Sunday, July 25, 2010

Honor Killings, Opie & Anthony, and Torture-porn

Posted 5/20/2007 7:40 PM...

I'm angry today.

The "honor-killing" of Dua Khalil struck another chord with me, much as Abu Ghraib did and Guantanamo did. They similarity? The torture and death of defenseless people (yes, some of the people at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo were bad folks, but even the Army admitted that 90-95% of the Abu Ghraib prisoners were innocents picked up by mistake).

Dua Khalil, a 17 year-old Kurd was killed by a mob of her male family members while other men stood by and either filmed the procedings or prevented rescue. In some of the video, onlookers are wearing what appears to be Kevlar body armor. Dua was killed simply because the "men" in her family saw her walking with a man of another faith on a city street, and assumed that she had married him, and was converting away from their non-Abrahamic (and thus non-Muslim) ancestral faith. Without even bothering to check the veracity of this claimed secret marriage, the "men" of her family dragged her aside, and kicked and stoned her to death.

You can see the video here. And here. Keep in mind that it is fairly graphic. Watch it at your own risk.

CNN is reporting that four men have been arrested in the murder, but, honestly, like in most "honor killings", the killers will likely get minimal punishment. This is an issue not just in Iraq, but in many "traditional" areas where women have few rights - large swaths of the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.

These actions are barbaric, regardless of what is driving it - religion, ethnicity, fear of change, it doesn't much matter. These "men" dragged a young girl into a public square and brutally murdered her in front of witnesses over a perceived slight to the family honor. A slight that is made even worse by the fact that the accusations are apparently untrue. Not that that really matters. Women aren't property. People aren't property. If someone wants to marry outside their parent's desires, that's their prerogative.

This idea that women are nothing more than objects of desire that should (or can) be controlled has to be put to its timely end.

Unfortunately recent events in the United States clearly illustrate that the problem is not confined to "traditional" cultures, either. Kathy Sierra, a prominent female blogger, who writes and gives conference presentation in technical fields, was the target of threats of rape and murder on uncensored blogs, as well as messages directed to her personally. Her personal identification, including address and SSN were posted in forums discussing fantasies of her rape and murder. The individuals providing the forums for, or defending, the threats were not random psychopaths, but "A-list" bloggers in the IT realm. Since Sierra's only obvious offense was to be a female in a male-dominated field, we can only assume that she became a target simply because she was a woman
. The Guardian provides a study that shows that women are 25 times (2500%) more likely to receive threats than men who blog.

Think about that - 2500% more likely to receive a threat on the Internet. Simply because they are women

It doesn't stop with the Internet. Satellite radio, the post-Imus haven of shock jocks, has its own misogynistic controversy this month. XM hosts Opie and Anthony were suspended for thirty days after airing a segment which presented a fantasy of rape of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and similar fantasies related to First Lady Laura Bush and Queen Elizabeth II, and joked about it (audio and transcript). Although XM initially took no public actions, when Opie and Anthony gave a half-hearted apology, followed by dismissing the issue as if it didn't matter. Since the FCC doesn't regulate satellite radio, and they are on a a channel labeled "uncensored", they clearly thought that they should simply be left alone.

Most of the online reaction has predictably been in support of Opie and Anthony, citing issues of Free Speech or concerns of censorship, bypassing the issue of rape or sexual assault. The guys supporting Opie and Anthony are reluctant to discuss this issue, preferring to view it as merely "sex". The one comment I could find representing the other side was to ask people supporting Opie and Anthony how they would feel if someone was making a joke out of raping their mother or sister.

This is important - the "men", mostly young, who defend Opie and Anthony, or Kathy Sierra's attackers, all claim that their behavior is protected speech, joking, or humor, and that they rest of us - especially the targets - should just get over it. Evidently since the victims are just women, not people, suggesting that they should be assaulted and degraded or that assaults, rapes, or murders should be the objects of humor. This is not about freedom of speech. This is not about the 1st Amendment (which applies only to government censorship). This is about a culture of misogynistic disdain for women.

You have to wonder if the American version of this, which is just as vile as that found in "traditional" settings, is in anyway related to the rising trend in "torture porn" in American cinema and other media. The newest installment of this variety of entertainment is the film Captivity
, which features a young woman who is kidnapped and tortured throughout. Captivity comes on the heels of the Saw series, the difference being that in Saw, the main victim is male, with supporting female victims. Of course, the ultimate in torture porn is Kiefer Sutherland's television series 24, which features it often enough, and has significant enough impact that the Pentagon found it necessary to ask the show's producers to tone the use of torture down to lessen the impulse of soldiers to use torture as tool.

My question is why this happens, and more importantly, why women allow
it to continue. Joss Whedon believes that part of the problem is that men are at some level jealous of women's ability to bear children, in effect to maintain the species. He calls it "Womb Envy". If this is the case, it is built into both Western and Eastern cultures - all you have to do is look at God's punishment of Eve for succumbing to the serpent in the Garden of Eve to see how far back this particular concept goes. The long history of European witch hunts were largely about male fear of women that were either strong personalities, dealt with uniquely feminine health concerns (midwives), or held onto knowledge or folk practices that threatened the male-dominated religious and secular hierarchies (herbalism, pagan religious practices). The accused were tortured and executed for not kowtowing to men.

Joss asks the most important question of the day: "What's wrong with women?" He wants to know why men are threatened by women, when men hold all of the actual and implied power in the modern world. This question can also lead in another direction, though. In most of the world, women outnumber men - in the United States the demographics show the United States with 51%/49% gender split with women in the lead. So my question is why women tolerate it. At least numerically, they hold the advantage. In democratic states, women should be driving the agenda, not victims of it.

I don't believe, though, that having a matriarchal paradigm is the answer, as some posters at Whedonesque have suggested. There's no reason to think that there would be less competition, anger, or fear, in matriarchal societies - we just don't have any actual evidence that this is the case. This is also not a phenomenon that is limited to traditional societies - anger toward women is simply expressed differently in the United States, generally with less fatal consequences, but that may just be a thin veneer of civilization.

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