Empowering Women to Empower Themselves

Every time I turn around, I encounter another organization that is dedicated to "empowering" women. But, when one starts to scratch the surface, moving beyond the rhetoric, it is clear that very few understand, and much less address, the harsh realities women face into today's world.
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Every time I turn around, I encounter another organization that is dedicated to "empowering" women. But, when one starts to scratch the surface, moving beyond the rhetoric, it is clear that very few understand, and much less address, the harsh realities women face into today's world.

Since one of the most widespread and pervasive factors "disempowering" women today (and why we, in turn, need to be "empowered") are family divorce courts. If anyone really wanted to "empower" women, their first step would be to take draconian actions against the judicial actors who are creating rampant corruption and chaos in the courts.

At present the "regulatory function" of lawyers, judges, court-evaluators, mediators, psychologist... (the list goes on and on), is performed by their respective professional associations. There is a definite conflict of interest here, and the situation is one of the "fox guarding the hen-house," with these association becoming complicit, and accessory after the fact, to negligence and corruption in the courts when they fail to investigate and sanction allegations of misconduct -- which is what they do in even the most flagrant of cases.

While governments are quick to espouse rhetoric and propaganda that presumes the highest level of integrity and transparency in their courts (and amongst court actors), statistics, reports and testimonies across the Internet tell a very different story. As the recently released documentary Divorce Corp states on their website,

Family courts are a dark corner of the judicial system where fiefdoms and tyrants still thrive, where the supreme law of the land is routinely ignored, where children are taken hostage for profit, and where lives are destroyed as a matter of course.

While this "lawlessness" affects everyone who falls into the "Wonderland of Alice," court system, women and children are disproportionately affected -- condemning millions of women to lives of perpetual poverty, and thousands of children decades of court-sanctioned torture and neglect at the hands of a custodial parent.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that NGOs, the media, and governments are detracting attention away from the challenges women face in western courts by shining the light on Muslim courts and Sharia law. They give the impression that everything is "hunky-dory" in the "West," with violence and oppression of women a singularly Muslim problem in the East. Susan Faludi explains how this was accomplished by the Bush administration in The Terror Dream: Fears and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America.

Several weeks after the attacks, the Bush administration called on Hollywood directly to help 'communicate' -- or rather, market -- the new war on terror to the American people. Entertainment moguls were twice summoned to the White House and, on the two-month anniversary of 9/11, Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, invited more than 40 of the top movie and television executives to a five-star Beverly Hills hotel to lodge a personal appeal (complete with a PowerPoint presentation offering bullet items like 'This is a war against evil.') In mid-December 2001, the entertainment industry unveiled its first response on more than 10,000 movies screens -- a quarter of all American cinemas -- and in classrooms across the country. The Spirit of America, a rapid-fire movie montage, celebrated American screen heroes whom the film's director, Chuck Workman, defined as 'reluctant but defiant revenge takers,' cowboy-code-of-honor types who never throw the first punch but are relentless and invincible once riled.

The asleep-on-the-job-media of the past three decades (or more) -- a media more concerned with what Paris Hilton's dog is wearing this season than the demise of democracy -- is explained in the words of Glenn Greenwald,

The alarming issue is not merely that the Republicans have succeeded in foisting upon this country such grossly destructive policies, ones that contravene every core political principle that has defined the United States for decades. It is that they have foisted them with so little critical analysis from our political and media elite. But it is easy to see why this is so. These policies have become normalized, entirely mainstream, because our elite media does not see anything noteworthy or significant about them, let alone alarming or radical, and -- with rare exceptions -- they have no desire, and no ability, to take any of these stories on. They are interested in doing nothing other than repeating what they are told by their government sources, and hence that is what they do. (Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics: Great American Hypocrites)

However, to truly delve into the psyche of a nation, and even world that allowed itself to be so completely manipulated by governments, backed by widespread media propaganda, it is important to look at how it was done, with Justin A. Frank, MD offering us some insight in his book, Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President,

The model of an alcoholic family dynamic bears a telling similarity to the way much of our nation has behaved under George W. Bush -- especially since the attacks of September 11... Like the alcoholic father who is threatened by the independence of his family members, Bush demands absolute loyalty and conformity, trying to freeze his national family in time -- preferably a time before gays demanded their right to marry and women their right to abortion...

The alcoholic father, desperately attached to the status quo, clings to his particular conception of his family's identity; the family accepts the self-definition that the alcoholic imposes on it. So, too, our nation. Bush needs to keep his family intact: You are with us or against us, he says. And many of us agree, or at least follow along as if we did.

The behavior of a healthy family is patterned and predictable, committed to preserving its stability even in the face of dramatic change; any problems are solved using self-correcting behaviors and simple regulatory strategies... In alcoholic families, in which uncertainty isn't tolerated and each threat is treated as a crisis, regulation is compromised and law becomes expendable; overreacting to minor challenges, the alcoholic head of household imposes his need for regulatory behavior onto his family. The alcoholic father is threatened more by dangers he perceives within the family than those outside, because he relies on the internal support to guard his status quo from any external menace. One way that the alcoholic families accomplish both ends is to unite against a common enemy, setting aside internal divisions to focus on the peril outside...

If we are a nation of enablers, allowing our president's untreated alcoholism to shape the national agenda, then special notice must be reserved for the news media. The most delicate eggshells of all have been those walked on by the members of the press. Throughout Bush's first term, the news media have followed a 'don't ask, don't ask' policy... avoiding any tough questions that might sound like a confrontation. Whether they fear that pressing too hard might send him off on a bender, provoke a tantrum, or simply get them excommunicated from further access, the nation's press has maintained a distance similar to what a child would accord an alcoholic father whom direct questioning might push over the edge into collapse or retaliation. Whatever its impetus, their silence rings loudest and clearest of all...

Lundy Bancroft in Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, offers further insight into how one gets 'sucked-into' an abusers ideology and mind-set -- and how by magic everyone seems to "buy-into" the abusive ideology without question,

In one important way, an abusive man works like a magician: His tricks largely rely on getting you to look off in the wrong direction, distracting your attention so that you won't notice where the real action is. He draws you into focusing on the turbulent world of his feelings to keep your eyes turned away from the true cause of his abusiveness, which lies in how he thinks. He leads you into a convoluted maze, making your relationship with him a labyrinth of twists and turns. He wants you to puzzle over him, to try to figure him out, as though he were a wonderful but broken machine for which you need only to find and fix the malfunctioning parts to bring it roaring to its full potential. His desire, though he may not admit it even to himself, is that you wrack your brain in this way so that you won't notice the patterns and logic of his behavior, the consciousness behind the craziness.

Above all, the abus[er] wants to avoid having you zero in on his abusiveness itself. So he tries to fill your head up with excuses and distortions and keep you weighed down with self-doubt and self-blame. And, unfortunately, much of the society tends to follow unsuspectingly along behind him, helping him to close your eyes, and his own, to his problem.

The mythology about abusive men that runs through modern culture has been created largely by the abusers themselves. Abusive men concoct explanation for their actions which they give to their partners, therapists, clergypeople, relatives, and social researchers. But it is a serious error to allow abusers to analyze and account for their own problems. Would we ask an active alcoholic to tell us why he or she drinks, and then accept the explanation unquestioningly?

It is in this convoluted vacuum, that discrimination against women in family courts has been allowed to thrive and prosper for decades, with the whys and wherefores further discussed in my blogs Window-dressing, Smoke Screens, and Hell-fire Rhetoric and Wolves in Sheep's Clothing are Guarding the Hen House.

Then to add insult to injury, when governments are "called out" by the international legal community to explain the horrible mess they have created in their courts (Gonzales (Lenahan) vs. USA and Gonzalez Carreño vs. Spain), they claim that "their hands are tied," and that, essentially, they have lost total control of their judicial systems (responsable mais pas coupable -- reminiscent of the '80s, and a similar global, political scandal of the time).

If we examine the past 50+ years of feminism in the "West,"we can see that by restricting the battle for equality to equality in the work-force, without any regard for women's rights in the family and marriage, oppression of women will change forms, but not disappear. As Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild states in The Second Shift,

[W]hile women's entrance into the economy has increased women's power; the growing instability of marriage creates an anonymous, individualistic 'modern' form of oppression... Today, when a woman can legally own property, vote, get an education, work at a job, and leave an oppressive marriage, she walks out into an apparently 'autonomous' and 'free' form of inequality... Patriarchy has not disappeared; it has changed form.

In looking to empower women, and combat their oppression, NGOs needs to move from linear, "tunnel-vision" approaches of the past to multi-sectional ones which take into account the different variables women face in modern societies. The widespread idea that "liberating" women from oppression is accomplished only through education and legal access to the remunerated work-force has proven to be a faulty assumption -- and a very dangerous one for victims of domestic abuse.

The feminist movement of the past 50 years has failed to adapt to the changing panorama of challenges women (and societies) face when women move into the work-force en masse, and has done all too little to challenge, and change, the discriminatory attitudes and prejudices that are "empowering" abusers in the courts. So it is time to re-think the whole equation, and come up with some effective solutions, rather than continue producing band-aid solutions to the plight of oppressed women and children across the globe.

As countries "develop" and become more "modern" -- and women obtain financial independence and security outside the marriage -- societies and patriarchal norms are metamorphosing, and finding new ways to "keep women in their place," with family courts a powerful tool at their disposal. In order to counter-act these state-sanctioned, "forces of oppression," women's rights groups must step up to the plate, and start building a new platform and ideology -- one that embraces the human rights of women within the home, marriage, community, and work-place; rather than a patchwork of laws and empty political rhetoric, that are no match to the Backlash to Feminism which has dominated the playing field in the past decades.

Women will only be empowered, when the forces disempowering them are recognized and dismantled, and when public authorities and agencies are ready to do their jobs with a minimum of diligence and integrity.

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