Anger, fear, and violence

People made fun of President Carter when he spoke of a national malaise.  I’m not sure we were in one back then, but I’d say we are sure in one today.  Everyone seems tired.  The upcoming election is very important, but many can’t get up enough energy to decide to vote.  But added to the tiredness is anger.   You can see it in what is said about the President, in the disrespect shown him and the office.  You can see it in the fear about Ebola.  You can see it in the increased racial tension in Missouri and elsewhere.  You can see it the attempts to restrict voting.  I see the fear of “the other” manifesting as anger.  But you can also see it in the anger against women.

Jessica Valenti had a piece in the Guardian the other day, “Why are Men so Angry?”.  I’ve been thinking about it since I first came across it.  She begins

There’s a Margaret Atwood quote that I can’t get out of my head these days: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Last Friday, a young man from Washington state walked into his high school cafeteria and shot five people, killing one young woman. Early reports from other students indicate that the shooter, who reportedly shot himself, was upset over a girl. In early October, Mary Spears was shot to death in Detroit, allegedly by a man whose advances she rejected at a social club. In April, a Connecticut teen stabbed his classmate to death when she rejected his prom invitation. Turning men down is a risky business.

But the madness doesn’t stop there. From Gamergate to mass shootings todomestic violence and the NFL – the common denominator is male rage. Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students. Violence – and the threat of it – remains a decidedly male domain.

But why are men so violently angry?

I believe that it is the same kind of fear that drives the fear of the racially other.  When it comes to women, it is fear of losing some perceived superiority.  Valenti puts it this way

Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege? That our society is a zero sum game and power can’t be shared? Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces that say there’s nothing lower in this world than a woman so how dare she … well, anything. Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront.

But it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing. And male anger towards women isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s gaining steam. Online forums that provide anonymity are creating spaces for men to say the things they no longer can in “real life”, police and courts that disbelieve and blame women for the violence done to them give men the impression their bad behavior is acceptable and a conservative movement that refuses to let go of traditional gender roles teaches our children that being a man is synonymous with being “tough”, having guns and, yes, being violent.

domestic_violence_awareness_ribbon

I’m old enough to remember when no one talked about violence against women.  We were just beginning to recognize domestic violence and create shelters.  The concepts of sexual harassment and date rape were just being named.  Rape was beginning to be taken seriously.  Now we have special months, ribbons, and rape is generally depicted as a crime of violence.  So it makes me tired to think that after all these decades that we are still trying to figure out how to deal with male violence.  (And before someone complains that women can be violent also, yes they can be.  But the vast majority of violent incidents are perpetrated by men.)

Valenti concludes

If we want to put a dent in male anger and the chaos it creates, we need to stop looking at problems like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and even violent threats online and assigning their solutions to feminists. We need to stop calling them “just women’s issues”. We have to address men and men’s behavior together – not just their direct violence against women, but their propensity to protect their own. Not the outcomes of their rage, but the causes. Because, until we do, we’ll continue to be afraid. All of us.

I think she is right, but I worry that the conversation about male violence will be like the national dialog on race which everyone talks about but no one knows how to begin.  I’m not sure I know how to talk to the person who still believes that President Obama is really Kenyan, much less talk to someone to wants to commit violence against me to keep me in my place.

 

 

 

The House passes still another restriction on abortion

Nancy Pelosi tweeted this picture with a quote from Representative Dent last night

Embedded image permalink

Clearly the Republican leaders didn’t listen to Dent.  They love to have votes on abortion, birth control and, the favorite – repealing the Affordable Heath Care Act instead of actually passing measures that might also pass in the Senate and get signed into law.
The result of pandering again to their base was passage of a bill that will ban abortions after 22 weeks.  According to the New York Times story

The measure, which would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the medically disputed theory that fetuses at that stage of development are capable of feeling pain, passed in a 228-to-196 vote that broke down mostly along party lines. Reflecting how little common ground the two parties share these days, just six Republicans voted against the bill; six Democrats voted for it.

“I’m not waging a war on anyone,” said Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, offering a rejoinder to the Democratic assertion that Republicans have waged a war on women, a line of attack that harmed conservative candidates in 2012. “Regardless of your personal beliefs, I would hope that stopping atrocities against little babies is something we can all agree to put an end to.”

How about stopping atrocities like cutting food stamps and voting against bills that would provide health care and jobs for after this child that you have “saved” is born, Representative Noem?
But, remembering the bad press from hearings where all the legislators and all the witnesses were men discussing birth control the leadership did show they can learn something.

The tableau in the House chamber on Tuesday was intentionally far different from the scene last week at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee at which all 19 of the Republicans arguing for and then voting to approve the bill were men. Republican leaders made sure that their female members were front and center for the debate this time.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina conservative and Tea Party favorite, and Representative Marsha Blackburn, a longtime abortion opponent from Tennessee, were assigned to manage the floor debate. Representative Candice S. Miller of Michigan and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the Republican conference’s more moderate members, controlled the gavel.

But the simple math was difficult to ignore. Only 19 of the 234 Republican House members are women. Nearly all of them spoke on Tuesday. Only three Republican men were allowed to participate in the debate. Notably, Trent Franks of Arizona, the bill’s sponsor who last week caused an uproar after claiming that instances of pregnancy after rape were “very low,” said nothing from the floor.

I think that 22 weeks is getting close to the time of viability which most see as 23 to 26 weeks.  As bills move ever closer to that line,  those of us who agree that women have a right to choose to continue the pregnancy or not will be faced with a difficult question and one that we need to be prepared to answer: where, if anywhere, should the line be drawn?

Even if Democrats believed the political upper hand was theirs as they used the issue of reproductive rights to portray their opponents yet again as hostile and indifferent to the needs of women, it was clear that the question at hand — the termination of pregnancies that are five months or more along — was an uncomfortable one.

At a news conference Tuesday morning led by Democrats who favor abortion rights, the mood quickly turned tense after two journalists tried to press the representatives about their support for late-term abortions. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado cut off questions after being asked whether she would draw the line at legal abortion later in pregnancy. “The Supreme Court has spoken, and this bill is unconstitutional. Next question,” she said.

As medical science advances, the time limits laid out in Roe v. Wade may no longer hold.  There are medical and social costs to having a child born at 25 weeks.  In a 1997 story, the New York Times reported

”At the time of Roe vs. Wade it was around 26 weeks pregnant,” Dr. Ezra Davidson, past president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said. ”It has come down a couple of weeks since that time.”

But many babies who survive birth at that stage have terrible problems.

”You have to temper any discussion about viability because though you may get into a 24-week period, or a 23-week period, a large portion of those infants are going to have serious disabilities,” Dr. Davidson said.

Most experts believe that the current limit of viability is 23 or 24 weeks into the normal 40-week term of pregnancy. Babies born at this stage are known as micropreemies and are extremely fragile. The typical micropreemie weighs 500 to 600 grams — slightly more than a pound — and can fit in the palm of a hand.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, fewer than 40 percent of infants born from 23 to 25 weeks’ gestation survive.

Moreover, Dr. William Taeusch, chief of pediatrics at San Francisco General Hospital, said: ”That’s strictly survival. That’s getting out of the hospital alive, usually at three months, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And if you get out of the hospital alive and you haven’t had major problems, then your chances of having a normal brain are 90 percent.”

But according to the obstetrics and gynecology group, nearly 50 percent of surviving children who weigh less than 750 grams at birth experience moderate or severe disability, including blindness and cerebral palsy.

Things haven’t really changed a great deal since 1997.  This is from the Wikipedia article on fetal viability.

Fetal Viability Chart

Fetal Viability Chart

Of course, most women who don’t have late term abortions have a full term baby.  This means the mother and hopefully father need to have jobs and assistance in caring for the baby for the next 18 years – the kind of assistance the Republicans often vote against.  It means available contraception so women aren’t faced with the choice at all.  It means sex ed  beginning in middle schools that includes information on what it is like to care for a baby.  (What happened to those programs where teens had to care for a doll that was life-like and demanded diaper changes and feedings 25/7?)

I personally have problems with late term abortions that are not for medical reasons – either the mother’s or the child’s.  But I also think we should be spending what is needed to make sure those children are fed, educated and not abused.  And I understand why sometimes the decision is so late.

Jessica Valenti has column in the Nation thinking through many of these issues, but it is her conclusion that sticks with me.

Abortion is complicated, as are our lives and health—and the fact that these  choices are so complex and nuanced is precisely why we can’t legislate them.  Wishing otherwise will never 
make it so.