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The Innocence of Amanda Knox

I wanted to write this blog entry partly in response to Gideon’s guest blog about Hillary Clinton and partly to bring up a new subject, so decided to write my own guest blog entry.  First, in response to Gideon’s entry:

Women in politics have to walk such a thin line between being taken seriously and being construed as an overcompensating bitch.  If Hillary were to act more womanly by societal standards, she would be viewed as a weak and vulnerable politician.  However, when she or any other woman in politics “lays down the law” so to speak, the media and other politicians jump all over her labeling her as a stone-cold bitch.  So what’s a girl to do??  I think that it is this exact reason why, like you brought up Gideon, it is hard to tell Hillary Clinton’s stance on feminism.

This brings me to the second part of my entry: Speaking of Hillary, I just read about her newly developed involvement in the Amanda Knox case.

Just as a brief summary, Amanda Knox is a 22-year old American college student who is accused of killing her flatmate Meredith Kercher, a 21-year old British student, while the two were both studying in Perugia, Italy.  The murder is alleged to have occurred during a sex game between Knox and her Italian boyfriend, (and the victim is believed to have been attacked for her lack of desire to participate).  Kercher was found 2 days after the murder in her bedroom stripped partly naked, with her windpipe crushed and her throat slashed.  The case is laced with concerns of anti-Americanism, but I think that it is only one aspect of this debate.

Crimes involving Americans on foreign soil happen every day, but why is this case so heavily publicized??  I strongly believe that the fact that Amanda is a young woman adds greatly to the case’s media portrayal.  If the suspect were a 40-year-old American male, you’d better believe that there would be much less public concern.  Knox, at the beginning of the case, was so heavily assumed to be innocent, I think it came as such an extreme shock when there was evidence found pointing toward her involvement in the murder that people automatically began looking for loopholes in the case.  I am not trying to speculate about her innocence, but I do think that the case is being handled differently because of Knox’s gender.

Anyway, the reason I went off on that tangent is because I think that Clinton is choosing to now involve herself in the case as her form of being involved with “women’s issues”, even though this case is considered important just because of the fact that a woman allegedly was involved with the murder of another woman.  The Italian judicial system is being called unjust and anti-American for keeping this young woman in an Italian prison when there is “not enough” (according to American officials) evidence to place Knox as the killer.  (As if Knox’s DNA on the handle of the knife isn’t “enough”?!?)  I title this response “The Innocence of Amanda Knox” because of the phrase’s multiple meanings to the case: her literal innocence in relation to whether or not she committed the murder, and her perceived innocence as a woman.  Women are much less often believed to be capable of this type of violence, and this fact I think is the largest contributing factor to the case’s presence in the public eye.

Is Amanda Knox innocent? This is a difficult case no matter what country you’re in…and I think that the US is framing the Italian imprisonment of Amanda Knox as an anti-American bias because the story fits so well into the mold of “look at those tyrants holding that poor little girl captive”!  Knox has been reported to often cry for hours on end in her cell…further reinforcing her vulnerability, and highlighting the fact that she is a woman experiencing the emotional trauma of being in prison.  The fact that she is so distraught means nothing in view of her guilt or innocence…the experience must be awful regardless.  However, what if she DID do it…?  American authorities think they could perform this investigation better and provide a more unbiased judgment of the case.  In my opinion, aren’t we already biased in this case because of Knox’s socially-constructed female innocence?

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Hillary Clinton

If Secretary of State Clinton serves for President Obama’s first full term in office, she will have completed a 20-year run on the forefront of American politics from 1992 to 212. The first eight were spent as arguably the most influential First Lady in American history, the next eight as one of the most important members of the Senate, and the next four in her current position. If Obama wins a second term she could stay on four another four years at State. In 2016, she could run for President, win, and serve two terms. All this is very, very conceivable. In a poll released today by CNN, Clinton was voted the most qualified out of probable future contenders for the White House (“CNN Poll: Palin Not Qualified for Presidency”). An eight-year Hillary Clinton presidency would lead to an unprecedented thirty-two years at the top of American politics. Of course she would also be America’s first female President. Obviously, there is something very, very special about Hillary Clinton.

One of the most interesting things about Secretary Clinton is the intense feelings she provokes. Many conservatives believe she is the devil. This lead one man to ask John McCain at a campaign rally “How do we beat the bitch?” (sexist much?) when it looked like Clinton would skate through the primaries. Conversely, many liberals believe Clinton is the devil as well. I believe one of the reasons for this intense rejection of Clinton is sexism: we many cannot stand nor accept seeing “a woman in charge” as Carl Bernstein has described her. These people are used to seeing our leaders be men who often have personas as “tough guys” and will only stand for seeing men being in charge.

Further, these people can’t stand seeing a woman with such intense ambition.  What concerns me most is that many Democrats were turned off by her ambition.  John Heilemann of New York Magazine has written, “Hillary’s greatest political vulnerability has always been the sense among many voters that she is ambition incarnate. That she’s forever shimmying up the greasy pole. That everything she does and says is all about her own advancement (“Hillary Reborn”).The modern Democratic Party has never been averse to electing Presidents with huge ambition—JFK, Carter, Bill Clinton, and Obama. When Hillary Clinton ran for President in 2008, she had more experience than each of these Presidents. Yet throughout the primaries we heard discussion that Clinton’s candidacy was all about herself and her ambition. The scary thing about the people who didn’t support Clinton for these reasons are not people in our society who we outwardly call sexists. These people are supposed to be liberal: the people who believe in acceptance and the greater good. Yet many had an irrational fear of all things Hillary Clinton.

People also don’t like Clinton because they claim she is who she is only because she is Bill Clinton’s wife. No one can deny this has its benefits. However, in Carl Bernstein’s biography of the Secretary of State, A Woman in Charge, (a good read) he presents the case that Hillary would still be Hillary even if she never married William Jefferson Clinton. Bernstein asserts with ample evidence that Hillary was already on the fast lane of political success before she met WJC. Before she met WJC she was already nationally known and was on her way to becoming one of the most influential students in the history of Yale. Further, Bernstein even deliberates whether or not Hillary would have been more successful than she is if she didn’t marry the 42nd President.

One of the debates that have always surrounded Clinton is whether or not she is a true feminist, or even a feminist at all. Her time as Secretary of State has answer the questions and the answer is yes. Clinton has made women’s rights and equality one of her top issues as America’s number one diplomat. In particular, Clinton has focused on women’s rights in Africa and developing countries. Carol Hymowitz of Forbes has written “Clinton’s championing of women, and her efforts to meet large numbers of women outside government who don’t attend ministerial meetings, suggests she will put her own stamp on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. She also hopes to redefine the effort toward gender equality as a goal needed to reduce poverty and promote global democracy and peace” (“Secretary Clinton Presses For Women’s Rights”). As Secretary of State, Clinton herself has stated “I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress — that we have made progress on many other aspects of human nature that used to be discriminatory bars to people’s full participation. But in too many places and too many ways, the oppression of women stands as a stark reminder of how difficult it is to realize people’s full human potential (Lander).

Agree with her policies or not, it is impossible to deny the importance of Hillary Clinton. I am of the belief that the economy will get better in the next year or so and that Obama will handily win a second term. If this happens I fully expect to see our first woman President elected in 2016.

To correspond with Daly, “African Genital Mutilation:  The Unspeakable Atrocities”

Female Genital Cutting

Acid Attack

Chinese footbinding

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UPDATE: “Bound by History: The Last of China’s ‘Lotus-Feet’ Ladies”

Gender in Different Cultures

It is difficult to understand gender construction and sexuality outside of the United States. To us, gender is binary and sexuality for most the part is too. But as what we have touched on in class, some cultures like Native Americans celebrate what we would consider a third gender.

Webs of Power: Women, Kin, and Community in a Sumatran Village by Evelyn Blackwood
The tombois were women but acted like men and took pride in acting like men. There was the separation of ceweks and cowoks. Ceweks were women said to like men better but still had relationships with cowoks, who were also women. Cowoks take pride in acting like men (they are also the tombois) and swear, smoke, drink and spend a lot of time out in the public sphere. The word tomboi comes from the English term tomboy. For a cowok, the ultimate scenario would be to pass as men. Cowoks also fought to keep their girlfriends because they thought they would leave them for an actual man. Tombois considered having children for them as unnatural. But that is the prominent role for women so the Cowoks live outside the norm.  But with introduction of western ideals, now new identities are conflicting with fundamental Islam and marriage roles for women with magazines and media.

Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India by Serena Nanda
They are in between genders but raised as women but do not have breasts or menstruate. They have women characteristics and count as women in the census but have both male and female defined jobs. They are also described as a caricature of women. Hindu accommodates such behavior with their gods like Shiva and Vishnu. Hijras used to have to mix male and female clothing but do not anymore. But bottom line is they are not real women because they cannot have children.

Hijras of India

Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes by Don Kulick
These hookers are feminine but not female and their boyfriends are what are examined in the text. The boyfriends were basically boy toys that were between the ages 16-30 and very muscular with tattoos. The Travestis are always giving their boyfriends gifts and are the sole provider of the relationship. They also do not like men that like to be penetrated—that is what they are paid to do as prostitutes; instead when it comes to their boyfriends they want to be penetrated. The boyfriends are never former clients because they do not want to be considered free sex. But the boyfriends give the travestis a gender identity and esteem- they are not penetrating them, they are getting penetrated.

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The Bow and the Burden Strap:  A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America by Harriet Whitehead
It was permissible for a man to become a woman socially in Native North America. It was mainly male to female and they were not hermaphrodites. The male berdache—the term they used—did women’s work and wore women’s clothes. Their gender was determined by their child behavior. Gender was determined by whether they chose to play with a bow or a burden strap. War captives were taken as berdaches into communities. The berdaches used a female voice, speech laughing and their walk. The most important aspect to gender was social position and dress. But the berdaches were viewed as a mix creature- more transgender than homosexual. They were matchmakers, love magicians or curer of venereal diseases- viewed as more than a woman. Different tribes had different versions of the berdache, but the idea was mainly the same.

berdache

The female berdache was less common. Menstruation held women to their role in society and it was hard to step out of that role. Some claimed to not menstruate though. The female berdache had the urge to fight in wars. Some were considered to have manly hearts, and most were post-menopausal.

The gender was not defined by sexuality, but the lack of category for homosexuality allowed for the berdache role to fit in society. The Native American berdaches fit into these transgendered roles to conform to heterosexuality.

hijab

Potent symbol
The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves, regarded by many Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

burka

Conservative choice
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. The niqab attracted the attention of cabinet minister Jack Straw, who said he would prefer that Muslim women did not cover their faces. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf. The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

shayla

Popular styles
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf. The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.

chador

Covering up
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear. The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.

source: BBC News: Muslim Veils

Apologies that I didn’t play this in class the other day; I wanted to get started on discussion and then I got so into our discussion, I forgot!  Here is the film trailer (in English) and a small panel interview with Marjane Satrapi.  You can find the whole film on YouTube if you are interested.  I strongly suggest it as it just as amazing as the book.  (And film also covers her exile to Austria).

As we discussed in class today, the popularity of skin-bleaching creams for women of color in Asian and African countries is growing awfully powerful. Below is the video series we watched with links to only a few of the many articles that can be found on the topic. Just google skin-bleaching cream and you’ll see some great criticism (and sadly, even more products) concerning the issue.



Skin lightening products for Asian-Americans: ancient ideal or European hegemony?

Skin-whitening adverts ignite race row in India

Beauty and the Bleach

Pigmentation and Empire: The Emerging Skin-Whitening Industry

Lightening Creams Are Popular Among Indians, Even For Kids

The Skin Bleaching Phenomenon – Commentary

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