Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hammurabi in Texas

The evening he amasses enough pledged delegates to win the mantle of Nominee Presumptive, Senator Barack Obama chooses to deliver an apotheosis on Senator Hillary Clinton, thus creating the rather curious phenomenon of a winner lauding his defeated rival at the instant of his success. He thanks her on behalf of his daughters, in tacit acknowledgement of the truth that what one woman achieves becomes a potentiality for all women, that indeed there is a world of commonality among women. He says he is a better candidate for having had the honor to run against a formidable woman… and while it is true that one CAN’T not listen to Barack, he’s that good an orator, it is still a pleasure to hear a man acknowledge a woman’s strength, capability and accomplishment. This is rare, happening mostly at funerals, underscoring society’s implicit message that the only good woman is … well, you know the rest.

Of course, right after, everyone jumps on Hillary for not having instantly conceded, rolled in the dust in abnegation, thrown ashes on her head for having had the temerity to contest a male’s right to head a major political party… She is "ungracious" for not instantly falling to her knees. I’m sorry but I find this illogical; the defeated is not expected to be gracious, the victor is. The undertone of this caviling is fear about what she might do, and guilt over another frustration of a woman’s and women’s attempt at achieving even a surface equality. Enough already; she lost; leave her alone.

It’s been a bad season for women, underscored by that raid on the compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ’s Latter Day Saints (FLDS) where some 400 children/minors were removed over allegations of abuse and forced/manipulated weddings. As details of the polygamous sect’s lifestyle unfolded over the air waves, one couldn’t help thinking of the reign of Hammurabi. Likely this was an insult to him, considering he had created an empire from the proto-slave societies on the plains of Babylon, Mesopotamia, Nineveh… And of course, he was first to codify laws, enshrining the principle of assumption of innocence in the juridical system. So apologies to him, but the similarities between the FLDS and Hammurabi’s milieu became more and more palpable with each revealed detail.

When the “moms” appeared on television, the affinity of their hair-do and clothes with the android Rachel in Blade Runner was striking. Rachel was given a false memory to render her closer to human, as it were.

The discourse on the FLDS was disquieting. Because it focused so much on the issues of the abuse of children and of child-brides (which are important), what underlay so much of this cruelty was lost: the relentless oppression of women within this absurdly patriarchal society. The oppression of women enabled the oppression of others: the young men whose unpaid labor was used to fulfill contracts with the Pentagon, the children who were kept in ignorance of the world, the girls who were raised to believe that their ultimate destiny was no more than becoming an adjunct of the patriarch… On top of this was the relentless concentration of property (including women and children) in the hands of men adjudged worthy of becoming patriarchs, on the say-so of a (yet another) clique of men, testifying to the truth that power-cliques self-replicate… Gerda Lerner must be chuckling over her breakfast tea, over this virtual dramatization of her book Creation of the Patriarchy on the plains of Texas.

I was inclined to dismiss the FLDS lifestyle as an aberration, until a friend from Switzerland said, for the umpteenth time that she couldn’t understand why, in a city that jumps out of its skin 24/7, television producers chose to feature some vacuous women in a reality show. I’d managed to ignore her remarks until she said: “the only interesting character there is the housemaid; I bet she’s from your country.” That sent me scurrying to watch re-runs of the The Real Housewives of New York City. Yup, vacuous as vacuum cleaners; yup, the housekeeper is from my country, I’d recognize that accent anytime, anywhere. Swiss friend added that she couldn’t see any great essential difference between the New York City housewives and the FLDS wives. That gave me great chill.

In an interview, Nepal's Hisila Yami gave a capsule description of what the problem was: “Women were the first to be oppressed, and will be the last to be liberated when class oppression ceases. So the test of whether class oppression still exists is if women’s oppression still exists or not.” That, in effect, acknowledged that all of class societies rests on women’s oppression.

The one ray of sunshine in the FLDS gloom came from women as well. Former child-brides, who broke through their conditioning and who took their children out of that hierarchy of oppression. Escape was not sufficient for them; they continue to speak out, warning others and trying to reach other women, calling on them to free their minds from the constructs of oppression, asking them not to be complicit in their own powerlessness. Perhaps, after all. women may not be the "last to be liberated."

And in keeping with the dawn-of-history ambience of this whole affair, I will end with an injunction that comes from those times as well: Go and do likewise. -- ##

Note to mostbeau, who's been denouncing me: this is the only place where I post; so I have no idea what you're referring to.


Anonymous said...


I was a friend of yours in Hawaii about 30 years ago when I was an undergraduate student. I am a tenured professor now, and an activist as well. We have taken similar turns in our lives by speaking out against injustices.

Here are some of my photos:

and here is a blog that I share with 2 other persons:

Mabuhay! Kayakbiker

Kenneth Kristofer Kabul said...

This is Kenneth, Senior Branch Manager for several branches at KFC in the philippines. I used to work at a Watermelon farm near the "Bush plantation" and i have to say the workers "at the other side" have no manners for us African Americans.