Manning Ground

It looks like there is a glimmer of hope in the Raif Badawi case. The second flogging was postponed for medical reasons (this is both so absurd I can hardly breathe and so brutally obvious I can hardly think my way through it) and the case has been referred to the Saudi Supreme court. Not that I have much faith in the Saudi Supreme Court, but I do have some in the pressure of world opinion, sometimes. Rebel wingnuts like Boko Haram and ISIS are very much in the “all publicity is good publicity so lets ratchet up the atrocities” camp, but I don’t think the Saudis’ negotiation between their profoundly retrograde religious structures (Badawi was already cleared of charges of “Apostasy,” which carry a death penalty), which support a corrupt and retrograde monarchy, and their place on the world stage is entirely comfortable or simple. So, maybe a lot of noise will do something to get Mr. Badawi back to his wife and daughters alive and in fewer than 10 years. Glimmer.

An awful lot of my FB feed consists of comments on professional sports, either while games progress, or after, and dogs. Lost dogs. Snoozy dogs. Abused dogs. Amused dogs. Tolerant-of-small-ornery-animals dogs. I am slowly coming around to the idea of having a dog in my life, but I can pretty safely promise that, unless my grandchildren are also in them, there will be no pix of my dog on FB. I get and respect how important folks’ relationships are with their dogs, but I’m kind of a fan of the boundary between humans and not-quite humans. Or I’m just a snob. Whatever.

The sports thing, no matter how intensely fond I am of the (highly literate,mostly politically lefty, general sweetheart) friends who post about (mostly) football and basketball fans among my friends–the sports thing grumpifies me. And this is where the connection of between Raif Badawi, the Boko Haram massacres, football, and feminism comes in.

I abhor what Boko Haram is doing. I abhor the fact that it’s getting less press than the Charlie Hebdo attack. But I also abhor the fact that there is a deep cultural current that suggests I should be particularly appalled by the Nigerian massacres because women are involved. Children I will grant you. And I abhor the fact that the world turns its face, over and over again, away from the murders of children, and will assert that there is some peculiarly immeasurable level of vileness involved in both the murders and the turning away–even though we turn away partially in anguished helplessness. But as long as we see the bodies of men as up for grabs/mutilation/fodder and the bodies of women as somehow more worthy of protection than those of men, we are never going be able to move beyond the increasingly meaningless core binary of gender.

A woman in Saudi Arabia was flogged for driving a car. 10 lashes. Asian maids working in Gulf States who’ve been raped by their employers are regularly imprisoned and lashed up to 200 times. Held down by other women, but beaten by men (who are supposed to hold a Koran under their right arms when they beat women, so that their swing is limited by the necessity of keeping the sacred book off the floor…). Horrid. Barbaric. And, in the case of the Asian domestics, racist in the vilest terms. But there is, in the midst of all this barbarity and brutality, a sense that the punishments must be reined in for women. It’s not okay to beat a woman 1000 times over 20 weeks.

I doubt that any of our recent wars would have gone on as long as they have had the troops not been (mostly–it’s changing, though the number of women who can hump a 60-90 lb. pack of gear in 120 degree heat continues to be limited), as they always have been, men. Why are men disposable?

I doubt that football would exist in its current form if it were not played by men. Basketball is maybe a different issue, though pro ball has become increasingly high-contact. I think women playing it are considerably more interesting than men–gamewise. But, be that as it may, football is blood-and-circus. It’s men battering (no matter how much skill, or how many skills are involved) other men for the amusement and excitement of all sorts and conditions of people. Women are now boxing, which is, as these things tend to be, a place where my feminism and my pacifism come into some conflict. I just don’t think it does any human good to be entertained by watching other humans batter each other for sport. There’s a weird discourse that says it’s okay to set humans on each other with (potentially) killing intent, but not dogs on bears, or dogs on other dogs, or roosters on roosters. I’m in total agreement about the animals–and I understand that issues of agency are involved, as in, the animals have none. But I’m not sure that the majority of professional football players and boxers have agency, either, in some crucial senses–there are an awful lot of cultural/historical/economic pressures pushing them that make the issue of agency–even for the white, middle-class men who choose the sports–questionable. And the perpetuation of ideas of “courage” and “manhood” and “strength” that, I think I could argue are profoundly damaging to humanity in general. Mostly, we still attach value to humans beating the shit out of each other for entertainment or territorial gain (games and war) to the male body.

I am not advocating for no sports. I am advocating for no blood sports, and no sports that are based as much on bulk and mass (as in “using the body as a battering ram”) as they are on competition. And I am not dumb/naive enough to think that banning football will save the American soul. Nor am I dumb/naive enough to think armed conflict is going away any time soon. But I am saying that stuff that treats men’s bodies as fodder and blood as a sign of manliness is not doing us any good as a species. And that treating the wounding of the female body as somehow special and worse only perpetuates the false sanctification (and corollary eroticization/commodification) of the female body. Both the special strength of men and the special weakness of women are failures to understand and construct culture based on the understanding that any human body should not be beaten, battered, shot, trampled, or violated as assertions of anyone’s power, as economic producers for anyone, or as amusement.

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