Tag Archives: drug abuse

Laws and Daughters

Laurie and Debbie say:

Jos at Feministing has a piece on “the daughter test,” , in which she references a recent ongoing conversation among some influential men in the media, who seem to be concluding that designing the law to protect their daughters is A Good Thing. Steven Levitt, co-author of the Freakonomics books, says:

If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal.

Jos points to a round-up of the conversation on The Dish. Here’s Ross Douthat’s contribution, from The New York Times:

The fact that I would want to be able to involve the police if my daughter became a streetwalker, but not if she became a Hari Krishna, tells me something important about what kind of legal regime I should support.

So what’s going on here.

These men are saying, in so many words, that they care more about what they think is good for their daughters than they do about what they think is good for the country, or the economy, or people in general. Not surprising; these are elite white American men whose job it is to know what’s best for everyone.

They want the laws to protect specifically their daughters, not their sons. Presumably, they don’t want their sons to be drug addicts, they just think sons should be taking risks in a way their daughters should not.

They seem to be laboring under the illusion that laws have a major social effect on individual people’s behavior, whether those individual people are their daughters, other people’s daughters, men, or whoever. We guess they must think that laws against prostitution keep women from becoming prostitutes, and laws against cocaine use keep people from using cocaine. They, of course, are men who could in fact buy their daughters out of jail if their daughters broke these laws–they aren’t envisioning their daughters, the streetwalkers, arrested, jailed, and with police records for life. They’re imagining that the laws, like their fatherly admonitions, are deterrents that will keep their girls off the street, convince them not to snort lines up their noses, and keep needles out of their veins. Interesting world to live in, that one.

If any of these men pay prostitutes, do they wonder whose daughters they are paying? They aren’t thinking about the thousands of women, each one of them someone’s daughter, who are the victims of these laws, whose lives are immeasurably harmed not (only) by the illegal actions, but by the way the law works against them. They aren’t thinking about the men who will be affected by these laws–perhaps they think that men only patronize prostitutes, but never are prostitutes. Perhaps they think that some kind of deterrence that might keep their daughter away from drugs is worth having tens of thousands of men in jail for victimless crimes.

Perhaps they know in their hearts that they haven’t got a single clue how to really protect their daughters, or their sons, how to raise them. Perhaps they’ve never thought about conversations like this one with a son, or comparable ones with their daughters.

When the story first broke about the 11 year old girl being assaulted in Texas [my son] asked me about it. Why? Well he’s 11 and he has a ton of 11 year old female friends. Since we’ve been pretty open about the mechanics of sex he was upset & confused at the idea of a girl like one of his friends being forced to “do it” with anyone, much less with a group of strangers.

After the initial conversation about why rape happens, and a discussion of the harm it can do, I left the door open for him to bring any other questions to me or his father. Over the last few months we’ve talked about kinds of rape as he’s seen them mentioned on the news (date, stranger, corrective, etc.) and why people blame the victims. Lately, the conversation has turned to stuff like Slut Walks & how telling women to live a certain way in order to avoid being raped doesn’t do anything to stop rape.

The men who are proposing “the daughter test” are privileged enough to believe that they can influence how laws can be made and changed, that there’s a direct connection between what they think is good for their daughters, what they think the law should be, and what the law is or will become. The world is full of men who have a patriarchal and patronizing desire to protect their daughters, but who would never frame it in terms of what the law should be, because they know how far they are from the workings of the lawmakers. These men get to at least feel like what they say is heard in the halls of power.

This atmosphere of power dynamics and manipulation is no place to bring up anyone’s children.

Lenses of Our Times, Obstacles to Social Change, and Mel Gibson

Laurie and Debbie say:

In her recent post on Clara Park, Laurie said, “We no longer have the 1950’s Freudian lens. Instead we have the lenses of our times that work to support the structures that run our world, and still serve to obscure the realities and complexities of human lives.” That comment got us to thinking and talking about what some of the lenses of our time might be.

What do we mean by a “lens of the times”? To pick just one example from another time, in the Victorian era, there was a law putting prostitutes with venereal disease in hospital jails, on the theory that this would prevent the spread of syphilis. This is a reflection of one major Victorian lens, that immorality was the root cause of social problems. Of course, this would only work if only prostitutes spread syphilis, while in fact infected people were passing on the infection all the time through many channels of which prostitution was only one. So there were three problems: first, syphilis didn’t stop spreading. Second, the social structure was supported: everyone else involved was effectively absolved of immorality, because the lens was pointed at the prostitutes. Third, the prostitutes who were not in jail were less able to prevent themselves from becoming infected, because they were seen as criminals: vectors, not victims.

In our time, one of the lenses that performs this function is the pathologization (sometimes medical, sometimes not) of various behaviors with social causes. There are dozens of examples: from teenagers acting out in classrooms through alcoholics and drug users to people with eating disorders may be punished, and/or assigned DSM-IV diagnoses and recommended medical and/or psychiatric treatments, including (of course) psychiatric drug prescriptions. People are urged to join 12-step groups and read self-help books. Just as the experience of Freudian psychoanalysis sometimes made a difference in the first half of the 20th century, all of these things can help now; sometimes, they transform an individual person’s life in very important ways.

Here are some of the social effects of this lens:

Pathologizing a problem doesn’t solve it, or even minimize the number of people who have it. It might increase the number of people who recover, but it doesn’t change the size of the incoming stream of people developing the problem. Nor does it change the fact that some people’s lives are irreparably damaged by the social response (such as people who are put in jail or juvie).

Placing the responsibility for the problem on individuals makes it easy not to look at social factors. We don’t for example, examine alcohol ads, billboards, and alcohol use portrayal in movies and on TV in any serious way, because we have defined alcoholism as a problem of individuals. It doesn’t seem likely that a culture who saw alcohol as a societal problem would sell t-shirts that say “I don’t have a drinking problem. I drink, I fall down. No problem.” More importantly, it allows us not to look at the fact that alcoholics get more or less of a free pass to continue living in the culture, while drug users (especially if they are people of color and/or poor) are imprisoned for a comparable addiction. (We treat prostitution similarly: being a prostitute is penalized far more than paying a prostitute, as if the two were not intertwined.)

Putting the responsibility on individuals works two ways: it can make individuals feel guilty/shameful about their problems, and seek (or not seek) individual help rather than organizing and taking social agency and it can let people place the “blame” for problems on other individuals, thus perpetuating oppression and not looking at their part in the system. In other words, an anorexic (after some treatment) might come to think her problems were entirely her fault and something she should be able to overcome with willpower, while her family or her community might also think the same thing. So, she blames herself and her culture blames her. No one then has to look at the pressures on women to lose weight, be thin, be perfect, and not have bodily needs.

Social change cannot happen unless many people can see the nature of a problem. This lens (like so many other historical lenses) keeps us from looking at what is profoundly wrong. People don’t and won’t work together to change a system if they can’t see the harm it is doing them: anything that isolates us from each other and makes our problems completely our own impedes social change. And, by definition, all systems resist social change, so they develop obstacles.

The inimitable Prof. Susurro was writing about this issue last week, while we were separately starting to talk about it.

[At an overseas (from the U.S.) mental health seminar], a famous therapist presented an in depth study on “the importance of diversity” in health practices at the seminar/conference. Despite his obvious commitment to trying to welcome diverse clients into mainstream services, it became obvious that he had started from the all-too-familiar supposition that emotional reactions to oppression were pathological. In other words, if you are angry because you live in gentrification grand central, or you are acting out in class because you are experiencing all kinds of bullying around your first attempts at gender transgression, it is because you have “maladaptive coping skills” (i.e. your anger is “inappropriate”). And if you get mad at your therapist, stop treatment, or otherwise try to seek real help by indicating the problem to someone else … oh yes, my friend, you are not only exercising maladaptive coping skills, including triangulation (when you try to get a third party to uphold your “crazy, crazy, fantasy land”) but you are CRAZY with a capital CRAZ and YYYYYY.

So she and her friends came up with a diagnosis that points out the failures of the current lens: “Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder.”

The Disorder – Colonial Fantasy Syndrome

A disorder in which a member of the dominant culture believes that their experience is normative and any other experience is therefore deviant or abnormal despite evidence to the contrary.


Sufferers must meet 5 or more of the following criteria

1. delusions of grandeur

2. preference for a world in which the fantasy of their dominance supersedes the realities of diversity in the real world
3. an overwhelming sense of persecution or victimization
4. frequent projection (ie accusing others of the acts in which the client is actually engaging)
5. manipulation of interpersonal relationships for one’s own gain while claiming otherwise
6. egocentrism often masked as selflessness or self-interested demonstrations of selflessness
7. characterized by sublimation in which one’s sense of superiority is masked by seemingly altruistic acts toward the targeted group(s)
8. subset of sublimation defined by hypocrisy in which the sense of superiority is masked by calling out others for same or similar behavior, especially if members of targeted group(s)
9. desire to belong to a group, see one’s self as, or otherwise engage in elitist or exclusionary practices
10. engages in emotionally or physically threatening behavior with those who challenge the client’s world view
11. tendency to blame addiction for incongruencies in one’s worldview or self-image (may or may not be accompanied by actual drug & alcohol dependence or abuse)
12. willful disregard for the truth when confronted

Okay, it’s still depends on a lens. But it’s one we’d like a lot better.