Posts Tagged ‘Sexual Mutilation’

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.

No, Toksvig, Sometimes Testosterone-Fuelled Jokes are the Only Appropriate Response

December 2, 2017

Sandi Toksvig, the presenter of Qi, former presenter of Radio 4’s News Quiz, and various game shows on BBC TV, was in the I last week. She and her same-sex partner, a BBC radio presenter or manager, are the founders of the Women’s Equality Party. She came out to say that there ought to be an equal number of women on panel shows to stop men telling ‘testosterone-fuelled’ jokes.

I didn’t read the article, just the headline, so I might be misjudging her. But I found it odd that she could say this, after she very publicly gave her endorsement in the elections last year to Hillary Clinton and Theresa May. Because they were both girls going after the top job. It didn’t matter that Killary has earned her nickname because she’s a vicious warmonger, who has never met a war she didn’t like, and fully backs the American imperialist machine. And if you want to see the kind of horrors that has inflicted on the peoples of the Developing World in the decades since the Second World, I strongly recommend you look at the videos Abby Martin has made about the subject over at The Empire Files.

But warning: you need a very, very strong stomach for some of this. It doesn’t dwell, but neither does it shy way from describing the sexual mutilation of women and men, and the rapes committed by the South American Death Squads trained by the American military at the base formerly called the ‘School of the Americas’.

Both Killary and May are, in terms of their policies, profoundly anti-woman. They have nothing to offer working people, except more poverty, exploitation and disenfranchisement. And women perform the lowest paid work, and so are at the sharp end of this. Both Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn actually have better policies for women, and are probably better feminists, despite both being men. Which is why Killary and his supporters in the Labour had to manufacture accusations of misogyny against them. As well as attacking women, who weren’t going to vote for their fave female candidates as ‘traitors’.

Which shows how much respect these self-proclaimed, middle class corporate feminists really have for women and their ability to make their own minds up.

If you want something closer to proper feminism, you could have voted for the Green Party. It’s presidential candidate was Jill Stein, a medical doctor. Part of her platform was Medicare For All. She made the point that women particularly needed it, and was seen discussing the issue with a group of ladies in one of her political broadcasts. I put it up here, so it should be on this blog somewhere.

Likewise the British Green Party. They were, briefly, the left-wing alternative to the Labour party when it was run by the Clintonite fanboys, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, then followed by Ed Miliband, who still adhered to their policy of trying to copy the Tories in the hope of winning over swing voters. The Greens are very hot on feminism and equality. I don’t whether it’s still true now, but they used to have a joint female-male presidency, where both a man and woman were in charge of the party together.

But this would have been a bit too radical for Toksvig and go. They want a nice, respectable type of feminism. A feminism that gives women access to the top jobs, but which otherwise leaves the class structure intact. A type of feminism that won’t frighten true-Blue Conservatives with terrible visions of boiler suited lesbians with degrees in sociology telling kids they should be bisexual. Or whatever stereotyped nonsense the Scum, Heil, Torygraph and Star are trying to push.

Now the argument that there should be a better gender balance on panel shows is a good one, and it can stand alone. It doesn’t really need a ‘because’. You can simply make the point that women are half the population, and so should be given half the places on these game shows. To support it, you need only to say that there are very many talented women, who are being passed over because of gender bias, or who provide a different, fresh point of view.

Toksvig’s statement that they’re needed on the panel shows to stop men telling ‘testosterone-fuelled’ jokes is in some ways strange, and actually rather reactionary. It’s misandrist, in that it sees men as being rather nasty, and who can only be restrained and civilised by women. It’s also very curiously old-fashioned, as if Toksvig hasn’t quite come round to understanding how women can also be lewd, crude and coarse.

In general, women do prefer a less coarse type of humour, though that’s true of a fair number of men as well. And I think that an awful lot of men, who don’t like that kind of humour being made in front of their wives also really object to it themselves, but as we’re supposed to be roughty-toughty blokes we aren’t supposed to show it. So we project it onto the memsahibs and use them as an excuse.

But women can also be very coarse. I’ve known women, who were far cruder than I was, and every bit as vulgar as any man. I’m not saying all women are like this. But it’s true of some. And there is the feminist argument that says that women should be free to do so, and talk explicitly about sex, without being condemned as whores.

And since the 1990s there have been any number of female comedians telling very sexually explicit jokes. Or further back, if you count Joan Rivers. The female led, and directed film Bridesmaids won critical acclaim the other year, but the crudity of its humour was remarked upon and did cause some controversy. I also remember a review of evening of stand-up comedy by the gay community in London. This feature a female comedian traumatising the men in the audience with a monologue about her cervical smear. Well, it was the 1990s, the age of Topless Darts and other crimes against television. You can also go and look at Absolutely Fabulous if you like. It’s witty, funny and very well done. But much of the humour is based about sex, and it doesn’t shy from talking about issues that would have Lord Reith spinning in his grave, like homosexuality. One of its heroines, Edina is a man-hungry, champaign-swigging selfish monster, while another of the characters, who runs a PR agency, uses the type of language that would make a docker blush. And when BBC 3 was still around, and orienting itself as da yoof channel, some of the programmes presented by women had coarse language in their titles. Like ‘F*ck Off, I’m a Hairy Woman’, which was presented by a female comedian attacking the beauty industry that demands women pluck and shave their bodies.

But there is also the argument that sometimes, very harsh, cruel, dark humour is the only appropriate response to a particular subject.

For example, there’s the late Bill Hicks, and Frankie Boyle, both known for their bitter political humour. Hicks’ humour was sexually explicit, and could be quite foul. There was an element of homophobia there, particularly when he told his audience that George Michael was gay, and if you ladies loved him, then you were too. But in coarser language. Some of it was simply about porn, the inauthenticity of contemporary rock stars, and getting drunk and stoned.

But he also used his vicious wit against Reagan’s super-patriotic America. In one monologue, he described Reagan’s Attorney-General Ed Meese as a serial killer, who would one day cut his wrists in the bath. Then they’d find the skins and clothes of all the children he’d murdered in his attack.

But Reagan was responsible for backing Fascist Death Squads in Central America, who committed horrendous atrocities. And so there was a point when he said that he’d pay ‘an extra nickel, just to have little brown kids not clubbed to death like baby seals’. It’s shocking imagery, but it was true. And he was one of the greatest protest voices in the media against such horrors in the ’80s. Channel 4 actually gave him his own show. I don’t think we’d be that lucky now.

Now on to Frankie Boyle. Boyle’s humour is too dark, extreme and tasteless for many people, irrespective of their gender or sexual identity. He was a member of Mock the Week, a satirical panel show presided over by Dara O’Briain, but was too extreme for the Beeb. But there was a point to his dark, vicious jokes. What got pulled from one episode was a joke he made about calling up the Ministry of Defence, and getting ‘the Department of N*gger Bombing’. I don’t doubt that this was pulled because it contained the ‘N’ word, which is highly offensive coming from Whites. But arguably, Boyle was quite right to use it, and right about the joke. He explained to Richard Osman at the Edinburgh Television Festival one year that he made it, because he had read about comments from British generals during the Empire’s heyday that said they were all about ‘bombing n*ggers’. He was factually correct. And it was a curt, but pithy remark on contemporary western imperialism under Bush and Blair. Or whichever mass-murderer was in power then.

It was offensive, but it was an accurate reflection of an even more offensive reality.

So while I can see where Toksvig is coming from with her comments, I think she’s wrong to condemn all dark, weird and brutal humour, simply because it offends her delicate sensibilities. Sometimes you need the extreme and tasteless to reveal and comment on an even more horrific reality. One that Toksvig, it seems, with her backing of Killary and May, wants to deny exists, or is perfectly comfortable with.