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Lincoln, Nebraska: 5 Hard Truths About Sex, Violence And Feminism In India That ‘Parched’ Drives Home

Calvin S. Clark 4085 Oak Way Lincoln, NE 68501

As a feminist activist who has worked on systemic violence on Indian women for over 15 years, I have long waited for India to produce a film like Parched. Directed by Leena Yadav with a strong, all-female, central cast, there is a cinematic beauty and integrity to the film’s narrative that is undoubtedly among the factors that have earned it 18 international awards and a place in the Oscar library. But what makes this film particularly memorable is how without cringing it makes a number of explicit and discomforting statements on how women need to deal with male violence. These, even if presented within an Indian cultural context, have universal relevance.

Parched is the story of three women, Lajjo, Rani and Bijli, in an Indian village and how their friendship helps them triumph misogyny and male violence in their personal lives. Lajjo (played by Radhika Apte), is a talented seamstress whose alcoholic husband grudges her being barren, and beats her up daily. Rani (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee), was widowed young and spent all her life supporting her mother-in-law and unruly son. She takes a loan on her house to buy a child bride, Janaki (played by Lehar Khan) for her son. And then there’s Bijli (played by Surveen Chawla), who works for the local adult entertainment company as a dancer and a prostitute. She seems the most worldly-wise and resourceful of the friends, and in control of how she negotiates her life.

Below I share my five favourite feminist takeaways from Parched in no particular order:

1. Men who are sexual predators outside are also predators at home.

Rani’s hooligan son who roams the streets with his male friends stalking and sexually harassing women, and soliciting prostitutes he can’t pay, also violently rapes his child bride whenever the mood suits him. One-third of the world’s child brides live in India, and this is perhaps one of the very few mainstream Indian films that unflinchingly shows the kind of sexual and other abuse under-age married girls are subject to. However, even in adult marriages about 60% of Indian men admit to physically abusing and raping their wives.

Indian women are also particularly vulnerable to sexual violence from other family men, as shown at the start of the film where a woman begs the village to not force her to return to her husband, as her brothers-in-law and father-in-law were sexually abusing her.

2. Women often unthinkingly or as a survival strategy, perpetuate the system that enables male violence.

Rani who was herself a child bride robotically perpetuates the cycle of violence she endured by buying a child bride for her son, silently witnessing his sexual abuse of her, and justifying it through her own passive abuse of the girl. Rani is initially resentful of her friends being critical of her son’s behaviour, but eventually she makes the connection between the violence she has endured and the violence she is perpetuating. In helping her daughter-in-law escape, Rani finds the courage to seek her own path of freedom. She also recognizes her own role in the perpetuation of an oppressive, patriarchal system in how she raised her son. In a parting shot to her son, Rani delivers one of the most important lines of the film, “Don’t try to be a man. Learn to be human first.”

3. How men and women define their individual sexual identities directly impacts on their response to male violence.

Men whose individual identities are invested in the collective, hierarchical, patriarchal order are more likely to use sexual violence as a weapon of power. Often it’s a means of establishing their position in the pecking order by asserting their “malehood.” Rani’s son and his gang of friends who stalk and harass women, and find their entertainment in porn and prostitution, bond by asserting their sexual prowess over each other.

Conversely, women are socially conditioned to define their sexuality in terms of how they serve the patriarchy’s needs, and so they are virgin, wife, mother and whore. The more aware a woman is about sex as her personal identity, need, expression and choice, the more likely she is to reject behaviour that reduces her to an “owned good” to be labelled, used and abused at will. We see Lajjo routinely and silently enduring extreme physical brutality from her husband who faults her for being barren. However, when Bijli convinces Lajjo that likely it’s her husband who is infertile, it’s an eye-opener for Lajjo. When Bijli arranges her meeting with a certain mystic lover, Lajjo not only gets pregnant but for the first time experiences sexual ecstasy, and discovers a confidence about her own needs which helps her stand up to her husband. Similarly, Rani as a young widow, in keeping with social expectations has long squashed her libido. She owns a mobile phone, which the village committee had objected to for all women. Through the phone, Rani connects with an unknown admirer who she never meets, but through whom she experiences an awakening of her sexuality which she secretly relishes. In a subtle act of symbolic sexual rebellion the women giggle over their use of that mobile as a vibrator. While mobile phones have been banned for women in many Indian villages because the men believe it “ruins” women, it is a pointer to how social restrictions set on women through clothing, behaviour, movement and laws are always a means of controlling women’s sexuality, and thereby a revolution.

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4. It is an illusion for women to assume they can exert bodily agency and choice within a patriarchal system for which women are commodity.

At the start of the film Bijli, who works for the local adult entertainment company as a pole dancer and a prostitute, is shown to be in control of her life and choices as she negotiates the terms of her work with her boss. She refuses clients if they are not to her liking, even if they offer good money. This is shown in sharp contrast to Rani’s daughter-in-law, who has no choice but to submit to her husband’s sexual abuse as he believes that by having paid a dowry he has bought the right to use her as and when he wants.

Bijli, though, understands only too well that for the men, she, as all women, is only a sexual product. But even as she regards this view with contempt, she’s confident of her ability to hold her place in their misogynistic world. However, when one of the company’s workers who she assumed was in love with her, turns out to be only interested in stealing her from the company to become her pimp, she decides to chuck the system and strike out independently. When her new client subjects her to extreme sexual violence, she realizes that her belief in her agency and choice was only an illusion. Her protection was guaranteed only as long as she was a product whose use was negotiated between men.

5. Freedom from male violence should never be a lonely and frightening journey for any woman. When women connect and pool their resources, they’ll be able to combat male violence.

If one goes through stories of women who struggle against gender violence and injustice, from any part of the world, we often find these women to be alone and vulnerable. This is particularly true for when that violence happens within a family or community. The film puts the onus on women to reach out to and help each other, share their stories, and pool their energies and resources to fight the system of male violence. The final segment of the film shows the three women driving off into the open space in a quirkily painted open, three-wheeler, discussing their plans and options, as they leave their houses and village behind.

This conclusion was particularly interesting to me, because it almost inverted the classic approach of the feminist movement. Much of feminist outrage today is outwardly directed. We take our slogans out onto the streets demanding safety in our public and work spaces. But the message of the film that women everywhere need to heed is that we must, first, bring the feminist revolution into our homes where male violence is bred. If women cannot be safe from male violence at home, they cannot expect to be safe from the same men outside.

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Tampa, Florida: IS could smuggle mustard gas to Europe - report

Brad A. Torres 77 Saints Alley Tampa, FL 33602

The Islamic State (IS) terror group is in possession of deadly mustard gas stockpiles and could smuggle it out of Syria to target Europe, according to a media report.

The IS is behind a spate of mustard gas attacks in Syria and may have enough of the killer substance to slaughter tens of thousands, The Daily Mirror reported.

The network may have access to 20 tonnes of the evil weapon and could smuggle it out of Syria and into Europe, a leading expert in chemical warfare has warned.

Evidence

“Evidence points to the IS behind the attacks and there could be more. There is evidence they used mustard gas, either stolen by IS from [Syrian President Bashar] Assad or — and this is a real game-changer — IS made it themselves,” Col (retd.) Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said.

“This is horrific and the West must act to stop IS now because the threat from them just became much greater and they could take huge areas they have not conquered before,” he told the daily.

Recipe on the ‘dark web’

He warned that ISIS could smuggle mustard gas to attack Europe after finding a recipe on the ‘dark web’ — the murky and secretive area of the Internet used by crooks.

“It is not easy to make mustard gas but it is possible and a lone wolf could get the information off the Internet and dark web. If you tried to buy the precursors in the U.K. or U.S. you would most likely be picked up,” Col. Bretton-Gordon said.

‘It is imminent’

“Could IS move mustard gas out of the Syria/Iraq theatre of war? That is the real issue I expect,” he said.

Scores have died from chemical attacks in both Syria and Iraq in recent weeks and at the weekend IS launched another suspected mustard gas attack.

Col de Bretton-Gordon, who advises NGOs throughout Syria and elsewhere in the world, said, “The West is running out of time to do something about IS. We must act now.”

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Habit, Kentucky: Challenging Mainstream Thought About Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution

Donald A. Osbourn 2628 Coffman Alley Habit, KY 42366

Not long ago, a physicist at Stanford posed a rhetorical question that took me by surprise.

“Why is there so much beauty?” he asked.

Beauty was not what I was thinking the world was full of when he brought it up. The physicist, Manu Prakash, was captivated by the patterns in seawater made as starfish larvae swam about. But he did put his finger on quite a puzzle: Why is there beauty? Why is there any beauty at all?

Richard O. Prum, a Yale ornithologist and evolutionary biologist, offers a partial answer in a new book, “The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us.” He writes about one kind of beauty — the oh-is-he/she-hot variety — and mostly as it concerns birds, not people. And his answer is, in short: That’s what female birds like.

This won’t help with understanding the appeal of fluid dynamics or the night sky, but Dr. Prum is attempting to revive and expand on a view that Charles Darwin held, one that sounds revolutionary even now.

The idea is that when they are choosing mates — and in birds it’s mostly the females who choose — animals make choices that can only be called aesthetic. They perceive a kind of beauty. Dr. Prum defines it as “co-evolved attraction.” They desire that beauty, often in the form of fancy feathers, and their desires change the course of evolution.

All biologists recognize that birds choose mates, but the mainstream view now is that the mate chosen is the fittest in terms of health and good genes. Any ornaments or patterns simply reflect signs of fitness. Such utility is objective. Dr. Prum’s — and Darwin’s — notion of beauty is something more subjective, with no other meaning than its aesthetic appeal.

Dr. Prum wants to push evolutionary biologists to re-examine their assumptions about utility and beauty, objectivity and subjectivity. But he also wants to reach the public with a message that is clear whether or not you dip into the technical aspects of evolution. The yearning to pick your own mate is not something that began with humans, he says. It can be found in ducks, pheasants and other creatures.

“Freedom of choice matters to animals,” he said recently on a birding trip to a beach near his office in New Haven. “We’ve been explaining away desire rather than actually trying to understand or explain it. That’s one of the biggest shifts that the book is about.”

The book ranges from hard science to speculation, and he does not expect his colleagues to agree with him on all of his ideas. In fact, he gets a twinkle in his eye when he anticipates intellectual conflict.

“I don’t know anybody who actually agrees with me,” he said with a frank smile.

“Even my own students aren’t there yet.”

To grasp his view, a little bit of history is in order. Darwin famously proposed the idea of evolution by natural selection, what is often called survival of the fittest. To put it simply, living things vary in their inherited traits, from speed to color to sense of smell. The traits of the individuals who survive longer and have the most offspring become more common. So, over time, the faster antelope have more young, the fastest of them have more offspring, and antelope end up very speedy.

But reproduction isn’t just about surviving and staying healthy long enough to mate. You have to find a mate. And in many species, your mate must choose you. This process is sexual selection. Female birds are often the ones choosing. And their choices can produce male birds that are incredibly colorful, and some that are elaborate dancers or designers of striking boudoirs — like the bower birds. If, for example, females like males with long tails, then long-tailed males have more offspring, and the longest-tailed of those offspring reproduce more. In the end, that species becomes known for its long tails.

Maydianee Andrade, an evolutionary biologist and vice dean at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, who studies sexual selection and teaches evolution, said that “the question is basically this. You can think of females when they are choosing a mate as foraging. So what are they looking for?”

“If you’re dragging a giant tail behind you, that might tell the female something,” she said. “A male that survives carrying a large heavy tail is more impressive than a male that survives with a short tail.”

But survival might not have anything to do with it. Some female finches use white feathers to line their nest, perhaps to camouflage white eggs. In one experiment, they also liked males with white feathers stuck on their heads better than other males. This seemed to be an aesthetic choice, and also proved that there is no accounting for taste.

Darwin contended that selection-based mate choice was different from natural selection because the females were often making decisions based on what looked good — on beauty, as they perceived it — and not on survival or some objective quality like speed or strength. Scientists of that era reacted negatively, partly because of the emphasis on females. “Such is the instability of vicious feminine caprice that no constancy of coloration could be produced by its selective action,” wrote St. George Jackson Mivart, an English biologist who was at first a great supporter and later a critic of natural selection.

Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the theory of evolution at the same time as Darwin, preferred the idea that the colors and patterns meant something — either they were signs that this was a male of the right species, or they indicated underlying fitness. Perhaps only a strong, healthy male could support such a big, beautiful tail.

At the very birth of evolutionary theory, scientists were arguing about how sexual selection worked. And they kept at it, through the discovery of genes and many other advances.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when Dr. Prum was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, sharing an office with Geoffrey Hill, now a professor at Auburn University.

At that time, mainstream evolutionary thought took a big swing toward the idea that ornaments and fancy feathers were indications of underlying fitness. “Animals with the best ornamentation were the best males,” Dr. Hill said. This was called “honest signaling” of underlying genetic fitness. The idea, he said, “almost completely ran over what was the old idea of beauty.”

Dr. Hill, for one, was completely convinced. “I was pretty sure I could explain all ornaments in all animals as honest signaling.” But, he added, he has since reconsidered. There are some extreme forms of ornamentation that he thinks don’t signal anything, but rather are a result of the kind of process Dr. Prum favors.

“You can’t explain a peacock’s tail with honest signaling,” Dr. Hill said.

But, he said, he thought Dr. Prum had taken an important idea and gotten “a little bit carried away with it.” The book, he said, “was a great read, and I could tell he put his heart and soul into it.” But, he said, he found it “scientifically disappointing.”

Darwin himself, Dr. Hill said, “was completely unsatisfied with his work on sexual selection.” And the mainstream of evolutionary biology is not hostile to a partial role for arbitrary female choice. Dr. Hill has recently argued for combining several different processes to explain sexual selection.

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Dr. Prum is indeed given to enthusiasm, and to intellectual contention. He has been on the winning side of initially unpopular ideas before.

As a graduate student, he sided with researchers who wanted to change the way animals are classified, to emphasize their evolutionary descent. The new idea was called cladistics and it is now the established idea. He has done groundbreaking research on both the physical structure and the evolution of feathers, and he was an early supporter of the notion that birds descended from dinosaurs, another new idea that is now the mainstream view.

In neither case was he a lone voice. But he is nothing if not confident, and not only in his science. Take the question of pizza.

In New Haven, pizza is something akin to a religion, and there are different sects. When I asked Dr. Prum who makes the best pizza in town, thinking he would pick one of the rival pizzerias, he didn’t hesitate.

“I do,” he said. He uses an outdoor grill with a special attachment, and he described his pursuit of the perfect pizza in some detail. When I raised an eyebrow he offered me a reference, a friend and writer who had consumed the Prum pies.

He also acknowledged that he approaches many things with single-minded intensity.

“I’m given to obsessions,” he said. Bird watching was the first and most long-lasting. Evolutionary biology may be the deepest. Cooking, opera, gardening and politics (left-wing) are others.

He has disagreed with the dominant view of sexual selection since graduate school and sees his new book, which he hopes will reach beyond scientists, as a kind of manifesto. It has too many parts to summarize. He takes a chapter, for instance, to speculate that same-sex attraction in humans evolved in our ancestors through female choices that undermine male sexual coercion. For a full account, you need to read the book.

But one particular aspect of his argument is his distress at the idea that almost all evolutionary change is assumed to be adaptive, contributing to fitness. In other words, if a fish is blue, it must be blue for a reason. The color must help it escape predators or sneak up on prey, or be otherwise useful in some way. Beauty, therefore, must be adaptive, or a sign of underlying qualities that are adaptive. Pick a behavior or an ornament or a physical trait, and it is useful until proven otherwise.

That’s backward, says Dr. Prum. Take beauty. Since animals have aesthetic preferences and make choices, beauty will inevitably appear. “Beauty happens,” as he puts it, and it should be taken as nonadaptive until proven otherwise.

In proposing this so-called “null hypothesis,” he draws on the work of Mark A. Kirkpatrick at the University of Texas, Austin, who studies population genetics, genomics and evolutionary theory and had read parts of “The Evolution of Beauty.”

“I’m very impressed that Rick is taking on this crusade,” Dr. Kirkpatrick said. He is not convinced that all aspects of sexual selection are based on arbitrary choices for perceived beauty, but, he said, if Dr. Prum can convince some other scientists to question their assumptions, “he will do a great service.”

For Dr. Prum, at least, there is a partial answer to the question posed by Dr. Prakash. Why are birds beautiful?

“Birds are beautiful because they’re beautiful to themselves.”

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Indianapolis, Indiana: Stacey Solomon admits she worried about her vagina after giving birth to two boys

Gregory S. Robledo 404 Barfield Lane Indianapolis, IN 46225

Ruth Langsford, Coleen Nolan, Nadia Sawalha and Stacey were discussing Rebekah Vardy’s brave post-baby body pictures when the conversation moved onto how childbirth affects other parts of your body.

Speaking about her body changed after having her children, Leighton and Zachary, Stacey opened up about how childbirth affected more intimate parts of her anatomy.

She said: “I was really worried about that, I’ve pushed two children out of here you know, what’s left of it?

“I was more worried about that than this,” she said pointing to her midriff.

She continued: “This can’t do whatever it wants,” before pointing to her nether regions and saying: “but I want THIS to be good”.

“I don’t want to have a baby shaped hole.”

Nadia agreed and said: “Let’s be honest, if you have a vaginal birth, it does go a bit doo lally”.

When asked if she thought about having a vaginoplasty, she laughed and said: “I have on occasion thought if I could do it on my lunch break and no one would know, it would be nice to feel a bit more normal.”

Ruth admitted she was shocked by the changes in her body after giving birth to her son Jack with husband Eamonn Holmes.

She said: “No one told me that the belly doesn’t go away straight away. I put on three and a half stone because I lived on carbohydrates and I took ages to lose my baby weight. It was like jelly, it moved on its own.”

Mum-of-three Coleen said: “I liked my flabby tummy after they were born, it was like a marshmallow.

“I was ginormous with all three, when I was five months pregnant with Ciara they brought me in for a scan because they thought it was twins but she was just that big.”

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St George, Florida: Here's Why Cannabis Is The Perfect Aphrodisiac

James J. Smith 2257 County Line Road St George, FL 34683

Wondering how to have the best night ever with your darling? It's no secret that cannabis relaxes you and makes everything feel like all is right with the world, but did you know it can actually make sex better?

Yes, marijuana actually has the power to improve your sex life! We all know getting high is fun, and actually has some health benefits, but throw in a few ultra-intense orgasms and it's a crazy that everyone isn't smoking every single day.

Haters love to say that cannabis is a gateway drug (it's not), that it's super addictive (it's not), and that it ruins your life (it doesn't).

Cannabis really is a beautiful thing. It makes you feel amazing and, yet, you never get a hangover like you do with booze.

By now you must be wondering, how can it possibly make sex better?

Let me blow your mind with the enlightening and ever-so-tantalizing facts about cannabis and your sex life.

1. Cannabis can help you achieve orgasms

A lot of women have trouble achieving orgasms. In fact, about 1 in 3 women find it very difficult to orgasm during sex.

Luckily, your old pal pot is here to save the day. And here's how:

The CB1 is the brain's receptor that is affected when we smoke cannabis. When this receptor is activated, we get randy, baby.

As Dr. Mitch Earleywine, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany told NY Mag: "That CB1 receptor seems to be involved in improved tactile sensations and general euphoria." Meaning cannabis has the power to enhance your physical stimulation and give you a serious body high.

2. Cannabis increases sexual stamina

Who doesn't want to last longer in bed? You become the superman of sexual partners when you introduce it into the picture. According to a study cited on About, 75% of participants reported an increase in the duration of their sexual encounters when they smoked cannabis beforehand.

3. Cannabis makes orgasms more intense

You know what is better than an orgasm? A really, really intense, earth-shattering, life-altering orgasm. Cannabis has the power to make your orgasmic experience unbelievably mind-blowing.

As a marijuana loving man noted to NY Mag's Maureen O'Connor, "Pot tends to make time move slowly for me. Orgasms seem to last for 30 seconds and are incredibly intense. The best orgasms I've ever had have been while stoned, whether with another person or solo."

Unlike with alcohol, which can take the wind out of your sexy sails, cannabis actually does the opposite. It strengthens it!

4. Cannabis is good for relationships

Couples who smoke together are couples who fight the least. It would appear that marijuana might be the key ingredient to having a happy, healthy relationship with your partner.

According to The Daily Mail, the use of cannabis in relationships is actually linked to lower rates of domestic violence. "Findings suggest that marijuana use is predictive of lower levels of aggression towards one's partner."

According to the Washington Post, the University of Buffalo studied over 600 couples ranging as far back as 1996 and found that couples who smoke cannabis really do fight less.

It brings couples closer because it chills people out. No one wants to have an argument when they're feeling mad mellow and relaxed.

5. Cannabis is an aphrodisiac

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It has long been known as an aphrodisiac. It has the power to enhance sexual desire.

Psychiatrist, Dr. Lester Grinspoon told High Times that cannabis "greatly enhances the sexual experience for many people. There's no doubt that when people are high, they're more sensitive to their sexual feelings and urges."

So, next time instead of eating oysters with bae to get in the mood, smoke a joint instead. But maybe still have the oysters because we all know the munchies are a real struggle.

6. Cannabis relieves tension

Everyone knows that smoking cannabis has the ability to relieve your aching anxieties. This can be especially useful when you're about to get naked.

It can relax you and put you in the right mindset to get it on. All the horrible sexual tension that plagued you suddenly washes away, leaving you relaxed and ready.

According to Medical Daily, marijuana is like nature's Xanax: "It has a calming and relaxing effect that must be associated with decreased anxiety."

The effect marijuana has on the brain can be used to treat chronic anxiety problems. Cannabis can "exert an effect on stress levels through the endocannabinoid system, which regulates pain and appetite. THC interacts with anandamide, which is a neurotransmitter, creating a happy, relaxed feeling, as well as sleepiness."

So, after you decide to indulge, you're going to be ready to indulge in a little more fun once that old Mary Jane kicks in. When you're high, you're relaxed - and relaxed sex is good sex.

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