Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We want gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military...but it's not like we're interested in extending normal civil rights to them!

I'm listening to Diane Rehm right now, and there are two military-affiliated guests discussing Don't Ask Don't Tell - one just claimed that abolishing DADT "isn't about gay rights." I can't help but think of the famous I'm not a feminist, but... I believe [explicitly feminist idea] to be true.

Given the very poor job the US military has done of integrating women safely into the service, I find my instinct to roll my eyes at the homophobia driving the policy a little thwarted. If the leadership in the US military doesn't expect itself to be mature enough to deal with potential harassment of gay servicepeople, and we have a ready example of the military dealing poorly with social change, I would be inclined to believe the claim that people would be freaked out by openly-serving gays and lesbians in a way that discipline and official policies couldn't guarantee their safety.

This is not to say that I am comfortable letting the rapists and homophobes dictate who can and cannot serve to defend this country. Though, knowing the stats about sexual assault in the military, I would definitely discourage my daughter from entering. It would sure be nice if Americans could grow up already and realize that women and homosexuals (do I need a Venn diagram here?) are currently and have always been contributing to every sector of society.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Disappearing the sick

You may have heard about the increasingly-common practice of jailing people carrying highly-contagious, drug-resistant tuberculosis. I've seen more than one news article on the subject over the past year, but was really surprised when I heard this report on NPR yesterday, where the reporter was unable to get ahold of the patient, Robert Daniels, and had to resort to slipping her number to him through a messenger so he could call her collect, only to be cut off after ten minutes. He's been totally isolated in a criminal facility because he happened to catch the wrong bug.

While I recognize the real danger someone unknowingly or recklessly spreading dangerous diseases, I just can't believe that this is the best approach. A few years ago, Moscow had a with similar attributes, where a local man was convicted on felony charges of "knowing he was HIV-positive and transferring or attempting to transfer body fluid to women in Moscow without informing them he was infected." The problem with this when it comes to actually stopping the spread of disease is that if the man in the HIV case, Kanay Mubita, had never been tested for HIV, he would never have gotten in trouble. It creates a perverse incentive against being tested.

On the other hand, I do recognize that knowingly exposing others to deadly disease is not behavior that should go unpunished. If we're going to make what Mubita did a crime, we also need to make HIV testing mandatory. And if we're going to jail people like Daniels, we need legislation that defines his behavior as criminal, and to try them in court. I would accept some distinction between diseases that manifest themselves obviously (like TB) and those that one might not know they were carrying. But as it is, there are plenty of idiots out there who don't wash their hands before leaving the bathroom or undercook hamburgers, and they're not facing jail time. Mubita and Daniels have both put people around them at risk, but unlike the guy who didn't wash his hands, they're carrying sensationalistic diseases that people get excited about. Legislation can be a useful tool for preventing public health problems, but it needs to be tailored towards actual risk reduction, and not just making people feel less scared or more vindicated in the face of the latest scary disease.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Shape of Water

Tonight I had the chance to see The Shape of Water, a film about female activists in the third world. The director, an academic who studies development in the third world, set out to make a film that showed how women around the world are standing up for their dignity and survival, in their own ways and within their own cultures. (She was also at the screening, which was pretty neat.) There's much that inspires in this movie and much that breaks your heart - five groups of women living in poverty have their work cut out for them to simply survive, let alone fight forces like multinational corporations and thousand-year-old traditions.

I was very struck by the sensitivity expressed in these groups' approaches to their problems. A Senegalese activist group speaking out against female genital cutting not only hosted movie viewings and public discussions about the issue, but reached out to those who actually relied on performing the procedure as a livelihood by finding alternative sources of income. And they were not afraid to go head-to-head with the people who disagree with them; one of the most interesting moments in the film involved a young man toting a cell phone and wearing a Nike t-shirt arguing to the women that they needed to remain loyal to their African customs and not be so quick to embrace white Western culture.

It takes someone with an understanding of where the custom comes from and why it persists to begin to approach ending it. News stories about FGM and honor killings and other practices that Western readers can't begin to understand portray them as arising out of a vacuum - being an expression of pure evil. But there's no such thing as pure evil; there's a reason for everything people do, even if the reasons are based on misunderstandings or lies or wishful thinking. The Shape of Water gracefully shows that making culture-wide change is more complicated than just asking people to stop.

Friday, January 05, 2007


I've started several posts about the story of a girl named Ashley with severe mental and physical disabilities, whose parents are electing to have her reproductive organs removed and her hormones modulated so that she will never progress to puberty. I've started posts, but really articulating my feelings has been difficult. The best post I've seen so far has been by Wheelchair Dancer, so check it out.

Still, I am so viscerally appalled, I'd like to get my feelings out there. Wheelchair Dancer titles her post simply "human rights," because that's exactly what is being denied of this girl. A commenter at brownfemipower's place (where I first found out about this) dug up this message board quote by a medical ethicist regarding Ashley's impending procedures:
If the concern has something to do with the girl’s dignity being violated, then I have to protest by arguing that the girl lacks the cognitive capacity to experience any sense of indignity. Nor do I believe this is somehow demeaning or undignified to humanity in general; the treatments will endow her with a body that more closely matches her cognitive state – both in terms of her physical size and bodily functioning. The estrogen treatment is not what is grotesque here. Rather, it is the prospect of having a full-grown and fertile woman endowed with the mind of a baby.
The guy has really laid his cards on the table here: he doesn't think she's human. If there is anything that defines being human, it is dignity. This commenter doesn't even think she has the capability for dignity. She is "grotesque" in her disabled - different - state, and some ambiguous squicky feeling entitles someone to pick up a scalpel?!

Then, there's the women-as-fucktoy aspect, where they will take from her body perfectly healthy organs because she isn't going to use them for reproduction - because they won't be of any (healthy) use to anyone other than herself. The lame excuses about removing her breasts for her own comfort are mind-bogglingly stupid: why not just remove her arms and legs too? Why not just murder her?

And how do they know she's not "using" her sexual organs? She cannot move, and she cannot consent to sexual contact, but as Wheelchair Dancer says:
Sexual pleasure is natural. Kids don't have and don't need the full intellectual apparatus of sexuality to know that if you touch here, the feeling is good. Why shouldn't Ashley have that feeling? I am not suggesting that anyone touch her in that way -- explicitly sexual touch without full and free consent is not acceptable. But if Ashley can feel pleasure in the way her clothes fit her or in the movement of her clothes or her body, why shouldn't she? To take both her, at this point in her life, healthy breasts and uterus to avoid the possible pain of cramping and other menstruation related difficulties or disabled life-related difficulties is incomprehensible to me.

I can understand freely-chosen body modification as an expression of oneself, or even for simple comfort or pleasure. What I cannot comprehend is the severe and painful modification of someone who cannot consent to it. I realize that her family does not intend to be selfish here, and that the lack of clear communication means that they must make inferences and even guesses as to what will best fulfill her needs and wants. How those serious considerations lead to cutting open her body and taking her apart piece by piece is what I can't begin to understand.

For some better-informed (and, all-around better) perspective on the dignity and integrity of the disabled body, see also this post by ballastexistenz, an autistic woman with a hell of an axe to grind. Good conversations are shaping up at Alas, A Blog and Woman of Color Blog.