July 17th, 2010

Our national attachment to reality—often hanging by a thread– is illustrated in our newspaper columns. The culture is basically represented in the way in which newspapers choose their columnists who proceed to comment about our culture. Choices vary depending upon the stature of the publication; was its reputation earned for journalistic integrity or entertainment value? What is the orientation of the publisher and editor? Preferably, their columnists promote that view while those hired to offer opposing viewpoints aren’t challenging them too radically. Of course, the preferences of sponsors are always of importance. Publishers endorsing positions which are too unpopular tend to have empty spaces where advertisements used to appear.

Certain cultural premises cannot be hidden although they may be dressed in the finest of linen. Certain terrifying realities about how women in society are viewed have come shining through the writings of two nationally prominent columnists in the NY Times – Nicholas Kristoff and David Brooks. While this blog concentrates on issues affecting health, the fact remains that women are disproportionately harmed by the corporate domination of research which develops and promotes the sale of environmentally and biologically harmful products. The decline in women’s health is considered more of an inconvenience and expense than a national indicator of misogyny. It is all disguised as being a necessary evil if you wish to reap the rewards of a of free-market economy. However, it is hard to call such an economy ‘free’, when it takes so many prisoners among the most vulnerable of consumers. These next three posts discuss columns written about violence involving women. I was shocked at what these columnists said–and failed to say– about my culture.

I came late to feminism due to a combination of inherited and earned privilege, which can sharply skew perception (and acceptance) of reality. A happy, lower middle class childhood meant luxuries were limited, but life was sweet, as loving parents sheltered me from their day to day struggles. There was sufficient food, a roof over my head and an education sharply monitored and reinforced by them. A second generation American, I grew up among those who escaped terrible persecution to come to the US. The worked in factories and even sweat shops, while going to night school, so their children would have better lives. Next to my chair in synagogues would sit elderly women with tattooed wrists. They were treated well in their families so my realization of how women are actually regarded in society was delayed.

That background prepared me to be more accepting of the observations and information that later came my way about hardship and its relationship to class and race. I learned about gender-privilege when faced with it again and again on the job. Reading the writings of anguished women thriving, or barely surviving, in the face of such obstacles led me to begin examining my own privilege. It became easier to recognize just how the inclusion of women within a culture is a gift bestowed upon us by men. It is just as swiftly withdrawn by men for any real or perceived infraction of their codes. As these columns reveal, women are actually held responsible for rectifying the failures of men which perpetuate the oppression of women.

Sisyphus , that mythological King who was condemned to spend all eternity pushing a boulder uphill, must have been a woman.

Categories: Letters

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