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The Body Politic

I just finished reading "The Good Women of China" by Xinran Xue.

It got me thinking down a not, I admit, very original path, but a thorny one.

"The Good Women" is an autobiographical account of Xue's time working on a call-in radio show in China. The book is a collection of experiences told to her by her female callers. It is, as might be expected, pretty horrific. There are assuredly bits of light but, for the most part, it's about poverty, abuse, opression, rape, etc.

Nations have, since nations began, used the body of women as a metaphor for the state. Communist countries have done this with particular gusto. The suffering and stolen virtue of its women are held up as symbols representing the invasion, violation and victory of their countries.

This has led to an interesting duality. Vietnam, for instance, is extremely careful about how "Vietnamese Womanhood" is represented. The flower of the country, the virtue of the nation, the purity of love for the Motherland. And yet it's equally willing to use her violation as a symbol of it's own colonization.

The "Rape of Nanking" was, in actual fact, a rape, or, rather, thousands of rapes committed by the invading Japanese army. The mass rape of women in Kosovo has long since ceased to be a set of individual tragedies. It has become representative of a certian style of warfare. How did the individual experiences of these human beings come to serve the state?

I'm not thinking as clearly as I'd like this morning, and so I'm not really doing a good job of explaining this. But somehow, I feel we haven't really gotten past this. Because somewhere in Xue's text lies a strange undercurrent of "See how much we can take?"

Even in the US diorama of visual iconography, the image of the Wholesome, Blonde, Smiling Cheerleader - pompoms at the ready - is only inches away from the pornographic images of her on her knees in the same little blue and white uniform being penetrated by someone off-screen with an unusually large appendage.

"See how much we can take?"

"We" being the operative word here. There seems to be an unending supply of women to be put up on pedestals of virtue or laid low in defamation, in the service of the state.

I wonder what is going to happen when every female fetus is terminated in favour of a son. Who will we use for our propaganda then?

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The Natural Course

Dear Remittance:
I think you've expressed yourself quite coherently, despite the early morning hour. :)
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that the well-being of any society is in direct proportion to the treatment of their women. Where womanhood is exalted, things flourish. Although, as a whole the human record has been pretty abysmal in this regard, there have been just enough high points throughout history to prove the point.
It's also a pretty inescapable truism that the abused are apt to become the abusers. The record in China is pretty clear that women during the Cultural Revolution were just as apt to participate in female infanticide as the men. Daughters were often considered competition for the dwindling availability of men, who were off doing war. Nothing could have been more self-destructive to a society. In India and other countries, mothers selling their daughters into prostitution has been common, and acceptable. This is not to unjustly condemn what, to them, seems like the only possibility for survival. In many cases, it certainly was, and is.
The ultimate answer is that, ultimately, certain "self evident truths" such as that all men are created equal, will indeed become self-evident. It is an immutable law of the universe; it can only TEMPORARILY be violated, before Nature is forced to make a, more often than not, SEVERE correction.

Time wounds all heels.


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Hi Steel

You wrote: "...women during the Cultural Revolution were just as apt to participate in female infanticide as the men."

Oh, absolutely no argument there! This wasn't one of those feminist "look at all the awful things men have done" rants. I'm actually sorry if that's what it came off sounding like.

My point was just on the semiotic use of women's bodies as symbols of ideology, victimhood and nationalism.

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Not "ranty" at all :)

Hi again, Dear Remittance:

You certainly did not sound ranting at all; all your points were very well thought out, and impossible to argue with. And I don't think anyone can deny that victimization is, and has always been, a main ingredient in every type of power struggle. The root cause is the general depravity of mankind, which manifests itself in every imaginable evil.
It's interesting that you point out the woman's body a symbol of ideology as well, which can also be just as destructive. Even if viewed as a very POSITIVE object, as in ancient Greek society and the like, the fact that it's treated as an object is still dehumanizing. Demeaning OR worshiping the woman's body as an object is just as abusive. In both cases, the concept of PARTNERSHIP is totally missing.
In partnership, there can be no winners and losers. Winning and losing is a product of zero-sum mentality, (something I address in great detail in my diatribe-in-progress, The Spirit of the Craftsman). This fallacy says that any resource one gains must be at someone else's loss. Carrying this to its logical conclusion, if I were to teach someone a new thing, I would have to become stupider myself, because there's a fixed amount of intelligence on the planet (conservation of IQ). If conservation of IQ holds, all of us writers are doomed!
Anyway...I didn't mean to go there, but I think you can see how this is all related. There are no fast answers, but we writers can at least strive to be part of the solution. In my writing, I do my best to portray women as highly functional, (if equally eccentric) human beings.
It's the least I can do.