Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Lively discussion this week in my graduate Women and Health class, on Radical Feminism theory. From Amber, who critiques the theory of Radical Feminism suggesting that "violence [by women US soldier at Abu Graib) is indicative of sexual domination of the vulnerable, rather than gender warfare between men and women."
Focusing on gender only doesn't include unequal distributions of power. For example, a wealthy upper class woman has more power than a poor working class man. This idea comes under Identity Politics (in the RF lecture), and is echoed by Jeremy who wrote:
“However, what radical feminism does not appropriately take into account is the impact that racial and class identity has in society. For instance, an upper class white woman living in a suburban household in the United States may not easily relate to the gender problems that a poor Nigerian woman faces.”

Jeremy also wrote
“To be honest, I was disappointed that it was only the Abu Ghraib incident that was used to explain the female abuse over men. Not that this was not an appropriate case, but like you mentioned I thought it was a small cross section to examine. I really expected more and I thought that the "decoy" argument was weak. Instead, I would point to Amin Mallouf's book, "In the Name of Identity," for a better suggestion for female violence toward men. Instead of saying that women in power humiliate men by putting them through the same abuse that women are subjected to is not simply an example of "gender decoy," but more so the fact that all individuals hold multiple identities. Maalouf argues that people choose their primary identity as the identity that is most likely under attack. The small sample of women at Abu Ghraib are also educated Americans who saw themselves as superior and more human then the Middle Eastern men that were now under their control. I would argue that these women did not hold gender at the same level of identity as the men did and the women mocked it. Nevertheless, I think there are too many variables in the Abu Ghraib case when attempting to explain behavior.”

Identity politics describes Mallouf’s point. This was from the lecture this week “EACH WOMAN IS SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED DIFFERENTLY, BECAUSE OF A MULTIPLICITY OF IDENTITIES (GENDER, SEXUALITY, CLASS, ETHNICITY, NATIONALITY)” (Winkler, 2011, p. 1).
RF is an over-arching theory that doesn’t allow for a contextualized analysis. As Brandon wrote ‘I agree with your idea that a total change will not be successful without taking into consideration race, economics, and class.’
By the way, including Abu Graib in the readings wasn't meant to be a sweeping statement about the US military's approach to torture, but an intriguing and unique case which appears to counter the RF philosophy. But, I worry that the small number of soldiers who were imprisoned for Abu Graib torture, were scapegoated unfairly. There was a permissive atmosphere in the era immediately after 9/11, where rules regarding torture were relaxed. The US under the Bush Administration condoned renditions, and the use of certain types of torture. Today, the Obama Administration continues renditions, which is when prisoners are flown to countries that use unlimited forms of torture. See this:

The UK sent prisoners to be tortured by Ghaddafi’s security services in Libya…this was revealed after the rebels took over Libya.

Betul also critiques RF, pointing out that violence is committed by women against women, such as FMG. In the UK, there are continuous newspaper reports about Indian fathers and mothers who kill their daughters for falling in love with someone outside their faith. In India, for every 1000 boys, there are at least about 60-70 girls under the age of 6 years who were killed before or within 6 years after birth.
The mothers are often involved in the murders. This is explained through the idea of ‘internalized oppression.” Here is how the concept is explained from a psychological viewpoint:
We know that every hurt or mistreatment, if not discharged (healed), will create a distress pattern (some form of rigid, destructive, or ineffective feeling and behavior) in the victim of this mistreatment. This distress pattern, when restimulated, will tend to push the victim through a re-enactment of the original distress experience either with someone else in the victim role or, when this is not possible, with the original victim being the object of her/his distress pattern.

Source: http://www.rc.org/publications/journals/black_reemergence/br2/br2_5_sl.html

I like the term ‘internalized censorship”. This explains why a mother would kill or mistreat her daughter, by the fact that social messages are internalized such that they bypass all human instincts of compassion, and even, basic mothering instincts.
Or, this phenomena could be explained by the fact that the mothers themselves could be victims if they did not kill their own daughters. In which case, they have chosen their own lives over those of their daughters…somehow, for me, a less likely explanation.
Betul then writes “The main difference is that women as a whole are more compassionate and less likely to commit atrocities such as torture, terrorism, and genocide that patriarchal societies have carried out in previous decades.” Most feminists believe that a kinder society results from a full participation by women at all levels. It is believed that individual women in a male-centric environment would have no choice but to adopt its dominant values.
Finally, Bridgett makes a great point, which is also a critique of RF “Violence against men is also an important topic that must not be overlooked”.
RF theory has not proved to be sustainable, by many students. But most did not comment on the amazing Umoja, the village where men are forbidden, in which a temporary woman-only solution seems to be working.

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