Sometimes in life you have to get a little lost before you are truly able to find your way.

Posts tagged ‘Culture’

Civil Disobedience: A River of Change in American Democracy


“We the people”

“A government for the people, by the people, and of the people”

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

These are phrases by which we define our society, our beginnings, and our path forward. These are the things that define American Democracy. Upon gaining our independence from Britain, by means of civil disobedience, and, eventually, war, we chose for ourselves a system of governance that would represent the morals and provide for the needs of the governed. It is designed to be adaptable to change. In it, we constructed checks and balances to ensure that the “consent of the governed” would always be the highest law of land. The legitimacy of any (democratic) government can only be derived from the will of the people it governs. Insofar as the government ceases to represent the will of the people, it loses any and all power over the governed. But does this theory work in practice? Perhaps eventually. But as is the case with most systems, there are delays. Just as it takes time for a river to force its way through granite, it takes time and pressure for democracy to adapt when there is dissonance between the status quo and what the public conscience can no longer endure. That pressure has come in many forms. Perhaps most often, and certainly most successfully, in the form of civil disobedience.

The history of civil disobedience in the U.S. has been overwhelmingly non-violent. That is not to say though, that it has come without harm to the individuals involved. Significant consequences have been paid at every turn in the road to creating a better nation. Take, for example, the Boston Tea Party, Women’s Suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, nearly every environmental movement – deforestation, animal rights, etc. Each of these chapters of our history trace their beginnings to the actions of those who risked the consequences of rising up to force government to follow the moral right.

In his famous work, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.” Today we face many unendurable inefficiencies. And as history would predict, resistance and change are inevitable.

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Abortion Culture?

(Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In an interview yesterday with WEZS Radio in Laconia, NH, potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum discussed the role of “Abortion Culture” for the failures of our social security system. Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, blamed abortions for robbing the nation of 53 million workers who could be supporting retirees. His family, with seven children is “doing our part to fund the social security system.” The former senator noted that he feels the social security system “is a flawed design, period. But having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends.” During the interview Santorum also stated that “a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion,” a statement that at best, merely attempts to make sense.

So what exactly is “Abortion Culture?” Well, that depends who you ask. Some people hold the view that Abortion Culture is a result of high abortion rates. Others say high abortion rates are caused by Abortion Culture. Others point toward countries like China that systematically use abortion (and sterilization) as a means of population control. So how does the U.S. fit into this mix of varied definitions? To begin answering this question it is important to get an overall idea of where America ranks among countries worldwide with regards to abortion rates. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the U.S. is somewhere in the middle. Countries like The Netherlands have relatively low abortion rates (less than 10 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 per year. The U.S. falls in at just over 20. China is estimated to have around 30 per 1,000 women annually, while Romania and Vietnam, by contrast, are estimated to have at least 80. (Source: The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), Sharing Responsibility: Women, Society and Abortion Worldwide, New York, AGI, 1999, p. 28.) Worldwide then, the U.S. has a relatively low rate of abortion when compared to countries world-wide. It should be noted that the abortion rates cited above have almost no correlation with the legality of abortion in each country.

So if our abortion rates are not high (taken in the context of world-wide comparison), what then defines us as an Abortion Culture? Is it the fact that abortions are legal? If so, every country with legalized abortion, regardless of its abortion rate would have to be labelled an Abortion Culture, so that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Do we have legalized abortions here? Yes…for now, though that right is under constant fire. Relatively speaking, we do not have high rates of abortion. We do not use abortion as a government-enforced means of population control. Abortion is not widely used as a means of contraception. Given these facts, personally (and I recognize many will disagree with me on this), I have yet to find a logical explanation for claiming that we live in an Abortion Culture.

Getting back to Santorum’s remarks, I can’t help but reverse his logic. Perhaps the problem isn’t a lack of children, but rather too many retirees that is to blame. What about the baby-boomers? Could we not more logically look at the sudden rise in the number of births from this generation as the root of unstable population trends? And what happens if all of those women who have abortions instead choose to give birth? Would that really solve our social security problems? Given that the majority of women in the U.S. and worldwide cite the same reasons for choosing abortion (cannot afford to properly care for the child, the need to work to support themselves/their existing children, lack of relationships/healthy relationships with the child’s father, among others), what would the real impact of fewer abortions be in our society? More women unable to work? Well that doesn’t help support the large number of retirees, does it? More families relying on Welfare? Doesn’t sound like a great option. More children born into poverty/homelessness? Not a huge help when it comes to contributing to Social Security is it? Of course, if we were talking about 53 million children born into wealthy families with an abundance of opportunity, access to quality education and healthcare who are most likely to hold steady, high-paying jobs (children of a Senator, perhaps?)…well that might be a different story. Even so, more people…more resource use. We can’t ignore the far-reaching implications of ushering thousands of additional children into our society each year. The environmental impacts and social costs of such a rapidly growing population would be staggering.

In response to Santorum’s argument, then, I guess I’d say he ought to get back to the drawing board if he wants to fix Social Security. Abortion is a right, often a medical necessity, and certainly not the cause of any failure of our programs to support retirees. We have a world-wide over-population problem. Our planet cannot sustain the current rate of population growth. Attempting to increase population in a country that severely over-taxes nearly every resource?…not my idea of a great solution to anything. With regard to “Abortion Culture,” I’d say a significantly higher degree of care should be used in determining if that term can be accurately used to describe our country. As far as I can tell, for the moment anyway, 2011 America…not an Abortion Culture.

Rape Culture

What does the term “Rape Culture” mean? Is it just another buzz word, or is there real meaning, or even danger behind these words? Do we live in a Rape Culture here in the U.S. in 2011? Where does it come from? How does it evolve and why does it persist?

First let’s look at what this loaded term actually means.

There are many definitions of Rape Culture found everywhere from Wikipedia to Sociology text books. Most of them center around the same basic ideas which I think are presented well in this definition offered by the Women’s Center at Marshall University: “Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” http://www.marshall.edu/wcenter/?page_id=295

A recent example…

Several weeks ago there was an article published in the New York Times about the gang rape of an 11-year old girl by 18 men and teenaged boys  in a small, east Texas town. One might assume that any account of such a horrific attack would be focused on the recovery of the victim and how her assailants would be brought to justice. Not so, in this case. The Times article included the following remarks:

“The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

“’It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

“Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.”

Huh. So a young girl is gang-raped and the community concern is over how her rapists will recover? Interesting. And she “dressed older than her age…” Sooo…what? She asked for it? She wanted it? She deserved it? Wow…I sure hope those rapists are all OK…

After enormous public outcry, the New York Times public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, issued a statement saying that the outrage was “understandable” and that the piece conveyed “an impression of concern for the perpetrators and an impression of a provocative victim” that “led many readers to interpret the subtext of the story to be: she had it coming.”

While this apology is important, particularly coming from a source such as the New York Times, the fact that the article was researched, written, reviewed, edited and printed in the first place leaves me astounded. All of those people had input. All of those people had an opportunity to react, reflect, and interpret those words. And yet none of them put a stop to it. Why? We can only speculate. But the fact is, we live in a culture where the mindset about rape allowed all of those people to actively take part in the publication of an article that perfectly illustrates what Rape Culture is all about.

Sex sells.

Good Morning America recently aired a story on marketing “sexy” to young girls and the effects of such provocative marketing to such young age groups. The piece focused on the clothing industry’s role in this nationwide problem. How young is too young? How sexy is too sexy? They featured Abercrombie and Fitch’s “push-up triangle bikini, ” a padded, skimpy bikini designed for girls as young as 7-years old!

So what are we telling our young girls? You need to look older? You need to be sexy? You need to get ahead of your biology if you want to be pretty? But wait…if you do…don’t come crying when you get raped because you asked for it!

Abercrombie has since renamed the suit the “triangle bikini” though the style (padding included) has not been changed. Girls are internalizing these messages and as a result, we see low self esteem, increased numbers of girls and women with eating disorders, distorted body images, desperate attempts to live up to impossible standards, little girls who are trying to look like little women, and families and a culture that encourages it…that is, until one of them gets raped. Then the critical eye opens.

While Abercrombie and Fitch is certainly a high profile example of the messages our society is sending young girls, the rest of the media should not be forgotten. A quick glance at the nearest magazine stand is all it takes to see that it’s not just Abercrombie and Fitch selling sex, nearly every magazine on the shelves is doing it. Try watching a music video, watching a television show, or the latest movie or video game……the same messages over and over again where ever you look. And in response, not only are parents and kids buying it…literally, but the messages are like viruses. The ideas about what “beautiful” and “sexy” are pervade the mindsets of our country’s women and girls.

Is this really us?

What does all this have to do Rape Culture? Let’s go back to the definition we started with. Is rape prevalent in our society? Absolutely. According to the Coalition Educating About Sexual Endangerment, one out of every three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~ad361896/anne/cease/numberspage.html I’d say that qualifies as prevalent.

“Sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media.” One needn’t look farther than a stack of video games or a nightly line-up on TV to see how true this has become in our culture.

Heard any misogynistic language lately? Slut. Whore. Feminazi. Bitch. Sound familiar? If not, tell me where you’re living and I’ll send every woman I know.

Objectification of women’s bodies? Well we’re right back to Abercrombie, MTV and the magazine isle aren’t we?

Glamorization of sexual violence? No? You don’t think so? Again, the media (and mainstream America’s  support of it) glamorize violence, and sexual violence in particular, to a remarkable degree. Video games, television, movies, music…it’s difficult to find an area of popular culture that isn’t pervaded by these messages.

Media messages are filtered and internalized by men and women (and boys and girls) in different ways. Female members of our society are expected to look beautiful and sexy, but are chastised for having sexual relationships. They “give it up” suggesting that they have been beaten. Males, by contrast, are supposed to be strong, powerful, in control and are championed for their “sexual conquests.” They are congratulated when they “hit that, pound it, nail it,” etc. The use of such violent rhetoric in describing sex is particularly harmful when taken in the broader context of a society overrun by the elements of Rape Culture. These factors compound one another and ultimately leave an 11-year old rape victim to be blamed for her attack while her community worries about how her 18 male attackers will be able live with what they have done.

Rape Culture will not be defeated quickly or easily. But the battle will have to begin in our homes. It will begin with every individual, and every family. Like all great movements in our history, it will swell from the ground up.

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