|WOMEN||Sunday, June 6, 2004, Chandigarh, India|
together a broken life
The recent reports about military abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison involving two women enlisted in the US Army has thrown the spotlight on the rising aggression and violence among females. It has prompted crime prevention specialists and psychologists to reflect on the reasons for this aggressiveness and misdirected rage, writes Elayne Clift.
WITH the scandal about military abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison involving two women enlisted in the US Army, the reported rise in female aggression generally among American women and girls is garnering fresh attention.
Specialist Megan Ambuhl and Private First Class Lynndie England have both been implicated in prison abuse allegations, and both will stand military trial. In several disturbing images broadcast worldwide, England has been shown mocking naked prisoners in autoerotic acts and holding a prisoner by a lead around the neck. In a New York Times article published recently, she claims to have been acting on orders but she has declined, in sworn testimony, to name any superiors who gave such orders. She has also denied having been told specifically how "to break" detainees.
Abu Ghraib prison was in the command of another woman, Brig-General Janis Karpinski, during the time of the abuse perpetrated by American military personnel. Her role in the events has yet to be determined but it has been noted in the well-respected report of Major General Antonio Taguba that Karpinski was not paying enough attention to prison operations. Prison standards were lax, the report said, and previous abuses or breakdowns in military codes of conduct went unheeded and unpunished.
All of this is disturbing in the light of other acts of violence that have been reported recently. For example, in April, 2004, in Baltimore, 2-year-old Nicole Townes was nearly beaten to death at a birthday party by another girl. It is feared that she will suffer permanent brain damage. In another widely reported incident some months ago, 12 high school girls in Cook County, Illinois, were formally charged with assault as the result of a school ragging.
A plethora of recently published books on the subject of female aggression range from Phyllis Chesler’s Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman to Rachel Simmons’s Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Sharon Lamb’s The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do - Sex Play, Aggression, and Their Guilt, and Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence are also available. All of them speak in one way or another of the documented increase in violent or aggressive behaviour among females in American culture.
According to these sources, there is solid research to support the fact that girls and women of all races, social strata, and geographical boundaries are exhibiting aggression or behaviour clearly intended to harm others. This behaviour can be as subtle and innocuous as a roll of the eyes, or as serious and dangerous as physical attack.
Relational or alternative aggression, as female aggression is often called, is defined as "aggression that cannot, for one reason or another, be directed (physically or verbally) at its target". In other words, when girls can’t be direct, perhaps because of how they’ve been socialised, or because they risk retribution or other punishment, they find other ways to express their anger and contempt.
But what happened in Baltimore and Illinois - and quite possibly in Iraq - signals a different kind of acting out among females, one that lends itself less to sympathetic interpretation and more to serious scrutiny about female-perpetrated acts of violence.
Some analysts have suggested that in some sense, owning their own human capacity to be angry seems healthy for women given the social constraints under which they live. Females are generally taught to be good, nice, patient, and quiet, and to value intimate relationships while never being able to express disappointment or rage in those intimate relationships, because "everyday acts of conflict would result in the loss of people most cared about".
Seen in that light, it’s not hard to empathise with females who learn to express their anger in covert ways, or exhibit their aggression "below the radar screen". In her historical and biological defence of female aggression in Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier says, "It’s a man’s world, but our aggressions are woman-centred, harsh and intimate."
But experts note that what is appearing now is different and worrying. The aggression is getting more violent, it is appearing in children, and it is evident in institutions such as the military. Some people have suggested that women’s behaviour in settings like that of Abu Ghraib is conditioned by the males in charge who establish a culture of power. Others say that youth and inexperience are a factor. Still others think that critical mass is needed to change behaviour, and that when there are more women in positions of power within the military, its culture will shift.
While macho systems and patriarchal dominance may be a factor in terms of increasing female violence, especially in settings like prisons and the military, female aggression is obviously connected to larger cultural issues that researchers are beginning to address.
It will take a while to assess what is really happening and to test theories of female aggression, whether in schoolyards, prisons, or elsewhere.
In the meantime, England, along with her colleagues, will face a court martial that could shed light on military violence, no matter who carries it out.
together a broken life
IT takes a rare woman of grit and mettle to fight adverse circumstances and come out with flying colours. One such woman is Kamaljit Kaur, who had to fight her family's conservatism to stand on her own feet. She turned God-given skills of stitching into a full-time profession. "It is almost as if God knew I would need it so much in my future life that he gifted me with stitching skills", says Kamaljit Kaur, better known as ‘Auntie’ amongst her clients and friends. She is now running a boutique in the central shopping area of Amritsar, Lawrence Road.
Talking about her life, she says, "I have seen too many ups and downs in life. I was married into a well-to-do family of Amritsar but due to friction in the family, we shifted to Calcutta where my husband had to start from scratch. He gradually managed to establish a flourishing business of gas stove supplies. I was always keen to do something but because of his typical "Amritsari" conservatism, my husband never wanted me to work on my own. I started going to his office off and on."
" Life had barely settled down that we were shattered again due to sudden reverses in business. My husband was under tremendous mental stress. My elder son, not professionally equipped to work independently, was also into our family business. We were left without any means to earn a livelihood. It was in this situation that we came back to Amritsar around 10-12 years back ", she reminisces.
In Amritsar, Kamaljit and her family took a house on rent and started looking for business opportunities. As a child, she loved to sew dresses for her dolls; as a teenager, she altered and embroidered her own dresses. Support came from her landlady who convinced her husband to overcome his reluctance and let her start tailoring on a professional level.
"Finally my husband agreed. I never imagined one day it would be this hobby which will help me and my family stand on its own again", says Kamaljit. "At 44, I started sewing clothes for neighbours, relatives and friends. My husband was a great help. He would collect raw materials from people’s house and deliver stitched clothes to them. I was helped in getting orders by a number of friends and well wishers. There was an equal number of jealous people too who would try and pull me out from all directions. In this way, even routine life became a struggle. I started earning for the family and taking small setbacks in my stride", she says.
"For five years, I kept operating from my house. One day, I received a proposal to start a full-fledged boutique in partnership with a friend. I agreed.
Everything was ready but right on time, my to-be business partner backed out, giving me another blow. I took it as a blessing in disguise and thought of starting a boutique on my own. With my family’s support, I rented a shop at Lawrence Road. My business started picking up really well because my shop was at one of the prime locations of the city", she tells us proudly.
Another rude shock lay in store for her when she got into a dispute over the shop with the landlord. With lots of struggle and fight, she has now obtained stay orders on her shop. This gave a setback to her business too, as she had to waste a lot of time and money on settling the matter.
At present, she is doing really well. Her business has again picked up because of her strong will and hard work. She says, "Life has come full circle now. It has been 10 years since I am into work. Two years back, my husband also passed away. Though life seems impossible without him, the only respite is this boutique which I established with his help. I see him everywhere around my workplace, inspiring me to do better. Life has been a series of ups and downs for me but every crisis in my life has made me fight with renewed strength."
Now her son has revived her husband’s
old business. Her daughter, who is a teacher, was also married off a
few months back. Kamaljit Kaur says, "My own life’s experience
has taught me that more than our sons, it’s our daughters who need
to stand on their own feet soon enough.
CENTRE stage is where Madonna loves to be. And last week when she kicked off a worldwide Re-Invention tour in Los Angles, that is exactly where she was. Dressed in army fatigues, the 45-year-old, never-say-die diva made a political statement, and in the process ‘re-invented’ herself, as she sang onstage against the video backdrop of a war-torn nation.
Dancers in soldiers’ uniforms performed push-ups and callisthenics to the sounds of helicopters dropping bombs. Madonna’s anti-war sentiments were also apparent in her rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine. The song was accompanied by video shots of sick and injured children from across the world.
The politically charged show also had strong spiritual overtones. Untranslated Hebrew text was often displayed in the background. Not all was out of character, though. In true Madonna-style, she aimed to shock the crowd with video images of nudity and performances by male dancers in skirts.
A football first
WHEN Bentla D’ Coth officiates as referee at the Athens Olympics later this year, it will be a first for India. She will become the first woman in the history of Indian football to participate in the Olympics as either a player or official. She was selected by the Federation of International Football Associations.
Bentla has more distinctions to her credit. Not only is she the first Indian woman to become an international football referee, but she will also be the only referee from Asia to participate at the Athens Olympics.
At present, she is officiating the Asian Football Women’s (under-19) tournament in China.
Magic of Martina
THE newspapers described it as "heartbreakingly predictable". And perhaps it was. But that is besides the point. What matters is that at a time when most of her contemporaries, and indeed a majority of the players who are many years her junior, have been consigned to the archives of tennis history, 47-year-old Martina Navratilova still makes news. When she lost in the very first round of the French Open last week, the world stood up and took note of the magic of Martina. She was accorded the sort of media attention that first-round defeats never get, more attention, in fact, than the winner of the match. And that expresses eloquently the greatness of the player.
It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t win, just watching her on court is a treat. And best of all, it brings back memories of a mind-blowing 18 Grand Slam titles, 167 singles titles and 173 doubles crowns. Before she finally walks away from a four-decade long career, die-hard Martina fans can hope for a last appearance of the superstar. She hopes to be able play at Wimbledon this year before she finally bids goodbye to tennis.
Hermione comes of age
THIS summer Emma Watson will star in, what she describes, as her favourite Harry Potter book. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azhaban, Hermione Granger, Emma’s character, comes into her own. "It’s a good script for Hermione," says Emma. Hermione, decidedly the brainiest of the three main characters, will have a more substantial role this time. The fumbling beginning of an awkward romance for Hermione is also on the cards.
The third Harry Potter film promises to be darker and more frightening than the first two. Harry and his friends are not children anymore and grapple with more adult emotions and dilemmas. The threat to Harry’s life is more real this time. Along with the tone of the film, the image of the characters, too, has changed. They are all more grown up now and Emma, who turned 14 in April, more glamorous with windswept hair and a more colourful wardrobe.