issue 179 - January 1988
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Urban crime, gentrification, ethnic communities under attack, rich capitalists in guarded palaces - this is New York all right, (NI 175) but it's hardly news. It's all been done by the commercial media long ago. I had hoped for an innovative look at the world's most scrutinized city, rather than a pedestrian's eye view. Where was the alternative perspective we've come to expect from NI?
Apart from the fine photography, I found myself singularly unmoved to strongly agree or disagree with anything in the magazine. If New York is the 'bright lights, big city', as editors Ellwood and Swift claim, why don't I feel more illuminated by this issue?
No sex please!
Would you refrain from sending me issues on the following subjects: sex, AIDS, masculinity, femininity, gays, lesbians, or any topic related to mammalian sexuality.
Your other issues covering the range of international politics are greatly appreciated
Gentle to gay
The normal male in our society is afraid to show his innate sensuality or sensitivity for fear of being thought homosexuaL Equating these qualities with homosexual sexuality, as in your Masculinity issue (NI 175), can only increase this fear.
Homosexuals do not have a monopoly on sensitivity or sensuality; in fact homosexual rape is far from unknown. It is natural to be disgusted by and to fear sodomy. The anus and rectum are not designed for penetration by foreign objects. The walls of the rectum are very delicate and host to a high bacterial population, hence the incidence of bowel injury and bladder infection among sodomists. Yet a gentle sensitive boy is led to believe he is homosexual and to commit sodomy.
It is high time we realized that normal men can show physical affection to both sexes without this involving copulation.
Surely G McDermott is overreacting (Letters NI 177) to the picture of father bottle-feeding baby. How does s/he know that the milk is not expressed breast milk; the mother is able to breast-feed; there is a mother? Of course breast-feeding is ideal, but sometimes impractical or impossible. It is such rigid ideas of right and wrong that put pressure on mothers.
Welwyn Garden City, UK
It is axiomatic that everyone should counter racism, but the struggle is not helped by the confused self-flagellation of the liberal British left, exemplified in From This Month's Editor (NI 177).
Vanessa Baird was at once let down and overjoyed because an Australian Aboriginal had not operated according to white people's values - thus letting people down is a lamentable value of Aboriginal culture?
It is not racist to believe that fulfilling obligations is generally a good thing. Believing that it is a characteristic of Australian Aboriginal peoples not to, is racist.
I overcame the jarring hurdle of the first paragraph and, as usual, found the issue stimulating.
Vanessa Baird replies: Is it racist to suggest that different cultures might have different sets of priorities? If so, is not all discussion of cultural differences potentially racist? This is a difficult area; I don't pretend to know the answer.
The masculinity issue (NI 175) was surprising and inspiring. But why no mention of men's consciousness-raising groups? These exist precisely to provide moral support to men who are trying to combat their own sexism and the system that perpetuates it. Such groups have real potential for changing existing views of men's roles.
Christians and slaves
I won't comment on the tone of Margaret Newson's letter Bigots and Bondmaids (NI 176) or her extreme claims, but I will make one point like many, the JudeoChristian tradition accommodated slavery. But the Old Testament was quite explicit about the rights and obligations between masters and slaves. Furthermore the Gospels express the struggle against slavery, just as, in the eighteenth century the most prominent voices against it were Christian, for example, Wilberforce.
Rev. Alan Jewell
Recent letters criticizing the Punchline cartoon in NI 174 go some way to correcting the implied errors in it. But nobody so far has pointed out the extent to which it maligns evangelical Christians in general. It is astounding that NI, usually so accurate, is so far out of touch with evangelical Christianity.
Since 1960 there has been a massive increase in evangelical activity for the improvement of the Third World The TEAR fund, one of Britain's biggest charities sends about £12 million a year for development and relief projects. Third Way is an evangelical magazine devoted to political, social and international issues. The same burning concern in the nineteenth century inspired Evangelicals to lead the fight against slavery.
NI: we have received so many letters on this theme that we have decided to devote one of the issues In 1988 to the impact of Christianity in the Third World.
Like Jane Bryant (Letters NI 177), I frowned when I read that sexist piece Hunt the Bishop in the Chile issue (NI 174). Either this journalist's ramblings were pure male fantasy, in which case NI appears to be supporting the widespread idea that attractive young women alone are potentially male property, or she really was draping herself all over the foreign journalist, in which case reporting it would not be sexist .., but totally irrelevant What the hell had it got to do with anything?
L S Timmins
I must inform your readers of my article on Uruguay Endpiece (NI 175) that the David Ransome featuring as an M15 agent on page 360 of Spycatcher is someone other than myself. I have never had anything whatever to do with the security services.
Although I welcomed your discussion of men's new roles, as a Christian I find your encouragement of homosexual acts abhorrent and entirely contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
One small phrase in James Painter's article Land for Sale (NI 177) showed that however much you castigate racism against non-white groups, you can still be insensitive to the feelings of the oldest ethnic minorities in Britain.
Please note that Elizabeth II is not Queen of England. No such constitutional office has existed since Stuart times. She can be called Queen of Canada, or Jamaica, or the United Kingdom, but not of England. Whether she should be monarch of anywhere is as debatable as whether the United Kingdom is united or not. And on this subject, the last genuine Prince of Wales was killed by the English in a cowardly ambush in 1282.
We were glad you recognized the importance of the Movement of the Landless (Sem terra) in Brazil in your Land issue (NI 177). However, by juxtaposition, you seemed to be associating this with communist insurgency, even with the phenomenon of Sendero Luminoso in Peru.
In fact Sem Terra is not a communist movement and, for the most part, is armed with no more than faith in the justice of their cause. The land occupation cited is part of a strategy of non-violent direct action, rather than armed insurrection. It is in this way that the Sem Terra have succeeded in mobilizing the support of a wide sector of Brazilian public opinion, urban as well as rural, for genuine land reform.
Candida Baker & Alonso Roberts
I find your advocacy of homosexual relationships as a valid and acceptable lifestyle a strange addition to the stated aim of the New Internationalist, as printed on the inside cover.
Co-op cop out
I notice that the NI is a cooperative. Why then is so little written on the subject of this most equal and just form of organization? The articles you publish make case after case for co-operative activity but without ever really focussing the possibility of forming co-operatives.
You seem to flaunt sex and condone sexual perversions, and have sunk into the rut of 'sex for sales'.
Of course sexual perversions exist, but as a Christian I can't support the way your magazine wallows in them. Thank you for the other information and views expressed over the years.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
The state of Zimbabwe's women is discussed this month
There's no doubt; for me rural Zimbabwean women are impressive. Full-voiced and muscular, they laugh loudly in welcome and slap hands to slam the point home. When they sing, dance, argue or rejoice, you know about it. Beside them, the European 'development' worker can feel pale, weedy and underdeveloped.
Yet, the Western visitor asks, don't these women suffer blatant oppression by their menfolk that the women in the West just wouldn't stand for? For Zimbabwe's women and their daughters do all the domestic work, including fetching firewood and water, and most of the cultivation.
When a rural woman marries, she must move to her husband's home. If they divorce, she must give up their children to him once they reach seven or eight years old. On top of this, women curtsey, eyes lowered, when greeting a man; kneel on the ground to give him his food or a mug of water and sit silent and to one side at public meetings while men dominate the discussion.
It is enough to make a Western feminist's soul self-ignite.
And yet. and yet, I notice that my rural women friends have strengths that I don't have - both inwardly and in the eyes of their society. In spite of all this patriarchal control they are undiminished. You can tell from the way they run their homes, refer to their husbands greet and spend time with one another. They are not psychologically dependent on their men, who come and go as employment and the beer-hall dictate.
It may be that they have not spent years, as I have, glancing in magazines and shop windows for images to emulate, competing in class and career - measuring oneself be male-imposed standards. Happy side effects, you may say, of their rural poverty.
But surely there is more to it than this. These women are farmers, mothers, providers and healers. Everyday they are in the real world making a living for themselves and their families. As beer brewers, midwives and mediums they carry on celebrating, conserving and interpreting life for their communities as they have done for centuries. They have a lot to be confident about.
To find out what had happened to Western woman's traditions and confidence, I think we need to go back to the long and bloody period of witch-burning that ushered in the modern era in Europe and North America. The torture and murder of six to nine million wise women must have left a deep mark of terror and eradicated untold knowledge among Western women.
Inevitably women in Zimbabwe who earn salaries adopt many familiar middle-class norms of appearance and behaviour. Women teachers come to school in elegant acrylic dresses. Their shoes are expensive and ornamental rather than practical. Urbanization leads to less enticing forms of dependence on women rather than practical. Urbanization leads to less enticing forms of dependence on men for unemployed women. Wives and daughters moving to the township find themselves without an extended family, without fields to cultivate or to cultivate their own income. In the townships wife-beating seems to be much more common; male infidelity is almost a norm.
Probably the most dramatic effect of the townward drift in women is the increase in population - or in being 'kept' by a man - and the public response. Every day you overhear a conversation or read some outraged letter to the newspaper about the 'seductive wiles' of temptresses who 'lure' men into liaisons. Such misogynistic, hypocritical moralism flourishes in the panicky atmosphere of shabby bar-rooms from Bulawayo to Birmingham. Police have even made mass arrests of single women in the evening. Yet wife beating is not a major issue.
Understanding the forces of modern patriarchy seems to be taking a long time.