? I have never encountered long wait times in countries with universal health care, except for transplants which always entail a wait. 

WLI: You need to apologize. You just won't listen and you want everyone to feel sorry for you. I don't see why we can't all contribute to society, why you seem to think some people should get everything for free. 

SPI: I think it is important to gain experience from beyond your own circle of friends and your own bubble of experience. This is why I'm presenting these facts. I can give details and other cases if that would help. 

WLI: You just honestly don't get it, do you? The group feels you need a time out. 

SPI: I have been considering leaving this group. I have noticed in the past that this group is very dismissive when I post about climate change, even though you claim to be concerned about these types of issues. However, I enjoy other parts of this group and I like to know people from beyond my usual circle as well.

WLI: I have no doubt that our children will have it easier than we do, just as we have it easier than our grandparents did. That really isn't an issue worth worrying about.

SPI: Climate change is already having a devastating impact. You are intelligent and you have seen the data. You know that we have incurred ecological debts that someone will have to pay in the end. 

WLI: There will be other resources in the future. Once it was coal and iron. Now it is oil. In the future it will be wind and solar. Each generation uses different resources, so each generation will be better off than the one before. There is no ecological debt.

SPI: I am not sure the endless resources theory will work in practice, but even if it did, this is more about human-induced climate change, which is already impacting a great many people and making life, let alone business, much harder. It is growing year by year. Do you still say that the next generation will have it easier?

WLI: My son and daughter are successful in business and my granddaughter is looking into modeling. Sure, I think they will have wonderful lives. You think you are the only one who has had a difficult life and had to struggle to get somewhere. That isn't the case. It's just that you talk so much about how rough you've had it. 

SPI: It takes my breath away and makes me sick to my stomach to read this. I don't think I've had it bad. I am much more concerned about the next generation.

WLI: I've had enough of your insults. You're blocked. Have a good life.

Slogging through to gratitude

What does the abortion debate have to do with gratitude? They both strike at the core of what type of spirituality you practice, for one thing.

You are probably as sick of the argument as I am. It rages on with passion, hate, violence and self-righteousness on both sides, though the facts surrounding the issue haven't changed in thirty years.

It isn't just about being "pro-life" or "pro-choice" depending on one's religion. There's the disability rights angle. There's adoption. There's overpopulation and environmental crisis. It is an issue with tendrils reaching deep and wide.

I'm a person with a significant physical disability. I can easily imagine the sheer rage experienced by those who live with disabilities that are widely considered "abortable," in that many people think a child would be better off dead than living "that way." 

I'm also an adoptive parent of two children who never went home from the maternity ward. Their birth mothers did have reasonable access to abortion as a possibility in a country with universal health care, but they did not make that choice. 

I might well have some strong opinions on this issue, but I find that I am not firmly on one side or the other.

I am a woman. Yes, I think women and all people should be allowed to make their own choices. I become irritated when men dictate what women should do with their lives. I know women who were raped and then shamed for it--assumptions made about them. I have a capacity for feminist fury.

But I am not pro-choice at all cost, even so. I don't think there is a clear line between unborn and alive. 

I'm not pro-life or pro-abortion in this. It is more that I am anti-back-alley-abortion. On the surface, it's as simple as that. I don't think abortion is any great thing. Overpopulation is a serious issue, but still if we respect any life we should respect all life. 

Yet I know the results of anti-abortion laws. Throughout history and geography they do not generally result in fewer abortions but rather in more risky abortions and more deaths from infection and accident. That's my primary stand on the issue in terms of society, laws and politics.

In terms of ethics... well, it does come down to religion for me as it does for many people, except my ethics are different from those preached by that brand of Christianity that is so sure of its single, universal "truth.".

In the most recent debate I witnessed on this issue, a woman was lecturing on scripture and the "fact" that God is the only one who can choose to give life or to take life away. She said that makes abortion wrong, no matter what, and makes the pro-choice stance immoral.

This was at least a calm and rational argument. The comments were kindly but firmly put--an assumption that everyone must agree with the scriptures running through the text. The only question open to debate was the interpretation of those scriptures.

But what if you don't accept the most basic premise. How so God is the only one who can take life away? What did you eat for breakfast this morning? If it contained meat or even eggs then you clearly participated in taking life away.

And what about wheat or vegetables? I'm looking at you, vegetarians on moral grounds. How can you prove that those lives--the lives of plants--are different and that you can take away those lives so that you might live but not another kind of life? I know there are lines in those scriptures taken to mean that humans are above the rest of nature, but again I do not accept those scriptures as proof. You must find something beyond human constructs to insist that humans are above all others.

I do understand that if one's religion takes the stand that God is something outside of you, not within each living being, then the issue of abortion becomes highly divisive. However, we have to accept that not everyone shares our religion and if they don't, then it makes no sense for them to be bound by the same scriptures.

My religion mandates that I have to work every day to ensure that I take no more life than I truly need, that I am not a force for needless death and destruction. I have to be conscious about the fact that other beings have to die in order for me to eat, have shelter, stay warm, read, use the internet and so forth. I have to try to give back in kind. 

And I have to give thanks, consciously and openly.

That's the law of my religion. Very few people follow this law and if I respected only people who do or insisted that all people must abide by it, I would be made ridiculous. I accept that it isn't the law of someone else's religion.

For me God or the Gods are not entirely separate from us. They also don't force anything upon us. In the end, every decision of ethical value is fully in our hands. If we had no choice we would also have no ethical responsibility. We are not forced to have a child by some external will of God and so we are truly responsible.

By being alive we make choices, including the choice to continue living. We choose and we must accept in every moment of our lives that we have come to the situation we are in through a combination of circumstances and our choices to accept or reject those circumstances.

All possibilities may not have been open to us. The poor have fewer choices than the rich. Money equals the ability to choose what to do with that wealth after all. But in the end, even the poorest has made choices. And morality is most basically about our acceptance of that.

We choose to take life in order to eat and thus to continue to live. This choice is made easy for us because we psychologically feel that the lives of those beings we eat are not the same as our own life. It is harder when the life is an unborn child and the need is not just to slake momentary hunger but rather the need to choose one's path in life. It is harder but both take away life.

Choose well and know that there is a cost.

You do not eat without the deaths of others. Only arrogance can claim that those lives--even the lives of radishes--are less important than your own. You accept this. You eat anyway and you try to live without needlessly taking life. That is all. You have no need to judge the choices of others in this question, which is ultimately between each private person and their gods.

Race traitors and the white supremacist attack on women

I wish I could believe that the proliferation of hate-filled social media posts is all hot air and no substance. For several months before the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville I had been researching one particular facet of the Alt Right---a virulent hatred against women and most especially against white women who don't reject all non-white men.

But I didn't post my research because I promised my readers soothing virtual cups of tea, not bitter drafts brewed from the sludge of the internet.

Then after the attack that killed Heather Heyer my google searches turned up cached pages on many mainstream media outlets and blogs in which comments by white supremacists had been deleted. The deleted comments called Heather Heyer a "race traitor" and expressed gladness at her death. These were deleted and rightly so. But we should also know that they were written by someone's hand. I found a dozen but then stopped looking. I can't catalog the whole internet without a research team.

Creative Commons image by Tim Pierce

Creative Commons image by Tim Pierce

The fact is that some white supremacists consider Heather Heyer to be a race traitor. Why? Because she stood among demonstrators who opposed the KKK and neo-Nazis? Because she helped people of color and others who got the brunt of injustice in her legal work? Because she stood up for social justice? If she is considered a race traitor by those criteria, then there are a lot of us.

We don't know how many white supremacists wrote these comments or how many support them, but those who write these things are still well accepted in Alt Right circles and my research showing widespread attacks against women and accusations against "race traitors" is overdue.

It is my sorrow that I can't be more comforting to readers. In times of sickness, sometimes the tea must be brewed with bitter herbs to fight invading parasites and disease. This is one of those times. 

The self-proclaimed Islamic State, one of the most deadly terrorist organizations ever conceived, was primarily built through social media and hateful internet posts. Many a western intelligence agent is now employed trying to uncover and combat the online spread of ISIS ideology. People are pulled into these extremist movements by years of hateful on-line posts, echoing back and forth and building rage and belief in their own superiority. 

The American Alt Right, like ISIS, grew in the haven of on-line anonymity, where despicable things could be said, agreed upon and ricocheted around with impunity. Now ISIS is one of the greatest security threats on the globe with a stated goal of fostering fear and hatred between moderate Muslims and Europeans.

White nationalists and the Alt Right in the United States now threaten safety and democracy as well. With large arsenals of military weapons, they say they'll do much more violence if their threats are not heeded. They could write the dictionary definition of terrorism.

Both groups also share a rabid hatred of women as well some vehement female supporters. 

Most people called "race traitors" by today's white supremacists are white women who had mixed-race relationships. But the labeling of Heather Heyes shows that it is primarily the stand against racism that earns that epithet. 

The largest and best-known white supremacist website Stormfront.org, which at last known count in 2015 had 300,000 registered users, makes for sickening reading. Supposedly the N-word is banned on the site because the focus is not specifically hatred against people of color or any particular group. But the site is riddled with the terms "race traitor" and "mudshark."

Creative Commons by  Pedro Ribeiro Simões 

Creative Commons by  Pedro Ribeiro Simões 

 "Would you help a race traitor if she was being beaten in front of you by her black partner?" one thread asks. The answers tell their own story.

User "Vigilante Bellator" writes: "I don't find race traitors to be white anymore. And as for non whites I really don't care what happens to them, being women or not. That woman is tainted and lost anyway, I might sound cruel but I wouldn't care."

User "CAPITOL Punisher" replies: "If it had to happen at a time when the rule of law has ceased to exist then I would shoot the kaffir (sic) and hang her by her neck in the nearest tree!"

User "Creationofadam" posts: "I wouldn't bat an eye or even bother to call the cops. They knew what they were getting into and they made the concious (sic) decision to turn their back on their race and flush millenias (sic) of evolution down the the toilet to become a race traitor."

When another on-line discussion mentioned Stormfront on an ign.com entertainment board a user called "Edgelord" logged in to defend the white supremacist cause. He alleged a "genocide" is in progress against the "white race," and used the claim of racially distinct genes to influence others, "Science shows that the races evolved independently and thus evolved different mental and physical features." He later specified what had become apparent to me on Stormfront, that the primary target of this propaganda is white women, "We don't have animosity for white men who racemix with Africans, just white women," Edgelord wrote.

On other forums the focus on women is even more evident. One discussion on the VNNForum, a site considered by some to be more extreme than Stormfront, discusses women as "the weakness of the white race." 

It begins with a post by a user tagged as "Devere" who complained that white men were not taking what is theirs: "Women are not equipped to lead, to protect the survival of their people. Men are. Women in positions of power and with independence from their men will make and have made and will continue to make White genocidal decisions... Generally, our women are the prize that goes to the victor. The non-white races are winning -- so they are taking our women. We are not even fighting back."

The posts get increasingly violent and graphic with experienced members "educating" newbies by recommending Mein Kampf and lamenting that they cannot kill people of color and white women who would have anything to do with people of color as a means of employment as Nazi guards once did in "those golden years," as well as predicting, "When will this end? When the race war starts and we ... hang every white woman that has ever screwed a non-white." Other threads discuss women in general as "sick little animals."

While this is not the public face most often seen in white supremacist marches of polished boots and uniform shirts, where smiling women often march together with a crowd of men, this is the ideological base and the on-line recruiting ground for such groups.

When public Alt Right figures ask us to be tolerant of white supremacists and to allow them to "express their views peacefully," it is worth remembering that this anti-women extremism is one (but far from the only) trait they share with terrorist groups like ISIS. If we cannot tolerate blatant hate speech by those who twist Islam to suit one fascist ideology, then we cannot tolerate the blatant hate speech of those who twist Christianity or racial identity for the same purpose.

"I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning,
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land." 

- Pete Seeger

A word about restraint in the race wars

I first heard about the death of Heather Heyer on the radio and I could tell from half a world away that it was big news, like shake-to-the-core big. The sorrow and anger I felt inside was actually mirrored in the mainstream media.

And in the first minutes before I went to turn on my computer to actually see for myself, I thought privately, "I bet she was white." Okay, not a bad guess based on her last name, but I hadn't even thought about that. I was going purely on the tone of the media reaction.

Creative Commons image by Thomas Altfather Good

Creative Commons image by Thomas Altfather Good

For a quick, self-recriminating second part of me even hoped she was white. Not because I would rather people who look like me should die, or because I thought race riots would erupt in the US if she was black.

Quite the opposite. I had a sneaking suspicion that if a white activist died, the outcry would be greater and the political and media backlash against white supremacists larger.

I wish this peaceful, intelligent, beautiful young woman hadn't died. But as much as I'd scream "Black lives matter!" if she had been black and the reaction of the mainstream media had been muted, resigned and brief, I would rather not see anymore people die from racist violence. If this is what it takes to wake up the media and established politicians, well, I would rather they woke up.

A week after the white supremacist march, I watched a televised interview with two of confederate general Stonewall Jackson's great grandsons calling for his and all confederate monuments to be dismantled. We've seen business leaders, mainstream media and Republican politicians abandon Trump and denounce white nationalism in no uncertain terms. 

A local business, a dry cleaner, in my home town of La Grande, Oregon, a small rural town where 67 percent of voters voted for Trump in the presidential election, placed a sign on their front door that reads, "If you still support Trump, your business is not welcome here." That will hit the owner in the pocketbook. It's a small, highly conservative town. 

Would that all have happened if Heather Heyer had been black? I hope so. I really really hope so. But I wouldn't bet a hundred bucks on it.

A white nationalist leader from the Charlottesville rally, Christopher Cantwell said in a Vice documentary specifically that the murder of Heather Heyer was "more than justified." He said that the event was a success partly because he believed no one on his side had killed anyone unjustly and went on to say, "The amount of restraint that our people showed out there, I think, was astounding."

I suppose, sitting with the arsenal he had just showed off to the film makers, he meant that the white supremacists have plenty of guns and if they wished, they could make the terrorist attack in Barcelona look like a picnic. That's their version of restraint.

I can't help but think of all the black journalists, lawyers and professionals I have seen face blatant racial slurs and never even twitch an eye. I can't help thinking of the African American woman calling the police officer "sir" after he had just gunned down her peacefully compliant boyfriend right in front of her and her toddler.

I can't help thinking of the many other acts of incredible restraint that black people have treated us to in recent years. Sure, there have been exceptions. But the sheer volume of restraint is staggering. 

In all the vast amounts of commentary I have read and heard since Heather Heyer was killed, I have heard many outraged, angry and hurting black activists. And not one of them asked the question I know must have occurred to many of them: would the country care this much if she was black? 

That, my friends, is restraint. 

It would not have been kind or diplomatic to say it. So they didn't. But it's there. I'm saying it because it is something we white people need to look at in ourselves and we should be asking the right questions.

As a mother and as a risk-taking, activist daughter, the image that remains with me is that of Heather Heyer's mother--her strength, her incredible grief, her unbelievable generosity in speaking out to help the world rather than retreating into the healing she no doubt needs. Her words and demeanor have been the epitome of restraint, given the loss she has suffered. 

Whatever the reason this event has taken the nation by storm, I agree with her mourning words, "By golly, if I have to give her up, we're going to make it count." 

The front lines in the war against fascism

Ten days ago I was snapping beans at the kitchen table with an old friend. It was a pleasant evening and the kids were in bed. We often talk politics at this table, bantering back and forth, bemoaning the state of the world, society and prejudice. 

But this evening, my friend turned down a different path. "I heard on the radio that there's new scientific evidence that we really are different from Africans. We didn't all come from one woman after all."

I question carefully. There is a lot of racially loaded misinformation in our local media, and while this old friend and I almost always agree on social and political issues, there is one way in which we are different. He has more time to listen to the local media and he eventually believes what is repeated enough times. 

Creative Commons image by Joanna Bourne

Creative Commons image by Joanna Bourne

This time it turns out that radio commentators had taken recent studies of the human genome that have found traces of Neanderthal DNA only in non-African human genes and extrapolated a new form of scientific racism.

The real science first appeared in the journal Nature in 2014. That was a study showing that once very long ago some humans interbred with Neanderthals. This occurred during the migration of some humans away from Africa about 60,000 years ago. The traces are now very faint, but they may have initially helped the ancestors of Europeans and East Asians to survive in colder climates at a time when shelter was scarce. Less helpful traits, such as a decline in fertility and differences in speech centers of the brain, were weeded out by natural selection and are no longer part of our DNA. 

The amount of different DNA in Europeans and Asians thanks to the interbreeding with Neanderthals is now minuscule. No, it does not make us fundamentally different from Africans. No, race is still not something genetically significant. And yes, we did all still come from some long ago ancestress in Africa. (And why exactly do some people have a problem with that?)

But of course, there are those in today's political landscape who will jump at any chance to play tug-o-war with people's minds. I researched the science and then explained it. My friend nominally accepted it and backed down from the racial separatist interpretation. Yet I still felt troubled at how pervasive the propaganda has become.

Ten days later at the dark of the moon and after the white supremacist terrorist attack in the United States, I'm more than unsettled. I am a wordsmith and I know the craft. I know about motivation, targeting and persuasion. I see all the signs here. This misinformation is being targeted specifically at communities, nations and people who are white yet not white supremacists.

It's a classic fascist tactic. 

I have studied and written about extremist groups, inter-ethnic conflict and racial violence for twenty years, starting in the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans and following similar troubles around the world. 

And when rooting out fascism it isn't the rabid hatred of the other that is the best clue. The first battle lines are amid those who could be considered part of the in-group but who are not radicalized.

Today if you follow the mainstream media, you are told that racism is wrong and mainly a thing of the past. But you are also told many negative things about people of color, whether refugees, immigrants or people in your own community. Eventually you also hear how white people should believe that they are different and they should hold themselves apart from non-whites. 

Creative Commons image by  Alper Çuğun

Creative Commons image by  Alper Çuğun

Across North America and Europe civil rights organizations have documented a rise in white supremacist and neo-Nazi activity in the past five years. Since the election of Donald Trump in the US, the membership rolls of the Klu Klux Klan have exploded with thousands of new recruits. Through social media, racist hate groups have pushed past the reactionary fringe and become a force that poses a clear danger to average citizens.

And right now, although incidents like the one in Charlottesville pose the most obvious danger, the front lines are a lot closer to home than you might think. In far too many cases, the front lines of this conflict run right across your kitchen table, your bar counter or your social media feed. 

You may feel that I'm being overly dramatic. But consider the other recent fascist uprising and its devastating effects. I mean the one in Syria. 

The Islamic State has all the hallmarks of fascism. It may seem odd to compare a brown-skinned Muslim group to neo-Nazis but they are close ideological cousins. They just happen to have a different home-group as their central focus.

ISIS stands for an authoritarian, supremacist ideology rooted in fascist tactics and social media was crucial to its rise. ISIS has also made it clear in public statements, organized attacks and internal documents that while they feel they are superior to non-Muslims, the brunt of their violence and hatred is directed at Muslims who do not fully accept their twisted version of that faith. In ISIS territory, Christians, Jews and even Pagans are allowed to live, if with curtailed rights. But Muslims who do not adhere exactly and pledge their allegiance to ISIS are executed and make up the majority of mass graves uncovered in places ISIS has retreated from.

Statements and documents uncovered by western intelligence agencies indicate orders by top ISIS leaders to fuel European fear and hatred of moderate Muslims. That has been the open goal of recent Islamic terror attacks in Europe. Far from championing the Muslim cause, ISIS would like Europeans and Americans to do their work for them, isolating Muslims in their communities and denying entry to Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS terror. 

It should come as no surprise that the same tactics are used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. They often call themselves "race realists" and claim that they are not primarily motivated by hatred of others but simply want to further the interests and ensure the survival of their own people, which they conceive of as the white race, minus those who are nominally white but deemed undesirable and ostensibly genetically different, such as Jews. 

And just as ISIS was built with social media and on the backs of moderate Muslims, white supremacists are focusing much of their energy on misinformation directed at average white people and hatred of "race traitors."

White supremacist groups are now in the stage in which they use social media and misinformation to grow their power. They set average white people against African Americans, against Muslim refugees and against all immigrants of color. And yes, they'll do the reverse too, whenever they get the chance. They draw harsh lines and attack white people who stand against them viciously. And they will very likely manufacture reasons for people of color to hate average white people as well, to ensure that we don't stand together.

Those--like that friend at my kitchen table--who don't want to be racist but also don't want to be bothered with the struggle against racism are key pawns in this game. Fascism has always fed on the discomfort people naturally feel for conflict and poisonous rhetoric. Most of the great atrocities of the world were not committed because of great hatred, but because of apathy and avoidance by large masses of people.

Those radio programs twisting science and claiming that Europeans are genetically distinct from other races and thus must be protected are not a random, weird-science occurence. This is the front line of fascism's war on us. Don't let racist pseudoscience go unanswered. 

Why is the queen always evil?

"We have princesses and a king and a dragon," one seven-year-old girl gushes.

I'm sitting with my daughter and her friends, playing with marionettes and our home puppet stage.

"I'll be the queen," I suggest. 

"No, the queen is too mean," my daughter says, pushing a knight into my hands. "You be a knight." 

It was unconscious. The kids hadn't yet decided on a plot line or a premise for their fairy tale, but one given is apparently that the queen is always evil.

Public domain image from the  LBJ Library

Public domain image from the  LBJ Library

The printable flashcards I use with my ESL students make a similar assumption. In the fantasy set, there is a king, a princess, a prince and a knight who are all nice-looking protagonists. Then among the antagonists there is a green monster, a sadistic wizard and an evil queen with a dripping, red-stained dagger.

I have started noticing this trend and searching for positive "queen" stories and symbols. There is of course the age-old British obsession with their queen, who is considered a benevolent figure. But there are few others in the modern world. Very rarely does a Disney movie feature even a neutral queen.

And when I come to think of it, a large part of the attraction of the British queen is that she is a symbol of wealth and celebrity but has very little power in the world. 

Consider what our popular culture conceives of as a good king--the qualities that make a king truly admirable in the modern imagination. You don't have to look only at kings to see this. Anyone who is in a king-like position (with a measure of absolute power in a certain area), whether it is a lord of a domain in a fantasy novel or a Star Trek captain, fulfills the "king" archetype.

In modern culture today, a king should be strong and able to protect his people, first and foremost. He should make hard and even harsh decisions bravely and only for the true common good of his people. He should be a warrior, willing to go first into battle. If he is ever called upon to sacrifice one of his people to save the others, he must insist that he will be the sacrifice. How many plot-lines use this device? 

Women are never portrayed in this way. They can sacrifice themselves for the people, sure. But they cannot hold such power at the same time. If a woman holds massive power over an area or a people, she is always portrayed negatively in modern western culture. 

Creative Commons image by Tim Green

Creative Commons image by Tim Green

I just tried googling "queens in popular culture." Google didn't even initially want me to put the query and tried to insist on "drag queens in popular culture." Then when I finally typed out the whole query, the first result was titled literally, "Evil Queens in Pop Culture." No result on the first page of Google results has positive messages about queens.

There are "drag queens" and "evil queens." There are "welfare queens," "queen bees," "drama queens," and "ice queens." But there is no role model, no symbol, no archetype in the great common subconscious of a strong, honorable queen, such as we have for the strong, honorable male leader.

Wildly popular female heroines do exist in popular culture, of course. and there are positive examples. But they are universally young and rebellious. There are Katniss, Tris and a host of recent plucky Disney heroines. Even Hermione Granger gets harsh judgement from my teenage English students when they write about the Harry Potter series, because she is not rebellious enough! 

One only needs to look at the wildly popular Game of Thrones to see how young, strong but relatively powerless heroines compare to older, powerful queens in the popular imagination. Young girls can have their flaws, but they are essentially sympathetic as long as they don't have much power. They can even be ruthless and not be seen as evil. 

But a queen with power is immediately the object of hatred and disgust. 

And I have to wonder why.

Does this hatred of queens stem from some deep historical wound? Or are powerful, good queens just generally unknown in history? There have been a few but mostly their names are much less known than the female rebels. How many more people have heard of Joan of Arc than have heard of Boudicca? Not many westerners beyond history buffs know the names Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hatshepsut, Empress Theodora or Empress Wu Zetian.

Those who did study Maria Theresa of Austria, Elizabeth I of England and Catherine II of Russia in mandatory school textbooks found them described as cold, harsh and cruel for decisions that were no more harsh or calculated than those of similarly positioned kings. 

But at least the British for a very long time did have a popular, kindly concept of the queen and the phrase "God save the queen" was often said with all sincerity. So, I am not certain that history can be blamed entirely for our modern antipathy toward queens. 

Is it a backlash then against the feminism of the late 20th century? Is there an instinctual fear among men and women alike that female power will result in tyranny? 

Surely, this ubiquitous undertone of negativity about women with political and military power hurt Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. And at the same time she contributed to that stereotype by being cold, out of touch and--I'll try to be diplomatic here--strategic. 

Creative Commons image by  Carole Raddato

Creative Commons image by  Carole Raddato

But I have to wonder if the reason why the women who have come anywhere close to power in recent decades have been so cold and ruthless is that it requires harsh calculation for a woman to reach that pinnacle of power in today's world. Among activists and rebels, there are certainly plenty of positive figures who are warm and capable of leadership, but they never seem to rise high in power if they are female 

Maybe that's all it is. It has been a long time since we have seen a good and honorable queen-like figure, because the patriarchal system screens out women with those qualities from political power. 

After imbibing a lot of popular culture myself, I find that I cannot even conceive of a strong, powerful and protective queen figure without doubts about cold and ruthless women creeping in.

Take a moment, if you will, to imagine a female queen or general who must protect her people and tackle complex ethical issues. What qualities would such a leader embody? Could the same qualities that make a good king--honor, protection, ethics, the setting of clear boundaries and guarding of borders and self-sacrifice--transfer directly across?. 

Would these same qualities make an ideal queen whom the popular imagination could embrace? I have thought on it for a long time, trying to come up with the plot for a fantasy novel in which a queen possesses these same qualities. And it just doesn't quite work. Such a queen would inevitably be seen as too cold.

Where Captain Archer of Star Trek Enterprise can make questionably ethical decisions to save humanity and still be admired, a queen would be judged as "evil." Captain Janeway of Star Trek Voyager, the series' one admirable attempt to switch the gender roles, lets an alien who stole the lungs of one of her crew members keep them to save the alien's life. And still she is perceived of as cold and sexless. Captain Archer employs torture and kills massively in his quest to save Earth, and he never loses the viewer's sympathy or his cult of sexual attraction. 

After skimming through many modern and historical stories, my search finally led me to the ancient Celtic concept of a Brig, a great lady. The time is so remote and there are no written documents from the ancient Celtic culture, so we cannot be entirely sure of details. But we do know that a Brig was a judge, a woman of great power. 

The term appears in the name of the goddess Brigid/Bride and Saint Brigid. This is a figure of vast importance to Celtic cultures and very likely originated with an ancient woman or women of power. And through this legend it is possible to grasp at the qualities that might just make an ideal, good queen in the popular imagination.

The Goddess Brigid was traditionally the lady of the hearth, ruling fire and the great hall. She is anything but cold. She is a mother of the community, an authority but also a refuge. 

She was also the keeper of the well and a powerful healer of body and soul. She is connected with inspiration and creativity as well as protection. While much of her legend appears very feminine and homey, there are the ancient stories of Brigid as a warrior queen. In these legends she does not ride forth often. But she does go into battle to put injustices right, to fight for the dispossessed and the downtrodden, for innocent outcasts and for ill-treated orphans. 

I am beginning now to get a picture of a good queen, one a Disney movie or a popular fantasy series could embrace. She must be keeper of the hall and castle, much as the king is. But her power will be in the creation of abundance more than in the destruction of enemies. She is creative and she integrates inner and outer worlds. 

Beyond that she is a healer and a giver of solace, and not only for her own people. She is generous without exhaustion for she can always create more plenty through her wise policies. Rather than holding iron borders to protect her people, she protects through the forging of alliances and the invitation of wanderers to add their talents to her realm. Still she can defend boundaries when there is true need.

She is maker, artist, poet, healer and mother of the people. But she is also the judge, who weighs both logic and compassion, ethics and organic fairness. Her boundaries are strong, but made of reason and prudence rather than of iron or stone. And like the  mythical good king, she is protective, although she is rarely roused to battle. When she sees injustice and no one but her to cut it down, she will go. 

As for self-sacrifice... The male commanders of today's popular culture are always insisting that they will go into battle first or lead the impossible mission to save humanity. Their supporters try to dissuade them, telling them that they are needed to lead the people and that their death would be too great a blow to the cause. By all logic, another should go. But the male hero's answer is always that he will not order another to attempt a suicide mission.

What is the ideal queen's version of this? I know that surely this ideal queen would go hungry rather than see her people starve. She would fight for justice. But I do not see her abandoning her post for some mission that will eventually bring her great glory if she somehow wins through.

She would stake her power, her position, her livelihood on being right in a gamble to save her people. But she would not leave the hard work to others while she went off to win acclaim. She would risk her own safety but she would most likely not bet on a risky mission in which one solitary individual has to save the world through an insanely risky act. 

She would use diplomacy, wit and the strength of nature for protection and justice. She would risk more than her life to save her people. She would, unlike most male heroes, sacrifice even the memory of her name and her deeds. She would do what must be done, even if it meant that her name and her very existence would be forgotten by future generations.  Such would be my ideal queen.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.