Monday, June 22, 2020

US Legislature: Senate and House of Representative

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The US Capitol, Washington | Source: Gryffindor via Wikimedia

US Congress

Congress of the United States, the legislature of the United States of America is established under the Constitution of 1789. It is structurally separate from the executive and judicial branches of the government. The United States Senate is the upper House of the United States Congress, and the House of Representatives is the lower House of the United States Congress. Together, both these houses make up the legislature of the United States. Although the two chambers are separate for the most part, the House and Senate are equal partners in the legislative process, and the legislation cannot be acted without the consent of both chambers. Congress must assemble at least once in a year and must agree on the date of convening and adjourning. The decided time for convening, according to the Twentieth Amendment, is January 3. The House and the Senate vote the date for adjournment. Congress must also come together in a joint session to count the electoral votes for the President and the Vice President. 

United States Senate 

The United States Senate, the upper House of the United States Congress, was established in 1789 under the Constitution. Each state elects two senators for six years. One-third of the Senate membership expires every two years. It is hence also nicknamed as “the house that never dies”. The role of the Senate is to provide equal representation to each state regardless of their size and population. Washington, D.C. houses the chamber of the United States Senate. Election to the Senate was indirect up till 1913 and changed to direct election by the Seventeenth Amendment. The Senate shares responsibility with the House of Representatives for law-making within the United States of America. 

The Senate has exclusive powers which are not granted to the House of Representative. The powers include the authority to consent to treaties before giving it for consent, confirming the appointment of -- Cabinet secretaries, federal judges and executives, military officers, regulatory officials, ambassadors, and other federal uniformed officers. The Senate is also responsible for trying federal officials that have been impeached by the House.

The qualifications for Senators are as follows:

  1. They must be at least 30 years old. 
  2. They must have the citizenship of the United States of America for at least nine years.
  3. They must be an inhabitant of the state they are representing. 

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is the lower House of the United States Congress which was established in 1789 by the Constitution of the United States. It shares equal responsibilities of law-making with the Senate. The House is designed to give a voice to people of every local voting region of America. Members of the House stand for reelection every two years. Each state is split into districts and each district votes for one representative. The number of districts depends on the population of each state. The candidate with the most number of votes wins the seat in the House, and the party with the most number of seats takes control.

The primary responsibility of the House is to pass federal legislation that affects the whole country. For the bill to become a law the Senate has to agree and the United States President has to finally sign it. The House, like the Senate, has special powers too. These include the power to initiate revenue bills, to impeach officials, and to elect the President in case there is no majority in the Electoral College.

The House is organised in the committee system, under which the membership is divided into specialised committees like committees for holding hearings, preparing bills for the consideration of the entire House, and regulating the House procedure. The member of the majority party chairs these committees. Almost all bills are first referred to the respective committee. There are approximately 20 permanent committees, each having subcommittees. 

The qualifications for members of the House are:

  1. They must be at least 25 years of age.
  2. They must be a U.S. citizen for at least seven years. 
  3. They do not need to reside in the constituency that he represents.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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