Sunday, September 30, 2007

culture, non-conformity, and mental disease

I like this quote from my anthropology book, The Tapestry of Culture:

"Not all those who violate the rules of a society are, by definition, mentally ill. Some are criminals; some are rebels; some are innovators."


In the cross-comparison of different cultures across space and time, it has become very clear that love is actually a social construction. Maybe one can argue the notion of parental "love" (maybe), but love as in falling/being in love is a constructed framework to understand a specific relationship with another person.

I am not trying to undermine the intensity or depth of people in "love"--I am just saying that I do not think love is inherent in the human experience. It's an invention (a great one), not a discovery.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ode to Dylan

I thought I would spend a moment thinking about my love--no, my obsession--with my little brother, Dylan. I don't really understand how our relationship progressed to such an extent where I find every aspect of him so spectacular that I am just beside myself with supreme delight over this kid. Maybe I am just bewildered by the brilliance, wit, and perceptions of a nine-year-old wonder child. It has come to the point where I actually prefer spending time with Dylan over most of my peers. In fact, I think Dylan has better insight than most people my age. Not to mention, this kid is fantastic--we have so much fun together. I find myself ransacking his homework just to see what he has to say, positively filled with glee at the composition of his thoughts, enchanted by his logic and complexity, and insanely in love with how fun he is to pester and play with. I can't think of many other people whose loose, bloody teeth I enjoy wiggling out.

Monday, September 24, 2007

the personal is political

Although this essay of mine fails to explicitly articulate my belief that there are no men and women (only bodies assigned particular identities by virtue of "nature"), it does explore my disbelief in the private/public split:

“Biological” differences have relegated women to the private sphere and men to the public. Fundamental to these assignments is a notion of distinction and polarity; each binary depends on validates the other. Thus, the private/public split has perpetuated a male/female split and created particular destinies for particular bodies. However, both liberal and radical feminism have since engaged the private/public split and, in doing so, reveal that the personal is political. If private life is a political luxury, then inherent differences between the private and public spheres are ambiguous, subjective and culturally relevant—likewise overturning constitutive differences between men and women that have propagated patriarchal orders throughout history.

Seemingly counter-intuitive to the aforementioned argument, liberal feminism considers the private sphere as something separate from the state. Despite variations in liberal feminist ideology, a fundamental concept throughout holds that “a just society allows individuals to exercise their autonomy and to fulfill themselves” (p 10, Tong). Although liberal feminism endorses private liberties, a virtuous society must “allow” this right, and therefore it is clear that the degree of personal freedom available depends on the political context. Liberal feminism also recognizes an intersection of private and public, and in terms of state intervention in family or domestic society, liberals agree that less is more: “the less we see of Big Brother in our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, recreation rooms and nurseries, the better,” (p 11, Tong). However, a closer look at the political agendas of liberal feminism reveals that Big Brother has been in the bedrooms and nurseries all along. By virtue of the fact that women were denied the right to vote and own property reflects the way in which attitudes and beliefs of women saturated the home and translated into law in the first place. Specifically in “democratic” governments, political actors are members of a home, and therefore political beliefs affect the organization of the private realm, and vice versa.

Although classical liberals favor a state which protects civil liberties and provides equal opportunity to a free market, welfare liberals idealize a state-focus on economic justice, because “individuals enter the market with differences based on initial advantage, inherent talent, and sheer luck,” (p11, Tong). While liberal feminism diverges into separate strains, welfare liberals recognize the interconnection between the private and public—and in the case of the economy, how the private realm can serve as a public advantage. Although liberal feminists do not deny a private/public split, the overlap between the two remains paramount, and boundaries are not necessarily distinguishable. The overlap can be analyzed from a theoretical perspective, and also from personal lens.

The life of Abigail Adams highlights the ambiguous boundaries of the private/public split. As wife to the second president, Adams’ personal life unfolded in an extremely political context. Touching on the public disenfranchisement of women in the private sphere, Adams comments, “Female education in the best of families went no further than writing and arithmetic; in some few instances, music and dancing,” (p 2, Schneir). While liberal feminists posit, “We all need places where we can, among family and friends, shed our public personae and become our ‘real’ selves,” (p 11, Tong), if a woman is playing piano in her free time, this seemingly recreational pastime is a political issue: who plays piano and why? Later in her life, Abigail Adams writes to her husband to be more “generous and favorable” to women in the new code of laws. It is significant to note that John Adams responded, “I cannot but laugh,” (p 4, Schneir)—demonstrating how his political stance does not waver in light of his wife’s plea, and its personal relevance. Whereas liberal feminism attacks women’s rights in the public (Abigail’s plea for new laws), radical feminism attacks male order at home (John Adam’s rejection and mockery).

Radical feminism reinforces the link between the public/private split, and in doing so, politicizes the home. Despite significant differences among branches of radical feminism, basic tenants include:

1. Women were historically the first oppressed group.

2. That women’s oppression is the most widespread, existing in virtually every known society.

3. Women’s oppression is the hardest form to eradicate and cannot be removed by other changes such as the abolition of class in society, (p 46, Tong).

Through these terms, the personal is political, in that the very organization of society is oppressive, and achieving equality involves an inordinate private and public overhaul. More so than liberal feminism, radical feminism highlights the ambiguous boundaries between men and women that mirror the ambiguous boundaries between the private and public. Radical-libertarian feminists typically advocate androgyny for women, while radical-cultural feminists reject this and instead emphasize “feminine” qualities. Both of these alternatives demonstrate the fluidity of male and female qualities, given the opposing resolutions by each branch of radical feminism. Perhaps the ambiguous boundaries between men and women are not well-supported if radical-libertarian feminists find gender malleable, and radical-cultural feminists find it a product of nature. However, “not all radical-cultural feminists believe male-female differences are rooted in nature. Some of them…think sex/gender flow not so much (if at all) from biology as from ‘socialization’ or ‘from the total history of existing as a woman in patriarchal society,” (p 48, Tong). Therefore, female behavior is can be seen as a long-term result of the private (and public) organization of women as inferior to men.

Unlike liberal feminism, radical feminism develops the idea of gender. Specifically, radical-libertarian feminists dismiss the connection between sex and gender. In other words, a woman is entitled to be masculine, and a male feminine, if one so chooses. This open approach to sex and gender rejects a rigid binary that perpetuates the passive female and the dominant male. If male and female qualities were unassigned, then power stratification would not regenerate men as the patriarchal heads throughout time. Abigail Adams, however, would not agree with this approach, as she finds men “naturally tyrannical,” (p 3, Schneir). However, liberal feminism is lacking in that it began the first wave of the women’s movement, and therefore was a primary theoretical framework. It is reasonable to assert that at this early stage of development, the affects of socialization were not yet realized and differences between men and women were considered still considered natural.

Despite Abigail Adams’ opinion on the natural state of the sexes, the work of liberal feminism still speaks to the inter-connection of the private and public sphere, and in doing so, the interconnection between men and women. As radical feminists further develop social factors of sex and the malleability of gender, absolute distinctions between male and female also become opaque. As binaries of men/women and private/public are complicated, broken, and perhaps even eradicated, it is clear that the personal is political. Although politics has allowed space for a private life, it is not clear that such a thing exists. If patriarchy is so engrained in society as to become invisible, then its affects are also unseen. Language, behavior, hobbies—a person’s entire private persona—is a socio-political product. Beyond sexism, current political ruckus such as the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act further confuse the boundaries between private and public, and emphasizes the fact that personal space is a political luxury that can be granted, and taken away. Although the extent to which private life exists can be argued, it is certain that their delineations are not as precise as Victorians would like them, thus overthrowing the patriarchal tenant that women belong in the home by virtue of their being women.

blogs are just so hot right now...

What doesn't have a blog these days?

Even Yale has jumped on the bandwagon with Student Perspectives: Thoughts on Life and Law at Yale Law School

Sunday, September 23, 2007


On the one hand, I want to ask "why the hell does exist?"

But maybe I should really be wondering why at 11:00 o'clock pm on a school night, I am rating excrement with my nine-year old brother?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The News Delirium: Bias is Not so Black and White

The News Delirium: Bias is Not so Black and White

I am not doubting that there is bias in the media, but even so, this is complicated by the fact that viewers project beliefs on the information they receive, and therefore different people perceive of the same source in different ways (this works along the lines of the study cited).

Also, even if one identifies as "liberal" or "conservative" and gathers news framed accordingly, this does not mean one can take one's thinking cap off. That is to say, if you are "liberal" and watch "liberal" news, you cannot just turn off critical thought and assume you are safe to just passively absorb.

This speaks to my belief that in perfectly subscribing to an ideology, it is assumed that an explicit set of solutions can be provided to a specific set of problems. If only life were that easily delineated...

Wherever you get your news, you have to ask questions and think for yourself...although it is still legitimate to consider certain sources more reliable than others.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fraternal polyandry and its implications on constructions of marriage and gender

I was digging in my archives and found a piece I wrote two years ago on fraternal polyandry (a wife marrying multiple brothers) in the Tibetan society of Nyinba. Although my writing skills are lagging a bit, I think it is powerful because it captures a different culture, but also because, in doing so, challenges American customs as being natural and/or logical.

I remember I took on the topic because I wanted to study an instance of women having sexual power over men, or regulating men in the way that men have historically regulated women. Well, don't be fooled--men still run the show in fraternal polyandry, but it is interesting to see how the terms change. I also took on this topic because I wanted to explore how gender is culturally negotiated across different peoples.

More significant is this idea that place matters. That is to say, geographic and political contexts shape our ways of life to such a degree that we do not notice them. This begs the question then, what is the American context in which ideas of sex, gender and marriage emerge?

It's a long read, but worth a skim:

The cultural phenomenon of fraternal polyandry demonstrates the flexibility of male and female relationships to adapt to specific environmental and economic circumstances. As multiple brothers share a common wife in the Nyinba society of Tibet, masculine and feminine roles evolve to accommodate a unique society rather than remaining stagnant notions based solely upon reproductive components. Thus, dual binaries of male/female and child/adult reveal gender in Nyinba is indeed a social construct rather than a biological template.

Unlike certain practices of polygamy, where a man enjoys multiple brides for sexual and recreational purposes, polyandry has become a distinctive cultural practice to best suit a difficult and limited agricultural situation. Brothers serve as the primary source of labor to sustain farmlands and herds. What is more, as brothers remain a single unit through marriage, family land is kept together, allowing the wealthy to retain large sums of land and preventing the poor from generational subdivisions. The practiced marital arrangement is unique because it accommodates the economic situation of a very specific region of Tibet and is not the result of a natural, physiological process. In this union, the eldest brother is the dominant force among co-husbands and is able to delegate work to the younger brothers. Thus, not all husbands share equality in the home and the central male position is a direct result of a hierarchal birth right. In this manner, cultural significance placed on the eldest child dictates the authoritative husband, not a physical quality or biological trait that would make one male more capable than the other.

Regardless of birth order, the presence of multiple husbands in the home serves to indicate the economic importance of the male role. Aside from agriculture and herding, Tibetan economy relies heavily on long-distance trade and networking. The presence of multiple adults and limited children is more economically efficient, as children are unable to take on hard labor while grown men can contribute significantly. In fact, an ideal polyandrous household will have three brothers, with the hope that each one will engage in agriculture, herding and trade. Thus, marriage is more of a financial investment. Agriculture and herding are lucrative economic endeavors due to the regional quality of the land, not because Tibetan men are genetically best-suited for this field. Though a strong body may handle manual labor with more efficiency, there are other physically-demanding occupational alternatives available. There is no biological component that forces the Nyinba male to herd or farm, only the power of personal choice to choose the most resourceful opportunity available. It is this necessity to engage in the agricultural labor pool that frames a family structure that is equally accommodating and subsequently, both culturally and regionally unique.

Multiple husbands are ideal, not just to create a larger pool of laborers, but to also create substitute husbands, so to speak. In response to the long periods of time that traders are absent in order to work, multiple husbands are able to fill in for one another at home. This particular arrangement of marriage has evolved to cycle and regulate the absence of husbands, stressing the emphasis on a constant paternal figure. In fact, the desire for a paternal role in fraternal polyandrous households is so strong that men partition their marriages and accept co-wives if they do not produce children. (Levine and Silk 377-379)

Children, just as husbands and wives, have evolved into gendered resources for economic survival and prosperity. Occurrences of infanticide and child mortality reflect prejudice between male and female offspring. Nyinba society holds a strong value on sons, yet considers daughters to be an economic and social burden. The gendered value placed on children does not result directly from biological differences, but is drawn from regional limits of what occupations are financially rewarding and who can most effectively handle that occupation. Due to limited resources, each member of the family is appraised based on current and future contributions to the household; individual interests are compromised for family interest. Therefore, sons, who are best suited for the labor-intensive agricultural field, combine work efforts and eventually support parents. Daughters, on the other hand, cost parents a dowry, marriage expenses, leave the home, and offer no future financial or domestic contributions. What is more, females are subject to shame family with excessive and immoral sexual practices, making daughters a cause for extreme concern. On the other hand, in households where there are no sons, the daughter becomes heiress, though eventually her husbands will take over her estate, indicating that Nyinba associates masculinity with successful leadership and control. However, the fact that a female can serve as heiress, even if she does not remain so, indicates that the position does not need a male, rather the culture prefers a male (Levine, Differential Child Care 281-282). Thus, the agricultural limitations in work variety place a region-specific value on males and females, precipitating a different cultural value and role for each of the sexes.

As children, sons represent the continuity and success of the family. For this reason, it is crucial for co-husbands to produce offspring, as the sons of each husband will share a single wife when the eldest son comes of age. Sharing a wife and sexual partner succeeds in boosting household income and does not strain the brotherhood, perhaps because co-husbands integrate their brotherly dedication into a marital commitment. However, it is desire for a stronger income that keeps brothers together, not fraternal love or instinctual urges. Co-husbands generally lose the competition and jealousy involved in sexual and marital partners because this arrangement is accepted as most successful. Co-husbands are not possessive over their wives and “the household programming of sexual intercourse is said, by those participating, to be no problem; elsewhere, plural husbands also arrange these matters amicably” (Mogey via Peter 95). Though members of the family choose to be cooperative, it is essentially necessary and in the best interest of survival. This behavior is financially rewarding, not biologically determined, and therefore implemented into the household.

Though it is the responsibility of the wife to please her husbands, emotional fulfillment through life-long partners is not stressed in this culture because it does not facilitate a communal living arrangement or economic survival. Cultural practices compliment functionality, not individual desire or emotions such as love. In the typical marriage, the eldest son picks the wife for all of the brothers. The wife is younger than the oldest brother, but older than the younger brothers. This lack of personal connection indicates the female role as child-bearer above all else. What is more, younger brothers, concerned that their wife is too old and consequently infertile, can partition the marriage. These younger husbands may leave or accept co-wives because they cannot fulfill their reproductive role and therefore cannot meet the cultural quota and regional arrangement. However, there have been cases where the wife will sexually ignore a brother whom she does not like in order to encourage that husband to leave the family. This is extremely rare, because the female role is to keep her husbands together in order to sustain a functioning family. (Levine and Silk 377)

Though a wife may occasionally succumb to temptation and ignore one of her husbands, in reality, she is powerless and, ironically, isolated in an over-populated home. “Tibetan women have considerable autonomy and are highly valued in their marital homes” (Levine, Differential Child Care 287). Actually, the women only have autonomy over domestic ventures so long as no additional wives have been accepted. Moreover, the wife is only valued for her reproductive capacity and her role in the home. The cultural value placed on a biological capability ascribes a woman to her role in society, not the capability itself. Men have the final word in household matters and hold all political positions within Nyinba. By limiting women to the domestic sphere, men are able to dominate the public realm; by constructing the feminine role as passive, men protect their own leadership. This often works against women. Co-husbands are brothers and thus have a common bond with one another, while women battle for limited resources and domestic influence amongst one another. As a result, women come to rely upon men and children within the house, isolating females from one another (Levine, Belief and Explanation 261). In this way, cultural reproduction serves to alienate women and create a dependence on husbands and children for legitimacy.

Though women use their husbands as allies, Nyinba witchcraft indicates hostility between wives and husbands as well. Examining Nyinba witchcraft reveals female frustration in gender roles. Witchcraft is associated with women, who use the household support beam and a husband’s head for a flying vehicle--symbolizing the very source of the witch’s unrest: confinement to the home and helplessness under male dominion. Witches commit violent acts against those they hate or envy and, typically, the first act of violence is committed against the husband(s). Anxiety related to the female gender role reveals how cultural constructions built for economic survival do not necessarily meet the personal needs of the people within households. This has systematic repercussions for certain positions within the family (Levine, Belief and Explanation 270).

The gender roles of men and women in Nyinba from infancy to adulthood have evolved to accommodate marital arrangements that allow the Nyinba to conquer the difficult terrain of a specific region. Brothers marry a single woman to control population growth in an environment of limited resources and to keep family land from being subdivided. Daughters serve as homemakers and reproductive vessels, bearing sons and, with reluctance, daughters to carry on the Nyinba society. Women become instruments of continuity and must sexually satisfy all husbands for the sake of the family unit. These roles therefore define notions of masculinity and femininity as best suited for geographical and economic survival and are therefore determined by environment—not biology. “When Polyandry has once been established as a tradition it will carry on because of its importance as a distinctive cultural trait” (Prince 91). Though sex determines whether an individual is male or female, it is the distinctive cultural traits that assign gender roles to a given people.

Levine, Nancy. “Belief and Explanation in Nyinba Women’s Witchcraft.” Man, New Series 17.2 (1982): 259-271.

Levine, Nancy. “Differential Child Care in Three Tibetan Communities: Beyond Son Preference.” Population and Development Review 13.2 (1987): 281-287.

Levine, Nancy and Silk, Joan. “Why Polyandry Fails.” Current Anthropology 38.3 (1997): 375-386.

Peter, Prince. “A Study of Polyandry.” Current Anthropology 6.1 (1965): 88-98.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

American Culture: I stand corrected

Many of my comrades have heard my usual lament: American culture consists of beer, BBQ, fireworks, and Hollywood.

Alas, my friends, I stand corrected--and now I have a little more pride in the red, white and blue.

(Note: this post does not deny the existence of really stupid aspects of American culture; it only alleviates distress by highlighting positive, pro-intellectual cultural frameworks)

Anthropologist Andrei Simic published a a great piece, Aging in the United States, Achieving New Understanding Through Foreign Eyes. In providing a cultural context for our devaluation of the elderly, Simic asserts, "...independence, self-determination, freedom of decision-making, and individuality are among some of the most widely enunciated and accepted transcendental values in contemporary American society...American children are indoctrinated at birth in the ideology of independence. A central element in this process is...that of privacy with its connotation of the right, pleasure and even necessity of being alone. Most significantly, occupational status has largely replaced kinship as the primary marker of social identity..."

Might I say, what a glorious set of beliefs. The article goes on to say that on the whole, other cultures share space, property and information within tightly-knit kinship groups, and status is based on family.

I am not trying to be a cultural elitist. But I find it problematic that one should be expected to share and create an identity in relation to an arbitrary set of people aka one's family. How is one expected to create an optimal self through forced suffocation with a random group that happens to be one's lineage?

The autonomous individual has the right to pursue the illusive feat of "self" through whatever means deemed worth trying...which can include close familial ties, but needn't necessarily.

Simic also explores the idea of marriage: "Among the most venerable and ubiquitous American images is that of a married couple joined together by intense bonds of communication, affection, and mutual sexual and spiritual love...Such a concept would appear alien, even indecent, in many other parts of the world."

(Well, I'm glad there are others who think this whole soul mate concept is bizarre)

Simic doesn't really engage the whole marriage bit and negotiate it with a idealized script of independence (do the two concepts coexist/why and how). But children are trained to leave the family, and they are also programmed to start their own. In this way, fulfillment is not actually achieved through a continuous state of independence, but through intentional entanglement with other people--known as life partner and children.

This does raise all sorts of fun questions: what is self, what is independence, what is autonomy, what is family. Don't get me wrong...I don't believe Americans are independent in the complete sense of the word (are you kidding? I don't even believe in free will). But it does make me warm and fuzzy inside that what I really want for myself, complete autonomy, is an American ideal. I am just so fucking patriotic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

animals, people, and the meaning of life

I was driving today, thinking how sad it would be if animals somehow achieved higher consciousness and realized they had no real purpose except fueling the life cycle.

And then I realized--that is exactly what happened to humans!

Would animals be like us and create all sorts of great concepts like love, religion and addiction to avoid reality?

one last thought on capitalism

I recently blogged on my changing opinions of capitalism, and my belief that certain reform can remedy the risks of worker/environmental exploitation. (I opened this discussion with the relationship of feminism and capitalism)

At this point, I would like to add one more log to the fire. I get pissed off discussing how horrible capitalism is, because such discussions posit me (and you) as a fucking idiots.

You know the whole song and dance--capitalism is based on consumerism, and so we are just buying, buying, buying. Hence the term mindless consumer. Everything is full of ads, and we just gobble it up!

If you lack the self-awareness to understand why you want a particular product, to differentiate between what is reasonable for yourself and what is not, or unknowingly use a continuous stream of purchases to buy your own confidence or to distract yourself from whatever troubling existence you may have, YOU, MY FRIEND, NEED TO SIT UNDER A TREE AND THINK ABOUT YOUR LIFE.

If capitalism is profiting off the fact that many people are out of touch, then I would suggest the concern should be to get people in touch with themselves, their lives, and their actual desires.

We haven't banned religion because people buy into it by the truckloads because they can't handle life.

If we are so stupid that we just buy, buy, buy...I wouldn't say close every store in sight. I would say start teaching something. And don't say quality education that includes critical thinking and analytical tools is too unrealistic--because it is not any more unlikely than changing our mode of production.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

politics, the blogosphere, and the public forum

The implications of technology and advanced forms of communication are explosive, creating innovative opportunities for advertising and product placement, increased accessibility of news coverage, a comprehensive circulation of scholarly materials, an open forum of the public intellectual, and an unlimited potential for political networking and exchange.

It is on the crest of this technological revolution that presidential campaigning and debate must take place. We have seen this already in the youtube debates, presidential myspace accounts, facebook fundraising, the online Logo forum, and right here in the blogosphere.

I will particularly highlight the blogosphere, as it has grown into its own self-sustaining life force, filled with spectrum of viewpoints and credentials.

In fact, "the blogosphere is big and its readers spend more time and money online than Web users who don't read them. Fifty million Americans, or 30 percent of all American Internet users, visited a blog in the first quarter of 2005...Traffic increased by 45 percent from the first quarter of 2004. The average blog reader viewed 77 percent more pages than the average Internet user who doesn't read blogs (16,000 versus 9,000 for the quarter), the report found. Blog readers average 23 hours online per week, compared with the overall Web user's average of 13 hours. Blog readers are 11 percent more likely than the average Internet user to have incomes of or greater than $75,000" (ClickZ).

In politics, where (minimally) half of a career is spent trying to stay in office, the blogosphere must be front and center in campaign discussion and strategy--because it would be plain stupid otherwise. Because for better or worse, technology is shaping the political landscape.

The extent to which politicians utilize the Internet and technology as tools of change and to reach out to constituents speaks to the savvy of candidates themselves.

To demonstrate this point, I refer to, which was re-purchased by a civilian after the Edwards team failed to renew the website.

I am not sure which is more powerful: the fact that a viable presidential candidate flat out over-looked something as critical as the Internet--or the fact that public intellectuals can use the Internet as another medium through which to hold candidates accountable.

The site now reads, "I will exercise my right to free speech by sharing my opinions about John Edwards."

In its latest post, refutes a comment that it "stole" the site from John Edwards, explaining "Individuals get to keep their domain names forever, as long as they pay about ten dollars per year to renew the registration. John Edwards did not renew "" so I bought it in a public auction."

The post ends, declaring that "Neglecting control of "" is a major blunder that represents complete ignorance of the Internet. This will go down in history as being at least as stupid as when Senator Stevens said that the Internet "is a series of tubes.""

Only in a world where the Internet is paramount can its negligence be considered a legitimate claim to poor candidacy. I argue that we live in such a world, and accordingly, candidates need to get with it, or go home.

Doctrine of the separate spheres: an elaboration

I a recent post, I claimed:

If the personal is political, then there is no private/public split. And if there is no private/public distinction, there are no men and women.

Much to my delight, a reader asked me to elaborate--and since my comment became quite intense and lengthy, I thought I'd make a reponse post:

The historical division of the sexes has been predicated on (and justified by) this notion of the separate spheres, specifically the private/public split. The opposite but complimentary nature of men and women parallels the opposite but complimentary elements of home and office. In this view, both binaries are mutually dependent on one another.

Radical feminism (I want to say in the 1960's) coined an extremely poignant catchphrase, "the personal is political." This therefore implied that the home and outside worlds were not separate entities, and that each actually shaped the other. This is evident in every aspect of life, and throughout time. Tribal peoples gained allies and security through kinships, which is why exchanging women in a gift economy was crucial to survival—and thus political needs shaped sexual economies and made women objects, operating within a heterosexual framework.

The same can be said in ancient Greece, where views of women as inferior, coupled with glorifications of the male, set the scene for culturally sanctioned same-sex relations among men.

How you dress, who you sleep with, who you are, how you view yourself...these are all things that are shaped by the socio-politics of the time...and culture is indeed a political product. Consider the way in which bi-racial marriages were illegal, gay marriage is illegal...I think sodomy is still illegal in some states. Even your sexual positions are political.

Whatever aspect of your life is most private, it is indeed a political affair. Some areas that were once considered private move readily into the public.

Example: spanking children. Once considered the personal affair of parents, it is now being debated on the public forum.

This idea is also highlighted with the Patriot Act, which finds the private so crucial to the public that illegal surveillance can now monitors personal exchanges for national security.

Presidential candidates will tell you the personal is political. Why else would it matter if you have a wife, what religion you are, what is your racial composition, how many divorces you have?

In the beginning, I claimed that the binaries of man/women and private/public depend on one another. If you accept that the personal is political, than the binary of private/public is shat upon.

Then the basis of men in opposition to woman has no justification, has no compliment--it no longer has a foundation. It, like the doctrine of the separate spheres, is a form of propaganda (maybe even subconscious) that withholds power from the masses, who fail to realize the political charge in all facets of life, and who fail to take ownership in realizing its implications and potential.

When I say there are no men and women, I refer not to anatomical distinctions (which there is much debate whether there are only two sexes...check out Lessons from the Intersexed, by Kessler)...I mean there are no men and women in terms of two groups with inherent distinctions and innate characteristics. I claim that humans are born and sifted through the political institutions of male and female.

Their distinction, like the private/public split, is a false interpretation, or invention of sorts (much like phrenology), that serves to substantiate infinite power arrangements that make up our society, and to uphold the dehumanizing tenants of compulsory heterosexuality.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

feminist therapy...who knew?

Background: It became obvious to me that my previous therapist was projecting social/female expectations on me in a way that I felt (wrongly) challenged my emotional health.

Example: In describing some other pertinent matter, I referenced my belief that I am inherently a lone wanderer of sorts and have no desire to marry whatsoever.

But WHOA WHOA WHOA. Apparently this is a BFD and we had to halt previous discussion and hash out what the fuck is wrong with me that I just don't see eternal happiness with Prince Charming beckoning me towards soul mate-hood (of course the actual exchange was not so explicit...but the overall message was the same).

It was at this point I realized that my doctor had his head too far up his ass to engage me in any profound or thought-provoking manner...or to even come close to challenging my thoughts about myself and the world.

Fast forward a few months later: I had this grand epiphany (a few days ago) and was able to identify an over-arching theme among many issues consuming my mental energy and affecting my daily life. Suddenly, what I really need to explore became clear to me (contrary to my usual style, I will actually keep this revelation to myself--when I finally work out the kinks, it will be a very dynamic post).

Sparing the details, the theme I uncovered is undoubtedly gender-related; however, given my previous experience, I am not so convinced that an institution historically predicated on diagnoses of mental distress and psychoses catered to heteronormative behavior can shed light on anything I find interesting about myself.

Anyhow, one thing lead to another...and I found feminist therapy. Now, a few posts ago, I declared that I am not a feminist, but advocate values considered feminist--and I still stand by that. Even so, dealing with any gender-related issues demands an operating knowledge of fe/male constructions and social manure.

It was found by women who had become aware of the pressures of patriarchy, sexism and male chauvinism that therapy and counselling were not exempt from these pressures. They discovered that they were put down in a number of subtle ways, and that all sorts of expectations about the female role and how it should be played were built in to the therapy process. So they started to set up their own therapy centres and their own network of therapists. In this way a feminist therapy started to come into being (A Guide to Humanistic Psychology).

In feminist therapy, the idea is NOT about blaming males for the problems of women. There is nothing helpful in doing this. The goal is to help both men and women learn about and explore the impact that systemic sexism...(Feminist Therapy) that I am reading about this as I link, I have developed one area of concern: I am thoroughly well-read and knowledgeable on various theories of feminism and gender roles. What I DO NOT need is some one to explain to me that the a-b-c's of women and social constructions...I am way beyond that. In fact, I think the deep analysis that I am currently going through in all of my spare time and time I should be doing other things is scholarly material.

Well, this will be exciting! I will keep The Colonic posted (no pun intended) on what the hell happens to me throughout this experience. No doubt it will be entertaining, even if it isn't helpful.

I will conclude this post with my feelings on therapy in general. My mother once told me that "Therapists are like shoes--you have to try on a lot to get a good pair."

I completely agree. But more importantly, psychiatrists and psychologists, despite their credentials, are people with problems and opinions and can very well be dumb and way off-point. They can also be helpful and life-saving...but it's important to remember that there is no god, and if there were, s/he is not speaking through your therapist.

Friday, September 14, 2007

doctrine of the separate spheres

If the personal is political, then there is no private/public split.

And if there is no private/public distinction, there are no men and women.

good morning, sunshine

I am putting this up for discussion, because the whole thing seems strange to me:

I use my cell phone as a back-up alarm clock, but the feature is tied to my phone schedule--so to set an alarm I write a little something-something in the time slot.

And the funny thing is, every time I write "wake up, skank."

For the life of me, I have no idea why I call myself skank every morning in my alarm. I don't think I'm a skank...I don't believe in these imaginary social categories...

Clearly, the river runs a little deeper than a minor dose of self-denigration. It's almost as if I think this is funny and also more commanding and therefore stresses the urgency of getting up.

Also, "go to the gym, bitch" has an occasional cameo on my cell schedule.

Now that I am writing this...I guess it really is self-denigration to bully myself into doing something in a way that I think is perversely funny.

I only write about these seemingly trivial and spasticated nuances in the life of Vanessa because I love to explore the nooks and crannies of the topsyturvy experience of being raised female (and I don't mind being up for dissection).

On the whole, what I am talking about is different from, but still related to, the typical scenario wherein women call girlfriends all sorts of fun names.

Example: "Monika, you're such a ho--just come with me!"

I am going to challenge myself to not say ho, skank, bitch or cunt for an entire day. (Ideally I would suspend usage for a lifetime...but I would much rather take it day by day and digest the experience to cultivate an understanding and cemented desire of my opposition--instead of the tyrannical prohibition of my own right to free speech in the hollow name of its implications)

The Two Words That Can Bring Our Troops Home

What a great article.

The concept of framing an argument is abstract, but once listeners understand the way messages are strategically wrapped to ding all the right bells, the audience gains more power and strengthens the critical ear.

Near its conclusion, the linked article calls attention to a great quote by Joe Biden (from an interview with Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews after the Bush speech):

"The last time I was with the President, I made the following point. "Mr. President,if the Lord Almighty came down, ssat [sic] on this conference table...if he sat on this conference table and said,'Mr. President, every Jihadi member in the worled [sic] is dead,'--Mr. President, you still have a massive civil war on your hand engaging over 100,000 American forces. And they're dying at a pretty clip rate."

In case you missed Bush's hoopla (or just can't get enough)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Russian Sex Day!

Sergei Morozov, governor of the Ulyanovsk region in Russia, is telling couples to go home and get it on. Even better--he's offering prizes to families who pop one out nine months from now (on June 12, Russia's national day), ranging from SUVs to actual money for multiple children.

"Demographers estimate that Russia could lose 40 million people - almost a third of its current population - by the middle of the century.

A combination of falling birth rates, emigration and an ailing healthcare system has led to the decline."

Admittedly, the idea of a national sex day is intriguing...but I am nonetheless grossed out by intentional population booms...and even worse, incentivizing the creation of human beings with money.

I am much more in favor of a national adoption day in Russia.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

whoops, McConnell's bad

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell just had a brain fart when he told Congress that America helped crack down on a German terrorist attack thanks to the broadened surveillance powers of the Protect America Act.

"Information contributing to the recent arrests was not collected under authorities provided by the Protect America Act," National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said in a statement issued Wednesday.
McConnell had told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Monday that powers granted by the new law helped stop the planned attacks. (
International Herald Tribune)

"The temporary measure, signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 5, gave the U.S. intelligence community broad new powers to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications overseas without seeking warrants from the surveillance court." But McConnell's statement did not make sense "since it seemed to contradict public statements by American and German officials about how the plot was exposed. About 10 months ago—long before the new law was put into effect—guards at a U.S. military base near Frankfurt noted a suspicious individual conducting surveillance outside the facility. U.S. military officials tipped off German authorities, who quickly identified the individual and several accomplices as militants affiliated with the Islamic Jihad Union, a violent Al Qaeda-linked group." (Newsweek)

What's worse: the fact that our Director of National Intelligence cannot properly engage a yes-or-no issue...or that he was dumb (or bullied enough) to make a lie that does not make chronological sense?

Songs for Darfur (Los Angeles)

Songs for Darfur is a day of music, art, and dance dedicated to Darfur and organized by the Greater Los Angeles Save Darfur Coalition.

When: Saturday, September 15, 10am - 5pm
Where: Topanga Community House Fairgrounds
1440 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290

Featured performers include:
Rocky Dawuni
MC Rai
Thong Jieng
Masanga Marimba Ensemble
Jahmark and the Soulshakers
Yeh Dede
Suzanne Teng
Jeremy Sole's Musaics

Tickets are $15 and all funds raised go toward aid efforts for survivors of the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

Monday, September 10, 2007 additives

I have always been of the opinion that if your food is an unnatural shade of neon, or if you do not understand the seemingly scientific-sounding ingredients--don't eat it. I am not surprised that food additives and coloring are linked to hyperactivity and lack-of-concentration, especially in children.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Feminism & Capitalism

Again, a common theme throughout many (but not all) feminist works is the call for an eradication of capitalism.

OTHER THAN a sex-based division of labor which forces women into the home to reproduce the laborer, I do not see capitalism as being particularly anti-feminist. That is to say, if women and men participated equally in the workforce (and clearly were encultured to have professional aspirations), capitalism does not disadvantage women. Actually, I am re-thinking my feelings on capitalism altogether.

Here's the thing: the problem with capitalism is not necessarily that money is the ultimate goal--the issue is that consumers just pour money into anything.

I will elaborate. The end goal of creating profit is not inherently problematic because money is a medium of exchange for other goods and services that are essential to living. Transitively, money can represent the same thing that it affords. Therefore, X amount of dollars equals roof, clothes, food, et cetera.

So if the problem is not accumulating profit, what is it? It is accumulating profit at the expense of, say, workers and the environment. And this is where I will say THE REAL PROBLEM is that consumers view a purchase solely as a product-based transaction, instead of seeing the reality: when I buy something, I not only receive a product, I finance a series of processes that create an operating business.

So if those processes are creating dangers in the workplace, violating human rights, or ejaculating toxins into the water, the fact that a consumer is blindly supporting such things is the problem.

Even if our economic model was called treeism and businesses competed to plant more trees instead of make more money, it would still be destructive if the most trees were being planted by a company that exploited the most workers. CONSUMERS WOULD STILL HAVE TO VOTE WITH THEIR DOLLARS. In the way that restaurants have ratings based on cleanliness, so too should businesses be graded on adherence to human rights and environmental standards.

I am not convinced that if we went back to the barter system and I took some persian tea leaves to get a loaf of bread that the bakery wouldn't try to get as much of my exotic persian elixir as possible.


Humanism and/or/versus Feminism

Feminist works are varying and many are quite ideologically opposed--but what most have in common is a central call for women to unite (as a class).

Women call for an end to oppression and sex-segregation by pointing out that there are no intrinsic differences between women and men that could substantiate female exclusion. SUMMARY: we should not differentiate based on sex.

I just want to point out the irony that in order to refute sex-based differentiations, women are supposed to unite as women, thereby affirming their distinction as women.

Initially it sounds weird--I do not relate to any woman by virtue of her vagina, just as I do not relate to any male by virtue of his penis; my connections with people transcend their biology. So it actually bothered me that I am somehow supposed to unite with women as a class, differentiate myself as a woman, just to say, "Hey there, Bucko--I'm a human being, because being a woman doesn't make me different!"

I then thought of a more humanist approach, which dismisses distinctions based on sex/gender, and instead emphasis ideas of rationality, ethics, et cetera, et cetera.

Yet as I continued to digest the issue, I realize that what I have in common with all other women is the experience of being oppressed as a woman, and therefore this serves as a logical rallying point to end that oppression.

EVEN SO, if the notion of human beings is ever to override the notion of two sexes, this cannot be done through the union of women alone, although women benefit more than men in being proactive in this endeavor (but men still benefit...not to mention those who do not identify as male or female to begin with).

If women's rights is contructed as a women's issue, it will NEVER make it. The struggle must be re-framed as a human rights issue.

AS A HUMAN, I have the right to actualize myself as an individual.

AS A HUMAN, I have the right to understand that my opportunities are limitless.

AS A HUMAN, I have the right to achieve fulfillment through education, exploration, and experience.

AS A HUMAN, I have the right to be encouraged in professional endeavors.

AS A HUMAN, I should procreate when I am comfortable with myself as an individual.

AS A HUMAN, I have the right to understand myself as an individual, and not through my relationship to another.

AS A HUMAN, I have the right to be independent and self-sustaining.

AS A HUMAN, I am worth more than what I look like.

Friday, September 7, 2007

really, parts of the Patriot Act found unconstitutional?

The FBI was ordered yesterday to stop its use of warrentless tactics to snatch personal data (telephone convos, emails) from private companies for counter-terrorism purposes.

"The risk of investing the FBI with unchecked discretion to restrict such speech is that government agents, based on their own self-certification, may limit speech that does not pose a significant threat to national security or other compelling government interest," explains U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York.

Marrero sang the same song in 2004, however congressional legislation passed in 2005 to remedy these concerns elicited the same response from Marrero yesterday: "several aspects . . . violate the First Amendment and the principle of separation of powers."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Happy One-Hundredth, The Colonic!

Happy One-Hundredth Post!

I know it seems but yesterday The Colonic graced the blogosphere--but one-hundred posts later, there is no doubt that The Colonic has reached puberty, and I cannot help but stand proudly, much like a parent at a bat mitzvah.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, I would first like to thank my loyal readers. Aside from the instant gratification of unleashing my opinions into cyberspace, you remain a strong motivation. Big ups to Dr. Mack, who certainly encourages the growth of public intellectuals.

I believe I have shared my strong convictions to never biologically reproduce, but I cannot express my love for my mental offspring--my blog posts.

Now that I have done my song and dance, I would like to introduce the newest feature of The Colonic: a menu featuring my favorite posts (one of the perks of non-living children is picking favorites).

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Mainstream Jewish-Iranian Dating Culture in Los Angeles

The second-generation, Jewish-Iranian community of Los Angeles, concentrated heavily in the San Fernando Valley and the West Side, serves as the cross-sector of customary Persian tradition and Western influence. The weight of future marriage eligibility, stringent and theological moral codes, as well as double-standards among sons and daughters, pushes deviant behavior into the shadows of secrecy, while simultaneously creating a contradictory modern sub-culture of dating rituals. This analysis considers dominant Jewish-Iranian culture, and therefore does not consider minority variation and individual agency, although both exist.

Influenced by the marital system of Iran, Iranian-Jewish family members seek out prospective suitors for sons and daughters. Families seek to match children with families of equal or greater monetary wealth and reputation among the community, creating a mini-kinship, or “system of categories and statuses” amid Los Angeles, (p 34, Traffic in Women). Lower economic status can be justified if the son is being professionally groomed for success in, for example, medical school. Thus, a society of whispers, hear-say and superficial observation serves to keep members well-informed of each others’ social standing and eligibility. Additionally, this explicit gossip network serves to regulate the younger generation, as sons and daughters monitor and adjust themselves to make the appropriate appearance for respective families.

On the whole, the process of engagement and matrimony creates a modernized version of Rubin’s gift economy. A beautiful daughter in good standing with refined social graces can allure a suitor of greater status. Though traditional Iran explicitly exchanged women as gifts, second-generation daughters are exchanged implicitly—a daughter is not forced into an arranged marriage, rather she has free choice among acceptable options, giving her the illusion of free choice altogether. Although second-generation females do go to college and graduate school, marriage and motherhood are still primary goals. Thus, daughters are potential prizes for families, who garner social status for every eligible daughter and for every lucrative marriage. The demands of marriage eligibility also enforce a stringent and theological moral code based on Rubin’s notion of sex negativity, declaring sex in and of itself as sinful unless performed in marriage. In line with Rubin’s assertion, “Family plays an important role in enforcing sexual conformity,” (p 22, Thinking Sex). The qualifications of moral eligibility, however, need not include heterosexual, as does Rubin’s charmed circle--homosexuality remains repressed and is considered abnormal and unnatural, in accordance with the bottom of Ruben’s sexual hierarchy. The importance of status and the intolerance of deviance silences homosexuality among the mainstream circle of Jewish-Iranians.

At the same time, the double-standard among males and females and the impact of American assimilation creates the pre-text for modern dating among the second-generation youth as a contradictory sub-culture of obedience and rebellion. While daughters are prohibited from early dating and sexual experimentation, boys are encouraged as they are understood to have an untamable sex drive which overrides the previous religious dogma that straps the figurative chastity belt on girls and female adolescents. In addition, while Rubin’s charmed circle of acceptable sex includes “monogamous,” alongside marriage and heterosexuality, the Jewish-Iranian community of Los Angeles turns a blind (or na├»ve) eye to husband infidelity—while unfaithful wives, like homosexuals, do not exist as alternatives. It is unclear whether this will largely change in the second-generation.

For teenagers, the Iranian grape-vine enforces regulated public behavior. Although parentally-condoned dating is pervasively off-limits to girls, the social aspect of traditional Iranian culture largely involves extravagant parties, loud music, sexually suggestive Arabic dancing, alcohol consumption and late-hours. This custom warrants a parallel and accepted party-scene for teenagers, providing girls the opportunity of taboo dating, revealing clothing, and a sexually charged atmosphere that directly contradicts previous notions of propriety. During earlier teenage years, these parties are chaperoned by parents, who allow behavior to take place, but often circulate whose daughter did what. Teenage girls know very well not to hold hands, dance too closely, or kiss boys while parents make rounds.

The strategic and secretive interaction and dating among Jewish-Iranian girls includes a set of “common sense” rules. A teenage girl should never be alone with a boy, or be the only girl in the company of multiple boys—this is suspicious behavior and an indicator of inappropriate and likely sexual conduct. There is a small minority of girls who disregard certain or all sexual and social regulations and risk the consequence. Many girls uphold the virginal values of the sexual hierarchy, but worry that being seen with a boy, public affection, or having a boyfriend can be misconstrued as indications of genital-contact, even if the relationship does not. Indeed, reputation relies on perception, not reality. Therefore, the aim to be sexually proper is actually an aim to seem sexually proper—therefore contradicting the foundation for morals themselves. The risks of appearance in public with boys diminishes with age, as the college years become an acceptable time for girls to initiate dating, and essentially marriage preparation.

Jewish-Iranian girls are well aware that relationships should be kept sexually immature to ensure safety. Teens, like parents, report behavior to one another, and while dating is acceptable in the youthful sub-culture, sexual behavior still damages the reputation of girls. Many times, even close friends and boyfriends divulge a sexual history that can harm future marriage eligibility and reputation of the girl. Dating non-Jewish or non-Iranian boys has both pros and cons—boys outside the community and sub-culture cannot circulate personal information. At the same time, dating someone black, Hispanic or Muslim violates racist notions of who is eligible for dating, and ultimately marriage. Males can appear and act however with whomever, with the silent understanding that bride choice will be appropriate. Females do not protest against this inequality, recognize that they are groomed and policed as gifts, or realize that their regulation serves to shape the boundaries of the community—girls and women largely believe it is they who ultimately benefit by behaving “correctly” and ultimately finding an ideal (and rich) partner. This is furthered instilled by beliefs that marriage and children give a woman happiness—not self-exploration and experience.

Although the second-generation simultaneously rebels with and polices one another, assimilation is taking a definitive toll on the ideal dating, marriage and sexual regulations of traditional Judeo-Iranian culture. Consequently, divorce rates and career-focused (rather than family-focused) females are growing. Additionally, sexuality has become more acceptable in long-term relationships, and there are more cohorts of sexually-active girls and female adolescents. Second-generation males and females are rebelling more with marriage among non-Iranians and sometimes even non-Jews, despite frequent parental disapproval or family upheaval. Thus, the immigration of traditional customs, largely chauvinist and hypocritical, remain both largely preserved but also challenged in the second-generation.


I thought I would take a moment to spread my new love of kombucha--a handmade Chinese tea that is cultured for 30 days, harvesting all sorts of active enzymes, probiotics, amino acids and antioxidants.

I am currently sprung on the Synergy kombucha, which is generally available in the raw foods section of Whole Foods. If you like things that taste bad in a good way, go for original. If you only drink nummy flavors, Divine Grape will change your life.

Allegedly, kombucha supports digestion, immune system, liver function, cell integrity as well as skin and I decided to do a little background research.

This site was very well-rounded, addressing the alleged health benefits, but also confronting the fact that this magical tea has been hailed as an elixir of life for centuries because, during those times, most people did not have appropriate diets. The implications are likely much more limited now that generally people have access to the good stuff, and whoever the fuck is drinking kombucha in the first place is probably more health-savvy.

It also addresses the two deaths potentially linked to over-consumption of kombucha, and clarifies:

There is probably no food that is safe for everybody! The Kombucha tea beverage can be a delightful, healthful food for many and a low grade poison for others. Remember the ancient but very valid observation of Lucretus, "ONE MAN’S MEAT IS ANOTHER MAN’S POISON."

Kombucha tea, if taken in excess, like any substance, can be harmful. For most adults, about four ounces of Kombucha tea twice or three times a day is probably the maximum amount of the tea that should be ingested. To go much beyond this amount one runs the risk of the reverse effect. (See the outstanding book THE REVERSE EFFECT written by NOHA member Walter Heiby [link]). It is extremely important to emphasize that excessive amounts can indeed be hazardous over a period of time. Many people erroneously assume that if a little is good, more is better. They, and anyone who works with nutrition, would be well advised to read the above book which has 4,281 scientific references showing the reverse effect of dosage of the various nutrients. really is great. Just don't drink too much (because it is tempting)