Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sodini shooting, misogyny, and the media

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Columns in the NYT usually leave me with mixed reactions. Not so with Bob Herbert's column yesterday. Writing in response to the horrific Sodini shootings, Herbert tells it like it is. On Tuesday, George Sodini walked into an all-female aerobics class and opened fire, killing three women, wounding nine others, and finally turning the gun on himself. Sodini's blog revealed deep misogyny and frustration toward all women. Basically, he believed that all of the "desirable single women" in the country were systematically and deliberately rejecting him. And he turned that frustration into a murderous rage toward a room full of women he had never met. There are a lot of guys like Sodini, who we've mostly dismissed as crazy - but let's face it, he got validation for his ideas from somewhere. The shooting was a hate crime writ large, but in America, violence against women is so normal that we need to be slapped in the face with a crime of this magnitude before we start to admit it.

This incident is getting a lot of coverage, and many people, including Bob Herbert, are drawing connections between this crime and the culture of misogyny, humiliation and violence that surrounds women. Herbert writes, "We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected. We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment."

I was a little astonished by Herbert's column, but I shouldn't need to be - everything he's saying is true. Women are killed every day because they are women. There is no other reason. I do appreciate that the mainstream media is treating Sodini's crime for what it is - a crime motivated by hatred of women - but it's distressing that it takes the deaths of three innocent women for this column to be published in the NYT.

If you're interested, there's good coverage of the Sodini shooting at Feministing, Jezebel, WIMN's Voices, Feministe, and Pandagon.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Hello from Brazil: sex reassignment surgeries as public healthcare

by Josh Franklin

Hello everybody, sorry it's been so long! I'm in Porto Alegre, Brazil doing anthropological research. I've started researching a court case involving a transgendered patient group that brought legal action against the Brazilian government, demanding that the public health system pay for their sex reassignment surgeries. The patients won the case, and while it was awaiting appeal, the government decided to accept the decision independently of the results of the appeal.

The case was brought on the basis of Brazil's constitutionally-guaranteed right to health, but the ruling judge made his decision not only on the basis of a right to health but also a concept of individual rights of gender, sexuality, and identity.

This decision is both exciting and problematic at the same time. It's thrilling to see such explicit progressivism in both the judicial system and the public health system, where decisions are made with an explicit challenge to binary gender and using a language of critical gender theory. At the same time, this program is situated in the context of conservative Catholic values that structure much of Brazilian culture. Is a federal court the appropriate place to conduct crucial public discourse? When social values are negotiated through bureaucratic procedures, it allows all the relevant actors to refuse accountability; when human dignity is understood through a complex language of legal-technical jargon, is it possible that the lived experiences of those whose dignity is at stake are ignored?

Over the next few weeks, I am going to speak with transgendered people in the public health system, as well as health professionals, lawyers, judges, and social activists. I'll keep you guys updates on what I learn, and I hope that you'll find it interesting.

And, as a bonus, here's a little piece of gender from Brazil, an anti-smoking ad. This image, or one of several similar ones, is put on all cigarette cartons: