Tag Archives: poverty

What Hillary Clinton means for feminism

Feminist Current has published a fantastic article by Marie Crosswell entitled Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of liberalism, not feminism. I urge you to read it. Everything from the title to the well-argued points are exactly what feminism needs right now. I wanted to add a few points of my own to bolster the great case that Crosswell has made and to put another much-needed article of dissent out there. Nothing I’m saying is original. This started out as a comment posted on the site in response to liberals but I decided it needed its own space.

 

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” – Hillary Clinton [source]

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

It’s the job of feminists to critique and analyze every supposed representative of our movement. Women haven’t died and made incalculable sacrifices so that modern feminists could make excuses and settle for half-assed solutions to the domination of our species by males. We need to carry these women’s work on our shoulders and prove that it wasn’t all in vain. Feminists are having to learn this lesson over and over and over again because the movement coddles people who can’t think beyond their knee-jerk denial.

The question simmering beneath the debate is simply this: Who are you here to defend; one woman or all women?

Patriarchy runs down to the core of this rotten society. It requires a radical solution. At what point do we realize we’re decorating a tree that needs to be taken down? We know the system has many tentacles that women often only have the time or energy to focus on individually. Hillary Clinton is not one of those people. She’s white, rich, and powerful. She’s smart. She could be a formidable force but she has chosen to mold her politics to a template that does not work, and I doubt very much that she doesn’t know that. She could have decided to extricate herself from a party that recently decided, extending the DOJ well beyond its legal mandate, that sex-based protections under Title IX mean nothing because some men have confused the stereotype of femininity with the material reality of womanhood itself. Whoever can’t see how damaging this is – that it is the erasure of females as a distinct class of people whose needs should be protected – needs to call whatever it is they’re doing something other than feminism.

The question of just how feminist Hillary Clinton is has been articulately laid out by many feminists, but some people don’t think they need to internalize that info because Clinton supports abortion. How many feminist-identified politicians are against it? When you’re done counting to zero, ask yourself whether you want to keep running on this hamster wheel. Liberals are never willing to face the ugly truth and stand up for real change – and that’s dangerous.

You might have good reasons for voting for Clinton and we can certainly appreciate the good things she’s said and done. I for one will be celebrating when (I hope) she kicks Trump’s ass and outshines her own philandering husband. But none of these things make her worthy of being the face of feminism. Can we finally admit Clinton’s limitations and instead set our focus on doing the work that we know only we are willing to do?

The world has seen a number of female leaders. Thatcher broke that glass ceiling a long time ago in the U.K. How much of a difference did that make for women? She wasn’t a feminist by any means, so it’s not an apt comparison on that level. But she was a neoliberal – a capitalist individualist – whose policies weren’t so different from those endorsed by Clinton all these years. A leader’s support for women shows not only in the comments they make explicitly about women but also in their policy, particularly as it concerns education and the economy, since these areas are key drivers of sex-based inequality under the current system. Being the most exposed and least valued, women are the first to suffer, forced into work that even the poorest men can avoid, along with the risk of unwanted pregnancy and their role (voluntary or not) as the primary carers of children and other family members.

Stopping at reproductive rights leaves a huge gap that fails to address the cause of sexual violence (masculinity) or the ways in which women who are further marginalized because of their ethnic backgrounds, disability, civic status, etc. are coerced into making impossible ‘choices’. As quoted above, she’s said that she doesn’t even understand why all of this is happening. I too want to believe her heart is in the right place but the depth of her ignorance is disappointing and her contradictions form a clear pattern.

An impressive list of countries including India, Guyana, Mali, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Argentina, Indonesia, Liberia, Philippines, Malawi, and Brazil have elected female heads of state. I think it’s important to ask how the lives of women and girls have changed as a result. For instance, what has Angela Merkel in Germany done for female victims of violence, not only at the hands of immigrant gangs but also at the hands of white German men who prey on poor women who are often trafficked from economically depressed regions, in mega brothels? One of the fascinating bits of history revealed in the Ascent of Woman BBC series is that women have taken power many times throughout human history, some of whom used that power to help their sisters while others didn’t or couldn’t. Worse yet, neither Canada nor the U.S. have managed to elect a woman as prime minister or president. So I absolutely want to see that happen.

Ultimately, it’s a trademark liberal strategy to fool the optimistic ranks into believing that a token woman in a powerful position is a sign of fundamental change. Does it make anything more than a little dent in patriarchy? It sure does enrage MRAs to think of a woman representing a state that they believe should be protecting their own privileges. And it gives many women and girls hope. Leaving aside the question of the degree to which a U.S. president is a true leader rather than a figurehead, having a woman in that role means something. The problem is that the liberal elite are very good at exploiting this something, blowing it out of proportion, and hoping that women will be content with it because they didn’t get stuck with an openly fascist president whose hatred of women is part of his appeal.

Women can’t afford to fall for the spectacle. The good news is that feminism is not one woman, and it remains up to all of us, as it always has, to overcome male power.

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society

Empathy: without it, we are blind

In Canada today, new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suggested that when a tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombings occurs, society should examine the root causes of these events. His rationale was as follows:

“There is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the other hand, believes that the idea of thinking analytically about the origin of violence is somehow frivolous, prescribing this approach instead:

“You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

For conservatives like Harper, justice is synonymous only with punishment. People who subscribe to this mindset fail to grasp that attempting to understand something and condoning it are two very different things. One approach seeks to form a holistic view of how something has come about, whereas the other only takes into account the end result, ignoring critical elements such as motivation and process.

The key here is the distinction between empathy and sympathy, two concepts that many people seem to confuse. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines them respectively as such:

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience

Sympathy: an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other

Empathy involves imagining yourself in a situation so that you can understand how someone is feeling and thinking. Sympathy implies some level of agreement or sameness of mind. Empathizing, therefore, is not equivalent to supporting, justifying or rationalizing. Rather than simply imposing one’s own judgment on a situation, one steps back and recognizes the broader reality as it relates to all those involved. MP Stella Ambler is one of those conservatives who completely misses the point when she says, “There is no root cause and no tension that justifies the killing and maiming of innocent civilians.” No one is saying there is.

No person or decision exists in isolation. Every decision we make is the result of any number of factors, some of which are influenced by others directly or indirectly. In any given situation, even one factor involved in a decision could influence how we choose to act. If we don’t acknowledge certain factors as a society (for example, the statistical relationship between poverty and crime), we can’t identify opportunities to prevent the negative conditions that may lead to harmful actions.

Having empathy means acknowledging that what happened at the Boston Marathon on Monday was horrible and shocking. It’s tragically unfair that people, including children, lost their lives and were injured. For some people the torment will never end. Emotional responses are perfectly understandable. I can imagine why a person would respond with rage and hysteria, but that doesn’t mean I will encourage those behaviours. I certainly won’t make the situation any better if I act as though what a person is feeling or has experienced – no matter how irrational or contrary to my own views – doesn’t matter. The fact is, it matters to them, and because it matters to them, depending on what they choose to do about it, it could matter to others as well.

Understanding and empathy have nothing to do with being a ‘bleeding heart’ or a coward. Quite the opposite; it takes courage to address serious problems fundamentally and directly. It involves moving beyond passion and arbitrary judgment and coming to terms with reality, no matter how complicated and scary it may be. This is how a just, conscious society deals with difficult issues.

Without empathy, we experience but do not understand action and reaction, cause and effect. If the only response we know is to become increasingly tenacious and ruthless, we will feed a vicious cycle that brings no benefit and only creates more misery. Without empathy, we are blind.

Source: Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau exchange barbs over Boston bombing, Toronto Star

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, Eastern Philosophy, Health & Environment, Politics & Society

Assumption and reduction: how poverty and blame make losers of us all

Ignorance in point form

If you find yourself in agreement with this ugly graphic (I mean really, who designed this?), you need to read this.

This image was posted by right-wing Facebook group 100 Percent FED Up. I’m not really sure what the purpose of fully capitalizing the word ‘FED’ is – maybe because those actually benefiting from Republican policy are DEFINITELY not hungry?

You know what I’m fed up with? People judging. Making assumptions. Hating. Placing blame. I urge you to step back and think about what this graphic is really saying before you nod in agreement, because how we relate to each other becomes the basis for public policy. It drives social services, electoral reform, education, labour law, tax law, etc. It affects us all.

The main concern of the graphic above seems to be the question of responsibility. It raises a valid point that there are things an individual can do to affect their situation. There are ways you can make a bad situation worse or better. There are people who have risen above poverty through their own determination. Personal responsibility is ours to take. And taking responsibility doesn’t mean accepting blame for things outside of our control; it just means accepting the fact that you always have a choice, even if only in your attitude.

Let’s look at the claim above a little more closely. Is it true that if you drink booze, smoke cigarettes, take a hit, get your nails done or get inked, you do not need social assistance? Maybe. That’s the only honest answer you can come up with. The implication, therefore, is that the claim rests on assumptions that anyone in agreement is choosing to ignore. How’s that for taking personal responsibility?

Take the example of a welfare recipient who smokes cigarettes. Regardless of financial standing, people continue to smoke knowing how tremendously bad it is for them. Granted, smokers often shield themselves from learning the specifics (I once stood in line behind a young lady who asked the clerk for a different pack of smokes because she wanted one with a less horrifying picture on it) – but the reason they smoke goes beyond moral ineptitude or weakness; nicotine is a very addictive substance. The fact that money is harder to come by for poor people does not override any chemical dependency they may have – and to expect them to be able to quit because they’re poor is ridiculous. Do you think an alcoholic on welfare is going to think, Gee, this costs x amount of money each month, which the taxpayers are shouldering, so I should just snap out of it? Addicts have characteristically low self-esteem and their addictions often further erode any self-sufficiency and confidence they had to begin with. Not to mention the disastrous effects of cuts to drug treatment programs; these services are crucial in preventing both crime that is directly related to the drug trade and crime committed in order to fund addiction. This is but one example of how drug policy affects the poor in real ways. The war on drugs (a massive failure, now to the admission of most world leaders) is inspired by an understanding (or lack thereof) of the particular struggles faced by those most at risk of being affected by the drug trade – namely, the poor and ethnic minorities.

Getting back to the power of assumptions… Let’s say you overhear a person talking about the welfare they receive and you notice that they got a manicure and have tattoos. I understand your point if this seems questionable. I really do. But does it give you a basis for believing that they would not need social assistance if they hadn’t gotten a manicure or tattoos, and that you can make that determination for not only this person but any and every welfare recipient who has gotten a manicure and tattoos? Let’s say you know for a fact that a particular person would make enough money to support themselves if they didn’t spend their money on such-and-such. In that case, they’re clearly abusing the system. But again, they do not represent other individuals who make their own choices and have their own circumstances to contend with. It’s also worth pointing out the sort of expectation we’re placing on a person who goes hungry or has insufficient nutrition, has had substandard education, lives in a neighbourhood rife with drugs, crime and violence, has limited access to healthcare and health insurance and doesn’t have decent shelter or clothes to wear to a job interview (if one is offered). If you consider the stressors experienced by such an individual, you might forgive them a toke, a beer or a trip to the salon. Prematurely judging one person – and everyone else you lump into the same category – is making a huge leap. Not only is it unfair; it’s illogical.

Besides, if we’re going to judge, how does the average person compare? The only difference between a welfare recipient who lives beyond their means and a gainfully employed person who lives beyond their means is that the welfare recipient doesn’t have good enough credit to borrow money. Let’s say you’re a working person who lives above the poverty line but has accumulated so much personal debt that you have to declare bankruptcy. Your creditor can’t get that money out of you so they write it off, which means they no longer count the money you owe them as an asset. Assets on which they no longer have to pay income tax. Tax money that would have ended up in the public purse. I suspect a lot of people don’t realize this.

Here’s another problem with judging others as unworthy of social assistance: it gives your government a justification to deny help to the people who do need it – without having any idea whatsoever of how many of these people might be abusing the system. Does that make sense to you? In a democratic society, are we supposed to let assumptions and trajectory drive public policy, or are we going to make important decisions that affect the most vulnerable with openness, rationality and honesty?

The most troubling implication of the reasoning of the above claim is that fundamentally, it’s the same type that’s used to form arguments that are racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory. It’s like watching an obese person walking into McDonald’s and thinking, ‘That must be why they’re fat’. If that person orders a mango smoothie and tells you they’re taking their daily walk and have already dropped 50 pounds, what does your assumption say about you?

Leave a comment

Filed under Eastern Philosophy, Politics & Society

Fueling division

I came across a celebrity-studded video by the NRDC Action Fund that advocates for a clean energy bill. The organization’s mission is to “achieve the passage of legislation that jump-starts the clean energy economy, reduces pollution, and sustains vibrant communities for all Americans”. Seems like they’re doing good work, right? Well, I’m wondering if anyone else picked up on some troubling language:

Here’s the phrase that raised my eyebrows:

“Oil we buy from countries that don’t share our values and kill our soldiers.”

Interesting. You’d think that all of the protests in the Middle East would make it clear that the will of the people in that region is characterized by a democratic fervor. Yet this video parrots the propagandistic narrative about relative cultural values. Would this have anything to do with mainstream America’s obsession with associating Muslims to terrorism while turning a blind eye to the terror its own country propagates? If we are to assume that all Iraqis and Afghanis are represented by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, then how do we think the rest of the world should view American citizens? Making such statements perpetuates the concept of the ‘Other’ – more of this Us versus Them bullshit. Labeling nations that challenge imperialists who steal their natural resources and slaughter their people as inherently morally flawed is a deep expression of racism which only moves us further away from peace.

Now, even if the video refers to foreign leaders who don’t share American ‘values’, this betrays the fact that the U.S. administration has systematically colluded with dictators to establish free trade, which generates unthinkable corporate wealth and requires unabated, unconscious consumption. The fact that the NRDC Action Fund (and the celebrities we mindlessly idolize) are pressuring their own government on clean energy exposes their lack of faith that their own leaders reflect their values. So what are American values anyway and how do they differ from those of citizens anywhere else in the world? Do we not all share the goals of having viable livelihoods, a healthy environment, a just society and world peace? Also troubling is the fact that the video places paramount importance on American lives. They’re worried about American jobs and soldiers – but no mention goes to the horrific carnage and destruction perpetrated internationally in our names, and for our comfort. Yet another question: precisely what prosperity is there to defend? With 44 million Americans ‘living’ below the poverty line, high unemployment rates and a country sick enough to generate record profits for the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, the American Dream is proving not only to be an ever elusive illusion but also one predicated on inequality and instability.

I’m all for clean[er] energy. But there’s something very strange here. If developing markets for clean energy would fuel economic growth, why aren’t corporations seizing the opportunity? And why do groups even have to lobby the government to enact what appears to be win/win legislation for all stakeholders? Very strange indeed. And even if we do develop viable energy alternatives, it won’t address other issues such as access to clean water, waste management, the procurement of resources (e.g. minerals mined in politically unstable countries) or reliance on imported food staples. While a sustainable energy policy is crucial, the ‘This is Our Moment’ campaign, in addition to employing racist rhetoric, completely fails to address the fact that our ‘civilization’ is fundamentally wasteful and unjust. The assumption is that we don’t need a paradigm shift; we just need to get our energy from a better source. There’s nothing wrong with our governments, corporations, or the economic system they work so hard to protect – in fact, it’s precisely a market incentive that will save us. The reality is that the source of all of these problems is a mindset characterized by the following fallacies:

  1. Our belief that human beings (a single species on this planet) are somehow above and separate from nature and therefore have the right and ability to control it;
  2. Our belief that all resources (living and non-living) exist for our exploitation in order to support an economic system which assumes infinite growth and is based on a false sense of value (i.e. one which externalizes environmental and social costs);
  3. Our belief in the concept of a ‘nation’. Nationalism perpetuates division and isolation, effectively creating a citizenry that has no empathy for a perceived ‘Other’, when in fact all peoples have the same needs and rights.

It’s perfectly natural for interest groups to focus on specific causes with a particular geography in mind. I wouldn’t suggest that only international organizations are legitimate or respect the rights of all peoples. But the NRDC Action Fund is a good example of an organization whose work can do significant harm in perpetuating ignorance as it advocates for a good cause (even if for the wrong reasons). To mobilize for real change, grassroots movements need to re-imagine the place of our species within this world. And we can’t fix our relationship to the Earth without first honouring our intrinsic connection to each other. There’s no room for bigotry in this movement.

1 Comment

Filed under Health & Environment, Politics & Society