OTI Online
Winter 1997

Reader Feedback
Winter 1997

"Why is it so difficult to understand that objectification -- often leading to abuse -- applies to other animals as well as women?"

Batya Bauman, Chapel Hill, NC (excerpt)

Female Circumcision Controversy

Thank you for having the courage to print the photo essay on female circumcision [Portfolio, "Like Mother, Like Daughter," fall]. It is one thing to hear a narrative about it in Beijing at the U.N. Conference on Women. It is quite another to be confronted with painfully graphic photos of the ordeal of one young woman who is mutilated because of "custom." On The Issues will have played a role in stamping out this disgraceful and life-threatening custom.

Bonnie Squires, Wynnewood, PA

How anyone can publicize this revolting exploitation of the mutilation of girls and women is quite beyond my comprehension. It shows that your magazine lacks all judgment and all decency and understanding of women's needs. You disgust me.

Fran P. Hosken, Lexington, MA

Editor's note: Fran P. Hosken is editor and publisher of WIN (Women's International Network) News and a long-time pioneer in activism to end female genital mutilation. In bringing Stephanie Welsh's powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs to our readership, On The Issues intended to contribute to the important educational efforts of organizations such as WIN.

I read with interest and horror your photo-journal article by Stephanie Welsh in the fall issue. It is a sad situation that women from Africa and the Middle East must endure this barbarous "surgery" to become real woman and ready for marriage. But never in my wildest imagination did I dream it would become an issue in my livable, liberal city of Seattle. I read in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that a fine public institution, Harborview Medical Center, is considering modified genital surgery on immigrant women from Africa and the Middle East who now live in Seattle. I was appalled and immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the Post-Intelligencer, which published it a few days later.

We all need to be alert to the possibility that other hospitals in America may engage in this "surgery."

Esther Brolin Bailey, Seattle, WA

Editor's note: As we went to press, Congress passed legislation banning female genital mutilation in the United States. The ban, which goes into effect in March 1997, provides prison terms for up to five years for anyone convicted of performing the surgery. Watch for more coverage of this development in a future issue.

How Equal Are the Horses?

Your article by Norine Dworkin [Sports, "Equestrian Equality," fall], with its accompanying photos of women on horses in full regalia -- leather boots, crops in hand (presumably used to hit the horses to urge them on) -- is not an article one would ordinarily find in such a progressive and enlightened feminist publication as OTI, not because it deals with equestrianism but because it distorts feminism. The "desire for power and control isn't merely the reflection of the domineering female, subjugating patriarchy (in the guise of the powerful beast) through whip, bridle, and high boots with spurs. Rather, it's a strong metaphor for that most basic foundation of women's continuous battle for equality." Can this in any way be construed as feminist thinking?

Let's be honest: Is it really love for the horses, or is it love for keeping and using horses? I have no doubt that the women also love -- in their own way -- the horses they keep. But so do many men who have beautiful women hanging on their arms as show pieces also love these women. Why is it so difficult for many feminists to understand and accept that objectification -- often leading to exploitation and abuse -- applies to other animals as well as to women? Breeding, riding, showing, and other equestrian activities necessarily objectify and exploit horses. The horse is not a consenting individual. The horse does as he/she is trained to do for the pleasure and gratification of the human owner.

I must correct the distortion of my views in a sidebar accompanying the article ["Why Don't Women Leaders Bridle at Horse Abuse?"]. I frame these views in the context of my attitudes toward all animals, which is best described by paraphrasing Alice Walker: Animals exist for their own reasons, not for ours, just as black people and women exist for their own reasons and not for others'. There is a special meaning here for women equestrians. The horses are perceived as property, well-taken-care-of and beloved property, to be sure, but nonetheless objectified as something owned for the owners' pleasure.

What would make me feel a whole lot better about women who love horses so much would be for them to be in the forefront of efforts to end the many ways horses are exploited and abused in our culture. If these women were working to outlaw the cruelties of rodeos, horse racing, the carriage-horse trade, horses used in entertainment such as circuses and movies, and, of course, Premarin production (from pregnant mares' urine), their love for horses would find a deeper place in my heart.

Finally, Norine Dworkin writes that Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) "stresses education, not disruption." I wish to make clear that FAR does believe in nonviolent disruption as well as in consciousness-raising and education. We have no objection to people "chaining themselves to obstacles" when done to prevent the abuse of human or other animals.

Batya Bauman, Chapel Hill, NC

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Reading through the articles in your fall publication , it became clear that the title on the cover ["Loving Babies, Hating Women"] was incorrect. Reflecting on the ways in which men in power harass, abuse, control, starve, incarcerate, harangue, and belittle not just women but their own offspring, one might conclude that men love the "fruit of their loins" only the first nine months. Once the child is birthed, interest wanes dramatically. These men need their images to be born, but will not or cannot go the next step to protect and nurture the developing child who is not really all them. A more accurate title might be "Loving Themselves, Loving Their Sperm."

R. Hosek, Addison, IL

Thank you for the excellent work the staff and writers of OTI perform in keeping us alert to things happening around the world. The article about Human Life International ["The Anti-abortion Stealth Campaign," by Jennifer Gonnerman, fall '96] provided me with information to locate their website and study some of their material. I have been able to identify tactics and slogans being used by the Catholic protesters around the local women's clinic when I serve as a volunteer escort.

While acting as escort outside Southlake Women's Clinic I was approached by a young woman who had entered the clinic from the front sidewalk a few minutes earlier. She had passed through the three Catholic women picketing in front of the clinic and received some very mean harassment. She walked up to me and asked these simple questions: "What gives these people the right to talk to us the way they do? Do they not realize that before we get here, we have spent nights crying and going over and over this situation? Do they really think we wake up one morning and say, 'I think I'll abort a baby today?' My daughter is only 14 years old and has a whole life to live. She needs time to prepare for life, not have a baby. Are they going to help her prepare to support herself and a child? What gives them the right to condemn us for the most difficult decision we ever had to make?"

Tears were beginning to escape from her pained eyes as she looked to me for an explanation. But as the tears began to form in my eyes, all I could say was: Yes, I know. That is why we are here.

Bill Angell, Arlington, TX

Clarification: In "The Anti-abortion Stealth Campaign," ON THE ISSUES reported that Planned Parenthood's opposition-research unit had been disbanded. Although several veteran members of that unit are no longer at Planned Parenthood, its work in fact continues in the Clinic Defense and Research Project, which publishes Front Lines Research, a quarterly report on the radical right.

Born to Be Happy

Something I read a while ago about the concept of happiness stuck in my mind, and your recent editorial "Happiness and the Feminist Mind" by Merle Hoffman, fall '96] brought it back. In some Eastern traditions, humans are considered to be born happy, and our life task is to maintain/retain this happiness each of us is born with. In contrast, Westerners view happiness as something each individual must pursue and ultimately attain. Each of these worldviews of individual happiness shapes how we treat one another and the earth. I know this concept of retaining my inherent happiness, rather than pursuing it, has certainly changed my attitude toward my own life in quite a positive way. Now that I'm no longer pursuing happiness through acquiring more possessions, or that perfect relationship, etc., I now have time and energy for feminist activism and I'm happy!

Aurora A. Fox, Bellingham, WA

Sexual Harassment vs. Sexual Assault

We are writing to commend you on your excellent article about United States v. Lanier [Law Watch, "The Judge Who Got Off" by Joy Ward, fall '96] and to draw your attention to two points.

Your article states that "federal civil rights statutes had never before been used to prosecute sexual harassment" and uses the term "sexual harassment" interchangeably with sexual assault and sexual abuse. These terms are not interchangeable. Although sexual harassment is serious and damaging conduct that can include physical contact legally recognizable as sexual assault, it is a civil law term that includes noncontact abuse. The jury found Judge Lanier guilty of sexually assaulting his victims under color of state law in violation of 18 U.S.C. (Section) 242; the criminal charges bear no mention of "sexual harassment" because sexual harassment is not a crime.

Mislabeling Judge Lanier's egregious misconduct as "sexual harassment" was one means by which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals trivialized and demeaned the pain and suffering of Judge Lanier's victims and deliberately distorted the constitutional magnitude of his crimes. In the same vein, the appellate court conflated Judge Lanier's sexual assaults with "simple assault."

After twisting the facts, the appellate judges twisted the law, which was the only way they could shield this repeat abuser from justice. In fact, there are numerous cases in which courts have recognized sexual assault as a civil rights violation. For example, under the civil statute 42 U.S.C. (Section) 1983, teachers' sexual assaults on their students have been held to deprive the students of their bodily integrity. The appellate judges' decision to insulate this judge from the law he is charged with upholding required them to deviate from well-established precedent. Of the many courts that have considered the question of whether sexual assault by a state actor constitutes a deprivation of civil rights, a violation of the bodily integrity protected by the due process clause of the Constitution, the Sixth Circuit is the only court to hold that it does not.

The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund has submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court in Lanier on behalf of itself and 14 other organizations. The Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Rehnquist in particular, have in the past made very strong statements about rape as, "short of homicide, the ultimate violation of self." We hope this understanding of the impact of sexual assault will be evident in their decision in this case.

Lynn Hecht Schafran, New York, NY
Senior Staff Attorney, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund

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