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Archive for December, 2006

the death of Saddam

I haven’t really been following this story, although it has obviously come across my radar the past several days because it’s all the newsdogs can talk about. So I thought I would put my two cents in, not on the specifics about Saddam Hussein, his trial, his execution, etc. – but rather on the subject of capital punishment.

Here in Canada, we don’t have capital punishment at all. We’re even careful (usually) about extradition to countries that do practice capital punishment. However, in my family, my parents do believe in the death penalty. Their sense of justice is taken from the bible – the ten commandments, an eye for an eye. So this is the climate I grew up in: conflicted.

I have never been conflicted about the death penalty. I have always thought it to be wrong wrong wrong. Capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder. If murder is wrong, then it is wrong for anyone, including the government. How is it an example to the people for their government to be murderers? Killing is not killing, by any means: I have no problem with killing in self-defense if it is necessary. And although I don’t agree with the action, I do understand what drives some people to vigilante murder. But I do have a problem with the idea of vigilante justice running a justice system.

Years ago, I discussed the statistics of the time with my father, about how many people in the US had been put to death and it was discovered they were innocent. I can’t recall it now, and it is not the bulk of my position now, but it was a useful “in” to opening the discussion with my dad. He did change his position slightly – but he still thinks that the “real” monsters should be executed – like Saddam. Every time a high profile psychopath comes along, like Jeffrey Dahmer or Paul Bernardo, he says something like, “I don’t believe in the death penalty, but for this guy…” Lately, he has simply asked me, “Do you support the death penalty for ______________?” My answer is always no.

No matter what a person has done, I do not believe that execution is the correct response from any justice system. Where is the line drawn? How many killings/rapes/tortures should be the limit? Is the victim’s identity important? The killer’s/rapist’s/torturer’s? How is it decided who will receive the death penalty and who will not? How often does politics play into that decision?

Since our justice system in north america has been shown to be one arm of a racist governmental monster, incarcerating people of colour in staggering disproportion and keeping people of colour in situations of desperation and poverty, when our justice systems includes capital punishment it means people of colour are executed by our governments more often than white people. Not only are people of colour kept down, denied opportunities, and pushed into crimes of desperation, they are then killed for it. And this is justice?

The other day, my father asked me if I support the death penalty for Saddam, a man who has killed or ordered the killing of thousands of people. My answer was no. Then something happened that has never happened before in these discussions – I was accused of supporting the terrible deeds that Saddam had committed during his lifetime by refusing to acknowledge that he deserved to die for those actions. I quickly caught the logical error for my father, explained that no indeed, I did not support anything the man had done by holding to the principle that capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder and it was therefore wrong to kill Saddam for his crimes.

Support for the death penalty is conversely and inconsistently related to ableism. The general principle in ableism is that it is better to be dead than live a certain kind of life – a life in a (dis)abled body. Yet the principle with the death penalty is that death is the ultimate punishment, and so it is better to live any kind of life than to die. american culture practices both of these things; the value placed on life is shifty and unstable. At the same moment a healthy person who is a murderer is executed, a (dis)abled fetus could be evacuated.* The two conflicting principles are put into practice simultaneously. If it is better to die than to live a life of constrained freedom (as in a (dis)abled body – which is entirely environmental and can be remedied fairly easily with an environment suited to the ability of the person in question), doesn’t it make more sense to keep the murderer alive in order to punish him/her more?

I’m not saying that it is better to die than to live a life of constrained freedom, or that living a life of constrained freedom is punishment, just pointing out the inconsistency in applying both of these principles. (Dis)abled lives are not given enough value, while the lives of criminals are given, in a theoretical way, too much.

There is too much inconsistency with the death penalty. It is illogical that the very crimes for which a person is executed should be the form of punishment for those crimes. If killing another person (outside of self-defense) is wrong, then killing another person is wrong. Period. Even Saddam.

Here’s what Rev. Jesse Jackson had to say about the execution. I agree 100%:

It will not increase our moral authority in the world. … Saddam’s heinous crimes against humanity can never be diminished, but he was our ally while he was doing it. … Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth will make us blind and disfigured. … Saddam as a war trophy only deepens the catastrophe to which we are indelibly linked.”

*For the record, while I am for a woman’s right to abort any fetus she does not want to carry at any time during her pregnancy, I do not support the wide-spread social practice of aborting fetuses for the sole purpose of eliminating (dis)abled bodies.*

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My friend Matthew wrote about his christmas experience this year staying with friends in rural Honduras, and it inspired me to write about my christmas eve.

The past couple of years I haven’t felt very christmas-y for various reasons. Last year I decided not to attend christmas eve church with my parents as I had always done even though I broke faith with christianity a long time ago. This year I hadn’t felt too christmas-y, either, and so I thought I might go with them in an effort to regain some of the christmas spirit I had been lacking the past couple of years. My parents joined a new church, and so I thought I would go with them this year to see what their new church was like. It turns out I knew a lot of people at the new church, from past church-going experiences, and everyone was very welcoming. The theme of the service was “What a strange way to save the world”. There was a lot of music, and two kids in costume as Mary and Joseph with a doll wrapped in a blanket.

I noticed that there was a significant emphasis placed on Joseph – how he stood by Mary, even though she was inexplicably pregnant, and what a noble thing that was, and how he named the baby Jesus, how the angel Gabriel came to him in the night and told him that everything would be fine, and things like that. Not much emphasis on Mary, just how she accepted her role in the whole giving-birth-to-god’s-child thing. There were references to her being “full with child” – like she was an empty vessel before she was pregnant. I also noticed how the angels are always referred to as male, even though the typical depiction of angels in popular culture usually portrays them as female. Just some interesting things I noticed since the distance I’ve put between myself and christianity, and in particular the christian meaning of christmas, and the attachment to gender theory I have developed.

There was a lot of singing – more than at other services I have been to on christmas eve. I like the singing part. It makes me feel like I am part of a communal spiritual experience, which is strangely comforting and comfortable. I also appreciated all the kind people who gave me handshakes and hugs and kisses and wished me well and invited me to return. It was very nice, and definitely made me feel more christmas-y, which was my whole reason for going. It made everything feel less like a big fat commercial patriarchy-reaffirming money-grab, and more like something spiritual to share with others.

Then I went home and wrapped christmas presents while watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, reciting all the lines by heart, drinking hot chocolate and trying to keep my cat away from the ribbon so she didn’t choke on it. I stayed up and watched Capote on the movie channel, then went to bed and slept like a baby until 9 the next morning. When I awoke, I felt all shiny and new, like a fresh snowfall (which we didn’t actually have, it was a green christmas this year). My christmas spirit had returned. I didn’t hear sleigh bells, but perhaps Santa came all the same.

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happy holidays

I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy holiday, and all the very best for the new year! I hope you’ll continue to join me for discussion and debate – I’ll look forward to it very much.

Happy christmas, chanukah, kwanzaa, winter solstice, and new year!

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Feminist gift ideas?

Hi everyone,

Jessica wrote to me today, asking about feminist gift ideas for a 16 year old that she used to sit for. Jessica says, “She’s sixteen now, and she has almost completed the patriarchal transformation from confident-independent-athletic-girl, to boy-crazy- appearance-obsessed-girl.”

She used to be into all kinds of athletic things, but now she’s wrapped up in her boyfriend. To top it off, her mom is pretty chill but her dad is a right-wing-nut. Jessica wants to give her young friend a gift that might help to foster independent, feminist thought.

I was pretty lame coming up with ideas, as I don’t have to buy for kids. I thought I’d throw it out to my readers – any suggestions?

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This is my first FF post in a long while. I’d almost begun to think I was done with FF. Then the xmas season hit, and everywhere I look I see adverts for girl toys, especially dolls, and especially Barbie. So I thought I’d write about that.

When I was small, my parents gave me many toys. I had trucks and dinky cars for dumping dirt and racing, I had engineering toys to build cool things, I had paint sets and crayons and markers for making works of art, I had board games, I had GI Joe for parachuting from trees, I had bikes and Star Wars figures and stuffed animals and books. But I loved none as much as Barbie.

She was so glamourous, so beautiful. She had so many pretty clothes. She had hair I could braid and pin up and even cut. She had a face with makeup already drawn on (even though I often wanted her to have more, and one lucky Barbie got turned into Marilyn Monroe with a haircut and a black marker). She had feet that only fit into high heel shoes. She had a great car, and a dream house, and a little sister, and a couple of dogs, and horses, and a camper, and any kind of job she wanted. She had a stady boyfriend, too. Barbie had it all.

I stopped playing with Barbie when I was about 11 or 12. I sort of missed her for a while. But ultimately I was glad she was out of my life – Barbie had been a bad influence on me. I didn’t like sharing my many Barbie dolls, even though I had several. I always wanted more Barbies, and I would examine their faces at the store to see which one I thought was most beautiful – we all knew that not all Barbies were perfectly alike. I began to get more destructive with Barbie, pulling off their heads and switching their bodies for ones with straight arms or bent arms as the occasion called, and cutting their hair shorter and shorter, and putting more and more heavy makeup on them with markers, and burning their hair by putting them by the heater – the sizzling smell was yucky, so I didn’t do that too often. Eventually, Barbie and Ken didn’t get along anymore, and Barbie was getting kidnapped a lot, and would end up tied upside down and hanging from the railing. I had come to love-hate Barbie.

Barbie advocates say that she is a tabula rasa – an empty and blank slate onto which the imagination of the child can inscribe any set of circumstances. Barbie is only limited by the child’s imagination, and the makers of Barbie have created a whole world of possibilities for Barbie to participate in – and little girls to dream of being themselves one day. Barbie can do anything.

Well, not so. Barbie is not a tabula rasa – she is the epitome of femininity. She is very rarely brunette – and although Barbie now comes in all kinds of ethnicities and races, this was not the case years ago, and those aren’t really Barbie, are they, those dolls are named something else. So only blonde white dolls can be Barbie.

Of course, we all know how unrealistic Barbie is for young girls. She seems to have a lot of money for buying lots of things, yet she can’t hold a steady job and flits from career to career just as quickly as changing an outfit. She never has a day where she looks tired – she’s always perky and pert with that stupid smile plastered all over her face, and the makeup that is permanently painted on. She never gets any older – her hair never turns grey, her face never wrinkles, her breasts never sag. She never could get pregnant (at least not when I had her). She never gains weight. And we all know about the “if Barbie was a real woman, she’d be 7 1/2 feet tall and have a 26 inch waist and a 150 inch chest” or whatever. She never eats. Her arms are permanently bent or straight, and her legs bend apart in only one way. She is always athletic, never disabled. And her genitals are just how the world wants them – clean and tidy and tiny. Very odd.

Barbie is quite simply not real. Nor could she ever be real. Yet she is held up as a paragon of femininity, an unachievable ideal for young girls to mimic. She is a princess, a dentist, a lawyer, a movie star. She is demure and always smiling, always pleasing to the eye, ready for anything. She is heterosexual. She is patriarchy’s ideal tabula rasa, an always-already perfect female form onto which anything can be inscribed. All you have to do is buy her.

And what’s worse, she teaches little girls to be the same as her.

There are lots of great dolls out there for kids to play with. I recently heard about Amamanta dolls – antomically correct, multicultural, multi-sexual, multi-aged dolls that come in family sets or as singles. There are also Teach-A-Bodies dolls, which come as large as life-size. Families can be heterosexual or gay, and mother dolls can give birth and breastfeed. These dolls can be used as sex education guides, and are used in conjunction with police investigations for child victims of sexual abuse and as aids to child therapy. While no dolls are going to perfectly encapsulate every kind of family or person, these dolls are a much better option than Barbie, in my book.

So this holiday, I say, boycott Barbie. She’s no good for your children’s self-esteem, and she is a symbol of patriarchal capitalism in the extreme. Don’t teach your children Barbie’s lessons.

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No, I’m not referring to that strange HBO series. The 29th Carnival of the Feminists is up at Sandy D.’s If you haven’t had the pleasure before, please go over and visit. Sandy D.’s done an awesome job of compiling lots of great posts from around the feminist blogosphere relating to sexism, violence, labour, status and equality, books and history, and female bodies. Head on over and get reading!

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I wandered over to KC Sheehan’s blog this morning and found this post about objective truth and the law.  It got me to thinking, since I had a recent discussion with my dad about moral relativism. So I thought I’d write a post about it.

objectivity vs. relativism is one of my favourite philosophical problems (along with free will and determinism, the mind/body problem, the existence of god(s), and other problems that lead me to agnostic stances). KC makes a good point about Ronald Dworkin’s argument, which he outlines as an analytic, logical argument between one of two options. This is kind of misguided binary between two and only two options/arguments(as so many things are in our world). As KC writes, his argument is of the variety “Idea A could mean B or C. If it means B then it entails D and E; if C then F and G.” She further writes that “To follow an argument like that I have to trust (or, at least, suspend my disbelief) that B and C really exhaust the possibilities for A, that a host of other ways of viewing the matter are not being silently excluded at each step of the analysis. But how can I trust the honesty (integrity?) and precision of the author who makes such a straw-bogeyman of the alternative (the singular alternative: “The latter view”) to the position he intends to argue?”

As for me on the topic of objectivity, I usually throw my hands up and say things like “who gets to decide the objective truth about anything?” and of course the answer always seems to be those in power, which isn’t good enough for me, and so I retain some degree of relativism in my belief system.

However, this doesn’t seem “right” to me. I struggle with relativism, primarily because I don’t care for the western imperialism in much of our legal and moral systems that negate and disregard non-western cultural experiences and the experiences of those with non-western historicities. The same goes for theocratic systems that put god before humanity – too much humanity is lost in systems that rely on (false?) notions of objectivity. Yet, some things do indeed seem to be objectively wrong, morally speaking. Like murder, and rape, and pedophilia, and abusing children, and abusing animals, and genital mutilation. I struggle with WHY I think these things are objectively wrong, and how much my own experience as a white heterosexual female politically-left able-bodied/minded middle-class agnostic vegetarian animal-lover feminist influences that. Some of these identifiers I have actively chosen as a result of beliefs I have developed through careful study and consideration; some I have had nothing to do with choosing for myself, but certainly do not remain uninvestigated, and some of which I retain (because I have no choice or do not desire to reject them) without ALL the usual trappings. How much of what has been encoded can ever really be shed or unlearned?

I would love to investigate from an anthropological point of view what sorts of acts (if any) are universally accepted as morally wrong (or morally good). Or perhaps there might be enough majority to declare universality. But what would an investigation like this mean for the legal systems in society? for cultural practices? in a non-diverse society? in a diverse society? Would we continue to assume a moral assimilationist position for all those of the non-dominant culture who immigrate or live within a particular cultural context? Would we have separate but parallel courts by which to judge criminal acts based on cultural standards of the accused? Would we consult with court systems in other countries when there is a discrepancy? Would we simply strike from the criminal code those acts that are not universally morally wrong? Just some thoughts that came to mind, where practicality might run up against cultural difference.

what is morally right in determining what is morally wrong?

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