Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Magical Other and Misogyny

Other is a dangerous thing to be.

Other is a dangerous to everyone else, and dangerous to the poor soul judged to be other.

Some links for you:

Fairies Kill Four Villagers
(and the Archive's press release)

People took this stuff very, very seriously.


Bridget Cleary: Fairy Intrusion in Nineteenth Century Ireland
Lisa Spangenberg relates the untimely death of Bridget Cleary:
In March of 1895 Bridget Boland Cleary was a trained seamstress, with a good eye for fashion, who owned her own Singer sewing machine. She lived with her husband Michael Cleary and her father Patrick Boland in a small cottage in Ballyvadlea, Tipperary, Ireland. Michael, like his wife, was atypical in that he could read and write; he worked as a cooper. In 1895 they'd been married about eight years; Bridget was 26, and Michael was 35. On the fifteenth of March, Michael Cleary, believing his wife Bridget had been taken by the fairies and that they had left a changeling in her place, having spent three days in various rituals that were intended to force the changeling to leave and bring his wife back from where the fairies had taken her, set fire to her. He and nine others of Bridget Cleary's relatives and neighbors were tried for her death.

Let's Watch a Girl Get Beaten To Death
Joss Whedon's well-linked rant:
I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death?

"The Sky Isn't Evil. Try Looking Up."
The excellent PNH's take on the Joss Whedon rant, linked above. TNH posted this in the illuminating and vigorous comments thread:
The question of whether or not you're respectable is a subtext in these interactions. The game goes like this: if you're a good girl, you'll be confused and upset by what they're saying. If you're not a good girl, you're fair game. I once heard Annie Sprinkle say that until prostitution is legalized, no woman will be free. This struck me as true at the time, but it took a long time for me to tease out the implications. One of them is that as long as there are women who are outside the protection of the social contract, all women are threatened with reassignment to that category.

Not Your Erotic Not Your Exotic (with thanks to Laura Mixon for the link)
An eloquent, angry, and articulate blog post:
I read Vox Ex Machina's post entitled "Help Iraqi Women" in which she covers, with disgust, a site called International Sex Guide.

I clicked on the link above and read some from white men telling other white men about "hitting" and "banging" women of color in Iraq, Mexico, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, South Africa ... and on and on ...

This sh*t is violent. Demeaning. Colonial.

This is a war.

We've not even talked about witches, yet. For that, I'm going to return briefly to one of my own posts from about a couple of years ago:

I give you Sarah Wilds. She was, by some accounts, a somewhat wild young woman. She'd been arrested twice for lewd behavior in the past.
One of those arrests was for wearing a bright scarf.
The Salem arrest warrant for Sarah (and others included in the same warrant) reads:
Salem Aprill the 21'th 1692 There Being Complaint this day made (before us) by Thomas putnam and John Buxton of Salem Village Yeomen, in behalfe of their Majest's for them selfes and also for severall of theire Neighbours, Against Wm Hobbs husbandman and Delive' his wife, Nehemiah Abot Jun'r weaver. Mary Easty the wife of Isaac Easty and Sarah. Wilds the wife of John Wilds all of the Towne of Topsfield.

This all gets quite depressing, after a while. Especially when you can open any newspaper and find another story that would fit right in, here.

So there's an odd tension happening here, right? First, the hints that sexuality forms the real issue. Otherness is hawt. Wild and unfettered and somehow much sexier and more exotic . . . something as small as a brightly-colored scarf can mark you as other.

And it's okay, appealing and naughty, even, as long as you're not too other. Then you're still sexy, but you probably are too dangerous to actually fuck. And look at the accompanying language around otherness and sex -- it's very much the language of violence.

And it's on a gradient, right? The more other Bridget Cleary gets, the more independent, the more self-sufficient, the longer she remains childless -- the more other she seems. Remember the newspaper article linked, a couple of paragraphs ago? "The party's discriminating tone harkens to the day of the 'brown paper bag test,' which compared the complexions of blacks to a brown grocery bag before they could be admitted to social clubs and affairs, said Pearl Jr." It's titillating and sexy to be just other enough. But too far beyond the pale, and you're a threat.

Let's look at TNH's observation again, shall we?

As long as there are women who are outside the protection of the social contract, all women are threatened with reassignment to that category."

Too much other, and you're a whore. A slut.

Or worse, yet -- Queer.

More on all this, soon.


ORION said...

Reading these things just makes me sad.

I wish I had noticed you were in Seattle! I would have dropped a note when I was doing signings there at Elliott Bay among other places!
Love your blog!
a fellow blogger/Awer

Anonymous said...

My daughter falls into the "other" because she is Asatru and a scholar. Thankfully, she fills society's classification of pretty, so that lets her off the hook to a small degree.

I broke the sex barrier working as one of three females in the paper mill back in 1980. For three months, I was not allowed to take a break or eat my food I brought in my lunch box. They were trying to run me off from the high paying job. Little did they know I'd been documenting everything in a calendar journal. I brought it to work, showing my supervisor his discrimination of me as a female, and threatened a sexual harassment suit. He knew I had the evidence to hang him by his balls. From that day forward, he treated me like the rest of the crew. The writer in me saved my life as they were working me to exhaustion.

Thank you for an eye opening piece. One day, things will be right for women, that is my dream.

Jean Marie said...

It's disturbing, Mac. On numerous levels.

Anonymous said...

In 1692 it was a bright scarf. In 1991 it was a black veil, the ordinary sort women wear to funerals. See "Demonized Women" by Jennifer Drobac, very much befitting your topic and thesis: tinyurl link or full link

Mac said...

Thanks for the link! It's a thought-provoking essay, and the parallels are chilling.

Pete said...

I always read stuff like this and then fail to say anything on the matter, because I don't have an opinion. Not because I don't care, but because it just perplexes me. I guess maybe I grew up sheltered, or maybe I didn't think along the right lines, but it never occurred to me to think less of anyone because of skin color, or sex, or belief. Hating someone for being gay, or female, or Catholic, baffles me as much as hating someone for being bipedal. I just don't follow.

So it perplexes me, and I wind up wandering away and reading no further, not because I don't care, but because I don't understand...and don't wish to. There are so many fascinating things to learn about humanity and the world around me, I take (what is perhaps the cowardly) approach of leaving alone this darkness and moving on to different things.

Anonymous said...

This kind of stuff makes me sad too. But part of my reason is that I was 'other', of sorts. Even though I am a man, I am also very different from people who might consider themselves normal. I have never before this time understood why people have hated me so much: it's because I'm other, or different, sometimes to a severe extent. I guess some people just find my being other, threatening.

And my personality has changed so much in the last five or so years, that my otherness had, for the longest time, been effectively hidden so as not to stir up trouble for myself. The thing is, that's not me, and for me to act like I'm not what I am, is foolishness on my own part.

I hope you have a good day today, Mac, and I look forward to continuing to read your blog and possibly keep in touch. :)