Feminists are just ugly by This is Real LIFE: A Real FEMINISTS Life

(Cross-posted from This is Real LIFE: A Real FEMINISTS Life)

This is going to be possibly my favourite post of this whole blog, as a feminist I always get told or hear that feminists are just complaining and making a fuss out of nothing because they are ugly who can’t get ‘any’. So basically if your a feminism you are just some ugly old women who can’t get a boyfriend and that why you try to fight for equal rights, awesome just awesome… some of my personal favourite quotes about how ugly us feminists are “feminists just a bunch of useless, ugly and unfucked losers” and “sexism only ugly bitches complain about it” here that people if you want to get equality or stop sexism then you are ugly there isn’t even a probably in it you are ugly.

Wow and feminists are meant to be the ones making women feel small and worst about themselves, I have been told by so many people now that feminists are just taking away rights for women and we are actually the ones making women feel lower about themselves so basically feminists telling women to love themselves and not letting anyone make them feel different or ugly that’s not ok but people telling people who stand up and fight for what they believe in that they are ugly that’s brilliant.

One of the best things I came across doing research for this post was these brilliant quotes by a man who calls himself ‘frost’

“The ultimate goal of the Feminist is to create a world in which all women are as hideous and awful and dead inside as they are, so that everyone can have an equal timeshare in the alpha harems, and everyone’s fatherless offspring can be raised by the same uninspired bureaucrats in the same grey-walled, concrete and plate-glass buildings”

and then the same person carries on to say

“Feminists tend to be some combination of fat, old, ugly, abrasive, and slutty. Feminists want to convince men that we should be attracted to fat, old, ugly, abrasive sluts. Feminists want to convince women that it is OK for them to be fat, old, ugly, abrasive sluts. They want desirable women to become fat, old, ugly, abrasive sluts, so that the feminists no longer look so bad in comparison. Related to (1) and (2), Feminists want to convince men and women that it is immoral for men to not be attracted to fat, old, ugly, abrasive sluts.
This is why Feminism is working so passionately to ruin American women. [Who benefits] from the widespread adoption of feminist beliefs that destroy our once-slim, once-feminine, once-nurturing women? The answer, first and foremost, is the women who were already destroyed to begin with. Feminists know that, in a monogamous world where everyone pairs up with an equally desirable mate, they could only ever earn the favour of weak, bottom-feeding men. Feminist ideology, i.e. the hysteric and childish whining about Patriarchy, Shaming Language, and Socially Constructed Gender Roles, is no more than the set of rationalizations with which they seek to drag the rest of womankind down to their level”

There isn’t much I can say about these quotes without a lot of swearing and I don’t really have the time to write what would be a eight book series about this comment, so I will say this I actually completely forgot that when all of us evil, ugly feminists go to our weekly meet-ups we all sit around a circle and plan how we are going to get all women and men to realise that they only way to live is to be ugly (by the way we don’t have weekly meet-ups) Also in my research I found a lovely man who thinks feminists are all ugly because we don’t cook, clean and love. I still haven’t found any research into the reason women become ugly is because they don’t cook, clean or love when feminists do love, cook and clean because again I forgot that feminists are telling everyone not to cook, clean or love.

But the quote feminists hear the most is “feminists really are just ugly women who are jealous” well I can’t speak about every feminist on the earth but I am not jealous about anyone I am actually happy with the way I look, my weight and everything else about me thanks and guess what feminism taught me how to love myself. I found lots of great quotes about this topic and while writing this I did find it really hurt not to throw the laptop across the room and scream a little but there was some that I just had to put on to this post because it was just to hard not to… so here they are…. “feminism was founded by ugly women that society ignored because they weren’t attractive enough” that really hit a nerve for me because I still today get a tear to my eye when I read about what feminists when through back in the old days, e.g. the cat and mouse act or the false feeding.

To sum up this post what I have learnt from all the research is if your a woman and your not what society thinks is attractive then no one will listen to you and your be treated unfairly and then become jealous of every other women, also I have learnt that very attractive girls would not be the first women who need feminism because they have ‘more opportunities’ in life. Also all feminists are lesbians (I am pretty sure I’m not actually) So people just remember the real lesson in life we all are apparently meant to know is that not everyone can be beautiful…. but if you don’t mind I’m going to keep trying to make sure everyone thinks they’re beautiful because even if some people can’t see it everyone is in their own way

 

This is Real LIFE: A Real FEMINISTS Life: a blog about feminist issues in modern day life

Sexism, aggression, and not being a silent witness by Reimagining my Reality

(Cross-posted from Reimagining My Reality)

A post I wrote in June 2013…

My job involves discussing sexism, violence and women’s rights. I’m on maternity leave at the moment but I still find I’m spending a lot of time considering these issues. Recently the Saatchi and Lawson story hit the headlines, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it – the vile behaviour of Saatchi, the fact that it happened in such a public space, the humiliation and distress Lawson must have felt, the way the press was all over the story; stocking the fires of scandal for the sake of sales and demonstrating zero moral integrity. It was horrid on so many levels.

I noticed the story on Twitter the night before it broke in the papers. I couldn’t stop thinking about how traumatic the attack and the subsequent media explosion must have been for Lawson. And I couldn’t stop wondering how on earth it could have happened. Saatchi must be all kinds of arrogant to believe he would get away with behaving like that in public. Or perhaps aggression becomes so normalised to some people that they don’t see their behaviour as it really is. His comments in the press certainly seemed to suggest a complete lack of self-awareness.

Unfortunately (and predictably) some people thought it appropriate to attack Lawson rather than Saatchi after his actions. Opinion pieces cropped up arguing that Lawson had an obligation to leave Saatchi, stand up to him and publicly decry his behaviour. I think this skewed focus just reflects a societal trend of dumping the load at the doors of women. As I see it, in the days immediately after the attack it wasn’t Lawson’s responsibility to clear up the mess and make everything better. Saatchi was in the wrong, the diners who watched the attack and did nothing were in the wrong, the photographer who witnessed and recorded the violence but decided not to call the police was in the wrong. Lawson was the victim and it wasn’t her call to make the situation socially acceptable. This fantastic piece by Eliza (who writes the brilliantMommatwo) on the media response rang so true to me.

My experiences

The story made me think about how abusive behaviour takes on a cumulative effect when it goes unchecked. If you exist in the thick of abuse, physical or mental, it must be incredibly difficult to see a way out, especially if the relationship was at one point loving. I’ve not had a relationship like that, but I did grow up being told that violence and aggression is often the answer and with fear used as a method of control. As a child I did as I was told, not because I wanted to, or understood why, but because I was scared. Aggression was the norm and it’s what I learned to expect of men. It was only after leaving home that I realised the reality – that men can discipline with love, and show compassion in relationships without compromising their identity or masculinity. It was a revelation to me.

The culture of tolerating male centred aggression is something I don’t want to be part of, so recently I’ve distanced myself from certain people. Maintaining a relationship was tantamount to validating their behaviour. I hate it when people use violence and aggression in place of dialogue and compromise, as though it were the Middle Ages. Fortunately I’m in a loving relationship which affords me the time, space and support I need to make difficult decisions like that, but I realise not everyone is in that position.

My experiences taught me that sexism, violence and psychological abuse are often closely related, and that it’s far too easy to brush off abuse, particularly when it’s insidious and psychological. I’ve found that allowances are often made for the abusive behaviour of loved ones – reasons like cultural differences and stress become a scapegoat for their behaviour. But all that does is perpetuate the notion that the abuse is acceptable, that the victim is deserving and that the perpetrator is innocent. As far as I’m concerned the only answer is a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse. It hasn’t won me any fans, but I sleep easier knowing that I’m not a part of the problem and that I’m teaching my children aggression is never the answer.

A lot of the aggression I experienced was inextricably bound to a culture of extreme sexism, in which gender roles were clearly defined and traditional. This isn’t something I object to in principle. As far as I’m concerned if people have freedom of choice and still opt for traditional gender roles then that’s fine. But I didn’t have that freedom. My roles, status and future was decided for me by an inherently sexist religious ideology. Every so often I think back to that existence (and a lot of the time I really did feel as though I was existing and biding my time, rather than living) and I can’t quite believe that it was my life. It’s surreal to think that for years I listened passively to an ideology that declared (not always overtly, but certainly in the behaviours it encouraged) I was a second class citizen purely because of my gender.

I discovered this fantastic video last week and it made me think about the role sexism has played such in my life, and how it continues to shape my identity. The sexist judgements I grew up listening to are like weeds, occasionally they crop up in my consciousness and I have to give myself a good talking to, to remind myself that I’m not weak, that I don’t need to be controlled, that my life is not made complete by pleasing a man. Being a strong, independent woman was initially an act of resistance, but over the years it became less about rebellion and more about realising my potential.

My experience of sexism began after my family began practicing a very fundamentalist form of Islam. Suddenly my gender became incredibly significant. My personality, aspirations, strengths, and passions, were completely overshadowed by the fact that I was female. I was told what I could and couldn’t wear, who I could be friends with, I moved schools so that I’d be surrounded by ‘like-minded’ people (and no boys), my social life was controlled. I listened passively (there was no room for debate) as I was told that women should never be leaders (they’re too emotional), that marital rape and domestic violence are grey areas, that the education system is dangerous place encouraging destructive freedoms, that women should walk behind their husbands, that unmarried women shouldn’t leave the house unless accompanied by a male guardian, that my body and my sexuality were defining features that made life dangerous for me, that to expect to be treated as equal to a man is a ridiculous fallacy invented by the West.

I made a fairly dramatic leap away from this ideology when I met J. I’d only known him for about 3 months, but we were head over heels in love and keeping our relationship a secret was unbearable. From a young age I knew I’d have to leave my family in order to be happy. My relationship with J seemed the perfect opportunity. So I made the break from my parents and heartbreakingly my five younger siblings. The day I said goodbye and made the rather hazy journey to J’s house was the beginning of a long journey of disentangling myself from the clutches of a sexist, violent, oppressive status quo.

Leaving home and forging out an independent life was utterly terrifying. For years I was estranged from my family. I went from being wrapped in cotton wool and controlled physically and psychologically, to being left completely alone. Once I made the decision to stay with J I was no longer part of the family, I could do what I wanted. On a subconscious level I was devastated. But I focused on my freedom; and it felt awesome. Leaving behind a culture that enforced gender segregation, and that was (in my mind) obsessed with female sexuality, and the female body was incredibly liberating.

But it wasn’t plain sailing from then on. For the first time in ages I could wear what I liked, and forge friendships with people I had a connection with, regardless of their gender or religious background. But I’d been taught for years that my body was my downfall, that it needed to be covered for everyone’s sake, that I should be ashamed of my physicality. It’s hard to shake off that kind of thinking. So I wore what I wanted and on the face of things I was probably fairly confident, but not too far beneath the surface I was disgusted with myself. I felt hideous, ashamed and painfully self-conscious. I compensated for my lack of confidence in the usual way – I plastered on the make up, wore ridiculous outfits, drank far too much. It was all a facade, and of course it attracted the wrong sort of attention. Cue my second, polar opposite, experience of sexism.

The Twitter feed for @Everydaysexism makes for uncomfortable reading. Not just because the experiences discussed are so appalling, but because so many of them are familiar. I’ve lost count of the number of times men have beeped their horns and yelled sexual comments at me from their cars, the most recent was when I was heavily pregnant and pushing E in his pushchair. I’ve been groped and spoken to like I was a piece of meat, so many times.

Before I left home I was taught that to reject Islam meant embracing a culture of sexism and female degradation. But the truth is that women are manipulated to suit sexist agendas in all cultures. When I tell people about that first chunk of my life – living at the mercy of fundamentalist religion – they find it hard to understand how anyone could be so dominated by sexism in contemporary British society. But sexism transcends religious and cultural boundaries. The sexism I’ve experienced since leaving home is normalised and brushed off as lad culture. The sexual comments and groping that so many women experience are written off as a harmless rite of passage for young men. I felt powerless to complain about these things when they happened, partly because of this culture of acceptance amongst the younger generation, and partly because I was dangerously naive. When I left home I trusted too easily, I took people at face value, and at a subconscious level I feared my step fathers words were true – that by leaving my home and Islam I was embracing a culture that degraded women.

I was a nightmare when J met me. My nativity meant I hit the self-destruct button several times, and of course he was left to pick up the pieces, I had no one else. He should have left, I’m pretty sure I would have done if I’d been in his shoes. But he saw what our relationship could become. I’m eternally grateful for his foresight. I gush about having met J, but he really has changed my life on so many levels its hard to comprehend. I fell out of one overtly sexist environment straight into another and he helped me navigate my way out of both.

These past couple of weeks have given me a lot of food for thought with regards to my boys and how we’re raising them. When I hear stories about abuse and sexism, whether its overt or insidious, and when I think back to some of the experiences I’ve had, I feel the immense responsibility J and I have as parents. I want my boys to become emotionally strong men. I want them to understand that the intellectual capacity of mankind has made it so that violence is never the answer. I want them to have a respect for women that transcends chivalry; a respect built on the fundamental truth that men and women are equal.

Discussion is essential in resisting sexism, violence and abuse, even so I was nervous about writing this piece. I realise I’m limited by my personal experiences, and I hope I haven’t offended anyone affected by these issues. While my thoughts may not ring true for all, I think they deserve a platform. Vocalising a resistance to sexism, violence and abuse means challenging the ways in which they’re normalised. If we continue to talk about our experiences we push the dialogue into mainstream consciousness, and we break down the barriers that allow these behaviours to go unchecked.

Reimagining my Reality: Writing my way to freedom after institutionalised religion. This blog is an extension of my reimagined reality, a reality that transcends the religious and cultural sexism of my past. (@reimaginingme)

Pregnant and Sentenced to Death at 27- The Harsh Reality For Sudanese Women by ‏@amymarieaustin

 

(Cross-posted with permission from The Feminist Writer)

Meriam-Ibrahim_2918728b

Shackled and chained by her ankles to a wall in squalid, over crowded jail cell in Sudan, Dr Meriam Ibrahim faces execution unless she renounces her religion. Kept alive only because she is eight months pregnant, the 27 year old has been found guilty of apostasy, under Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Law, concerning conversion from Islam (assumed to be the ‘default’ religion of Sudan) to another religion, and of adultery under Article 146 of the same law. The Sudanese courts have sentenced her to death by stoning. Ibrahim is charged on the grounds that her marriage to a Christian man from South Sudan is considered invalid under Shari’a Law, for which the penalty is flogging; she is also charged with abandonment of religion, for which the penalty is death. Her first born child, 20 month old Martin, shares Meriam’s jail cell.

Marriage between a Muslim and non Muslim is not common practice in Sudan, and whilst a Muslim man may marry outside his religion (although only permissible with an individual who practices a religion of the “Book”- Judaism, Christianity or Islam), Muslim women are prohibited from doing so, unless he converts to Islam. The Father, according to Sudanese Law, confers religion to their children, meaning that by law, any child that a married couple have will automatically be assumed Muslim. The European Union has demanded that Sudanese authorities free Ibrahim; EU representatives in Khartoum have called on Sudan’s government to respect the freedom of religion as a universal, and respected human right that warrants protection regardless of location. In a press release issued on the 13th May, the EU underlined that “in the context of the UN and African Union Conventions, Sudan had an international obligation to defend and promote the freedom of religion”.

I am particularly surprised that more is not being done to raise awareness of the issues that face the women of Sudan; until stumbling across a tiny article (in ‘Look Magazine’ of all places- who, on another note, I have recently noticed advertising using ‘plus sized’ models, and utilising average sized women, although they still have a long way to go!), I was completely unaware of Dr Meriam’s struggles. Whilst I seem to be labelling this as a ‘feminist issue’, which it surely is, if you take into account that Sudan is one of very few countries that are not a signatory on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and acknowledge the harsh reality that Sudanese Women are stoned to death, sentenced to ‘adultery’, following brutal attacks, and gang rape, it is clearly a humanitarian issue. Sudan is one of the most prolific executioners in the world, and since 2012, more than 19 people are thought to have been killed through the death penalty. In February, an 18 year woman, was sentenced to death for adultery at nine months pregnant following a gang rape; In June 2012, a 20 year old female was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery; and in 2010, Lubna Hessein, a Sudanese UN official, was flogged for wearing trousers. Meriam Ibrahim’s case, heartbreakingly, is not the first, and will most certainly not be the last, brutal reminder that we still have a long way to go in the fight for international human rights, and widespread equality for women. Fortunately, (although I can hardly suggest this as a positive) Meriam is still alive, and we can still fight for her freedom.  Sign her petition, and pray that whilst she is suffering traumatically, we can free her from the shackles that sentence her to death.



Sign the petition here.

The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin 

 

Power and Responsibility by Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist

(cross-posted from Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist)

originally published 6.04.14

Several years ago, a local arts centre ran an ad for the position of General Manager.  It caught my eye – for a second, I must’ve thought of applying.  But then my conscious self must’ve recognized it as being out of my league and I read on.

But then I thought, wait a minute!  I’m 37 years old, I’m a multidisciplinary artist who has published books, produced and marketed cassettes, and run music and dance studios, I’ve been Chief Negotiator for a union, I’m intelligent, I’m efficient – surely I’m capable!  Even though I’ve had no experience specifically as a General Manager, surely I have the skills “to be a team leader, to balance the arts and business, to be sensitive to multiple art forms, to be a host at ease with the community and the industry….”

So why then was I reluctant to apply?  Well, I thought, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of responsibility (the ad said the centre was “a $1 million venue”) – and that daunted me.

But – and this is the point I want to examine – a man with half my background, and probably ten years less experience, wouldn’t think twice about applying.  Why is that?

Perhaps it’s that women see responsibility where men see power.  Women see burdens where men see benefits.  Women see work where men see privilege.

Hm.  And why is that?  One, women haven’t had a lot of power – so they’re not used to looking for it, seeing it, using it.  Two, women have had a lot of responsibility – so that’s what they’re used to noticing.

Wait a minute – men haven’t had a lot of responsibility?  But they run the government, big business –   Yeah.  Ironic, isn’t it.

What I mean is, consider this.  As girls, we got jobs as babysitters: that’s a lot of responsibility – what if the house catches fire, what if the baby starts choking?  On the other hand, as boys, men got jobs as ‘paper boys’: they were responsible for getting a bunch of paper onto someone’s porch.

The trend continued in adolescence: the women became camp counsellors and recreation leaders, while the men worked on maintenance crews; the women were entrusted with the physical, social, emotional, and artistic development of children, while the men were entrusted with shrubbery.

Then, or later, in matters of sex, it’s the woman who has the responsibility – for deciding yes or no and for contraception.  Men have the power – to rape.

It goes on.  Which parent is primarily responsible for the child?  The woman.  Sure, the man is responsible too, but his responsibility is usually limited to financial matters (and even then, more to getting the money than to managing it).  It’s the woman who is primarily responsible for emotional matters – for providing attention, affection, love; and for physical matters – for seeing that the child doesn’t get hit by a car, for seeing that it doesn’t put its finger in a socket; and for intellectual matters – for seeing that the homework gets done, for planning and making trips to the library.  The men’s responsibility can be fulfilled in 8 hours each day; the women are responsible 24 hours each day.  And yet, should he decide to make his car payment instead of his child support payment, he affects, in a big way, the quality of life for at least two others besides himself.  That’s power.

So it’s no wonder we see responsibility where men see power.

And it’s no wonder we don’t apply for the positions higher up.

 

Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist: a radical feminist blog mostly about sexism

*Petition* House of Commons: Stop Spinning Stats on the DWP

PETITION

(Cross-posted from Jayne Linney)

Yesterday Debbie Sayers and I decided it was time to follow up on our successful petition of last year. We like thousands of others on twitter & Facebook are Sick of the ongoing spinning of statistics but, and perhaps more importantly, the Work & Pensions Select’s 3rd Report  made three vitally important recommendations regarding this:

Use of DWP statistics

19.  DWP releases a great deal of statistical information about benefits. We have commented before that it needs to exercise care in the language used in accompanying press releases and ministerial comments in the media. 2013 saw heightened and quite widespread concern—including from the UK Statistics Authority and organisations representing disabled people—about the DWP commentary accompanying releases of benefits statistics. (Paragraph 141)

20.  The Government is doing a great deal to promote a positive image of disabled people, including in the principles behind its Disability Strategy and the Disability Confident campaign to help disabled people into employment. However, this positive action risks being undermined if the language used in DWP press releases and ministerial media comments accompanying releases of benefit statistics adopts a tone which feeds into negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits, including disabled people. (Paragraph 142)

21.  We agree with our colleagues on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) that Government statistics should be presented in a way that is fair, accurate and “unspun” and that this is especially the case when they are being used to justify a particular policy or a particular allocation of resources. We reiterate our view that DWP should avoid feeding into negative public views about people who receive benefits, and that statistics should be used objectively to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views and preconceptions. We recommend that, in response to this Report, DWP sets out the specific steps it has taken in response to the comments from PASC, the UK Statistics Authority, and this Committee, to ensure that statistics are released in a way which is accurate, and fair to benefit claimants. (Paragraph 143)

This Report was published on March 18, almost two month ago and as yet the Government has not responded, and THIS is the reason we’re doing this now; It allows us enough time over the summer recess to collect signatures and write the accompanying report.

We believe it is imperative this Government, even in its closing terms, acknowledges the fact we have spent 4 years being abused by the press and media on the back of these false statistics, and their Ministers, namely IDS, with his juniors McVeyPenning, and before them Grayling Miller, have been responsible.

It is these false statistics that have informed the very Policies resulting in the Japan Times reporting London tops world’s superrich cities; Britons’ use of food banks up 163%,Yes Japan; the countless false assessments of thousands of sick/disabled people, including the hundreds who have died waiting for their benefits, and for the Cuts and numerous other atrocities  made under Osborne’s False Austerity agenda!

So, we’re Fighting Back in the only way open to us – our second petition is to The House of Commons to – Stop Ministers Spinning Statistics & Accept the Recommendations of Select Committees STOP Ministers Spinning DWP Statistics

For Justice for all of us suffering as a result of the vast number of immoral and unjustified Policies PLEASE SHARE this blog and most importantly SIGN http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/house-of-commons-stop-ministers-spinning-statistics-accept-the-recommendations-of-select-committees-stop-ministers-spinning-dwp-statistics

 

Together WE CAN OVERCOME – IN UNITY XXXX

Tweet #ImpeachDWP

Maya Angelou: Reflections

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For Maya: Dance Like I Got Diamonds by Eris Z.V at For Harriet

I was no more than twelve years old when I was asked to read Maya’s “Still I Rise” at a Black History program for my church. I was working hard to memorize the lines and as I was practicing, my mother told me that I wasn’t allowed to say one of the lines:

 “Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?”

I knew why saying sexy at church probably wasn’t the right thing to do. But what was the hold up about the diamonds? There was nothing wrong with those right? Diamonds weren’t unholy. I looked at my thighs often after that. My brown legs that grew bigger and thicker and still the thought of bedazzled thighs wasn’t something absurd for a 90s kid. Who didn’t have jeans with rhinestones on them?

More here.

Maya Angelou at Gradient Lair

Maya Angelou

More here.

“A Rainbow In Somebody’s Cloud”: A Tribute for Dr. Maya Angelou at Crunk Feminist Collective

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.  It is an unnecessary insult.”   -Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

If you were ever blessed to be in the same room with her, you knew she was magic.  And when she spoke the room stood still, held breath, knees touching knees, eyes begging for silence to keep from missing even a whisper of her words, beckoning attitude, calm, wisdom and brilliance all at once. Her words were generous gifts she shared abundantly, painting pictures with poems on the tip of her tongue.  She was like a grandmother cipher, a master teacher, a wonder.  She was a warrior and a survivor, an overcomer and a leader.  Her politics would not allow her to be “put in her place.”  Instead she made space where none existed and started telling blackgirl stories when they weren’t yet in style.  Her righteous resistance and loving demeanor, recorded in six autobiographies, made you want to know her.  She felt like a family member, a friend, a twin.  In her I saw all the beauty of black womanhood I was attempting to capture and I knew if I could just make it to the room (where she was), I would be forever changed.  I was.  I felt her presence and I will undoubtedly feel her absence. ….

 

More here

 

MAYA ANGELOU AND CHINUA ACHEBE: WARFARE THROUGH WRITING by Samira Sawlani

Upon news of Maya Angelou’s death my first thought was ‘there are not enough words to do justice to her achievements, her legacy and her influence upon both the literary scene and humanity as a whole.’

The mounting accolades clearly indicate that her ability to express through prose and poetry emotions, reality and a personal and collective history touched many people. Much of the content in the work of this ‘Phenomenal woman’ came from her bitter real life experiences. She grew up during segregation, aged 7 she was raped and at 17 years old she became a single mother. …

More here.

Please add any others you have read in the comments!

Elliot Rodger: not all men hate women – but if one does, that’s enough by @jessiecath

(cross-posted with permission from Writing all Wrongs)

When I first started calling myself a feminist, I was tentative about it. Apologetic even. I wasn’t always sure how important it was – I mean, we’ve got the vote right? And Maggie Thatcher happened and everything? And aren’t feminists all hairy and angry (god, how terrible)?

But I read books and I watched films and I started to realise how the objectification of women had become so normalised we’d all stopped noticing. Things started to bother me, like why did I ask my mum if I could buy a thong when I was in year 6? Why when I was a 14-year-old virgin did girls at school who wanted to hurt me call me a slut? And why was I more likely to see a woman on TV giving a bloke a tit wank than I was to see her chairing a debate? Phrases became important: the beauty myth, the Bechdel test, everyday sexism.

But a while ago, that changed for me. It was no longer just about women being treated like sex objects in adverts or music videos, or that page 3 still exists, or that women are often meaningless plot devices. I began to understand that ritual misogyny is a pervasive, subtle and poisonous part of everyday life. Of course, the latter is only possible because of the unwavering persistence of the former – the continued portrayal of women as second-class citizens are symptoms. But I can no longer pretend that we don’t live in a society that is awash with the hatred of women.

We are repeatedly told that misogyny is just a case of mildly amusing anachronisms. The chief executive of the FA sent some sexist emails? Oopsy, wish the public hadn’t seen that – but he’s just being bawdy! Oh, another famous man off the telly has been arrested for sexually abusing women – but the culture was just totally different back then, you understand. Rape jokes? Jeez lighten up guys!

And then a 22-year-old man goes on a killing spree which he himself describes as “my war against women for rejecting me and depriving me of sex and love” – and it’s not a misogynistic attack. People are falling over themselves to say that Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and claimed “it was women’s fault for refusing to have sex with me”, did not hate women.

He did it because he was mentally ill, or because of the gun laws, or because his dad worked on the Hunger Games therefore = violence obvs. In fact we should totes just blame Jennifer Lawrence. Some have said Rodger is not a misogynist because he killed men too. But he didn’t kill those men because they refused to give him the sex that he felt unequivocally entitled to.

So I’ll just tell you right here and right now, Elliot Rodger was a misogynist killer. As far as I’m concerned, that is not up for debate: he murdered women for not giving him the sex he felt he was owed. He murdered men because they were getting the sex he felt entitled to.

Misogynist killings aren’t rare one-off events either: let’s not forget Jill MeagherJoanna Yeatesthe five women killed in Ipswich, or the 2012 Delhi gang-rape. Woman-hatred like this is not interesting or complex – it’s simply because some men believe that women don’t have the right to have control over their own bodies.

We can argue that misogynist murders take place until we are blue in the face, but we can’t escape this tuneless dull chorus: “but not all men are like that”.

Of course not all men are like that, but even if one is, it’s a massive fucking problem. All the time that men continue to use their energy to distance themselves from misogyny, rather than address the fact that it not only occurs but kills, they are simply perpetuating its existence.

I’m sick of trying to convince people that misogyny exists. I’m sick of trying to explain to people that rape jokes legitimise sexual assault. I’m sick of trying to tell people that a sensationalist video of a woman beating a man in public is distorting the debate, because I have never seen a woman be violent to a man in public but I’ve seen it the other way round more than enough times. I’m also bored stiff of the fact that even though I know ‘asking for it’ is the vile rhetoric of victim blamers, I still feel like it’s my fault if I walk home late at night and get attacked. And I’m also pretty bored of the fact that when I’ve called out commonplace wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing misogyny, I’ve been told ‘that can’t be right – he’s such a nice guy’.

What the ‘not all men’ argument does – whilst distracting from a proper debate about structual misogyny – is that it ignores the fact that actually, yes, all men are taught to feel entitled to sex and attention from women. And yes, yes, I know that when you were in your mother’s womb you had no concept of the patriarchy, but you were born into it just like we all were, and either you face up to that, or you try and pretend that you’ve lived your life in a vacuum and that you haven’t been trained all the way from Disney movies to porn films to see us as something you are owed. Fool yourself, but you won’t fool me.

Jessie Thompson a.k.a girl ignited tricks people into listening to her opinions at length by disguising them as attempts at humour.

She has also written for The Independent, The Telegraph, The Quietus, Red Pepper, Ideastap, Vagenda, Feminist Times, Huffington Post, A Younger Theatre and Libertine. Whilst at university, she worked as Arts Editor and Arts Editor-in-Chief of Sussex’s student newspaper, The Badger, which she found dehumanising because at house parties people only spoke to her so that they could find out how they could write for The Badger.

 

The Day Of Retribution. On Elliot Rodger, the Butcher of Santa Barbara. by @Echidne

(cross-posted with permission from ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES)

This post is about the slaughter carried out by Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara.  It is about violence, the hatred of women and the general hatred of humans.  Consider carefully whether you wish to read it.

1.  The Recent Events 

Elliot Rodger, 22,  spent last Saturday killing people in Santa Barbara, California.  He first brutally stabbed to death three men in his apartment:  Cheng Yuan Hong, 20, George Chen, 19 and Weihan Wang, 20, then got into his BMW with  his three semi-automatic legally acquired guns and headed to that UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) sorority  he had rated as having the largest number of pretty tall blondes, the kind of womanflesh he wanted to have on his plate but was denied because the damn dinners had rights to refuse him!

He planned to kill all women inside the sorority, but was stopped by the fact that nobody opened the door however hard he banged on it.  Poor Elliot!  Things always worked out against him.  No wonder he was filled with such rage, as witnessed byhis manifesto for the butchering or “the day of retribution.”

Instead, he shot at the three young women standing outside the sorority building, killing Katherine Breann Cooper, 22, and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, 19.  The third victim is still alive and I hope that she will recover.

What Rodger tells us in his manifesto is that this is the plan he had for killing people because he was owed that retribution for all the sex he deserved but wasn’t getting while other men were getting it:

First horribly carve up men in his apartment, then kill all the sorority residents, then just  drive around the place shooting and hitting people with his car.  With the exception of failing to wipe out the sorority, his plans were going pretty well.

He next killed Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, at a local delicatessen.  He was probably chosen randomly, as “one of the animals,”  Rodger’s view of other humans.

No more immediate deaths on his rampage through the streets, though his car drove into two bicyclists (and two other individuals) and his bullets hit pedestrians walking by.  In all, six victims were killed,  seven other individuals were hurt on this “day of retribution.”  Two of the hurt remain in serious condition.  I hope all of them will be made as whole as possible.  I hope those who loved the dead (including those who loved Rodger) get some peace.

The day ended with Rodger’s suicide.

2.  What Happened Before?
In reverse time order:
Just a day before the slaughter, Rodger posted a YouTube video about his plans.  The video is now removed but I watched it, and wehuntedthemammoth.com has a transcript of it.   It is a monologue promising us the slaughter that followed.  Rodgerplaces the blame for his loneliness and suffering firmly on the shoulders of women, especially those of tall, white blond-haired women:

College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex, and fun, and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness.
It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me.
I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.
It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentlemen.
I will punish all of you for it. (laughs)
On the day of retribution I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB… and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see inside there.

Rodger’s parents tried to desperately find him when they saw the video.

In April, a family member asked the police to make a welfare check on Elliot Rodger.  He passed the check with flying colors.  The interviewer(s) found him perfectly polite, kind and wonderful human. 

Later another policeman described the results of the slaughter as “the work of a madman.”

At the time of the welfare check, Rodger was relieved that the police didn’t search his room where he had at least two semi-automatic guns in readiness.

Rodger clearly suffered from mental problems.  He had been receiving treatment, based on his manifesto, for several years.  What the treatment consisted of is unclear, but in this case the mental health system cannot be said to have  completely failed a sick person. Indeed, I’m not sure there is any effective current treatment for what Rodger’s manifesto reveals, except for involuntary confinement which could have protected his victims but would not have done much for him.  As far as I gather from the manifesto, Rodger received help in learning social skills, perhaps an attempt to relieve the loneliness he suffered.

His autobiographic manifesto suggests that he was bullied at school.

3. Reactions
These are of the expected type and often reflect the writer’sposition on the political map.  That Rodger had access to semi-automatic weapons made him a very efficient killing machine.  That he suffered from clear mental problems was also pointed out.  That he was a misogynist of rather extreme nature is given at least a nod in most places (though at least one writer disagrees on that as the cause for the massacre).  Whether he indeed was “a madman,” in the sense of an isolated, impossible-to-prevent-but-horrific event or whether something could have been done to prevent the massacre also seems to depend on one’s general slant about such things.
Comparisons to the 2009 killings by George Sodini, also  described as a loner who felt women need to be punished for spurning his advances might have been useful.  Both cases are about men who felt that they were entitled to have sex, that those who refused to hand it over on demand deserved punishment, and that punishment was not incommensurate if it meant death.  Both also felt great pain and perhaps self-pity because they were not receiving their fair number of voluntary f**ks.
In the primeval slime areas of the Internet, some comments argued that the killings were the fault of women who refused to give some pussy, even though by doing that they could have prevented murders.  From the comments attached to the now-removed YouTube video (the cleanest one of those which expressed the view):

He’s not a bad looking guy. Why wouldn’t chicks go out with him? If they had been nicer to him, this wouldn’t have happened. 

And the saddest reaction to the story is this one:

UCSB senior Kyley Scarlet, who lives next door and has served as president of her own sorority, said all three who were shot are sorority members, but neither of Alpha Phi nor her own.
Scarlet said she was very disturbed by the video describing his anger at sorority girls.
“It’s hard thinking my actions, being part of a sorority, led him to do this,” she said. “When I saw that video I was shaking and crying.”

4.  The Role of the PUAHate Site
Some have pointed out that Elliot Rodger participated at one Manosphere site, PUAHate.com (now inactive), where he wrote about his views on women to a membership which failed to disagree with him.  Indeed, he received support for those views, and nobody made a negative response to these comments he made there in April:

It must be accepted, but not embraced. Human society should never be allowed to degenerate to such brutality. The problem is women, they are primitive in nature and incapable thinking rationally. If they are allowed to choose who to breed with, humanity will never advance. Look at civilizations over 100 years ago. In a way they were much more civilized, simply because women were restricted and controlled. It was a much better world to live in.

And

Eventually these frustrated men won’t be able to take it anymore and will explode in rage and fury, and the female population will suffer the consequences, as they rightfully deserve. Once women are brought to their knees, things can be reformed. The sooner this happens, the better.

On the other hand, his participation at a bodybuilding forum did get some pushback.

The crucial question to answer here is a simple one:  Did Rodger’s participation at the PUAHate site affect his readiness to slaughter?  Did the support he received for his warped ideas strengthen them?

One might argue that his manifesto reveals the same strand of misogyny from the beginning to the end, whereas his visits to the wonderful world of extreme woman-hating sites were quite recent.  But when did he write his manifesto?  My impression is that he completed it right before the planned May 24, 2014 slaughter, which would have allowed his new “learning” about “alpha males,” “beta males” and “incels” (involuntarily celibate people but only men as women’s involuntary celibacy is a non-thing in that world) to have colored his views about his misfortunes and the causes of his suffering.*

Note, also, the language he uses in the YouTube threat:

All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them while they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes.
I will take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.
You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true alpha male. (laughs)

Bolds are mine.

The second question I cannot help having concerns the fact that Rodger is by no means the only person on the misogyny sites who expresses these kinds of opinions.  Are we to simply assume that all the other enraged (enraged!) men who blame everything bad that ever happened to them on women are simply using their freedom of expression without any further consequences coming out of it?  Chatting to each other about the perfidy of women, the necessity to restrain and cage them, just sharing their feelings about women in a supportive environment?   And this would never make anyone do what George Sodini and Elliot Rodger did?

What is the responsibility of such sites?  Why are extremely hostile comments not moderated?

Rodger wrote this about the PUAHate site in his manifesto:

The Spring of 2013 was also the time when I came across the website PUAHate.com.  It is a forum full of men who are starved for sex, just like me.    Many of them have their own theories of what women are attracted to, and many of them share my hatred of women, though unlike me they would be too cowardly to act on it,.
Reading the posts on that website only confirmed many of the theories I had about how wicked and degenerate women really are.  ….
The website PUAHate is very depressing.  It shows just how bleak and cruel the world is due of the evilness of women.

So there’s the sharing of misogyny, at least, something in which he didn’t have to feel all alone.

5.  The Manifesto
I read through the 140-page manifesto, trying to understand Elliot Rodger’s mind.
As the shortest possible summary:
He comes across as a severely troubled individual, narcissistic, megalomaniac, expecting to be adored and adulated and falling into rage when this does not happen.  The pattern is evident even in his descriptions of a happy childhood.  The happiness depended on him getting what he wanted, and what he wanted was to be the center of attention, a member of the “cool group,” never to be denied anything he desired.  He wanted to be rich, to live in luxury, to be looked up to, to have the hottest blonde by his side as he walked towards the sunset on the beach.These desires in a teenager are not unusual, perhaps.  But what certainly IS unusual are his reactions when the ideal world failed to materialize. Those were extreme rage and the assigning of blame to others, including vast groups of individuals in terms of “all women.”  He also expressed racist anger at men who were not white for having white and pretty girlfriends, because he ranked himself above them.

He bases his sufferings on comparisons to the richest, most handsome, most privileged of all people, and his failure to find himself among that group made him rage.   That  his life was financially comfortable, that he seemed to have a mother who did everything for him (“At mother’s house,  all of my needs were met with excellent precision, whereas at father’s house…”) and an acceptable albeit distant father  didn’t matter at all.
His suffering is real, his life probably was subjectively pure torture, his reactions out-of-proportion to what happened to him.  What would have been an ordinary (or better) life to many was full of painful failures to him, because he interpreted almosteverything except extreme adoration as rejection.
Because of the misogyny he so plentifully expressed, I read the manifesto looking for examples where he would have been rejected by women.  Oddly enough, there are none, unless we count a girl who pushed and yelled at him in childhood, because he first bumped into her.  Other examples are of the type where a woman he smiled at didn’t smile at him, where a woman he said “hi” to didn’t respond.  If female rejection was what he mostly blamed for his suffering, where is that rejection in his manifesto?  Or did he expect women to flock to him, without any necessity to make an effort to meet them or talk to them?
I cannot say for certain.  But the impression I got is that he never approached women at all, that he expected women to approach him, and when they did not, he felt enormous pains of rejection.
If anything, the actual named women in his life were all overly kind to him, with the possible exception of his stepmother who tried to set limits to his behavior and assigned him chores such as cleaning which he felt were beneath him and belonged to the hired help.
I am not a psychiatrist and cannot give psychological diagnoses on the basis of reading something of this sort. I cannot tell what the role of the bullying he faced at school might have been, and I cannot tell if anything could have been done to relieve his pain and suffering.  But the role of entitlement, the role of narcissism and the role of god-like thinking in the manifesto makes me fear that ordinary therapy would not have worked.  I may be wrong, and would be glad to be found wrong.  Still, I feel for his parents and for his family who clearly tried to help him over a period of many years.
The manifesto concludes with his plans to kill lots of people, especially women and men who have sex with women.  He writes:

Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with.  That decision should be made for them by rational men of intelligence.,  If women continue to have rights, they will only hinder the advancement of the human race by breeding with degenerate men…

There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female.

Women are like a plague.  They don’t deserve to have any rights.  Their wickedness must be contained in order to prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy.  Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals and they need to be treated as such.

He also suggests that most women should be put into concentration camps, to be starved to death, while he watches.  Some would be saved for breeding in laboratories where they would be inseminated with male sperm and where women’s animal natures would be bred out of them.

6.  Conclusions
This has been a difficult post to write, a difficult post to write in the correct tone, a difficult post even to think about.  And I have failed in finding the correct tone, failed in the distance I should have had, perhaps failed on the side of cold and hard anger myself.  The victims of the massacre deserve my focus, not its perpetrator, and even though I justify my writing about the perpetrator as a search for greater understanding I’m not sure that I achieved that.
Yes, Rodger was a troubled individual with severe problems.  Yes, he managed to slip through the police net, yes, he was able to buy three semi-automatic guns, apparently with no questions asked.
Perhaps all that is the framework, the flow-chart of what happened.  Still, the contents of his hatred were largely about women, not as individual women but as some thing he deserved to have, as some thing which deserved punishment when it refused to be available on command.  Yet reading his manifesto suggests to me that that no woman had actually rejected him in some particularly painful manner.  And of course the people he killed had nothing to do with Rodger’s life or with his problems. They were the sacrifice his anger deserved, in that last god-like state.
But Rodger learned his thinking about women (and about other races and the help in his home) somewhere.  It can be learned in many places, including some places on the Internet where the concept that women, as a class,  owe men sex is not unknown.  It is that belief which probably drives some men to the PUA and similar sites where the hurt they feel from real or imaginary rejection by individual women creates a toxic mix with the rage they feel at women who have not delivered the sex those men believe they are entitled to.
Rejection is something most human beings will experience.  It hurts.  It is part of life.  You will, however, get over the hurt.  That simple fact should be taught more widely, together with healthy coping mechanisms which can be used when the inevitable rejection happens, whether it is by a love interest, by a job or by a college.
Nobody is entitled to have sex on demand, just for existing.  That second simple fact should also be taught more widely, together with the interpersonal skills which help someone look at a possible love or sex object as a human being.  Flipping the mirror like that, astonishingly, raises one’s chances of getting laid, too, because people want to be loved for themselves, not as the menu selection for the night.
Certain Manosphere sites teach the exact opposite of these two simple facts, and that is where their potential harm lies.  What the role of the PUAHate.com site might have been in the butchery of Elliot Rodger is something we will never know.  But that site certainly didn’t change his mind or his misogyny, and it’s not unlikely that similar sites can turn more vulnerable minds onto the dark paths.
———–
*The theories of the world these sites propose are as follows:
In the past all (heterosexual) men had lots of sex because women needed to find a male provider, so they sold sex in exchange for bed and board.  Now, because of feminism, women no longer need to do this.  Therefore, they all flock (based on an evolutionary pseudotheory, combined with some stuff about alpha wolves in artificially created wolf-packs (the actual wolf packs in the wild are led by grandpa and grandma wolves)) to a small group of alpha males, men who are at the top of the society, but who are also rude, arrogant bastards who treat women like the scum women are.  The rest of the men are beta males, those who are always also-rans, those who now can’t get any sex at all, because the alphas are getting it all.  Indeed, beta males will never pass their genes on, which means the ultimately failure in the evolutionary race!
The solutions to this “dilemma of extreme harems of just a few alphas” vary, but usually the idea is to kill feminism.  If women had to sell sex for bread and board, then beta males would get more of it.  In general, this part of manosphere doesn’t believe in any women’s rights.The other ideas come from Pickup Artists (PUAs) who teach betas how to come across as alphas, how to hunt for pussy in the best possible manner.  The PUAHate site dislikes the PUAs because of their pyramid schemes and because the hunting instructions don’t  work.  But the PUAHate site also hates women for not spreading their legs enough or at least not to the correct men.

Now I wrote all that with sarcasm, but these are the actual beliefs of those sites.  That we don’t see a few “alphas” with giant harems matters not a whit, that the way these theories treat women (as prey, dinners, something that is a rack for vaginas) doesn’t matter,  that all those sites mean “alpha females” (the most gorgeous women only)  when they talk about “women” is irrelevant.  The idea is that all men are entitled to the small number of truly beautiful and desirable women.
Because the theory doesn’t regard women as individuals, it assumes that all women (whatever their looks, age and other characteristics) can get any amount of sex they wish to obtain, that the whole female gender must be somehow forced to give sex to all men who wish to have it.  Because the women “have” all the sex that these heterosexual men feel entitled to.

Everyday Violence: It’s Not Just Mass Shootings Women Fear by @VABVOX

Everyday Violence: It’s Not Just Mass Shootings Women Fear

by Victoria A. Brownworth

copyright c 2014 Victoria A. Brownworth

Women live in fear. It might not be obvious, palpable, heart-pounding, horror-movie-style fear, but it’s fear, nevertheless. We know what can happen to us. We know one in five of us will be a victim of rape. One in four of us was already a victim of child sex abuse by the time we turned 18. We know that one in three of us in the U.S. will be a victim of domestic violence, one in four in the U.K. We know that murder is the second-leading cause of death for women between the ages of 17 and 35 and that it is the leading cause of death among pregnant women.

We know that the night is not our friend. We are told that what we wear and where we go and how much we drink when we get there all makes us vulnerable to assault. We know that we will, most likely, be blamed for any violence that is perpetrated against us because we see how the media minimizes violence against women and maximizes the concept of the violent assaults on women as “isolated incidents.”

Elliot Rodger is the most recent example of that “isolated incident” meme, but he is also a clear example of exactly why women live in fear: because we never know who is the abuser, rapist or killer among us because so many men are abusive, so many are rapists and men who kill women almost always were people who said they loved them.

The mass-killing by Elliot Rodger in Isla Vista outside Santa Barbara, California on May 23 has raised the voices of myriad feminists and other women in a chorus of outrage. More than other killers in recent similar incidents in the U.S., Rodger stands out. Not because of his youth–he was 22 and the last ten mass shooters have been under 25. Not because of the number of weapons and ammunition he had–three semi-automatic pistols plus more than 400 rounds of bullets, according to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department. Not because he was male–the overwhelming majority of mass shooters in the U.S. have been male.

It was his plan. Elliot Rodger wanted to kill women–as many women as possible. He wrote about it, he vlogged about it on his YouTube channel, he talked about it to the few friends he had. The content was so disturbing, Rodger’s parents, British director Peter Rodger and his Malaysian mother, Chin Rodger, called police to report their son, fearful of what he might do. According to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department Rodger’s parents were on their way to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles–a 100 mile drive in the worst traffic in the country–when their son went on his murderous rampage. They’d been sent the text of his manifesto and an email outlining his plan to kill. They were frantic to stop him.

They were, as we know, too late.

This was not their first effort. They had already gone to police to report their fears after seeing his videos. Police did a “welfare check” on April 30 at the request of Rodger’s mother, to determine if Rodger was a threat to himself or others.

Police came away from that visit referencing Elliot as “polite, kind and wonderful.”

Elliot Rodger was near-gleeful at that response, writing in his manifesto that he had fooled them all and if they had asked to see his room–well within their purview–it would have been all over. Rodger wrote: “The police interrogated me outside for a few minutes, asking me if I hadsuicidal thoughts. I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding, and they finally left. If they had demanded to search my room… That would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over. When they left, the biggest wave of relief swept over me.”

Did the police see the videos? Did Rodger’s mother explain the nature of her fear? (Rodger also writes about his desire to murder his family members.) Or did no one care especially about this son of a director who wasn’t Muslim, wasn’t black, wasn’t poor and presented like the “beautiful Eurasian” he described himself as in his videos?

Was Rodger not taken in for a temporary involuntary psychiatric hold because he was “polite” or because his proposed victims were “just” women?

Rodger’s videos are unnervingly violent, but it’s the text of his 141-page manifesto that is bone-chilling.

Rodger wanted to put women in concentration camps to be starved, tortured, flayed alive. He wanted to “punish all women.” He wanted to “kill as many blonde girls as I can” because he loved blonde “girls” and they didn’t love him back. (He did kill two young blonde women–Veronika Weiss, 19 and Katie Cooper, 22–who were standing outside the sorority he tried to enter to slaughter the women there. He shot at several others.)

The standard scenario is being promulgated in the media about him–he was mentally ill (he had been under the care of therapists and was being seen by a social worker hired by his parents at the time he set about the killings). He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. He had been bullied. He never fit in among his peers. He was lonely–his writings and videos are an endless litany of misery inflicted, Rodger insists, by cruel women who chose “ugly guys” over the “beautiful Eurasian” and “perfect gentleman” he proclaimed himself to be.

The Elliot Rodger story unsettles me more than most. I’m used to mass shootings in America. I live in the city with the highest body count of the most populous cities in the U.S. Philadelphia is often referred to as “Killadelphia” because unlike New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago, the four cities larger than ours, this fifth-largest city in the U.S. has not lowered the body count. There are still a dozen shootings here a day, at least one resulting in death. In the past month a dozen children have been shot, several have died.

I’m not inured to gun violence, it just doesn’t surprise me in a country where over 100,000 people are shot each year, more than a third of whom die. Mass shootings–characterized by the FBI as the killing of four or more people at a time by one person–happen about every two weeks here. Yet they still only comprise one percent of the total number of shooting victims.

Those victims concern me, however. How long before we forget the names of Rodger’s victims, if we ever really know them? He killed two women and four men. Two of the 13 other wounded remain in critical condition. The violence he inflicted: six killed–his three roommates stabbed multiple times and three others shot, 13 wounded, himself a suicide–took a total of ten minutes.

America and possibly the world–at least the social media world–will be fascinated by Rodger for a news cycle. A week, likely two, until the next such event. One of his victims or possibly more will appear on the morning TV talk shows to discuss their experience.

And then it will be over. Rodger’s name will be consigned to the rolls of young, male killers and the victims themselves will be forgotten.

But the victims and their families won’t forget. For the victims, as one woman victim of a violent crime tweeted me when I was writing about this, the crime will be replayed again and again.

That victim is right, of course. For victims of violence, the news cycle never ends. That’s certainly been true for countless victims and their families I have interviewed over my years as a reporter.

It was also true for me.

I, too, am a victim of violence. I was raped and almost killed on a bright, sunny September afternoon less than 100 yards from my front door. A man walking down my street offered to help me with a chore. I told him cheerily, thanks but no, and seconds after I turned my back he grabbed me from behind. He dragged me into a neighbor’s yard where he beat, punched, slapped, bit, choked, raped and sodomized me. I was left bloodied and torn, with bruises black as night, the size of dinner plates on both thighs and my back. The mark of his fingers were on my throat and my arms for weeks. As were the marks of his teeth around my nipples.

I couldn’t undress or bathe without seeing his mark upon me for months. In addition, the outline of my body remained in the ivy in my neighbor’s yard for many weeks. I saw it every day when I left my house, like one of those chalk outlines in a TV crime drama.

Like the rampage of Elliot Rodger, it didn’t take long for my rapist to repeatedly threaten to kill me, repeatedly assault me, to change my life forever.

I wasn’t his first victim. As I discovered from the police detective who interviewed me, mine was a serial rapist who had been assaulting women in the middle of the day using exactly the same m.o. as was used on me. Five other women had reported similar rapes. There were five other victims like me, but likely far more, since according to the FBI, only 40% of women report when they are raped.

There were, though, at least five other women who had thought they would die, whose bodies were broken, whose psyches would never be the same again. Who were not only afraid of being out alone at night like all women, but now also had to fear the day–something none of us ever thought to fear.

Yet the police had said nothing, even though the rapist was operating only in my neighborhood, which meant he either lived or worked here.

Most rapists and killers commit their crimes close to home. Half of all mass shootings in the U.S. are actually domestic violence killings–the shooter kills family and self. Elliot Rodger committed his crimes within two miles of where he lived–first in his own apartment, then at the sorority house, then just randomly until it was over.

The mayhem Elliot Rodger wreaked in Isla Vista has turned the town itself into a victim, but most definitely the wounded and the families of those killed.

All their lives are changed forever.

We’re not supposed to say victim anymore. Especially not feminists. We’re supposed to say survivor. Many men and a plethora of anti-feminist handmaidens constantly claim feminists demand to be seen as victims, that victimology rules feminism, that all we do is talk about being victims night and day and night.

I’ve thought about that, of course. Women who have experienced violence can’t help but think about it. How do we situate ourselves in the chronology of our own lives when so often that timeline reads “before incest/abuse/rape” and “after incest/abuse/rape”?

I’m not opposed to the term survivor. That may be the path to healing for some. But I prefer victim because I want it made clear that I am not the same as I was before. What happened to me altered me forever. Just as I can never see my neighbor’s yard without thinking that’s where I almost died, I can never get back the parts of me that rapist took with him.

One of the things that is taken by violence is one’s sense of safety. One’s equilibrium is shattered. PTSD has become a meme on social media, but for actual victims, there are indeed triggers and they may diminish over time, but they never disappear.

Every day for the rest of their lives the parents of the six students Rodger killed will wake up to the memory that their child is dead.

Every day the others Rodger wounded will replay what happened to them, how lucky they are to be alive and wonder, why am I alive when others died and worse, what if it happens again?

The most insidious element of male violence is the sure knowledge that this is no one-off: What happened to you once could very easily happen again. Violence is not like lightning–it strikes in the same place time and again. Twenty percent of all rape victims are raped again. I had been raped years before this recent rape, back when I was a college student.

All those women at the University of California Santa Barbara will remember Elliot Rodger’s crime and who his intended victims were. Praise accounts for Rodger have already sprung up on Twitter and Facebook, protected by free speech, but unsettling women who are already victimized by abuse on social media on a daily basis.

We know about everyday sexism and everyday misogyny, but what we don’t talk about is everyday violence.

Elliot Rodger put a spotlight on what Germaine Greer said more than 40 years ago–that women have no idea how much men hate us. The Internet has made it much more clear.

As we wring our societal hands in the U.S. and beyond over Elliot Rodger and who is to blame for his crimes and who might have done more, we ignore the reality that he is not the only one. Rodger is extreme because of his manifesto, because of his videos, because he killed more than one woman.

But as was reported in the BBC, last month in the U.K., of the eight women killed by their partners/spouses or former partners/spouses, several of those men also murdered other members of the primary victim’s family.

Is that really so different from Elliot Rodger’s crime? Or is it just his weaponry that’s different?

And as we know, it is not one man raping all the girl children and adult women. It’s not one man beating all the girlfriends and wives.

Everyday violence against women is a thing, now. As it always was. We just know more about it. But when we focus on extremes like Elliot Rodger, we forget women’s reality: We’re being raped and killed every day by men who never posted a YouTube video about it and never wrote a manifesto.

What are we going to do about that?

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA, the Keystone Award, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 Society of Professional Journalists Award for Enterprise/Investigative Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine, Curve digital and Lambda Literary Review. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times. She is the author and editor of nearly 30 books including the award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability. Her collection, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for Cultural/Historical Fiction. Her Y/A novel, Cutting will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX

 

Women’s responses to the mass murder at UCSB perpetrated by Elliot Rodger

We’re collating all the responses written by women to Elliott Rogder’s brutal murder of two women and four men in Ilsa Vista on Friday. The response from men and the media to Rodger’s clear hatred of women is state we are over-reacting and being ridiculous. This is gas lighting on a systemic level.

 

Elliot Rodger’s California shooting spree: further proof that misogyny kills by Jessica Valenti

Elliot Rodger And Men Who Hate Women at The Belle Jar

We need to talk about systemic male violence not the “work of a madman” at My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

What Elliot Rodger Said About Women Reveals Why We Need to Stamp Out Misogyny by Elizabeth Plank

Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism by Laurie Penney

Violent and wrong: Elliot Rodger’s crime should not taint my child at Grace Under Pressure

Misogyny Is Poison, And You’re Drinking It at Jess ZimmermanIronic points of light.

The Pick-Up Artist Community’s Predictable, Horrible Response to a Mass Murder by Amanda Hess

Joining the dots: From fairy tales to Elliot Rodger by Glosswitch

Elliot Rodger and illusions of nuance by Glosswitch

THE UNDERACHIEVING GRADUATE ON… THE WEEK’S EVENTS on The UGGO

Femicide, Misogyny and Elliot Rodger at End Online Misogyny

Femicide, Misogyny and Elliot Rodger Part 2 at End Online Misogyny

Please add links to any blogs you have written or read in the comments!

My speech for Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

Louise Pennington

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable.Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

 

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

bell hooks, Beyonce and Defining Feminism

The recent Are You Still a Slave? panel, which is part of bell hooks’s week long residency at The New School has produced a lot of debate following hooks’ use of the term “terrorist” is discussing Beyonce. As ever, there is a lot of discussion about the panel: about what hooks meant; who gets to define feminism; and who gets to use the label feminist.

I have collated a number of articles and blogs which I’ve read on the panel below but do watch the panel as well. Please do leave links to anything I’ve missed in the comments below. I will only be including women’s responses in keeping with the ethos of this network.

Is bell hooks right to call Beyoncé a terrorist? by CLAIRE HYNES

Beyoncé’s control of her own image belies the bell hooks ‘slave’ critique by Roxane Gay

Here’s What Bell Hooks Got Wrong About Beyoncé Being an Anti-Feminist Terrorist by Lauren Davidson

bell hooks Called Beyoncé an Anti-Feminist Terrorist by Jillian Mapes 

Is Beyoncé a Terrorist? Black Feminist Scholars Debate bell hooks by Jamilah King

Feminist Scholar Bell Hooks Calls Beyonce A Terrorist by Lauren R.D. Fox

bell hooks on Beyoncé: She Is a ‘Terrorist’ Because of Her ‘Impact On Young Girls’ by 

bell hooks Calls Beyoncé a Terrorist by 

What bell hooks Really Means When She Calls Beyoncé a ‘Terrorist’ by Hillary Crosley

On bell, Beyonce’, and Bullshit at Crunk Feminist Collective

Feminist bell hooks Calls Beyoncé A “Terrorist” by » By 

On bell hooks and Feminist Blind Spots: Why Theory Will Not Set Us Free by Kimberly Foster

 

 

Learning, Mistakes and Forgiveness by @psycho_claire

This is the sixth post in a 6 part series on feminism and disablism written by The Psychology Supercomputer for A Room of our Own

In this final post of this series (1,2,3,4,5, here) I want to round off the discussion and bring together the narratives to what I feel is an important conclusion. Yes, I have tried throughout this series to demonstrate that mainstream feminism is disablist. That it ignores its own privileges and alienates women who do not fit within the middle-class, white, able-bodied categories. As a working class woman, with chronic illness (bordering on a disability) I find mainstream feminism often doesn’t work for me. It fails to understand the class level oppressions that I face on a daily basis and excludes me through its use of language and privilege denial.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, I hear the voices of other marginalised women saying similar things. Our sisters of colour have been trying to get us to take notice of these issues for some time. And as I begin to interact with more disability activists, I hear the same calls. I hear these calls from other working class women. Mainstream feminism has a real problem with privilege.

So, what does this mean? Do I suggest we turn our backs on mainstream feminism? Am I a further proponent of a splitting of the movement?

NO!

I see these mistakes of mainstream feminism as a learning opportunity – you can’t learn if you don’t make mistakes. Those of us feeling pushed out, need to push back. We need to make ourselves heard in whatever way we can and mainstream feminism needs to listen.

I’m also inclined to be forgiving of other women, of mainstream feminism. I can see cognitive dissonance in their reactions and responses. I can see mistakes due to a focus on individualistic analysis. I see in-group/out-group thinking taking over. And I KNOW that none of this is conscious. Women are not enacting these phenomena wilfully. All of this happens at an unconscious level. So I can step back and say, that this is not any individual woman’s fault. In an exchange with a woman I can see these things and change my approach. I can allow for the influence of these unconscious biases and not get so hurt and angry.

But most of all, I can see ALL women as survivors of male violence. I can see how we are all impacted by trauma. And I can be gentle in my exchanges. I can be forgiving. I can extend a hand of sisterhood and healing, even in the face of anger and rebuttal.

I am in no way perfect. And I fail at this all the time. But I TRY. I try really hard to remember these things. Because, when all is said and done, we are all women first.

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

Interacting with traumatised individuals by @psycho_claire

This is the fifth post in a 6 part series on feminism and disablism written by The Psychology Supercomputer for A Room of our Own

In this fifth post (1,2,3,4 here) in the series prompted by a discussion of the Telegraph’s “Is modern feminism depressing” web chat I want to discuss how the prevalence of survivors within the feminist movement can impact on our communication. I will also discuss the idea of Societal Stockholm syndrome and hopefully, we can begin to see that we all need to be gentle with each other. Trauma impacts us in many ways and an ignorance of its effects is a further example of disablism in mainstream feminism.

I have a feeling that the majority of feminists are survivors; whether that be of DVA or sexual violence. I think women who have been harmed by male violence are drawn to feminism, because it helps us to heal (there’s a whole other post here). What this means is that when we interact with other feminists it is highly likely that we are interacting with women who are dealing with the effects of significant trauma. And this can and does have a massive impact on the way we respond to one another.

I’m going to use myself as an example to highlight what I mean: I’m a survivor of (amongst other things) significant psychological and emotional abuse. Despite many years and a lot of healing since escaping, this still profoundly affects my interactions with other people. I am EXTREMELY sensitive to “mind games” and “emotional blackmail”. If I perceive any hint of them, I shut down. I pull away. I lose all ability to interact rationally. All of the self preservation and survival tactics I learned come into play. I can’t continue to interact with someone in this state. Now, this is all well and good when someone is actually trying to use manipulative tactics on me, but there are times when I’ve perceived this behaviour and I’ve been wrong; specifically in interactions with other trauma survivors with different coping mechanisms and triggers. (I’m no expert on PTSD and so I’m not going to comment on dealing with the consequences of that. But what I will say is that we should all take responsibility for caring for each other).

A concept I am familiar with, and one that speaks to me as a survivor, is that of Stockholm syndrome. I can identify the patterns of behaviour in myself, I can see the effects in my interactions and I can see how we could extend the idea to cover all women. Stockholm syndrome is the name given to the phenomenon of hostages bonding with their captors. It was named thus after a bank robbery in Stockholm where the hostages came to sympathise with the bank robbers. I first came across Stockholm syndrome theory as a Psychology undergrad but it was presented as something which occurred in hostage taking situations and kidnappings; so I didn’t make the connection to my experiences of domestic abuse. At least, not until I began reading “Loving to Survive” by Dee Graham (available at www.radfem.org as a free PDF download).* The initial couple of chapters of this book have given me greater insight into myself and a greater understanding of how things can go so horribly wrong in interactions between survivors. So I’m going to break down some of the main points:

 

In order for Stockholm syndrome to develop four conditions need to be in place:

“1. Percieved threat to survival and the belief that one’s captor is willing to carry out that threat

2. the captive’s perception of some small kindness from the captor within a context of terror

3. isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor

4. perceived inability to escape” 1

There are a couple of important points to note here, firstly the threat to survival doesn’t necessarily refer to physical survival (though it often can) it also refers to the threat to Psychological survival i.e. a threat to one’s sense of self. Secondly, the act of kindness can be simply not abusing the victim at one particular time, or giving the victim a small gift or saying sorry. Finally, the inability to escape is not about a physical inability necessarily; it is about the victim’s perception (not that of an outsider) of the feasibility of escape and the costs of an attempt to escape. With these caveats in place it becomes clear how well these conditions are met for women coping with male violence. DVA survivors should immediately identify these conditions as present within their experience, I know I did.

So what does this mean for interactions with others then? Well, in order to cope with the situation presented by the conditions above the individual in whom Stockholm syndrome arises develops a number of cognitive distortions and coping strategies:

“Graham and Rawlings (1991) theorised that prolonged exposure to the four Stockholm syndrome precursors would cause victims to generalise abuser/victim (or captor/captive) psychodynamics to their relations with others. They identified four principal long-range outcomes of prolonged Stockholm syndrome: (1) splitting; (2) intense push-pull dynamics in relationships with others; (3) displaced anger; and (4) lack of sense of self except as experienced through the eyes of the abuser.”2

For our interactions as survivors two of these four factors are particularly important – Push-pull dynamics and displaced anger. Push-pull dynamics refers initially to the relationship with the abuser; such that the victimised individual will push away from the abuser, whilst at the same time their survival depends on bonding with the abuser so they are pulled towards them. Prolonged exposure to Stockholm syndrome causes this pattern of interrelationships to be generalised to other interactions and relationships. Similarly, individuals exposed to prolonged abuse will experience displaced anger; that is the anger that they really feel towards their abuser becomes directed at themselves or others who are perceived to have less power than their abuser.

So the interactions of survivors are severely affected by their experiences. For me, displaced anger is definitely an issue; I have spent a significant portion of my life being angry at myself, at the world, at everyone but my abuser. And I KNOW this has affected my relationships and interactions with others.

But what about women who aren’t survivors? What about those who don’t recognise Stockholm Syndrome theory from a personal perspective? Well, there is an argument to be made (and it is made in Graham’s book) that ALL women are experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. If you take a class analysis approach and view the status of all women within a patriarchal society it can be argued that we all live under the four precursors for the development of Stockholm syndrome. The generalised fear of male violence (e.g. all women being taught to fear rape), the fact that some men are kind to us, that we cannot “escape” this patriarchal society and the prevailing view of women being the patriarchal view – all fit the four precursors perfectly. As such, it can further be expected that we will all display the 4 types of behaviours described above. I think displaced anger plays a large role in a lot of disagreements within mainstream feminism. I can also identify aspects of a lack of sense of self except as experienced through the eyes of the abuser in internalised misogyny.

What I’m getting at here is that our dealing with trauma, triggers etc within feminism has to be about more than those much debated “trigger warnings”. And we should be mindful, of our own issues and those of the women we are interacting with. We need to be kind to one another, because at the root of it all we are all survivors of men’s violence.

 

* I want to say that I recommend this book to other survivors, because it is excellent. However, I’ve found it very difficult reading, and very triggering so for that reason I’m going to say – take care. If you can read it then I’m sure you’ll love it.

1Graham D (1994) Loving to Survive: Sexual terror, men’s violence and women’s lives, New York Univeristy Press, New York, page 33.

2 ibid page 47

 

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

 

The consequences of individual vs. class analysis

This is the fourth post in a 6 part series on feminism and disablism written by The Psychology Supercomputer for A Room of our Own

In this fourth post (1,2,3 here) in the series prompted by a discussion of the Telegraph’s “Is modern feminism depressing” web chat I want to explore how coming from a place of individual vs class analysis can account for privilege denial in mainstream feminism. Again, I’m going to focus on disability and chronic illness, but the points will stand for other diverse groups such as Women of Colour and working-class women.

Within mainstream, modern feminism Individualism is THE analysis de jour. Key words such as choice, empowerment and agency abound. But what are the consequences of this type of analysis for less privileged women? It’s all well and good for able-bodied/healthy, white, middle-class women to talk of choice and agency; but what about the rest of us? And why does it matter anyway?

Individualism

This type of analysis places the emphasis on each individual woman’s choices and agency. It is the type of analysis that allows every choice a woman makes to be a feminist choice. Its popularity is in large part, I believe due to the need to include sex workers within modern feminism. In order to allow sex work to be compatible with feminist ideals, we need to analyse individual women’s reasons for being in that type of work. And so we talk of sexually empowered women, who have agency to choose sex work as any other form of work. They are not being exploited because they choose to be there. And they’re making good money. And they like sex anyway. And on and on.

At the level of the individual woman this analysis works. And if we extend it beyond sex work we can move away from some of the old, damaging stereotypes and connotations of the word “feminist”. Suddenly, we can say that we’re “not all man hating, lesbians, who don’t like sex”. We can enjoy porn with our male (or female) partners. We can wear make-up, and high heels and frilly dresses; and still say that we are “feminists”. It is a comfortable and easy form of feminism. We can demand equality for women and fight for women’s rights, whilst only looking at each other’s individual behaviour.

But, there is a huge and glaring problem with this type of analysis and that is where it puts the blame for oppression. In an individualistic analysis we all have equal ability to overcome our oppressions and if we don’t then it’s our own fault. Because who else is to blame? If I choose to be empowered, and I have agency to make those choices, who can I blame but myself when I fail to make them? Structural oppression becomes meaningless in this analysis, because it is all about how *I* individually overcome it. By its very nature then, the individualistic analysis denies privilege. It denies the differing oppressions faced by women with disability/chronic illness.

Class analysis

On the other hand, class analysis takes a much broader view. It ignores (to some extent) the individual woman’s agency and choices; because it views these as necessarily constrained in some way by structural oppression. No woman can make a free choice within patriarchy, none of us are “empowered” or have “agency” because we have all been socialised to conform to the feminine gender assigned to us. Our wearing of high heels, wearing make-up, frilly dresses, etc all serve to reinforce the stereotypes placed on us by patriarchy. Just because we are aware of the oppression and “choose” to do it anyway, does not make that a “free and empowered choice”. Class analysis has fallen out of favour among many modern feminists, I think mainly because it is associated with old school feminism; with “man hating, lesbian” feminism.

But when examining the issues faced by women with disabilities/chronic illness class analysis is essential. We live not only in a patriarchy, but in a world that is centred around able-bodied healthiness. Many institutions and systems discriminate against those who are considered “less able”. And even without active discrimination, it can be difficult to keep up in a world that doesn’t account for your extra needs. Women with disabilities/chronic illness face extra obstacles that mainstream feminism fails to see and acknowledge when it uses an individual analysis. In order to maintain an individualistic approach to feminism, it is necessary to not face any structural oppression other than patriarchy. This is a VERY privileged position and to continue to push individual over class analysis as modern feminism does, is privilege denial to a massive degree.

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

Schemas, Stereotypes and in-group/out-group thinking by @psycho_claire

This is the third post in a 6 part series on feminism and disablism written by The Psychology Supercomputer for A Room of our Own. (Part One. Part Two)

 

Continuing the theme of how Psychology can inform issues within mainstream feminism (posts 1 and 2 here) this post will explore the concepts of in-group/out-group thinking and how this can account for blind spots in relation to diversity within mainstream feminism. I want to make clear, that my desire here is not to make excuses, but to provide explanations that will help all of us understand ourselves and others better. I hope that an increase in understanding of these concepts will inform how mainstream feminism relates to the issues faced by women with disability/chronic illness, Women of colour, working class women, etc. Although this post will use disability/chronic illness as the example, the same points made here apply to race, class, etc.

In order to understand how in-group/out-group thinking can influence our interactions with one another, it is necessary to explore how our brains categorise and understand the events and people around us. Human brains receive massive amounts of data every moment of life. In order to be able to deal with this, they have built in “short cuts” in their processing of this information. Without these short-cuts, our brains would be constantly overwhelmed trying to process each new piece of information they received; and we would be paralysed in a state of constant inaction whilst this processing occurred.

One of the ways that our brains create these short-cuts is through the creation of Schemas and Stereotypes. Through repeated exposure to a particular event or group of people, the brain creates a “prototype” map of expectations for that event or group. A prototype map for an event is called a Schema; we have these for things like weddings, funerals, going to the supermarket, going for coffee, etc. They are a list of expected behaviours and occurrences that will happen at that particular event. The schema allows us to plan our behaviour for the event and to predict how other people there will behave too. This is why, once you’ve been to a wedding, you pretty much know what the next one will be like. And why unfamiliar situations can be so stressful, because we lack the schema to deal with it and predict it.

Similarly, stereotypes are schemas for groups of people. As feminists, I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with the concept of stereotypes; at least in relation to gender. A stereotype provides a set of expected behaviours, attitudes and desires for a particular “type” of person. I know that we all HATE the idea of stereotypes, because each of us is a precious snowflake; an individual and so we deserve to be treated as such. However, your subconscious brain doesn’t really care about that. All it cares about is processing information quickly and efficiently. It needs to be able to fairly accurately predict and anticipate the behaviour of the person you are interacting with; so it uses sweeping generalisations and puts people into “categories” based on what we want to think of as “arbitrary” characteristics such as skin colour, body shape, ability, class etc.

Again, I want to point out that this is UNCONCIOUS. No matter how much we try to resist this, we cannot. Our brains do this ALL THE TIME. No matter how open-minded and liberal we may like to think we are; we still show similar stereotyped thinking and biases at the unconscious level. (And I use “we” here to wholeheartedly include myself).

Once your brain has created its stereotypes, it then does another short-cut operation: it splits those stereotypes into two groups – “like me” and “not like me”. And this is where the thinking gets REALLY hinky. Those people who fall into the “like me” category form your “in-group”. These are the people that your brain sees as the most trustworthy. All of the stereotyped biases about these people are positive. They are your crowd. You find their company more pleasurable, you find them easier to relate to, you trust what they say, are more likely to be persuaded by them. According to your subconscious brain your in-group is THE MOST AWESOME EVER.

In contrast, those in the “not like me” category form your “out-group”. These are the “others”. They are a foreign group, they are strange to you. You find it more difficult to relate to them. You don’t trust them as much, are more likely to disbelieve them, less likely to be persuaded by their arguments, you find their company to be disconcerting/challenging. According to your subconscious brain the out-group are “other”.

For mainstream feminism, disabled and chronically ill women form that foreign, “other” out group. We are not “like you” and so we can be overlooked and dismissed. Our challenges and issues are not your issues and so are not important. And our stories, our testimonies are not trust worthy. Likewise to disabled/chronically ill feminists mainstream feminism is “other” and we don’t trust you. And so, we talk at cross purposes. We ignore the messages coming from the out-group, spending ever more time with our in-group peers and becoming more and more polarised. Ableist language becomes part of mainstream feminism and CI/disabled women dismiss mainstream feminism as ableist.

So, this is a pretty disheartening picture. I get that. But I want to point out that it is possible to break down this type of thinking; through repeated exposure to your out-group. Whether this be through spending time with a particular individual or reading about the experiences of those in your out-group. Repeated exposure allows your brain to create a new category, and to start to move members from the out-group into the in-group through seeing the similarities between you. This is an ongoing process; but it is one I believe we should all pursue. At the heart of it all, we are all WOMEN and we have common ground there. That should be the building block of our stereotype. That should be our in-group.

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

 

Cognitive Dissonance and Privilege by @psycho_claire

This is the second post in a 6 part series on feminism and disablism written by The Psychology Supercomputer for A Room of our Own. (The first post is available here)

Following on from this post (please link to 1) I want to continue picking apart the issues raised in a twitter conversation regarding the Telegraph “is feminism depressing?” web chat. I want to explore/ introduce you to the psychological concept of Cognitive Dissonance and how I see this relating to privilege denial.

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

The term Cognitive Dissonance is used within Psychology to refer to a state of discomfort that an individual experiences when they hold conflicting beliefs. I’m going to highlight this first with a simple and frivolous example:

The resulting interaction between these three thoughts creates discomfort within your mind. In order to resolve this discomfort your brain changes one of these thoughts. In this case, you can’t change that Ferraris are expensive and being poor is difficult to change too. So your brain changes your desire:

Thus the cognitive dissonance (the discomfort felt) is resolved.

 

The important thing to note at this point is that this is mostly an unconscious process. People are not aware of doing this; and when asked later will maintain that they NEVER wanted the Ferrari in the first place.

How does this relate to privilege denial?

Well, I’m hoping that many of you can already see the parallels. I’m going to use the example of Disablism, because that’s what prompted these posts and this discussion but this idea can be extended to all forms of privilege/oppression:

Again, in this example there is one easy aspect that the brain can alter to resolve the cognitive dissonance: “I see oppression”.

And in one, really simple, small automatic mechanism a whole movement becomes exclusionary to a particular group.

For those in the oppressed group the dissonance is resolved by their being members of that group. This is how you end up with women with disabilities/chronic illness, Women of Colour, working class women…..and on and on feeling pushed to the sidelines and shouting about stuff that mainstream feminism just can’t see.

I want to remind you that this is not a wilful process. Women are not wilfully denying the experiences of other women. This is unconscious. And I fall foul of it just as often as anyone else. Our brain is predisposed to address these conflicts before we are aware that they are there. But I’ve found, that since learning about this process I have been more conscious of it happening. I can question myself and my thinking processes and see when and where it happens. I don’t get it right all the time (far from it), but I’m better than I was before. This greater insight allows me to be more open to diverse voices. I question my opinions often, on the basis that I could somewhere have resolved dissonance without realising. I constantly interrogate the “I don’t see” aspect because that’s where the inaccuracy is likely to be.

It also allows me to be more forgiving of those who can’t always see their own privilege or the oppression of others. Most of the time this process of eliminating cognitive dissonance is underlying their denial and so they are not consciously aware of it. I don’t mean that this excuses someone from being racist, sexist, disablist etc. But it means that it might not always be a purposeful choice that someone makes. In recognising this I can be gentler in my interactions with other women. I can carefully point out that they are missing the issue and can help them to “see”. I find this approach is MUCH more effective than yelling “BIGOT” and moving on. J

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

Disablism in mainstream feminism by @Psycho_Claire

This is the first post in a 6 part series on feminism and disablism written by The Psychology Supercomputer for A Room of our Own

Last week the Telegraph ran a web debate with the title “Is modern feminism Depressing?” Myself and a small band of other twitter feminists then spent a couple of hours decrying the inherent disablism within mainstream modern feminism. That conversation got me thinking about a series of intersecting issues, which all come back to the same underlying principles. This post is the first in a short series in which I’m going to attempt to unpick some of these issues from a psychological perspective. I want to introduce the concept of cognitive dissonance and how this relates to privilege; I’d like to discuss how trauma affects our interactions, and how we can all be better to each other; I want to talk about how “in-group/out-group” thinking affects feminist discourse; and how a focus on the individual rather than “class analysis” interacts with these issues. My hope is that this will foster further debate and perhaps a little more understanding within the feminist community. But if nothing else I need to get this stuff out of my head, because these ideas are noisy! J

 

So what got us all so worked up about that title? What’s wrong with asking if feminism is depressing? Well, firstly words are important. They mean specific things and how we use them constitutes how we see the world. Our world views, our understanding of others, our understanding of acts and behaviour is tied up with how we use language. We construct our reality through the words that we use. As feminists we know this; look at how we are over the use of the word “rape”. How many of you cringe when someone says that they were “fraped” or “facebook raped”, when someone else posts a status update on their account. How often do we all protest about “rape jokes”? When it comes to that word, we KNOW. We understand that it shouldn’t ever be minimised, because to minimise the word is to minimise the experience.

So, why, when it comes to another word is this not the case? Depression/depressing are not adjectives to describe a passing low mood; a momentary feeling of sadness. Use disheartened; that’s the right word. Because “depressing” refers to a diagnosed illness; it is a state of constant low mood, with no obvious external cause. It is a debilitating and difficult condition. It should not be minimised. As feminists we need to acknowledge that the words we use MATTER! And we need to be careful about our choice of words. If we can recognise that using “rape” for “frape” is wrong, that using the horrible word “retard” is wrong, then we can sure as hell recognise that using “depressing” in this context was wrong.

Secondly and perhaps, more importantly: the use of language in this way excludes disabled women from the discourse. The minimisation of their experience is off-putting. Many disabled women feel unwelcome in mainstream feminism (as the posts from ROOO week long special show). This is something that mainstream feminism needs to address. But this feeling of exclusion, of minimisation of disability and disabled women extends further than the use of language within mainstream feminism. For example, the dismissing of online activism as “slactivism” is disablist in its very nature. For a large swathe of women, online is the ONLY place they can be active. And that’s not just due to physical disability. I suffer from chronic migraine, these are massively debilitating and I often have time where my only contact with the world beyond my bed is through my iPad. To dismiss my involvement with twitter campaigns as “not as important” as other “real life” activities is unfair in the extreme. The online community is “REAL LIFE” to me; and it is to many, many other women too. We all do what we can with the means that we have.

There is so much talk about “privilege checking” online within mainstream feminism. Cis women, middle class women, white women; constantly called on to check their privilege. Well here is my cry: “able-bodied, non-disabled women: check your damn privilege. Watch your language. And make some room for us disabled feminists.” We have a voice, we have things to say, we can and do contribute so please, stop minimising and excluding us.

 

The Psychology Supercomputer: I write about Psychology, Science Communication, Women in Science and feminist issues. I also tweet as@psycho_claire.

Everyday Mansplaining: Can Men Really Be Feminist Allies? by @VABVOX

Written for A Room of our own by Victoria A. Brownworth

copyright c 2014 Victoria A. Brownworth

 

Every woman knows what “everyday sexism” is: Street harassment, scantily clad women in the daily newspaper on Page 3 or Page 6 depending on whether you’re in the U.K. or U.S., the insidious memes of rape culture.

But what about mansplaining from men asserting they are feminist allies? How are women, whether they self-define as feminists or not, expected to address the very real and often

blatantly misogynist behavior by men who insist they are working with and for us, not against us?

The problem of paternalism remains one no one discusses–not feminists, not men, not the larger culture. We have attempted to address it with regard to race, to greater or lesser effect depending on where one lives, but with regard to gender that discourse remains maddeningly out of reach.

Ownership of women has shifted to ownership of women’s issues. What about the men? is a familiar refrain feminists on social media are wearyingly familiar with. Few of us don’t feel compelled to add “not all men” when we write about any issue related to misogyny or violence against women. “Not all men” harass women, “not all men” abuse women, “not all men” rape.

Yet all men do seem quick to anger when women speak out about the breadth of misogyny and its violent correlatives like rape and domestic violence murders. My colleague Karen Ingala Smith has been cataloguing the murders of women in the U. K. via her project Counting Dead Women. There is rarely a day when I do not see her being harassed by men with words like “progressive” or “liberal” or “hates Tories” or “proud husband and father” in their Twitter profiles.

One night on social media I objected to the use of the word “cunt” by men as a pejorative against women. I wrote that it was one of the worst things a man could say about a woman, reducing her to nothing more than her genitalia. Dozens of men began tweeting at me, explaining to me that “cunt” was just a word and that I should step back from my “extreme” feminism. To a one they mansplained me about the importance of free speech (as if a female journalist wouldn’t know about free speech better than most). And also to a one, they proceeded to call me a “cunt.”

Yet as I went to block each one there were the profiles again: “progressive,” “left-leaning” and so forth. More than half had “father of x great kids” in his profile.

If you self-define as a progressive, why are you calling a feminist a “cunt” on social media, since feminist ally is part of every progressive platform? If you are a “proud father,” is this the example you are setting for your son in how men should treat women or worse still, is this the language you think your daughter should presume is acceptable when thrown at her?

There remains a disturbing disconnect with regard to men and women in the progressive arena. I expect Tory or in the U.S., Republican men to be dismissive and denigrating of women and treat us as second-class. The right, regardless of country, has made it their business to interfere in women’s lives by withholding access to safe reproductive freedom. The right also has stepped into our bedrooms with their anti-gay policies and their bedroom taxes. The coup de grace continues to be the pay gap, which shockingly gets ever more extreme the more education and advanced degrees a woman acquires.

Progressive men cite their pro-feminist allegiance. They argue for pay equity and reproductive rights. They assert they are pro-gay rights. And then their paternalism rears its misogynist head.

Experiences this week on Twitter reminded me yet again of how invidious this problem is. One situation seemed simple enough. A man I follow and who follows me with whom I have had many positive exchanges about feminism tweeted about how only four countries–the U.S. being one–did not have maternity leave (this was in advance of Mother’s Day in the U.S. on May 11).

I tweeted back that his comment was not entirely accurate. He asked, “How?” I said it left out the word “paid.”

The snarky reply I received took me aback. “It’s obviously implied,” he explained. “No need to state it.” I said simply, “You can’t presume people will know that,” to which he then said, “Every woman in the world knows this.”

The exchange went on for much longer than it should have done and I was stunned by both his response and my literal gut reaction to it. The implication that I, as a woman, was somehow ignorant of an issue I have been writing about literally for decades felt, quite simply, like a slap in the face.

I DM’d him to explain in more depth that I really could not understand his mansplaining me, to which he replied that he was very hurt and angered by my “accusations.”

How had a simple comment turned into a full-blown argument? All I had done was say he needed to add “paid” to his tweet for accuracy’s sake, as the U.S. has had unpaid maternal and paternal leave for more than 20 years under the Family and Medical Leave Act. I went back and re-read my initial tweet. All it said was, “not quite accurate” and I had attached an article on the issue.

So why the extreme reaction? Why the need to both dismiss my comment and publically put me down? I’ve been pondering this since it happened because this man wasn’t tweeting as an individual, he was tweeting from the site he runs, which is one about feminism.

As I said: Oh.

Why is it so difficult for men to acknowledge that women know more about their own lives than men do? Or that feminists are actual scholars of women’s issues? Or that there is an issue of privilege implied when a man says “every woman in the world” knows something because he is now speaking to a woman about “every other woman in the world,” and that is the very definition of mansplaining and also the very definition of paternalism.

Maybe every woman he knows, but likely not the women who I work with, who are under-educated, under-privileged, poor and for whom navigating governmental systems is not only difficult, it can feel both insurmountable and oppressive, as they have told me time and again. When you come from the position of educated, middle-class, white male privilege, you really cannot presume to speak for all women.

We toss the word “privilege” around a lot these days, particularly in progressive circles, to mean almost anything. But in real life, the real life where women make between half and three-quarters of what men make for the same work, the real life in which one in three women is a victim of male violence and one in five is a victim of rape, the real life in which there is no day that does not involve misogyny in every aspect of their lives from the medications they take that have only ever been tested on men to the cat-calls on the street to the inferior education to the sexism in the work place, in real life all men have privilege over all women.

I have no doubt this is difficult for progressive men to accept. What progressive man would willingly accept the mantle of oppressor of women? And yet it remains the non-objective reality of women’s lived experience. Just as those of us who are white and actively doing anti-racist work must accept that we still have privilege that accrues to the mere fact of our whiteness, people with penises have to accept that their genitalia granted them a level of privilege at birth that no one born female has ever had.

Or ever will have.

Another Twitter experience was equally, if differently, disturbing. In this instance, a U.K. man with whom I have had numerous serious exchanges about race–he is black–responded to a series of tweets I had posted about the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls. He insisted it was not a gender issue. I said it was. He told me I was being simplistic. I told him he was ignoring the facts.

The exchange was heated and ended when he told me I was hysterical, an idiot and imbalanced. There’s that paternalism–when challenged, even the pro-feminist progressive man feels compelled to put women in their 18th century place, despite this being the 21st century.

He also said, “Women are as much to blame for these abductions as men.”

And there it was, the consummate mansplaining argument, the obverse of women’s lived reality, but the last excuse, as it were, that a man can give. It’s not all our fault. It’s not all men.

The wearying nature of these exchanges exhausts many feminists. It certainly exhausts me. In my quest to make the world a better place for women and girls–which I fully believe would also make the world a better place for men and boys–I want allies in my struggle, not endless antagonists.

Whither the truly pro-feminist man, then? I know it is easy to dismiss this series of events on social media as contextual or examples of a bad day or maybe these guys really just aren’t as feminist as they say they are, but I reject that argument and I reject it because I have witnessed this day after day after day. It’s not just me having these “issues.” It’s every feminist I know, every feminist I follow on Twitter or other social media. There is no respite from this for women who are doing the hard work of addressing violence against women and its antecedent: male violence.

I’m not suggesting there are no pro-feminist men or that men are incapable of being feminist allies. But I do believe we are all inculcated from birth with the notion that men are superior and women are inferior. That daily reinforcement of women asless than is insidious–there is no aspect of women’s lives it does not invade. There is no Page 3 or Page 6 for men, there are no sexy outfits for boy toddlers, there are no taunts about boys being “too ugly to fuck” that follow girls or women protesting negative comments, there are no date-rapes of boys, no mass abductions of boy children to be sold into sex slavery, no boys being shot in the head for the simple act of going to school and yet even as I chronicle this tiny list in the endlessly long list of what it means to be female versus what it means to be male, I know there are people reading this and thinking, not all men or it happens to men/boys, too.

That simply must stop. Just as white people must learn to stop saying “I’m not a racist,” men must learn to stop mansplaining women. They must learn to do what women have done for centuries: hold their tongues. Listen and not speak. Learn.

I have no idea what it is to be a man in the world because I am not one. I don’t presume to know. I imagine it’s great to never have to fear certain things, but I also imagine there are responsibilities and expectations that are wearing.

Nevertheless, it’s not my place to wonder or worry about men and their feelings. Women have done this for millennia at the expense of themselves and each other. It is my job to work to make the lives of women safer and better, to illumine their circumstances worldwide and in doing so, illumine the cause of those circumstances which is always, whether men want to acknowledge it or not, men.

I don’t blame every man I meet for the oppression I experience and have experienced throughout my life. I don’t blame every man for the brutality women and girls face worldwide. But what I do expect and what I think is not over-much to expect, is that men who self-define as feminist allies, as pro-feminist, as our friends, not our enemies, not argue with us in public space about our lives. We know our lives better than you. And most importantly, you do not speak for us, you can never speak for us.

That last is likely the hardest lesson for the pro-feminist/feminist ally man. Silence. Men are used to speaking whenever and wherever they choose. They cannot comprehend what it is to be forever silenced, even by one’s self-appointed friends. But when a man declares he speaks for “every woman in the world” or that the abduction of schoolgirls to be sold as sex slaves–be it in Nigeria or Romania or the U.S.–is not an issue of their femaleness, then I must object, I will always object, and you can tell me I am hysterical, an idiot, unhinged or a “cunt,” but you will still be wrong.

To be an ally, you must listen.

To be an ally, you must learn.

To be a feminist ally you must never again say the words “not all men.”

And until and unless that happens, you will be against us, not with us, in our feminist struggle for full rights as women and as human beings.

 

 

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA, the Keystone Award, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 Society of Professional Journalists Award for Enterprise/Investigative Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine, Curve digital and Lambda Literary Review. She is the author and editor of nearly 30 books including the award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability. Her collection, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for Cultural/Historical Fiction. Her Y/A novel, Cutting will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX

 

Mother Tongue by @headinbook

(cross-posted with permission from Head in Book)

My undergraduate degree was in modern languages. What else would an incorrigible reader study? The more languages available to you, the greater the range of books to devour. Deeper still, there was a genuine interest in words and the fascinating, impossibly complex way in which we use them to communicate. I regret now that the study was so shallow, so short and so very long ago. I’m left with, rather than any expertise, a smattering of understanding; a fleeting impression of a huge richness beyond my ken. That, and the ability to guesstimate the meaning of a menu pretty much anywhere in Europe.

Words matter. Words don’t reflect what we see, they refract and reframe it. This isn’t the subject of a blogpost, of course, it’s the subject of a life’s work. But I have been thinking more and more, about the words we use around motherhood and the way in which language itself distorts our perceptions and colours – poisons, even – the debates about stuff which really matters.

I’ve thought about writing this – and the way in which media coverage and discussion always seems intent on driving mothers into two opposing camps – for a while. There’s too much to put into one post, really, but one tiny, apparently innocuous phrase, struck me tonight.

Taking part in a Twitter conversation about motherhood and feminism, I wasn’t “defeated” by anything when I decided that my career, at that time, wasn’t making me happy, wasn’t giving my children the start in life I wanted and wasn’t, on balance, providing adequate (non-monetary) compensation for the things it was costing me. Nor did I cease making an effort. Women like me who leave the workforce are, quite literally, air-brushed out. Our motives and, often, our lives too are dismissed as superficial, cosmetic, lacking in seriousness. I was incredibly lucky to have a choice. I don’t perceive myself as a victim in this. But nor will I concede that I have, in any way, somehow stopped trying. I didn’t “give up” working. I chose to stop.

The same is true with the endless battles over breastfeeding. How much of a sting there is in the simple phrase “she gave up”. Again, it smacks of defeat, of lack of effort, even while the woman involved may know how hard she tried and feel bitterly let down by lack of support. Or, conversely, may have taken the decision for the most sensible, practical and compelling of reasons. “Giving up”, with its connotations of weakness and lack of commitment, casts over every discussion, at whatever level, semi-conscious shadows of accusation and defensiveness and causes a huge amount of hurt to many women.

Do we talk like this about men? Not about breastfeeding, of course; not really about employment, since so few men’s working lives are outwardly changed when they become fathers. I think in general, though (and I know that this is a fairly generalising post) we assume an active decision making, a positive and rational approach to problem solving with which we fail to credit women.

I’m never again going to slip into the easy, barbed trope of saying that I gave up work. I stopped. After all, in the absence of a detailed conversation and valid interest in my circumstances, that is all that anyone else needs to know.