Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Unknown Soldier

Taking advantage of the mini-break surrounding Thanksgiving, I further indulged my obsession with Nazi war crimes by watching "The Unknown Soldier," a documentary by Michael Veerhoeven that explores the reaction of the German public to the Wehrmacht Exhibitions that have toured that country in the past two decades. 

The point of the exhibition was to prove that the regular German Army played a huge and ongoing role in the extermination of the Jews, especially on the Eastern Front, i.e., Ukraine.  We forget that many of the Jews were not killed in death camp gas chambers, but were herded into ghettos (often established off the main streets of towns with hastily erected barbed wire), from which they were periodically, methodically, and openly marched through the towns to open pits or gullies a couple of kilometers away, and shot.  It is estimated that 100,000 Jews were disposed of at Babi Yar alone.  

The magnitude of these numbers always beleaguers my imagination.  When I lived in Grand Junction, there were 35,000 residents, and it seemed like a pretty big town to me (x 3? in one pit?)  

And much of this action was carried out by rank and file German soldiers.  Indeed it could not have happened without their direct involvement.  And their full and enthusiastic participation could not have been engaged unless they themselves were acting out their own ingrained anti-Semitic belief system.

The evidence of their involvement takes many forms, but most compellingly, in snapshots taken by the soldiers themselves and later lovingly preserved in family photo albums: "Grandpa's Service."  I was reminded of the shock that the Abu Ghraib photos caused, not only because they provided horrific evidence of war crimes by American soldiers (and American female soldiers at that!), but because the pictures had been taken and distributed so freely and joyfully.

The culpability of the common German soldier is not what I was taught in grade school, and it certainly came as a shock to Germans of my generation, whose fathers and grandfathers had been exonerated after the war.  Not surprising, then, that the Exhibit triggered protests, not only by neo-Nazi thugs, but by ordinary middle class Germans and even a few very elderly veterans themselves. 

I found the details of the documentary riveting.  For example, in one brief film clip, a German Red Cross nurse tenderly secures a blanket around a naked elderly Jew's shoulders as she calmly directs him into a mobile gas chamber... 

But the segment that made the greatest impression on me was the research that had been done on the fate of soldiers who refused to participate in the genocide: not a single one who refused to shoot Jews was disciplined in any way, much less court-martialed.  In other words, the soldiers of conscience -- and there were a few, there always are a few good people! -- suffered no negative consequences whatsoever as a result. Which puts the lie to the commonly cited belief that taking a moral stand always meant risking martyrdom.  In other words, the soldiers that shot Jews did so because they wanted to (or at least didn't mind doing so), and the soldiers that didn't shoot Jews did so because they didn't want to.

I hope German historians will continue to seek out and reward, if only posthumously, those individuals.  Because if there are important lessons to be learned by examining why, and how, people commit heinous acts, there are even more important lessons to be learned by examining why, and how, people resist evil.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Angry White Guys

Russell Brand recently remarked "We have more in common with the people we're bombing than the people we're bombing them for."

That quote has been rattling around in my head the last week or so, and I re-quoted it once more to my friends as we sat around the table after we had consumed our Thanksgiving feast, supplemented with a great deal of wine, yesterday.  Talk had turned to the Tea Party, and for some reason it seemed apt to muse upon the ways we have more in common with the people we imagine are our enemies than we do with the powers that be who are really running the show.

I actually know a Tea Partier or two (although neither, thankfully, was present at the table yesterday).  One is a childhood playmate who lives in a cabin in the Tetons.  I haven't seen her since I was eleven years old, and doubt I ever will see her in the flesh again, but we reconnected via Facebook as people do these days, and have been reading each other's posts ever since.  We even had a short, rather awkward chat late one night.  I'm really surprised she hasn't un-friended me by now because I'm sure it has become painfully apparent that we are diametrically opposed on just about any social or political issue there is.   

Lately she's been "sharing" a lot from a Facebook page called American White History Month, which has, as its banner, the slogan "Never apologize for being white!"  For some reason that slogan strikes me as pretty hilarious.  I've never felt I needed to apologize for being white even when, as I was on this particular Thanksgiving, I am surrounded by black and Latina women.  I mean, isn't that part of white privilege?  I hardly ever have to think about race at all!  (At least as it affects me personally.)

The reason I don't un-friend her is because I rather fancy having a small window, via Facebook, on an entirely different way of perceiving the world.  I rather relish being reminded that, if my mother hadn't fled her tiny Mormon hometown at the age of seventeen, I could be that woman myself: a woman who admonishes others to respect the flag and "put the Christ back into Christmas", who hates homosexuals and loves her grandchildren with equal passion, who posts recipes of rich desserts at least twice a day, and who recently shot an elk through her kitchen window while cleaning up after supper.   In a way, she is living my heritage, that of a very devout, albeit very bigoted, modern day frontier woman.

I don't un-friend her because I need to remind myself where I come from -- my own personal white American history -- and how far from "other", in fact, the members of the radical right are to me.

After finishing Michael Kimmel's book, Angry White Men, I am feeling a resurgence of compassion and connection to this corner of humanity as well.   Blame it on the holiday season, perhaps.  These angry white men, with their sense of "aggrieved entitlement," and their woefully misdirected anger, and their nostalgia for a patriarchy that is dismantling under their very feet -- these men are part of my heritage too.  And I'm beginning to feel guilty about making fun of them and shaming them and calling them morons.

Because making fun of these guys is beginning to feel like poking at caged bears.  Or bull fighting.  In other words, it doesn't seem like a fair fight because these guys can't win.  They certainly can't win an intellectual argument, they're on the wrong side of history, and they aren't smart enough to figure out how they are being played.  They are being encouraged (and encouraging one another) to believe "the problem" is immigration, feminism, or affirmative action, or just plain lack of nooky.  The source of their troubles, in other words, is always the class one or two rungs down the ladder.

"Divide and conquer," one of my friends said, as we soberly picked at our pie, and imagined a day when the angry white guys would wake up and smell the coffee.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lost German Girl

I am currently reading Hitler's Furies, which examines the role German women played in the killing machine of the Third Reich.  Perhaps the greatest revelation is how few of them were held accountable for their murderous and sometimes sadistic deeds, and how even after the war, German justice was reluctant to credit the testimony of Jewish survivors against these women.  The few women who were actually brought to trial lied blatantly about what and where they had been; they tried to pin their crimes on their husbands or lovers; they were pregnant at the time (and therefore, for some reason, incapable of shooting Jews in the forest like rabbits); they "forgot" where they were or what they were doing; they were just following orders. They returned to civilian life, some of them in the very same occupations they had held while they were committing their most cold-blooded crimes (i.e., nursing).  

Perhaps it doesn't matter.  They're mostly all dead now, these Germans of my parents' generation, or else very, very old.

I am not a World War II buff by any stretch.  What fascinates me is human cruelty, and identifying the social and psychological circumstances in which human cruelty emerges and flourishes.  Women's capacity for violence has, until recently, been overlooked.  They are seen either as victims or in thrall to a dark masculine force, rather than as people who participate in murder or genocide willingly, even enthusiastically, in service of their own ambition or sadistic pleasure.

On a related note, I cannot quite shake my fascination with "the lost German girl" who was filmed during the evacuation of Germans from Czechoslovakia in 1945.  She has been beaten, and seems exhausted and disoriented.  She is wearing military trousers and braces that seem to fit her too well to have been discarded by a male soldier.  She is clutching a deck of cards (or a bible? or a stack of worthless currency? or identification papers?). She has never been identified, and -- assuming she survived -- probably never wished to be.

A case has been made over at another blog that the photograph below is of the girl in the film, and, having compared the images over and over, I am also persuaded that they are the same person. The photograph is of an as-yet unnamed German woman who was serving in some capacity in the Wehrmacht apparatus in Czechoslovakia. (On the other hand, "the lost German girl" captured on film may simply have been one of millions of ethnic Germans expelled from various countries during this period.) 


It's difficult, watching the film clip, not to feel great compassion for the young woman, who, with her loose, blonde, blood-caked hair, snug jumper, somewhat cynical expression, and meandering gait, appears to be utterly contemporary.  And yet I am also haunted by what she has done, the choices she has made that have brought her to this dark place along a sunny stretch of highway.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Men Hitting Women

I'm in the middle of reading Michael Kimmel's Angry White Men, which David Futrelle recently reviewed.  I'm getting a lot out of it; it's especially interesting to read about the phenomenon of domestic violence from a male, rather than a female, perspective.  For example, Kimmel points out that men use violence at home in an attempt to restore control they have already lost.  This is a slightly different angle than feminists take, who typically recognize a fairly simplistic strong male perpetrator / weak female victim dynamic, but it resonates deeply with my own experience.

Not that I've ever been in a relationship in which a man struck me.  Well, let me say that once a man I was living with slapped me across the face, hard enough to make my ear ring, but the relationship was pretty much over (I was in the process of finding my own apartment) when it happened, and I recall being quite stunned -- like, Are you fucking kidding me?   I simply turned around and walked away, and he didn't pursue until later in the evening, when he began to scream at me from the bottom of the stairwell (because I had announced I was turning off the utilities in the house, which were in my name).  In the midst of his tantrum, he suddenly fell and clutched his chest.  "I'm having a heart attack!" he cried dramatically.  

I calmly watched him writhe and moan from the top of the stairs as he lay in a fetal position.  I wondered how long I would need to wait before I called 911, in order to make sure he was really dead.  He stopped twitching, and became quiet.  After two carefully counted minutes, I decided to leave the house for a while, hoping to return a few hours later to find him cold where he lay at the bottom of the stairwell.

It didn't turn out that way, of course.  As far as I know, he's still very much alive.  The last I heard from him was when he sent me an invitation to his wedding a few months later.  He sent it to let me know he knew where I lived, to remind me that he still had some "control" in our relationship.  I just laughed and tossed it in the trash.  I wasn't afraid of him at that point.  I reckoned that if he had given in to his impulse to kill me, he would have bludgeoned me as I slept in the house we had shared.  In fact, I had always found him ridiculously, contemptibly weak, and he recognized that, which is why he hated me as much as he did. 

This is probably the worst story I can tell on myself.  Friends never fail to express shock and dismay at my cold-hearted behavior.  I'll admit I enjoy telling the story too because of others' reaction.  I suppose it's an indirect way to let them know about the darkest part of my personality.  So now you know why the pseudonym "La Strega" fits me so well; it's not just because I am "bewitching."

I didn't come from a family where men struck women.  My father never hit my mother.  Neither of my grandfathers ever hit my grandmothers.  It's impossible to imagine.  And it's not because these women couldn't be maddening, manipulative, and mean to their men.  It's because I came from a family where being a man was all about being in control, and obviously, a man who has to resort to violence is a man who has allowed his emotions to rule, and has thereby forfeited the perfect control which is his masculine responsibility.  

Neither did my father or either of my grandfathers ever strike their children, or even threaten to.  They never had to, not because we were always good, but because they had so much power in our family that no one dared to challenge their authority.  My father was, in our home, God.  He was, as Joseph Kennedy's daughter described him, "the architect of our lives."  Challenging the authority of my father would have been like dismantling the navigational system of a ship.  It would have been a terrifying, suicidal act of defiance.  And not because he would have punished us, but because, without Daddy, we had nothing.

In my family, it was the women (my mother, her mother, us girls) who were allowed free rein to express their emotions.  Emotional expression was the avenue by which women, not men, communicated.  My mother occasionally spanked us; more often, she threatened to by striking the walls with a wooden spoon, or throwing books and other objects.  Funnily, we were much less afraid of her than we were of our father.  Her lack of self-restraint simply reminded us of how relatively powerless she was.  It confirmed the contempt we already held for her because she was so dependent on our father.  We had already learned that violent displays are the desperate resort of the impotent.

I'm talking physical violence of course.  True, my father never raised a hand toward anyone in his life, and yet his words could eviscerate his opponents.  He hardly ever yelled; it was when he went quiet that the hairs on your arms would start to rise in apprehension. 

And to this day, I am extremely sensitive, and vulnerable, to sarcasm.  And also, truth be told, quite adept at being verbally cruel.

But Kimmel's position about the true power dynamic between violent men and their wives and girlfriends has helped me understand one of the problems I faced as a domestic violence advocate: my lack of true empathy for the female victims.  I just couldn't understand how a woman person could continue to "love" a partner who used violence: not because it was dangerous or painful, but because anyone who "loses it" physically puts himself in a "one down" position.  And why would anyone want to hitch her wagon to that?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Daw Da Hiya

I love Iggy Pop.  And I loved Ofra Haza.  I had no idea, until a commenter informed me tonight, that they had done a duet together.  Ofra Haza was an Israeli singer of Yemeni birth who enjoyed enormous professional success but had a rather sad personal life.  She contracted HIV from her husband and died of AIDS-related pneumonia within a couple of years of her marriage.  The disclosure of the cause of her death shocked the Israeli public, for whom she had been an icon of chastity and purity.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roosh Rallies the Troops! (And Bans Me Again)

Today, Roosh trumpets into the void: "It's time to start delivering death blows to feminists!" 

Ladies who tweet, beware: Roosh and his most fervent disciple Matt Forney are already all over you like flies on shit.  They post the most inflammatory crap they can summon in their overheated imaginations.  (The topic du jour was why girls with eating disorders make the best victims of "game").  Then they sit back and trawl Twitter to harvest the oh-so-predictable outrage.  Anyone who links to a Roosh's (or Matt Forney's) name or their sites gets immediately "retweeted" and perhaps even treated to a special in-person "appearance" from Roosh (or Forney) himself.  In Roosh's case, he will poke around in the girl's twitter account, blog, or whatever else he can find, post a picture of the girl if one is available, and then invite his readers to wank off to her image ("Would you fornicate?").  Classy, huh?  Of course, most of the victims could not care less and quickly disengage from (or block) their would-be tormenter.  I mean, being targeted by Roosh is kinda gross, kinda like stepping in dog feces, but a typical girl wipes her feet and soldiers on...  It's not like most women are unfamiliar with this sort of uninvited attention / abuse.

But Roosh, at least, has wearied of this particular game.  After one female student in the UK blew him off on twitter last night, he spent several hours composing a new screed, this time upping the stakes in the Battle of the Sexes that he and his flying monkeys are fighting (entirely in their own minds).

"We have reached a level of influence that ignoring us is no longer an effective means of attack.  By leaving us alone for so long, they gave us the needed time to carefully optimize our belief system and recruit committed soldiers to the cause."

Well, uhm, actually, I think the problem may be that people have not yet figured out that the "manosphere" is one big trolling operation, and that leaving these trolls alone is probably the only way to shut them up.  Most people are more bemused than alarmed when Roosh pops out of their twitter woodwork.  Once they've figured out who he is, he is summarily blocked:  Ah! a person of no importance at all to anyone.

I have no idea what it means "to carefully optimize our belief system."  And frankly, after a day of marking student essays, my brain is too fried to even try to decipher this.

"An attack last year from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a formidable adversary with millions of dollars in resources, strengthened us more than hurt. We overcame them like a dog scratching away a flea."

Well, it's true the SPLC took some heat for its creation of a list of "misogynists" to keep an eye on; some folks thought they were trivializing their mission by bothering to include rape-apologists like Roosh and Paul Elam.  Personally, I am reassured that at least one social justice group (mostly thanks to the unflagging efforts of  David Futrelle) are monitoring these guys.  Personally, I consider these guys and their followers to be hate groups, pure 'n' simple, straight up.  And it's no coincidence that manosphere blogs tend to be fertile ground for racists, homophobes, and conspiracy nuts of all stripes.

(Also, forgive me, but Roosh is seriously underestimating the power of fleas.  As the owner of four dogs, I can attest that none of them has been able to "scratch away" the problem, and at this point I should seriously consider investing in Frontline or Advantage stocks.)

"Even when they cherry pick quotes of [sic] context, the intelligent man (who I cater to) can easily see through the distortions by doing his own research.  He's just a couple of clicks away from learning that media portrayals are dishonest and one-sided."

Cherry pick what quotes?  Distortions of what?  Media portrayals of what?  And if idle googling is your idea of "research"....  Well, suffice to say there is a reason we uptight academics don't allow students to use wikipedia as a legitimate source for academic papers.

Actually, the saddest bit of the passage above is Roosh's cynical claim that he "caters to the intelligent man."  Even Roosh knows, on some level, that his followers are a horde of sub-literates whom he manipulates and exploits in an attempt to maintain his own pathetic "lifestyle" -- a lifestyle that consists primarily of living in cheap sublets, hanging out in internet coffee bars, and preying on Ukrainian teenagers.

"We won't change the minds of most women, and we won't convert the most die-hard of white knights, but the most powerful of their upcoming attacks will have the main result of converting more men over to our side."

OK, women are, what -- like, 52% of the U.S. population?  Now add in the "die hard white knights" (I assume this will include most of the husbands, fathers, brothers, lovers, sons, friends, allies, and colleagues of said women?)  What are you left with now?  A veritable handful of pathetic sods and wankers who can't get girlfriends because they are socially inept?  Wow, I'm quaking in my boots, man!

"They're damned if they come after us and damned if they don't, due to the antifragile construction of our network. This suggests that a tipping point has been reached and it no longer matters what they do, because our ideas have already pollinated mainstream society."

Oh, dear.  When Nessim Talib recently complimented Roosh's summary of his book (via Twitter), I knew it was gonna go to poor Roosh's head.  (And the fact that Talib was roundly laughed at by his Twitter cronies as a result seems to have escaped Roosh entirely). 

And as for the word "pollinated"... yuck, can this idiot produce one single post that doesn't reference his own spooge? 

"We're at the point where we have enough musculature that we can pick up the big stone off the ground... through one simple action:  holding our enemies responsible for their words."

As evidence, Roosh points to the fact that many "mainstream outlets" have chosen to kill comments sections entirely rather than host streams of feminist outrage vs. anti-feminist rhetoric. And yeah, I'm impressed with your new "musculature."  Now, instead of looking like "a noodle-armed terrorist," you look like "a defined biceps-armed terrorist."

"Seeing these comments is a good sign, but it doesn't go far enough.  The next step is to hold them responsible for the rest of their lives." 

 Roosh proceeds to hatch his diabolic, moustache-twirling scheme of world domination by explaining how the "manospherians" can ruin (ruin, I tell you!) the lives of "feminists" by tweaking Google searches.  In other words, make sure any search for a "man-hating" blogger or journalist results in a link to some manosphere blogger's evisceration of her "reputation."  There, that will teach 'em a lesson!

"The views of every female hatemonger must be preserved in Google" so that "future employers... know of her belief system."

Projection, much? I mean, here is a guy who has admitted that, if he were to do it all over again, would NOT have revealed his true identity online.  I am sure James C. Weidmann (aka "Roissy") who was unwillingly outed (and subsequently terminated from his job) would concur.  Old farts Paul Elam, a former "addictions counselor" and Bill Price (whom who I understand is a former car salesman) had little in the way of "careers" to lose to start out with. 

"It's fun to lash out at them on Twitter, [but] we must also choose a more permanent and Google-able medium to create a historical record of their behavior." 

Well, I'm not sure what is more pathetic here:  Roosh's idea that "Google" will some day stand as the "historical record," or that any person who stands up against hate groups has anything to fear from either future employers or history itself.  

Seriously.  I use a pseudonym for my blogging and online activity, not because I fear being outed to my employer (whom I am fairly certain could not care less about anything I have ever posted), but because I am just a teensy bit paranoid of nut jobs (like the partially hinged, moronic commentators of Roosh's blogs) showing up at my doorstep or workplace unannounced, AK-7s in hand.

If the sort of "activism" that Roosh is promoting ( = inflammatory posts followed by online harassment) succeeds at anything, it is convincing many people that there continues to be a need for "feminism" at all... 

Because here is the thing:  Until recently, I would not have identified myself first and foremost as a "feminist."  That is to say, until the past couple of years, I took feminism for granted.  Of course, I supported the principles of feminism: equal opportunity, equal responsibility, regardless of gender.  I just figured that those principles had become so deeply embedded and interwoven into the fabric of western culture that I no longer had to pay attention.  The battles had been fought and won by the generation who came of age a decade before me, and my "job" was to just carry these on.  

Frankly, the emergence of the New Misogynists changed all that.  I am no longer complacent, and suddenly the historical struggles of feminism -- all the way back to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin -- have become fresh, compelling, and relevant to me.  And for that, I suppose, I can thank the gentlemen of the "manosphere."

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Suffragettes

When I was a child, my image of the early 20th century Suffragettes was based on watching Glynis Johns as Mrs. Banks in the 1965 movie "Mary Poppins."

In other words, they were silly, blowsy middle aged ladies in corsets and ridiculous hats, strutting around, smashing windows, chaining themselves to iron gates, and blithely neglecting their domestic responsibilities.  (Never fear, by the end of "Mary Poppins", Mrs. Banks has seen the error of her ways.)

However, the resurgence of the New Misogynists -- many of whom would frankly like to return to a pre-suffrage America -- has made me more curious about, and appreciative of, the ladies of the Suffrage Movement. 

You can watch Hilary Swank and Frances O'Connor in an HBO movie, Iron Jawed Angels", playing the respective roles of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.

By the end of the film, both women have endured relentless mockery, betrayal by the competing "old guard" women's party, the corruption of law enforcement and congress, incarceration as political prisoners, beatings and torture. The scenes depicting forced feedings are particularly horrifying.  Ultimately, of course, Paul and the single plank National Woman's Party triumphed:  The 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote in 1920.  

"Iron Jawed Angels" is not a great film.  I must admit I'm not a huge fan of Swank's onscreen persona; she always reminds me of a camp counselor with her toothy grin and endless, intense enthusiasm.  I'm also getting a bit tired of seeing Anjelica Huston cast as "the villainess."  And I found the use of contemporary songs in the sound track a distracting anachronism.  There is an entirely unnecessary "love interest" of course -- I guess so the audience won't assume Burns and Paul, quel horreur, were lesbian lovers?  However, the movie is fairly unique in its telling of an important and seldom-taught piece of history, and it reminds those of us who have been following the New Misogynists what a return to "the good old days" would look like.