Passions of the Past

At last, this blog is back to life. I spent the morning weeding it of old posts that were dated and too mired in the daily political trenches of the past. I hope I have preserved the broad-mindedness the blog has always aspired to. In fact, I’m about to broaden its backside further with an elegiac tribute to a late diva of the left.

Judith Malina, cofounder with her husband Julian Beck of the politically and artistically radical Living Theater, died earlier this month at age 88. I had a memorable encounter with her more than four decades ago.

Around 1970 or ’71, when I was an aspiring young writer and a timid admirer of activist artists—I did not have a radical temperament but, in those times, rather thought I should—I interviewed Malina, then in her mid-40s, for the Village Voice (a clipping I may post here when I get back to New York and into my files). I was also starting a little literary magazine of women’s writing, ELIMA (which turned out to be a one-issue anthology); and Malina generously offered me excerpts from her diaries.

Naturally the news of her death took me back to the experience of interviewing this tiny hummingbird of radicalism who vibrated with a self-dramatizing, self-sacrificing intensity. I had not thought of her too often in the intervening years; I had seen her without knowing it in The Sopranos, as the nun who confesses on her deathbed that she’s Paulie Walnuts’s real mother—an oddly fitting role, given that one of the journal excerpts Judith gave me was about her imprisonment with and admiration of the saintly Catholic activist Dorothy Day. Sex and sainthood intertwined, in an image of paradisal innocence: how intoxicating. Can one be nostalgic for naïveté?

Here are the excerpts from Judith’s diary, kindly copied for me from one of the last surviving copies of ELIMA by San Francisco poet Marguerite Munoz. (You may notice that I typed the pages myself—on a defective typewriter.)

Malina 1

Malina 2

Malina 3

Malina 4Malina 5

Malina 6

Malina 7

Malina 8

Malina 9

Malina 10

Malina 11

Malina 12

Malina 13

Malina 14

Malina 15


The Ultimate Weapon

Here’s what she was almost martyred for.

What a brilliant idea!

Identify a freedom women in developed countries have taken for granted for decades. Recognize how the lack of that freedom in developing countries is yet another force — so simple and obvious it’s been unrecognized — holding girls and women back from access to education and achievement. Then turn the remedy into a business opportunity for young women.

What are we talking about? The availability of safe, convenient sanitary supplies.

Says Elizabeth Scharpf of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE):

I started SHE because of my shock and outrage at the incredible scale and effect of the problem: of girls and women lacking access to affordable, quality, sanitary pads. Currently, girls and women in this setting—if they have an option at all—turn to either premium priced international brands, which are too costly for widespread and sustainable use, or to alternative methods such as rags, which, in combination with a lack of a clean and accessible water supply, are potentially harmful and do not effectively contain blood flow. Poor girls and women in rural settings may even use dried mud, or even bark. As a result of girls’ unmet need for affordable, high-quality sanitary pads, they are often absent from school—missing up to fifty days of school per year—thereby, thwarting their educational and professional potential.

Slogan:  better sanitary protection.  period.

Talk about things that make you go “DUH.”

Before You Decide Feminism is Dead . . .

. . . listen to Isabel Allende.  Listen to her even if you don’t share her politics, or would disagree with her solutions, because she is right about so much beyond our relatively safe and special world. Oh, and because she’s funny.

Saudi womanhood behind the wheel at last!


By Sissy Willis of sisu

According to Wikipedia, “Women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia per a 1990 fatwā (religious ruling).” So what’s a Sharia-compliant gal to do when she wants to run down to the mall to pick up a few things but there’s no male relative to chauffeur her?  Share the joy of the monarchy’s “First  Woman Driver (Sharia Approved).” It may not be quite up to speed with Female Formula One, but in its way “Saudi Arabia’s Sharia-Approved Car for Women!” refuels the venerable woman-driver joke with a fresh burst of energy. Enjoy the ride!

Crossposted at sisu, Riehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

TIME magazine ends debate on the war in Afghanistan?


Leaving Afghanistan: “Zohal Sagar lost her father and two brothers in the war. Her mother hopes they can leave Afghanistan and find a new life in Canada,” TIME captions this bitterweet image of one of the innocent victims of war. But it gets oh so much worse. Their cover image will haunt you forever unless you’re a moral relativist like Editor Peter Stengel, who makes a fine point of assuring us he isn’t taking sides (see below).

By Sissy Willis of sisu

We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it,” protests TIME Managing Editor Peter Stengel, sending the moral relativist’s “secret signal” even as he has decided to go ahead and publish what’s got to be the best argument ever — the image itself — for staying the course in Afghanistan:

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival.

Asked for comment on the plight of women in Afghanistan — presumably not yet having seen TIME’s cover portrait of Aisha — former National Organization for Women President Ellie Smeal had this to say, according to a Washington Times report:

The future of Afghan women “has just dropped out of all public discourse. What happens with females over and over again is we’re forgotten.”


Caption from our June 2 post “An increasingly impotent chattering class of credulous Chris Matthewses“: “Palin isn’t a feminist — not in the slightest,” huffs card-carrying postmodern feminist Jessica Valenti of the blog Feministing, stumbling inadvertently onto the truth that will soon send her and her sob sisters tumbling into the dustbin of history: “What she calls ‘the emerging conservative feminist identity’ isn’t a structural analysis of patriarchal norms. It’s an empty rallying call to women who are disdainful of or apathetic to women’s rights.”

Try telling that to Sarah Palin and her Army of Mama Grizzlies, Ms. Smeal. Woman as victim? That’s SO yesterday. “She’s playing the “woman card,” notes Tuck. Yet more proof if needed that postmodern feminists are on the wrong side of history.

Our friend Peter Ingemi of Da Tech Guy’s Blog has action steps:

That TIME magazine cover … should be put up every time the debate on the war takes place.

Note. Despite its bad press under the recent ramming down the nation’s throat of ObamaCare, the best medicine in the world is still being practiced in the land of the free and the home of the brave, as TIME Managing Editor Stengel acknowledges, in spite of himself:

To learn more about Aisha, and how an NGO is helping her get reconstructive surgery in the United States, go to Women for Afghan Women.

Update: This just in on Twitter as we were about to publish, from twitterfriend Paul Levitt:

A friend spent several months in Afghanistan last year teaching traditional songs to women and kids … Told me of people crying at being able to sing again — the Taliban killed anyone who sang, played music.

It isn’t just for the women. It’s for our very humanity that we must win the war in Afghanistan.

Update II: Trending on Memeorandum.

Crossposted at sisu, Riehl World View and Liberty Pundits.

“The Selective Destruction of Baby Girls”

Horrifying and heartbreaking:

“[W]e heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door…The cries from the inner room grew louder—and abruptly stopped. There was a low sob, and then a man’s gruff voice said accusingly: ‘Useless thing!’

“Suddenly, I thought I heard a slight movement in the slops pail behind me,” Miss Xinran remembers. “To my absolute horror, I saw a tiny foot poking out of the pail. The midwife must have dropped that tiny baby alive into the slops pail! I nearly threw myself at it, but the two policemen [who had accompanied me] held my shoulders in a firm grip. ‘Don’t move, you can’t save it, it’s too late.’

“‘But that’s…murder…and you’re the police!’ The little foot was still now. The policemen held on to me for a few more minutes. ‘Doing a baby girl is not a big thing around here,’ [an] older woman said comfortingly. ‘That’s a living child,’ I said in a shaking voice, pointing at the slops pail. ‘It’s not a child,’ she corrected me. ‘It’s a girl baby, and we can’t keep it. Around these parts, you can’t get by without a son. Girl babies don’t count.’” […]

While such outright female infanticide is particularly pitiful and shocking, it is prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortion that has been the real driver of the disappearance of girls:

Until the 1980s people in poor countries could do little about this preference [for sons]:  before birth, nature took its course. But in that decade, ultrasound scanning and other methods of detecting the sex of a child before birth began to make their appearance. These technologies changed everything. Doctors in India started advertising ultrasound scans with the slogan “Pay 5,000 rupees ($110) today and save 50,000 rupees tomorrow” (the saving was on the cost of a daughter’s dowry). Parents who wanted a son, but balked at killing baby daughters, chose abortion in their millions.

The use of sex-selective abortion was banned in India in 1994 and in China in 1995. It is illegal in most countries (though Sweden legalised the practice in 2009). But since it is almost impossible to prove that an abortion has been carried out for reasons of sex selection, the practice remains widespread. An ultrasound scan costs about $12, which is within the scope of many—perhaps most—Chinese and Indian families. In one hospital in Punjab, in northern India, the only girls born after a round of ultrasound scans had been mistakenly identified as boys, or else had a male twin.

It’s not the poor and uneducated who are doing this:

[S]exual disparities tend to rise with income and education […] The discrepancy [is] far lower in poorer households. […] modernisation and rising incomes make it easier and more desirable to select the sex of your children. And on top of that smaller families combine with greater wealth to reinforce the imperative to produce a son.

In what might be called a sinister demonstration of the invisible hand, millions of people acting in what they think is their self-interest are not promoting but degrading the common good.  (It makes you realize that Adam Smith wrote at a time when far higher levels of natural constraint on the expression of self-interest were taken for granted.)

[O]nly one region [of China], Tibet, has a sex ratio within the bounds of nature [103 to 106 male births for every 100 females]. Fourteen provinces—mostly in the east and south—have sex ratios at birth of 120 and above, and three have unprecedented levels of more than 130. […]

[W]ithin ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe’s three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide. […]

Parts of India have sex ratios as skewed as anything in its northern neighbour. Other East Asian countries—South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—have peculiarly high numbers of male births. So, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have former communist countries in the Caucasus and the western Balkans. Even subsets of America’s population are following suit, though not the population as a whole. […]

Throughout human history, young men have been responsible for the vast preponderance of crime and violence—especially single men in countries where status and social acceptance depend on being married and having children, as it does in China and India. A rising population of frustrated single men spells trouble. […]

The crime rate has almost doubled in China during the past 20 years of rising sex ratios […] In India, too, there is a correlation between provincial crime rates and sex ratios. […]

If you think women in these societies are valued more highly and treated better because they’re rare, think again:

[In China,] stories abound [..] of bride abduction, the trafficking of women, rape and prostitution. [… A]ccording to the World Health Organisation, female suicide rates in China are among the highest in the world (as are South Korea’s). Suicide is the commonest form of death among Chinese rural women aged 15-34; young mothers kill themselves by drinking agricultural fertilisers, which are easy to come by. The journalist Xinran Xue thinks they cannot live with the knowledge that they have aborted or killed their baby daughters.

A long-term consequence of the scarcity of women is the loss of freedom:

In “Bare Branches” [the Chinese term for bachelors], Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer gave warning that the social problems of biased sex ratios would lead to more authoritarian policing. Governments, they say, “must decrease the threat to society posed by these young men. Increased authoritarianism in an effort to crack down on crime, gangs, smuggling and so forth can be one result.”

And yet, the Economist story ends on a hopeful note.  South Korea, partly through a deliberate campaign to enhance the value and desirability of girls, and “thanks in part to societal changes that saw more young women working and thus able to support aging parents,” has sharply reversed the trend and returned its sex ratio to much nearer normal.  India and China may be ready to follow suit.

Meanwhile, I have to restrain myself not to indiscriminately hate China for its reckless destruction of two of my favorite things:  tigers and girls.

Karzai Throws Shiite Women Under Campaign Bus

The law is back that forbids Afghan’s Shiite women to leave the house or to work without their husband’s permission, or to decline sex without losing economic support. (If you can’t work, in other words, you’ve got to put out to eat.)

President, and presidential candidate, Karzai’s quietly signing the law is regarded as a deal in exchange for the promise of votes to be delivered by powerful Shiite clerics.

Women, meanwhile, especially in the south and east, will be afraid to vote.

I remember being startled when I first read Claude Levi-Strauss on women as a medium of exchange.  (I’ve now tried for about an hour to find a simple, direct link for that.  Here’s the most straightforward short summary I could find.  Here’s a famous, scathing feminist rejoinder.)  It’s not an idea moldering in an archive somewhere; here’s a blogger who connects it to Sarah Palin.

Women Without Power: 8-Year-Old Girl Blamed for Attempted Rape — By Her Parents.

I was sure the family in this story was going to turn out to be Muslim.  Evidently not, they’re just traditional Africans.

A reminder that in terms of the status or complete lack of status of women, scriptural Islam was actually a theoretical advance over the barbaric tribal traditions it supplanted, absorbed, and, all too often, reverted to.

Nick Kristof’s columns and blogs from Pakistan stressed one theme over and over again:  education.  Ignorance — their own and men’s — is the greatest enemy of women.

Published in: on July 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Women Without Power: First of an Ongoing Series

“I was given the ‘honor’ to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death,” said a member of the Basij, Iran’s paramilitary militia, in an anonymous interview.

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a “wedding” ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard – essentially raped by her “husband.”

“I regret that, even though the marriages were legal,” he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were “legal?”

“Because,” he went on, “I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their ‘wedding’ night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

“I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over,” he said. “I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her.”

Here is a subtle but terribly revealing detail in the story.  The guard was arrested after the recent demonstrations for freeing two young teenagers.

He said he “honestly” did not know why he had released them, a decision that led to his own arrest, “but I think it was because they were so young. They looked like children and I knew what would happen to them if they weren’t released.”

He said that while a man is deemed “responsible for his own actions at 13, for a woman it is 9,” and that it was freeing the 15-year-old girl that “really got me in trouble.

Now why do you think a girl is held “responsible for her own actions” at 9?  The implications are chilling.  One is that it legitimizes the forced marriage of girls that young, who can be said to be old enough to “consent.”  (How Orwellian is that?)  Another is that females may be killed for actions for which males are excused, and that a girl can’t even be allowed to finish her childhood before that iron cage of mistrust and total control is dropped over her.

(Hat tip:  Althouse)

Wherever women are without power, we must remember that it is because they have such great natural power.  Who bothers to chain the weak?

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment