Daily Archives: November 21, 2005

More on Breaking the Silence

My column on the PBS documentary Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories, which deals with abusive husbands/fathers who win custody of their children after divorce (and manages to insinuate that most men seeking custody of their children are abusers), is now up at the Boston Globe.

For more on the subject, see this post.

Update: RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting) is another website that has provided excellent analysis of Breaking the Silence.


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Do I contradict myself? Very well….

In my post on torture the other day, I noted:

I think that for some people in what one might call the anti-anti-torture faction, this is a moral issue rather than a pragmatic one. They’re offended by what a few of Stephen Green’s commenters call “moral preening” on the part of those denouncing torture. They think the absolutist opposition to torture comes from weaklings who don’t have the fortitude to do what needs to be done, and who would rather allow a lot of innocents to die than dirty their hands (not literally, but by having nasty things done in their name).

I strongly disagree with that position, of course. As I say in my post, I think that we must take a firm stand against torture in the same of our self-respect.

And yet … and yet.

There are times when I wonder if our insistence on keeping our hands clean, and on a high degree of openness about what our military is doing in our name, may seriously hamper our ability to win wars that are essential to our national security.

It is often said that we were able to win World War II and the Cold War without resorting to torture. True enough. But in both instances, we did things that, by purely moral standards, shock the conscience. Even leaving aside Hiroshima, there was the bombing of Dresden, in which tens of thousands of civilians, including children, died. And there was our alliance with Stalin, a dictator as murderous as Hitler, into whose bloody hands we ceded Eastern Europe after the war. During the Cold War, we allied ourselves with some very brutal right-wing dictatorships and supported some resistance movements that, to put it mildly, did not fight by gentlemen’s rules (Jonas Savimbi in Angola and the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, to name two).

In both of these conflicts with the twin evil empires of the 20th Century, could we have prevailed if we had not made all these rather serious moral compromises? I’m not sure. Jean-François Revel, the French political theorist, used to argue in the days of the Cold War that Western democracies had grown too self-critical and squeamish to survive the historic confrontation with communism. That time, we won, mainly because communism crumbled from the inside. Now, we’re facing an enemy that is less powerful, to be sure, but in some ways more dangerous because more amorphous and more flexible. Are we going to have to face, at some point, a choice between either fighting dirty, or accepting either defeat or mind-boggling civilian casualties on our side?

Just asking.


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Political correctness run amuk (2)

It’s been a while since I’ve checked out the Women’s Studies List. (I subscribe but do not receive the messages in my mailbox; some things go beyond the call of duty.) It does not disappoint.

In a thread called “Teaching Baghdad Burning,” a University of Central Florida professor posts to ask:

Has anyone taught _Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq_ by Riverbend (Feminist Press)? I’m planning to use it for several of our sections of the Intro course next semester and wonder what kind of strategies you all have used. I’m a little concerned about students’ negative responses to what they will surely see as “Bush bashing,” but not enough to use another text. Thanks.

There follows this reply from Chithra KarunaKaran, co-chair of the “Anti-White Supremacy Task Force” in the National Women’s Studies Association:

I have not included the girl blog to which you refer in my courses (yet!), but it seems to me important to contextualize and historicize both Iraq and the US so that the blog — and Bush’s “shock and awe” — may be appropriately situated. When that is done, your students might be less likely to see see either the Iraqi girl or Goerge Bush as merely individual actors, stripped of their history and their divergent racial/ethnic identities. Aren’t the Iraqis being referred to as ‘sand niggers’ deserving of dehumanization?

I would go so far as to state that your students need some framing theoretical discussion of marcostructure/microstructure, the politics of partiarchy-driven whiteness in the US instance, and colonial domination and the multiple trajectories of postcolonial nation-states, in the instance of Iraq.

I also wanted to offer a example from one of my courses. Last week, in my beginning PSY 100 course, in a discussion of Personality, I utilized trait theory and humanistic theory, in particular the 5 Factor Personality Model and the concept of self-actualization respectively to illustrate trait attributes of one of their own fellow students at The City University of New York (where I teach). This student, Miguel Malo, an Ecuadoran immigrant and young father, was arrested by campus police to one of our community colleges, because he protested the rise in biligual education tuition fees. Four years later, he has now appeared 36 times in Bronx criminal court because CUNY took him to court. Can I also , in addition to making extremely relevant personality theory, observe that CUNY at the microstructure, reflects the US Whiteness macrostructure of dominant, coercive power? Both Miguel Malo and the Iraqi girl are victims of the same macrostructure.

I became very familiar with Miguel Malo’s case, because I was one of eight faculty that undertook a 4 day hunger strike at CUNY to protest the arrest of students and a staff member who nonviolently contested the presence of military recruiters on one of our campuses during a college career fair. For me the university’s repressive policies, once again illustrated the coercive, dominant power of US macrostructure/microstructure Whiteness and the global threat of that patriarchy driven Whiteness. I think Women Studies throughout the US has an opportunity to teach resistance to Whiteness.

There are, it should be noted, two dissenting voices. Daphne Patai, a frequent critic of Women’s Studies whose postings on WMST-L are usually either attacked or ignored, posts this:

Is “resistance to whiteness” the current aim of women’s studies courses? or “the politics of patriarchy-driven whiteness”? Do you as teachers seriously believe these categories explain the problems of the world and that evil and good are so easily meted out?

I should think teaching about the middle east (like teaching about any other part of the world) might offer some other lessons — such as what happens in societies in which resistance to power is simply obliterated by fear and torture, or how non-whites are equally capable of oppressing people, or even how the world’s problems are not reducible to awful whiteness and patriarchy and its sequelae.

When did women’s studies turn into this simplistic, tendentious, field totally committed to those supposed demolished binaries (white/non-white; oppressor/oppressed; evil/good, etc., etc.? I certainly hope students have the good sense and gumption to have serious reservations about this sort of teaching, and to see it for what it is. A frightening degradation of education is going on before our very eyes.

Another poster, who is not a professor but apparently works for a consulting firm, writes:

I completely agree with Daphne….Women’s Studies in the 1980s when I was a student took on all angles of women’s lives (and all cultures). Since I have been on this list, I have been very discouraged by the monovision of who’s important to study, what’s important to examine, what “ideology” should be adopted. What happened to independent scholarly pursuit? What happened to scrutinizing our own biases/blindspots? As women writing, studying and teaching about women’s lives/thoughts, why be narrow in our pursuit of knowledge???

KarunaKaran, meanwhile, retorts that “Patai’s position reinforces Whiteness.”

It is interesting to note that Riverbend’s book is criticized even in the not-exactly-conservative San Francisco Chronicle for its sunny view of life under Saddam.


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Political correctness run amuk (1)

The Week in Review section of the New York Times has a story about the dilemmas posed by prenatal testing and women increasingly choosing abortion when they find out that the fetus has severe disabilities. (It is estimated, for instance, that about 80% of Down’s Syndrome fetuses are now aborted.) The article, by Amy Harmon, raises some valid and important questions: if children with serious mental and physical disabilities become increasingly rare and — well — preventable, then those who are born are likely to face far greater social isolation, as well as loss of public support for programs designed to help them. Harmon notes that even the search for cures for certain diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, may be seen as far less urgent and far less worthy of funding if, due to prenatal testing and abortion, very few babies with cystic fibrosis are born anymore.

So far, so good. But in the middle of this very interesting article, there is this line:

If no child is ever born again with the fatal childhood disease Tay-Sachs, many might see that as a medical triumph. But what about other conditions, including deafness, which some do not consider to be a disability …. ?

I can suggest some good lines for Ms. Harmon’s future articles. For instance:

… sexual intercourse, which some consider to be inherently oppressive to women…


… Southern slavery, which some regard as a benevolent paternalistic institution…


wife-beating, which some believe is a husband’s rightful prerogative…

or maybe this:

the moon, which some believe is made of green cheese…

You get the picture.

Mind you, I am not denying that deaf people can and do lead rich and satisfying lives (as do people with many other kinds of disabilities). And I would certainly never argue that a woman who learns that her child will be born deaf should have an abortion. However, as I said in my post on identity politics the other day, I think that the “Deaf pride” movement — which holds that deafness is a cultural identity to be cherished, and that wanting to cure deafness is akin to wanting to cure homosexuality or to turn black people white — is an example of identity politics at its most grotesque and destructive. (I wrote a column on this topic in 2002.) It’s pretty obvious that hearing is one of the basic human (and mammalian) faculties, and that the inability to hear is a serious disability, even if its effects can be largely alleviated by technological and social improvements. Can any sane person doubt that the eradication of deafness would be a medical triumph and a great boon for humanity?

Most deaf people don’t subscribe to militant “Deaf” ideology. (Only a quarter of profoundly deaf people in the U.S., for instance, use American Sign Language.) The position that deafness is not a disability and should not be eliminated is held by a small group of hardcore extremists. Why, then, is their position dignified by the Times? As I said in my 2002 column: “There is no reason for the news media and other cultural institutions to be deferential toward crackpot beliefs that come with the cachet of ‘diversity.'” The “paper of record” has just provided us with a striking example of such misguided deference.


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