No Laughing Matter

I’ve hit my limit again. I’ve reached the point where I can no longer cope with all the bad shit which has gone down in the last few weeks and I’m fairly certain the people closest to me are either at the same point, or are tired of hearing me scream. Thus, I feel I must turn to you fine people. This week, a shocking–nay, abhorrent–turn of events unfolded in the US capitol: a congressional committee concerned with insurance coverage of birth control was conducted. The man in charge of the committee, Darrell Issa, not only selected the (all male, religious) members of the witness panel, he also actively prohibited any questioning of, or dissent towards his selections. His claim (one echoed by his conservative colleagues) was that this was a matter of religious liberty, not–despite all appearances–an issue about birth control. The implications here are staggering. First, what Issa conveyed through his assertions, whether subconsciously or otherwise, was that issues of religious liberty were only appropriately dealt with by male, religious authorities and certainly could not be adequately addressed by women who may also have an interest in birth control access. Second, he fantastically reinforced the age-old positioning of women’s bodies as the battle grounds for ‘a man’s conscience’; an apparently neutral, and unassailable aspect of Democracy specifically, and of hu(man) nature more generally. Lastly, Issa’s actions, as well as the ‘testimonies’ provided by the chosen witnesses, were justified and carried out under the all-powerful banner of ‘separation of church and state’, even despite the fact that all objections to birth control benefits were ideological and therefore, entirely ‘religious’ in nature. In other words, a US Congressional Committee put at its center a panel of religious authorities who had no economic, medical, nor civil concerns, but rather, were arguing for their own theological reasons, and this was characterized as necessary in order to maintain the sanctity of the church-and-state fairy tale. O__O

If you’ve read my previous blog on WeGeekedThis, you might be rather shocked at this point to see a lack of expletives and already, I’m a paragraph in. Fear not, they’re coming. I would just like to say briefly that I have felt so overwhelmed, and dumbfounded by this and other recent events, that words–even bad ones–have almost failed me. I feel so angry, so horrified, so baffled that even screaming obscenities has failed to remedy my despair. So you know shit is bad.

I suppose the reason I find this whole thing so terrifying is that I, like many Americans, believe in freedom, civil liberties and HUMAN rights and in fact, I was raised to believe that these ‘truths’ inform the very framework of my country. Years of (a certain type of) graduate education have, of course, taught me to understand how problematic the application, or denial of these discourses can be. And the fact that I’m white, and was raised in a middle-class, Christian environment is not incidental; my ability to subscribe to these tenets has been largely unhindered. Increasingly though, it becomes harder and harder to maintain my belief in the American fairy tale of Democracy. I’m not suggesting that we are entirely without it, only that its unassailability and ‘purity’ reeks evermore as utter bullshit. The Congressional Birth Control Committee was conducted in the heart of the nation and its functioning was explicitly reliant upon the exclusion of women. Further, Issa felt so strongly that women’s opinions be eradicated from the issue–ONE CONCERNING FEMALE CONTRACEPTION–that he IGNORED and interrupted a female representative who attempted to pose one of many objections. The word ‘conscience’ was used both by Issa and by his witnesses as if this was, in no uncertain terms, purely a matter of having a ‘clear conscience’. What the FUCK?! (Ahh see, now we’re rolling).

I won’t go into how historically ridiculous this is–the very concept of conscience is not neutral, it is not without its own Judeo-Christian genealogy–but I should hope that the problems of basing laws on personal conscience are obvious even without any awareness of the history of ethics. I also hope that I don’t have to go bat-shit crazy explaining how violent this kind of authorial hegemony really is; I mean surely, all sane people can appreciate how fucked up it is to suggest that the state of one type of conscience is a sufficient basis for delimiting  all human experience. Right? RIGHT?!? I guess I just can’t get my head around this in any reasonable fashion. This committee has drastically violated everything I understand about civil liberties and democracy in the US and it sure as shit doesn’t do anything to remedy my almost 100% disbelief in the separation of church and state. Even as someone who endeavours to investigate religious discourses empathetically, I cannot overlook the blaring misogyny of this kind of protest. These religious men are raising objections to providing women with easier access to birth control for reasons which are entirely divorced from health concerns. Perhaps in the case of the Catholic, he is still clinging desperately to the belief that God should be the sole determinant of family planning. At least they’ve got a lot of practice in wheeling this kind of garbage out. The other objections are of course in the same vein, but a lack of dogma almost makes it sting more. It is morally objectionable to provide women with easier access to contraception, why? Because you’re afraid to have to admit that women have immense power when it comes to the possibility of human life? Hmm, not sure that sort of admission will materialize any time soon. Then what is it? You feel conscientiously ‘martyred’ because providing women with easy access to BC will–of course, logically, undoubtedly–result in more extra-marital, non-procreative sex?! Really? Are you sure? How have those kinds of assertions worked in terms of past statistics? I’m just curious. Is it the case that a lack of contraception, and greater stringency on the part of the Church has prevented affairs, promiscuity, and sex in the past? Interesting. And if it really is this latter concern–that as church authorities, it’s unconscionable to endorse any measure which increases the likelihood of illicit sexual activity–then why the FUCK don’t you fucking protest insurance companies who cover Viagra? Oh wait, I’m sorry, I forgot; all the adverts for Viagra feature a happily married man who has worked hard, supported his family, and just wants to show his wife love… it MUST be true.

The thing is, this is all so unbelievable as to border on the ridiculous. One can hardly help but laugh (from desperation if nothing else). People like Jon Stewart use comedy to point out how ludicrous these kinds of measures are. And it’s effective, I’m not suggesting otherwise, but I’m sorry to say that I’ve reached the point where I no longer find any of this funny. Yes, it’s absurd, but it cannot be dismissed with laughter. It has already happened, measures have already been taken which are harmful for women. Sorry, but now’s no time for jokes.

That brings me to UniLad. Another recent, and by now infamous, media sensation which featured an idiotic young man who constructed a website focused on the right types of banter. Aimed at University (male) students, UniLad contained a wide variety of articles which outlined methods for date-rape, statistics for scoring, and above all else (it claimed) was concerned with ‘proper banter’. Aside from the whole publication being complete horse-shit, the really upsetting part was the responses once UniLad had been called to task. Hundreds of students, both male and female, laughed off the accusations of misogyny and bigotry, saying instead that a little ‘rape banter’ is a perfectly normal part of Uni life. Why get upset? It’s just a joke, it’s meant to be funny. *huge sigh* Again, when I first read all of this refuse, I was struck a bit speechless. How could anyone think that rape is made funny simply by yelling ‘surprise!’? How could anyone find it acceptable in ANY event? What I couldn’t help thinking was how horribly embarrassed I would be if UniLad were my son; how betrayed I would feel to be his girlfriend (not that this weaselly fucker will ever get one); how disgusted I would feel if this boy were my brother. How can you have so little respect for human life? And that kids, KIDS, are now encultured in such a way that they can also unproblematically point and laugh at one of the ugliest and inexcusable parts of human experience. Jeebus, someone pass me a vomit bag. It’s not fucking funny. It’s violent, violating, terrifying, and god damned tragic.

Which brings me to the last bee in my bonnet. After the Grammy’s, at which notorious-Rihanna-abuser Chris Brown performed, a storm of tweets issued forth from young women concerning their desire for–and availability to–this particular man. Saying vacuous and insipid things like, ‘he could beat me any day’, or ‘I’d take a little battering from him’, women from all parts of Twitterland turned what is unquestionably the most despicable thing about Chris Brown into a fetish. Look, I believe that sexuality, sexual desire, sexual behaviors and identities are fluid, changing, and should never be prescribed or ascribed to based on what is deemed ‘Right’ or ‘Natural’. If you’re the type who likes to get it on in a candle-lit room with Toni Braxton purring in the background, or if you prefer the Rough Stuff, I am not at all interested in criticizing. But that’s not what this is. This is not kinky shit. It’s not S&M. People who get into S&M have a very pronounced code of ethics, and when engaged in legitimately, one’s safety, comfort and desire are not only fiercely protected, but also nurtured. Having your life threatened, having your face smashed in, and being humiliated in front of the entire world–all against your will, and in a situation of complete terror–is not sexual. It’s unmitigated violence. And these women on Twitter act as if it’s something to be laughed at, as if having someone three times their size brutally attack them is nothing more than foreplay. Can it really be the case that women have come to think SO little of themselves? Do they really only understand relationships in terms which almost always implicitly include violence and self-harm? Surely this is some kind of joke. No, actually. This is the farthest thing from funny.

The thing is, I know that everyone needs to laugh sometimes in the face of tragedy. Humor can be one of our best defenses. And even feminists–ok, some feminists–have learned to laugh at life, and at themselves in certain situations. But actually, there is a difference between laughing because something is funny, and laughing because something lacks gravity, because it does not need to be taken seriously. I’m afraid I don’t see the Congressional Committee, UniLad, or Chris Brown’s fan club in this latter way. These things cannot be laughed off because they’ve already happened. It is already the case that women are so devalued, debased, and still understood in terms which are less-than-human, that they can be excluded from accessing their own bodies, their civil liberties; their rape can become the butt of a joke; domestic violence is feasibly part of intercourse. This is already the reality, there is no dismissing it. And if that doesn’t make you, whoever you are, whatever gender or sex, want to weep, you’ve got a really fucked up sense of humor.






  • Ellie
    February 18, 2012 - 05:56 | Permalink

    Hi Sam! This shit is indeed ridiculous and maddening.
    But: If a politician believes, like many people do, that there is only one universal moral truth, how can anybody (you and me for example!) convince them that making political decisions based on that moral truth is misguided and potentially harmful? Within that kind of worldview it would be impossible for the politician to be wrong so long as s/he does what this universal moral truth dictates. Any objections to her/him applying this universal moral truth are able to be dismissed because all other opinions are morally wrong. Obviously, this is particularly the case with certain flavours of Christianity so it is a crucial question in the US and UK as well as in Kenya. What do you think? I don’t have any ideas!

    • Sam
      February 18, 2012 - 11:58 | Permalink

      Hey Ellie, I think this is such a valid point and of course, incredibly frustrating. I suppose in the case of the US, no matter what someone’s moral truth, political/legal actions SHOULD be based on constitutionality and democracy. As far as the rhetoric for our political system goes, the moral truth of our national structure should override any individual moral truth (and again, in the story we tell ourselves, everyone’s morality is undergirded by this structure anyway). So, in theory, what this politician did is in violation of the discourses surrounding American democracy and freedom. Of course he doesn’t care much about how this looks on paper, and you’re right, his particular world view prevents him from seeing it this way in any case. So we’re back to where we started ;p Stupid people suck.

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