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Freethought Feminist

by Cleo Kocol, Freethought Feminist

The dictionary definitions of feminism and freethought read as follows:

Feminism: the doctrine advocating the social and political rights of women equal to those of men. An organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

Freethought: thought unrestrained by deference to authority, especially in the areas of religion.

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In Order of Importance,
by Cleo Kocol

  • Terrorism, the use of force or threat to demoralize, intimidate, and subjugate, especially such use as a political weapon or policy.
  • Terrorist, one who uses such methods to coerce, frighten, demoralize, make fearful, etc.

Terrorists struck the United States September 11, and left a mark on our country, our people, and our government that will not soon be forgotten. Like December 7th, it, too, is a day that will live in infamy. But terrorism is not new to women. Most women, world wide have known some form of terrorism. Sometimes it was local, based on religion, traditions tied to a geographical area, a tribe, a long established way of doing, and sometimes it was widespread (war against witches), or a philosophy that said women are inherently evil and men need to be in total control. Today, in western society, terrorism has become more subtle, not condoned publicly. But not so in other parts of the world, such as the recent blatant sexist society of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Many Americans were shocked when they learned about the treatment of women in Afghanistan. So was I, but my shock came shortly after the Taliban issued their edicts against women's freedom. Stunned by what I was hearing and reading, I dropped nuggets of information about the women and the Taliban into conversations and letters and I was:
  • Disregarded
  • Asked, "what can you expect from primitive people?"
  • Told that we must all respect another's religious beliefs.
  • Was told, "that you feminists are always after men."

The number of women, and men, who showed concern was appallingly small. Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority and Mavis Leno, wife of the comedian and late night talk show host, wrote and talked about the Afghan women's plight, but mostly their words fell into a vacuum of "interesting things" less important than the latest politician's sexual peccadilloes.

I felt as if I had been assaulted by the lack of interest. I wanted to shout, I'm not talking about a minor aberration in a religion's belief system, I'm pointing out violations of human rights, violations that reminded me of the opening salvos of the Nazi terrorist attacks on the Jews before World War II. Jews were forced to wear a star of David, the women in Afghanistan were forced to wear the burqua, the dress that covered them from head to toe with only a mesh screen through which to see. Jews in pre-holocaust Nazi Germany were forced out of the schools, as teachers and students; the same treatment the women and girls in Afghanistan suffered. They were forced out of the schools as teachers and students, too. No more parallels are necessary for anyone to get the picture.

But the horrors perpetrated upon the women by the Taliban didn't stop there. Houses where women lived had to have the windows blackened so men wouldn't accidentally glimpse a woman's face. Or, horrors, her body. Women's freedom to be outside their homes ended. In order to go anywhere in the town, city or countryside, women had to be accompanied by a husband, father, brother, or other male relative. Women were routinely beaten for talking too loud, laughing, or because their shoes made noise when they walked down the street. Because women could not work, and so had no means of supporting themselves, widows had to beg. Minor infractions of the rules, like wearing white socks, brought beatings. Death by stoning happened for larger infractions, such as speaking to a man not part of one's household. A pattern of women being unimportant takes place daily in most Islamic countries. For example some men in the Middle East, when discussing their families, list only the males.

These kinds of harassment are exactly the way the Nazis operated against the Jews. In Afghanistan women, during the latter part of the 90s, were rapidly becoming non-persons. If the terrorists had not attacked New York City and Washington, I wonder how far the Taliban would have gone in their war on women. Extinction? Selective Genocide? It's not a far-fetched idea. They could have kept a few for breeding purposes and "comfort women" and done away with the rest.

Alarmed though I was, I was not surprised to find the Taliban treating its women in such a manner. Women of the Islamic world outside Afghanistan do not universally enjoy the freedoms women have in the West. The Koran, like the (Christian) Southern Baptist ministry of recent times, states that women are inferior to men. Throughout the Middle East, Islam is becoming increasingly fundamentalist. Women, while not house bound in Saudi Arabia, live under rules only marginally better than those in Afghanistan.

A man's honor is probably the most important aspect of Islamic society. I believe it is one of the reasons fights occur at the drop of a hat between people and countries. Because their late leader Attaturk, founded a secular society, the most Western of the Islamic countries is Turkey. Religion and government are not tied together. Still, the custom of honor becomes very important as evidenced in the vehement arguments among drivers of taxis, busses, and automobiles over who has the right of way. Drivers jump from their vehicles to confront one another.

But honor becomes most important in Islamic society in the matter of women. If a husband (father, brother, uncle, etc.) thinks his female relative has committed a sexual indiscretion, he is perfectly free to kill her, and he does. No proof is necessary and innocence or guilt is never established. It is his word against hers, and she is considered only half as important as he. The murderer is seldom punished. Such honor killings take place in the royal houses as well as among the general populace. And the women have no recourse. If a woman is raped, she must produce four witnesses who saw the penetration. Women, as a consequence, say nothing when it occurs, and it happens often.

Muslim societies have a sexual view of life that is appalling to westerners. For example, the Ayoatolla Khomeini of Iran wrote the following sentences: "Whoever marries a girl younger than nine years of age must not have intercourse with that girl whether the marriage is permanent or temporary. On the other hand, the husband can still enjoy himself with foreplay even if the bride is a baby being breast-fed. Foreplay means loving, caressing, rubbing, kissing and sodomy. Any man who has intercourse with a girl younger than nine years of age has committed an infraction even if the girl's vagina and rectum are not ripped. But if a man has intercourse with a girl nine years or older, and he tears the tissues combining the vagina with the rectum, he has not committed a crime and does not have to be responsible for the girl. However, it is better if he takes care of the girl as long as she is alive." In Islamic countries, girls become brides at incredibly young ages, and can be one of four wives allowed a man in the Koran.

I began to read about the intolerable treatment of women in these societies after I had visited Egypt and experienced the mind-set of two local men in Cairo. The first incident took place when my husband and I were strolling between Cairo's fabulous museum and our hotel. I spotted what in the States would be a small Mom and Pop grocery. I picked out a few bananas, gave the male clerk the money and held out my hand for the change. He pointedly handed it to my husband. The second incident took place in a large clothing store not far from the pyramids of Giza. My husband and I were wandering through the aisles, and became separated by many racks of clothing. A clerk, in a show of helping me, came up behind me and put his hands on my breasts. He faded away when he realized I was not alone. The actions of the two Egyptian men appeared to be the mindset of most of the men we encountered. The clerk gave my money to my husband, thereby negating my importance, and the clothing clerk touched me inappropriately, showing that women alone were open to harassment and undoubtedly worse. Similar occurrences did not happen in Turkey, and I attribute that to the secular constitution.

I was glad when the local press began to report on the terrible treatment of the women in Afghanistan. But these short articles were buried in my local newspaper's inner pages. Evidently the brutal treatment of women is not considered real news. But then the Taliban began breaking Buddhist statues.. Now the paper printed the report on the front page. Large headlines. Why? Because the statues were more important than the women! The statues had religious significance, and religion has become our albatross. We treat ministers, priests, nuns, sisters, brothers, and other religious officials as if they were gods. Their buildings of worship are taken off the tax rolls. Their actions are seldom, if ever, criticized.

Women, no matter the modernity of the country or the number of women in power positions, be it political, religious, or secular, are considered lesser than men. Take a fresh look at the case of Supreme Court Justice Thomas and Anita Hill. The men in power, our elected senators, practically lynched her and gave their imprimatur to Clarence Thomas, a man whom the American Bar Association scorned.

Denigration of women is reinforced by texts that are thousands of years old. Read the Bible. It's possible to count on one's fingers anything about women that's good but countless passages denigrate them. Read the Koran. It says women are lesser beings. Terrorist Mohammed Atta scorned women so much that he left word that he wanted none at his funeral.

All women in some way have experienced terror. All women, whether religious or not have internalized the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish message: women are not as good as men. As a consequence women in the United States grow up knowing they should avoid walking in dark streets or lonely places. Still many are attacked, raped, or murdered. Religion has brainwashed some men into seeing them as "the other."

Will women joyfully throw off the burqua? I doubt it. Women who are denigrated, made fun of, humiliated, harassed, and beaten year after year begin to believe the propaganda. Witness women in the U.S. who have been abused, verbally, sexually, and physically, stalked and killed. Fear can immobilize. Only in recent years have women in the U.S. been escaping violent environments - their own homes - to go to safe places. Organizations such as WEAVE give them and their children assistance. But no one, and no organization, tells men to clean up their act.

For years women's health clinics and the doctors who work there have lived with terror. The militant anti-abortion crowd have firebombed and killed clinic workers and doctors. Since September 11 hundreds of envelopes containing white powder have been mailed to these clinics, claiming the powder is anthrax. Fortunately, the powder tested negative. The FBI was certain who did it. Clayton Lee Waagner of the Army of God, had been on the loose since February, a prison escapee. With the police and the FBI's record of catching prisoners days or weeks after they escape, how come they didn't catch Clayton Lee Waagner long ago? Because it was not a priority action.

The silence in the western world regarding the Taliban's treatment of women was made clear by West Wing, a politically savvy TV show. The question posed: If such treatment had happened to a particular segment of society that included both men and women, would we have remained silent? The character involved didn't think so. I believe, if the group was one we thought inferior, we would have said nothing. Look how we ignored what Hitler was doing to the Jews. The bottom line seems to be what is politically expedient. And political expediency can be alarming. For a long time we in the U.S. have been in a cultural war with the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, our own homegrown Taliban. They blamed non-theists, homosexuals, and feminists for the September 11th tragedy. What makes that tirade important is that Bush is beholden to those same fundamentalist, take-us-back-to-the-dark-ages type people. And Bush has made a grab for power (think of the erosion of civil rights) that makes Dick Nixon's Imperial Presidency look like amateur week.

Do I have hope for the women of Afghanistan? Hope yes, but tempered by the knowledge, that women's rights are seldom society's priorities. I'm hoping women in Afghanistan are included in a meaningful way in the new government.

Not all women sat quietly and took the Taliban's abuse. Educated women, who had been the majority of doctors and teachers in pre-Taliban days, worked to let the rest of the world know what was going on. They also held clandestine schools in their homes for the girls whose education was cut off. They did these things knowing they could be beaten or killed as a consequence. But all put on the Burquas when they left their home. Many were used to it. In the countryside, it has long been the rule. The Taliban just upped the stakes.

What is the long term answer? Education. As people learn and grow, their propensity for believing in superstitious myths lessens. Like women's rights in the United States has been a slow process, so we cannot look for overnight miracles in Afghanistan. I keep remembering the Buddhist statues and the order of importance. But we can always dream of a true humanity and remind everyone that women are people, too.

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Women and the Millennium
by Cleo Kocol

Women in the United States no longer have their very lives ruled legally by the men they call father, husband, or brother. Sweat-shop labor is rooted out whenever it rears its ugly head. Salaries are working toward equity. We have laws about sexual harassment and violence against women. Abortion is legal. Nearly half of medical and law students are female. But are we truly equal in the eyes of society? The church? The working world? No, sadly, no, and it is even worse in other parts of the world.

The backlash against women's equality is still with us. In some instances it has just gone underground, and the attacks have become more sophisticated. While touting "family values," the majority of elected officials in Washington, D.C., consistently vote against women's interests. They chip away a woman's right to an abortion. They talk about overturning Roe v Wade. If that isn't enough to show the respect accorded women by Congress, we are the only industrialized nation in the world that has not ratified the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It was first introduced in Congress when Jimmy Carter was president! We have no equal rights amendment, a simple statement that says women and men are equal under the law. Welfare mothers are still society's scapegoats. Although Congressmen speak eloquently about their love for the unborn, they do not, apparently, care for that child once it is born. Child care programs are few and costly..

With thinking that says and seems to prove that women are lesser humans, is it any wonder that society as a whole still regards men as superior to women? As a sop, some men offer women the Promise Keepers. When they say, "I will mend my abusive ways and take care of and respect women," the words have the ring of sincerity, but it is only their way of making women believe that men should lead and women should follow -- meekly. It's easy to see how the solemn, soul-searching and hand-wringing of the Promise Keepers can look good to a woman struggling to make ends meet, a woman working day and night to keep bread on her children's table. The Baptist Church tells women openly that man is head of the house, and she is second to him. And the Baptist women swallow and take it. After all, God's representative has spoken.

But all this is tame compared to other places in the world. In Afghanistan the Taliban says there will be no education for women! No kindergarten, no grammar school, no high school, and of course, no college. Women are sequestered in their homes, forbidden to work, forbidden to seek medical care, forbidden to leave unless accompanied by a husband, father, brother or son. If they are not covered from head to toe with a burqa, punishment can be tremendous. Instant stoning, imprisonment, or death can and does follow.

In comparison , American women live in the richest country in the world, the super power, the beacon of democracy. In the business world they can go as far as the glass ceiling will let them. They can also joust in the political arena. They can fight for tenure at universities. They can take all the traditional jobs they can get, and can fight for positions in the non-traditional fields. Women truck drivers, plumbers, and electricians join the nurses, teachers and secretaries of former years But still, society does not concede that women really count.

Few women know their own history. Most women are appalled when told that it took American women 72 years to get the vote. They are more familiar with statistics about men and war. Lincoln, Washington, Geronimo, Patton, Eisenhower, and Kennedy roll off their tongues. They recognize male sports figures much faster than they do female ones. Overall, women don't know their own heroines. Even today when various spokespersons, both women and men, bring the female heroes of the past alive again in TV documentaries and books, a majority of all people don't watch the shows or read the books. Most men regard it "women's stuff" and many women, taking their cue from the dominant member of society, slough off the information as "not that important."

But some women have always fought to better the lives of all women and, by consequence, of men. In an egalitarian society, men don't have to prove themselves "manly." In 1363 Christine de Pizan wrote The Book of the City of Ladies. In it she took on Aristotle and many of the early male writers who denigrated women. In her day misogyny was rife, and she was cognizant of the fact. She was one of the rare women who received an education, largely because of her own instigation and determination. Most women aren't that strong. Throughout the years women have been reviled. They have been burned as witches. Condemned for speaking truths, they have been banished, shunned, or punished in myriad ways. Today punishment is more subtle. Women who speak out without reservation can be sidelined, kept from full participation in society.

In 1981 seven women went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the shenanigans of the Illinois legislators who were doing everything to keep the ERA from passing. The women were slandered and ridiculed, not only by the legislators who were against them, but by many men and women in general.

When men, such as Dick Gregory, went on hunger strikes for civil rights, or earlier when Ghandi did it for India's independence from Britain, people applauded. In 1981 one of the women hunger strikers was told "you're too fat anyway." The women hunger-strikers were acting out of deep convictions, doing an action they felt necessary for helping all women. They weren't looking for personal glory or attention. Each in her own right had a full and productive life. Above average in intelligence and education, their thinking had taken them ahead of their society. While women's rights gained more and more credibility as an issue, radical actions on behalf of them were too startling for most people to embrace in the 1970's and 80's. Women were raised to be nurturers, martyrs, non-complainers, not revolutionary activists.

What one overriding factor continues to fuel the continuing, very often now, subtle attack on women? Religion. Although some women fight for recognition and changes in their particular denominations, most take the word of mostly male ministers, priests, and rabbis that second place is the word of God. When you bring in the final authority few women have the spunk to fight it. To do so is to "go against the grain," become a pariah, an outcast.

Yet, according to many studies of Americans, the majority of people who claim to be religious believe because they think God did a good job of setting up the world. In other words, they believe in a God the creator, a Deist position that is not much different from that of the Founding Fathers!

When pushed against the wall, only a small percent believe in miracles, virgin births and other superstitious nonsense that may have made sense to an uneducated populace when the Bible was written. Fewer still follow the dogma of their denominations. Few American Catholics eschew birth control. In fact, if you scratch deeply enough, you find that most Americans attend church because it is a "good" place to be social. In fact, most religionists concede that one doesn't need religion to be morally good and make ethical decisions.

So what do we need to bring society into a more egalitarian mode? First we must educate the general populace about the Big Bang, about evolution, and about science in general. We need more Carl Sagans, not more ivory tower scientists. We need more talks, articles, stories and documentaries showing the ongoing "sameness" of religion from pagan times to now, showing how nothing is new, merely a borrowing of past traditions. That there were always trinities and virgin births, that the idea of a god did not sprout with Christianity, rather that there were many gods and goddesses.

Today, thanks to civil rights, the women's movement, and the sexual revolution, women have evolved socially. No longer are women expected to be homemakers, ignorant and innocent about sex, and "above" it. No longer are they ghettoized. They can go almost as far as they can. But limits are still in place, due to corporate greed, slimy politicians, and religious dictates promulgated by the Religious Right. The problem is that not enough Main Line Churches and not enough liberal leaning men go to the mat for women's issues. If true equality is to be won in the next century, women will have to seize every opportunity to bring it about. Otherwise if women limp along at the same rate they have, the next millennium will be approaching before women can claim a true equality with men.

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by Cleo Kocol

When Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and editor of Freethought Today, asked me to participate in the FFRF mini-conference in San Francisco, July 30 and 31, I hesitated, not because I didn't want to take part, but because she called me an activist. I didn't consider myself one. I remembered my overwhelming response to freethought and feminist activism in the past, and contrasting my more low-key involvement now, I had trouble calling myself an activist. But, indeed I am.

What does it take to be an activist? Involvement. Dedication. Commitment.

But at your own pace.

This can mean anything from taking tickets at an event, making the coffee, to being the main speaker It can mean speaking up at a secular meeting where everyone else assumes everyone is Christian. Not letting religious baggage corrupt secular affairs, you might ask "what about the non-believer, or the Buddhist, or the Jew?"

This can mean something as simple as calling your neighborhood party a holiday party, not a Christmas party. Sometimes this will lead to further explanations.

This can mean writing a letter to the editor of your local paper or a magazine. Being concise, literate, and not preachy is all that's necessary in addition to sticking to one subject.

Being an activist can also mean coming "out of the closet" in a limited or full scale way. You can say you're a-religious, or non-religious or use the terms atheist, agnostic, freethinker, humanist or skeptic. It can mean educating people who are less informed, speaking out at feminist meetings where the majority are "new age" or into goddess belief. This can be as simple as letting others know about your own involvement with freethought groups. If they already know and respect you, this works really well. I remember vividly the first time I picketed a Catholic Church. This was in New Jersey in the 1970's and this particular church was abrogating the line between church and state, being very outspoken regarding abortion. A group of us from the National Organization for Women picketed outside the church. This was in the days when we weren't that sophisticated, so we all had homemade signs. Most of the signs read something like, "Keep Your Hands off My Body." But I carried one that said "Shut Up or Pay Taxes."

The church was large and half-way through our demonstration a car emerged from the rear of the church with a priest and three nuns. It was clear that they hadn't realized we were there. When they spied us, their mouths flew open, they shook their heads in indignation and wagged their fingers at us. It was as if they were saying, "you naughty girls." Most people, whether Catholic or not, reacted in similar fashion. Priests and nuns were sacrosanct. People were indignant that we had the audacity to say that the church was doing something wrong. Well, I persisted.

You can, too. After Annie Laurie Gaylor unmasked their pedophilic activities and published a book about their sexual perversions, priests can no longer hide behind their clerical collars.

Letters to legislators as well as to papers and magazines, appearances on television, radio, and before members of clubs can be effective. I found that all subjects for talks left some avenue for injecting a thought about freedom of and from religion within its body. At meetings where talk about starting with a prayer injects its ugly head, ask whose prayer and name several off-shoot religious groups.

The point is that no one has to be on the front lines of action, but he or she can still be an effective activist. Find your way. And if it involves going the whole enchilada, don't forget we picket Promise Keepers, we march for freedom of non-belief, we debate fundamentalists, and we become spokespersons for our group. But do so only if you're informed and comfortable doing such. If you're among the rest of us, write for your newsletter, create a website, stuff envelopes, keep records, make telephone calls, E-mail, but in some fashion, some way, get involved. You'll sleep better when you do.

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by Cleo Kocol

With her hair long, her eyes bright, and her manner assured, Meg Bowman, PhD radiates a confidence that can only come from seventy years of life, a number she readily admits to. A recently retired sociology professor at San Jose State, Meg still leads groups throughout the world and comes back both energized and indignant. Her latest crusade is to eradicate female genital mutilation. She's on the board of FORWARD USA which is headquartered in San Jose.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, is not new. Nor is it the first time that this subject has been addressed in freethought organizations. Fran Hosken, the American Humanist Association's 1987 Humanist Heroine, has been working to educate Americans about this practice since 1975. She is editor of WIN (Women's International Network) News, a quarterly publication with subscriptions at $35 annually. She can be contacted at 187 Grant Street, Lexington, MA 02420-2126.

What is FGM? It is the removal or partial removal of female genitalia and in the most extreme form stitching the raw surfaces together until adhesion is achieved, leaving only a very small, inadequate opening for urine and menstrual flow. Although some people refer to the procedures as female circumcision, that term is misleading and anatomically incorrect and minimizes the suffering. (A comparable surgery on males would be to cut off the head of the penis.) A brochure from FORWARD USA states that FGM is an ancient practice affecting millions of girls and women in 26 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Immigrants and refugees have also carried the tradition with them into the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. The operation is performed for cultural reasons. Although often thought of as a religious belief, nothing in either the Christian Bible or Koran supports FGM.

"I could have died, like my friend Geneat. She was six years old like me. I was 'circumcised' in 1960 at the age six years. I remember every detail of that mutilation. I have suffered quietly for years. The pain and shock is something I can't think about even now, 35 years later," says FORWARD founder Mimi Ramsey.

This butchery is done to girls who are between seven days to 14 years of age. Usually very primitive means-glass, razor blades or scissors-are used without anesthetics or antiseptics. My own knowledge of female genital mutilation in the USA comes from medical practices during the sixties that still advocated female clitoridectomy although infrequently. Today in America FGM is against the law, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. But many girls are not sure about the trauma they went through. They do not know what it is that was done to them. Today teenage girls from countries where such abuses take place, even teenage girls who have immigrated with their families to the United States, ask, what is normal? How should I look and feel?

What can we do? Talk about the issue to friends and organizations. Become a member of FORWARD USA. A donation of any amount will be used to spread the word. FORWARD will send you brochures which you can copy. They can also provide you with a video and information about how to use a house party to spread the word. Also you can write to the head of the World Health Organization and encourage them to promote increased action against the practice of FGM.

Contact Gro Harlem Grundtland at WHO, CM-1211, Geneva 27, Switzerland.

Addresses: FORWARD USA
2040 Forest Avenue, Suite 2,
San Jose, CA 95128
WWW http:TGGH//

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Looking at the Balkans
by Cleo Kocol

How far does violence have to go before people are incensed? Do we call a halt when one person is murdered, one woman raped, one community destroyed, one country decimated? Or do we wait until those numbers escalate? Or do we decide that blame should be apportioned, parents chastised or jailed for their children's crimes, and in the case of foreign communities and countries, do we decide that national borders, religious and cultural differences are more important than human lives? It seems to me that national borders and religious affiliations are the answer. We wait until the toll on human life is astonishingly large before we act. In the thirties and early forties we dismissed what was happening in Europe as not our problem. We were isolationists. Others sided with the Germans, rationalizing their actions. Joseph Kennedy was an apologist for Hitler. Lucky Lindy (Charles Lindbergh) admired much that the Nazis were doing. Ordinary people belonged to the German Bund (a Nazi German front organization). A shipload of Jews desperately seeking to escape the concentration camps came to the West seeking asylum. They were turned away from one country after the other, including the United States.

Our record in Yugoslavia is not much different. We literally did nothing for years even though horrendous stories were coming out, stories straight from the mouths of those who were involved. People who witnessed ethnic cleansing (an Orwellian term that attempts to distance one from the atrocities when we all know it was another holocaust; just no ovens this time) told us about it; women who survived institutionalized rape (not all did; many were shot after the deed) wrote to other women. Feminists contacted other feminists. Men who were starved and tortured were shown on Western television.. They were the ones who survived as systematic killing became the norm.

But America is the country of compassion. At least we like to think so. In the Constitution it is written that we protect minorities and individuals; we even list specific ideals such as freedom of speech and press. Perhaps that is what saves us in the end. We want to live up to those principles. When we finally act, we come down on the side of right. I deplore that it takes so long for us to act, and I deplore that so many still look for ways to rationalize horrendous deeds. No matter whether an air war was the vehicle to use in Kosovo or not, no matter the history of that troubled region, no matter that we did not act in other similar cases, ultimately we're talking about people - humanity. It makes no difference that all governments have more than one motive in all their endeavors, whether it be war or peace -- killing innocent people, removing others from their homes, raping, pillaging, and destroying are too monstrous to tolerate. It's time for all countries to put aside the boundaries of nationalism in such cases and unite to stop further atrocities.

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WOMEN in 1848, 1948, and 1998
by Cleo Kocol

As the 150th Anniversary Year celebrating the first women's rights convention is nearing an end and 1998 is almost over, it's time to take stock. How have the brave words and deeds of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other women and men who attended that first meeting been carried out? At a time when women did not address meetings, they not only conducted one but spoke out about the inequality between the sexes and, to the horror of many, asked for the vote. Have equal rights been attained? Is equality between the sexes the norm? Yes and no. As Hillary Rodham Clinton stated in Seneca Falls in 1998 at the site of the first convention, "No benevolent ruler bestowed equal rights. Women worked for their rights, were jailed for their rights, and even died for their rights." Although change for the better has occured, it has been at a snail's pace, and every step forward has fostered a backlash against the women's movement. For example it took seventy-two years of unrelenting work by the women of 1848, work continued by their daughters, and then by their granddaughters before women finally got the vote.

I'm sure Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be saddened to hear that women today are still discussing many of the same issues that she addressed during her lifetime. Let's look at some of the issues as they were in 1848, 1948,and in 1998.

In 1848 education and decent jobs for women were nil. The women who had to work toiled at miserable jobs for miserable pay which the men in their lives claimed as their right. Women's role was to get married and produce children. A hundred years later, in 1948, high school for women was routine and career choices (meaning the work one would do until marriage, still the number one goal) were teaching, nursing, being a secretary, and pay was commensurate with this interim status. Of course women worked at a variety of other jobs - waitress, sales clerk, cashier, to name three, and all such jobs were gender specific. Classified ads stated, Jobs for Women or Jobs for Men. A janitor who cleaned offices was paid more and had more status than a scrub woman who cleaned offices or homes. Truck drivers and delivery persons were all men. Busses were all driven by men. Construction, carpentry, plumbing and electrical work were all considered men's work. Women were ghettoized, sometimes in positions where appearance counted more than ability. But ironically being a lifeguard, where skimpy bathing suits were worn, was not considered women's work. Neither was a flagger on a highway construction site. Women in the arts were classified as woman writer, woman painter, as if their sex made their abilities somehow different, perhaps impaired. Much of that has been changed by 1998. Today, women not only routinely seek out higher education, they are moving in greater numbers into non-traditional jobs and into the professions. No one blinks at seeing women engineers, doctors, lawyers, and architects. Even the arts have changed. Women stage and movie stars routinely describe themselves as actors; the term actress is slowly being replaced as are other diminutives that tend to lessen the importance of the work involved.

But discrimination still exists in the professions and conditions similar to hazing happen far too often during training, especially in medical schools. And in all positions, jobs, and careers, women still are paid less than men in similar or the same positions. This discrepancy, brought to the nation's attention during the 1970's by feminist activists, resulted in women's wages going on the average from 59 cents for every dollar a man made to 75 cents today.

So, yes, women's lot has improved, and women today walk, talk, and exhibit a confidence that the women of 1948 or 1848 lacked. Today's woman knows she is equal. The women in the earlier times wondered and often believed the propaganda foisted upon them by the white, male power structure. Society agreed that women were less than men. As Ellie Smeal so rightly said in Seneca Falls in 1998, "Today, corporate greed and the religious right fight to keep women in a subordinate position." In 1848 women were told they were the afterthought of a creator, taken from man's rib, formed as a helpmeet, a lesser being, a woman who brought about humanity's downfall and thus had to pay for it again and again.

In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton was starting to recognize that religion held women in "their place." In 1885 in a speech she asked, "What power is it that makes the Hindu woman burn herself on her husband's funeral pyre? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion."

During the time of the first woman's rights convention, Stanton was already the mother of three of her eventual seven children. Highly ineffective birth control focused on home remedies such as ginger root tea, one teaspoon in a cup of hot water, or women tried a ginger root douche in an effort to control their bodies. Abortion was also a bloody, behind-the-scenes procedure. By 1948 change was seen. Condoms were fairly universal and the diaphragm had been introduced during that decade. But abortion was against the law, spoken about in whispers. Still women braved it rather than be the object of scorn and ridicule, the Scarlet Woman of 1948. It was estimated that a 1,000,000 women died each year in illegal, back-alley abortions.

Today, in 1998, we have more birth control methods, including the pill, but abortion has only been legal since 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled it a privacy issue. But since that day the religious right, including the powerful Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Church, and the LDS Church, commonly called the Mormon Church, have fought to keep women from having abortions. Rare but documented cases list girls who were victims of rape or incest who have been forced by their parents to give birth. These foot soldiers for inequality have infiltrated every segment of society, including school boards and state and federal government. Zealots have waged terrorist attacks upon doctors who do perform abortions and upon clinics where it's possible to get an abortion. Men and women have been shot, injured and killed. Fewer and fewer doctors elect to do abortions as attacks upon them escalate. Waiting periods and parental consent laws further erode a woman's right to choose.

But difficult and sometimes non-existent access to abortion is not the only horrendous thing happening to women in 1998. Charlotte Bunche, of Rutgers University, was one of the well-known feminists who presented a new Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls. She stated, "We must remember that what happens to women in Afghanistan has relevance to women worldwide." Worldwide, women are routinely circumcised, made to bear unwanted children, or submit to forced sterilization.

In her day Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that healthy women were no less sexually aware than men. But on the whole women were far from free to be sexually responsive or to have control of their own sexuality. In 1948 women, whether in the home or the workplace, were considered sex objects. Sexual harassment in the workplace was taken for granted, and though it happened in it virulent form infrequently, lesser forms were everyday occurrences. Women had little control, waiting for the "right" man to come along, to invite them on a "date" and eventually one of the "right" ones to marry them. Sex before marriage often occurred between engaged couples, and occasionally between others. In the latter circumstance, if the girl became pregnant, often her family whisked her out of town to a home for unwed mothers where she gave birth and put her child out for adoption. If her family was unable to afford such actions, the boy was usually forced to marry the girl, or if the girl kept the pregnancy secret, she was forced to go to an abortionist, such act usually financed by the boy.

It's a joy to watch today's woman saunter through her day, head up, eyes bright, speech at the ready. She knows her rights. If she gets hit upon by a lecher at work, she documents the happening. Sexual harassment is no joke to her. She knows the difference between it and harmless flirting. Harassment happens when her job is at stake.

It's obvious that I could document or recall many aspects of women's lives, contrasting 1848, 1948, and 1998. We have made strides but they are so unremittingly slow that it irks me and all thinking women. My hope for the new year is that we keep the advances we have made so that we can march into the millennium with a good foundation from which we can work for full equality. It's long past due.

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The Hidden World of Islamic Women
By Geraldine Brooks, published by Anchor, of Doubleday, copyright 1995
Reviewed by Cleo Kocol

For six years prize-winning correspondent, Geraldine Brooks worked in the Islamic world. Traveling and living in various countries that are linked by their belief in Muhammad, she managed to speak with, interview, and sometimes have friendships with the women. What came through with shocking clarity is the fundamental hypocrisy of this rigidly segregated, male-dominated society. The Koran, according to Brooks, is often in direct contrast with what is practiced.

One of the apparent contradictions she observed was the dyed red hair of Ayatollah Khomeini's widow; but a friend explained to her, "The Koran encourages us to be beautiful for our husbands." Another was the Shiite Muslim custom called sigheh. This appears to be a temporary liaison between a man and a woman. When sex is involved, the transaction differs from prostitution because the couple goes to a cleric to record their contract, and in Iran any children born of the union are legitimate. A sigheh contract can also be drawn so a boy can see a girl without a veil or get to know one in a dating situation. The length of the contract can be brief or long.

Although the degree of women's subjection varied from country to country, everywhere Brooks found appalling evidence of widespread abuse of women. In some countries, genital mutilation of girls is a given. Often mothers and aunts perform the surgery to insure the girl's "purity." As a result sexual pleasure is gone and usually lifetime suffering follows, often death during childbirth. Some form of "the veil" is worn in all the Islamic countries and is getting more prevalent. Pity the poor girl who has a lock of hair showing. Repercussions can be horrendous. Early pre-pubescent marriage for girls is not abnormal, schooling varies from country to country, but overall schooling for girls is not considered important. Women are forbidden to drive cars in Saudi Arabia. Ghastly penalties abound for sexual transgression in all the countries. Death by stoning happens, and execution by family members is not uncommon. A man's "honor" is thus restored.

Not surprising is that sex is very important, discussed, joked about, and laughed about often, the men sometimes leading double lives, especially those rich and affluent. What was surprising was to find a limited budding feminism, women wanting to be educated, wanting to be doctors and lawyers, and more surprising yet was to find some truly happy marriages, husbands and wives who had respect for one another. As one can imagine, respect for women in Islamic countries is not widespread.

The anecdotes related and the author's experiences in the various countries give the book a cumulative power more shocking than a pure recital of fact.

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A comment for the Promise Keepers
by Carrie Nichols

Dear Right Wing:

Now I thought once you heard the "real" story on those Promise Keepers, you would be all geared up to join! Sounds like you only need a few qualifications. Let me list them for you:

Abuse your wife and children in the name of God, and then vow to stop abusing them in the name of God.

Booze it up every night, stay out late, cheat on your wife (you can do that since you are the head of the household), and decide you'll stay with the wife and kids, only you'll try to do it sober now. Because God would want you to. (too bad they couldn't listen to their children before, I'm sure they would have loved to have had a sober father).

If you can make the grade for requirement #4, this gives you the right to go back on your promise whenever you want, hurt whoever you want, do what you want (even if you know it's not what God wants, heck, he'll forgive ya!), no matter what the consequences of your bad choices, you're still a gem in God's eyes! (At least you're not one of those moral Atheists! They really get on his bad side! No saving those kind).

If you can follow all of God's rules, (just pick and choose the ones you like, he'll never notice), tell others to do as you say, not as you do, you're guaranteed a spot in heaven baby!


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A feminist atheist's letter to the Religious Right
by Janet Borchers

I am so very pleased to learn of your organization and I do hope you can be of assistance to me. You see, I am looking for the right religion and at last have found the experts. Most people are born into the right religion and know all other religions are wrong, but alas, I was not so fortunate. It was clear from the beginning that my religion was one of the wrong ones.

I'm sure you would agree that the religion I was born into was wrong. Can you believe it -- they told me god was omnipotent?! They also told me to pray and god would answer my prayers. This didn't work from the get-go, so the authorities in my religion made excuses for god. They told me god couldn't be everywhere at once, god was too busy to answer everyone's prayers, there are some things god just can't do, and god knows better than I do what's best for me. They sure were wrong about that omnipotent claim! So I want the right religion with the right god -- I want all that omni-stuff to be right. You know, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, I'll take omnivorous and omnibus too, just to be sure.

It also might help you to know I am a woman -- that should eliminate most religions right off the bat making your job easier. I may or may not want a family someday, so I will be deciding for myself which form of birth control to use and whether or not to seek an abortion if I should feel I need one. After all, as I'm sure you'd agree, my mind and body are truly mine. That brings to mind my mind. I do like to think for myself, gather information, evaluate it, question things, form opinions, and even come up with new ideas. Of course, in the right religion I will be as equally valued as a male human and be granted the same opportunities and privileges.

Let's see, what am I forgetting -- oh yeah, I don't look good in a veil or a habit. I'm not too picky about prophets, saints, and such, but I draw the line at beings with wings and halos. Miracles and proseletyzing are turnoffs. Kneeling is iffy and I absolutely cannot speak in tongues. That communion idea is great as long as I can brown bag it and bring my own snack from home -- I'm a vegetarian. I don't chant or swoon and my hallelujah is weak, but I can carry a tune with a simple repeating melody and basic redundant chords. I will consider becoming a lesbian if required, however, I stand firmly against becoming reincarnated in any way. Finally, I have a few beliefs that must be addressed. I believe I am traveling around the sun, I believe Darwin was right, and if I must tithe I believe none of the money should go to support my government -- there must be an abyss between church and state.

Please consider these simple guidelines when making your decision and if it should become obvious that no religion is right, please help protect me from all that are wrong.


Sherwood B. Grateful

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"Lost" Sinners by Janet Borchers

To entertain myself during a recent bout of insomnia I flipped on my television at 3:00 AM and found myself watching the televangelist Marilyn Hickey. Thinking it prudent to get to know an adversary, I really tuned in and was soon caught up in the fervor. The gist of Marilyn's message was that all Christians have a duty to call the unsaved to the bosom of the lord. Marilyn resorted to audience participation to generate enthusiasm for this worthy cause.

Marilyn pointed to the wall behind her and implored her flock to call out to lost sinners in the north. "In the name of Jesus," the congregation chanted after her, "help me bring lost sinners from the north to the bosom of the lord." They all waved their arms toward the north. "Come! Come!" they gushed and gestured hypnotically.

Marilyn then faced her flock and asked them to turn south toward the wall behind them and the incantation and gesturing was repeated. "Lost sinners from the south, come, come!" they echoed.

Then came the coup. Marilyn turned to her right, which in my geometry book would have represented west, and called out to the lost sinners of the east! To my further amazement the camera panned over the congregation and with unflagging belief in Marilyn's "direction" every person chanted, "Lost sinners of the 'east' , come, come!"

Of course, east then became west and once again the sheep obediently followed her like she was their own personal Sheltie. "Lost sinners of the 'west', come, come!" they intoned beckoning easterly.

My thanks to Marilyn for this moment of mirth which lulled me back to sleep. Two wrongs really made this rite for me and I now truly understand why sinners are so lost.

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by Cleo Kocol

On Saturday, October 4, 1997, our country's capital was once again inundated with people who had a message to bring. In the past we have seen similar assaults on the senses by groups hoping to catch the attention of the nation and communicate their directives to elected representatives, including the president. Women's rights groups, gay groups, racial equality groups, and just about anyone with a political agenda have held marches and rallies. It's the American Way. The Promise Keepers vow they are different. They say they have no political agenda, nothing but love of God and belief in the bible. Reconciliation with god is their stated goal. They aim to be good husbands and fathers, to stop running around and doing ungodly things. Who can't applaud? It all sounds fine. I have no quarrel with anyone who wants to exercise their freedom of speech or their freedom to worship and believe as they want. But only a cursory look at this movement makes it clear that everything Patricia Ireland and the National Organization for Women, John Swomley and the ACLU, state about the Promise Keepers is absolutely on target They say the Promise Keepers are dangerous.

On the Mall in Washington, D.C., the leaders - President of the Promise Keepers, Randy Phillips and the various ministers who came from all over the nation -- exhorted the men present to confess their sins, to repent their misdeeds. Although no weeping and gnashing of teeth was seen on my TV screen, the men dutifully fell to their knees, and those who had room, prostrated themselves, butts in the air, noses to the ground. It was a pitiful display of blatant hypocrisy of a group that has more than one ax to grind

Former football coach, Bill McCartney of the University of Colorado, started the whole movement with meetings in stadiums. Using the language of sports, he talked about a return to god. The sports analogy was carried out in Washington, D.C. Many of the men wore baseball caps or T-shirts with sports or war type slogans (A soldier in the army of the lord, read one. Another read Real Men). At one point these "real men" were told to "huddle" in groups of five or six and pray. They were to come as sinners before god.

I was disgusted with the whole thing. In the first place, any man knows that abusing his wife and kids, sexually and physically, is wrong He doesn't have to go to Washington, D.C. to be told the obvious. But obviously, these men are not thinking men or they wouldn't have been manipulated as the 500,000 or so present were. And that goes for the women who are married to them, who castigate feminists and declare sweetly that Promise Keepers has made their men behave, be good men. Well, who am I to deny that If they stopped beating their wives and sleeping with their daughters and kicking the hell out of their sons, good for them. And if those women don't mind being second class citizens, okay, it's their choice. But what about the rest of us? Are we to be innocent bystanders?

I don't think so. It's very clear that the Promise Keepers agenda wants to get everybody into their boat, and the acid-toned diatribes by the women attached to the PK movement will sound like music compared to the actions of the PK themselves. In my opinion they're working themselves into a frenzy like the Christians did during the Crusades. Except now the "other" is everyone who doesn't believe their particular brand of Christianity.

No one really speaks out against them. President Clinton said, "No one can doubt the sincerity of the hundred of thousands of men," and his voice held the soft smile sound of one who is lauding, not denigrating. Women commentators at the rally asked the listening public, who could be against a movement that says men should be kind to women? Senator Joseph Biden, on Face the Nation, did his usual two-step, mealy-mouthed accommodation of this revolutionary group.

Revolutionary? Yes! They want a return, they say, to biblical ways. The man is to lead, the woman to follow and these excerpts from the exhortations on the mall give indications of their plans for the future. ".everyone is to take Jesus Christ as their savior. the sin of homosexuality cannot be the church goes, so goes America.go back home and wake up your church.go home and win our cities to faith in Jesus Christ.take the gospel to the go home and win your cities.The time is short; Jesus Christ is coming."

Okay, I have a fundamental problem with men who do reprehensible acts and then say that god has ordained that they should have the final word over women and children. Goody for them that they have temporarily suspended their evil behavior, but inasmuch as they gave control of themselves over to god, who is going to bear the brunt of their anger and hostility next? Everyone who doesn't believe in their narrow-minded ways. This is a cultural war, one not of our choosing, but it is firmly in place. It began in the late seventies and has grown incrementally since. Every time one branch of its bigoted tree gets cut down, another rises.(don't be misled by that hugging by whites of blacks and latinos at the mall in D.C., those same men are the ones who want to spit in the eye of every uppity black and send all latinos back to Mexico or some other Latin American country whether they were born in the US or not )

Harsh language? I don't think so. I think the kind of fundamental sexist, racist religious bias that is at the root of all groups such as Promise Keepers goes very deep, and all the pussy-footing by organized political parties and church groups who don't really swallow their message will give them time to get entrenched in American society.

These are a few of the things that the Promise Keepers and their supporters say:

It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement. - Rev. Jerry Falwell

Don't you understand, mister, you are royalty and God has chosen you to be priest of your own home? -- Tony Evans

We will not compromise. Whenever the truth is at risk, in the schools or legislature, we are going to contend for it. We will win. - Bill McCartney

Take back the nation for Christ. - Bill McCartney

Abortion has become "a second civil war." - Bill McCartney

I believe that slavery, and the understanding of it when you see it God's way, was redemptive. -- Wellington Boone

Homosexuality is an abomination of Almighty God. - Bill McCartney

I believe that feminists of the more aggressive persuasion are frustrated women unable to find the proper male leadership. If a woman were receiving the right kind of love and attention and leadership, she would not want to be liberated from that. - Tony Evans



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