This is not an argument about contraception, it is an argument about power

My little sister, via facebook:

As a woman in America, I have had a lot of reasons to be angry lately, and the controversy over contraception, and the unacceptable statements made by Rush Limbaugh, are only the most recent example. But the fact is, this is not an argument about contraception, it is an argument about power, and the refusal of a certain subset of the population to relinquish even a bit of it.

There is no point in reasoning with these Old White Men. Men who separate women into wives, whores and harpies. Men who hate the poor, the brown, the black. Men who are terrified of the future. Men who can never be allies, who can never see women, queer people, and people of colour as friends, colleagues, and equals. Men like Rush Limbaugh rage against the immorality – the selfishness! – of every person who does not fit the hierarchy they bought as truth, because without that system there are no excuses, no justifications, and no solace for the self-inflicted misery of their lives. They will not change, and they will not willingly relinquish their privilege, because they know that their time is over, the world is changing and we are joyfully counting the hours, waiting for them to die.

Recent writing, mostly about horrible things

Tweeting the war:

The crowdsourcing of war reporting in Kabul is sort of  like a running version of the Red Balloon Challenge, only with explosives instead of balloons.

Two and a half years on from the first documented use of Twitter to crowdsource information about an attack in Kabul, no new platform has replaced Twitter for this purpose among Afghan and foreign journalists and aid workers.

If you want to follow the war in real time, follow its most prolific Twitter users.

Why Afghanistan’s dangerous political crisis is about power, not ethnic grievances:

Ethnicity matters among Afghan politicians, but it is not a reliable indicator of political affiliation or loyalty. Even party affiliation isn’t a reliable indicator of where an individual legislator will come down on a nationally controversial issue, because Afghanistan’s party system is weak and party discipline within the parliament is almost non-existent.

The rise of Afghanistan’s next generation of feminists and their campaign against street harassment:

A generation of Afghan feminists who came of age in the years following the fall of the Taliban regime is rising to challenge their country’s harmful traditions and attitudes more loudly than ever before. Unwilling to compromise with conservatives and disappointed with the pace of reform over the past decade, a group of these women in Kabul formed Young Women for Change in 2011.

Led by feminist activist and Dickinson College sophomore Noorjahan Akbar, the group aims to fight the deep-seated beliefs that underpin the oppression of women in Afghanistan. Its members aren’t content with gender quotas in government and progress on paper. They want to see progress on the streets, in the rulings of the courts and in the behavior of the police.

The undeclared and escalating border war between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Tribal leaders in Nangarhar and Kunar rallied around Amarkhel and urged him to stay in his position. They also promised to send their own militia fighters to support the Border Police in any confrontation with Pakistani forces, according to a local researcher who attended several tribal large tribal gatherings in Nangarhar in the past few days.

Describing the affected villages he visited in Kunar, the researcher, who requested anonymity because he often travels to Taliban-controlled areas, told me, “The whole place really looks like a war zone. The artillery shells have destroyed the compounds. Animals are dead and many people have left. The UN has not been able to get into the area, although some people who have moved [away from the border] have been helped by UNHCR.”

Taking drastic measures to protect Afghanistan’s mobile phone networks during the drawdown of international forces:

No one should confuse the planned shadow network with development. It is not development, or even emergency aid. It is a  short-term communication fail-safe for a country where a simple text message –’shooting on road to town, turn back!’– can draw the line between life and death.

In defense of Mac McClelland (And the view from where I’m standing)

The indignant responses to Mac McClelland’s personal essay in GOOD about how she used consensual, violent sex to ease the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder she developed while reporting on sexual violence in Haiti are extreme examples of the limiting, self-defeating call-out culture in both journalism and American feminism.

That 36 well-respected women working as journalists, aid workers and researchers deemed it necessary to endorse a letter that shames a reporter grappling with PTSD for things she did not even write is evidence of just how widespread support for self-censorship is among a network that, were it to live up to its ideals, would encourage bold self-expression, but instead mobilizes to stamp it out and sow fear of independent thought. As Jill at Feministe put it in a piece about calling-out in the feminist blogosphere: “We have increasingly focused on shutting down voices rather than raising each other up.”

The letter:

To the Editors:

As female journalists and researchers who have lived and worked in Haiti, we write to you today to express our concern with Mac McClelland’s portrayal of Haiti in “I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease my PTSD.”

We respect the heart of Ms. McClelland’s story, which is her experience of trauma and how she found sexuality a profound means of dealing with it. Her article calls much needed attention to the complexity of rape. But we believe the way she uses Haiti as a backdrop for this narrative is sensationalist and irresponsible.

The issue here is that McClelland re-tells the story of the gruesome aftermath of the rape of a Haitian woman, an aftermath McClelland herself witnessed, at the beginning of her piece. But she doesn’t bring up the story to make her piece more shocking –she brings it up because it was the event that set her on a collision course with PTSD. In other words, without telling that story, the rest of the essay wouldn’t make sense. It is a deeply disturbing, completely necessary part of McClelland’s narrative of her own trauma.

Between the 36 of us, we have lived or worked in Haiti for many years, reporting on and researching the country both long before and after the earthquake. We each have spent countless hours in the camps and neighborhoods speaking with ordinary Haitians about their experiences coping with the disaster and its aftermath.

We feel compelled to intervene collectively in this instance because, while speaking of her own personal experience, Ms. McClelland also implies that she is speaking up for female “journalists who put themselves in threatening situations all the time,” women who have “chosen to be around trauma for a living,” who she says “rarely talk about the impact.”

In writing about a country filled with guns, “ugly chaos” and “gang-raping monsters who prowl the flimsy encampments,” she paints Haiti as a heart-of-darkness dystopia, which serves only to highlight her own personal bravery for having gone there in the first place. She makes use of stereotypes about Haiti that would be better left in an earlier century: the savage men consumed by their own lust, the omnipresent violence and chaos, the danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA.


“This is what a hit piece reads like when it’s cloaked in liberal arts school vernacular,”
Conor Friedersdorf wrote in his response to the letter at the The Atlantic.

I couldn’t agree more.

Nowhere in McClelland’s piece are the terms “heart-of-darkness dystopia,” “savage men consumed by their own lust,” or “danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA” used. And since when is it verboten to call men who gang rape homeless women “monsters”?

Sadly, these damaging stereotypes about the country are not uncommon. But we were disturbed to find them articulated in Ms. McClelland’s piece without larger context, especially considering her reputation for socially conscious reporting.

McClelland’s piece for GOOD is not a scholarly article about Haitian history. It is not even a reporting piece about Haiti today. It is a personal essay about one reporter’s literally physical battle with her psychological demons. (How difficult is it for other media professionals to distinguish between these?) McClelland isn’t obligated to fill her essay with any more context than is necessary to make sense of her own actions.

Ms. McClelland’s Haiti is not the Haiti we know. Indeed, we have all lived in relative peace and safety there.

The Afghanistan I know is not the Afghanistan many of my friends who have lived with more safeguards (and those who have lived with fewer) know. In fact, my Afghanistan –that is, the entirety of my experience in this country up to this moment– is known only to me.

Expats in places like Haiti and Afghanistan are not a uniform group. Some of us take more risks than others, live further outside the parameters of what is considered a sensible foreigner’s lifestyle and break more rules, both spoken and unspoken.

Those who live closer to the edge and those who do not stay long enough to experience the very real bursts of joy and love amidst the suffering, are struck more deeply by trauma. (McClelland definitely falls into the second category, and probably the first as well.)

When discussing the rampant, menacing sexual harassment on Kabul’s streets with other expats, I have actually been told that the problem is not serious, that I am being hypersensitive, that I am exaggerating and overreacting. The people who have said these things are, for the most part, people who do not walk alone, have not stood as frozen witnesses to men trying to drag a screaming woman into a car, have not been groped and cornered by Afghan men, do not have female Afghan friends and do not understand when a man shouts “Hey, foreign pussy!” at them in the local language.

But the women who responded to McClelland’s essay aren’t like that. They’ve lived in Haiti for years, even decades, a fact that makes statements like this even more baffling:

This does not mean that we are strangers to rape and sexual violence. We can identify with the difficulty of unwanted sexual advances that women of all colors may face in Haiti. And in the United States. And everywhere.

Now that is just college freshman bullshit. Again, I have to agree with Friedersdorf:

It isn’t fair to say that this paragraph is loaded with the pathologies of left-leaning political discourse. A journalist writing in The New York Review of Books or The Nation or The American Prospect would seek to correct alleged misinformation about the prevalence of rape in a country by providing the most accurate available statistics about the prevalence of rape there.

And this makes no sense whatsoever:

Unfortunately, most Haitian women are not offered escapes from the possibility of violence in the camps in the form of passports and tickets home to another country. For the thousands of displaced women around Port-au-Prince, the threat of rape is tragically high. But the image of Haiti that Ms. McClelland paints only contributes to their continued marginalization.

Actually, the image of Haiti McClelland paints, mostly in her reporting pieces for Mother Jones, is of a place where the threat of rape is tragically high for thousands of displaced women. It’s not at all clear what the authors are taking issue with here, besides McClelland receiving a great deal of attention while being a relatively new name in mainstream journalism and not a Haiti beat long-termer.

While we are glad that Ms. McClelland has achieved a sort of peace within, we would encourage her, next time, not to make Haiti a casualty of the process.

Oh, come on. Haiti has survived worse.

*

One day, when my time in Afghanistan is over, I intend to write about my life here. I do not intend to write a history of the Afghanistan war or a book about the intricacies of Afghan politics. Other people will write those books. Instead, I will write about the things that happened to me, the choices I made, the people I knew, and how my experiences affected me. Will it be self-indulgent? Absolutely. Because that’s what all personal writing –-including every male war correspondent memoir ever written– is.

I have male Afghan friends I trust with my life, but I have been cornered enough times by both strangers and personal acquaintances to fear the footfalls behind me and the grin of the average man on the street. I have learned to distrust before I trust. And when the time comes for me to write about my traumatic experiences with some Afghan men, I do not want to be told that I am marginalizing Afghan women, whining, or being racist.

Those of us who choose to go to work in places like Haiti and Afghanistan do just that –-we choose to work in extremely troubled places where we are outsiders. But the fact that we made that choice while others had it foisted on them at birth shouldn’t mean we aren’t allowed to write honestly and without shame or self-censorship about how we cope with the mental health issues that are among our occupational hazards.

*

And a few more points: Continue reading

Please, read this

Melissa McEwan has the guts to write things I’ve thought more times than I can tell you, but never put into words (before now, or without help). Her whole piece at  Comment is Free is important and well worth the fifteen minutes it will take you to read it in its entirety. The parts I found most relevant, the parts I found myself nodding the most affirmatively to, follow.

If I played by misogynists’ rules, specifically the one that dictates it only takes one woman doing one mean or duplicitous or disrespectful or unlawful or otherwise bad thing to justify hatred of all women, I would have plenty of justification for hating men, if I were inclined to do that sort of thing.

[…]

My mistrust is not, as one might expect, primarily a result of the violent acts done on my body, nor the vicious humiliations done to my dignity. It is, instead, born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with a man: the casual rape joke, the use of a female slur, the careless demonising of the feminine in everyday conversation, the accusations of overreaction, the eye rolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets in my presence or to please use non-gendered language (“humankind”).

But I don’t hate men, because I play by different rules. In fact, there are men in this world whom I love quite a lot.

There are also individual men in this world I would say I probably hate, or something close – men who I hold in unfathomable contempt. But it is not because they are men.

No, I don’t hate men.

It would, however, be fair to say that I don’t easily trust them.

Trust isn’t so much my issue, personally, because I am ridiculously trusting of anyone –male or female– who doesn’t act like like a complete creep from the get-go.

As for mundane betrayals, I personally wouldn’t go as far as to say they mark  “my every relationship with a man.”  Actually, “every” would be way too far. But many? Perhaps even most? Yes, that would be pretty accurate. And, like McEwan, I am not talking about men I hate, but rather ones I respect, like, and even love.

There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions – the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalised as a compliment (“you’re not like those other women”), and the presumption that I am an ally against certain kinds of women.

This is one of the inherent dangers of having, as my wise little sister succinctly put it when we discussed McEwan’s piece this afternoon, “honorary dude status.” Not only do others often perceive me as an exception, but I perceive myself as an exception. And I go to extraordinary lengths to cultivate this exceptional identity –in my own head and among my peers.

My field is one dominated by men and traditionally masculine ideals. My language is one often infused with militarism (think: “refugee protection surge roster”), and my writing style is often confrontational. My interests are wonkish, disquieting, “ballsy,” cerebral –all things that, in our society and age, we don’t equate with “feminine” or “female.”

Since I moved to this city, I rarely do anything but work, study, and argue with people online. These things constitute most of my existence at the moment. And so, I am counted among the boys –at least most of the time. In some ways, this is positive. For one, it allows me to participate equally, to “pass” if you will.

But being an “honorary dude” has definite drawbacks. If I exhibit any traits that are overtly feminine, I get immediately kicked out of the club, if only for a few minutes, for the duration of a staff meeting, for lunch. If I speak up against a sexist comment, or attempt to get members of the group to consider the subject of our discussion from anything other than an implicitly male perspective, I become an object of ridicule, my ideas the inspiration for eye rolls and sighs and knowing glances between the bro’s.

Again, I am not talking about raving misogynist assholes. I am talking about guys who read Jezebel, and guys who care deeply about, say, women war victims.

I am exhorted to join in the cruel revelry, and when I refuse, suddenly the target is on my back. And so it goes.

There are the jokes about women, about wives, about mothers, about raising daughters, about female bosses. They are told in my presence by men who are meant to care about me, just to get a rise out of me, as though I am meant to find funny a reminder of my second-class status.

I am meant to ignore that this is a bullying tactic, that the men telling these jokes derive their amusement specifically from knowing they upset me, piss me off, hurt me.

Occasionally, I call them on their comments. But I usually backtrack soon after. “It’s OK,” I tell them, “I wasn’t being serious. Well, not that serious. You know what I mean. You know me. I’m not one of those women.” Finally, just to make sure they get the point, I drop a quick and derogatory comment about those vapid, hysterical girls my age I’m definitely not like.

And the vicious cycle continues, because I’m an active, knowing collaborator. I don’t admit this with pride, merely self-awareness.

There are the occasions that men – intellectual men, clever men, engaged men – insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, wrestle over details, argue just for fun. And they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps rising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes.

Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.

“Stop being so self-involved,” you say. “Stop being so sensitive.”

And I ask myself,  would you consider it self-involved or overly sensitive of a person of color to object to the nonchalant, everyday racism of her or his friends and colleagues?  No, you probably wouldn’t.

There are the stereotypes – oh, the abundant stereotypes – about women, not me, of course, but other women, those women with their bad driving and their relentless shopping habits and their PMS and their disgusting vanity and their inability to stop talking and their disinterest in Important Things…

[…]

And I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of women (am I seceding from the union?). I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. Yes, it’s true. Between you and me, it’s all true.

That’s what is wanted from me. Abdication of my principles and pride, in service to a patriarchal system that will only use my collusion to further subjugate me. This is a thing that is asked of me by men who purport to care for me.

Often. So very fucking often.

And there is the denial about engaging in misogyny, even when it’s evident, even when it’s pointed out gently, softly, indulgently, carefully, with goodwill and the presumption that it was not intentional. There is the firm, fixed, unyielding denial – because it is better and easier to imply that I’m stupid or crazy or hysterical, that I have imagined being insulted by someone about whom I care (just for the fun of it!), than it is to just admit a bloody mistake and say, simply: I’m sorry.

When called on one of my many flaws –be it my religious prejudices, my casual racism, my hypocritical classism, my propensity for belligerent  intellectual laziness, or even my own sexism– I will own up and apologize.

Why can’t you do the same?  That’s all I ask.

Miscellanea

The streets of my city smell more strongly of human urine today than they normally do. I am puzzled as to why this is.

***
I went into a wine store. The expert behind the counter waltzed up to me and asked what I was in the mood for. “Red, and under fifteen dollars. Give me your least shitty wine matching that description, please.”

He chuckled, “How old are you?”

“Over twenty-one.”

“Well, let me ask you some questions.”

“Ok.”

“What does your furniture look like?”

“Like…furniture.”

“Where did you buy it?”

“Most of it is stuff I found, or inherited from old roommates. My dining table was a craigslist find.”

“Ah, I see. Well, let me find you something cheap and red then.” He began scanning the shelves.

“Or, I could go for a nice Croatian desert wine, if you have that.”

“What did you just say?”

“Croatian desert wine.”

“Now there’s a curve ball. Wow!”

I laughed nervously. As it turned out, the wine store didn’t have any Balkan wines, so I opted for a bottle of cheap red wine anyway.

***

Sally Benz at Feministe has a really thought-provoking post up about non-monogamy and the ideals of feminism.

***

Afghanistan’s Shia Family/Personal Status Law is back in the news. When I get a chance, I’ll write a substantial post about it.

***

Thanks to facebook, I caught this video about the rebuilding of Bamyan. It makes me want to visit Afghanistan more than ever.

***

Mischa said my blog is becoming the Political Assassinations Review. I think he’s right.