Thursday :: Dec 9, 2004

Auntie Tomasinas or Female Ritual Torturers?

by Marie

Or when does identification with the aggressor cease to be a personal coping mechanism and become another method for the powerful to subjugate the powerless by proxy?

Before this week, how many California residents knew that an annual California Governor's Conference on Women and Children even existed? Has this been news for the past seventeen years and would it have been this year if Schwarzenneger, when responding to protestors from the California Nurses Association (the most honest professionals in the country - yahoo), had not borrowed from GHB after his debate with Geraldine Ferraro by saying he said that he had kicked some ass?

It may be the “Governor’s Conference,” but it was Maria Shriver who took care of organizing and chairing it this year. The theme was "Women as Architects of Change” and she rounded up a who’s who list of high profile women speakers and workshop presenters. Such icons of women change agents as Laura Schlessinger (who presented “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”) and Queen Noor. If the speeches or workshops neglected any important women’s issues, the vendors outside the main hall filled in the gaps with anti-aging creams and information on freezing your eggs (WaPo). Of course, no major event featuring celebrity women would be complete without Maria’s good friend Oprah and bestowing valueless awards on women who had actually worked hard to make a positive contribution to their communities. The cool part was Maria’s inspiration to name them the Minerva Awards after the goddess on the state seal of California. (SFGate)

Before those 10,000 convention goers got to all those “girlie” things, the convention led off with the really important part of it.

“Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who introduced the governor as a friend and mentor, joked during her remarks that Schwarzenegger is known for putting his heart and ‘his big mouth’ into his life and work.”... But she assured the gathering that, with his deep interest in children and family issues, he has "the heart and ideals of a woman. ... He can multi-task. He can find your keys. He is the ultimate girlie man.''

And these exemplars of women as change agents responded by giving the “Republican action hero a standing ovation.” (WaPo)

In case anybody hasn’t noticed, men ceased being the hunters that improved our chances for survival a few millennium ago. Somehow our brains have yet to catch up to that fact, and we keep according them special status as if our lives depended upon them. (Too bad our ancient sisters didn’t turn up their noses at that fresh meat and stick to fruits and nuts; then maybe the course of human history would have been different.) Hence, the written record of all cultures is a more or less patriarchal one.

The further and further we get from real dependence on the physical prowess of men, the more and more symbolic the prowess becomes to maintain the status quo between men as superior and women as inferior. The less useful a man’s physical strength, the greater the artificial symbols of it will become. Thus we get the unnatural bodies of those like Schwarzenneger whose muscles are useless for anything but pumping iron being labeled as a “He Man” and a weenie like GWB playing dress-up in military type garb and prancing for real troops. Men really get off on the theatrics of Arnold and George. Jay Leno can’t get enough of Arnold and Chris Matthews can’t get enough of George in a uniform. And it is the insecure and powerless men who are their biggest fans/supporters, who were instrumental in putting them in office. Like the poor white southern sharecroppers who identified with “The Man” when the only thing they shared with him was skin color, the only thing the male fans of Arnold and George share with them is a physical appendage, and likely a small one at that.

Subjugating half the population is a surprisingly easy task even in the modern world when few jobs cannot be performed equally well, if not better, by women. Emotional blackmail, sometimes with an implied threat of violence, is probably the strongest element in the drink girls are fed from the day they are born. Be pretty, cute and accommodating, and men will like you. Men will give you things like shiny diamond rings and babies that a real woman cannot do without. Sometimes they will give other things like a job, and then you can buy your own rings. But always they define the proper role for women and that means that we are nothing without recognition from at least one special one, even if that means the relationship or “specialness” is a figment of a woman’s imagination. (Note: a high percentage of men do this too, but it is more limited in scope to the sexual arena.)

I’m one of those feminists who doesn’t buy, at an absolute level, the notion that the “personal is political” because I’ve had the good fortune to know too many wonderful men. I’m also not critical of women who partner or marry men who are generally decent to their mates, don’t personally engage in behaviors that denigrate or abuse women and are only mildly supportive of those who do either personally or through championing public policies that do like Bush and Arnold. Women have long practiced the art of passive/aggressive and use this to make these men, on balance, better or less toxic than they would otherwise be. I’m a bit more critical of the Auntie Tomasinas. Women like Condi Rice who view their bargain as not all that different from that made by the wives of wealthy and powerful men because they carry more water for their “special” men and don’t moderate the destructive tendencies of them. Still they delude themselves more than they do others who have little trouble seeing them for who they are, tokens who have identified with the aggressor.

More insidious are those who actively participate in disempowering those like themselves. Worse still are those who do it in the guise of being one with other women. Mary Daly described this phenomenon years ago in GynEcology. The most graphic and blatant example of this is seen in the women in Africa who perform genital mutilation on young girls. Women endure this procedure and live with the painful lifelong consequences of it and yet, in turn subject their girl children to it. Its only purposes are to insure that women experience no physical pleasure from sexual intercourse (presumably rendering them immune to the sexual charms of any man, and therefore, unlikely to engage in extramarital sex) and increase the sexual pleasure of men (or at least that’s what those men have been taught to believe). The pervasiveness of this practice is slowly dying out but is by no means dead. Such procedures are, after all, not done by men to women, but by those women young girls trust and love.

We are too sophisticated in this country to engage in such barbaric practices. Instead we get breast augmentations because other women tell us how much it improved their self-esteem. We are enticed to mutilate our bodies rather than being coerced into it at a young age. More frequently the mutilation is symbolic.

Based on actual their actual public policies (as compared with the pleasant sounding scripts they read from when speaking to us) Arnold and Bush have little interest in the lives of ordinary women. California nurses who demonstrated at the convention to draw attention to the fact that Arnold supported increasing the hospital nurse to patient care ratio were dismissed by him with: "Pay no attention to those voices over there," he said. "They are the special interests. Special interests don't like me in Sacramento because I kick their butt."(SFGate) Symbolic violence. Yes, nurses are, horrors, a “special interest” group, one only coincidentally comprised mostly of women. Arnold doesn’t like the CA teacher’s associations a whole lot better than he does the nurses. The man who women were assured has “deep interest in children and family issues” just doesn’t like the professional organizations of nurses and teachers. His champions for the interests of women and children were reflected later that day when “he attended a VIP reception and photo line for special guests including corporate donors. Major donors of the conference included Bank of America, Target, BP, Toyota and AmeriQuest Mortgage.”

But back to those celebrity women. Anyone who works with or works in the same industry, always knows the true character of colleagues and associates. Wives/partners may be blind, live in denial or merely put on a good public face. As such, testimonials from those like Maria Shriver and Laura Bush don’t count for much. Those from their employees like Condi Rice count for little more. But those from women who have no vested interest in the fame and fortune of such men can confer on them, count a lot. People like Jamie Lee Curtis and Oprah Winfrey know that Arnold is a pig towards women. They know that his policies are defined by the special corporate interests that hurt poor people, and that women and children are the are among the poorest in this country. They also know that other women trust them to champion the interests of ordinary women and their children. They trust them to do right by them as surely as those young girls in Africa trust the women who turn them into the next generation of sexually mutilated women. When someone like Curtis describes Arnold “as a caring, compassionate gal pal who gets it.” "He is," Curtis sighed, "the ultimate girlie man," she is abusing our trust. When women like her and Winfrey honor and vouch for the good character and intentions of people like Arnold, knowing that they lie when doing so, they have become symbolic ritual torturers of women in America.

Marie :: 3:16 PM :: Comments (9) :: Digg It!