When the feminist poet Adrienne Rich died this week, the obituary of one of the most influential female writers of the last half-century described the goal of her life and her work as “the creation of a society without domination.”
The rest of the week’s news illustrated how far we have to go in achieving such a dream. In Florida, when newly-released video showed that George Zimmerman was apparently unscathed after shooting Trayvon Martin despite his claim of being injured while defending himself against attack, the message was clear: whether their authority derives from a gun or the color of their skin, men will defend their right to control people they have traditionally dominated, even if they have to kill them in cold blood.
On the video, Zimmerman’s casual ease with the police who failed to arrest him conveyed an equally brutal message: when the effort to maintain domination ends in the murder of a youth armed only with a bag of Skittles, those in power will protect their own kind instead of holding them accountable.
In New York, when a jury proved unable to reach a guilty verdict on rape charges against a drunken cop who committed a brutal sexual attack on a young woman while threatening to shoot her in the face if she cried out or opened her eyes, a comparable message was clear: men with badges and guns have the right to take what they want from women, no matter what the circumstances.
And when it turned out that Michael Pena’s trial resulted in a hung jury on rape charges because a former legal advisor to ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer refused to convict the disgraced cop on those counts, the message from New York echoed the one emanating from Florida: men in power will band together to protect other men from being held accountable for the most heinous crimes against members of a group they have traditionally dominated--even if it’s a whole gender that represents the larger half of humanity.
Nor will men accustomed to domination suffer even the most trivial pangs of conscience about perpetuating their protection racket, judging by the parting shot of Lloyd Constantine, who reportedly led the resistance that deadlocked the Pena jury. The verdict made the victim collapse in gasping sobs, doubled over and shaking—but Constantine said breezily, “I have not lost any sleep over this.”
His connection with Spitzer--who was driven from office for privately purchasing the bodies of female human beings for his own sexual gratification, even as he publicly led the drive to prosecute such crimes--seemed particularly creepy during a week that also included news about efforts to prosecute Dominique Strauss-Kahn on prostitution charges.
In France, DSK was reported to have helped arrange orgies with prostitutes via emails that referred to the women as “luggage,” “gifts,” and “equipment.” It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of men viewing women as less than human; in his emails setting up what he advertised as “great, sexy” gatherings, DSK objectified women’s utility as sexual receptacles the same way he might objectify any other physical thing to be used for his convenience—just as he was accused of having done in his alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid in Manhattan last year.
And back in New York, DSK’s lawyers tried this week to block a civil lawsuit by the maid on the grounds that the former head of the International Monetary Fund is protected by diplomatic immunity--one of the most abused protection rackets around, as criminal justice authorities charged with the dismal job of policing official foreign emissaries wearily attest.
Yes, things are worse elsewhere. The week’s reports from Afghanistan included news about a woman who was jailed for the crime of running away from an abusive husband, another who was jailed after being kidnapped and seeking protection from the police, a third woman who was jailed after being drugged and forced into prostitution, and yet another woman jailed after falling in love and eloping with the man of her choice.
But if you’re female, you don’t have to live in Afghanistan to get the same message enforced with such brutality in that barbarically misogynist society: Men have the right to decide what is done with the bodies of women, and women have no right to self-determination.
In the United States, the ongoing controversies over women’s access to contraception and anti-abortion legislation mandating invasive procedures like unwanted trans-vaginal probes involve the same issues as those invoked by the Taliban: who dominates whom?
Here as in Afghanistan, the answer for women continues to be men -- and if you’re a black American, it’s white men. This week’s news also produced chilling reports about the effectiveness of Republican efforts to limit voter registration among minorities and other groups that tend to vote Democratic in the crucial swing state of Florida.
In the deadly battle to maintain their domination, American men admittedly have fewer tools than they used to; women and blacks are no longer considered to be property under the law, and they have the right to vote--if they can manage to overcome the onerous burdens still being imposed in the deliberate attempt to prevent them from doing so.
But even as disenfranchised groups struggle for self-determination, white men in positions of power continue to use guns and badges, political clout and old-boy networks to maintain their dominance and protect each other from being held accountable for their crimes, no matter how horrific.
Adrienne Rich’s dream helped serve as her epitaph, but the battle to end domination and assert the right of every human being to control his or her own destiny continues.