Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Hell no!

Parsing the memes dealing with women in this election season is almost dizzying.

From “binders full of women” to the insinuation that if women get pregnant from a rape, it’s “something that God intended,” Republicans seem determined to put their feet their mouths over and over again.

There are signs now that women are getting the message, and getting more politically active as a result.

Yesterday I received the new Lesley Gore video, “You Don’t Own Me,” from several sources; if you have’t seen it yet, it’s worth a look: it’s a composite of many different women (most of them young) telling the politicians to get their f**king hands off our bodies (emphasis mine).

The specter of Roe v. Wade being reversed has a lot of women frightened.

We seem to be heading eerily towards the scenario imagined by Margaret Atwood some thirty years ago in The Handmaid’s Tale: a nightmare landscape of environmental devastation and societal breakdown, where the elite, safe in their gated communities, feel righteously justified in considering forced childbearing the only function of fertile young women.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the reality of the fact that we live in a country where Viagra is fully covered by insurance, but contraception often is not.

We live in a world where powerful men can get away with assaulting women and boys repeatedly, with the collusion of those around them. Sandusky and DSK, I’m looking at YOU—but these just the most scandalous recent cases, there are so many more in their club.

And if we move over to the virtual world, the violence against women’s bodies grows exponentially.  People always tell me that there’s all kinds of porn out there, from the soft & cuddly to the whips and chains, but from what I know, there are an awful lot of men jerking off to women’s pain.

I really don’t like calling men out like this.  I believe that many–probably most—men are fine upstanding citizens who would never hurt a woman.

But the truth is that we women need all those fine upstanding men to stand up for us now.

I was shocked at the statistics released last week showing that if only men voted in the Presidential election, Romney would win.

That means that an awful lot men support the kind of patriarchal social structure Romney indisputably stands for.

When is the last time you heard of a Mormon woman running a big company, or holding political office, or doing much of anything outside of doing the admittedly fulltime work of raising a big brood of children?

And then there’s the other half of the ticket, Paul Ryan—a Roman Catholic who seems to be Scrooge re-issued in a virile young package.

These two are the front men for a huge back-to-the-future wave of religious conservatism that employs much more subtle means than the Islamic Brotherhood, but with the same ends: to uphold male privilege and keep women securely ensconced in the private sphere.

A Romney might take a look at those “binders of women,” but in the end he’ll choose a nice young white man as the “most qualified” of the lot.

A Ryan might approve of a married woman leaving the home to earn some extra bread for her husband’s table, but if her daughter was raped while mom was out and got pregnant, too bad—suck it up, have the child, life goes on, and it’s just too bad that rapists are so rarely punished.  After all, boys will be boys, and girls ask for it.

If all American women voted in this election, President Obama would win by a landslide.

Obama has been good to women where it counts: he’s drastically improved health care and fought off the insurance dragons who want to label even pregnancy a “re-existing condition”; he’s stood up for women’s ownership of our reproductive health; the stimulus he put into place in his first year has kept our economy limping along,despite the repeated and concerted efforts of Republican Congressmen to sabotage it; and his government showcases a number of powerful, strong women who provide excellent leadership models for all Americans.

Shortly after he was sworn in as President of the United States, Barack Obama wrote a public letter to his two daughters, Malia and Sasha, in which he says:

“These are the things I want for you—to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.”

The historic election of the nation’s first African American President represented a giant step forward for this country.  A racial barrier that had seemed insurmountable fell, just as suddenly as the Berlin Wall fell two decades ago, ending what had seemed to be an everlasting Cold War.

We need the gender barriers to fall too. I know there are young women in the political pipeline today who have the dream of breaking through all the glass ceilings and reaching the sky, and we should be doing all we can to support them.

Today, what we need to do is prevent the takeover of this nation by rightwing religious conservatives.  We need to vote President Obama back into office.

And then we need to keep going, to make this a nation where all our children—no matter their gender, their race, their class, their religion or their ethnicity—can soar.

Surmounting the challenges facing us not just as a country, but as a planet, will take every ounce of creative, innovation and intelligence we can muster.

We need all our children to turn their minds to this task.  We can’t afford to leave half the population—our women—barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Shades of an American Kristallnacht?

Tonight at dinner the conversation turned to politics, although it seemed that everyone at the table was reluctant to mention the name “Obama”—a sign of the deep disappointment in our erst-while hero.

There was some enthusiasm for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who are probably doing more to educate young people in politics than most high schools in America today.

There was derision for the spectacle of the Republican primaries, which I, for one, have been unable to stomach watching—not even for a moment.

And there was deep sadness over the unavoidable truth that now, in the wake of Citizens United, it has become totally legal for rich people to run politicians the same way they might run horses or greyhounds.  Just like that.

Maybe that’s what provides the eerie, zombie-like atmosphere in politics these days. You really have the sense that most politicians, especially the ones at the top echelons of power, are like old-fashioned Kabbalistic golems, animated out of clay by skilled magicians who can control them from afar.

Of course, that’s been going on for a long time.  Remember George Bush, a wind-up man getting remote control instructions through his earphone in the 2004 Presidential debates?

But it’s getting worse and worse.  That’s why I can’t stand to watch Gingrich and Santorum and all the other Republican wax model men mouth their lines on the stage these days.  You know they’ll say whatever they’re told…whatever they think it will take to win.

There is certainly a good chance that one of the Republicans will win.  The Democrats are dispirited and grumpy, not much in the mood to get all fired up about yet another election.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are rabid to take back the White House.  They’ve been busy as hell redistricting to try to gain every electoral advantage, and I have absolutely no faith in the electronic voting machines that they’ve been installing in every town and city in the land.

It’s very possible that Mr. XY Zombie Republican could seize power in November, with the backing of endlessly deep pockets like the Koch brothers, Big Energy, and Big Finance, and the blessing of the Supreme Court.

What then?

If the Republicans controlled all three houses of government, they could ram through the legislation they’ve been concocting during the past decade or so: legislation powering up the assault on the environment, on health, on social services, destroying any kind of safety net for people, animals or the environment.

They could escalate the war on dissidents (like me), who dare to oppose their plans.  In short order, the United States could turn into just another big banana republic, with a military-backed regime of elites governing through the indiscriminate use of fear tactics, with violence applied as necessary to keep the people in line.

Lately I have been re-reading Margaret Atwood’s marvelous sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and finding it chillingly prophetic.  In Atwood’s dystopia, environmental catastrophe has rendered the elites infertile, and pushed them to withdraw into gated communities where food shortages are common, and people are regularly hung in the public square to keep everyone fearful and docile.

The narrator remembers how just before her world fell apart, there were signs of repression: books being banned and burned, identity cards being issued and required, mobility restricted, media censored.  All of a sudden, one fine morning, it was no longer possible for her and her family to get in their car and drive away to seek safety in Canada.  All of a sudden, they were trapped in a nightmare that went quickly from bad to worse.

Augusto Pinochet of Chile

This reminds me also of the many testimonials I have read from Latin America—true stories, not fiction—from the 1970s, when wealthy politicians wielding military power and complete control over the ballot boxes ruled their countries with iron fists, “disappearing” anyone who might remotely be a threat, including thousands of innocent students.  This happened in Chile and Argentina, in Guatemala and El Salvador and many other countries.  Often the shift from democracy to fascist dictatorship happened literally overnight.

As in Germany before the Kristallnacht, none of us here in the U.S. wants to believe that anything could happen to destroy our cherished freedoms, our vaunted  “American way of life.”  We don’t want to admit, even to ourselves, the extent to which our freedoms are already being encroached upon, day by day.

Just last week, for example, there was an outrageous episode in Arizona, where the government declared a whole long list of books by Mexican Americans to be unsuitable for school use, and went so far as to direct the school librarians and teachers to pull them from the shelves, box them up and put them into deep storage.

Among the authors banned are some of my favorite writers—Gloria Anzaldua, Elizabeth Martinez, Paulo Freire.

Paulo Freire

Yes, that Paulo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator and free thinker who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant analysis of the way that traditional education indoctrinates students into conformity and submission to authority.

Freire proposed that instead of a banking style of education, where knowledge is deposited into students, who are then required to spit it back upon demand, education worth its salt should empower students to think for themselves.

Such a simple idea, but so powerful, too.  Education should teach people to think for themselves, and to work with each other to come to consensus on issues of importance to the larger society.

Isn’t that just what the Occupy movements have been trying to do?  If Freire were alive, he would be out there in the thick of the Occupy action, inspiring the young to shake off the false animation of Zombiland, and insist on dancing to their own authentic beat.

This reminds me of another beloved science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where the sinister IT controls all the inhabitants of a city by forcing them to conform to ITS rhythm.  Their hearts pulse to ITS rhythm, their eyes twirl to ITS rhythm, their thoughts are entirely subsumed by IT.  The only way to break ITS control is to think for oneself, to be creative, resilient and determined.

The children Meg and Charles Wallace succeed in rescuing their father from the clutches of IT by dint of their own powers of creativity and love, with a little help from some eccentric and freethinking guides.

Will the science fiction tale we’re living through now have that kind of happy ending?

Oh yeah, it’s not fiction, is it.

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