Bread. July 2006
Honour and the control of others
The biggest news of the FIFA World Cup 2006 was
Zinédine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi in the final match. Zidane
earned himself a red card, was sent off the field, and France, one man
short during the penalty kicks, lost to Italy.
Reuters filed a story that said,
Commentators have said it's not uncharacteristic of Materazzi to have done something like that. He would have known how to provoke his opponents. He might have known that being Algerian in origin, Zidane would be easily upset by any slurs on the honour of his family's womenfolk, thus disrupting his concentration on the game.
As it turned out, Zidane's reaction was more than that.
Other commentators have described Zidane's attitudes as "quaint". While that is somewhat condescending, it is nevertheless true that the notion of men feeling acutely responsible for the honour of their mothers and sisters is rather out of date. It suggests a degree of sexism that is considered incompatible with modern notions of equality for women, since it is impossible to separate the idea that men are responsible for, and should protect the honour of their women, from the idea that the women belong to the men.
Once we accept that women are equal and autonomous, what they get up to should be as much their own business as what men get up to are men's. To think that the family, particularly its male members, are disgraced by the misdeeds of the females -- and we usually think of sexual misdeeds -- implies that the men ought to have control over the choices, actions and sexuality of the women; that women's "failure" is primarily a failure of control by the men.
In turn, this ties in with the idea that women are weak, not just physically, but also weak-willed, and thus need control, and for this reason should rightly be subordinate to the allegedly stronger sex.
You'd be surprised how many people, even in so-called modern societies, still go around with attitudes like that, even if they may not be aware of them. At least one may be working for the Straits Times.
* * * * *
In connection with this case, the Sunday Times (the Sunday edition of the Straits Times) had this on its front page of 16 July 2006: "How can a man be such a mouse?"
What exactly the Sunday Times was trying to suggest with a headline like that was not clear to me. The article itself was relatively plodding, about the fact that, contrary to popular belief, battered husbands do exist.
But by itself, the headline appeared to say that men should feel ashamed, emasculated even, to be meek. Some less discerning readers might find their views that men should be hitting back at abusive wives, reaffirmed. That would be a tragedy.
In any case, it's hard enough for men to seek professional help, what with the widespread notion that men should be "strong", "in control" and so forth. Headlines that ridicule a victimised man as a "mouse" can't be making things any easier.
Sexist ideas hurt men as much as women, and it was irresponsible of the Sunday Times to be perpetuating them.
* * * * *
Lesbian females are seen as usurpers of male privilege and competitors to men's right to the sexual use of women.
When these ideas are mixed with beliefs that patriarchs are responsible for and have controlling rights over their families -- an idea not different from Zidane's proprietary attitudes over women -- families are one step away from disaster .
This week from Taiwan comes a story about a university student, Su Ming-che, who claimed that he was drugged and committed to a psychiatric hospital by his own father. The father had been unhappy that his son was gay.
According to Su, he was having breakfast with his parents at a Taipei coffee shop in April this year when he left the table to use the toilet. On his return, he noticed some white powder on the rim of his coffee cup but, thinking nothing of it, drank his coffee.
Shortly after, he said, he passed out and was taken to Shin Kong Hospital.
The young man said that as he regained consciousness he heard a doctor telling him "Your father put drugs in your coffee but it is all for your own good."
Shin Kong hospital did not come to any diagnosis, but still prescribed him pills. "I read from my case report that my parents were demanding that I be hospitalised," Su said.
After discharge, he managed to get himself tested by 3 other hospitals. All said he was psychologically normal. Su then filed a lawsuit against his father, accusing him of domestic violence in relation to the alleged poisoning, and one against Shin Kong Hospital, for violating the Mental Health Act's procedures on hospitalising psychiatric patients .
Su's father told the Chinese-language newspaper, Apple Daily, "I can't forgive him for suing a family member. Can he say that he is not sick after he has accused his family?"
That was interesting. As far as the father was concerned, proof of mental illness lay in the fact that the son would defy his father. You see here the notion that senior males have proprietary rights over family members, an idea that is similar to the belief that men are responsible for "their" women, that turned out to be Zidane's Achilles' heel.
* * * * *
Take the case of Alan Turing (1912 – 1954), a mathematician who was instrumental in breaking the secret codes that Nazi Germany used to communicate with its military forces.
The codes were generated by a typewriter-sized machine called 'Enigma' , of which there were various versions introduced from time to time. It has been said that the machine was capable of encoding a message in 150 million million million ways.
At the beginning of the Second World War, German forces were far superior to British forces. In the first 9 months, German submarines ("U-boats") sank 701 Allied ships with 2.3 million tons of vital cargo, most of it from America. Britain could not long survive if the sea-lanes were not made safer.
Turing's arrival at ultra-secret Bletchley Park made the difference. Applying mathematical principles, he began seeking out "probable words" common to all secret messages and very quickly made breakthroughs. The Germans however changed their code settings monthly, but Turing's invention, a machine he called Bombe, automated the process of searching for patterns in the intercepted, encrypted messages, then working backwards to reveal the Enigma settings. Once the settings for the month were found, it was possible to decode other intercepted messages. Bletchley Park went from decoding a trickle of 50 Enigma messages a week in 1940 to 3,000 per day in 1943.
Being able to read German communications made all the difference to the militarily weaker Britain. That Britain (later joined by the US) prevailed in the war, and that we are today not living under Nazism and (in Asia) Japanese fascism is a debt we owe in large part to Alan Turing.
However, on 11 February 1952, he was arrested in Manchester for "gross indecency" with a 19-year old guy. This was the same draconian 1885 ordinance used to imprison Oscar Wilde in 1895 , and which is equivalent to Singapore's Section 377A of our Penal Code.
In lieu of two years in prison, Turing agreed to a course of "organo-therapy" -- chemical castration with female hormones, then thought to be a cure for male lust, now regarded as a poison for males when dosed the way it was. Thinking was evidently very confused then, with lust, sin, homosexuality and mental illness all mixed up. Turing wrote to a friend: "It is supposed to reduce sexual urges whilst it goes on, but one is supposed to return to normal when it is over. I hope they’re right."
They were wrong. He grew breasts instead. Utterly humiliated, what more with his government security clearance removed and his reputation in tatters, Turing committed suicide with a cyanide pill on 7 June 1954. He was only 42.
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