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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Happy Diwali? Yeah, Right!

Yesterday was Diwali [1]. Quite apart from the fact that I think Diwali is a festival belonging to patriarchal religions with oppressive concepts, I dislike the main Diwali Day. I don’t like it because of the firecrackers [2]. Quite apart from the fact that they wreak havoc [3] on the environment, quite apart from the fact that the noise and smoke makes Diwali a harrowing experience for sick people and people with respiratory disabilities, quite apart from the fact that the majority of fireworks in India are made using child labour; I hate the firecrackers for what they do to nonhuman animals.


Yesterday evening, Chinie was frantically walking around the house, hiding beneath the sofa, hiding beneath my legs and trying to seek comfort from each of our family members in turn. Several buildings away, one of my friends’ dogs, Romeo and Bagheera, weren’t very relaxed either. Romeo hadn’t eaten anything since the day before and was shivering under the bed. Bagheera was coping, comparatively, a little better than Romeo. Along the streets, the usual packs of stray dogs were nowhere to be found. A little searching revealed that they were all holed beneath cars, behind bushes and in gutters, peeping out and trying to understand what the hell was going on. In a nearby tree, a panicky sparrow was trying to carry her two children to safety while scared out of her skin herself, not realising that they had already died due to shock. Hungry owls were forced back into shelters wondering why the time zone had changed abruptly. All this was due to crackers, several popping each second and three to four bursting with huge bangs each minute.


I am going to focus on Chinie, for now, because she was the one I spent the evening with. Let’s see a few pictures:


Chinie, under our sofa.

Warm and cosy in there Chinie?

Chinie, starting at the bang of a cracker.

Chinie, hiding beneath my legs.

Having an interesting experience, aren’t you Chinie?

Maybe you won’t be able to make out the fear and anxiety in her eyes because you don’t know her as well as I do. To discern terror, you need to observe body language as well, which a picture alone cannot express. To truly feel her pain; you’ll need to see her trembling; see her hiding behind our parents, starting at every sound, eyes darting from the doors to the windows; see her constantly tensed body, restless panting and pricked up ears; see her tail between her legs and not eating; refusing to go out, refusing to go out to relieve herself…


It is morning. The smoke is still there but the crackers have died out. You can still hear an occasional pop but the sound feels faded, not jarring like last night. Chinie has recovered quite a bit, though she still jumps at particularly loud bangs. She hasn’t slept much. My father puts on her leash and moves towards the door, he feels a tug and looks back. Chinie hasn’t moved. She is sitting firmly on her haunches with her feet dug in. My father tugs. He calls. I push her. Chinie doesn’t budge. It is necessary for her to relieve herself; she hasn’t done it since last afternoon. He finally ends up picking her and carrying her out. My father is Chinie’s favourite person amongst us and she never agrees to go out with anybody else when he is in the house. Walking with him is her favourite activity, and here she is staunchly denying a real treat. My father comes back with her and tells me he had to carry her all the way and when he finally set her down, she pooped quickly and, without even peeing, dragged him back home as fast as she could.


It is afternoon. I go out with Chinie. There is a rich carpet of fireworks’ remains and wrappers lining the streets, bits of half burnt paper and flash powder, cardboard casings and shells, everywhere… I shorten Chinie’s leash to make sure she does not touch the stuff with her mouth. She sniffs around.


Over at my friend’s place, Romeo still hasn’t eaten. He didn’t eat anything yesterday. Bagheera is traumatised as well.


There is the body of a crow on the ground. One side of hir face and wings is burnt. Ze had probably flown into an aerial firework at night. Along the way, there are two more bodies of birds under trees. A firework must have flown into the trees.


A dog peeps out from behind the bins where ze had been hiding. Ze tentatively moves out and looks around. Ze is hungry. The dog’s eyes fall on a half-eaten sweet lying a few paces away. Ze goes to it and sniffs. Ze begins to eat it and soon devours it. Unnoticed by the dog the sweet was lying amongst spent fireworks. It was coated on one side with flash powder. The dog soon throws up. Hir stomach starts aching after a while. Ze lies there twitching and moaning [4].


Chinie is on her way to recovering from all this. After all, she’s survived four Diwalis already. She’ll have to face it again, next year. Thanks to you.




[1] For those of you who don’t know what Diwali is, here’s some info:

http://tinyurl.com/yjyc9bj

http://tinyurl.com/24k2vxq

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali



[2] Firecrackers and fireworks are a traditional part of Diwali celebrations across the country.



[3] Oh boy, the havoc they wreak! I ventured out of my house late last night, to have a look around, and found a thick, thick layer of black stuff enveloping me. It was smog and it was thicker than winter fog at its peak. Here are some pictures I found of three cities across India.

Chennai

Gurgaon

Pune

A small NDTV video

That’s right! That stuff, people, is not winter fog but smog caused by Diwali fireworks!


[4] Here’s some more information about how crackers affect nonhumans. I don’t find any of the articles satisfactory enough but they are the best I could locate.

http://tinyurl.com/37ummo9

http://tinyurl.com/3xssnfk

http://tinyurl.com/22qamcb


Some info on fireworks poisoning:

http://vetmedicine.about.com/od/doghealthfaqs/qt/Firework-Toxicity.htm

http://www.doctordog.com/dogbook/dogpoison.html

http://www.pinoypetfinder.com/forum/index.php?topic=9758.0

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Black and White Characters or Three Things I Don’t Like About Boudica

S’up my pretties? Today is an extremely beautiful day,* I’ve spent it jabbing away at my keyboard all glassy-eyed and I’ve finished Boudica: The Secrets of the Druids. It turned out to be a nice book but contained nothing that awesome to get too excited about. Good enough for your 12-year-old niece or nephew interested in an introduction to Celtic life but not worth it if ze is looking for characterisations and plots with some depth to them. Apart from its setting and the fragments that included references to Celtic customs, the book wasn’t really much different from your average children’s adventure novel.

Daddy dearest
Boudica was a typical fiery tomboy with a mentor in her father and a mother who, of course, was not a mentor and didn’t understand her at all. I really don’t like this trope of girls aspiring to be like their fathers and dismissing their mothers in order to assert their individuality and difference. This is once again placing the masculine above the feminine, and making women’s struggles and achievements invisible unless they are accomplished in the “men’s sphere”. Why, oh, why can’t we have some mentoring mothers for warrior wannabe girls who are not necessarily warriors themselves but understand? Whose achievements are presented as examples worth aiming for even if they are not related to tasks considered masculine? Why does the father always have to be the ideal to be aspired towards if you are to be considered exceptional? What I mean is basically this except that instead of just lineage it’s the legacy to be upheld that comes from the father. Or this (just put dad in the “original hero’s” place).

Cartimandua rules, Boudica drools, or a whole tribe vilified
The only thing I dislike more than cardboard characterisation is cardboard characterisation of villains. I have a particular weakness for well-done characters with shades of grey in them, you see. Umbridge? Check. Bellatrix? Check. Snape? Check. Draco? Check. Scarlett O’Hara? Check. Wicked Witch of the West? Check. Mogget? Check. Becky Sharp? Check. Heath Ledger’s Joker? Check. Edmund? Check. Dracula? Check. Gollum? Check. And much as I hate to admit it, I once thought Anakin Skywalker was one of the most poetically (and prettily) tragic heroes of all time. These are all well-done morally ambiguous characters (with the possible exception of Skywalker, really Lucas, what the hell were you thinking?) with complex personalities. Cartimandua, the queen of the Brigantes tribe in Celtic Britain, is one highly interesting person from history who could’ve made an awesome morally ambiguous character. I view her as a great leader struggling to keep her position and secure her tribe’s future when both could be snatched away from her any second. She kept her head and all her tribe’s land while Boudica was lapping poison after getting her butt kicked by the Romans. And what does Caroline Corby do with her? She turns her into a malicious old nasty. Corby’s Cartimandua is very unpleasant to Boudica. Because a traitor like her must be cruel to children not her own. Because by making her as unpleasant as possible Corby doesn’t have to put much effort into making her a negative character. Because everyone must sympathise with the protagonists and hate the antagonists with the fury of a thousand suns. Because subtly nuanced characters don’t seem to exist in Corby’s world.

This happens even with Cartimandua’s daughter, Bridgette. Bridgette’s bratty, spoiled-but-whiny-and-weak, snooty act could shame any high school cheerleader from Hollywood. That’s a convenient way of making sure the reader doesn’t feel sorry for her when later

**Spoiler**

she is held at sword point by Boudica.

**Spoiler**

Like mother, like daughter. Both nasty. Both deserve what they get and a lot of contempt in addition.

And you know what? It gets better. It’s not just the mother and daughter, nastiness runs in the whole damn tribe! Boudica stays with the Brigantes for one entire year and never makes any friends that she’ll miss- except Culann. And guess what? He feels like an outcast among the Brigantes, doesn’t identify as a Brigantian and

**Spoiler**

ends up leaving them to search for his true tribe.

**Spoiler **

Way to go by the path of subtle Ms. Corby! Hendra, the woman who looks after Boudica while she stays with the Brigantes doesn’t come across as any worse than her mother, indeed, she feels better in two respects: she lets Boudica hang out with her friend and she tries to cover for her whenever she gets in any trouble with Cartimandua. The one or two Brigantians who get a teensy cameo feel normal enough. So why is the tribe presented as so despicable? Is it simply because it is the “traitor” tribe led by Cartimandua that refused to join the rebellion? That’s not realistic characterisation, that’s good ol’ dehumanising and depersonalising the enemy rearing its ugly head again, and Corby doesn’t even do that properly- Hendra seems likeable enough to me. I wonder why Boudica turns her nose up at her... Oh right she’s “the enemy”.

I don’t have any problem with Corby writing Boudica as the heroine and presenting her defiance of Cartimandua as the side to be rooted for. What I do have a problem with is putting Cartimandua forward as a two-dimensional spawn of evil without any motives worth serious consideration. Maybe I’m looking for depth of characterisation in the wrong place, after all, this is a children’s novel where a lot less character development hasn’t hindered many a book from becoming a good deal more popular than Boudica. I read Gone With the Wind for the first time when I was thirteen and what I instantly loved about it was that Scarlett was far from perfect, all of the characters were, and they were allowed to be so, without a thunderbolt from Zeus striking them down or an angel descending upon them and bearing them to Candyland. I really think so many children desire a lot more from their characters than they’re given credit for that it’s highly offensive to consider dynamic characters above their comprehension and needs. And in a book like Boudica it doesn’t have to necessarily add truckloads of pages, it can be done with a few small nudges here and there. For example, in this exchange, to show Cartimandua had legitimate convictions even if our protagonists disagreed with them, “venom” could have been replaced by “firmness”:
“Jodoc, [Boudica’s father] give this message to your king and Caradoc [rebel leader]. No Brigantian blood will be spilt to save the southern tribes. Do you understand?” Boudica was surprised by the venom in [Cartimandua’s] voice.
Calling her venomous makes Cartimandua an unreasonably vicious person, acting out of her own personal prejudices, instead of a capable leader making her decision. Oh well, at least someone gets the awesome in Cartimandua.

Yeah I’m very sceptical

**Spoiler**

Near the end, Boudica holds Bridgette with one hand while pressing a sword in Bridgette’s back with the other. Then she uses this to blackmail Cartimandua and Cartimandua complies. A twelve-year-old is holding another twelve-year-old with a sword poking in the captive’s back in a place full of warriors and nobody can do anything? Really? Really? No one can sneak up behind Boudica and grab her quickly? Remember, her sword is pointing at Bridgette’s back which wouldn’t make it fatal to drag Boudica away. The sword’s not across Bridgette’s throat, in which case it would be a load more complicated. Oh wait! I forgot! Boudica is Medusa come back to life! Carry on. Carry on. *Hurries away before Boudusa can glance her way with the soulfully burning eyes of burning doom.*

**Spoiler**


* At least it was when I began this piece. Now it’s turned back into the 100 C Delhi summer I know (and detest).

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Nice Surprise!

So, you know, there I am walking down the street in Nehru Place, and there is this thing dangling tantalisingly in front of me like a banana on that tree just across the fence you can’t climb (spiky). A big thing. But let me first tell you about Nehru Place. Need some computer hardware? Your place. Need some dirt cheap track pants? Your place. Want to stop for a snack? You got it. Want the latest software? It’s there. ‘All pirated,’ pipes someone in the background. Ah, yes. That. That it is. But that is not why I am waddling (trust me, I do waddle) around the place. I am there to claim warranty on my keyboard. How I end up instead in front of a second-hand bookstall, I cannot say, except that a couple of flights of stairs and the Sun are involved. So, there I am salivating and there is my mother beside me with her eyebrows raised and an expression that has ‘Seriously?’ written all over it. The thing is, I have spent about 7-10,000 rupees on books these past few months. I glance around tentatively, and lo! there is a second bookstall in a corner. ‘Just looking,’ say I, with a puppy dog glance, and promptly walk over to the first stall. The books are in a fairly decent condition and the stall has several YA fantasy titles beckoning to me mercilessly.

Books: *emanate Evil Allure*
Me: La la can’t see you! There is Twilight! I will look at Twilight.
Books: *slowly increase emanation*
Me: *sneaks glance* No! Look at Eddy! Concentrate on the sparklies!
Books: *concentrate*
Me: You. Can’t. Break. Me.
Books: Can’t we?
Me: Ye- Wait! What’s that?
Mother: *facepalm*
Me: Ooooo…. Bluuueeee….
Me: Me. Want.
Books: >: D

The blue book is Boudica: The Secrets of the Druid from Caroline Corby’s Before They Were Famous series. Now, I’ve always been fascinated by Boudica and don’t own a single piece of literature featuring her. So this seems like a good time to start. The synopsis on the back cover says:
Before they were famous...meet Boudica, one day to be England’s warrior queen, in this new series about the early lives of some of history’s most charismatic figures. In Ancient Britain, a tribesman’s daughter is in trouble. The Romans have invaded, her father has been accused of murder and she doesn’t know who to trust. When a mysterious druid appears in her village, she knows she must enter his murky world if she is to bring honour to her tribe and one day become Boudica, warrior queen.
Boudica! Ancient Britain! Tribes to bring glory to! A girl! And it mentions ‘warrior’ and ‘queen’ twice! I am sold! The only thing left is the price. ‘Well?’ I ask. ‘50,’ replies the stall owner. Squee! That’s like 1 dollar! And the book is in a pretty neat state! ‘All these are 50,’ continues the stall owner, pointing to a stack of YA fantasies. Imagine a rabbit bouncing up and down, and then imagine a rabbit emitting pressure cooker whistles while bouncing. Now imagine a woman whose daughter has turned into the bouncing and whistling rabbit while standing right beside her. In a crowded market square. Where people stare. I’m sure you’ll understand if my mother hisses, ‘let’s check out the other stall, dear,’ and firmly grabbing my elbow, marches me towards the bookstall in the corner.

Well, the other bookstall doesn’t have any titles of interest to me. And they are in a not-so-good condition. But the owner is quite a well-read man. It’s highly unusual for me to find people trying to sell books who actually know what’s in them. So we chat for some minutes. Mainly about trying to find any book I want that he may have. We don’t succeed. And then, my father joins us. I use that as an opportunity to sneak back to the first stall. Boudica is still there. Waiting. ‘Like anything?’ asks my father, coming up. ‘Oh, you are so not getting her anymore books!’ exclaims my mother. My father shares my enthusiasm for dirt cheap books. My mother doesn’t (at the moment), cheap or not. Lately, I have been reading more and more when I should be out in the open air, exercising. Or when I should be getting a move on with my studies. Or when I should be spending more time with my baby sister who happens to be a dog. ‘Oh, come on, Mamma, pweez?’ I try the puppy dog eyes again. After much glaring and eye-locking on both our parts that is a lot like the run-up to a Western shootout, my mother retreats into the background, scowling.

I turn back. ‘This one,’ say I, holding up Boudica. ‘Anything else?’ asks my father. Hmmm… the books I ask for make the stall owner screw his face as though I want grilled slugs, but the ones he has look interesting enough. Peering, I spot a George R. R. Martin near the bottom. ‘George R. R. Martin!’ I squeal, ‘Gotta have that! Have heard great things about him!’ The owner pulls it out for me. It is The Ice Dragon. I think it is one of the books from his A Song of Ice and Fire series. ‘Got any more of this series?’ I ask. ‘Nope, just this one.’ Then my eye falls on the name of Madeleine L’Engle. ‘Madeleine L’Engle! Gimme that!’ You see Madeleine L’Engle is on The List. The List is a seemingly never-ending project of mine in which I research books and then add the ones I want to my list of books I’ve got to read (and own, but don’t tell my mother that; she is already frantic with all the books I already own taking over the house). So, out pops the Madeleine L’Engle, with the title of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Ah no, the third book. ‘Got A Wrinkle in Time?’ I ask. ‘Nope.’ ‘Any more of this series?’ ‘Nope.’ Well, I’ll take what I can get. By this time the stall owner has formed an idea of the kind of books I might like. So he starts handing them over. And I start lapping them up. First he pops up Sammy Keys and the Curse of Moustache Mary. ‘I will get back to that,’ I say, so he moves on to The Treasures Of Weatherby by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. ‘Ooooooo, a girl flying, Peter Pan style! This is going to be awesome and contain fairies and murderous mermaids and pirates! Writing poetry!’ The bookstall owner stands looking at me with a bemused expression. ‘Er… I’ll take it.’ Next he flips out May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson. ‘Wow! Lot’s of green! And teal! A forest, girl, cat! I want this awesomosity! Got the next one in the series?’ ‘Uh, no.’ We move back to Sammy Keys and the Curse of Moustache Mary by Wendelin Van Draanen. I read the synopsis. Woman walking with a pig? Wild West? Moustachioed Grandma? In the Wild West? Awesome! I am so on board!

So, that evening I get home with my mother (still scowling), my six awesome books and no keyboard (it has been sent back to the company). Some light children’s fantasies are exactly what I need just now. And I think I’m gonna post my thoughts as I read them, post whether they turn out as awesome as I hope they are, post if I find anything problematic and supporting oppression in them,* post about what I like, about what I don’t like. So, I run over to get started!

*I understand that these books are the products of a highly speciesist culture and contain standard non-vegan stuff. So I’m going to ignore those bits unless something particularly misotheric (misothery is the hatred of nonhuman animals) grabs my attention.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Fantasy is a Waste of Time." Sounds Familier? Does to me!

I’ve often heard people regard fantasy as frivolous entertainment, not quite good enough to spend too much of your time and money on, not quite in the same league as the ‘serious’ and ‘worthy’ classics, biographies and the books on history, science, politics, religion, philosophy, travel etc.   Now, fantasy being the fire that warms my soul and the ice that cools my brow, I wasn’t quite delighted with that.

I am going to quote Terry Brooks for a short and really accurate response to this kind of thinking:
People who view fantasy as second rate or childish are usually people who don’t read or understand it. I like to tell them that good fantasy is social commentary combined with good storytelling - Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, the Oz stories and so many others. Sure, the stories take place in an imaginary world. But those worlds mirror our own and tell us things about ourselves that need to be said and understood. I also like to tell them how often other forms of literature use fantasy as the bedrock of their own stories. Fantasy transcends its own form in wider scope than any other type of writing.
Fantasy has its roots in mythology and folklore and one example of hypocrisy that really gets me going is that people will willingly worship mythological characters (even though they are the patriarchal products of patriarchal cultures which shows that we are living in a patriarchy, but let’s not digress), cite them as examples of good and evil, consider the study of ancient texts to be scholarly; but the same characters, situations and creatures in modern fantasy would be labelled ‘mere entertainment’ by them. Yes, fantasy is mere entertainment and then so much more.

Fantasy is a medium for speculating about different possibilities (what if?), the themes of which can range from history, science, politics, religion, philosophy, travel to simply stretching your creativity and imagination as far as they can go in the boundless universe fantasy offers; fantasy can explore ways of looking at and considering different forms of societies as material for anthropological speculation; and this is all united by a thread of universal emotions and experiences underlined by the unique malleability of magic; of knowing no normal rules apply; of knowing anything can happen and will happen. Fantasy is freedom for me; writing and reading it feels like flying. To be able to experience things impossible in real life, imagine things impossible in real life… Every bit of fantasy literature can be just as intricate as a sculptor’s work, just as expressive as a painting, just as moving as music, just as sharp as a writer’s words, just as sad as poetry, just as gay as dance, just as entrancing as an actor on stage and just as much of an art form. Fantasy doesn’t have much of a practical use; it is often disconnected from real life and leads to a world that does not exist; it can be said to be mere entertainment; simple aesthetic pleasure for the senses. But then, that is exactly what art is: speculation and expression.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shade’s Children and the Subversion of Domination

I don’t know if Garth Nix is a vegan. I don’t know if he intended Shade’s Children to have subversive threads throughout the story. But still, while reading Shade’s Children one can feel the parallel between the Overlords’ domination of humans and humans’ domination of animals in real life. The Overlords use humans in exactly the same ways humans use animals and even go so far as to refer to humans using the word ‘animals’. Their justification of human use is pretty much the justification the average human gives for enslaving animals; animals are stupider than us, they are meant for our use, it’s just the way things are supposed to be. This is what if a calf could speak, ze would ask humans, and this is probably what humans would answer:

“Why do you kill us? Why do you… do any of it?”
“That’s what you’re there for. It’s the way things are meant to be. You animals really are so stupid.”

The above question is asked by Ninde to an Overlord when she is being interrogated about her powers. The Overlords keep human children in ‘Dormitories,’ where all their mental and physical faculties are exercised to develop the utmost brain and muscle mass, after puberty girls are taken away for breeding, and when any child reaches the age of fourteen ze is taken to the ‘Meat Factory’ where hir brain and muscles are harvested to generate ‘Creatures’ that are basically soldiers who do the Overlords’ bidding. Any children that manage to escape are hunted down and taken to the Meat Factory. Shade leads a secret resistance group made of escaped children and works to overthrow the Overlords. The dread human children feel while trying to survive in an Overlord-dominated world, the anguish of your life being completely dominated and controlled by somebody else, living at the whim and mercy of sadists, the knowledge of death being a certainty of your near future, having no family, being treated as resources are all analogous to our domestication of animals. And no, it’s not just dying that is cruel; Nix makes it clear that when the four children (Ella, Drum, Ninde, Gold-Eye) might have a chance to live but as slaves to the Overlords for their Change Talents, it would be just as bad as going to the Meat Factory. Through putting humans in the position humans have kept nonhumans in for thousands of years, a world has been created in which the injustice of treating sentient beings as means to ends can be seen so clearly that I wonder how anyone can not see the horrors involving our own daily life.

Having said that, at the risk of contradicting myself, I think one other interpretation that can be made of Shade’s Children is that the narrative could imply that domination matters only when it’s being done to humans. The world is so terrible because everything is not hunky-dory for humans; we are supposed to feel sad and sympathise with the children because they are humans; the same thing that is done daily in real life does not matter because it is done to nonhumans. How could *gasp!* the sceptre of power have been snatched from us mighty humans?! Humans are *gasp!* being equated with animals! The world must be put to rights at once!

Whichever way you interpret it, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to see the world from the point of view of the dominated species for a change.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Radical Feminism and Liberal Feminism Vs. Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

I saw an old post at Official Shrub.com by Lake Desire, who compares animal rights and animal welfare with radical feminism and liberal feminism:
I want to clarify the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal welfare is what most of you (and me) are in favor of: humane treatment of animals. Animal rights advocates entire liberation from human use. We both don’t want animals to suffer unnecessarily, but we don’t agree on what’s necessary.

I compare animal welfare and animal rights to liberal feminism and radical feminism. Animal welfare and liberal feminism both work for change within the system, while animal rights and radical feminism want a revolution that will dismantle oppressive hierarchies. (Ecofeminism joins the two and recognizes the ways in which animal and human dominion are interconnected.) I prefer to focus on our common goals rather than our differences. Fighting amongst ourselves takes time away from changing the world.
Apart from the fact that I think animal welfare can’t reduce any ‘suffering’ and think all animal use by humans is ‘unnecessary’, I also feel that comparing the two pairs (animal rights and animal welfare with radical feminism and liberal feminism) is like comparing apples and oranges.

Radical feminism is about abolishing patriarchal institutions such as the military, courts, the parliament, marriage etc.
Liberal feminism is about regulating and making these institutions egalitarian.
Both these theories have the main goal of making men and women equal in every way and can work simultaneously.

Animal rights are about abolishing animal use.
Animal welfare is about regulating animal use.
Their main goals are not the same: Animal welfare takes a utilitarian view of animals and just wants to make animals suffer less while being used. It ultimately places human interests above animal interests. It aims at reducing only that suffering that can be comfortably reduced and still allow animals to be used. Once the line of questioning use itself draws near, it doesn’t matter how much animals suffer because it would interfere with allowing the use. Unlike animal rights, it does not question the use itself.

The approaches these four theories would take in a given situation:

Animal welfare vs. animal rights: Let’s take the example of a physically abused woman:
Animal welfare: Don’t beat her twenty times, if you must, then do it ten times.
Animal rights: Don’t beat her at all.

Liberal feminism vs. radical feminism: Again taking the example of a physically abused woman:
Liberal feminism: We must regulate the institution of marriage and close the loopholes that let her be beaten.
Radical feminism: We must abolish the institution of marriage that gives the abuser the power to beat the victim.

Animal welfare sounds ridiculous while liberal feminism sounds plausible. Clearly these two are not comparable. This is because marriage can be made egalitarian through regulation. The woman can have control over her body and make her own choices and decisions but that is impossible in the case of nonhuman animals living with and being used by humans. The animals’ ‘owners’ have complete dominance over them, can do whatever they like with them and this can only be stopped if humans stop ‘owning’ animals, stop keeping animals in their homes, stop domestication and let the wildlife be. In my opinion, blending the approach of radical and liberal feminism will be the ideal solution (making marriage safe for people who still want to marry, while removing the social conditioning that makes marriage the default) while Peta has amply demonstrated that blending animal rights and welfare will make no sense and effect still less change.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Earthlings: Not as Egalitarian as You’d Think

I just read this article on Dr. Clelia Mosher over at The Hathor Legacy. It makes for a very interesting read and I recommend it to everyone. Now why can’t we have some more awesome women like Mosher in film? I keep thinking how women like her would make great stories but no, all Hollywood wants is hetero white men blowing other hetero white men’s guts out and pirouetting in the carnage.


Oh well, on to Earthlings. Earthlings is a 95 minutes-long documentary about the Industry’s exploitation of animals used in food, clothing, entertainment, research and as pets. It is divided by each industry into five sections, while the beginning and end of the film focus on speciesism. I like the parts on speciesism; they do carry a potentially abolitionist message, but the majority of the film devoted to extremely graphic videos of animal torture smells awfully like a wind from the Peter Singer, PETA and other new-welfarist camps. They, as usual, focus on the treatment instead of use and go into supporting exploitation territory with talking about ‘humane’ murder and government legislatures and international treaties’ that protect animals from ‘unnecessary’ suffering violations. Emphasis is mine:

Euthanasia, generally defined as the act of killing painlessly for reasons of mercy, is usually administered by an injection in the leg for dogs, and sometimes in the stomach for cats. This is a quick and painless procedure for animals, and by far the most humane, but not always the most affordable. Due to the increase of the euthanasia in shelters and the growing and constant demand for drugs like the euthasol, some shelters with budget constrains are forced to use gas chambers instead.
In a gas chamber animals are packed very tightly and can take as long as 20 min. to die. It is by far less merciful, more traumatic and painful, but the procedure is less expensive.

Can the systematic murder of millions of sentient beings ever be ‘humane’ or ‘merciful’ whatever may be the tool used? Great! I think we’ve found the perfect solution to the human overpopulation problem here in India.

Perhaps one of the tough questions we should ask ourselves about animals that we keep as companions are:
“Can we keep animals as companions and still address their needs? Is our keeping companion animals in their best interest or are we exploiting them?”
The answers to these questions may lie in the attitude of the human caretakers and their ability to provide suitable environments for companion animals.

This is not an abolitionist stance, which requires the complete abolition of the institution of pet ownership. The documentary implies that the institution of pet ownership is acceptable provided the attitude of the ‘owner’ is satisfactory. Pet ownership can never be non-exploitive even if the care and environment the ‘pet’ receives is of the highest possible human standard.

People might hope that the meat that they buy came from an animal who died without pain. But they don’t really want to know about it. Yet those who by their purchases require animals to be killed do not deserve to be shielded from this and any other aspect of the production of the meat they buy. So where does our food come from?
For those of us living on a meat diet the process these animals undergoes is as follows:

The video goes on to describe each torturous process an animal faces in a slaughterhouse in great detail. This is focusing on some particular methods, i.e. the thing wrong with eating animals is these methods and if the animals were murdered painlessly or with less painful methods, it would be more ‘humane’. The part I’ve boldfaced implies that it is wrong because the animals didn’t die without pain, and it would be somehow better if they were killed painlessly. The next boldfaced part implies that a vegetarian diet is better; a step in the right direction. But actually a vegetarian diet is just as exploitive as a non-vegetarian diet.

The various methods of slaughter are used, in this Massachusetts facility. The cow is hoisted up, and his or her throat is slit. Along with the meat, the blood will be used as well. Though the animal has received the captive bolt to the head, which is supposed to have rendered him or her senseless, as you can see, the animal is still conscious. This is not uncommon. Sometimes they’re still alive even after they’ve been bled, and they are aware on their way down the assembly line to be butchered.


This is again focusing on treatment. Would it somehow be better if the animal was unconscious while having hir throat slit?

This is the largest glatt kosher meat plant in the United States. Glatt, the Yiddish word for smooth, is the highest standard of cleanliness. And rules for kosher butchering require minimum suffering. The use of electric prods on immobilized animals is a violation.
Inverting frightened animals for slaughters’ convenience is also a violation. Inversion process causes cattle to aspirate blood by breath in after incision. Ripping out the tracheas and esophagi from their throats is another egregious violation, since kosher animals are not to be touched until bleeding stops. And by dumping struggling dying animals out of chutes onto a blood soaked kill floors, with their breathing tubes and guts standing out. This sacred task is not clean or compassionate. Shackling and hoisting was ruled yet another violation. In order to correspond the kosher way of treating animals. If this is kosher, death is not that quick, nor merciful.

Yeah, wouldn’t it reduce a colossal amount of suffering for animals if they were spared electric prods and inversion and shackling and only had to have their heads cut off, quick and clean. Great merciful law of mercy! I worship thee!

Veal, taken from their mother within two days of birth, are tied by their neck and kept restricted to keeping muscles from developing. Fed an iron deficient liquid diet, denied bedding, water and light. After four months of this miserable existence they are slaughtered.

So would it be all rainbows and sunshine if the calves were fed a nutrient rich diet and then butchered? Because for all we know, that might be happening in some part of the world and there are a lot of people eager for ‘humane’ meat.


As for the living conditions, anywhere from 60.000 to 90.000 birds can be crowded together in a single building. The suffering for these animals is unrelenting, it is a way of life. Although their beaks were severed, they attempt to peck each other. For hens, they live in a lame warehouse, crammed inside so-called battery cages.

Dude, the suffering for these animals will be unrelenting as long as they are used. We’re talking about slavery here. You can give chickens bungalows to live in and not reduce a millimetre of their suffering because they are considered slaves.

And for those who think eating sea food is healthier than land animals, just remember how much irretrievable waste and contaminated elements were dumped into our ocean. In the past, oil, nuclear and chemical industries have done little for the protection of marine environments. And dumping on or under the sea bed has always proved a convenient place to dispose an inconvenient waste.

So would eating a smoked salmon be better than eating a chicken wing if it was declared tomorrow that Earth’s marine life is among the healthiest in the Universe? Just checking.

Finally whaling. Though the international whaling commission prohibited commercial whaling in 1985, many countries continued to kill whales for the so-called “exotic meat”. They use harpoons, firearms, blind hooks, even explosives, or drive them into authorized whaling bays where they are made to beach and can be kill with knives in the shallows.

This part supports an inherently speciesist single issue ban which considers some animals worthier than others. Are whales really more valuable than countless other fishes, birds and mammals? Should there even be such a distinction between sentient beings when their interests are the same?

Convulsing and contorting in froze of agony, while schoolchildren walk on by. Such images of slaughter and bloody red water clearly show the Japanese government has little respect for the state of the world’s oceans, with their inhumane methods of fishing, often violating international treaties, laws and conventions designed to protect overexploiting the oceans and the creatures that live in there.

Here it goes again. Can fishing ever be ‘humane’? By ‘overexploiting’ do you mean when the exploitation starts environmentally affecting humans? Because if these treaties, laws and conventions actually gave a damn about nonhuman sentient beings, there would be no exploitation in the first place, ‘over’ or not.

No laws indicate the killing of animals on fur farms.

Even if there were laws regarding the ‘humane’ slaughtering of animals used for fur, they wouldn’t matter because the animal is still being slaughtered. Any law short of prohibiting all animal use and making veganism the default is useless. And at this point, since the majority of the population is non-vegan, even if such a law existed it wouldn’t help, it’ll only drive the industries underground. That is why instead of focusing on the industries and laws we have to focus on the consumers and educate them about abolitionist veganism. Nothing can be done about the supply if we don’t curtail the demand first.

The term vivisection is used to apply to all types of experiments on living animals, and is said to be a form of medical science. The reason for experimentation of this type is to allegedly discover for human ailments and illnesses. But those who hope to find remedies for human ills by inflicting deliberated suffering on animals, commit two fundamental errors on understanding. The first, is the assumption that results obtained on animals are applicable to mankind. The second, concerns the inevitable fallacy of experimental science in respect to the field of organic life.
Since animals react differently from man, every new product or method tried out on animals must be tried out again on man, through careful clinical tests, before it can be considered safe. This rule knows no exception. Tests on animals are not only dangerous because they may lead to wrong conclusions, but furthermore, they also retard clinical investigation, which is the only valid kind.

The fact is, even if the results obtained from animals were beneficial for humans, animal testing would not be justified. Would you advocate testing on mentally disabled orphans who are incapable of volunteering if it could help in discovering the cure for cancer? I think not.

Even people who are aware that the traditional family farm has been taken over by big business interests, that their clothes com from slaughtered cows, that their entertainment means the suffering and death of millions of animals, and that some questionable experiments go on in laboratories, still cling to a vague belief that conditions cannot be too bad, or else the government or the animal welfare societies would’ve done something about it.

Traditional family farms still exist in several places in the world. Does this mean we should switch over to them from factory farms? Perhaps cows that are milked by hand shouldn’t be considered slaves. Is that what you’re saying?


If I go on picking each new-welfarist part of this documentary, I’ll be repeating myself over and over again. Let’s just say that instead of focusing on meaningful discussion, the majority of the film is devoted to emotional welfarist rhetoric a la PETA’s Meet Your Meat video. Not tackling the obvious question of ‘is using sentient beings as a means to an end justified,’ the video skirts round and round the issue with health arguments and environmental arguments that if disproved tomorrow would immediately lead people to ditch their veganism. As I’ve said above, only towards the end and in the few beginning minutes does the video discuss anything worth discussing. And whatever good effect the parts on speciesism might have had on viewers is washed away with the blood and gore of the rest of the video. The images the viewer is left with are not of the Earth being a place to share with other Earthlings but of a piglet being castrated without anesthesia.  


These kinds of slaughterhouse videos usually elicit one or more of the following responses from viewers:

‘This might not be real.’

‘This doesn’t happen everywhere.’

‘We should get laws to make sure something like this doesn’t happen during butchering/milking etc.’

‘This is a reality we have to face.’

‘These are like manipulative emo abortion videos that want to scare the viewer into submission.’

‘I love using X animal product and I'm using this great product right now and your bleeding video didn't make me cry har har.’

And this kind of response is to be expected, since the video focuses on affecting a person emotionally instead of logically. The success of the video depends upon the viewer’s emotional sensitivity and how desensitised ze is to violence. Once the video is turned off the viewer is free to conjure a less emotionally troubling image in hir brain. A cow roaming a grassy field is much less disturbing than a cow being prodded by electric prods into a shed ze can’t turn around in. Since the moral questionability of accepting milk coerced from a cow free to roam in a grassy field has not been addressed, and the focus has been on the treatment of cows in factory farms, the viewer will naturally consider family farms with grassy fields a ‘humane’ alternative.


Thinking that it would be helpful in starting a good discussion, I showed Earthlings to my brother with whom my discussions of animal rights have generally been limited to shouting matches. The documentary didn’t really help me much, if at all, in making my argument convincing. Indeed, I believe it rather worsened things what with my brother jabbering on about this doesn’t happen in India, it happens in only some places, we should get laws to make it more humane, and it doesn’t apply to him anyway as he's a vegetarian and going on and on about treatment rather than thinking about use itself even though I repeatedly pointed it out to him.


I really don’t see how making people who are already reluctant view images of the same exploitation a thousand different ways would help abolitionist veganism. If anything, it antagonises them towards what they view as emotional manipulation. It’s merely addressing the symptoms not the root cause of the disease.


You can view Earthlings online here. Or here. And yes, it’s legal.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Revolutionising English One Word at a Time


I have long felt the need for gender-neutral pronouns in English. The traditional form of ‘he’ excludes women and the ‘he/she’ dichotomy excludes intersexed people. Using the form ‘he/she’ or alternating between ‘he’ and ‘she’ also raises a number of problems and is rather cumbersome. Saying ‘he or she’ while speaking breaks the flow of speech and sounds awkward. Then there is the trouble of deciding which should come first; ‘he’ or ‘she’. One could write ‘s/he’ on paper but speaking without putting either gender first cannot be practical. Always using ‘they’ or ‘one’ is confusing and doesn’t sound very good. So, I found this website a very interesting read. Here is an extract:

One problem with the idea of choosing a standard pronoun set is the fact that many people have already adopted different sets, and they might be as reluctant to change as most people are reluctant to adopt GNPs [gender-neutral pronouns] in the first place. This would be especially true, i think, of people who use GNPs mainly out of personal inclination and not from some sociopolitical purpose. They might be resentful about having their writing style seemingly put up to a vote. But i don't think it a serious problem — i think most standards supporters on the net would be violently apposed to any form of coercion in the matter, and posts whining about others not adopting the Chosen Pronouns would probably go down in a flurry of flames. The more serious problem would be, i think, the simple fact that most current GNP users might be strongly attached to the ones they've been using, and might completely ignore any standard even if they were sympathetic to it. (I myself have become rather attached to ey eir and em, and don't think i could bring myself to use zie or zir, though i could probably manage sie and hir if i had to.) I'll pretend that it is possible to create a standard, and will hereby heavily lobby for my favorites. People can choose as they see fit: one sort of freedom is that of individual expression, another is that which comes with widespread comprehension due to a common, agreed upon language. The currently agreed upon language, which uses gendered pronouns, has been irritating people for centuries. And as the explosive growth of GNPs on the net has demonstrated, the time has come for an alternative standard.

Problems with "sie" and "hir":
"Hir" is actually a Middle English feminine pronoun (some have claimed that Chaucer used it as neutral-gender, but this doesn't seem to be the case); "Sie" is German for "she" (amongst other things) and will be seen as female by most native German speakers.
"Sie" can be pronounced to rhyme with "she"; "hir" can be pronounced to rhyme with "her". This is sort of a blessing/curse situation: the similarity to the existing feminine pronouns that people grew up with probably aided them in becoming as widespread as they are on the net now, but it also gives them a taint of gender that may make people resistant to using them. That's probably not a big problem, certainly not as big as the problem of trying to use "he" as the generic. But having "hir" be pronounced the same as "her" could cause confusion and snickers if the GNPs move out of the world of ASCII and into the world of speech.
Pronunciation is a problem. First, it's ambiguous: do they rhyme with "her" or "hear", "see" or "sigh"? Second, no matter what they rhyme with, they sound the same as already existing words, which could cause confusion. Third, to avoid the feminine pronunciation, one could use "hear", but that has an uncomfortable feeling in my mouth, and i bet the vowel would be pulled towards a schwa and would sound more feminine. (Not that it's bad to have a feminine feeling, but it seems likely that antagonistic nitpickers that want everything cleaved right down the middle (or kept the same) would come to be a problem if the GNPs started to work their way out into the general populace.

Anyway, some of the above complaints seem to be validated by the fact that the alternative set "zie, zir" was felt to be needed. Spellingwise, this is a nicer set, since they all start with "z", and don't bear a strong resemblance to either the masculine or the feminine. And in pronunciation, there is no danger of mistaking them for other words. But speakers of English don't tend to like the letter "z". In the dictionary i have handy here, there are 57 pages of words that start with "e", 60 "h" pages, 170 "s" pages, and only 4.5 "z" pages. The system would have been much better if "f" or "l" had been used instead (though other problems would have erupted then). I personally really dislike the feeling that "zie" has in my mouth, and feel the need to soften the "z" to an "s" sound. Widespread adoption "zie" and "zir" therefore seem unlikely to me.

"Ey, eir, em" have the following problems:
Uncertainty in the reflexive form, as mentioned above.
Possible disagreement on whether the subject should be "ey", "E", or "e". (Hopefully settled to "ey" by my argument above.)
A slight weird feeling when using "eir" in some cases (though it's similar in sound to "her"). But i've pretty much gotten over it.
The other GNPs have a head-start in the newsgroups, and it may be hard to catch up. (But then, a large number of "sie/hir" folk seem to have migrated to "zie/zir" based on a single German speaker in soc.singles, so maybe GNP folk aren't so resistive to change.)
"Em" sounds similar to "him", but the fact that it comes from the neutral "them" should satisfy the previously mentioned cleaving nitpickers.


None of those seem too serious to me. They have the following good points:
Easy mnemonic: just chop off the "th" from the plural. People uncertain about proper usage can start out with plural sentences and then convert them.
Has five unique forms, unlike the others.
They all start with "e", a popular and comfortable letter of the alphabet.
Based on existing language, rather than being artificial constructs. (The same could perhaps be said of "sie, hir", but if one grants that then one has to admit that they come from the feminine.)
Has support from areas other than the newsgroups.
No real possibility of complaint about it being too masculine or feminine in form or history.
Pronunciation is easy to learn and remember: just drop the "th-" from the plural.
People have been using singular "they, their, them" for centuries as an indefinite form, and the transition to using "ey" in these cases for singular beings is very natural. Part of the battle is already won.

And so, i recommend "ey, eir, em" as the ultimate standard. If that turns out to not happen some how, then i would recommend "sie" and "hir" as second choices. I honestly don't think i could ever feel comfortable using "zie" and "zir", but if there's a strong net consensus in that direction i could hand my FAQ over to one of those users and spend the rest of my days in my own private land of ey eir and em. If no consensus of any sort is forthcoming, then i imagine that things will evolve as such things tend to do.

As for the standard pronunciation, my current feeling is to rhyme "sie" or "zie" with "see", "hir" or "zir" with "her", and the "ey, eir, em" with "they, their, them". I assume the zie/zir crowd already does that, but there might be disagreement from the sie/hir realm.

I have personally been using the ‘ze, hir, hirs, hirself’ set, but the website’s suggestion of using ‘ey, em, eir, eirs’ makes sense. I feel that there is one plus point and one minus point in both the sets. I agree that ‘ey, em, eir, eirs’ could be easier than ‘hir’ to adopt in common usage as people are already familiar with ‘they, them, their, theirs’, but ‘hir’ is already widely used on the internet. As the website says, getting people to change to one set when they have already been using another would be difficult. Next, the problem with ‘sie’ can easily be corrected by using ‘ze’ instead of ‘sie’ and the problem with ‘hir’s’ pronunciation can be corrected by pronouncing it ‘heer’ as in ‘eel’ or ‘hir’ as in ‘him’. But again, getting a new word and a new pronunciation of a word already in use into common usage will be difficult. These two problems with both sets nullify each other and I feel equally torn between them, though I don’t feel as comfortable with ‘ey, em, eir, eirs’ as I do with ‘ze, hir, hirs, hirself’. I think I’ll try using both sets and whichever entrenches itself more firmly in my sub-conscious will stay with me. What are you thoughts? Which set do you feel is better? You can find another article that gives a comprehensive overview of the subject on Wikipedia.


I really like the word ‘y’all’. As there is no official plural second-person pronoun in English, making it popular and getting it in the dictionary makes sense. I think I’m going to use it as often as I can. *grins*


I want to be clear: I’m an agnostic atheist. I was, in the past, agnostic theist and believed in God only as a psychologically comforting thought while accepting ze may or may not exist. Since the word ‘God’ is masculine and the masculine again becomes the default for any omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity in monotheistic religions or belief systems, I had a problem with using it. Therefore, to be gender-neutral, -since gender had no role my idea of God- I began to simply call it ‘Thought’, as it was primarily a comforting thought; an idea of someone or something. I don’t believe in ‘Thought’ anymore, but whenever I still read the word ‘God’, I mentally correct it to the gender-neutral ‘Thought’. I would like a gender-neutral word for ‘God’ in common usage, would anyone else like to use ‘Thought’? Or does anyone else have any other idea for how we can gender-neutralise the word ‘God’?


This one is rather tricky for me. I don’t like the history of class oppression and set of expectations defined by the words ‘gentleman’ and ‘lady’. But finding a polite word to call a stranger is rather hard. Which one sounds better? ‘That man’ or ‘that gentleman’? ‘That woman’ or ‘that lady’? The words ‘lady’ and ‘gentleman’ mean and imply a glorification of gender roles, plain and simple. On top of that, they imply classism; historically, one was born a lady or gentleman; one couldn’t become one unless supported by nobility of birth and marriage. One’s social standing and set of privileges completely depended upon it.


Let’s see how a lady is defined in a dictionary:

–noun


1. a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken: She may be poor and have little education, but she's a real lady.


2. a woman of high social position or economic class: She was born a lady and found it hard to adjust to her reduced circumstances.


3. any woman; female (sometimes used in combination): the lady who answered the phone; a saleslady.


4. (Used in direct address: often offensive in the singular): Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Lady, out of my way, please.


5. wife: The ambassador and his lady arrived late.


6. Slang. a female lover or steady companion.


7. (initial capital letter) (in Great Britain) the proper title of any woman whose husband is higher in rank than baronet or knight, or who is the daughter of a nobleman not lower than an earl (although the title is given by courtesy also to the wives of baronets and knights).


8. a woman who has proprietary rights or authority, as over a manor; female feudal superior.Compare lord (def. 4).


9. (initial capital letter) the Virgin Mary.


10. a woman who is the object of chivalrous devotion.


11. (usually initial capital letter) a. an attribute or abstraction personified as a woman; a designation of an allegorical figure as feminine: Lady Fortune; Lady Virtue.


b. a title prefixed to the name of a goddess: Lady Venus.


–adjective


12. Sometimes Offensive. being a lady; female: a lady reporter.


13. of a lady; ladylike; feminine?


A ‘lady’ is supposed to be passive, silent, and submissive, quietly and unobtrusively working around the house. An object in a glass display window, to be viewed, admired, protected, passed along and finally discarded after its use as an adornment is accomplished.


Now, how is a gentleman defined?


–noun, plural-men.


1. a man of good family, breeding, or social position.


2. (used as a polite term) a man: Do you know that gentleman over there?


3. gentlemen, (used as a form of address): Gentlemen, please come this way.


4. a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man: He behaved like a true gentleman.


5. a male personal servant, esp. of a man of social position; valet.


6. a male attendant upon a king, queen, or other royal person, who is himself of high birth or rank.


7. a man of good social standing, as a noble or an armigerous commoner.


8. a man with an independent income who does not work for a living.


9. a male member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Massachusetts.


10. History/Historical. a man who is above the rank of yeoman.


Since the set of behaviours defined by the word ‘gentleman’ is not, on the whole, objectionable (except for the benevolent sexism bit wherein a gentleman is supposed to ‘take care of’ and ‘protect’ a lady), and since the word ‘lady’ carries all the baggage of a thousand years of sexist expectations from women with it, I propose that we continue using ‘gentleman’ to refer to a stranger and use ‘gentlewoman’ instead of ‘lady’ as its feminine counterpart. The definition of ‘gentlewoman’ is similar in its expectations of behaviour to ‘gentleman’ and, ignoring its classist similarity with ‘gentleman’, is not at all as offensive as ‘lady’:

–noun, plural-wom·en.


1. a woman of good family, breeding, or social position


2. a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered woman; lady.


3. a woman who attends upon a lady of rank.


4. a female member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives: The chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Maine.


The word ‘lady’ can be left to accompany and be the counterpart of ‘lord’ in all its classist and sexist glory. In my opinion, it makes both sets of words sound better and maintains symmetry. I also wish to remove the class implication in calling someone a ‘gentlewoman’ or a ‘gentleman’ with the words simply remaining as polite epithets that can be applied to anyone. This has been, to a large extent, achieved in modern usage, with ‘gentleman’ and ‘gentlewoman’ being applied to anybody and everybody without being offensive. Less successful is the word ‘lady’ which carries an inherent meaning of sexism and can also be used as a gendered insult towards women.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Oh Woman! Be forever vigilant thou!

The other day I received the following chain mail: [Trigger warning]

Woman Arrest Law:


An incident took place in Pune - a young girl was attacked by a man posing as a plain clothes officer; he asked her 2 come 2 the police station when she & her male friend didn't have a driver's license 2 show. He sent the boy off 2 get his license and asked the girl to accompany him to the police station. Took her instead to an isolated area where the horrendous crime was committed.


The law [which most of us are not aware of] clearly states that between 6 pm and 6 am, a woman has the right to REFUSE to go to the Police Station, even if an arrest warrant has been issued against her. It is a procedural issue that a woman can be arrested between 6am and 6pm, ONLY if she is arrested by a woman officer & taken to an ALL WOMEN police station. And if she is arrested by a male officer, it has to be proven that a woman officer was on duty at the time of arrest.



Please fwd this 2 as many girls you know. Also 2 boy's coz this can help them protect their wife, sisters and mother. It is good for us to know our rights.


Do not neglect, fwd to your entire buddy list.


Gee, what an informative mail! Now that I’ve been informed, any time a police officer assaults me I can simply banish hir with a simple shout of “Thou shalt not ravage me! Thou canst not touch me whilst I am protected by the mighty hand of the law!” Pity, all those women who’ve been raped at night by police officers weren’t able to read this mail in time. How easy it would’ve been to stop the rapists by simply exclaiming that arresting women at night/raping is illegal. Of course, rape being illegal and women being aware of their right to not be raped (what a revolutionary idea!) hasn’t stopped the countless rapes that happen daily from happening.

Using euphemisms like ‘horrendous crime’ for words like rape only makes rape more of a taboo subject in the society. We need to speak more and speak openly about rape and our wonderful rape culture[2], not zip our lips and ears up and look away each time someone mentions the r-word.

The law (if such a law exists) is problematic itself. Segregating women in women-only prisons cannot be a long term solution. It accepts men raping women as inevitable; something normal. Men are better than that. Segregating women also makes female officers and female participation in law enforcement a minority, a special category to be called for only when dealing with female criminals. The male police force becomes the default. Both female and male criminals should be arrested at any time and by anyone without a risk to their basic rights.

I also don’t see how having a female officer present would help the situation. This kind of thinking completely ignores the various power dynamics involved. The female officer could be unable to protect the victim if there are multiple assailants and she is alone. Or she could be unwilling to report/bullied into not reporting the assailants, especially if there are senior officers involved, due to the effect it may have on her career. She could also be a wilful accomplice for a variety of reasons such as gaining money, intimidating and establishing authority over the victim or career advancement due to the involvement of senior officers. I don’t think I need to expand on the level of corruption in our police force to explain these motives.

The law also buys into the absurd rape myth of people being raped only at night. There is no data to suggest that this is true.

The law also assumes that only women can be raped and raped only by men. It ignores the possibility of women raping/assaulting women or women being accomplices, of men being raped/assaulted by men or of men being raped/assaulted by women.

Lastly, when I saw the mail asking to be forwarded to men as well as women, I thought that finally some part of the mail is asking men to take responsibility for their actions, to respect women’s rights. I sometimes forget how naïve my assumptions are. Of course, the mail wanted men to warn their female friends/relatives to be aware of their rights i.e. take proper precautions for their safety i.e. not get themselves raped i.e. if they’re now raped it’s their own fault as they’ve been informed about their rights and it all happens simply because they aren’t assertive enough. Not once does it ask men to not do the raping. We need to focus our time and energy on asking men to not do the raping. We need to focus our time and energy on putting an end to the horrible rape culture[1] we live in that considers women’s bodies as basic community property. We do not need to focus our time and energy on asking women to be more careful and aware. Women in urban India plan their lives around not getting assaulted; plan how to dress, what/whether to drink, how much to drink/not drink, whom to talk to/not talk to, when to go out/not go out, where to go/not go, where to go/not go at night, where to go/not go alone, how/whether to travel, where to live, whom to meet/not meet, whether to take/not take defence classes and countless other things keeping in mind their safety. But guess what? It. Does. Not. Work. Would there be so many rapes and assaults if it did? But still the onus falls on women to not get themselves raped. Believe me, if there was a solution to enable women to stop rape there’d be billions of women in line to buy it. But there isn’t. The only solution is to consider men responsible for their actions. Teaching women to be aware of their rights won’t be enough if men are not taught to respect those rights.

And even if these tactics did work, expecting women to keep on curtailing their freedoms and take responsibility for something that is always the perpetrator’s fault is unreasonable and unfair. Till what extent are you going to have women cut back on their rights and allow men more and more leeways and excuses? Till the time women have chained and bolted their doors and spend their time shivering under blankets? Till the time men roam all over the Earth doing as they please as if they own the place? The simple morality of it all comes down to consent, and nothing else. An enthusiastic ‘yes’ and an equal participation of both the sexual partners are the only things that can count for consent. If a man feels titillated by the sight of a woman in a short skirt, then that’s his problem. Interpreting that as a sign of sexual consent is his problem. Any ‘signs’ of consent that may have been made can all be overridden with two things: a ‘no’ and a reluctance to participate. Men are not creatures who have no control over themselves and who can thus take no responsibility for their actions. They are thinking, rational beings who can make choices. And even if we accept for a moment that men have no self-control, then the logical conclusion that follows is that men should be the ones to be locked up to protect the society, not women. A great surprise that we never hear about that solution, isn’t it?

Notes:
Disclaimer: Since the mail was about women being raped by men and since statistics show women being raped by men as the general trend; I’ve focused on that kind of rape. This is not denying that women rape/assault women, men rape/assault men or women rape/assault men. I am also not saying that all men are rapists, rather I’m focusing on the fact that most rapes are committed by men.

[1] For more information on rape culture see this article.

The Three Musketeers: Milady

Set in 17th century France, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers revolves around the adventures of the protagonist d’Artagnan and his three musketeer friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis as they attempt to thwart the Cardinal and more importantly his agent Milady de Winter. The treatment of Milady is problematic, to say the least. A woman who single-handedly makes the four musketeers shiver in their frilly socks will definitely earn my respect but but but... On the one hand she is a richly layered character with independence, a strong will, evil genius and a definite mind of her own; what more could one ask for in a female villain? On the other hand her crimes are punished more than enough and in unjustifiable ways while the musketeers’ crimes are never punished or addressed severely enough. Let’s see the particular accusations and punishments that are problematic:


While she is a nun in a convent, Milady and a priest abandon their holy vows, plan to elope and steal and sell the communion plate to provide the funds. The priest does the stealing and the selling while the musketeers accuse Milady of seducing him, making him do the stealing and consider all the blame Milady’s. Granted, Milady was the priests accomplice and thus equally responsible, but she was not solely responsible. The priest was not a child, he was not physically forced to do anything; he chose to abandon his vows, he chose to steal; he was just as responsible for his actions as Milady was. Upon being arrested for it she persuades the jailer’s son to help her escape. Her fault was in seeking to escape, successfully escaping and remaining at large but the action of letting her escape was his. But no, she is again accused of corrupting the man. When the priest escapes, rejoins her and afterwards turns himself in and is executed, it is again all her fault; she destroyed him.


Milady has a Fleur-de-Lis on her shoulder which brands convicted criminals and about which she does not tell her husband Athos. Upon discovering it while she is unconscious, Athos strips her, ties her hands and hangs her from a tree, leaving her for the dead. He later justifies himself to d’Artagnan by saying “The count was a powerful noble: he had the undisputed right of executing justice on his domain”. He is never punished for his attempted murder and assault of Milady. True, Milady deceived him, true he felt shocked and betrayed, true he realised that she married him only for his position and money, true he was worried about his honour and justifiably wanted to end his marriage but does this all justify murder? Couldn’t he have got rid of her lawfully? This special brutality of dealing with offending women and specially the particular violence of stripping and hanging her has a long history in a particular brand of misogyny, the kind reflected in the manner villains -which are almost always female- are dealt with in the Brothers Grimm Fairytales or in the medieval witch-hunts. The kind in which if a woman dares to have a mind or agenda of her own, if she dares to go so far as to displease the Man of the house she must be punished and soundly and in a particularly barbarous manner.


D’Artagnan then has sex with Milady during which she is deceived and considers him Comte de Wardes and all the while d’Artagnan is aware of the fact. He later confesses to her and she furiously swears vengeance. She then thrice attempts to murder him but fails and finally murders Madame Bonancieux whom d’Artagnan loves. I’m not saying that her murder of Madame Bonancieux is justified, but the fact is that d’Artagnan is never sufficiently punished for raping Milady -and yes if during sex one of the sexual partners is deceived as to the identity of the other it is rape-, never even openly accused of rape; oh no it is all somehow due to the irresistible power Milady holds over him and other men. Her desire for revenge after this is evil and d’Artagnan’s hopping up and down waving his sword each time somebody ticks him off (just count the number of times he and his friends duel people for injuring their 'honour') is glorious. It’s all crap of the ‘anyway let’s face it she deserved it, d’Artagnan even apologised, what more do you want and it wasn’t even a rape, it was consensual and she was just deceived’ variety.


Porthos repeatedly wheedles his mistress, Madame Coquenard, into giving him her husband’s money. D’Artagnan tells Kitty -who is Milady’s maid and is in love with him- that he loves her in order to gain access to Kitty’s room which is connected to Milady’s and which allows him to eavesdrop on her. D’Artagnan also intercepts Milady’s letters to Comte de Wardes from Kitty and writes back posing as Comte de Wardes. I am not holding Porthos and d’Artagnan responsible for the actions of Madame Coquenard and Kitty, but if they were judged according to the same standard they judged Milady with, they would be just as guilty of manipulating and deceiving people as her. One part that struck me as especially creepy was d’Artagnan’s calling Kitty ‘my child’. Can anyone tell me whether that was simply because she was a maid or was she indeed extremely young?


Porthos once while staying at an inn loses all his money in gambling and when his innkeeper asks for payment he threatens to kill him. After once being accused of using fake money by a deceived innkeeper, Athos locks himself in the inn’s cellar where all the innkeeper’s food and wine is stored, in self-defence from the innkeeper's men. He remains there for almost two weeks, refusing to come out even after the innkeeper realises his mistake and apologises, eating most of the food and drinking most of the wine and breaking most of the wine bottles. Porthos and Athos’ bullying of their innkeepers, due to the just demands of one and a simple misunderstanding of the other reflects a most dishonourable side of their character. This is ironic since they both claim to esteem honour so much. Those who hold themselves and others so high for morality, chivalry and honour fail in the tests themselves and become hypocrites. This could have worked -and does work to a certain extent- if the crimes of both Milady and the musketeers had been addressed/not addressed equally instead of dragging one by the hair and cutting her head off and bearing the other upon shoulders in all his glory.


The only difference in the musketeers and Milady’s tactics is that the musketeers kill their enemies openly while Milady kills them secretly and through manipulation. Open violence vs. secret manipulation or deception. The narrative seems to consider the first method better, but is it? Milady being a woman is not allowed to engage in open violence while the musketeers use both tactics, open violence being the primary tactic. Why is deception bad and open violence necessarily about valour, honour, dignity, manhood, something to be glorified; when they both achieve the same results? Is it simply because in open violence the opponent is aware of everything going on? Big comfort it is to know you are going to be forced into fighting and probably be gravely injured or die or forced to kill/injure somebody else and have no choice. At least in manipulation nobody physically forces somebody else to do something; people are still responsible for their choices. Milady and the musketeers often act upon similar instincts with similar motives: self-preservation, preservation of honour and liberty, vengeance, following orders etc.


One thing that was interesting to see was women being the providers; Madame Coquenard gives Porthos money whenever he requires it, Queen Anne gives d’Artagnan a ring which takes care of all his and his friends monetary needs and Aramis’ mistress Madame de Chevreuse sends him a lot of money when he needs it. The narrator notes that wealthy women providing funds for their lovers was a common sight in those days. But the difference between men being providers and women being providers in the 17th century is that, men had other resources and ways of earning money while women had extremely limited sources/opportunities and unless from a wealthy background, they were almost completely dependent on men for a comfortable income.


In the book, there are several female characters besides Milady and though they have minor roles in the main action, their presence is felt throughout the story. The book surprisingly also passes the Bechdel test[1]. There is Madame Bonacieux who starts out being awesome with rescuing herself from the Cardinal’s clutches and being resourceful and authoritative but is kidnapped halfway through the story and only returns towards the end, transformed into a weak, gullible creature simply to die at Milady’s hands. Then there is Queen Anne, who is stereotypically feminine but still has authority enough to save her and the Duke of Buckingham’s neck once or twice. Kitty; Milady’s maid is extremely naïve and overall extremely pathetic what with crying her heart out over d’Artagnan and trusting him while he tells her that he loves Milady, loves her, and loves Madame Bonacieux within minutes of each! Now Madame Coquenard, Porthos’ mistress, makes for an interesting character. She’s at least fifty, not very attractive, very miserly and Porthos obviously is with her only because of her money. She is similar to Kitty in being with a manipulative man but she still doesn’t come across as a doormat. She retains her identity, is willing to argue her point, and her interactions with Porthos feel genuinely entertaining. Madame de Chevreuse; a great friend of the queen’s and Aramis’ mistress is a character I wish there had been more of in the book. We never get to meet her in person but from what we know of her from the other characters’ interactions and two letters from her, she seems a very cunning and clever woman. She also seems like an independent woman with involvement in several conspiracies. It would’ve been fun to read more about her part in the queen’s affairs.

Note:
[1] Bechdel test: It's a simple test originally intended for movies but is equally applicable to books. In order to pass the test the story must fulfill three requirements:
(a) There must be at least two named female characters in the story who
(b) Talk to each other about
(c) Something other than a man

Beginning!

Hey, you. Yes, you. Come on in! Grab a chair, a glass of grape juice and make yourself comfortable. Would you like some music? Yes? Good. Welcome to my blog-warming party! I've got a couple of posts lined up for you and after that we'll go along with my thoughts as they come to me and inspire me to write. The first post is a feminist look at Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, which I read recently. The second post is a feminist reaction to a chain mail I received a few days back. I hope you'll be interested in them and drop by a few comments. Let the party begin!

Cheers!

Chimera