It was a typical May day in dreary Seattle, and I took shelter from the drizzle in Christian Mysticism, the works of the 12th Century Benedictine prioress, Hildegard von Bingen.
Hildegard was quite a woman. She wrote books, composed music, and practiced naturopathy. Among the hymns she wrote are versions of “Ave, Maria,” “Kyrie Eleison,” and the fascinating “Chants of 11,000 Virgins.” Her compositions are more gorgeous and meditative than the popular recants of the two former. Musicologists argue that her music reflects Sapphic sexuality, songs beatifying the female body as the realm of desire. “The truly holy person,” she wrote, “welcomes all that is earthly.”
I was consumed by subversive nuns when I received a message that CounterPunch was under attack! A fringe group of capital-S Socialists and some liberal lieges to The Nation were calling for heads due to some random article about Angelina Jolie, of all people. I observed the mud-slinging and read the damned thing. I was not impressed. It was another Left circle jerk, this time revolving around a cheap piece about breast cancer and tittle-tattle regarding “tits.” I was reminded of my limited tolerance for the pussy-footing Left. “Identity Politics, when will it die, die, die,” I muttered, and assumed my position with the prioress.
Culture Wars redux. I’ve been pissed off at PC since at least 1992, when I was introduced to Third Wave Feminism, which reconstructs language as the desexualized discourse of “women with a y,” and the incomprehensible quasi-vocabulary of Judith Butler. Uber-pop culture is revered. For example, the health of Jolie de Arc- who hasn’t said or done much for women beyond reciting the script of “Tomb Raider” 1, 2, and 3 – is a tearful act of feminism.
As a licensed feminist, must I hate freedom of speech, and blush with rage when the titillating word “tits” appears in a sentence? I thought Hooters-haunting men would be more upset about Madame Jolie’s mastectomy than a smattering of ideologues. I wanted to read more about Hildegard’s erotic “Chants of 11,000 Virgins,” but I took to the news cycle instead. While obsessing over Angelina, full of grace, here’s what you missed:
Both the Yale Law Review and the May 26 editorial in The New York Times addressed the epidemic of prison rape.
Yale published a piece by Elizabeth Reid, who was incarcerated here in Washington state. She detailed, graphically, how a guard raped her, and how the prison administration ignored her brave attempt to seek justice.
The Times was more oblique, but it’s still striking that they chose to call this horror out, let alone in the Sunday edition. “Despite the federal law, it is clear that not enough has been done to make sure all inmates are protected from rape.”
Here’s an issue over which I assumed Socialists would be debating organizing strategy and tactics: women in poverty. According to an article by economist Paul Buchheit, via Alternet, half of the United States is in poverty. Buchheit compiled data from the Census and IRS, among other sources, to reach his conclusion. Meanwhile, a Pew survey found that 40 percent of American women are the primary financiers of the house, and 63 percent of those are single moms. Between the two articles, you do the math.
I’m certainly not writing off the horrible disease of breast cancer, which cedes control of a woman’s body to the medical industry. In fact, two of my musical heroines, pioneering women of Punk and No Wave, have endured and perished from breast cancer. Where’s the Left’s outrage?
There’s Ari Up, the singer for The Slits, which was one of the first all-girl punk bands. And when I say “girl,” she was 14 when they started playing. The Slits smeared war paint on their faces for shows. When I saw them in 2006, Up did a cartwheel off the bouncer’s table. As the UK tabloid, Metro, who interviewed her producer, published, “ ‘One day in 2009, Ari phoned and said: ‘I’ve got breast cancer.’ She never thought for a minute that she wasn’t going to beat it. She was the most fearless person I’ve ever met.’ “ Up died a year later, at age 48.
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth told Elle that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the most recent edition of The New Yorker, Gordon had a lumpectomy. “Okay,” she said, “what else is going to happen to me?”
This struck me, as one of my powerhouse, take-no-prisoners icons showed vulnerability. I’m not the only one who thinks these women are devastating artists, and Angelina Jolie is not. But the Left chooses jolie Jolie as the martyr.
As for icons, I’ve added Hildegard to that list. She embraced the sacredness of earthly, feminine sexuality, and she might chuckle at the gossip about that titillating four-letter word, “tits,” and the consecration of Jolie as emissary for the High Church of Socialist Feminism.
I bet she’d get along with D.H Lawrence, that misogynist, who wrote: “Obscenity only comes when the mind fears and despises the body, and the body resists and fears the mind.” Kyrie Eleison.
Published in CounterPunch magazine, May 2013