(This is part of a series that is responding to an article in “Indian Country Today.” The article is called “Circle of Violence” by Ross and Finley)
SEX + FAMILIES + ECONOMY = FUTURE
You’ll notice that my little algebra equation leaves love out. Put love where you want it. You will anyway. Men love sex and women love babies. You could start there. Both drives are very strong or there would be no people by now. If the economy will support the parents and babies (a family) then everything is harmony and growth. If not, violence ensues. The future is murdered.
The formula gets out of balance if there are no babies or if the babies can’t be protected and nurtured. Some amazing game changers have happened over recent decades. We are in chaos. No one has figured out how to respond to all this stuff. It’s not a matter of two cultures that must be integrated, but rather we are all thrown tail-over-teakettle and must do everything differently than ever before. Consider the following.
- Global migrations: great numbers of people from one place with one set of rules going to another with entirely different rules, either for happy migration reasons or out of desperation. Not two cultures but a swarm of cultures.
- The Pill: women no longer have to have babies if they don’t want to.
- Legalized abortion: in case the pill doesn’t work or the baby’s development goes wrong.
- Lethal disease: there have always been diseases but nothing like AIDS, which means condoms, constant testing, and much higher risks than simple VD.
- Lenient interpretations of marriage, often outside the law, which means that responsibility for children and property can’t always be assigned. Those are the reasons for the law. (Religious reasons are a different matter.)
- Increased anal sex, oral sex, other evasions of fertility.
- Respectable out-in-the-open same sex relationships complete with marriage and children.
- DNA makes paternity scientifically provable.
- Increased ability to force fertility: in vitro fertilization, injection of sperm directly into the ovum, fertility drugs, surrogate mothers.
- Increased ability to keep alive problematic babies: premature babies barely this side of fetuses, DNA mutations, in-utero surgery.
- Single parenthood, either gender. Possibly an aging grandmother.
- Increased ability for a woman to make a living while raising a child. (I didn’t say adequate or easy.)
- Government help with food and housing. (Sometimes)
- Cars for everyone. Not saying reliable, but good for you-know-what.
- Children old enough to be fertile left alone in the house on a sofa in front of a TV for many hours of the day. Maybe with mom’s boyfriend.
- Confused and lenient discipline for men, women and children.
- Unreal role models. (Or maybe you think you’re Brad and Angelina?)
- Constant commercial urging to have sex, get married, have babies, buy a house, and all the other accouterments. Just use credit.
- The conflation and reversal of sex with violence. I want to linger over this one a little while. I publish “Western” short stories on “Ropeandwire.com” which is an old-fashioned Fifties cowboy sort of website that mostly seems to be visited by men. (Try it. You might like it. Actually, I do.)
I sent a story about a mail-order bride who did what was necessary but didn’t love her husband. A terrible blizzard struck while the man was in town and she didn’t know whether he’d ever come back. To keep her mind off it, she used the last of her scented soap to take a bath while she had privacy. In the middle of it, the man arrived -- his horse had died, he was exhausted and hypothermic. To save him, she pulled him into the hot water with her. I wrote, “That was the night their first child was conceived.” The story was rejected as being “too sexy.”
So I deliberately wrote another one about an Indian woman as totally bloody as I could get it. To start she crawls out of the carcass of a buffalo she’s butchering, covered in blood from head to toe. At the end she bashes her husband’s head in so she can go with the hero, but while she’s washing off her husband’s blood and brains in a nearby lake, the hero wisely leaves -- fast. That story was accepted.
Most of the stories are about men shooting each other, or beating each other up or rolling rocks down on each other -- the standard stereotypical cowboy fare. You could argue that it’s a kind of pornography. There’s no rough sex because there’s no sex. People of that era are horrified by a glimpse of a breast. But they happily watch “The Quiet Man” which is about not being able to resist violence and shows John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara fighting as a prelude to sex.
We’re told that at present in places like Somalia rape is being used as a weapon. This has probably always been true, but these soldiers are being issued viagra. They’re already on speed. The children that result are stigmatized to the point of possibly being killed at birth, almost certainly neglected, and the mothers are also ostracized through no fault of their own. Sex mixed with violence/death is used to break down people’s sense of honor and decency, their most sacred taboos, causing whole villages -- at least the remnants -- to become zombies. The soldiers become inhuman, too.
Maybe you think this doesn’t happen on this continent. It does. Children manage to be born, but twisted and damaged, suffering the worst abuse and neglect. One hopes they die before they become demonic parents. But these worst cases are not usually on Indian reservations or in small towns -- rather in the urban ghettos where people live like feral cats in whatever spaces they can find.
There is another problematic force at the other end of the spectrum, a romanticizing and sentimentalizing of relationships, sometimes legitimately but other times covering over unhealthy situations. Damaged babies are deemed “miracle babies.” Criminal fathers become wronged heroes. Enabling and co-dependent wives are considered devoted. Understandably, it’s hard to look at things for what they are and one wants to be optimistic. Fear of stigma and the consequences of it can motivate coverups, especially among minorities.
On the other hand, people who don’t always have much but still take care of each other can be welcoming and joyful to young parents and their babies without imposing any stigmas, without prejudice and with unstinting generosity. As in most human cases, there is a continuum and whatever pushes people towards the happy end of the scale has got to be good, so long as it is real. The task is to figure out what moves people away from the dark end. What are the memes? Are they religious or just social? How do they cope?
My aunt taught her girls, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.” But it’s not just about money. When I was in the ministry, I told young couples that a wedding was NOT a coming of age ceremony (which some thought it was) but rather a joining of families for the sake of the future generations. I’ve always liked the liturgies that ask the congregation to take responsibility for the well-being of the married couple. Today it’s very possible that relatives are far away, if indeed there are any. I’d say to the couple, “When you get into a fight bad enough to be scary, when you want to slug the other person, tell me how you’ll get out of it. What will you do? Who will you call? At that moment you will not be able to plan.” Even practitioners of S/M have a “safe word,” a signal for time out.
Many prospective bridegrooms were resistant to any of this sort of inquiry, especially if questions were about sex or money, the two crucial things to settle in order to have a successful relationship. They were threatened by questions that hurt their pride. One wedding I refused because the girl had been bruised by her prospective bridegroom. He was unrepentant. She seemed to be rather proud, as though it were a sign of caring. These were wealthy, educated, white people at an upscale church.
On the other hand there are many not-so-fancy alliances on this reservation that are as solid as they come. They’ve got the formula that works for them. We should go back to the Third Force Psychology theories that recommend interviewing the happy and healthy reservation people to see what they do, what they know.
(A few days still to come in this series.)