Construction of a Feminist Sexual Consciousness

15 Aug

Presenting a new theory of feminist sexual consciousness. Drawing on gender studies theory, ancient goddess archetypal literature, artifacts of the divine feminine, theories on the origins of patriarchy, neuroimaging and studies of physiology of women’s orgasm, and an attempt to formulate a radical and cohesive perspective on women’s contemporary sexual agency. Hopefully this presentation can awaken a feminist sexual consciousness in the viewer, regardless of gender.

0:00 – Introductions
0:47 – Oppression of women throughout history & sexual agency
1:35 – Feminist consciousness-raising and sex
2:30 – The origins of patriarchy as a response to the divine feminine
4:25 – Creatrix myths & women’s sexual power
5:00 – Patriarchy & the rise of the state; origin of property following Neolithic revolution
6:40 – Ancient art representing mother-creator/ creatrix cosmic origin myths
6:52 – Minoan snake goddess
8:18 – Mother atop the mountain goddess image from Minoan gold signet ring
10:15 – Sumerian god/ goddess and the Tree of Life; transliteration of divine feminine myths into Biblical stories to justify patriarchy
12:13 – Egyptian goddess Nut, Grandmother Spider (Hopi pottery), gold statue of Hindu goddess Durga, Creatrix of the universe
13:15 – Enheduanna poet & priestess; Sumerian sacred sex rites & fertility; sensual hierophants
14:31 – Female-authored Tantric texts, autonomous definitions of the sexual self
15:01 – Transpersonal sexual experience, core energies & tantric philosophies on liquid substrates of life
16:00 – Sexual & spiritual disconnection in contemporary life, the sexual revolution, casual sexuality vs. meaningful sexual connection & transpersonal sexual experience healing power
17:05 – controversy of sex & spirituality, vulnerability, the ego, human connections & contemporary values vs. ancient traditions
18:04 – depression rates, the death of human intimacy, and digital life; the distraction from the status quo; healing the Judeo-Christian-Islamic patriarchal sexual narrative
19:09 – extrapolating ancient values to awaken a feminist sexual consciousness; the vulnerability in intimacy, radical definition of women’s sexual experience
20:05 – new models of women’s orgasm, neural pathways to orgasmic consciousness, 16,000 ways to stimulate orgasm, ESR orgasms, transcendental orgasmic experiences, status orgasmus, synesthesia, blended orgasms, oxytocin pathway through intercostal nerve, similarities to psychedelic & spiritual experiences; similarities to ancient descriptions of invoking the divine through sacred sex rites
23:37 – therapeutic applications of feminist sexual consciousness theory
25:56 – incongruous social construction of women’s sexuality requires a thorough examination of historical perspectives to inform contemporary sexual agency
26:06 – healing sexuality from a humanistic perspective as a mode of feminist liberation and human sexual awakening; the cheapening of sexuality in the media and pop culture; the subversive power of women’s sexuality
27:25 – recommendations for new paradigms of feminist sexual consciousness as a new theory in sexuality & gender studies; application to clinical practice

Pathologizing Women’s Sexuality: Then and Now

15 Jul

Pathologizing and medicalizing women’s sexuality is nothing new. Here is a brief timeline of just some of the appalling highlights throughout human history of how women have been treated regarding sex:

Here is a great article from the New York Times on the pathologizing of women’s sex drives in modern times. To briefly cover how women’s sexuality has been pathologized throughout the ages, see below:

1. Actually, low female desire is ‘normal.’ Women have been made to feel that having a low libido means something is wrong with them. Currently women with chronic low libido are pathologized as having a type of female sexual dysfunction called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The trouble is, many of the researchers who have come up its nebulous definition have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.”

2. Freud himself pathologized women’s sexuality to the point of literal “hysteria.” He popularized the idea that a sexually interested woman was not only unhealthy, she was mentally ill and wishing she was really a man with a penis. Though he certainly wasn’t the first person to present these ideas. “In his early theories, Freud simply extended his views of male sexuality to women, viewing women as simply men without penises (Cohler & Galatzer-Levy, 2008). His male perspective of sexuality is understandable, but nonetheless problematic, as it marginalizes female sexuality. Female sexuality, according to early Freudian theory, is exactly the same as male sexuality up until the phallic stage of psychosexual development; since women don’t have a penis, however, they experience penis envy. He also fell prey to the general sexism of the time, writing that in men alone is “the sexual life…accessible to investigation, whereas in the woman it is veiled in impenetrable darkness, partly in consequence of cultural stunting and partly on account of the conventional reticence and dishonesty of women” (Freud, 1905). Dismissing women and their sexuality in such a way seems troublesome not only because he treated many female patients, but because his theories are still so prevalent today, continuing to influence psychologists and sexologists alike (Jayne, 1984).”

3. Victorian ideas about women and sex were particularly appalling. The vibrator was invented by doctors in Victorian England for a stunningly awful reason. During these times, doctors believed that women became unhinged and unhappy due to either having a uterus that was unattached to anything in their body and “roving around” inducing so-called “hysteria,” or they needed either a REMOVAL OF the clitoris (clitorectomy) or stimulation of it. Yes, doctors had well-to-do women in Victorian England visit their offices for the doctor to “perform a treatment” of manual stimulation of their clitoris to induce orgasm. This treatment became popular and therefore the vibrator was invented to save doctors from incessant hand cramps. As hilarious and ridiculous as it sounds, it is but one example of devastating erasure of women’s sexual agency and identity. This is one of the most egregious examples of pathologizing women’s sexuality to the point of extreme violation of their bodies. 

4. The clitorectomy was also popular around this time. From an excellent article on the history of clitorectomies and vibrators: “In a series of papers, Baker-Brown argued that the professional manipulation of the clitoris to induce paroxysms was no cure for hysteria. In his view, it only made the problem worse by feeding the patient’s lust for gratification. The only effective solution, he insisted, was a permanent one: the surgical removal of the clitoral glans. As Martha Coventry wrote in a famous article for Ms., Baker-Brown promised that after a clitoridectomy, “intractable women became happy wives; rebellious teenage girls settled back into the bosom of their families; and married women formerly averse to sexual duties became pregnant.”

Happily, Baker-Brown was soon discredited by his fellow gynecologists, many of whom objected to his habit of performing clitoridectomies on women without their consent. Unfortunately, the surgical procedure he popularized survived his fall from grace. Baker-Brown may have fallen out of favor with his British colleagues, but his ideas found a more enduring footing on the other side of the Atlantic. As early as 1866, American doctors began performing clitoridectomies to stop hysteria, nymphomania, and above all, masturbation. As Coventry discovered, medical textbooks continued to recommend clitoral excisions as late as 1937, and some doctors continued to perform the procedure for at least a decade after that. (Coventry interviewed a Michigan woman who underwent a clitoridectomy in 1944, at age 12: “…as she sat on the exam table, an attendant clamped an ether-soaked rag over her mouth from behind. When she woke up, her clitoris was gone. ‘They tried to keep me from masturbating,’ she said. Then, after a pause, added, ‘Didn’t work.'”)

5. None of this is anything new. During colonial times in Europe: “Although ordinary women could never aspire to [political or religious positions in the public sphere] they had other powers unique to their sex: Women were disorderly, sexual, and lustyÉ With woman’s intellect at the mercy of her lower nature, she would be prone to the evil powers of witchcraft. Her very sensual and deceptive power, in fact, dictated the necessity of her subordination within marriage” (Evans, 22-23).

The medical perspective was limited in that males dominated this profession. “Even diagrams of female anatomy in medical books are limited to male eyes only. Plans to instruct midwives in anatomy were thwarted. Physicians were reluctant to give their patients too much knowledge”(Porter, 86). Women during this period really had nowhere to turn to obtain helpful knowledge about their bodies and/or sexuality in a world dominated by men.

6. Going back further, in ancient Greece and Rome, “women’s sexuality was something to be controlled. To Aristotle, women’s bodies were passive receptacles for men to deposit their seed, what Sophocles called a “field to plow.” Since the key function of women was to produce children, Athenians thought it was pointless to educate them or allow them to participate in public life.” Further, “Rome’s highest priestesses were known as the Vestal Virgins. They were “vestal” because they served the goddess Vesta, and “virgins” in that their untouched bodies were seen as essential to the safety of Roman society. No one else in Rome was expected to stay a virgin, but a single sexual detour by a Vestal was thought to bring pestilence, losses in war and divine displeasure. On several occasions, when no one could figure out why some calamity had befallen Rome, Vestals were accused of no longer being virgins. For that crime, they were buried alive in a tiny room and covered up without a trace.”

7. Back to Victorian times:  “nearly all official measures against venereal disease were directed exclusively against women. In the 19th century, many European governments legalized prostitution, but only to the extent of subjecting real or suspected prostitutes to punishing medical inspections, often called “instrument rapes,” which probably resulted in the transmission of a variety of harmful infections. One French woman described the process in detail:

It is awful work; the attitude they push us into first is so disgusting and so painful, and then those monstrous instruments—often they use several. They seem to tear the passage open first with their hands, and examine us, and then they thrust in instruments, and they pull them out and push them in, and they turn and twist them about; and if you cry out they stifle you….”

8. In modern times, women’s sexual agency is not only pathologized, but women’s lives are at risk throughout the world for exploring their sexuality or deviating from cultural norms. In some countries, honor killings are practiced if a woman’s mere sexual reputation is under threat. Similarly, “crimes of passion” are rampant throughout the world as jealous men attack and murder women for the act or idea of being sexual with another man.

So little wonder that even in modern times, the idea of women having satisfying sex lives according to their own desires is threatening to the fabric of society, since it is built on patriarchal ideals of controlling women’s bodies and sex. Little wonder, then, that politicians are trying to prevent access to reproductive resources such as contraception, emergency birth control, and abortion. Little wonder that young girls don’t receive very much sex education or information about their own sexual pleasure. Little wonder that we can see someone be disemboweled in the movies, but a woman’s face during an orgasm is not allowed to be in even an R-rated movie. Little wonder that the worst thing you can call a woman is a “slut,” especially if she is sexually liberated, yet the worst thing you can call a man is a “woman,” “girl,” or “pussy.” 

This is the legacy upon which our current sexual health conversation is built. I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies to be concerned with women’s health. They are more concerned about making money. Women are going to be pathologized for not wanting sex and for wanting it “too much.” A pill is probably not the answer to this much more complex social issue that reverberates sexism into the interpersonal and sexual-emotional issues in relationships.

Specula from 1847 (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

For more on the systemic violation of women’s sexuality and bodies, review the invention of the speculum by the father of gynecology, who performed “instrument rape” on slave women in early America. That was then, this is now, you say? Yes, and nowadays OB-GYN’s get their license by performing vaginal exams on nonconsenting women who are under anaesthesia for other operations in teaching hospitals. See this article for the testimonies of several doctors who refused to participate and who loudly question the ethics of this practice. The practice is so commonplace for OB-GYN departments of teaching hospitals that in 2003 the residency doctor of Johns Hopkins said, ““I don’t think any of us even think about it. It’s just so standard as to how you train medical students.”

In consequence, there is no precedent set to earn women’s trust regarding their sexual health. It is wise to be suspicious of any product or service that is directed at our sexuality, especially coming from the medical establishment. We like to take a pill for the easy way out. But that may very well cause more trouble than it solves, especially if the root of the issue lay ignored in the context of emotionally unsatisfying relationships that are based on patriarchal norms.

Coffee: Bitter with Imperialistic Bite

10 Jan

Attention Coffee-Drinkers in Your Trendy Mac-Device-Filled Establishment: Do you like coffee? Of course you do. It’s the world’s number one drug. But now for some troubling thoughts on an American Institution…. Urban coffeehouses, especially that cater to a certain young, upwardly mobile crowd of the typically Caucasian demographic. I’m in one of such coffee shops, and I notice a few key definitive elements…

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The flyers for different types of exotically-named Yoga classes (is this actual Sanskrit or something made-up?), categories of coffees labeled by country of origin… Peru, Columbia, Kenya. Treats such as baklava and alfajor (Lebanese and Latin American). The music is John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The coffee is sweetened with sugar harvested in equatorial regions. And we are all wearing clothes probably made abroad in unsafe conditions.

Couple all this with the army of teenage, light-haired, very young white women who are employed at cafe after cafe. If this is not deliberate it is still suspicious.

One woman turns to her daughter and shows her healthy dog treats, for the dogs who come in and visit. Meanwhile, homeless people outside freeze and starve.

Taking this in, it is clear how every element of this trendy establishment, by definition, has been appropriated from non-white people in the world… The Africans and Latin Americans grew the coffee beans, chocolate beans, and sugar cane we consume. The treats have all been Americanized and branded for consumption without context, whitewashing the cultural significance of things like baklava. The jazz music was invented by generations of cultural resistance of people of color whose culture was systematically bludgeoned out of them. The people who leave the coffee plantations in Central America are demonized as “illegal aliens,” while those people of color who record our beloved jazz music are seen as disposable humans by a society that regards their lives as less important than white life. Yoga, of course, is now a brand – whereas it is a sacred practice that guides elemental lifestyles in its homeland. Yoga’s poster girl is the white college girl in the ubiquitous “yoga pant,” finding harmony in a practice none in her class are bound to give proper cultural contextual consideration – even her instructor.

Something particularly questionable is when these kinds of places have expensive portraits of indigenous people from around the world, such as toothless old people smiling in Indonesia, or barefoot children harvesting wheat (or the image of a woman in Kenya harvesting coffee beans). It comes off as terribly insensitive, and downright offensive. With no context, it’s rendering the deep sacrifice (for our luxury) of those in the Global South meaningless, or worse – trivial and quaint. “Why look at the happy brown people with their good, honest living and traditional way of life. How I envy them in that simplicity,” some people will undoubtedly wonder.

Everyone here chats away, spending $17 on coffee and pie per person, and the beat goes on. Mother Jones encapsulates this absurd paradox with their indictment of “hipsters” who drink almond milk, as its production contributes to the worst drought in California in years (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/lay-off-almond-milk-ignorant-hipsters).

I will recognize the efforts of conscious consumerism. Fair trade and sustainable-sourced products are increasingly popular. But such popularity eventually becomes trendy, and is then rendered mindless once again. How to protect such legitimate efforts to even the playing field for those in developing marketplaces when this pattern is so persistent?

Finally, let me disclose that I type this while patronizing one such place, sucking away at some combination of difficult-to-pronounce fruit and green tea. Reflecting on the above, it’s safe to say I will not be spending my money or time in these places anymore. I will find new places that allow me to work on my online courses without contributing so heavily to problematic paradigms.

Meanwhile, these establishments are often opened in gentrifying areas, where traditional communities are suffering economic and cultural displacement in that very location. How ironic that fair-trade coffee and Shakti yoga are marketed as “conscious consumer choices,” but in this environment, these are anything but conscious. They are mindless choices made by a product-hungry society, the primary element in the maintenance of the status quo in a market-driven, social system that is designed to oppress.

Eureka! Getting Girls Into #STEM

19 Jul Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 6.44.12 PM

Getting girls into #STEM fields is easier than you think. It all starts with two words: “You can.” 

What is the single most undervalued, most powerful resource in the world

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#smartstrongbold 

iDepression – Is There an App for That?

2 Jul

Increased social media use (specifically Facebook) is positively correlated with depression, stress, and anxiety. One study examined the Facebook behavior of nursing students and their emotional outlooks. According to this study, increased time spent on Facebook was positively correlated to high depression scores (Labrague, 2014).

Still another study found positive correlations between Facebook use and having negative feelings about one’s self-esteem (Lee, 2014). This study in particular show that people tend to compare oneself to others whose posts appear on their Facebook feeds. According to this study, social comparison theory is used to explain the study results; that comparing oneself to others can influence self-perception (Lee, 2014). On the other hand, the study also poses the theory that people with low self-esteem are predisposed to self-compare to others while using Facebook. I imagine that would make for a very frustrating self-fulfilling prophecy!

I think it probably works both ways. I believe that people with low self-esteem are more likely to self-compare, and that being on Facebook a lot leads to self-comparing, which leads to low self-esteem. The question is how much is too much, and with social media becoming so pervasive in our society, what kinds of implications does this carry for people, especially younger generations who have adopted these technologies as a natural aspect of their childhoods and adolescence?

Another of my own interpretations of these studies is the idea that Facebook time is not necessarily an addition to our social time – it’s becoming a substitute for it.

 

With decreased face-to-face time, we may naturally become less socially stimulated and socially content. Couple that with seeing lots of people doing fun stuff on your feed (people doing fun things – together – in person), and the self-comparing cycle that may lead to depression becomes as clear as it is troubling.

 

Works Cited:

Labrague, L. J. (2014). Facebook use and adolescents’ emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Health Science Journal, 8(1), 80-89.

Lee, S. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook. Computers In Human Behavior, 32253-260. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.009

Park, S., Lee, S., Kwak, J., Cha, M., & Jeong, B. (2013). Activities on Facebook reveal the depressive state of users. Journal Of Medical Internet Research, 15(10), e217. doi:10.2196/jmir.2718

White Paper: Our Lady of Narco – Exploring the Fetishization of “Narcocultura,” and the Intersection of Drugs, Politics, Cults, and Pop Culture

26 Jun Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses' girlfriends may develop a crush on you.

At the crossroads of Mexican and American culture, and where drug policy and pop culture meet, Mexico’s identity is evolving into a dark place. Narcocultura eclipses more aspects of daily life, and the United States is ever complacent and responsible in the transformation that has taken root on both sides of the border. The harsh economic realities and failures of authority to protect its people, and prevent and control violence have led to this crisis which is slowly overtaking the literal and figurative Mexican landscape as it spills over into the United States.

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Two of the most useful theories that relate to this problem are the Social-Conflict Approach and the Symbolic-Interaction Approach. Social-Conflict perceives society as stratified by race, class and gender. Much of the violence and trafficking has resulted from the stark economic reality that if some people in Mexico want to make a living, one of the few options is involvement with drugs. On the other hand, people influence one another’s involvement in the terrifying escalation of violence, as explored by some of the articles explored for this paper. Symbolic-Interactionism suggests that peers play a deeper role in how our society operates and functions. This paper argues that the drug crisis in Mexico, and how it relates to the U.S., is a product of issues that will be analyzed by both of these theoretical frameworks. 

A growing body of research addresses the escalating drug-related violence in Mexico, as well as the social and cultural consequences of this near-decade-long war. Some of the investigations into this crisis make bold and damning critiques of the Mexico and United States governments. Others focus primarily on the increasingly disturbing nature of the violence itself; horror which warrants its very own exploration into the shifting social and cultural paradigms of a country in dire flux. 

First, it’s worthwhile to take a significant step back to evaluate the Mexican drug war as a whole. While conclusive data on who started the war remains elusive, we do know a few things about the escalating violence. For one thing, Mexico’s struggling economy may not provide enough employment and educational opportunities for people. Mexicans may resort to alternative livelihoods in the underground economy to earn an income without other legitimate jobs – but it’s false to assume that the economy is the sole reason for the war. Nonetheless, we do know that the drug and violence situation in Mexico changed dramatically when former president Felipe Calderon took office and declared a war on drugs. It’s also well known that the Mexican cartels exploded onto the scene and grew exponentially in the years after the fall of many Colombian drug organizations that held the vast amount of power in trafficking and production (Campbell, 2014).

More people have died since Calderon’s policies went into effect than the Americans who died during the Vietnam war (Rios, 2013). From 2006 to 2012, violence escalated rapidly. In 2011, 19 out of the world’s 50 most violent cities were in Mexico (Rios, 2013). Appallingly, the violence appears to become increasingly brutal over time. Every cartel seems to attempt to outdo one another in cruelty and vulgarity; and Mexican newspapers and magazines document the public displays of gruesome violence on the front pages of glossy papers, often bought at the grocery store checkout line – one of the most troubling aspects of Mexican drug culture (Campbell, 2014). 

A woman's body was recently found by the side of the road in Michoacan, with her arms and legs tied up.

A woman’s body was recently found by the side of the road in Michoacan, with her arms and legs tied up.

The culture of violence has reached dramatic depths. “The desecration of bodies takes many other forms including inscribing bodies with identifying labels and threats. Specific amputations carry particular meanings. For example, cutting off fingers implies that the dead person was a snitch (dedo, i.e., finger), cutting out the tongue implies that the person was an informant (soplón), cutting off hands signifies that the person stole money or a drug load, etc. Raped, sexually tortured and murdered women are often left in the streets with no clothing or with their undergarments pulled down (this is also done to men). The ritualized presentation or spectacle of dead bodies is such a common and patterned phenomenon that a whole vocabulary has emerged to describe the bodies: enteipados are bodies wrapped in duct tape (to suffocate the victims or prevent them from calling for help or knowing where they are going), descuartizados are bodies that have been quartered, encajuelados are bodies stored in the trunks of cars, entambados are bodies crammed in barrels, while encobijados are bodies wrapped in blankets (to stop blood seepage, to hide cadavers as they are being transported in cars, and for ease in carrying and throwing them)” (Campbell, 2014). Such violence, especially when broadcast in such a public way through mass media, surely has horrifying implications to a traumatized and desensitized society. It is of no wonder that the country has devised its own ways of dealing with it, sometimes as simply as in turn glorifying it. Both the US and Mexico appear to be equally guilty of this. 

The Mexican authorities are not innocent themselves, being highly corrupted in their ranks, and spilling military-style warfare into Mexican streets. In the meantime, the cartels become even more creative and commit worsening acts of violence; kidnapping, extortion, carjacking, and other criminal activities are just a few forms of the crime that threaten to overwhelm Mexico permanently (Campbell, 2014). 

For Mexico, this isn’t just a war between the cops and robbers, or the good guys and bad guys (always subjective in this context). This is a war between good and evil, Heaven and Hell. When headless corpses are routinely shown on evening news during suppertime, and blogs show photos of piles of human body parts that are meant to send a message to a rival cartel, the people of the country reach out to perhaps unlikely heroes. 

Some Mexicans have become so alienated by the corrupt authorities that they prefer the perceived “lesser evil” of the Robin Hood-style cartel leaders (Dotremon & Gonzalez, 2014). In the most lawless places, drug cartel leaders become stand-ins for legal authority and take over the operations of the state. Some take it upon themselves to provide people with protection, employment, education, food, medical care, utilities, as well as the building of infrastructure of roads and buildings (Dotremon & Gonzalez, 2014). Such an arrangement begets a complicated legacy of cultural understanding of drugs in Mexico. These provisions have become so powerful that they have influenced pop culture in a profound way. 

A man walks in front of a store that bears that name of "El Chapo," formerly the world's most wanted drug lord. He invested in local businesses and offered protection and security to his supporters.

A man walks in front of a store that bears that name of “El Chapo,” formerly the world’s most wanted drug lord. He invested in local businesses and offered protection and security to his supporters.

The corrido, a kind of oral history-inspired story-song performed by rural entertainers, has a brand-new sub-genre: the narcocorrido (Loewe, 2010). Some performers are literally cartel employees; that is, they are paid with financial reward and security protection for writing songs about cartel leaders, and often embed critical pan-cartel messages in them. Still others that dare to sing the wrong thing (or who are simply unlucky enough to be spotted in the other cartel’s nightclub turf) are brutally assassinated (Loewe, 2010). 

Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses' girlfriends may develop a crush on you.

Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses’ girlfriends may develop a crush on you. This poses the question: which is more dangerous, singing about romance or revenge?

The narcocorrido has become so popular that they are played on Spanish-language radio in the United States, and the performers come to tour US venues, especially in border states where the cartel presence is higher. The audiences of these concerts are often high school or college students, suggesting a broad listenership and implications for Mexican-American pop culture (Loewe, 2010). Given that the nature of this violence is often paramilitary in style, such as raids, firefights, and assassinations (Campbell, 2014), it isn’t difficult to imagine the low-income, alienated (especially male) youth of Mexico identifying with this display of power and control over the accepted authority. 

Drug cartels are employing other forms of propaganda directly, both to inform the public and government that they assume to have control over the state, and to recruit. Some other types of propaganda include blog posts, web videos displaying executions and beheadings, and control of media outlets (Campbell, 2014). This appears to be morphing into a pop-culture phenomenon of decreased sensitivity to this type of violence, as well as acceptability of the cartel activities. 

The people, overall, have developed their own response to this crisis in Mexico, whether as a coping mechanism or as an indirect result of cultural influence. The institution of Roman Catholicism is experiencing an enormous shift in Mexico, where its practitioners are incorporating non-Vatican-approved activities. For example, while the country worships the Virgin Guadeloupe freely, the Mother of Jesus, there is a growing cult that presents a dark mother figure, as an archetypal other half to Mary: Santa Muerte. Santisima Muerte (Holy Death), is portrayed as a shrouded skeleton, who holds a sickle and often an owl, both symbols of death and the eternal nighttime (Bastante & Dickieson, 2013). 

A shrine to Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

A shrine to Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

She is not simply the cultural representation of the yang to Mary’s yin; she is the embodiment of Mexico’s cult of death. Mexican culture is unafraid of death – rather, Mexican people embrace death as just the culmination of living, and have much less social taboo surrounding the subject of death. To Mexicans, this is just about balance.  To the Vatican, the new worship of Santa Muerte is sacrilege and devil-worship; symptomatic of Hell breaking open in Mexico itself. Indeed, the Catholic Church is performing more exorcisms in Mexico than anywhere else in the world (International Business Times, 2013). 

To make matters worse for the Vatican (but not the cartels), new unordained Saints have been invented by the people of Mexico – the most popular by far is Jesus Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers, criminals, convicts, prostitutes, and assassins. (Campbell, 2014). Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde worship is influencing the spiritual consciousness of Mexico just as much as the Church did post-colonial invasion, and just as much as pre-Colombian culture roots the collective culture. 

A shrine to Jesus Malverde. Notice the ofrendas (offerings) of tequila and a gold-plated revolver.

A shrine to Jesus Malverde. Notice the ofrendas (offerings) of tequila and a gold-plated revolver.

This isn’t merely a question of social attitudes; the normalization of violence is effecting the pushing of the envelope by the cartels. Ironically, a culture that worships two female figures as pseudo-goddesses (Santa Maria and Santa Muerte), such violence is defined by a precedent-setting level of brutality in violence against women. Mass graves of dozens of women and girls are routinely unearthed, and photos of brutalized women corpses with their panties around their ankles are often on the front pages of the violence-glossies at the grocery store (Wright, 2011). The practice of “femicide” has become so widespread that it’s a message from the cartels, “we own everyone, and we especially own the women. We will kill you and your wife, daughter, and grandmother. No one is safe.” It’s how the cartels continue to control the social consciousness of the public, and dominate the political dialogue, though the failing state of Mexico has been entirely deficient in combating femicide (Wright, 2011). Such violence against women has taken on enormous political significance and it continues to dominate as an effective narcopolitical tool.

The femicide machine in Juarez has taken countless womens' lives.

The femicide machine in Juarez has taken countless womens’ lives. This is the site of a mass grave full of womens’ bodies. 

Contemporary sociological research has provided alarming conclusions about the escalating nature of violence in Mexico. One study from the University of Texas at El Paso found a strong correlation between religious imagery and risk-taking behavior (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014). The findings of these researchers suggest that drug war terrorism in Mexico may be exacerbated and validated by their usage of Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde in their propaganda and operations. This demonstration has important implications for modern Mexico. Could it also be interpreted conversely; if exposed to religious imagery in a different, anti-drug context, would people be less likely to engage in drug-related activities? If so, perhaps the Catholic Church could become a powerful advocate in deconstructing these narco-obsessive cultural institutions, should they devise such an effective, evidence-based policy. Perhaps the government could also employ these tactics. This context would be a worthwhile topic for future research. 

Past research has revealed that religious images can be used to produce both positive and negative outcomes, with negative consequences being the case most of the time (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014). Could future research pose new solutions to this paradox? Could future research perhaps address the alternative solution to how drug cartels often use religious imagery to this end within their organizational behaviors and propaganda (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014)? 

Other important research notes the direct connection between the media and normalizing these increasing levels of violence (Mercille, 2014). Academic analysis has shown that as movies, television, and video games present Mexican cartel violence onscreen, US levels of tolerance increase (Mercille, 2014). This also has startling implications for our own culture and representations of violence in the media. 

As individuals, we often like to think of ourselves as our own social agents, who interpret media images and representations as separate from ourselves, our society, and our identities. We may wish it was that simple, and we may often believe it is – but we are products of the society in which we live, both by media portrayals as well as how we influence one another. As one article points out, these glamorized representations are indeed part of the “corporate establishment,” and often reflect the very same viewpoints expressed by top US policymakers, though it may be in stark contrast with reality and empirical data (Mercille, 2014). 

The most important policy recommendations revolve around addressing the  underlying economic issues that may form the fundamental basis of this socio-political dialogue. The US is the single most critical influencing factor in the Mexican drug violence due to demand for Mexico’s drug supply, loose gun control, and political blindness to our complicity in this disaster (Mercille, 2011). The US is also responsible for “implementing neoliberal policies,” as well as encouraging them in Mexico as an interested and invested player, that have increased the illegal drug trade (Mercille, 2011). “The war on drugs has served as a pretext to intervene in Mexican affairs and to protect US hegemonic projects such as NAFTA, rather than as a genuine attack on drug problems. In particular, the drugs war has been used repeatedly to repress dissent and popular opposition to neoliberal policies in Mexico. Finally, US banks have increased their profits by laundering drug money from Mexico and elsewhere; the failure to implement tighter regulations testifies to the power of the financial community in the US,” (Mercille, 2011). These profoundly damning factors reveal the true forces behind US policy and legislative behavior, that without a doubt influence media and public opinion. Without addressing our responsibility as a nation, we cannot expect to escape the consequences or provide a viable solution. Dramatic implications deserve radical solutions.

Social-Conflict theory applies best here, where the perspective clearly rings true; that in a society stratified by class, profit is prioritized over people. However, Symbolic Interactionism suggests that the people of the US and Mexico are ourselves responsible for accepting the growing violence, and normalizing this in our daily lives through our consumption of media. 

Promotional poster for the TV show. Full disclosure: this is one of my favorite shows ever.

While the debates rage on about how to end the violence, TV shows in Mexico and the US glorify the lives of drug traffickers. The most popular of which, “La Reina del Sur,” which portrayed a female drug lord, set US television records, and Telemundo beat out national networks nearly every night it was broadcast (in almost every demographic age group) (Telemundo, 2011). Musical performers tour the US and Mexico, playing narcocorridos and attracting young Mexican Americans to their shows. Families in Mexico eat their dinners while the television news programs and soap operas both consist of drug-related stories and story-lines. Teenagers listen to the narcocorridos on the radio and in nightclubs, and read tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts that hail the latest cartel victory (Campbell, 2014). 

Along the rural roads that stretch from Mexico to the American Southwest, spiritual pilgrims stop by roadside shrines to Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde (Campbell, 2014). Armed with assault rifles, they leave bottles of tequila and boxes of ammunition as prayer offerings (Corchado, 2009), asking their patron saints to watch over them as they ride into the next firefight or raid. 

Roadside shrines to the fallen in Mexico. They are also common in the Southwest US.

Annotated Bibliography:

Bastante, P., & Dickieson, B. (2013). Nuestra Señora de las Sombras: the enigmatic identity of Santa Muerte. Journal Of The Southwest, (4), 435.

This article explores the deeply rooted cult of Santa Muerte, or, “Holy Death.” She is seen as a kind of sister to Maria de Guadeloupe, the Holy Mother. Santa Muerte is a kind of Mother of Death. Possibly a manifestation of yin and yang sensibilities that are nearly universal to all religious movements, the prominence of the figure in pop culture on both sides of the border is on the rise. Her popularity with criminals and those in the black market and Mexican underworld is undeniable, and critical to the cartel institutions. 

Campbell, H. (2014). Narco-Propaganda in the Mexican “Drug War”: An Anthropological Perspective. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 60. doi:10.1177/0094582X12443519

The political entities of drug cartels employ vast amounts of narco-propaganda. This study examines the exhibitive acts of violence, videos released on the internet, public signs and banners, graffiti, blogs, and control of mass media, that are used as tools for the cartels. This expression of ideology threatens to take total control over the culture of Mexico as well as its political processes. 

Corchado, A. (2009). A fighting chance: as Mexico steps up its war against the brutal cartels that supply the United States’ drug habit, leaders on both sides of the border face tough questions about how to combat a problem that threatens the very fabric of Mexico’s democracy. The Wilson Quarterly, (2), 18.

This paper explores how to prevent drug and arms trafficking and violence, and how it relates to the geopolitics of the US and Mexico. 

Dotremon, D., & Gonzalez, R. (2014). Celebrating Robin Hood in Modern Border Ballads. Journal Of Alternative Perspectives In The Social Sciences, 5(4), 683-705.

Analyses the origins and cultural impact of drug-related music in Mexico. 

International Business, T. (2013, November 30). Mexico: Overworked Exorcists Exhausted by Popularity of Skeleton Saint Cult. International Business Times.

Explores the Catholic Church’s response to suspicions of demonic activity in Mexico. 

Loewe, R. B. (2010). El Narcotraficante: Narcocorridos and the Construction of a Cultural Persona on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Journal Of American Folklore, (489), 365. 

A critique of a scholarly book published on the phenomenon of drug-related music in Mexican and Mexican-American culture. 

Maralason, D. (2013). Dia de los Muertos: Celebrating life through Day of the Dead. Las Vegas Business Press (10712186), 6.

Explores the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos,” the Day of the Dead, and its cultural practices, meaning and representations. 

Mercille, J. (2011). Violent Narco-Cartels or US Hegemony? The political economy of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico. Third World Quarterly, 32(9), 1637-1653. doi:10.1080/01436597.2011.619881

Investigates the mainstream perspectives that claim the US is a friendly player in the international drug war, and not a contributor, and that the cartels are the main factor in the drug crisis. 

Mercille, J. (2014). The Media-Entertainment Industry and the “War on Drugs” in Mexico. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 110. doi:10.1177/0094582X13509790

An examination and analysis of media representation of cartel violence, as well as a comparison to popular viewpoints of mainstream policymakers and analysts. 

Rios, V. (2013). Who Started the Mexican Drug War? What Google Taught us about the “Narcos”. Kennedy School Review, 1318-22.

Discusses the start of the drug war and the technological solutions that may assist in significant gains in stopping drug violence. 

Shenberger, J. M., Smith, B. A., & Zárate, M. A. (2014). The effect of religious imagery in a risk-taking paradigm. Peace And Conflict: Journal Of Peace Psychology, 20(2), 150-158. doi:10.1037/pac0000022

This research explores the link between religious imagery and risk-taking behavior. Fascinatingly, the study showed that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior when their peers associate somehow with such religious imagery. This has interesting implications for the drug war and understanding the rise of drug culture in Mexico, where certain sub-Catholic/ pre-Colombian-inspired cults, such as Santisima Muerte and Jesus Malverde are commonly worshipped, though they directly relate to gangs, violence, and drugs. 

Telemundo Communications Group, I. c. (2011, January). Telemundo’s Epic Original Production La Reina Del Sur Delivers Highest Premiere Ratings in Network History. Business Wire (English).

Summarizes the records broken by the hit television series, “La Reina del Sur.”

Wright, M. W. (2011). Necropolitics, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-U.S. Border. Signs: Journal Of Women In Culture & Society, 36(3), 707-731.

The gender-based violence in Mexico, especially in the borderlands, is explored in this article. Specifically, the article also addresses the response of the authorities, who suggest that this kind of violence is a positive force in society because it rids the population of “undesirable” people such as drug dealers and women with “loose morals.” The author argues that such femicide is the result of a failure and breakdown by the state in protecting the people. 

Robin Thicke and the Dynamics of Abuse

25 Jun

These apologies, entreaties, promises and veiled threats are all a typical part of the cycle of abuse.  This is what psychologist Leonore E. Walker calls the “Reconciliation/Honeymoon Phase” – the abuser feels guilty, is contrite. He or she makes grand gestures of their affection, constructs elaborate apologies. They promise never to hurt their loved one again. They might promise to get help (though most likely they won’t). If that doesn’t work, they might threaten suicide or self-injury in order to gain sympathy or otherwise manipulate the situation. They will do literally anything they can to convince their victim not to leave them.

via Robin Thicke and the Dynamics of Abuse.

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