Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Con in the Quest

Guest post by Holona LeAnne Ochs

Bureau of Justice Statistics show that native women in the U.S. face the highest rate of violent crime victimization. The vulnerability to violent crime that women of color face is a function of a history of oppression that perpetuates of the mythical value of whiteness. Scholars of pre-Colonial indigenous societies of North America present evidence that gender violence was rare prior to the imposition of Anglican constructions of the race-gendered contract. In the Cherokee tradition, gender categories opposed and balanced one another, neither valued more than the other, and men and women often willingly helped one another despite a theoretically rigid sexual division of labor (Perdue 1998). In Lakota society, a man who battered his wife was considered untrustworthy and unfit to participate in political life and lost privileges that were highly valued, such as the ability to contribute to a war or hunting party (Reyer 1991). In fact, many Native American communities were matrilineal (Klein and Ackerman 1995). The rape of Native American women was considered a tool for controlling and colonizing North America (Deer 1993; Castaneda 1993; Johnson 2003; Block 2002; Hurtado 1996). This same tactic was used to impose, perpetuate, and capitalize on slavery in the U.S. This is not to suggest that violence against women is the exclusive province of colonialism. Colonialism is a particular institution, one in a series of conquests. It is the conquest that perpetuates violence against women, often based on the justification of protecting women, specifically white women. 

Measures to protect white women (e.g.; white slavery laws) divide women, attempt to displace vulnerabilities, but ultimately make all women more vulnerable. The risk of violence that any one woman faces is a threat to all women.  But, the opportunity to improve the value of women overall is greatest where gaps in the social status of women are widest. Improving the social construction of the value of women requires questioning the assumption that men are inherently better than women, refusing the notion that some women are worth more or more deserving of protection, and investing in the notion that care-giving is a valuable enterprise whether done by women or men.

The recent political discourse on rape and reproduction has me thinking about these issues. Frankly, I am shocked by what has been said and the implicit declaration of war on women. However, I am perhaps most concerned by the extent to which those who are most affected are once again disregarded, dismissed, ignored, and excluded. The con in conquest is the lie that some women do not matter. The quest for domination can only be resisted effectively when human dignity is valued and the people who are most affected by an issue are not only included but understood to have a special knowledge that should inform policy.

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