Skepchick Quickies, 4.18


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. Poisoning schoolgirls. The Republican War on Women. The girl who posted her picture on reddit and was publicly raped over the internet.
    Are we really this fucked up as a species? The journey toward real equality across the board just seems so much more daunting.
    When can we start shooting the bastards?

    1. That story pushed me about as far as I get to wanting to line the bastards up & shoot them. What can we do instead? If we don't live in the countries that have such hideous attitudes ourselves, what can *we* do beyond agitating our politicians to make it easier for women to immigrate our own (presumably less sexist) countries, and finding the material ways of helping women get out? We have been largely ineffectual on the "winning hearts and minds" front that would result in actually changing these attitudes, and efforts to help women and girls in situ are great but seem small given the magnitude of the problem.

      1. One thing we could do is keep our worthless noses out of other people's business. It's the US, after all, that put the Taliban in charge of Afghanistan in the first place. Before Reagan and Carter, the Soviet-backed regime there was sending girls to university and putting women in government posts and establishing modern medical care. But we couldn't have that, because that was Communism. Much better now, especially after blowing it up some more.

        1. I wholeheartedly agree that somebody in the US Cabinet should have recognized the shortsightedness and idiocy of US backing of the Taliban.
          However, women's rights and opportunities were improving well before the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan took power. Even under Zahir Shah, women got the right to vote and run for parliament, and the first women served as ministers. Actually, he started the first high schools for girls during WWII. He overturned laws requiring women be veiled in the 1950s. He wasn't fast but it was progress. When Muhammed Daoud Khan became president in 1973, he sped up the process, enforcing laws already in place that outlawed bride price and polygamy, establishing even greater educational opportunities for women. Rural women were still mostly out of this loop, though.
          Many womens groups did support and contribute to the rise of PDPA, and the communists really did try to expedite reform. Sadly, they were hamfisted and arrogant about it and a backlash occurred, which they responded to by summarily executing citizens they thought might be perhaps maybe  be involved. As these uprisings were mostly in the rural north, in the very areas where women were then most repressed, and the mass executions so grisly, the reform efforts did not help the people who most needed it.
          But this is exactly what I mean about the "failure to win the hearts and mind," something the US and the Soviets failed to do many times, in many places. The executions were actually before the Soviet invasion, but the Soviets were instrumental in getting the PDPA in power, and even many communists and feminists were outraged that the Soviets invaded. The Mujahideen garnered support in the rural areas to fight the communists/Soviets. And then the US throws its support behind the Mujahideen. With both the Soviets and the US playing Cold War chess with the Aghan factions, both poisoned their reputations for supporting human rights generally, and women's rights specifically, in Afghanistan. Sorry I'm oversimplyfying here. The point I'm trying to get to is that an understandable distrust of outsiders arises (not just in Afghanistan but the Congo, Malaysia, etc), that taints the relationships that international women's groups, or other human rights groups, tries to develop with the citizenry or the powers of a state. Furthermore, no outside group can be as sensitive to, or as informed about, methods to effecting change and the fallout that may incur.
          Sorry, this is a much longer post than I planned & I'm leaving it with only questions, not answers– given the crap cart we've inherited, how do we, outsiders, impart the idea that women have rights and should not be, for example, poisoned for attending school, to people within a state who think they are right to do this? How do we, or can we,  prevent this from happening again?

      2. @ bibliotequetress: Regarding 'Afghan schoolgirls poisoned in anti-education attack', there is apparently so much hate, for lack of a better term, that is there for people to want to poison schoolgirls. It is hard for me to fathom a reason why anyone would do this. To your question, "What can we do instead?" I think that it is useful to understand that misogyny left unchallenged is just that bad. This is why it is so imiportant that we continue to fight misogyny. I don't have it in my power to move mountains a crossed an ocean, but I can learn from fellow human beings and try for better for my community, family and myself. I can extend my support, compassion and if I feel appropriate my money and time to people who live far away from me. I don't know if that helps? :)

        1. Thanks, that does address what I was asking. But do you have ideas as to how we, sympathetic people outside of the culture or country, speak to that mysogyny? I feel like we have had years of speaking out against it, or supporting those group within Afghanistan fighting the sexism– like RAWA– and not only have we had little effect but we have sometimes made it worse by provoking a backlash, or a feeling in the citizenry they are threatened by carpetbaggers. I'm going to spend some time tonight trying to find a case of effective efforts made from outside a culture that results in substantial changes in attitude towards women within that culture. Even the effective campaigns I know of off the top of my head– ie diminishing female circumcision in the Sudan– did not have as much impact as many supporters would have liked, and had limited impact on the most impoverished, rural women women who suffered from circumcision and its complication the most. Will post what I find.

          1. To your question, “But do you have ideas as to how we, sympathetic people outside of the culture or country, speak to that misogyny?” I can’t speak about activism in feminism, but I have a few years’ experience working for persons with disabilities and as an advocate.  Again, I can’t speak for feminism, but as an advocate for disabled persons I could give a voice to people who did not have one at community meetings, with local businesses and community partners. Often times, this meant pointing out barriers to other community members, at times pointing out the law and appealing to others’ sense of compassion.  I know it did make a difference.
            There are many ways a person can contribute to a cause. I chose a non-for-profit approach for a few years. Honestly, it was great! But it was not sustainable for me. It was exhausting. I will leave it at that unless you are interested in this approach. On a local level I was involved not only in the organization, but the community, politics and the lives of many individuals that lived with or had their lives touched by persons with disabilities. I got to meet our State Senator, State Representatives, and talk with local policy makers.
            There is always volunteerism. I can’t say how this can best be pursued. I am from MI and there is a large population of people who hailed from the Middle East. When I was in Iraq a few years ago many people not only heard of MI, but were familiar with the cities. A number of people had family living not two hours from my house. Any outreach that a person did in those communities in MI would have a reach that would stretch around the world. I suppose that this sort situation would depend on your location. If you were considering something like this, I would suggest checking into local groups that are already organized and learn what the situation is for the area.
            It is perfectly okay to send money or donations to organizations you would be comfortable with. Honestly, I am not in a position to send money to organizations, but it is surprising that if you ask an organization what they need, you would be surprised what you can give in other ways. When I asked for donations, while money is good, there are so many things that are needed and it is surprising what can find a second use.
            Next there is raising awareness. This can be a little shouting from the mountain top. Certainly there is no one size fits all solution to any problem. There are individual situations and people that could use help. There are so many fronts to work on this, but without practical experience or having first-hand knowledge of the situation, it may be tricky to be involved in this way.
            And, to your question about effective campaigns for women’s rights, there are people like the winners of The Nobel Peace Prize: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman. They are working within their communities.  

             As far as international outreach there is providing medical aid (like Doctors Without Borders) and education. I am not familiar with international feminist activism, just what I have read in the news. I am sure there are more organizations that are providing aid.
            There are many more ways that a person can be active in a cause, but this is my humble and I am sure limited approach to activism. (I know there people like those awesome women that won the Nobel Peace Prize that take on problems and really make those mountains move!) I don’t know if this helps you in your quest? I wish you the best of luck in thinking on these things.

    2. According to an opinion piece in the Arizona Republic, the "Republican War on Women" is just an invention by the Democrats. This is, of course, from the same news source in which someone referred to evolution and climate change as "philosophies that have not been proven".
      And yes, I would say we are this fucked up as a species. Maybe not as individuals, but as a species, yes.
      Forget shooting. I want orbital bombarment!

  2. The one on nuturing a girl scientist is a great one for my cousin.
    She's five and seems to have an interest in astronomy. I'd hope to encourage it, though I'm not always sure how to proceed at her age level (and energy level as well!).

  3. Am I a  bad person because I immediately thought mass psychogenic illness?
    Radio Free Europe quotes the head of the provincial public health department that this is a possibility.  But I don't know how reliable they are; during the cold war, they had a reputation as a US propaganda outlet.  CNN quotes the same doctor, but he doesn't  mention MPI as a possibility in their story.  The symptoms are consistent with psychogenic illness (nausea, dizziness and passing out), but seem pretty extreme to me.  Some of the victims are described as having fevers and being in a coma, but possibly they just felt hot or were actually conscious but were trying to block out a horrific world.  It will take several days for tests to determine what poison, if any, was in the water.
    The good news is everyone seems to be recovering okay.  The bad news is, even if this was actually not a terrorist incident, such abuse of women,  especially those seeking to empower themselves with education, is so common in Afghanistan (even almost a decade after the overthrow of the Taliban, who supported this as national policy) that everyone seems to accept this as probable.
    If it turns out to be a real attack, I hope the perpetrators are swiftly caught and brought to justice.  If it turns out not to be, I hope it doesn't further the misperceptions and biases against people who suffer MPI (which I think can happen to anyone, even those of us who are armed with skepticism.)   There has been loads of skeptical literature about mass delusions, ranging from Charles MacKay's 1841 classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, many articles  in Skeptical Inquirer to a recent podcast.

    1. Am I a  bad person because I immediately thought mass psychogenic illness?

      You crazy skeptic. :) Am I a bad person because I immediately believed child killer? Damn it, taking a "news" story at its face value. I am sure this somehow gets my Skeptic Merit Badge taken away. :)

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