Friday, December 28, 2012

Why I'm a Bad Feminist...

A writer friend said to be a good feminist you just have to love women and show it. Although she is a lesbian, she meant this in a platonic, political sense not in a literal one. And suddenly I realized, ah there's the rub, the defining problem, the friction between me and feminism. Do I love women? That seems like an overly broad question, very much like: Do I love children? or Do I love Jews or Muslims? Do I love African-Americans? Of course the answer to all these questions can only be, I love some of them, feel indifferent to most and despise a handful. It all depends.

When I first identified as a feminist and a lesbian, it was 1970. Women's style included big hair, high heels, an Mrs. degree and almost no job options. The question of breeding was big in a racial sense but in a reproductive sense having children was not viewed as whether or not, simply when. I found women attractive and, for the most part, fabulous. They/we were also more powerless then. I guess the romance of oppression held some validity for me. We had each other's backs, we were fighting for a big slice of what I had yet to recognize as a moldy pie.

I conveniently ignored the "moral majority" women who hated my very existence. I wrote the women who supported the Nazis, the pogroms, fascism in all its forms out of my exclusive distaff cadre. Did I love the wealthy women matrons or high-level managers or princesses who treated me like dirt? In theory, we were all one sisterhood, rising up together to build a new world. Beautiful as this sentiment may be, it was and is not realistic. The fact of a limited degree of shared oppression doth not a kindred soul make. Jews know this, we fight one another like cats and dogs. Thereby the expression, two Jews, three opinions.

Queers know this. When our movement was young, gay men thought nothing of not including lesbians in everything from books to classes to strategy meetings. It wasn't until the AIDS crisis in the eighties that gay men and lesbians came together to fight jointly for anything.

And, believe me, people from all other minority groups know this as well. The powers that be skillfully pit us against each like rats in a cage fighting for crumbs.

I love some individuals and not others. As a leftist politico, I love the ideal of a just and humane society where the basic needs of all are provided for. I love worker's protections and freedom from prejudice. Do I love all other leftists fighting for the same objective? Let's just say I respect our joint struggle as well as each individual's good intentions, if they seem to have them. The same goes for women. My love is not unconditional. I'm a demanding taskmaster, a loose canon, an unreliable narrator, a bad feminist.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guns & Mental Illness

Shooter Adam Lanza
Another mass school shooting by a deranged, well-heeled white adolescent, this time aimed at a younger group of students and everyone is up in arms, so to speak, at the gun laws which allow private citizens to purchase semi-automatic weapons like AK-47's without so much as a background check.

And they are right. The American gun addiction and romance with the second amendment is inexplicable and terrifying to a Jew like me who, as a youngster, never got near a forest let alone a hunting rifle. The other factor that has been ignored or underconsidered in these shootings is how alienation, bullying and mental illness sometimes unite to monstrous ends.

The mentally ill are and have been greatly neglected by our society. Releasing people to the streets on mind-numbing drugs that they have no motivation or desire to take is not an answer. Neither is warehousing drugged patients in understaffed facilities. We need to find other options because this problem is not going away anytime soon

When I worked on the reference desk at San Francisco Public Library, I saw and tried to help a lot of mentally ill people. Many were homeless or lived in SROs (single resident occupancy hotels, one step from the streets). Most of the problematic types admitted to being off their medication. Tourists from Europe would often comment on the pathetic state of affairs on the San Francisco streets. Can't anything more be done for them? was a question we librarians were repeatedly asked.

I don't have any pat answer. This is an issue that is finally beginning to shake our souls.But until we find a pill to correct the hormonal imbalance that produces schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders, we must find a more productive way to care for the most disturbed among us.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Will We Be Ruled Equal?

Well, the US Supreme Court be ruling on our rights again. I am deeply tired of worrying about my legal status in this country. I know that if I, or my partner of 14 years, should die unexpectedly we would be considered nothing more than strangers under the law. Huge taxes would be levied on the surviving partner, taxes from which married couples are exempt. Her family, from which she is estranged, could try to sweep in and grab up all her assets.

Not to formally become partners is our own decision but it is also the result of oppression. Opting for this "domestic partners" contract is a poor substitute for the protections marriage offers.It comes with a  sock-it-to-you bill tax preparers receive for making up two separate returns: one for the federal government and the other for the state. This unjust financial burden has not been one we have wanted to shoulder. My partner and I do not live together either so, although it's no problem for Bill and Hillary, domestic partners must share the same address.

It seems like a no-brainer to me, and to most LGBT folks, that, as citizens we are entitled to equal protection under the law. But what tune will the Supremes sing? They are also going to be issuing a decision on DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) which has prevented the partners of federal employees from recieving medical benefits of their legally married spouses in the states where same-gender marriage is legal. The range of decisions the court could arrive at are not necessarily all or nothing. They are everywhere along a continuum where the worst-case scenario is that marriage is not a fundamental right for gays and uphold DOMA or they could declare that marriage bans are unconstitutional, marriage is a federal civil right and should be universally applied. In between, and most likely, are a million shades of gray, worth reading about but better left to the lawyers to itemize.

But whatever happens next, I do believe that time is on our side. We are finally seeing a bit of the bend in that long arc of the moral universe. Transgenders and people of indeterminate gender identity already help speed the struggle for equal rights because as people transition from one gender to another, it becomes harder to determine the composition of couples desiring marriage anyway. Confusion is a good thing in this case and, ultimately, gender is none of anyone else's business unless they are planning to engage in physical intimacy. In that situation, hopefully, it can be privately discussed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Does Hollywood Help Divide the Working Class?

City Versus Country
I watched a movie last night called Breakdown. It was a 1997 film with a theme that was trotted out repeatedly throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties and still circulates today. The plot was a simple thriller about a couple's car breakdown and a wife who mysteriously disappears into the southwest desert cowboy country. The couple has Massachusetts license plates and a new truck. Even though they are deeply in debt and have all sorts of financial troubles, the "red-neck," cowboy types assume them to be rich, snotty, Yankees and display a deep-seated and furiously irrational hatred toward them.

This regional, cultural and trumped-up, different lifestyle hatred has been a staple of Hollywood and the mainstream media for decades now, pretty much since the debut of that pig-squealing masterwork called "Deliverance" where Atlanta city boys get their comeuppance from a bunch of inbred, hillbilly locals. The unspoken moral of both these films is to caution city folk to stay away from the struggling poor from rural areas unless you are willing to risk your life.

Merle Haggard's 1968 song, "Okie From Muskogee," takes up this same theme from the other side and even dives into some old fashioned homophobia and traditional family values. Find lyrics here.

The result continues as a long-standing "culture war" that has divided the working class and kept us from uniting around common interests and goals. There has always been a labor union movement that has, to some limited extent, transcended all this hype and, for a brief window in time, the Civil Rights struggle in the American South did so as well. But, for the most part, the extreme polarization of pseudo-classes, defined by region and lifestyle instead of financial status, has continued unabated until relatively recently.

It has only been the recent American uprisings of the 99% that have threatened this long standing tradition of divide and conquer. And that is why the repression of the movement that called itself Occupy was so immediate and brutal. Remission isn't necessarily death. The discontent and rage that boiled over once has not cooled. Perhaps it's just simmering until the right moment presents itself.