Sunday, May 20, 2012

Art Vs. The Artist

I recently watched Stephen Fry's documentary about Wagner's music. It serves as a history of his opera and Fry's love affair with it grandeur and cathartic qualities. In it, Fry questions whether as someone of Jewish heritage, he should feel guilty for being so passionately in love with Wagner's music. Wagner himself was deeply antisemitic, as were most non-Jews of his day, and even wrote an essay "Judaism in Music" which attacks Jewish composers Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer and represents Jews as being evil and alien to German culture and therefore incapable of producing music which represented the German spirit. Wagner's music also carries the taint of Nazism, as Hitler was a greatly influenced by his music and stage production.

This question of can the artist be separated from the work has troubled me for sometime. I've always thought Miles Davis's "It Never Entered My Mind" was one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. When the raspy, plaintive trumpet plays over the quietly melancholy piano, it just moves me. But then I am troubled by Davis's habit of beating Cicely Tyson and then writing songs about it. Should I, as a feminist, feel guilty for enjoying Davis's music? This problem is explored in the play "Mad at Miles" by Allison Ray, but as I've never read or seen the play, I've never come to any satisfactory conclusion.

I did come to some clarity on the situation when Fry interviewed an Auschwitz survivor who was saved from being exterminated by the Nazis because of her talent with the cello. As Fry asks her if he should feel guilty as a Jew for playing Wagner's music, she answers "I think that is is something that everyone has to work out for themselves. What does it do to you?" That question of what the music moves in you, is in itself an answer to the question of guilt. "It Never Entered My Mind" now brings up feelings of compassion for both Tyson and Miles himself. Surely both were tormented, her by him and him by his inner demons. His pain is clear in both the music he writes and the pain he inflicted on the woman he was supposed to love. I don't think there is anything to feel guilty about in that recognition. And ultimately, as Fry concludes, the music is bigger than the man.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Thoughts on the President "Coming Out"

Since President Obama came out in support of gay marriage, I've had conflicting thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, having the man who hold the highest office in the land give his support is a great victory for equal rights. It also reminds me that reason the reason I voted for him is he promised hope, change and progress. So, in many ways, I was very happy when I received the email of him "coming out" in favor of fairness and rationality. It seemed to fall right in line with the man I want him to be.

Then I started thinking about how this is an election year. It might be cynical of me to think that was his motivation, as he probably made as many enemies as he gained supporters. Maybe he just felt it was time. But then, why not do it sooner? Like before the North Carolina banned same sex marriage? Or while he was pushing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell? Or the minute he took office, for that matter? I realize I might be prejudiced on that point because it seems like such a no-brainer to me. In this country you need a reason to take away someone's rights, not a reason to give it to them. I guess I just assumed my President felt the same way this whole time. Maybe that's why a small part of me was disappointed that it was necessary for him to even have to make the announcement to begin with. It should have been clear from his actions that he felt that every American deserves to be treated equally. And I'm probably aiming a little bit of misdirected anger at him for the fact that this is even a debate. We live in a free society. So why doesn't it feel like it lately?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rape and Masculinity

This great article at Alas! A Blog explores the connections between masculinity and the rape culture. The analysis breaks down how the myth of fragile masculinity, the general low regard for women, and the idea that sex is something women possess and "give" away all contribute to the high incidents of rape. Men must prove their masculinity and must do so by avoiding by maintaining a sense of entitlement and by taking revenge is that entitlement is threatened. Women, however, are lower on the social hierarchy than men making it less likely that a man will feel empathy for a woman. And since sex is something that women have and men want, if a man wants sex and doesn't get it, it damages his sense of entitlement and his masculinity. All too often, the solution is some men's minds is to regain his power by taking what he wants, sex, regardless of how the woman feels on the situation. Overall, this is a well-written and thought provoking article and I highly suggest taking the time to give it a read.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Women Get Snarky

Many congressman may be perplexed as to why they are receiving a knitted vagina and/or uterus in the mail, but odds are its because they raised the ire of The Snatchel Project . This group targets government officials who have pushed for anti-woman legislation and "gifts" them with their handiwork. The vaginas and uteruses are handmade and mailed in by volunteers who want to add their voice to the growing number of women and their families who are frustrated by male politicians who insist on inserting themselves where they are not needed. "We are half the population and we will not be treated as children or a disenfranchised minority," says the Snatchel Project via its website.

Rick Perry is feeling the heat from women as well. Perry recently refused $35 million earmarked for Planned Parenthood, cutting off one of the few avenues for preventative health care available to women. In response, his Facebook page was flooded by comments from women asking questions about their menstrual and vaginal health. Many added in their comments that they were coming to him for answers since he clearly regards himself as an expert on women's health. Perry's Facebook has since been cleared of these comments, but I sincerely hope he got the point.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sex Tourism in Thailand

Human trafficking and forced prostitution are issues that are very close to home for me. I live near one of the largest human trafficking hubs in the country and you cannot drive down the interstate without seeing half a dozen billboards with hyper-sexualized "masseuses," who tend to be Asian or Hispanic, and promises that trucker parking is available. But of course, this is not just a local issues. Human trafficking is an international tragedy that affects men, women, and children alike. Many wind up in this situation because they are kidnapped, coerced, or traded by unsuspecting family members who are desperate to pay off their debts. The parents are promised that they will have a better life and will be able to send money back to the family in addition to the money they received from the trade. Instead of placing them in good jobs as promised, they usually end up in slave labor or forced prostitution, which is more often than not the case in Thailand. These individuals are highly prone to AIDS and other STDs which usually follow the sex tourist back home to infect their loved ones.

Those who come to Thailand specifically for sex often do so because they indulge in sex acts that would be frowned upon back in their home countries, including child prostitution. Many, if not most, are aware that these individuals have been trafficked and have no choice about being there. For the men who engage in sexual tourism, it is as much about the power as the sex. They revel in the fact that they have economic power that allows them to purchase anything, including a human being. This only reinforces the idea that men are the providers of money and women (and children) must succumb to that power.

Men looking for the best sex at the cheapest prices turn to the internet instead of lurking around dark alleys as they have in the past. There are even forums on these websites so they can report their experiences, discuss new areas to be explored and to warn about police crackdowns. While conducting research for this article, I came across several such websites. Of course, the same advantages that the internet provides to the offenders, also serves as a tool for police enforcement to combat this growing problem.

However, in far too many cases, the prostitutes are arrested as well. When their pimps come to bail them out, they must work off what they "owe" the pimp for the bailout, which is ofter added on top of "travel expenses" and "room and board." On the up-side, U.S. citizens who have sex with children under the age of 18 abroad will be tried at home instead of the country where it happened and can face up to 30 years in prison. This is a much harsher sentence than they would have faced in the country of the offense as their laws are often much more lenient or unenforced.

The women who are forced into this lifetime have the added shame of being harshly judged by their community. In Thai culture, a good woman is a chaste woman and are therefore marginalized. Additionally, the Thai people resent being associated with sex tourism and those who solicit those services are equally reviled.

Many organizations such as the Polaris provide opportunities to raise awareness, volunteer, as well as donate or organize fundraisers, or even report possible sex trafficking situation. Their hotline is 1-888-3737-888. You can call this number to report a tip, connect with social providers and shelters in your area, request information about volunteer opportunities. Other great resources include, The Department of Homeland Security, and theIntercommunity Peace and Justice Center just to name a few.

Excuse Me a Moment While I Geek Out Over President Carter

President Carter is one of my all-time biggest heroes. He is a humanitarian who has made a huge impact on the poorest people in the world and he continues his philanthropic work to this day, long after he has left office. He founded the Carter Center and won a Nobel Peace prize for his role in the Camp David Accords and his tireless work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts. He has also been working since 1980 to eradicate guinea worm disease, a crippling condition that Carter has stated keeps people in poverty.

He sat down with the Huffington Post to discuss his new book "NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter." As always, he gave heartfelt and well reasoned answers on topics such as gay marriage, reconciling science and religion, and women's role in the church.

He begins the conversation by pointing out that God inspired the Bible but was written by men and therefore we must take the spirit of the text instead of interpreting it literally. On the topic of religion and science, the former President had this to say: "I happen to have an advantage there because I am a nuclear physicist by training and a deeply committed Christian. I don’t have any doubt in my own mind about God who created the entire universe. But I don’t adhere to passages that so and so was created 4000 years before Christ, and things of that kind. Today we have shown that the earth and the stars were created millions, even billions, of years before. We are exploring space and sub-atomic particles and learning new facts every day, facts that the Creator has known since the beginning of time."

President Carter also shares his disagreements with the Southern Baptists stance on the role of women in the church. "I separated from the Southern Baptists when they adopted the discriminatory attitude towards women, because I believe what Paul taught in Galatians that there is no distinction in God’s eyes between men and women, slaves and masters, Jews and non-Jews -– everybody is created equally in the eyes of God."

On the topic of gay marriage, President Carter points out that at no point did Jesus speak out against homosexuals. He concedes that churches who oppose gay marriage should not be forced to perform such a ceremony because as a Baptist he believes that each congregation is autonomous. In case you were wondering, the church President Carter currently attends accepts gays on an equal level.

If this doesn't make you fall in love with Jimmy Carter as much as I have, then I have a few links that I'm pretty confident will blow your mind.

President Carter wants to end Guinea worm disease

The Carter Center

President Carter Bio

Karen Santorum One of Her Husband's Top Advisors

Karen Santorum has mostly kept herself behind the scenes in this campaign. She shies away from the public eye but in private, she is one of her husbands most trusted advisors. "She's very politically savvy," says former state Rep Al Salvi. "I know she is the first one to tell Rick that he has made a mistake." One of those times was when Santorum called President Obama a "snob" for encouraging people to go to college. Soon after he made that statement, she called to admonish her husband.

You might be surprised to learn that Mrs. Santorum is a nurse as well as a lawyer. Santorum's campaign would do well to highlight these facts more often if they wish to win the women's vote. Mrs. Santorum insists that he is no way anti-woman, despite some of the remarks he has made. “I am a registered nurse, a lawyer and an author of two books and when I was on my book tour he was home making meals, changing diapers, cleaning the kitchen. He’s been supportive of me and my career. They’re trying to make him look like something he’s not. He is completely supportive of women.” She went on to assure women that her husband has no plans to ban contraceptives.

Voters who worry that Santorum may ban abortion should not hold out hope his wife may soften him on this issue, however. Since the birth of her daughter Bella, who suffers from a genetic disorder, her pro-life stance has only been strengthened. “I just felt very strongly about faith and family and I … feel very strongly about life, the life issue,” she told CBS. “Now that we have a special-needs little girl, I … feel especially stronger about, you know, the dignity and value of every person from the moment of conception until death.” She also recalled the pain of losing a son who was born prematurely, which also contributed to her pro-life views.