Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Feminist Poetry Takes Command, by Charles Bane, Jr.

Quietly and without fanfare, feminist poetry reached a tipping point with the awarding of the Philip Levine Prize in 2011 to Ariana Nash; it was, in my view, the moment when feminists established their primacy in contemporary poetry. And that it should be so now seems almost inevitable: gender studies had become acute. Silenced voices of women, long buried in Western literature were being unearthed. The women's movement became more acutely allied with the struggle for gay rights, both under siege. Women writers were being ignored by major publishing houses, increasingly conglomerate, and incestuously tied to the major media outlets promoting commercial authors. The industry was and is, male dominated.

But in a sub culture of growing strength, new literary journals and small presses were springing up, solely devoted to women. Poets like Briget Pegeen Kelly ( born 1951) had already forged a genius of anticipation, so that when Millennial feminists found poetic voice, it was propelled like cannon shot ahead-- as Plato always knew of poets- ahead of history.

The potency of social media, where women are united, globally, in protest against misogyny as the root of rape culture, face-veiling, genital mutilation, unequal pay, domestic assault,--and mass shootings-- can't be overstated. World faiths might have been pivotal as a buttress for social justice, but only institutionalized homophobia and misogyny as a spiritual force.

And so , feminist poets turned away from patriarchal faiths and searched for an intimacy of spirit:


by Ariana Nadia Nash

The stars are all the skin
I’ll never touch. They are
the bright points of years
I have not lived, the names

I do not know. They speak
to worlds inside myself
I will not learn. They shock—
this spread of stars, these motes

of fireballs, this milky
conflagration. In their depth
and beauty, they are

the most intricate map
of the unknown, the most
wild moan of silence.

But this is not enough: a new wave of feminist poets began to reinterpret the antique past and recast it in new---and modern terms:

You Be the Skipper, I'll Be the Sea

by Cassidy McFadzean

This time of year, Agamemnon’s
tomb is swarming with Beliebers.
If I was your boyfriend, Clytemnestra...
What’s the theme of this one, teacher?

Like gold-leaf masked talismans,
we raised our iPhones in the dark.
Our ringtones were a Greek chorus
calling from the hive to lion guards.

Said: I'm a novel with the pages uncut.
Someone flipped me open and had enough.
Now reading me rips me in two.
What’s a poem for? What’s it to you?

Who said size don’t matter lied.
The shaft of the cistern in the hillside
had me on my hands and knees.
I lapped up clay with my teeth.

We were catamarans in my last fantasy,
moved in this world like a stone over sea.
You stole me away from the treasury.
Freedom, Siri, was a machine.

About a year ago, I phoned Richard Wilbur, 94 but very sharp, to ask him to blurb my new book. Wilbur can rightfully be titled the Dean of American poetry: Past U.S. Poet Laureate, twice-winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Chairman Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets. We traded harmless gossip. The phone call came to an end. " Read the women", he said.

Recommended reading:

Poems: Song and the Orchard, Briget Pegeen Kelly, Carcaret Press, Ltd. 2008
Corridor: Poems, Saskia Hamilton, Graywolf Press, 2014
Instructions for Preparing Your Skin, Ariana Nash, Anhinga Press, 2013
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Patricia Lockwood, Penguin Books, 2014

About the Author: Charles Bane, Jr. is the American author of The Chapbook ( Curbside Splendor, 2011) and Love Poems ( Kelsay Books, 2014). His work was described by the Huffington Post as "not only standing on the shoulders of giants, but shrinking them." Creator of The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project, he is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Past, Present and Future of the Violence Against Women Act

Bentham Science Publishers "Elimination of Violence Against Women"

Violence against women is a chronic public health issue in the United States, hurting millions of women each year. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was the first policy of its kind to address the issue of gender-based violence at the federal level of government, forcing the issue into public consciousness. Twenty years after the Violence Against Women Act, however, gender-based crimes remain a reality of everyday American life. Several reports indicate that as currently amended the Violence Against Women Act is insufficient in combating violence against women in a society where contempt for women is a learned, pervasive cultural phenomenon. The Violence Against Women Act serves as an important piece of women’s rights legislation, but it must be amended to prioritize gender-specific violence prevention over criminal justice.

An Introduction to Violence Against Women

The term “violence against women” refers to acts of violence that are primarily committed against women, such as spousal abuse, dating violence, rape, sexual harassment and other violent crimes. The violence is gender-based and generally targets women simply because they are women. The various crimes that fall into the category of violence against women serve as an illustration of gender inequality. These crimes include rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) and dating violence, and forced prostitution and sexual slavery. These crimes are often considered hate crimes. According to the United Nations violence against women may be viewed socially as a means to impede the progress of women in comparison to men, allowing men to dominate women through violent acts and thus maintain the subordination of women to men.

In the United States violence against women can only be described as a public health epidemic. In 1994 the Violence Against Women Act was introduced to combat this epidemic and led to the implementation of a number of state and federal programs that have since shown some positive results in the reduction of violence against women throughout the nation. Despite the progress, however, violence against women remains widespread today.

Looking Back at Policy History

Violence against women is not a new cultural phenomenon. It is well-known to have occurred throughout world history and has been well documented for millennia. A look at policy history shows that there were no national programs addressing gender-based violence until 1978 when the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence were formed. Aside from several amendments to VAWA, there have been no large-scale federal level initiatives on the issue since the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (the Congressional Digest's 2012 report on this matter can purchased here).

The Violence Against Women Act Today

Today, the Violence Against Women Act links together the social service system, the criminal justice system and the nonprofit sector in order to better respond to cases of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout the United States, by providing funding to rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters and other nonprofit programs and by encouraging state and local governments to create laws addressing gender-specific violence. Since the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act, statistics from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence show that as of 2004 states have passed nearly 700 laws to address rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, and the United States has seen an approximate eleven percent increase in domestic violence reports. In addition to the criminal justice response to violence against women, as of 2013 the Violence Against Women Act supports violence against women with disabilities, elder abuse, transitional housing and campus programs.

A close look at VAWA shows that the criminalization of violence against women and the prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based violence are its main goals. As recently as the VAWA Reauthorization of 2013, $222 million in funds have been set aside solely for STOP (Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors) Program grants, which primarily seek to improve policy, investigation, prosecution and legal assistance for victims (Office on Violence Against Women).

The Missing Piece

VAWA has indeed improved the lives of many women by creating public awareness of gender-based violence, encouraging the reporting of violence, funding shelters and encouraging the creation of hundreds of laws at the state and local levels of government aimed at protecting women. However, the Violence Against Women Act is inherently flawed because it fails to realize that the most logical way to combat violence against women is stop it before it begins by implementing effective prevention programs. In fact, of the $222 million in annual funds allocated to the STOP Program only five percent of those funds are authorized to be used nationwide for aiding prevention and educational programs, according to the OVW's 2013 summary of the act.

VAWA initiatives focus primarily on what happens after the violence has taken place, rather than the ways in which violence against women can be prevented. The harmful impact of this flaw in the Violence Against Women Act is illustrated by the fact that currently 1 in 4 women will become the victims of intimate partner violence, 1 in 6 women will become the victims of rape or sexual assault, 1 in 12 women will be stalked, and 1/3 of all female murder victims will die at the hands of their intimate partner (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Prevention and educational programs are critical in addressing violence against women in the United States, and yet they are severely lacking (National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence).

Moving Forward

Based on the evidence of the current prevalence of violence against women in the United States, despite the existence of VAWA, further action is absolutely necessary. Many studies suggest that rape prevention programs, if implemented on a larger scale, are likely to significantly reduce the occurrence of rape and other gender-specific violent crimes. Two such studies include Longitudinal Effects of a Rape-prevention Program on Fraternity Men's Attitudes, Behavioral Intent, and Behavior by John D. Foubert, PhD and Sexual Assault Programming on College Campuses: Using Social Psychological Belief and Behavior Change Principles to Improve Outcomes, by Lisa A. Paul, PhD and Matt J. Gray, PhD. In the video to the right political analyst and rape survivor Zerlina Maxwell expresses her similar opinions on rape prevention, for which she came under enormous fire from conservative media websites. It would be prudent to shift the focus from criminal justice to community education and prevention programs. This can be done in two different ways: by lobbying for and receiving additional grant money from the federal government to add to VAWA STOP Program grants to be used solely for prevention programs, or by redistributing the current VAWA STOP Program grant funding, taking money away from prosecution initiatives and investing in education and prevention initiatives instead. In order to be truly effective in eliminating widespread gender-based violence in the United States, the Violence Against Women Act must begin to invest in rape and violence prevention programs that target men or young boys, nonprofit organizations such as Men Can Stop Rape and Men Stopping Violence, educational programs that teach gender equality, consent and the effects of violence in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and on college campuses, and counseling and training for both victims and perpetrators. The only hope we have of significantly decreasing the number of violent acts committed against women is to prevent them through a combination of educational, psychological and social anti-rape and anti-violence programs.