issue 160 - June 1986
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What does not come out clearly enough in your issue on South Africa (NI 159) is that the struggle against apartheid is also a struggle against colonialism. South Africa is an aggressive expansionist power which this October will be marking its twentieth year of illegal occupation of Namibia - a conquest which has been enforced through massive military force as well as the extension of apartheid laws and practices. Opponents of apartheid must never make the mistake of seeing Namibia as in some way a separate or even unrelated issue, or of forgetting that comprehensive international sanctions are urgently needed to force Pretoria out of that territory as well as to bring about change in South Africa itself.
I want to express my resentment at your issue on Sex (NI 158). To have my marriage disparaged in your pages as a means by which I have exercised power over my wife angers us both. The articles you print make us wonder what kind of people they are who regard the penis as a weapon of aggression and not as a natural organ adapted, with its complementary and equally important organ, the vagina, to unite two people in love and pleasure in the fullest possible manner.
My wife and I judge that most of what appears in your pages on this important subject is derived, not from objective study of it, but from the neurosis of the writers themselves. This is particularly true of the contributions from Debbie Taylor and Rosalind Coward, both of whom, we suspect, are suffering from a neurosis caused by infantile penis envy. Both these writers mention Freud but seem unaware of the significance of penis envy as the source of man-hating neurosis.
Dinas Powis, Glamorgan, UK
Editor Debbie Taylor replies: A woman's natural 'organ of pleasure' is the clitoris, not the vagina. The possession of a clitoris means that a woman has no need of a penis. What women do envy are the advantages arbitrarily bestowed on the possessors of penises in patriarchal society.
John D'Emilio (NI 158) doesn't seem able to distinguish between the gay condition - that of being a homosexual - and being 'out' or expressing homosexual desire, as he puts it. His opening contention. 'Gay men and lesbians have not always existed', simply does not add up. He refers to pioneer communities in seventeenth-century America. Of course it is difficult for gay people in such small closed communities to express their sexuality; but the fact that they didn't come out or were not expressing their sexuality does not mean that they were not there. Surely D'Emilio doesn't believe that married people are universally straight?
K W Tipping
The Bible presents an objective standard of truth that is unchanging. What has once been an abomination to God will always be so. Jack Dominion (NI 158) should remember this when he says he can visualize church-sanctioned homosexual marriages in the future. God created male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27) to complement each other. He said (Romans I) claiming to be wise, they became fools ... those who practise such things are worthy of death', not because he is a kill-joy, but because as a good father he wants the best for his children.
J R Brooke
Worthing, Sussex, UK
Rape of men
However regrettable rape of women in war is, who ever bothers to consider the rape of men? While rape may be horrific for women, is it worse than the abject terror and appalling suffering of the men on the battlefield?
Why should society arrogantly presume to consider the civilian population, in particular female civilians, innocent victims? Is a mother who sings patriotic songs to encourage her 14-year-old son to war less guilty than the poor lad compelled to do the killing and dying?
It is time women had the honesty and courage to face up to their own responsibilities in life. If most men are aggressive beasts it may well be largely due to women selecting for breeding the biggest, strongest and most aggressive male as the one most likely to get for her all the things to which she imagines she has some sort of divine right.
If women imagine they can run the world better themselves, let them go out into it and try. But if they want a world where all men are gentle and beautiful, let them start now to allow their sons the same freedom to choose to be beautiful as they lavish on their daughters. But that takes courage. I wonder if women will ever have enough of it to allow us to be the way we would dearly love to be - gentle and beautiful? Or will we be forever condemned to our aggressive role of man the hunter, man the killer, man the provider for women?
You offer advice that sex with children is abusing their rights unless they are compliant. But you make no moral distinction between sex with consenting children and sex with consenting adults.
This failure to unequivocally condemn sex between adult and child amazes me. Do you have any parents on your editorial board?
Editor Debbie Taylor replies: It was never our intention to condone sex between adult and children. In a society where adults have so much power over children, there can be no such thing as a freely consenting child. The feature in question was intended as a practical guide for young people facing this kind of abuse, not as a moral guide for adults perpetrating it.
My heart bleeds for the Newfoundlanders deprived thereby of a small part of their livelihood (and sport?) but it bleeds even more for the bewildered mother seal condemned to watch an alien species drive a metal spike through her baby's skull. And to what noble end is this sacrifice? Simply so that the perpetrators of this act of barbarity can purchase a few 'frills'.
Alan H Brett
Holsworthy, Devon, UK
I learned from Bruce Gilbert that seeing 'both sides of an issue' means acquiring the staggering knowledge that the financial benefits of cruelty enable a family to buy their children birthday presents.
This sentimental invocation shouldn't impress anyone.
Any money 'earned' through barbarism or exploitation alike is blood money, money not worth having.
Jonathon Porritt (NI 157) falls into the trap of depersonalising economic growth and blaming 'the system' for being so obsessed with GNP. In reality only economists are obsessed with GNP. No, the urge for growth is a very personal thing and is shared by nearly all people whether they live in Bangladesh or Beverley Hills. Growth on a personal level may take many forms - artistic, spiritual, charitable or even political - but these are all supported by economic growth, not bulldozed by it.
If the Greens ever achieved political power and then attempted to put brakes on economic growth once and for all, then heaven help us. The world economy will not stop growing because you and l will not stop growing. We're too damn creative and hardworking. Don't try and take that away from us.
A sustainable society means a left-wing political commitment. It is this nettle of egalitarianism that Jonathon Porritt and most middle-class 'Greens' refuse to grasp.
The Pill does not always prevent ovulation. It may prevent conception by a damaging effect upon the cervix by altering the normal secretion which is necessary for the sperm cells. If the contraceptive and sterilising effects fail, it does have a back-up action of abortion, by disturbing the preparation of the endometrium of the uterus for implantation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists does not claim that it is 'almost 100 per cent reliable', but that it has a method effectiveness of 96 to 98 per cent. An important health hazard is the prolonged infertility which may result from damage to the cervix.
Dr J J Billings
Ovulation Method Research & Reference Centre,
God knows best
If no-one argues with a 'fundamental law of ecology' (NI 157) i.e. nature knows best, then why do so many refuse to accept that 'nature knows best' when it comes to family planning. Innumerable devices are invented which, far from respecting the rhythms and cycles of nature, ignore them and, dare I say, 'pollute' them. Before dismissing Natural Family Planning as 'simplistic' or 'inefficient', I would urge ecologists to look seriously at this holistic approach to human sexuality. Yes, nature does know best, but that's because God knows best.
It is amazing to me that anyone west of Moscow still believes that old nonsense about the freedom of the individual vs. the public good (letter form Alastair Macdonald, NI 156). Left and right together (and not just Amnesty International) condemn the Soviet Union for its oppression against its own citizens. No political system is worth 60 million victims swallowed up by the inhuman prison system of the USSR (Joseph Brodsky, New York Review 27.2.86).
Philip P Feeley
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Yvonne St Clare has been working as a secondary school
This afternoon I have shut myself in the house, ignoring General Work at school. Outside a gusty wind relieves the humid heat building up to the first rains. I am grateful for the coolness of this high spot in the mountains - though we have to suffer chill, mists and drizzle for up to ten days at a time, while the sun shines everywhere else.
Just as I began to write the first sentence, the bed began to shake under me, ‘Not now, please!’ I thought. as the knocking went on. ‘Why choose today to put more nails in the roof?' I should have been grateful for anything that might prevent the asbestos sheets from flying off our rickety little house in the high winds of the first rains.
In fact, the boys were not on the roof. Instead they were lobbing half-bricks into the drain channel behind the house to fill it up. I asked them to use the wheel barrow. ‘Right, Exactly. Thank you, thank you’, they said, and complied. They were not grovelling, or being ironic, but showing respect to me as a 'senior'. For a long time I thought the elder brother of mischievous Farai Manjombo, who lives next door, was called ‘Mukomajon’, until I learned that Mukoma means ‘big brother’ and even the riotous Farai would never simply call him ‘John’.
Each person acts with appropriate respect to those above in the long chain of seniority that ends with the ancestors - and with a kind of protective negligent authority towards those below. This means that everyone is accorded respect by someone junior, for whom they are responsible as elders - everyone except the newborn baby, who is surrounded by minders and admirers of all ages. Yet what also struck me is the calm and relaxed self-respect of these young people. Even though I still feel slightly sick if a girl kneels on the ground to speak to me (boys don't!), I know now that this extreme gesture of respect is not the same as self-abasement.
‘Respect’, 'obedience' (meaning all good, decent and praiseworthy behaviour) and 'good manners’ are notions expressed constantly in my students’ writing and discussions of character. This morning, for example. I was told that aboy who helped to rescue injured passengers after a bus accident showed 'obedience' to them.
A rather shaming insight is that no distinction is made here between mere politeness and genuine goodwill. If a friend offers to carry my bag and I say ‘Do you really want to, or are you just being polite?’ I have said something that is both hurtful and absurd - a fact which speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of our own society.
In the rural setting this traditional chain of respect seems to instil a strong sense of responsibility as well as of belonging to a larger community. Unfortunately, it is often abused and distorted in modern Zimbabwe. First came the settlers. Now, suddenly, there are battalions of Zimbabwean teachers, officials and businessmen who expect - and are accorded - respect on the basis of education and wealth. Leaders speed out to the villages in Mercedes or Toyotas to preach socialism from a shaded platform to a crowd that has waited in the burning sun for them for four hours. A portly official of 45 and an ambitious headmaster of 32 have surely not earned their authority; unlike the grandparents of a family who, by years of struggle for their children’s survival, have slowly acquired knowledge and wisdom to guide their juniors.