Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The politics of Repression and Oppression

Eight years ago, I traveled to South Africa with my son to meet my daughter who was on tour with the Radcliffe choir. Partly ,it was to reconnect with friends from graduate school days, partly it was to see not only where Nelson Mandela and many others  had been incarcerated during the apartheid but also to see animals in the wild.

What I did not expect to encounter was that apartheid had been jut one abominable segment of  the government policy of those despicable  times. The fundamentalist "Christians" who had overtaken the political  life of the nation also shut down science, and censorship of books and films was ubiquitous.

I fear that the Republican right wing has gone just about as far in their ideology as the regressive politicians  in South Africa  did before the end of apartheid. Representative Akin's reprehensible comments about how "legitimate"(!) rape will not result in pregnancy is just the tip of the chilling truth: he spoke what his cohorts think.

  The South African  cave,  where the fossilized remains one of the oldest humans- a woman- had been found, was shut down durng the apartheid era. Scientific work and anthropological studies that would shed light on our evolutionary history were anathema to these patriarchal politicians.

So is it any surprise that legislators who can't comprehend scientific evidence about evolution or climate change would think otherwise about what is true about human physiology and pregnancy?Whatever fits neatly into their solipsistic world of women as inferior and science as  fiction is what they conjure.

I would not give a whit as to what they conjure if it didn't so affect all of society, especially women and anyone disenfrancished. We really need to see what happened in South Africa to get an inkling as  to how repressive the patriarchy can be.When we think patriarchal repression and oppression, we think of Afghanistan and the Taliban. That is blatant, yes. But what happened in South Africa was insidious and it was accomplished by  white males of European descent --and the white women who supported them.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Poison ivy and Pa voter suppression

When I was  around six years old,  an older child, a neighbor of my relatives, picked up a leaf. Holding it in his hand, he said, "this is poison ivy" and proceeded to rub it on my face. I didn't know what poison ivy looked  like, yet I also didn't believe  someone could be so cruel to do such a thing.

He was a bully and I was already, in my little life, setting the stage for victimhood ( it is a complex I am still  unlearning.) Despite the fact that I went running and screaming into my aunt's house where my mother and aunt both tried to wash off the poison, it was a fait accomplis. I developed a horrific case of poison ivy with my face swollen and my eyes shut for weeks. There was no antidote of prednisone then. All there was was  calomine and patience.

I relate this story because I think not only I , but that there is collectively, the sense of "no,that person could not possibly do the unthinkable, could they"? That group can't possibly be out to harm  me (or us)Surely, democracy and justice will prevail.

I  flashed back to my poison ivy incident when I recently read (August 16,2012) that Judge Simpson of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania upheld the Pennsylvania Legislature's voter ID law. This new law is blatantly an act of voter suppression, and yet justice did not prevail,politics did.Judge Simpson is Republican and he, I think, ruled according to party lines. It felt like, yet again, being confronted  by a bully with poison ivy in his hands: "no, you wouldn't rule this way, would you, your Honor"? Admittedly, I choke on the word "honor" here: there is no honor in using the law like a leaf of poison ivy to rub in our collective faces.

The "prednisone antidote"---the Pennsylvania Supreme Court--- is available here. Let us hope  that it becomes the healing remedy to this travesty of justice incurred by Judge Simpson's ruling. may we all be  agents against, not victims to, voter suppression.

Depending on how the state Supreme Court rules, will this be a rise of the Wounded Feminine moment or yet another dollop of dirt on her grave?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Remembrance of House and Sand and Fog


The following is a commentary I wrote  several years ago, but its relevance  regarding the wounded feminine remains........Having  viewed House of Sand and Fog, I don’t know if I am more disturbed by the movie or by the critics’ lack of recognition of what it might be  construed to portray psychologically. Hence I think that an important view of this movie is lost. It is hard to disagree with the critics when they point out the film’s many technical flaws; yet, it also hard to not recall the mesmerizing grip the film placed on me and the vividness with which I recall it afterwards. On the surface, the movie is about ownership of a housethe American dream of the immigrant gone awry. Underneath the tug of war regarding home ownership between an Iranian immigrant, a colonel in the fallen Shah’s Air Force, and a ne’er-do-well recovering addict who inherited the house when her father died but who has neglected to attend to tax collection notices (albeit, erroneously billed, she lacks the responsibility to open her mail to right the matter).

This film  perceived in other terms might be instead a tragic story of what happens in a faltering patriarchy that does not heed the wounded feminine.[1]

Early in the film we see the young woman Kathy in bed waking up to her mother’s phone call. She responds to her mother’s inquiry about her husband with denial. She avoids the truth and tells her mother he is away on businessagain. In fact, he has left her. She, we discover, inherited her father’s house, a find of a beachfront property that is deteriorating in disarray under her “care”. It would seem that she needs to learn how to psychically leave her father’s house and move into her own adulthood. Takeout leftovers, strewn about among other garbage, and unopened mail cluttering the floor by her door indicate that she is still in a hole of despair even if she is not actively abusing drugs or alcohol. She is surrounded by the beauty of nature yet in being so disconnected from it she gains no access to its nurture for her soul.

Note that her own attractiveness seems to enamor some male film critics to the point where they can’t seem to judge her actions impartially. In their critiques, they appear to collude with her. The fact that male critics downplay her responsibility in the tragedy that unfolds seems to me to be “reverse patriarchy” bias. As a woman, I do not find her an endearing character; the Iranian mother Nadi shows her more compassion than I can muster. Kathy has solid choices to make all along the way that would help her out of her hole, but time and again she digs deeper.

When I say this, however, I question how I can confer blame on her for the patriarchy in which she is trapped (my own complex activated, perhaps). Who knows what her family and father issues were before he died? And “patriarchy” is not about men per se. The patriarchal way of life wounds both men and women when it juxtaposes male dominance and authority over women, when it seeks power through might rather than collaboration, when it condones violence and eschews compassion.

The women in this moviesave the legal defense attorneyall seem caught in a patriarchal complex. Kathy, the dry drunk, cannot metaphorically leave her father’s house and grow into her own identity as an adult; and so she is literally evicted. Had she done the psychological work of leaving her father’s house, the tragic circumstances would not have unfolded as they did.

Nadi, the Iranian mother, is subject to the benevolence of her despotic husband. He is caught in his own rigid character structure of how a man “should” beparticularly a man of stature and authority in his home country. It is easy to empathize with his character that seems proud yet having integrity. (I remember my father always keeping his honor and pride intact by wearing his suit jacket and bow tie even when his job didn’t call for thatit was his way of standing talland he was shortin the face of  an American culture that might still consider him an Italian immigrant even though he was born here.)

The colonel is a victim of the patriarchy toohe is so engulfed in his role as male provider that he, like Kathy, is in denial of his truth. His truth is that he works many menial jobs to support his family, that his Italian suits and his Mercedes are mere phantoms of a memory of more. The Behranis live excessively beyond their means so that his daughter can be “successfully” married and they can retain their social status and their son can look forward to going to a fine college. However, whatever small fortune they took with them when they left Iran is dwindling.

And Nadi, his wife, has power and grace, but she is subsumed under his benevolent dictatorship. Theirs is a loving relationship but it is not an equal partnership. In his patriarchal world, the colonel is sometimes seen to resort to physical violence (infrequent violence accompanied with apologies afterwards remains violence). We see early in the film in flashbacks to Iran that the colonel has toppled large luscious pine trees in order to survey the ocean view “to infinity”. As he orders this, we see his wife on the beach running with the children. The seeds of destruction are already sown. (At first I thought her running was in distress for what he had done with the trees but reviewing the scene, she is instead colluding with his actionwomen are not innocent in patriarchy either. The patriarchy, to expand the metaphor, is the energy behind destruction of, e.g., rain forestsbrute force to overcome “obstacles” and whatever is “in the way” of “progress”, power, money.) Nadi is caught in a gilded cage and doesn’t question his authority which provides a comfortable life for her and her son. (In his succeeding to marry his daughter off to a wealthy Irani family, there became another gilded cage in the making.) Nadi pushes and pressures her colonel, playing into the patriarchy.

The deputy sheriff Burdon who attempts to “rescue” Kathy, another patriarchal gesture of “I know better even when I do things illicitly”, seems to be the most unconscious complex driven figure of them all. Unhappy in his marriage, he “befriends” Kathy after he serves her the eviction notice. He drinks wine in her presence and she, of course, doesn’t resist the temptation. These are two people driven by their own dark psychological complexities and neediness and they feed each other with their dysfunction. Burdon, like Colonel Behrani, uses brute force against his wife when she confronts him about his affair with Kathy.

Patriarchal power is in charge; and what the archetypal feminine symbolizes, compassion and connection, is demeaned. Both women and men need this feminine aspect to soften patriarchy’s harshness.

Esmail, the son of the Behranis, would seem to be the hope for the integration of the masculine and femininewho might carry the loving compassion and connection that tempers patriarchy’s rigidity and relentless need for control.

Instead, it becomes Kathy’s choice. Unable to psychically leave her father’s house, she perhaps is finally awakening to the world she must create for herself, post eviction and in the aftermath of tragedy, and with no illusions about either being sacrificed/victimized to the government’s blind-to-human-plight bureaucratic patriarchy or “rescued” by the blundering power of the father authority figure of deputy sheriff Burdon. Would that she could have learned sooner that leaving her father’s house was what she had to accomplish all along. There may have been less suffering. House of Sand and Fog drives home (pardon the pun) how inter-connected we are in our psychic woundedness. The more we heal ourselves, the more we heal the world.

[1] Blood in this film might be considered to be a symbol of the feminineblood is messy, blood is the mysterious menses, the sacred mysteries of women; and blood might also be a symbol of sacrifice.
But blood is assiduously avoided in the Behrani familythe feminine is feared.
Early on, we see the colonel admonishing his son as he arrives home from athletic practice with a wounded leg“do not get blood on the floor”we then see the bloody leg and immediately the scene shifts to the moon, the feminine menses symbol. One may ponder if the colonel’s concern with bloody messes has a historydid blood shedding occur at his hand under the patriarchal power of the Shah? Later, Nadi and Esmail wrap Kathy’s bloody foot in a plastic bag before she crosses the threshold into their/her house and they tend to her injury.