Cultural Superiority and Issues of Rape

I’ve been following the story unfold in India regarding the Delhi gang rape. The more I read, the more I am appalled.

But for now I don’t want to talk about the specificities of the case. What I want to discuss is how these incidents are appearing in American media. In an incident that appears to be so black and white, so good vs. evil, we as a Western culture have taken liberties in criticizing Indian culture without taking it one step further, in reflecting on the rape culture here at home. Of course, we should criticize this incident. We should be upset. But we should not presume a kind of colonial superiority, however unintentional this presumption may be. In fact, the “unintentional” is what frightens me most about this kind of editorial coverage.

A lot of people I know have difficulty seeing rape culture in our society. They don’t deny that there are faults within the system, but they also cannot identify how it affects their daily life and the life of those around them. I believe the men in my life who say they do not understand the purpose of a feminist movement anymore. These are not misogynists or idiots; they are friends and people I love. These are people whose opinions matter to me. But what I also believe is that if they understood the insidious ways gender inequality and social constructions have been established in American society, that they would no longer passively support them. I believe these issues would not be viewed with such cultural opacity the way it is often done now. I believe they would call themselves feminists.

Rape and sexual oppression are not issues that were ordained by God. If we are willing to label other cultures’ gender relations as morally wrong and separate from our own, than a country’s gender relations are not inherent. And that means the way we do things at home, as well as abroad, can be changed. Gender inequality has fallen under the umbrella of “culture”, a big, foggy word that often shifts our perception to one of concepts instead of something tangible to be dealt with proactively. But as any historian would tell you, it is possible for immense and drastic change among gender policies and cultural attitudes. This should make us hopeful. While we scrutinize Indian culture and advocate for positive changes abroad, we should take the opportunity to implement the same strategy here while these issues are in the national dialogue, and criticize.

Here are some things I’ve been reading:

Experiencing Sandy in Upper and Lower Manhattan: Two Perspectives of Crisis

It’s odd when you find yourself living through a historical moment. Being in New York and experiencing Hurricane Sandy this past week, I felt deeply aware of a consciousness foreshadowed — of knowing this was a “where were you the day of?“ moment, knowing this was happening., this was important. It added an undercurrent of anxious tugging, as there was a very human need to make holistic sense of what was happening. There was a need to get your head wrapped around the thing before the thing had even passed. And that was silly. The overly-cognizant, almost lofty analytical element to it. Philosophies and the future tense are a luxury when you’re watching homes in Staten Island being swallowed up into the ocean. It’s like an animal alert in the thick of a ticker tape parade.

I spent Sandy partially in Upper Manhattan and partially in Lower Manhattan. Because of these two different experiences, during the storm and week that followed, I felt that all of my feelings were important to note, all of the news was important, all of my observations were vital for recording — and at the same time everything was overwrought and ridiculous. I could not see one more newscaster in rain boots at the scene, on the job, we’ve got you covered!, news at 1, new on-the-dot, our reporter’s dared to walk further underwater than the other channel’s reporter, every minute you’ve got power we’re on you’re power. If you were uptown, your head was reeling from this media influx. And of course, if you were downtown, you were at the central nerve of it all.

We return to our humanness very quickly in times of crisis. Once you and the people you love are safe, the rest is just stuff or an inconvenience. And then you turn to those who were not as fortunate as you were, and do your best to help.

I live in the East Village, far enough east to be Alphabet City, decidedly in Zone A. I was lucky enough to spend the worst of Sandy on the Upper East Side, with family, power, and even a working gym in the building. But I came back to my apartment as soon as I was able to get to it, through a very, very long bus ride downtown. I came back to get more clothing, to throw out the contents of our fridge, and really, to see the state of my apartment and my neighborhood.  I made arrangements with a friend who had a car to pick me up around 10pm that night, essentially rescuing the East Village vagabond I had just become. I quickly found out that our building reeked of sewage and that we had not left any flashlights behind. My only option was to head outside until 10. That was how I came to spend several hours on the streets of the East Village, before returning to power once again.

I want to write at some point more about my specific experiences in my neighborhood.  But that is for another time. For now I want to give a rounder summation of the whole as best as I can.

What I took from my experience of upper and lower Manhattan, of power and powerlessness (literally and figuratively), was a crisis that cast two distinctly human perspectives. People with power knew so much about the storm, they’d learned the basic science behind northeasterly wind patterns and surges, they’d considered if our society was too dependent on technology, they’d talked about Romney and Obama, they’d read all about the problems with the subway lines and when they could possibly be running again. That was my experience. But when I got off the bus at 14th Street, everything was closed and everything was dead. Downtown Manhattan had no clue what was going on. They had no idea about the subway system, they just wanted to take a shower or make one phone call or find water.

In Upper Manhattan, we considered the macro perspective of a storm and its outcomes, while Downtown Manhattan dealt with the intensely personal micro level concerns. Downtowners cared about their makeshift sidewalk communities, what they could do just to stay warm for the day, just to charge a phone, or if anyone nearby wanted to make some conversation to pass the time. It felt very strange to me, having spent a few hours in this situation with my neighbors, to then leave and adapt instantly to life again with electricity. When I was picked up from the East Village and arrived at my friend’s apartment, we cooked dinner, listened to music, and even had time to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. The feeling was something like awe. How quickly we can adapt to our comforts! And it was something like guilt, for why do some have such comforts in life when others do not. Experiencing Sandy for a day in Upper Manhattan and a day in Lower Manhattan was such a stark contrast. I am still trying to reconcile the two experiences in a way that becomes understandable to me.

I do not want to make some grand statement about income disparity or class. And I certainly do not want to imply that a macro or micro perspective should be pitted against one other in some moralistic scale of better or worse. What I want to iterate is that in my individual experience with this storm, what stood out to me was the empathy and outpouring of help. And the experiences of Upper and Lower Manhattan, while different, were something that united everyone.

And that’s the thing about New York. We have a reputation as a rough place, with vast economic disparities and a melting pot of ethnicities. And yet, everyone in this nutjob city manages to come together somehow. New York has singularly faced some of our greatest national tragedies. And when you take a city with a history of such violence and a reputation for such crudeness, it is amazing to see what happens here when societal sugars are boiled away and you are left with people and their souls. I’ll never forget the group of homeless men and women on Avenue C who pulled out two grills, set up a lopsided table, and offered a free hot meal to a crowd of hipsters, businessmen, the elderly, and children. I saw strangers paying for strangers in Evelyn’s bar, which had just finished pumping out water from its basement and opened its doors to a neighborhood with nowhere else to go. I saw strangers asking what could be done for strangers, when they themselves had nothing to give.

And I also know that those who had something to give, did give. Those with power were glued to the TV’s, were anxious to help those in trouble, to donate their time or their money. And may I add, we’d be a very rich city right now if money was measured in couch surfing offers.

What I’m trying to say, however clumsily, is that what I saw this week was something important. What I saw this week was human nature glowing its best glow. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but I don’t know what else you call it.

I am always humbled by the way words are so inadequate when trying to tackle the most important soul-stuff we’re all always trying to get at. It’s hard for me to be a Shakespeare about it, or even a Bukowski, when I just want to say that I had this experience, and it moved me, and I wanted to get it out in some way and share it. These seem like some of the most important things we can share with each other. Because what I experienced was the best of people. What I felt was real human connectedness.

In terms of the Big Apple, now. It’s always seemed to me that once you step foot in New York, you are instantly a New Yorker. I don’t think that’s true of every city. Throughout Sandy, I felt like we all knew we were truly New Yorkers, together. And even though the common pulse was thrust upon us, it was still the same pulse.

Stanford study hints at “Organic Shmorganic”, splits eaters in two

A recent Stanford University study found that there were no real nutritional benefits to organic produce over their non-organic (and cheaper!) counterparts. The study also deemed that the amounts of pesticides in non-organic foods are almost always used in safe levels, and essentially negligible from a health standpoint.

Learn about food, population growth, and upper middle class back-to-nature romanticism. Then, don’t eat organic.

Also, be sure to learn about the details of the study and its misleading conclusions surrounding pesticides. Then, eat organic.

Confused? Me too. Thus, I prefer a schizophrenic hybrid of the two when I grocery shop. My own research has led me to believe that certain produce (mainly berries) contain the most dangerous levels of pesticides, whereas fruits with thicker skins tend to be okay for non-organic purchases. When I say thicker skins, I mean your rough-and-tumble pineapples, bananas, oranges, and peels with a degree of durability. I am stingy about organic breads, cereals, and soups because that enters a realm of more convoluted nutritional advice, as opposed to what I was just discussing, which was about the whole poisonous toxins entering your system thing. When one is on a budget, poison takes precedence, and 25-grain bread from the farm up the road becomes luxury. Of course, as the NY Times article above points out, the organic debate is one heavily steeped in economic class systems (even on a budget and my latest terror-inducing bank statement, my concern with pesticide poisoning is an admitted luxury). Organic food simply cannot be discussed without the mention of the larger inequalities of class, nutritional education, and disparate health needs among populations.

I shall pull a Bukowski now, and say that the way to end a post like this is to become suddenly quiet. Look to the distance, insert a meme.*

*The meme bit is mine, as Bukowski sadly did not survive to see memes infiltrate society.

I’m Still Alive

Despite the fact that this blog has, as of late, been a desolate corner within the humble world of digital infrastructure, I am pleased to announce that I am still alive.  As the Happy Wok delivery man can attest to, I have been more than active these past few months, and thus have not properly groomed this site the way I should have (more than active = sedentary, ordering Chinese delivery).  But important things actually have happened in my life.  For example, I started a new job.  And I really should be counting my lucky stars at this juncture because it is a job that I actually really enjoy, which I am told is as rare as watching an episode of “Game of Thrones” without this line: “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria!” Indeed, I should count my lucky stars.  But I won’t, since I live in Manhattan and seeing a star here is as rare as watching an episode of “Game of Thrones” without this line: “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria!”

Another important occurrence is that I’ve discovered my teeth are definitely shifting around my gums/jaw/skull.  At this point it is not noticeable, but I keep having horrible flashbacks to the acting extras from the movie “Wild Wild West” whose sole purpose in the film was to terrify children when they flashed they’re rotten miles.  I mean literally rotten smiles because no one knew anything about dentistry in the Wild West, and also most people just don’t naturally have a smile as charming as Will Smith’s.  I’d like to just throw it out there that if you saw “Wild Wild West”, I’m really genuinely sorry, even though I had nothing to do with that movie being brought forth unto this planet. But back to the point: my retainer hasn’t fit into my mouth since I was 16, but I am telling my parents that it is a recent, inexplicable phenomena.  This is an important lie because it makes my parents think I’m not a horrible person.  I don’t want to think about how much money they spent on braces.  Instead I’d like to think about how much money I can potentially beg and plead for under false pretenses (confirmed answer: they are giving me none).

One final thing I’ll leave with you is that I have a perpetual build up of clothes that need to be washed. I do laundry, I fold my clothes, I put them away.  But then I wear my clothes and I have to do the whole process over again.  You’d think by now humans would have progressed beyond this menial and completely inefficient system of laundering. I just wish we could go back to the good old days, where people wore one loincloth until death and then that tattered shred was passed on as a hand-me-down to the runt of the family litter. If I had to guess, I’d bet entire clans could subsist on about 3 loincloths for at least a few hundred years.  They say technology is a positive force that propels society forward, but I think you see my completely oppositional point.  Also, I think forcing everyone to wear loincloths against their will would offset peer pressure to buy “cool” clothes at school, which has always been a major concern of mine, and is also loosely tied to every practice ACT exam question, “Should schools enforce a uniform dress code? Why or Why not?” The answer is yes for the reasons I explained above. As far as I can tell, if we’d simply regress to loincloths, we’d be but a mere hop away to world peace, the reinvigoration of the housing market, a stabilized economy, and getting “Dance Moms” renewed for another season – aka, utopia.

The Protest of Antipiracy Bills

As most of you know, today marks the web-wide protest of two pieces of legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act  (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).  This article in Forbes does a good job of fleshing out what these bills entail.  Ironically, my first technological instinct for obtaining a good outline of the bills designated my typing “wikipedia” in my browser (which is currently engaged in a 24-hour shutdown of their English-language site).

While the aims of the bill are generally applauded even by proponents, the unintential outcome of this legislation is what has the tech industry worried.  SOPA and PIPA are designed to make it difficult for websites to dessimnate pirated copyright materials, namely muisc and movies. 

But the consequences for these bills is that this kind of censorship will affect a business’ entire site, not just the pinpointed unlawful activity the legislations are specifically geared towards preventing.  If passed, the fear is that  lawful activity will be hindered and censored, on top of stifling innovation and economic growth within the businesses themselves.

As The New York Times coverage reported earlier today,

“This is the first real test of the political strength of the Web, and regardless of how things go, they are no longer a pushover,” said Professor Wu, who is the author of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.” He added, “The Web taking a stand against one of the most powerful lobbyers and seeming to get somewhere is definitely a first.”

This is an extremely important moment for the tech industry, as the articel so succinctly opens, “[it is] a political coming of age for a relatively young and disorganized industry that has largely steered clear of lobbying and other political games in Washington. “

The Connection Between Climate Change and Reproductive Rights

I posted statistics in an earlier blog entry, highlighting the status of women in terms of property and percentage of wealth.  These cateogires were both connected and impacted by their surrounding regional and global environments, as the article discusses. 

A few days ago, another article on RH Reality Check was published, entitled “People, Population, and Climate Change: Opportunities for Advancing Climate Resilience and Reproductive Rights.”  The linkage between these subjects is often overlooked, and a world of good could come from both sides of the debate by incorporating a rights-based approach  into their schema.

The critical ideas from the article center around the time-sensitive subject of population, now at 7 billion.  As the population continues to grow, the areas in which birth rate surges are in developing countries.  The areas needing the most comprehensive access to contraception and sexual health education are those with limited are no access at all.  Despite controversy over climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that climage change is occurring now, and as a direct result of human activity.  While developing countries do not emit the highest levels of GHG emissions, a driving force of climate change, they are the most at risk for the impacts of climate change as their population swells.  Population and climate change doubly encumber natural resources, and both geographical factors and resource constraints drive developing countries’ vulnerability and difficulty with adaptation.  As the article explains, the relationship intensifies variables such as migration, household composition and urbanisation, and population density.  And as these developing countries move towards the global trends of development, their emissions will only increase.  The article details the need for a rights-based vision in addressing these interrelated challenges:

An integrated and rights-based approach is needed

A focus on population dynamics offers such potential to further international response to climate change that it is time population commanded the consideration necessary, and crucially, in ways that advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women with an unmet need for effective contraception are estimated to account for 82 percent of all unintended pregnancies in developing countries, contributing significantly to population growth. This means there are real opportunities to reduce population growth in these countries, simply by preventing unplanned pregnancies, and bringing closer the day when every child is a wanted child. What is required is the political will to enable all women and men to have the access to family planning that is often taken for granted in the developed world. While the importance of family planning for women and children’s health and women’s rights alone should be more than sufficient to generate the necessary investment to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, sadly this has not been the case. Climate change however, offers yet another reason why ensuring all women have access to family planning makes sense, and one that might just yield more of the attention it deserves.

The critical nature of the links between population dynamics and climate change mean that it’s not a case of whether this will become more widely recognised, but when. For precisely this reason, those of us who care about women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights need to be fully involved in the debate: so that programmes relating to population issues respect and protect these rights. A rights-based approach is essential to addressing the inter-related problems in the global South of high fertility rates, sustained poverty and vulnerability to climate change. With a central focus on choice, this approach would offer access to family planning services as part of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. It would address the large unmet demand for reproductive health services and choices, but encompass far more. A rights-based approach includes addressing issues such as sexual violence and coercion, and other interventions that seek to promote behaviour change through changing the social norms underlying gendered power inequalities. There is also a focus on education strategies that encompass rights-based ethos within programmes to increase people’s understanding of rights and instill a sense of entitlement. Lastly, a rights-based framework establishes means for ensuring accountability and for redress of rights violations.

 

An international political drive is necessary to ensuring that family planning is accessible for all men, women, and children in developing nations. As so concisely said by the authors,

To succeed in promoting an integrated population and climate change agenda as a legitimate part of a global response to climate change, a language must be found that reflects and addresses the need to emphasise resource consumption in the North, at the same time as advocating increased access to sexual and reproductive health care services in the South.

If You Enjoy Income Equity, NY Might Not Be For You

...and I have no idea why.

 

According to an uplifting report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state of New York ranks as #1 for largest income disparaty between the rich and the poor. 

Basically, if you’re moving here with the hopes of professional expansion, be prepared to either become fabulously wealthy and stomp on hundreds of little people, or to rot in piles of sewage and cardboard on Madison Ave. 

Seriously, it is a great city though.  I swear.

A Business Based on Horribly Offensive T-Shirt Slogans

As this article by Jezebel discusses, a company named Jamrags, which centers its business around offensive slogans, recently released a t-shirt utilizing sexual harassment for comedy.  The shirt reads, “Calm down dear, let’s not turn this rape into murder!” 

The company features a slew of other disturbing slogans, such as “I beat cancer* *by cancer I mean my wife”, “Feminists are big, hairy dykes”, and “I like my Muslims like I like my coffee. I don’t like coffee,” just to highlight a few.

Of course, this is not the first company to offend with their apalling definition of humor.  Who could forget the Anna Rexia costume released just in time for this upcoming Halloween?

Women Catches Rapist in Traffic Jam

After police officers issued a parallel statement as made by the Toronto cop that sparked the Slutwalk movement, Indonesian women protested the idea that they should change the way they dress in order to prevent sexual assaults, and it has come at a significant time.

An Indonesian who was gang-raped by four men in a mini-van took justice into own hands.  After reporting the attack, the woman felt helpless and  frustrated at Jakarta police’s failure to make an arrest or report any progress whatsoever in her case.  In an act of supreme courage, she returned to the same spot as the attack, searching the faces of the drivers until she identified one of her attackers.  Once she found him, she shrieked for two nearby police to arrest the man, who confessed to the assault upon capture.

Information on Indonesia’s Slutwalk can be found here, and a link to this incredible story is here.