Welcome to Maoist Orange Cake. Each week one of our Divas posts a thoughtful (but not necessarily serious) essay on whatever calls forth her Voice or strikes her Fancy. We invite you to join us wherever the discussion leads.
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"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007


The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

EPIGENETICS AND CULTURAL REINVENTION -- by Maggie Jochild



In 1972, my closeted Lesbian English teacher (RIP, Ms. Duff), one of six teachers in an extremely rural and conservative school of 36 students, responded to our confused emotions about the Vietnam war by assigning us to read Johnny Got His Gun. This was an anti-war novel that she guessed nobody in the community would understand as anti-war, written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten whose name she counted on nobody recognizing. That novel had a profound effect on all of us.

For me, the subtle indictment of war was not the compelling part -- I was already a pacifist who had converted my mother from being a Nixon supporter in 1968 to someone who had voted for McGovern in 1972, much to the disgust of my father. In Johnny Got His Gun, a young, ignorant, shallow American man goes jingo-happy into war, only to be all but blown apart by a mine. He loses his legs and arms, and most of his face is destroyed. He is thus deaf and blind, but unbeknowst to his caretakers) his brain is intact. The novel consists of his memory and flashbacks, and his attempts to communicate with the nurses and doctors who "manage" him in the hospital. They regard him as a vegetable, with animal needs (including sexual) but no mind beneath the flesh. And, in truth, his mind is stunted, not by the blast but by his own failure to think. Now, of course, it's all he has left. When he is eventually able to transcend the communication barrier with a nurse, using body slams against the mattress in Morse code, and she responds, he goes mad and that is the end of the book.

Quite the reading for a bunch of isolated 16-year-olds.

What I took away as a message was the precious integrity of my brain and a resolve to fill it with as much knowledge and questioning as I possibly could. Two years later, feminism challenged me to redefine womanhood using no male markers. Concurrently, my generation was defining Lesbian in a radical new way, a definition which has now been overturned by the dominant paradigm. The generation a few years ahead of me had successfully challenged the myth of whiteness as biological reality, and Boomers in general were freed (briefly and incompletely, but enough to set us loose on the streets) from the absolute class drudgery of our working forebears. Reinvention was the name of the game, and we did not disappoint.



As I see it, reinvention demands two prerequisites: You must believe in the malleability of what others label "reality", and you must be willing to understand yourself and your culture well enough to track down the lies. Too many accounts of the Second Wave (both written and pop-cultural) act as if certain key thinkers and publications shaped our emerging belief system. In fact, power went the other direction: A critical mass of us began talking to each other, especially in the form of consciousness-raising groups. We began to recognize matching themes and experiences, and from those we developed theory and practice. Our errors arose from the membership of those conversations -- too white, often dominated by middle-class ethics, and of course First World -- but not from the process itself.

Whether you call it "Biology is not destiny", constructionism, or the persistence of delusion, we rejected the meaning of masculinity and femininity, the conflation of sex with power, the hierarchy of dominance in human social relations, and the equation of appearance with real identity. The dominant culture has rebooted our hard drive, now, and seeks to erase our hard-won comprehensions, often with the gleeful assistance of those who would be better served to act as our allies. But each generation in a patriarchy is forced to learn some lessons all over again. Paula Gunn Allen correctly said "The root of oppression is the loss of memory". (Johnny, do you hear that?) And the wheel always circles back around to a new point on the spiral.



Despite the current cultural emphasis on declaring gender to be rooted in physiology (genitals, hormones, brain configuration) with a hearty jeer at those who just can't get with the program, science itself is consistently proving the sociobiologists wrong. Time and time again. Aside from the basic fact that in a culture where you are labeled with a gender and race at the moment of birth (if not before), there is no such thing as a "control group" who is free from massive conditioning, there is also the often demonstrated fact that physical reality is much more influenced by culture than vice versa. We construct lifelong narratives to bolster whatever it is we believe, and that rewrites our memory. "I was always this way" is a common mantra. And if you say it is true for you, then of course it is. But if I believe my memory of my identity from birth has been molded and remolded by the information and options available to me at the time, not by some "inherent" objective core, then that is true for me also.

One innovative, ground-breaking study of the hippocampus involved using the cultural phenomenon created by London cabdrivers known as The Knowledge. Cabbies who drive the big black hacks of Central London are not permitted to drive until they have had two years of training in The Knowledge, and are able to pass a test on The Knowledge. The final exam for cabbies includes questions of this ilk: A passenger gets in at such and such a corner at a certain time in a particular day. She requests a hotel within a certain price range, within two blocks of a tube station, within one block of an offset printing business for cheap mass copies and also within one block of a dry-cleaners who uses natural chemicals. On the way, she needs to stop at a particular bank's ATM and also get take-out Chinese food from a restaurant which does not use MSG. To find the quickest route, the cabbie will need much more than a memorized map. S/he must access a voluminous knowledge of central London that is under daily revision, incorporating which streets are one-way certain hours of the day, the calendar and attendant festivals, plus minute retail offerings and habits. There is usually only one right answer to such a question, but this is the service London cabbies offer and she must know it to be given her license to hack.

In the study, folks who were planning to become cab drivers were given detailed brain scans before their training and after they had become licensed. In addition, those who had been on the job for set numbers of years were scanned. The study found a direct correlation between exposure to The Knowledge (length of time training and/or driving) and hippocampus size. It was not just a predisposition to being able to retain such a vast memory that made cabbies; it was also a literal expansion of one portion of the brain, a remapping of neural territory beyond previous biological boundaries. Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers



A 45-year breeding experiment involving Siberian foxes has yielded a likewise startling result. The foxes, destined for fur coats, were kept in separate cages but varied greatly as to whether a human could safely approach and interact with them. Selective breeding was done for tameability, pairing less frightened and nonaggressive individuals with each other for offspring. The outcome was not just a permanent change in the domestication of these foxes, who became as friendly and eager for human company as dogs. They also, within the first generation, began to exhibit heretofore unseen variations in physical appearance: Different coat color and texture, dog-like markings, short curly tails and soft floppy ears. It was eventually understood that the adrenal systems of these animals exists in very close proximity to the neural and chemical centers for certain aspects of appearance, and the de-activation of fear and avoidance was affecting nearby structures. This has shed great light onto the likely history of canine domestication and breed diversity -- the very act of "taming" them makes them look different than their parents. And it was handed on to the next generation. Conditioning trumps biology. Genomics

But another study took this a step further. One area we've now mapped on rats' genome is known to govern the behavior of mothering, how well mother rats took care of their babies. A recent study hoped to find out how this was passed on from generation to generation. To the shock of the researchers, they discovered that not only was the behavior learned (i.e., a baby rat taken from a mother who had "bad genes" for mothering and instead raised with a rat with "good genes" for mothering would herself grow up to be a "good mother"), but, startlingly, the genes of a rat raised in a positive mothering environment would physically alter its expression from that of a "bad mother" ancestry into a "good mother" genetic expression. In other words, how you are raised can have a permanent effort not just on culture and conditioning but actual biology itself. Talk about nurture over nature. A Mother's Touch



This whole field of epigenetics is proving that what matters in the long run is not the genes you are dealt at conception, but how those genes are expressed by you individually, and that this expression is not set in stone, even within your lifetime. Further, how well you live, what influences you seek out/allow, will determine the outcome of your offspring and future generations. Epigenetics in Identical Twins

Which brings me to Generation Five. I've had the opportunity to read, hear, and speak intensively with Staci Haines, the founder of Generation Five. She identified our generation as ground zero for the interruption of child sexual abuse as an integral part of American culture. The values inherent in perceiving children as the property and sexual objects of adults (overwhelmingly, that of men) are so deep as to often be indistinguishable from the wallpaper. The emphasis on "stranger danger" instead of the reality that most children will be sexually assaulted by their own family members or trusted adult friends is a last-ditch effort to avoid the nasty secret that male conditioning creates a predisposition to sexual exploitation of children, and female conditioning creates a predisposition to complicity in this behavior.

Staci says bluntly that growing up with abuse reconfigures our brains and leaves us damaged with regard to our ability to connect with other human beings. The effects and patterns of this damage are increasingly recognized, and are quite prevalent in our literature, art, and everyday congress. The denial of those patterns is likewise prevalent. One popular evasion is the association of child predation with "gayness" -- i.e., it's those tortured, fucked up queers who prey on subadults.

Certainly the Catholic Church is pounding home this meme: They claim pedophile priests are secret gays who are drawn to the church because of its access to prey. This is to divert us from the reality that the rigid authoritarianism of Catholicism (and evangelical religiosity of any flavor, and of course Neocon ideology) lends itself to child abuse. There are, in fact, several main sexual orientations, including heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and sexual attraction to those younger than you. Many people carry a mix of these orientations, but one does not preclude the other. And all of them are learned, not inherent. If somebody can "come out", they can with equal integrity "go back in". But the orientation of identifying sexual "charge" with a profound power imbalance is so deeply-rooted and reinforced by our dominant culture that overcoming it is extremely difficult. It's easier to hide the abuse (families are expert at this), deny it as molestation, and continue on until you are stopped. Easier in a practical sense, of course, not spiritual.

Staci is not hopeless about undoing our individual damage or about reversing our cultural training. We are alike in that. All recovery is based on faith and fearless self-examination. What I'm proudest of in my life is that I was part of a small group who named the disease of child sexual exploitation for what it was, a conditioned piece of cultural expression. I don't honestly know how we were that smart and brave. We had a lot of help. In a sense, we had nothing to lose, because defending our families and perpetrators was a dead-end street. I think turning that corner was the making of me, of us. It altered the genes of what will come in future generations. Our numbers will only continue to grow.



In closing, I want to share with you a speech I gave on March 26, 1982 at the Berkeley Women's Center. It was the first time in herstory that someone in Berkeley spoke out about child sexual assault as a societal issue. I was 26 years old, and a member of the Pleiades, who led this gathering. The sister who helped me shape this statement was my friend, Shelley Coleman (known then as Shelley Clearwaters).
"To guess at the effects that incestuous assault has on us, we have to remember what it was like to be a child. We came into this world as strong, trusting, smart, enthusiastic and loving beings, with a sense of our own power and our worth. We looked to learn about the world and our place in it from the older people around us, in whom we had complete trust. We expected from these people confirmation of our belief in ourselves, but this did not happen. In many ways we did not get it.

"Child abuse comes in many forms, and at the base of all of it is the assault in our faith in the world and a denial of what we deserve from the world. Incestuous assault is a violation of our sexual space and of our control over our own bodies by someone whom we know and whom we believe we have reason to trust. It is one of the most awful and dangerous things that will ever happen to us, and it happens during our most vulnerable time in life. It is an extreme betrayal of our trust, and an unforgiveable abuse of power. Someone whom we see as having authority over us and often whom we love, rapes us. By rape I include anything from always watching us get dressed in the morning to making us suck him off or having his prick forced into our little girl vaginas. This rape is usually carried out in secret, goes on over time, is maintained by the explicit or implicit threat of losing our world as we know it, and is always accompanied by some sort of mind-fuck.

"We learn from this rape that no one will protect us against harm. We learn that we have no real power of our own, that we are the property of adult males, and often we learn that our mothers are powerless also. We learn that the primary way people relate to each other is sexually. We learn that sex is love, as much as we will ever get. We learn that this way of relating sexually is to be used as someone’s object, with much desensitization and no consideration of our wishes. We learn that our worst fears will come true, over and over again. We learn to keep secrets, to keep our spirits hidden, and to lie to other women. We learn to see women as victims. We learn to never say no. We learn to be terrified of anger. We learn we are thought of as dirty, and we learn to fear, and we learn that fear and abuse are part of intimacy. We learn to distrust, and we learn how to hide this distrust by numbing out, by being hostile, by being seductive, by forgetting. We learn to be nice at all costs. We learn how to hang onto life when there is no hope. We learn how to be an adult before we have ever really been children. We learn a lot.

"And everything we learn, everything I have said, is a lie: an outrageous lie. These lies are among the first things we learn about the world. They become the building blocks of how we understand the world. To overcome the effects of incest is to turn yourself inside out and begin all over again. It is to see your childhood as a mass of scars and to heal those scars one by one.

"We who are survivors are doing just that, in a wide variety of ways and at our own pace. Some of us do it with friends, lovers and family; some of us do through our art and our work; some of us have therapists; some of us have support groups; and some of us are doing it alone. But we are doing it the best way we know how, and more are joining us every day.

"At the time we were being assaulted, we were victims. We stopped being victims when the assault stopped, but most of us continue to act like victims and to think of ourselves as victims. We stop being victims when we believe that what happened was not our fault. None of it, no matter what happened, no matter how you felt during it, was your fault. When you realize this, you start being a survivor. Most of us here tonight are survivors.

"Some of us do not survive. Some of us die as children or as teenagers or as adult women. Some of us go crazy. Some of us experience a death of the spirit. We have no way of knowing how many of us make it and how many don’t. Some of us marry to get away from home, and trade one right of sexual access for another. Some of us stay celibate all our lives; some of us run away from home. Some of us act out our anger and land in jail or get shot down. Some of us become prostitutes, alcoholics or drug-dependent. Some of us come out as lesbians, and we find that even with women, the specter of the incest is always there. And some of us do find a safe place, but we’ve been operating on a survival level for so long, we can’t see the safety we have reached. We go on acting like we believe the people we love will rape us in some way.

"But there is something after being a survivor. When you have healed – when you no longer find your life being controlled by your reactions to something that happened in your childhood – when you stop waiting for things to get all the way better – you have stopped being a survivor. It is possible to get all the way through, the nightmares, the fears, the reflexes, the paranoia. It is possible for our incestuous assault to be only memories. What we will be after that no one has named yet. Maybe as more of us reach that place we’ll name it. Or maybe it doesn’t need a name. Maybe it’s just as simple as coming home again."

As a closing ritual for this gathering, we asked each woman in the room to speak her name, what she has survived, and to say:
"It's not my fault
I'm bigger than it is
I can help stop it
I am completely lovable"


19 comments:

liza said...

I was driving around a bit today thinking about this essay, letting it percolate a bit. I remembered this:

When I was an adolescent my favorite fantasy was that I had learned the secret of control over my body. Specifically, I learned to grow my hair at will and at great speed. I guess I thought that this was a powerful expression of mind/body control.

In my fantasy, I would sit in front of a crowd (or better still - on the Johnny Carson Show )growing my hair, really fast, really long. Then I'd cut it and start over. It wasn't the hair that was important, sometimes I grew my fingernails, or got really tall. What thrilled me was knowing that what we humans percieve to be our limitations are only culturally shared perceptions, not truth. And the power of being able to teach this to people.

OK, the fame was fun too.

Then I learned about Yoga. This was before The Beatles found the Maharishi. As a NY Jewish adolescent in the early 1960's I had more access to The Twilight Zone than to Yoga. But when I did bump into it, I wanted to know if advanced yogis actually had discovered the thing I'd fantasized about. I think they did, although not as entertainment, of course.

The mind/body problem - or, as it's affectionately known, Cartesian Duality, is just a way of being in the world. We live in it and it informs us powerfully, but it is an illusion. As Buddhists say everything is.

We now return control of your computer.

shadocat said...

I also was letting this essay bubble in my brain a bit before I responded.

As we've discussed before, Maggie, we are both abuse survivors. But my early abuse was at the hands of females, not males. In my "Bizarro World", my father was my rescuer, or at least I saw him that way. He traveled on business frequently, and when he was gone, my mother ,who was fearful, nervous and short-tempered,could be very abusive when she was stressed. When she was left alone with us, it was not unususal for her to fly into a rage and beat me. Just me. As an adult, I've read that scapegoating a child in that way was not unusual, but of course I was convinced I was defective in some way. But when my father was home, things were different. She was happy most of the time, and when she wasn't, he often could charm her right out of a negative mood. It wasn't until I reached adulthood and was in therapy that I questioned his part in this crazy triangle. To my knowledge, he never confronted her on it; the most important thing in that household was not how things WERE but how they LOOKED. Problems were to be hidden , not solved. The marraige and family Had to remain intact, no matter how fucked up things really were.

My next major round of abuse came at the hands of my second grade teacher, a Catholic nun. If you want an idea of what she was like, watch "The Magdalene Sisters". Strangly, enough, if one was to be "rescued", it was often by one of the priests; "Oh sister, let me talk to this little one--surely it's not that bad". My favorite rescuer was Father Fitzsimmons--handsome as Cary Grant, just a hint of a brogue...He later became Bishop Fitzsimmons, and was the co-adjuctor of the sex-abuse cases facing the diocese---ironic, huh?
My teacher eventually went "too far" with a little boy the following year, and was sent to a facility in Arizona to "heal". I later found out she was there for about 8 weeks, came back, and was sent to another school to teach. Solving the problems was just not as important as covering up and creating the appearance that there were no problems at all.

There were other instances in my life---at each one the cover-up was seen as more important than the cure. It's only been with our generation, speaking out as we do against all abuse that we can stop the cycle. Appearances be damned! Happiness can only be found in going for the "cure".

Daisy said...

We learn that we have no real power of our own, that we are the property of adult males, and often we learn that our mothers are powerless also.

Well said, Maggie. Always so terrifying to learn that all-powerful mom has no power at all, at least not compared to his.

liza said...

Oh, and great graphics Maggie.

shadocat said...

One thing I thought I should add is that years later, my mother apologized to me. It was completely out of the blue and unexpected, and yes, I accepted it. If it had happened earlier in my life, I might not have. But it was about 7 years ago, and by then, I had realized my mother had some real mental health issues, and that it wasn't because I was sickly, too skinny, too fat, redheaded, too stupid, too smart, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed, or anything else. I was just there.

Now that my father has Alzheimer's, I find it difficult to resent him as well. I did find out that I did have a rescuer, of sorts, in my situation. After a particularly bad incident, my pediatrician came to the house (house calls were the norm back then) and instead of just stitching me up and leaving, he took me to the hospital, where I had a complete examination, x-rays, the works. I didn't know it at the time, but legal authorities were even called. This scared my parents sufficiently enough that my father got another job with a lot less traveling, and my mother stopped (well, for the most part) physically abusing me. I'm not sure if my parents feared losing me , or just feared the scandal of losing me (probably a little of both) but if anyone was heroic in that situation, it was that doctor.

How different my mother's situation would be today---she would be teaching school (a job she loved, and didn't want to give up), I would be a few years younger, maybe only my sister would be here...my father wouldn't feel the need to abstain from birth control, since most Catholics today ignore Rome, and use something. Maybe young Shado and sis could've gone away to college, had a more lucrative careers----well, I guess I'll never really know. But I do know things are looking up for young Shado's kids

Maggie Jochild said...

Two questions/comments, Shado: What, exactly, did your mother apologize for? How did she word it? And what did it do for you, inside?

I used to worry about what I would do if my older brother ever actually admitted what he had done to me/us, instead of sticking to denial. I had done all the work I could think of (or my advisers could think of) to do up to that point. But if he shifted ground, I'd need to take on the next piece of work, and I knew I'd be furious all over again if that moment arrived. Perverse, yet true.

And my second comment is: You're right, the breaking of silence that occurred with our generation means those who see (or guess) at what is going on now have grounds to DO something. I worked with a young military wife whose second child, a boy, was seriously accident prone. On his third trip to the ER at age 18 months, with a split lip because he ran headlong into a coffee table, she and her husband were separated by the cops for questioning, and both children (including an older girl) were also visited by social workers at the hospital. She ranted the next day at work about the humiliation of it, the fear they had experienced -- what if their stories seemed inconsistent, what if the older girl made something up? -- but then she added "I just wish this kind of attention had happened when I was a kid. And on the way home, we both agreed we were glad somebody was looking out for kids." She didn't say anything else, but she and I exchanged a long look, and I've never forgotten the communication which happened there. She was a GOOD mother, but it had taken her work to reach that point.

Jana C.H. said...

If Shado wants to share the details of her problem with mother with the entire universe (which is what blogging is), she can do it, but I think it's a little nosy to ask. This isn't a private conversation or a closed group therapy session. I feel that the details are not my business unless Shado volunteers them.

Just a comment, no offense meant.

Jana C.H.
Seattle
Saith Marlo Thomas: A man has to be Joe McCarthy to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold.

shadocat said...

Well since I am sharing my story for all of you, and anyone else that stops to visit, I might as well answer Maggie's question.

First, I think it's important to tell the context in which the apology took place: It was about 6 years ago, when my then 16 year old was clearly out of my control and getting into trouble right and left. My mother had called me for another reason, and I just unloaded all my anger and frustration regarding my daughter's problems. She was quiet for a long time and then said, "You know, I wanted to tell you---I am so sorry for all the bad things I did to you when you were little".

I was just shocked. I even offered her an "out". "What bad things, Mom?" I was so sure she'd take the bait, back off. But she didn't.

Over the years we've had several different talks about the subject; I've even heard a lot about her childhood, and the things my grandmother and her sister (10 years older) would do to her. Our relationship isn't what I would like it to be, but it's better, and we're talking. She never said this, but I think on that day, 6 years ago, she heard her old anger in my voice, and somehow, her apology would stop things from getting worse. Which I guess it did.

Maggie Jochild said...

Wow, Shado. I find this incredibly moving. Thanks.

Maggie Jochild said...

My Writer's Almanac tells me today is the birthday of Katherine Lee Bates -- not the actress who was "Fried Green Tomatoes", no, she's best known for penning the lines
"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!"

"She was a poet and professor of English at Wellsley, who, in the summer of 1893, traveled with a group of teachers to Colorado, hiked to the top of Pikes Peak, and said, 'I was looking out over the expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, [when] the opening lines of [a poem] floated into my mind.' And by the time she left Colorado, she had written four stanzas in her notebook of 'America the Beautiful,' which was published on the 4th of July, 1895. It was set to music about ten years later."

AND (not in the Writer's Almanac): She was a pearldiver. Yep. Kinda recasts that cross-country trip of teachers for ya, doesn't it? Maybe they were looking for the MWMF. Along that fruited plain.

shadocat said...

Maggie, I was in Colorado Springs last summer, and went to the top of Pike's Peak. I was reminded of Katherine Lee Bates and her words, and I finally understood how she felt---it is truly awe-inspiring there. Unfortunately, I found the rest of Colorado greatly changed---very ultra conservative now. so much so that a gal like Katherine Lee might feel that God had left her after she came down from that mountain.

I've been thinking about this topic of epigenetics---do you think the desire of the male dominated society has ensured that the females that seeem to prevail are smaller, more child-like, more subserviant (at least in the past?) Also, I read somewhere that in those times in our history when women have become more powerful politically and personally, society and the media have pushed the social "ideal" of a smaller, more constricted woman---introducing corsets, binders or girdles, or pushing near imposible physical goals, such as the flat-chested, boy-hipped, "flapper". or today's size 00 models---trying to cast a larger,or more powerful looking woman as undesirable. Thoughts anyone?

shadocat said...

Maggie, I was in Colorado Springs last summer, and went to the top of Pike's Peak. I was reminded of Katherine Lee Bates and her words, and I finally understood how she felt---it is truly awe-inspiring there. Unfortunately, I found the rest of Colorado greatly changed---very ultra conservative now. so much so that a gal like Katherine Lee might feel that God had left her after she came down from that mountain.

I've been thinking about this topic of epigenetics---do you think the desire of the male dominated society has ensured that the females that seeem to prevail are smaller, more child-like, more subserviant (at least in the past?) Also, I read somewhere that in those times in our history when women have become more powerful politically and personally, society and the media have pushed the social "ideal" of a smaller, more constricted woman---introducing corsets, binders or girdles, or pushing near imposible physical goals, such as the flat-chested, boy-hipped, "flapper". or today's size 00 models---trying to cast a larger,or more powerful looking woman as undesirable. Thoughts anyone?

Josiah said...

In 1940, shortly after the publication of Johnny Got His Gun, radio producer Arch Oboler adapted the novel as a one-man radio drama, starring James Cagney of all people. It's an extraordinarily effective adaptation, since the entire novel takes place in the mind and memory of the narrator. A few years ago, I had the honor of performing Oboler's script as part of a series of recreated radio dramas in which I participate regularly (that's me, on the left, in the bow-tied guise of a 1940s radio actor). This was before the beginning of the Iraq war, which has doubtless left many a soldier in conditions similar to that of Joe Bonham. I'm honestly surprised nobody's had the nerve to made an updated film based on Johnny Got His Gun, set against the current monstrosity. (Is there any meaningful distinction between the War on Terror and World War I, really? Both were supposedly fought to make the world safe for freedom and democracy...)

Shadocat, thank you so much for sharing your story, both the injury and the healing. Your account of the nun (and the church's reaction to it) reminds me of the play Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. Have you seen or read it? It's a terribly strong examination of the way structures such as the church can encourage child abuse, silence and complicity, exactly as Maggie and others are describing here. (In the play, it's a priest who [probably] molests a boy, but I'm sure the dynamic would be familiar to you.)

Maggie Jochild said...

Wow, Josiah. Thanks for the link and the information. James Cagney, eh?

I want to reiterate here that while the Catholic Church structure, from Inquisition to pedophilia, from witchburning to gaybashing, has been completely dependent on power imbalance to sustain its version of Christianity, it is not the only so-called church to do so and, in the U.S., is not the main source of our Endtimer foreign policy. Evangelical Protestants are willing to sometimes work with Catholic evangelicals for political purposes, as they do with incredibly misguided Zionist Jews, but scratch the surface and you'll easily find venomous anti-Catholic hatred. I have no wish to add to such polarization.

I can't call it "discrimination" because oppression depends on systematic and pervasive mistreatment, not just different populations, and the Catholic Church is part of the system, not a target group per se. However, I think it is interesting here to point out that Catholic, Protestants, and Mormons all operate under the same sense of being a persecuted minority as Jews do. And historically, at various times, they were persecuted minorities.

As was the U.K. As was the U.S. As was Germany between the World Wars. Most populations who become imperialistic monsters have a history of having been conquered. The mechanism of "healing" (or not) after conquest is fascinating to me, in part because it's a macro version of how some abused children grow up to become abusers themselves.

Over time, I believe institutions and nations which were once conquered and then emerge into dominance tend to internalize the values of those who oppressed them (perhaps in mirror image form) and gravitate toward symbols and ideas which perpetuate power imbalance. In Christianity, the basic tenet of "conversion" is responsible for much evil and is a "right" people from other religious backgrounds cannot even really comprehend, much less grant -- there is no respectful means of deciding to supplant someone else's relationship to g*d with your own, the very concept is fucked up.

And it was not an original or inherent part of Christ's teachings, apocalyptic as Christ was. It was introduced a couple of generations after his death as a response to Christian persecution, especially by Paul, the Karl Rove of that era. Paul is also the spider at the center of the whole "Christ as divine" web. Eventually the church had to vote on whether or not to continue and promote the myth of Christ's divinity, and the decision to do so was more political than religious.

A big part of the way the Catholic Church gained power over Europe, aside from torture and woman-hating, was to promote a two-pronged ongoing assault on "the other" dominant monotheisms, which within Europe meant institutionalized persecution of Judism, and outside Europe meant the Crusades, institutionalized and racist wars on Islam. An old formula that the current batch of Neocons is recycling.

On another note, the molestation of children by Catholic priests tends to follow the same gender percentage as elsewhere -- roughly 60% girls, 40% boys. Perpetrated 98% of the time by adult males, most of whom (95%) identify as heterosexual. One of the members of the Pleiades was molested by the parish priest with the knowledge and implicit assistance of her family (he could come over and do it to her in the front parlor, which had no door, while her family hid out in the kitchen) because they were Croatian immigrants and having the priest pay them regular visits greatly enhanced their standing in the community. She correctly identified this as incest -- for a child, "family" is not a legal or bloodline term. She was always disgusted by how much more airplay the molestation of boys received in the press, as if it is worse because they are the same gender.

The truth is, all children receive hands-on training that they are the property and sexual interest of adults, especially men. The difference is, some children (boys) are also taught they can grow out of this servitude, and buried deep in the training is the notion that they can then visit it on others as part of the proof of their "manhood". Interrupting this cycle will mean more than keeping at least one generation of children safe from assault. It will also mean dismantling the definitions of masculine and feminine -- not "coopting" or "queering" them, because we will inevitably carry with us the conditioning we've received (mirror images are still images). No, we must drop the division entirely, restore humanity to a whole and allow individuals to manufacture their own singular expression.

For me, an emotional turning point of what this might require came at a Southern workshop where someone suggested that a key step to reclaiming a Southern identity devoid of racism would be to return all Civil War battlegrounds and cemeteries to anonymous farmland. Even those of us who were fierce anti-racism activists experienced this proposal as a gut punch. Maybe you have to be a Southern white to understand it, I'm not sure. But it was a great indicator of how far we had yet to go.

Josiah said...

Wow back atcha, Maggie. As someone who grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, attending a church which retains a Union cannonball in its portico like a soldier displaying his battle scars, that sentiment is indeed a "gut punch". I certainly agree that the hagiographic and maudlin attitude towards the Civil War in the South is extremely problematic, but the notion of erasing all commemoration or acknowledgement of that history is shocking even to me.

Oh, and it wasn't my intent to add to anti-Catholic polarization. I agree that there's fault to be found in nearly every Christian denomination. (I say "nearly" because a few, like the Quakers, seem to have remembered Jesus' teachings better than others.) I'm reminded of the Indigo Girls song "Philosophy of Loss": "There are a few who would be true out of love/ And love is hard..."

shadocat said...

Hey Josiah, great picture! I's nice to have a face to place with a name...

I remember seeing "Doubt" win a bunch of Tony awards a couple of years ago on TV, and thinking to myself, "I have to check that one out", then of course, relegating it back to my brain fog. Your mention prompted me to go to my library website and have a copy of the play held for me, that I hopefully will be able to pick up tomorrow.

I also wanted to emphasize that not all of my Catholic upbringing was bad---only one of the sisters that taught me was a bully and an abuser. The others ran the gamut from the soft-hearted novices to the the stern, crusty (but with a heart of gold) Mother Superior. I was taught to help the people who needed help, to work for peace and justice, to try to live my life in a way that would make the world a better place. There were, of course, other negative things; the position of women in the church, the ban on birth control, attitude regarding homosexuality, etc., etc. But I did get some good out of my religious upbringing that made me the person I am today.

I do have a question regarding this whole "abuse by nuns" issue: why have we not heard the uproar on the physical and emotion abuse inflicted by nuns and other "religious"(their term, not mine) that we HAVE heard regarding the sexual abuse inflicted by priests? As someone who (here I go again, spillin' my guts)suffered from physical and sexual abuse at different times of her life, I really can't say that the sexual abuse was "worse" than the beatings or humiliations. Tales of abuse from nuns are legendary, to the point that we make fun of it (Have you seen "Sister Angelica Explains It All"? Have you ever seen the bumper sticker "I survived Catholic School"?) Where is the hue and cry over THAT? Where are the news stories? The lawsuits? Let me tell you, that stuff can mess you up every bit as much as sexual abuse. And just like the sex abuse, the church went to great lengths to cover their asses when it came to their attention.

I've often wished I could find that woman. I've done internet searches, even placed an ad once---nothing. I just wanted to ask her why. What was going on in her life then---was it something that made her do this? Did she enjoy it? I guess I could ask her a million questions, and I still wouldn't get an answer I could live with.

Josiah said...

Shadocat, if you want to see a face with visible eyes, you can see me as a seventeenth-century fop here, as a nineteenth-century historian here, and looking more or less like my twenty-first-century self here.

Ginjoint said...

Maggie, I read part of this entry to, uh, my therapist.

"Wow," she said softly. "She can really write."

"Yeah," said I. "I wonder what it feels like to not only be able to write that way, but to THINK that way."

This was fascinating. As I'm dealing with my own history, I've noticed that certain ideas/reactions of mine just seem....well, "etched on my bones" is how I've put it before. There forever. Or, put another way, as if what happened to my body, physically changed my MIND. (I'm not as eloquent as you, that's the best I can do.) *sigh* This is awkwardly written, because I'm sleepy, but I wanted to post something to you. More another time, when I'm a bit more coherent....maybe tonight I'll dream of a rat driving a taxi...

Maggie Jochild said...

Thanks so much, Ginjoint. Coming from you, it means a LOT.

And, just to promote a tiny bit -- I'm also beginning to write writing memoir and essays at a personal blog:
Maggie's Meta Watershed