Cultural Femincide?! What’s that? by @schoolsexism

For the last two days of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the new generation of feminists making history!

(cross-posted with permission from Sexism in School)

Hello again, today the start of my blog isn’t going to be about sexism in my school but about how I felt when @schoolsexism came off the ground and this blog was given amazing reviews.

Last night I was awoken by mum, who was very excited! I came downstairs and I was given my mums phone and I was in the Huffington Post! I was overwhelmed; I thought that it would only be tweeted out by a few people, not by @caitlinmoran or be in the Huffington Post! I didn’t think it was real!

I am going on to my story now, I hope you feel the same way!

Later on in the year I am going up to secondary school and I went on a visit and I was given a list of books that are recommended to read before I start. I went home and I realised that the proportion  of women on the list was 2 out of ten. It was horrid to see because women are good authors and 51% of the world.  I was disappointed that my school suggested 8 men authors but only 2 women.

Has everyone heard of J.K Rowling? She wrote the Harry Potter series. Her real name is Joanne Rowling, she used her initials because the book wouldnt have sold if they knew she was a woman. Also her main character was a boy but the girl called Hermione was more clever. The boys in the book relied on her for everything and she sorted them out.

I asked my mum about this and she said it was called cultural femicide, I had no idea what it meant! The term was invented by a feminist called Bidisha and you can read more about it here.

Women need to be more visible as main characters in books, as authors and being able to use their real name and knowing that they wouldn’t be discriminated.

Why can’t we all be treated as equals?
How do we sort this out?

[Added by Mum – I am going to contact the school, and will be making suggestions for them, if they are unable to come up with a list that has at least 50% women authors on it!]

 

Sexism in School is the blog of a 10 year old girl and feminist superstar-in-training! (@sexismschool)

The Making of the Suppressed Histories Archive

The Making of the Suppressed Histories Archives

Max Dashu in 1979For forty years, Max Dashú has researched global women’s history and cultural studies. Her legendary Archives now hold a collection of over 15,000 slides, with tens of thousands more images in hard copy and digital format, as well as text files, maps and books. Dashú has created 130 slide presentations: thirty are international surveys of topics such as Female Rebels and MavericksThe European Conquests, andPriestesses. The others look at women’s history by country or region, chronologically. She has done these visual presentations for all kinds of audiences, from feminist bookstores and community centers to universities, public1976 brochureschools, libraries, museums, prisons, galleries, festivals, and conferences.

In the fall of 1969, in the midst of the anti-war  movement and with the ascent of women’s liberation, Max Dashú left behind a full scholarship to began research as an independent scholar on global women’s history, mother-right, patriarchy, and the origins of domination. Women’s Studies did not yet exist, women’s hstory was literally treated as a joke, and the academic climate was hostile to raising questions about women’s status and the suppression of female power. Dashú began scouring libraries for evidence of women’s leadership and other social patterns that fell outside the claimed universality of male domination.

She focused on the missing center of women from a global perspective, seeking to understand how domination worked in terms of gender, class and ethnicity. She intuited that the broadest Suppressed Histories brochure, 1980expressions of female leadership were retained in the Indigenous world, among the same cultures that had been disregarded and disparaged by classical scholarship, and this proved out. Women’s leadership often crossed the boundaries of political, religious, economic, and artistic spheres as laid down in the classic “Western Civ” worldview. This pattern was one of many pointers toward a different cultural paradigm. And it is the oral histories of the aboriginal peoples that provide the substance of these suppressed histories and flesh out women’s contributions and spheres of power.

Dashu’s research in archaeology showed that neolithic iconography overwhelmingly emphasized Suppressed Histories Archives brochure, 1984women, in a qualitatively different way than modern media. She found that women in indigenous societies typically had more freedom than women in feudal and colonial systems, and that all present-day matrilineages occur in indigenous societies. Abundant indicators showed that male domination of women correlated with domination by class, ethnicity, and other socio-political hierarchies. Historical patterns emerged of upper classes being more invested in patrilineage, multiple wives, and constraining women’s bodies and behavior than commoners or indigenous peoples. That is why the Romans called the ruling classes patricians; why veiling and female seclusion began with the Indo-European elite, and why footbinding and corsets began with aristocrats, long before these customs spread to other classes and cultures.

Dashú found that public female spheres of power tended to concentrate in areas of spiritual leadership and, conversely, that banning the priestess was a keystone to deepening the cultural colonization of women through religion. A more profound level of domination was possible than could be achieved through violence and coercion, if only women could be induced to believe that their oppression was divinely ordained and to acquiesce to an idolatry of the masculine –and to all-male religious authorities.

Witch persecutions emerged as another pattern of attack against female power, solidarity, pWitch Hunts slideshowrotest and resistance. Persecution of medicine people was a crucial tactic of colonizers to break the spirit of countries they were invading. This repression went hand in hand with forced conversions and outlawing indigenous religion, or the spiritual practices of subordinated classes and peoples. Women shamans, diviners, and medicine women have often been at the forefront of liberation movements. (See “Priestesses and Political Power”  and Rebel Shamans )

In 1973 Dashú became historical consultant for Donna Deitch, who was then at UCLA, working on one of the first feminist documentaries,Woman to Woman. She opened up the opportunity to collect images from university libraries in southern California and to learn copy photography in the process. The result was the initial collection of about 300 slides, seedlings of the Suppressed Histories Archives.

Dashu got a camera and began to photograph more images. She created slideshows and presented them at women’s bookstores, centers, coffeehouses. The first showing, Matriarchives, took place in 1974 at A Woman’s Place bookstore in Oakland, California, backed by live music by Sandy Ajida, Kay Sato, and Cindy Fitzpatrick. The Women of Power presentation premiered at Full Moon Coffeehouse in San Francisco in 1975, and was also shown at Mountain Moving Café in Portland and Mother-Right bookstore in Santa Cruz. In 1976 this growing women’s history collection took the name of The Suppressed Histories Archives. Year by year by year, thousands of new slides were added to the Archives, along with new articles, graphics and maps in the hard copy files.

Over the next three decades, Dashú continued to research and teach and archive historic images ofAfroAsian Goddess women. She investigated mother-right cultures, priestesses, female shamans, witches and the witch hunts, goddess veneration, Indigenous philosophies of spirit, female elders and chieftains; patterns of conquest and colonization, the role of captivity and slavery and class systems in developing patriarchy, and the uses of religion in intensifying male domination. She looked at patterns of racist and sexist bias in the way the archaeological  and historical record had been evaluated, and called attention to disregarded cultural riches in the Sahara, Ecuador, Sumatra, Indiana, Nubia, Siberia, Utah, Ireland, Ethopia, and Portugal.

Dashú began to present guest lectures at universities in 1981, while continuing to teach through grassroots venues: community centers, women’s conferences and festivals, public schools and libraries, and the occasional prison, gallery, and museum. She presented at women’s centers at Northwestern, Stanford, Princeton, UC-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, and many other universities around the US. She gave keynote addresses at the Pagan Studies Conference at Claremont University (2008), the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women (Rutgers, 2005), California State University at Chico (2000), Association for Women and Mythology (2009), and Women’s Voices for a Change (Swarthmore, 2013). She presented at international conferences in Rila, Bulgaria; Glastonbury, England; Hambacher Schloss, Germany and San Marcos, Texas, and gave slide talks in Spanish at the Museo de San Miguel de Allende, Centro de Justicia Global, and other Mexican venues. She has presented at conferences of the National Women’s Studies Association and the American Academy of Religion.

The Suppressed Histories website went online in 2000, reaching a vastly expanded audience. Today it attracts 2000 brochurereaders from every country and 80,000 hits a month. It features dozens of articles, book excerpts, interviews, and video clips from the dvds Women’s Power in Global Perspective and Woman Shaman: the Ancients. Some articles have been translated into Dutch, French, Italian, and Hungarian on other websites. Others are available in Spanish on the SHA site, with more to come.

Dashú’s critique of Cynthia Eller’s The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory has had an international impact since it was published in 2001–and later reprinted in the British journal Feminist Thealogy (Sheffield Press, 2006). Dashú was the first to stand up and challenge Eller’s attacks on Goddess scholars at the Gender and Archaeology Conference in 2002. She follows some sixty scholarly listservs, corresponding with scholars around the world, and fielding queries from other researchers. She continues to present visual talks around North America, especially to grassroots audiences.

In 1978 Dashú began writing The Secret History of the Witches, a reconstruction of pagan European tradition, especially goddess veneration and female spiritual leadership. Her aim in this sourcebook was to investigate What Happened in Europe: to document how the European witch hunts arose and their cultural impact on women. By 2000 she had written 2000 pages of  manuscript, with illustrations and maps. In the decades since Dashú began writing The Secret History of the Witches, significant cultural turnings have occurred: a resurgence of Goddess reverence and, on a larger scale, Christian fundamentalism, church-state patriarchy and authoritarianism, and even new Crusades and torture-trials. This book will be a resource for the restoration of authentic cultural roots that predate hierarchical religions and to uproot the cultural poisons that continue to sow violence and destruction. Getting the first volume into print is the current priority for the Archives.

Meanwhile, the Archives is moving to digitize the slide collection, and to expand the image galleries, articles, and videos on the SHA website. Suppressed Histories Archives has attracted a large audience (130,000 at this writing) on the Facebook page, with daily posts of images, links, and information.

 

Suppressed Histories Archive : The Suppressed Histories Archives uncovers the realities of women’s lives, internationally and across time, asking questions about patriarchy and slavery, conquest and aboriginality. About mother-right, female spheres of power, indigenous philosophies of spirit– and the historical chemistry of their repression. Even more important, their role in resisting oppression. A global perspective on women’s history offers fresh and diverse conceptions of women’s power, as well as of men and gender borders. It overturns stereotypes of race and class, and the structures of domination that enforce them. It digs under the usual story of lords and rulers, looking for hidden strands, and reweaves knowledge from the divided fields of history, archaeology, linguistics and folk tradition. So we cast a wide arc, looking for patterns and gaps and contradictions which, where vested power interests are at stake, are trigger points for controversy. Some of the flashpoints are women’s power; neolithic female figurines; gender-egalitarian mother-right cultures; patriarchy; witch-hunts; “heresies” such as goddess veneration or shamans; and the rise and fall of empires, including the doctrines of supremacy and inferiority that prop up all systems of domination.

 

 

Remembering Women in History by @CeliaHubbartt

(cross-posted from du erkennst mich nicht)

REMEMBERING WOMEN IN HISTORY

Throughout time, women have done extraordinary things, yet remain quite unknown to the public. Here are two women who deserve to be known by all.

  •  Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969)

Alexandra David-Néel as a teenager.

This French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, anarchist and writer has done more in her life than most people could dream of. She traveled to Lhasa, Tibet when it was forbidden to foreigners. She wrote over 30 books about her travels, philosophy and Eastern religion.

David-Néel, whose desire for freedom and spirituality, began her adventures by traveling around Europe before the age of 18 on her own. During this time, she studied at Madame Blavatsky’sTheosophical Society.

Throughout her travels, she went to India, became an opera singer in Vietnam, traveled to Sikkim, where she met her lifelong traveling companion, a Sikkimese monk, Aphur Yongden (born 1899), she also traveled to Japan, Tibet and later returned to France for a short time in 1928. She began another trip to the east Tibetan highland in 1937.

David-Néel and Yongden.

At at 101, David-Néel passed away. Her ashes were mixed with Yongden and were dispersed in the Ganges by her friend Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet.

  • Qiu Jin (1875–1907)

Qui Jin

Qiu was a writer, poet, feminist and is considered a national hero in China. She was executed after participating in a failed uprising against the Qing Dynasty.

In the beginning of her life, Qui wrote poems about joyful subjects ranging from flowers to visiting historical places and domestic activities. She also would write about female heroes and warriors from history. She found inspiration from their strength, courage and beauty. This was a reflection of her self-confidence and desire to be a great writer.

When she married the son of a wealthy merchant against her own wishes, her self-confidence took a sever hit.  She wrote about her husband saying, “That person’s behavior is worse than an animals.. He treats me as less than nothing.” and “When I think of him my hair bristles with anger, it’s absolutely unbearable.” Her poetry was the exact opposite as before. It was filled with self-doubt and loneliness.

In 1903, Qui and her husband moved to Beijing where she began reading feminist writings and also became interested in women’s education.

In that year, she left her husband to study in Japan. During this time, she became quite vocal about women’s rights and pressed for improved access for women’s education. She also spoke out against foot-binding.

She joined a group of Triads who worked towards overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and other anti-Qing societies after her return to China in 1905.

Qiu wrote her own journal, “Zhongguo nubao” (Chinese women’s journal) in 1906. It consisted of feminist and nationalist writings. She did not hold on to the idea that women’s places were as mothers and educations in traditional family role, instead she found traditional family life as oppressive to women.

In 1907, she was appointed head of the Datong school in Shaozing, Zhejiand Province. The school was actually used for military training of revolutionaries. While there, she frequently cross-dressed and wore western-style men’s clothing. She became well-known for her aid of the poor and weak.

On July 6, 1907, Xu Xilin, Qui’s cousin with whom she worked with, was captured and tortured for information. He was executed the next day.

After learning of her cousin’s death, Qui decided to stay at the school where she known she would be caught. She believed that her cause was worth dying for. On July 13, Qui was arrested, tortured and two days later was beheaded publicly in her home village at age 31.

The public was shocked by the brutal execution of a woman and many people were strengthened by this and their resentment of the Qing Dynasty was multiplied. She was immediately made a hero and became the subject of drama, poetry and fiction. Her own poetry and letters were published after death.

 

Du erkennst mich nicht: My blog ranges from anything and everything that could do with feminism. I also add in random articles that I find interesting, but the heart of the blog is about feminism.

To my beautiful daughter by @God_loves_women

To my beautiful daughter

 Posted by God Loves Women on March 3, 2012 at 6:35 PM

The world will tell you that your value is dependant

On things like your looks or the shape of your body

That your happiness comes through the things you buy

Or the boys…

…you date

 

It will try to undermine you at every turn

And try to ensure it’s lies that you learn

It will tell your worth can be bought

In a pot of make up and the looks of men

 

Because you are female its expectations of you will shrink

It will box you and squash you and tell you not to think

 

Your womanhood will be demeaned and made something weak

It’ll tell you it’s a marriage and a child you seek

 

But listen to me lovely, don’t believe what it says

 

The world belongs to a liar you see

And the lies that he sells are cheap and worthless

 

The world lies because the truth holds such hope

If it squashes you down, then it can stay in control

But listen my daughter and hear the truth

 

You are utterly precious

And so so so strong

Your womanhood’s to be proud of

Not a shameful thing

Your value’s inherent

It cannot be sold or bought

It’s everything that makes you the person you are

 

You can be single and be successful

You can be child-free and be satisfied

You can be married and live life to the full

You can have children, if that’s what you choose

But know you have choices, that are only yours

And strength in abundance to do what you choose

There are no boxes in which you have to fit

There are no places in which you have to sit

 

 

Hear me when I say it’s hard to live out the truth

Because many people still believe the lies

They’ll ignore you, resist you and tell you you’re wrong

But I know you can make it, I know that you’re strong

 

Daughter you’re precious, precious beyond words

I love you, I love you

 

I

Love

You

 

God loves women: A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn’t realise this (@God_loves_women)

Female Strength and Patriarchy: A Poem by my mum! by @God_loves_women

Female Strength and Patriarchy: A Poem by my mum!

 Posted by God Loves Women on September 1, 2013 at 10:50 AM

My mum wrote this poem about patriarchy and I thought it was great and asked her if I could put it up here.  She said yes, do enjoy it!

 

Patriarchy, why are you so afraid of strong women,

Women with the heart to challenge you in the arena

Of words, or anywhere that your physical strength

Is of no significance?  Why do you need to control

Women?  Are they such a threat to you?

We are all, male and female, prey

To the patriarchs, they believe we must

Bow before their scathing, belittling

Words and deeds, their domination – No!

We will not be cowed into submission

Nor preyed upon by those who seek

Us out like missiles, homing in on us.

Our shield shall be the truth

That no woman or man owns another.

The spectrum of human nature is wide

For human beings no trait is purely male,

None solely female either.  Forget

What has been passed down to you,

Start afresh, embrace equality for all.

Men and women cannot be owned by anyone

They are free.  All women can be strong women

But not all realise their power yet, we who know

Our strength, must build up our unknowing sisters

With words of encouragement, and knowledge

Of the true reality of patriarchy, which tries to

Imprison women in the cage of a manufactured

And false femininity.  Wake up sisters, from the dream

Be the women you were meant to be,

And you men who are awake to the fake superiority

That you have been fed from birth and ancestry,

Arise and join your sisters, help to free

Your brothers from patriarchy and false masculinity.

Patriarchs will not concede easily but injustice will not

Win the day, it will fail as long as we stay strong.

Justice will always triumph in the end and

Our words will remain long after we are gone.

 

God loves women: A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn’t realise this (@God_loves_women)

In Search of Heroines by @abigailrieley

(Cross-posted with permission from Abigail Rieley)

Last weekend I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the new Ingenious Ireland walking tour. A specially commissioned tour to mark International Women’s Day and the opening of the new Rosie Hackett bridge across the Liffey, Obstreperous Lassies tells the story of just some of the incredible women who came to prominence in the period between 1913 and 1916 here in Ireland.

Now being an unrepentant liberal lefty feminist type the mere idea of the tour was enough to make me smile. I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour or so on a sunny morning but traipsing around Dublin hearing about women who refused to sit down and shut up, who refused to do what was expected on them and who refused to accept the status quo. It was wonderful to hear about Maud Gonne as the woman who had championed free school meals rather than the aloof romantic figure who used to make W.B. Yeats dissolve into sighs every time she wafted past him. Or Ann Jellico, the Quaker mill owner’s daughter who decided that women needed skills to earn themselves a living and set up schools to teach them. Or Kathleen Lynn, often known as “the rebel doctor”, who helped to set up St Ultan’s clinic on Charleville Street and was instrumental in the introduction of the BCG vaccine. The tour is a wonderful catalogue of women judges and politicians, doctors and fighters, women who were suffragists and pacifists and who played their part in the formation of this country.

After the first hour of being pleasantly inspired though something else started to nag at me. While many of the names I was hearing were familiar, it was striking how many of the details weren’t. I was used to hearing the names as footnotes in the sacred history of the land, women who had stood bravely beside fighting men but were largely remembered as the helpmeets, there to tend the sick and take down a note of history as it passed. The honourable exception of course is Constance Markievicz, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish that I’ll get to in a moment. The point that kept coming home during the tour was that the stories of these women, who were all formidable, magnificent, inspiring examples of their sex, the kind of stories I used to latch onto with fangirl adoration as a teenager, much of that stuff was absolute news to me. It felt almost shockingly fresh to be looking at historical events from a woman’s perspective. It was only by focusing on that angle that you realise how unusual it is to hear.

As a child in the 70s and 80s I knew I was lucky to be born into a time when as a girl I no longer had to fight for my education. Growing up in a middle class area I was expected to go on to university, I was expected to have the freedom to follow whatever career path I chose. It never occurred to me that as a girl I was any less able than a boy. I knew women had already fought for the right to vote, the right to an education, the right  to own property and to not pass into the ownership of the man they married. I saw all of these as battles that had been won, as rights I now had. Like any child I couldn’t see limitations until they appeared right in front of me. Back then it never occurred to me that the world was anything but equal. I wasn’t short of role models. I saw strong women all around me, in my family, in popular culture and in the books I read. It wasn’t until much later that I began to see that the world was a far from equal place. That’s when you really need your heroines.

The one thing that I really remember about my stint doing the @ireland Twitter account last year was a conversation that took place on my last day. That week there had been a lot of media coverage of the suffragettes. It was the centenary of the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison and all the columnists were in a retrospective mood. At the end of a conversation about the various memorials to the suffragettes in the UK I had asked the 15,000 or so followers of the @ireland account to recommend similar Irish memorials to inspirational women down through the years. Several hours later we were still struggling to come up with anyone who wasn’t Constance Markievicz. And that’s my problem with the good countess. While she was undoubtedly a formidable force to be reckoned with and surely a fine role model for any trailblazing young Irish woman (or any other woman – or man for that matter – she really was a hell of a woman), it does appear that Constance has been venerated to the exclusion of almost all other women. When you look at the number of women who have been equally extraordinary and who have been all but wiped out of the history books it almost smacks of tokenism.

It’s taken until 2013 to have a bridge named after a woman. Calls to rename Merrion Square after Oscar Wilde’s extraordinary mother have fallen on deaf ears. Apart from Constance Markievicz there are very few memorials to prominent women in Dublin or anywhere else in Ireland. If you go by public monuments Ireland is a country that was built and maintained purely by men. That’s the thing that get’s me more than anything else with all of this – because Irish women are and have always been ballbreakingly strong. From the Celtic archetypes of the Morrigan or Queen Meabh, to the pirate queen Grace O’Malley who faced down Elizabeth 1, to any of the women who fought for Irish freedom right through to the indomitable Irish Mammy there’s no shortage of Irish heroines – many of whom were actually real people and aren’t simply mythological constructs.

In a world where inequality is rife, where violence against women is endemic, it might seem superficial to talk about statues and wallplaques but it’s all part of the same thing. Public statues are things we walk past on a daily basis, they are part of the fabric of our lives. We might ignore them most of the time but one day we’ll probably ask their story. Their mere existence tells us that there is a story to be told. Women’s history so often slips by, it’s harder find their stories because for so long they didn’t have a voice, they weren’t in a position to make a difference. So when they were we should celebrate them all the more. So to get the ball rolling I’d like to propose a statue Winifred Carney in the GPO.  She was there with James Connolly during the 1916 Rising, known as the typist with the Webley. I could see her as a little figure with a typewriter standing in the main hall on the edge of the crowds. They’d bump into her as they queued, especially at Christmas. People would stub their toe against her, apologise absently as they brushed past. They’d ignore her most of the time but every now and then someone would look to see who she was. It doesn’t have to be Winifred Carney, I just like the idea of the statue.

I’m fed up of feeling that jolt of surprise when I hear a woman hosting primetime radio, or when a walking tour for International Women’s Day feels like a novelty, or feeling that it’s something to be applauded when a bridge or a banknote bears a woman’s name or a woman’s face. This stuff shouldn’t matter. I’m fed up of feeling I should be happy that a woman is being represented regardless of whether I have a reason to applaud their achievement. This isn’t a big, earth shaking change though it’s a canary in a coalmine issue. When it’s no big deal if a woman is on the bank notes or even when there are complaints because all the bridges are named after women, or all the voices on prime time are female or all the banknotes have women on them then we’ll have actually got some kind of equality. At the moment that still feels like science fiction and it’s utterly wrong that it should feel that way.

Happy International Women’s Day.

 

Abigail RieleyI’m a writer, journalist and feminist and this is my personal blog. I’ve written a great deal about the Irish criminal justice system based on my observations from working at a court reporter, particularly about the sentencing laws concerning crimes against women be it murder or manslaughter, rape or sexual assault or domestic violence. I also write about books and writing, women in 19th century Ireland (a subject I’ve been researching for the past couple of years), science fiction and general women’s issues (including, of course, the Irish abortion situation) and social issues. I’m also a bit of a geek and write about British science fiction and horror. (@abigailrieley)

Makeda, the Queen of Sheba (Saba’)

(Cross-posted from Source Memory)

The Kebra Nagast (“Glory of Kings”) is the most important Ethiopian scripture. It describes the descent of Amharic kings from queen Makeda of Ethiopia and king Solomon of Judaea. (Sheba or Saba’ encompasses  Yemen in southeast Arabia but also Ethiopia, where the Amharic people speak a closely related Semitic language.) (See map) The story, compiled […]

The Kebra Nagast (“Glory of Kings”) is the most important Ethiopian scripture. It describes the descent of Amharic kings from queen Makeda of Ethiopia and king Solomon of Judaea. (Sheba or Saba’ encompasses  Yemen in southeast Arabia but also Ethiopia, where the Amharic people speak a closely related Semitic language.) (See map) The story, compiled from various sources between about 400 to 1200, explains the origin of Ethiopia’s Solomonic line, including a claim that the Ark of the Covenant was spirited from Solomon’s temple to Ethiopia.

Hearing of Solomon’s wisdom from a traveling merchant, Makeda journeys to Jerusalem. After a colloquy with the king, Makeda declares, “From this moment I will not worship the sun, but will worship the Creator of the sun, the God of Israel.” The Sabaeans were famed in both Hebrew and Arabic texts for venerating the sun, moon and stars. The time frame of Solomon’s reign is historically consistent with a powerful state in Saba’. So the Ethiopian queen converts to Judaism.

The next twist, in this text, is that before Makeda departs, Solomon tricks her into sleeping with him. She had asked him to swear that he will not force her into sex. He agrees, on condition that she wouldn’t take anything from his house by force. He feeds her a lot of spicy food, and in the night when she reaches for water in her thirst, he appears and says she has broken her promise, having taken water, the most valuable of all things. (What happened to the famous tradition of hospitality here? and how is this not coercion?) So, says the Kebra Nagast, Makeda assents to sex with Solomon. As she departs, he gives her a ring for their future son. Then Solomon dreams that the sun leaves Israel.

Makeda bears a son, Menelik. When he comes of age, he goes to Jerusalem for his father’s blessing, and is recognized by the ring. Solomon wants Menelik succeed him as king, but he insists on returning to Ethiopia. So Solomon puts together a noble company to go back with him. Angry at being forced to leave their home and families, these young men secretly take the Ark out of the Temple and away to Africa. Menelik is not implicated in this deceit, but he finds out along the way. He is divinely transported back to Ethiopia through the skies, thwarting Solomon’s attempt to recover the Ark. (Here the ancient theme of Solomon’s straying into idol worship under the influence of his many foreign wives takes a new turn; it now becomes his attempt to console himself for the loss of the Ark.) Menelik’s return is celebrated with great pomp at Axum, and Makeda gives up her throne to him. (Natch!) Ethiopia becomes “the second Zion.”

The Kebra Nagast includes a magnificent passage where Makeda speaks of her search for Wisdom:

I have drunk of her, but have not tottered; I have tottered through her, but have not fallen; I have fallen because of her but have not been destroyed. Through her I have dived down into the great sea and have seized in the place of her depths a pearl whereby I am rich. I went down like the great iron anchor whereby men anchor ships for the night on the high seas, and I received a lamp which lighteth me, and I came up by the ropes of the boat of understanding. I went to sleep in the depths of the sea, and not being overwhelmed with the water I dreamed a dream. And it seemed to me that there was a star in my womb, and I marvelled thereat, and I laid hold upon it and made it strong in the splendour of the sun; I laid hold upon it, and I will never let it go. I went in through the doors of the treasury of wisdom and I drew for myself the waters of understanding. I went into the blaze of the flame of the sun, and it lighted me with the splendour thereof, and I made of it a shield for myself, and I saved myself by confidence therein, and not myself only but all those who travel in the footprints of wisdom, and not myself only but all the men of my country, the kingdom of Ethiopia, and not those only but those who travel in their ways, the nations that are round about. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/kn/kn097.htm ]

And then the Kebra Nagast returns to its central preoccupation, which is not Makeda herself, nor the wisdom of ancient Ethiopia of which she is the sole representative to be attested in written history. Instead, Makeda lays out the Solomonic line claim for the Ethiopian royal dynasty, a patrilineage going back to the Hebrew king. The book does credit her with building her capital Debra Makeda on a mountaintop. Other Ethiopian books give more details about Makeda’s parentage. The Ethiopian Book of Aksum describes her foundation of a new capital city at Azeba. Himyarite histories from Yemen also allude to this queen.

At least one Ethiopian manuscript shows Makeda in connection with a labyrinth. One line in the Kebra Nagast, where Makeda speaks of “a star in my womb,” was undoubtedly intended as a reference to her future son and dynastic founder Menelik. But it can be read another way, as her womb in its own light: “And it seemed to me that there was a star in my womb, and I marvelled thereat, and I laid hold upon it and made it strong in the splendour of the sun…”

The Biblical Account

The oldest account of the Queen of Sheba comes from the Bible, in the book of Kings. It does not give her a name. “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan–with camels carrying spices, tons of gold, and precious stones–she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind.” [10:1-2] He answered every question she asked, and the biblical scribe describes her  as being “overwhelmed” by his wisdom, and by the wealth and splendor of his palace and kingdom.

The Queen praised Solomon and heaped him with precious gifts: “And she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” [10:10] The account says nothing about sex or a son, but goes on to describe tribute paid to Solomon, and the glories of Ophir in Arabia — or Ethiopia. In this account, the Queen is a peer, not a subordinated or inferior figure.

The Quranic Account

In Arabia, the Queen of Sheba is named Bilqis. Among the ruins of Mar’ib is a Sabaean temple platform with eight pillars, sometimes called the Temple of Awwan. Yemenite tradition calls it Mahram Bilqis, her  “sanctuary.” The Qur’an also contains an account about the Queen of Sheba. Again, it does not name her. Even though it treats her being Pagan as despicable, she is described as great in glory. The hoopoe bird tells Suleiman (Solomon) about Saba’:

Indeed, I found a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [his] way, so they are not guided, so they do not prostrate to Allah… [Sura 27:24-25]

This passage reflects a memory of ancient Sabean queendoms with a strong dimension of spiritual leadership.

Suleiman sends a threatening message to Bilqis, “Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission.” Bilqis talks to her counselors, who say that they will go by her decision. She declares, “Indeed kings – when they enter a city, they ruin it and render the honor of its people humbled.” [27:35] This critique of warlordism is quite an extraordinary political statement for any ancient writing! and even more striking in being attributed to a woman ruler. The queen decides to send a gift, choosing the avenue of diplomacy, and to await Suleiman’s reply. He tells the emissaries that what Allah has given him is better than what they have, insults them for “rejoic[ing] in your gift,” and sends them back with a threat: “Return to them, for we will surely come to them with soldiers that they will be powerless to encounter, and we will surely expel them therefrom in humiliation, and they will be debased.” This is the declaration of a power-mad bully, not a man suffused in spiritual wisdom.

Before she set out to meet Suleiman, the Queen of Sheba locked and secured her throne. But the king sent a spirit to bring the throne to him, and disguised it, and tested her to see if she would recognize it. She did. Then Suleiman boasted of the primacy of his knowledge over hers. “And we were given knowledge before her, and we have been Muslims [meaning in submission to Allah, since this is all supposed to have happened fifteen centuries before Muhammad’s time]. And that which she was worshipping other than Allah had averted her. Indeed, she was from a disbelieving people.” [27:42-43]

The Quranic account continues with a story symbolizing the ignorance of the pagan Queen: “She was told, ‘Enter the palace.’ But when she saw it, she thought it was a body of water and uncovered her shins [to wade through]. He said, “Indeed, it is a palace [whose floor is] made smooth with glass.” She said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the worlds.” [Sura 27, from http://quran.com/27 (Much more detail here and here.) This passage shows the queen as exposing her body, considered as shameful for a woman, out of a misapprehension of the wonders in Suleiman’s kingdom. But like the sibyls of Christian tradition, she also symbolizes a prestigious figure of the old pagan order, now made to yield to new supercessionist religions and their exclusively masculine prophets.

Sura 27 portrays a powerful Pagan woman in a shaming and subordinating light, but nevertheless comes the closest that the Islamic scripture gets to a female prophet in her own right. In the Quranic account, she is shown coming not to seek wisdom but to avert a disastrous invasion of her country. In historical reality, as archaeologists have been discovering, Solomonic Israel was utterly incapable of mounting such an invasion, least of all against far-away Yemen or Ethiopia. Little trace remains of the fabled palaces described by the Hebrew scribes; many archaeologists now think they are likely to have been humbler affairs, as there was never a Hebrew empire like that in the inflated biblical account.

Some medieval Arabic historians have Bilqis arriving at the throne not by inheritance, but by marrying a tyrannical king in order to unseat him. She kills him on her wedding night, addresses the people, and takes the throne by acclamation. Her role is heroic, although the writers seem unable to imagine that such a queen could have ascended to the throne in her own right. However, “the earliest inscriptions of the rulers of Dʿmt in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea mention queens of very high status, possibly equal to their kings.”  [Rodolfo Fattovich, “The ‘Pre-Aksumite’ State in Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea Reconsidered” in Paul Lunde and Alexandra Porter ed., Trade and Travel in the Red Sea Region, in D. Kennet & St J. Simpson ed., Society for Arabian Studies Monographs No. 2. BAR International Series 1269. Archaeopress, Oxford: 2004, p. 73]

Because the Queen of Sheba appears in the Qur’an, Muslims spread her story around the world. It became heavily mythologized along the way. Some writers claimed that the Queen was reluctant to uncover her feet because they were deformed, which is why Solomon tricked her into revealing them. But most versions say that Bilqis had the feet of a donkey. This motif belongs to a larger body of faery stories about magical women with the feet of deer (usually), or other hoofed animals, including camels. The glaisteagan of Scotland, huldres of Denmark, and ‘Aisha Qandisha and her company in Morocco, are just a few of them. In the Muslim context, as in the Christian, these stories impute a demonic nature to the spirit-woman (except where an old folk nature spirit motif remains strong).

Such stories were already in circulation in early medieval Islam, with famous theologians like Hasan Al Basri characterizing Bilqis “in a particularly pejorative way as an ‘iljatu meaning ‘she-ass’ or ‘miscreant,’ an expression frequently used to insult non-believers.” (He also insulted her appearance and declared women unfit to rule.) These ideas were common coin, with some going so far as to assert that Bilqis was a jinn, or the “mother of jinni.” [“Bilqis, Queen of Sheba. A democratic queen.” Author unknown. ] Even today, rumors circulate that the Queen of Sheba was really a jinn. (Google Bilqis, you’ll see.)

Christian Representations of Sheba

European authors and artists extend these subordinating narratives that show Solomon as not only the political superior of the Queen of Sheba, but also her spiritual senior and initiator. But now they add a racial distortion, whitening her; whether she came from Ethiopia or Yemen, the Queen of Sheba would have been a dark-skinned woman. This whitening can also be seen in Persian manuscripts.

Female pagan “inferior” before male superior: and de-Africanized at that

I haven’t done an exhaustive study of these representations, but a net search shows that they fall into two primary categories. The first shows the Queen of Sheba approaching Solomon from below, sometimes kneeling before him, or else ascending toward the king who is seated on a dais many steps above her.

Another theme appears in some of the art, however, one of parity and partnership, the true wisdom legacy of the Queen of Sheba. One of these is shown in Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise:

We’re now at a moment where women of African descent are re-envisioning who the Queen of Sheba may have really been, beyond the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptural traditions, within her original cultural context. What was the reality of ancient Ethiopian women? the oldest testimony I know of is the ancient megalithic statues of southern Ethiopia, in Sidamo and Soddo, all in the form of ancestral Mothers.

Atete, Goddess of the Oromo People in southern Ethiopia

(Cross-posted from Suppressed Histories Archive)

You may have read that the Zar religion originated among the Oromo people (also known as “Galla”). Atete is their great goddess. I’m sharing some information I found back in the mid-70s. The source cites are lost, but this is too important to leave out, all the more so because so far I’ve found no […]

You may have read that the Zar religion originated among the Oromo people (also known as “Galla”). Atete is their great goddess. I’m sharing some information I found back in the mid-70s. The source cites are lost, but this is too important to leave out, all the more so because so far I’ve found no other sources offering this level of detail about the Oromo Goddess. I’ve left the account in the present tense even though this veneration has lost tremendous ground in the past century, under pressure from Christianity and Islam.

Oromo woman, possibly wearing a cäle rosary, 1890

Oromo woman, possibly wearing a cäle rosary, 1890

Atete governs the fate of people on earth. She is “power of life, abundance, fortune, wealth,” and Fridays are sacred to her. Women carry strings of specially colored beads (cäle) as a rosary consecrated to this goddess. Groups of women wear necklaces of Atete, hold a feast, and then go to gather herbs. She was originally the Oromo Great Goddess, but even the Christian Amhara have assimilated some aspects of her veneration.

Her feast days are the first of the Ethiopian calendar (a parallel with Isis in Kemet, ancient Egypt, to whom some modern Oromo indigenistas compare her). A great festival and rituals are celebrated every year to honor her, with ritual preparations of steeped barley. On the evening of the festival, women of each household chant invocations over the feast: “Atete Hara, Atete Jinbi, Atete Dula, forget not my children, watch over my husband and my cattle.” Or “My mother, my mistress, please look after me.” Then they burst into the women’s shrilling triumphal cry illi-li-li as they pick up the coffee beans and begin to prepare the drink. On this evening, the woman of the house enter deep trance and speaks as oracles of the zar. The spirits advise the women on the coming year and feast on the food set before them.

The zar (spirit) is passed from mother to daughter; husbands actively try to crush this shamanic tradition. Most zar-doctors are women. [This too has changed, to some extent.] The Gurri was a whirling dance invoking zar, to make them become Weqabi, protective spirits who ride their ‘horses,’ the entranced women.

This fleshes out a bit what several authors have documente about the Oromo origins of the zar religion: that among this people it was connected to indigenous goddess reverence. Not that she was the only spirit, but she is the heart of the religion. Here’s another tidbit from the Amharic side of Ethiopia, whose women massively adopted zar from the Oromo. (Enslaved Oromo women spread the religion into Sudan and Arabia as well, but that’s a much larger subject.)

The earliest known Ethiopian inscriptions are to the goddesses Naurau and Ashtar near Axum. The Ge’ez alphabet is older than Arabic or Greek, and many volumes of a later period fill a large royal library. Ge’ez means “free,” and is a Semitic language. Women of the royal line were called Makeda, like the Queen of Sheba (Sa’ba). One source refers to “The ‘crescent and disc’ of Astarte, a design common to the great fallen monoliths of Aksum, Blemy pottery, and the coins of the kings of Aksum”. [Astarte being the Greek word for Phoenician and Syrian ‘Ashtart, which was ‘Athtar in Arabia.] The Yemenites are the closest linguistic relatives to the Amhara, and since in southern Arabia Athtar was masculinized, I’m not sure that this was a goddess in Ethiopia. It’s possible, however; more to research on that.

More on Oromo, ethnicity, and religion: Ethiopian bloggers weigh in

The Oromo (“Galla”) are a large ethnic group in central and south Ethiopia. They speak a Cushitic language related to Somali, part of the much larger Afro-Asiatic family. They pushed up from southern Ethopia and became the majority population in central and southern Ethiopia. Most of them have converted to Islam or Christianity, although even they retain traces of their old religion, Waaqeffannaa. This means “belief in Waaq,” a supreme god, but they also have an important goddess, Atete, also known by the christianized name Marame. Oromo who adhere to the indigenous religion are now outnumbered by converts.

Oromo people are often referred to as “Galla,” but Ethiopian sources say that this name really designates indigenous religion. An Ethiopian blogger explains the distinctions: “Galla, like the terms Amara [Amhara] and Muslim refers to faith and not to race. Therefore, an Ethiopian is traditionally called Amara if he is a Christian, Muslim if he is of the Islamic faith, and Galla if he practices the traditional Oromo faith or is an animist.” [“Call Me By Name: A small talk with Debteraw, VIII” by Wolde Tewolde, alias Obo Arada Shawl]

In the Comments of the same Debteraw blog, Daniel adds (April 15, 2007): “To many of us who have grown up in the ‘Atete’ culture knew how the ‘Atete’ goddess cuts across ethnic lines. Those of us who still recount the ‘Atete’ ritual might not miss the mantra-like recounting of the ‘Gondare Sifa’.” [Not sure what this is, but I’m guessing that it’s a Christian litany, since Gondar was the imperial capital of the Amhara.]

Daniel sees “the ‘Marame’ goddess and the ‘Eme-Birhan’ i.e. ‘Mariam’” as belonging to a related cluster of Ethiopian folk goddesses (Mariam=Mary, so we see how the Ethiopian Goddess came to be linked with the Christian one). He also compares “the Amhara and Oromo peasant hut design and how they reflect female figurines,” and talks about “the matriarchal-paganism of the ‘Galla’” which was displaced by “the patrilineal androgenic God figure of the northerner.” [This is overstating the case, as you’ll see from my previous Note about an Oromo woman’s article on indigenous patriarchy and women’s resistance to it.] However, the Oromo religion does retain aspects of very old female potency. Numerous sources show Atete morphing into Mariam / Marame through Christian influence.

There’s a larger feminist issue here: patriarchal systems are commonly described as “egalitarian,” when in fact what is being described is a lack of class ranking / hierarchy. For example, look at this: “The Galla of Ethiopia are generally represented as an egalitarian people.” The author goes on to cite the Gada system, in which an all-male assembly elects its own leaders. That is the criterion for “egalitarian.” (See the next post for more perspective on male dominance in the Oromo family.) Further, class ranking has in fact intruded, as  monarchies supplanted the Gada councils over the past 200 years). [Herbert Lewis, “A Reconsideration of the Socio-Political System of the Western Galla.” Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol 9, 1964, p 139 (139-143)]

An Ethiopian evangelical scholar gives more detail about the Atete ceremonies, although the article comes from a Lutheran conceptual framework that treats the indigenous religions as demonic. [Amsalu Tadesse Geleta, “Demonization and Exorcism,” thesis at The Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology.] I’m going to quote from this essay in spite of the very negative Christian bias and stereotypical terms (“cult,” etc.), because it does offer some valuable information, even if we have to read through the bias:

“Atete is a fertility cult in honor of the spirit of motherhood in Oromo tradition. The cult is known as conversion zar among the Amharas of Ethiopia. There is a similarity of practices between Atete and Conversion Zar. The preparation is the same. The main difference is that the conversion zar is practiced among the Amharas whereas Atete is practiced among the Oromos. Atete is a non-violent female goddess mainly connected with fertility. Women who seek supernatural help to become pregnant and bear healthy children are the main adherents.

“The clients of this cult are women. A girl will take over or be possessed by her mother’s ayana(spirit). Her ayana normally possesses or visits her once or twice a year. She spends her day preparing things that are needed for the ceremony. She has to prepare herself wearing special clothes (often of the opposite sex), putting on beads and ornaments, perfumes and carrying a whip, steel bar or an empty gun. Green grass (reed from river side) is spread on the floor as a sign of ceremony or anniversary.

“Different types of foods like porridge, butter, lemons, dadhi (honey wine, yellow in color), farso (home made beer), and coffee is prepared before the ceremony starts. There might be some more sacrifice prescribed by ayana on its previous possession. So chicken, sheep or goat of certain color is offered as a sacrifice and perfumes or different spices are presented as an offer. If the spirit is pleased by the offerings and the preparation it occupies her. People know that she is possessed when she starts yawning, stretching the whole body here and there, salivating, and becoming drowsy. Her body wavers, and she also cries, speaks as if she is in dream alone. She often falls down and covers her face with her dress.

“She may jump and run away and climb trees, not coming down until people beg her. Others stand on glowing wood or eat embers. She may cut herself with a knife, or crush pieces of glass and eat them. She speaks in a strange voice, often using a language understood only by the zar themselves. She may sing a song reserved for the occasion, or dance a peculiar dance associated with a particular ceremony. She acts very differently from normal strength, voice, activity, etc. which signify that the spirit has possessed her.

“This possession may last from a few hours to two or three days. The main function of the gathered spectators throughout the ceremony is to appease the ayana, sing songs, clap, dance and beat a drum, and beg the spirit not to hurt her. [This last may again reflect the author’s Christian bias] Geleta goes on to say that “In contrast to Atete which is dominated by women, seer zar is man’s zar.”

So we see repeated several shamanic themes: special ritual dress in accord with the spirits, trance states, falling to the ground, covering the face, imperviousness to fire or blades, supernatural strength, spirit languages, special songs for certain spirits, and not least in this case, involvement of ancestral spirits inherited matrilineally. The climbing up into trees (or onto roofs) also occurs with new shamanic initiates in Zambia and other African countries.

Another interesting aspect of Geleta’s article is that it plainly states the equivalence of indigenous Oromo religion with Zar. We’ve already seen one author make the case for an Ethiopian origin for Zar, which is backed up by other experts, and here that idea receives further support from a hostile witness.

Two short mentions of Atete appear in Literatures in African Languages, ed. B.W. Andrzejewski et al, Cambridge University Press 2010.

J…lq…b… b…rsisa [characters won’t reproduce] an Oromo textbook published in 1894, contains legends, proverbs, and oral poems; “there are even some hymns to Atete, the goddess of fertility.” [B.W. Andrzejewski, “Written Literature in Oromo,” p 409]

“Atete, also called Maram [that is, after the Christian goddess Maryam or Mary] is the goddess of fertility worshipped in some regions of Ethiopia by the adherents of the traditional Oromo religion.” [B.W. Andrzejewski, “Oral Prose: the Time-Bound Stream,” p 415]

Other present-day testimony comes from web sites on Waaqeefannaa (indigenous Oromo religion):

“Based on the story of Irreechaa, the Oromo started celebrating Waaqayyoo beside Odaa tree, which was for the first time planted by Atete as a symbol of Ora-Omo (resurrection of Ora, who raised from death to celebrate the reconciliation with his murderer, with his brother Sete). [Here referring to Kemetic Ausar and Set] Since then, the other Cushitic nations also celebrate this event either under a tree (Odaa) or beside a statue of stone (like beside the Axum Obelisk) or beside a temporarily planted Demera as it’s now done almost all over Ethiopia. [This caught my interest because of the megalithic statues and standing stones in southern Ethiopia, and the symbolism of a plant or tree which recurs on many of them, which is repeated on female belly tattoos among some indigenous Ethiopian peoples.] Interesting is to observe this relation between Atete’s original plant as a symbol for the resurrection of Ora with the Oromo’s Odaa tree, lately replaced by the statue of Agew’s (Tegaru’s) Axum Obelisk, which is now further replaced by Demera, to be planted only temporarily during the transition time from a winter (darkness, unsuccessful, death) to a spring (a new start of light, a new start for success, a new start of life) every year. Knowingly or unknowingly, all Cush nations, including those who claim to be Semites (Tegaru, Amhara, Gurage, Harari, Argoba, etc), celebrate Irreechaa, which is the celebration of Ora’s resurrection. That is why Irreechaa is actually the holiday for all Cush nations, including those who deny their origins and try to identify themselves with Semetics (with David, with Solomon, with Arab, etc).

[from “Merry Irreechaa! Both ‘Land to the Tiller’ and ‘Self-Rule of Nations’ are Irreversible Victories” September 18, 2010  By Fayyis Oromia] (Videos of Irreechaa ceremonies can be found on Youtube.)

The same author assimilates Atete to Isis in other articles:http://www.voiceoforomia.com/99871.html,  http://www.gadaa.com/oduu/?p=79

© 2010 Max Dashu

 

Source Memory (Veleda)My blog ranges over whatever subjects on global women’s history and culture i happen to be working on, or that come across my screen. The idea is to bring forward cultural traditions that usually get sequestrated from the view of all but the most specialist scholars. Recent posts have looked at prophetic women in the Pacific Islands, pagan culture of the Kalasha in upper Pakistan, medicine women and soul retrieval in Manchuria, Notre Dame de la Vie in Savoie, and the Women’s Dance as depicted in art around the world.

The Erasure of Women’s Research by @PlanetCath

Yesterday, the Centre for Social Justice released a report entitled, ‘Girls and Gangs’ in advance of their conference, ‘Tackling Exploitation of Girls in Gangs’ on 24th March.

The conference is being held in London (of course) and aims to address the following questions;

  • What are the dangers of girls becoming associated with gangs?
  • Are we identifying and supporting vulnerable girls effectively?
  • What do these girls need to help them escape gang culture?
  • Who is best placed to work with and support these girls?

Great, you might think. Isn’t it good that we are continuing to raise awareness of the risks faced by girls and young women? Well, no. I don’t think it’s great. In fact, I am furiously angry about it. The cultural femicide of women is clearly visible in this latest announcement.

Let’s take a look at what’s already out there shall we?

August 2009 – The government produce guidance on Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation. This is to be read in conjunction with Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006)

 January 2010 – Nia (a women’s organisation) wrote about ‘Gangs: Don’t you know it’s different for girls?’

 February 2010 – Carlene Firmin and Race On The Agenda publish, ‘The Female Voice in Violence.’ A comprehensive study of the experiences of girls and women involved, or affiliated, to gangs.

February 2011 – The Griffin Society publish Jessica Southgate’s research; ‘Seeing differently: Working with girls affected by gangs

 October 2011 – The University of Bedford, in partnership with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner release, ‘What’s Going On to Safeguard Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation?

July 2012 – ‘Out of Place’ is released by The Howard League.  A report by Professor Jo Phoenix on the policing and criminalisation of sexually exploited girls and young women.

July 2013 – a briefing report was released to the government on the emerging findings of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with a special focus on children in care

 November 2013 – The Office of the Children’s Commissioner published their research, ‘If Only Someone Had Listened.’ An Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups

 November 2013 – ‘It’s Wrong, But You Get Used To It,’ The Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

November 2013 – “Sex without consent, I suppose that is rape”: How young people in England understand sexual consent is published by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

 And that’s just a few. All written predominantly by women, in partnership with women. There are many, many more pieces of work which address the surrounding issues for girls and young women in dangerous and risky situations. There is a wealth of information on, for example, girls in the youth justice system, girls in the care system, women in the criminal justice system. All these pieces of research tell us the same things; that there is a link between the girls who are being exploited now, and the women who go on to offend.

And here we are, in 2014, with yet another conference, yet another piece of research and yet another set of emotive headlines that people will shake their heads at and wonder why nothing is being done. Well, I’ll tell you why nothing is being done.

There is a significant lack of joined up thinking in most local authorities. They fail to make the connections between sexual exploitation, gang affiliation and sexual violence.

They take their lead from the government who also fail to join the dots.

They encourage services to work in silos, competing with one another for funding.

They cut the funding for girls and women’s services so that any initiative can only be sustained for (at the most) one or two years.

They hold meetings with statutory service providers and develop strategies in order to tick the box on gender, gangs and exploitation but don’t actually do anything practical or constructive.

They ignore the wealth of research and evidence that’s already been produced by women in favour of yet another event producing information that we already know.

I have been a social work and youth justice practitioner for 17 years. I have worked in the city of Nottingham, a city with significant gang problems, with young women who are sexually exploited by those gangs for about 15 of those years. The issues today are the same, if not worse, as they were at the start of my work. Except the girls I originally worked with are long gone. Some are in prison, some are stuck in a cycle of poverty, deprivation and exclusion, some are dead. Those girls were failed because we had no real resources to help them get out, no substantial training and no proper understanding of the situation. The reason we didn’t have all those things is because no one wanted to listen.

In November 2009, I presented my own research on Sustaining Gender Specific Provision with Girls in the Youth Justice System to the Women In Focus conference in London. Teresa May was one of the speakers and I asked her, if her government was to win the next election, what would they be doing to address the particular vulnerabilities of girls who are exploited and criminalised. She shrugged. She literally just shrugged, and passed the question to someone else. Why? Because she didn’t have a clue, and couldn’t have cared less. I then suggested that, the funding (over £9 million) from the Corston Report should be extended to under 18’s. A preventative measure to address the vulnerabilities of those girls who would become the female offenders of the future. I was ignored. As were many of my colleagues and fellow practitioners and researchers. And they have continued to ignore us.

In Nottingham, The Pink Project hold a grass roots practitioner group made up of statutory, voluntary and third sector representatives. The group is also attended by girls and women who have been involved in gangs or sexual exploitation. We are ignored.

So, ask yourself these questions;

Why is the work that women have completed already being duplicated? When Sue Berelowitz from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner released one of the interim reports on child sexual exploitation, she was called, hysterical” and the report dismissed as “highly emotional.” I doubt very much that the report from the CSJ will be considered the same.

Why has nothing been done already when we’ve known about the issues for years? Because the voices of the girls and women is not enough.  Their experiences are often dismissed as, ‘anecdotal evidence’ but it is actually narratives from practice.

Why should we pay more attention to the Centre for Social Justice and the male voices than those of women who have already done the work? I think you can answer that yourself.

Let’s revisit the questions that the CSJ plan to answer on Monday.

What are the dangers of girls becoming associated with gangs?

Sexual exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse, teen relationship abuse, substance misuse, coercion and control, offending, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, health risks, death.

Are we identifying and supporting vulnerable girls effectively?

No the government certainly isn’t. But the practitioners on the ground, the girls in the community, the women who work tirelessly –unpaid – in areas where there is sexual exploitation and gang activity do, and have known who the girls are for years.

What do these girls need to help them escape gang culture?

They need long term, well-funded and sustainable support services. They need to know that they have somewhere to go, someone to talk to, to disclose to, that will listen. They need to be believed and trusted that their experience is real and that yes, this is wrong and we can stop it happening. They need to be supported by people who don’t blame them for their experiences. They need practitioners and support workers to be well trained, to be knowledgeable, skilled and motivated. How do you motivate staff? Pay them a decent wage and prove that you are serious about tackling this.

Who is best placed to work with and support these girls?

How about the women who are already doing it? How about the community groups that live and work in the most affected areas? How about the practitioners who are already doing the work? The ones you haven’t been listening to because, well, it’s just the women again isn’t it?

So, there you go. We don’t need another conference to answer those questions. We don’t need another piece of research to answer those questions. WE ALREADY KNOW.

But guess what, no one will listen.

The government won’t release funding. The local Authorities won’t release funding. The PCC won’t release funding. Why? Because women and girls are just not worth listening to or investing in.

We don’t need another piece of research. We have enough. How much more evidence do you need?

Women’s Activism in the NorthEast of England

These images are taken from a variety of feminist marches, celebrations and conferences in the past few years!

 

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Slutwalk

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Pro-choice rally

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Reclaim the Night

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North East Feminist Gathering

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Greenham Common Anniversary

 

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Shadi Ghadirian by @CarmenRoseLittl

 

(Cross-posted with permission from The Joy in My Feet)

Shadi Ghadirian is an Iranian photographer and creator of the wonderful series of photos, Qajar, referring to the art and art forms of the 18th – 19th century Qajar dynasty. I saw her beautiful photos a few years ago at a frustratingly named ‘Light from the Middle East’ exhibition at the V&A. Despite the unfortunate exhibition title stereotyping the MIddle East as a place of darkness and backwardness, her portraits challenge this kind of reductive imagery by showing her female models, friends and family members that she knows, as intelligent, interested and interesting agents with an articulate voice and articulated desires in spite of the restrictions surrounding their freedom. At the same time, by recreating beautiful backdrops and dressing her models in clothes from the 20th century Shadi  reminds us of the beauty of Iran, something I have read much about and am curious to see for myself, but something that is often overlooked in the illustrations of Iran as a place of wickedness that dominate. When people talk of Iranian women they do so often with pity, as poor souls stuck in an uncivilised country they cannot leave – they do not imagine a love for one’s country, a desire to stay, a recognition of its rich and sophisticated culture that is both ancient and constantly evolving. I like her work because it forces us to remind ourselves that we should never condemn or celebrate in entirety but look for the “duality and contradiction of life”.
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(the images are of a better quality at The Joy in My Feet)

The Joy in my Feet: Inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, my blog The Joy in My Feet is about celebrating the work of women activists and artists around the world campaigning to end gender oppression. I am an intern with Equality Now working on a campaign to end FGM in the UK, so most of the posts you’ll find are covering current issues of sexual or gender based violence against women, interspersed with poetry and art.

 

Meet Margaret E Knight – The Paper Bag Pioneer Who Had Her Inventions Stolen by a Man by Women Rock Science

(Cross-posted from Women Rock Science)

 

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Meet Margaret E Knight, the factory girl and child inventor who grew up to become America’s Paper bag queen. Margaret or Mattie as she was known had been inventing various factory machinery since she was 12 years old. She is credited with inventing the machinery for the flat bottomed paper bag; one of America’s most iconic products and the mainstay of supermarkets and school lunches everywhere. Her invention was so spectacular that another inventor, Charles Annan, spied on her work and stole it from her.

 

Before Mattie, paper bags only came in envelope style, very flimsy and impractical. For several years, engineers had tried but couldn’t come up with a machine that could mass produce and manufacture flat bottomed paper bags and if it couldn’t be manufactured then it couldn’t be produced for the public. Mattie, who worked at a paper bag factory, decided to focus on this problem and designed a new type of machinery able to produce 1000’s of flat bottomed bags at once, it revolutionised the paper bag industry.

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Mattie’s Patent

Due to her poverty and lowly status it took Mattie 3 years to take her idea from prototype to the patent office. In this time another inventor, Charles Annan, deceptively spied on her work, stole her designs and filed a patent in his own name for her inventions. Mattie found out and took him to court, fortunately her drawings, diary entries, paper cuttings and knowledge proved him wrong and Knight was eventually awarded the patent for her designs in 1871.
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Mattie’s initial prototype

In total Mattie is credited with about 90 inventions and 22 patents in everything from shoe making and skirt protectors to boring machinery and sleeve valve engines for cars. Her passion for design started as a very young child. Armed with only a notepad and her deceased father’s toolbox she made sledges, kites and jumping jacks for her older brothers and a foot warmer to keep her mother warm whilst she worked cold nights. At the age of just 12 she made her first invention. After noticing a serious accident at the cotton mill where her brothers worked, Mattie invented a stop motion safety device for looms to prevent workers getting injured. As an adult, Mattie became a celebrity, she was awarded the Royal Legion of Honour by Queen Victoria in England and in 1913 the NY Times reported that Knights paper bag was in “universal use”

 

Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

Meet Leizu the Legendary Chinese Empress who is Credited with Inventing Silk by Women Rock Science

Meet Leizu the Legendary Chinese Empress who is Credited with Inventing Silk by Women Rock Science

 

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This is Leizu (aka  Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in 2640 BC. A teenager and wife of the Yellow Emperor Leizu was outside having tea one day when a silk worm cocoon fell into her cup. She fiddled and toyed with the cocoon and noticed fine shiny strands emanating from it. Leizu, totally fascinated by the strands, gathered together her ladies in waiting to formulate a technique of weaving the strands together to make a cloth. Eventually they succeeded and she presented this cloth to her husband, the Emperor. Leizu went on the develop sericulture, the science behind producing silk.

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Chinese Women Producing Silk 12th Century AD

The legendary tale of how she invented this wonderous material was recorded by Chinese academic, Confucius. No one truly knows how much of the story is true and how much of it is myth but Leizu went on to be revered and respected by the Chinese people. Sericulture remained a woman only science in China for thousands of years. Silk went on to become one of China’s biggest exports with cloths found all over the world. The method of production was kept secret for 3000 years and people found trying to teach others or smuggle worms out of China were executed.

Sources British Silk Association Women in ScienceInsects Through the Seasons

 

Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

The Inimitable Life of Sophie Germain by Women Rock Science

(Cross-posted from Women Rock Science)

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This is Sophie Germain, 18th Century physicist, mathematician and philosopher. She is the first person for 200 years to make progress on Fermat’s last theorem and her pioneering theories on elasticity helped build the Eiffel tower. Her journey into science was an unusual one, as a teenager, she had to fight her parents for the right to read books and as an adult she had to pretend to be a man to take university courses. Despite her amazing work she was not included in the list of 72 French architects and scientists whose names are inscribed in the Eiffel tower.

 

Sophie was born in 1776 to a wealthy Parisian family. Her parents did not approve of girls receiving an education and banned Sophie from studying. This was a huge point of conflict as Sophie was obsessed with mathematics, particularly the theories of the ancient Greeks. Her parents even went so far as take away her heat, clothing and lights so that she couldn’t sneakily study at night as she had been caught doing many times. Her parents eventually surrendered when they found her in the middle of the night, reading, freezing naked with a burnt out candle stub. From this moment on they let her continue to study and her father even went on to support her financially.

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Names Inscribed in the Eiffel Tower

At 18 a new technical University opened in the city. Sophie wished to go but was barred entry as she was a woman. Just like before, Sophie wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She used the identity of a former male student Monsieur Le-Blanc to write into the university and request lecture notes for remote learning. As the course progressed, she even began submitting coursework under her new male name. She was excellent although it was this excellence that would get her busted. Le-Blanc’s work was so intelligent, so brilliant that the course supervisor demanded to meet with him. It was then he discovered that Le-Blanc was actually Sophie Germain.

The professors at the university took the identity swap revelations surprisingly well. Though she was not granted a degree she forged strong mentorships with some of the finest mathematicians in France. She pioneered work on the law of vibrating elastic surfaces which made the construction of the Eiffel Tower possible. Several years later, she went on to be the first person to progress in providing the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem – a problem that had been troubling mathematicians for 200 years.

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Fermat’s last theorem img Source: Simon Singh

Despite her achievements, upon her death, her death certificate listed her simply as a single woman with no profession – not a mathematician. Further when the Eiffel tower was built, her name was not included in the list of scientists despite her theories being key in its construction. Sophie didn’t receive a formal school education and her work was often haphazard and lacked formal structure. However it is this very nature that allowed her creativity to flourish and gave her a unique perspective on mathematical problems.

 

Women Rock Science: A site dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women and girls in science

 

YES, WE DO STILL NEED INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY by @grainnemcmahon

(Cross-posted with permission from feimineach)

Over on the quickhits earlier, I POSTED THIS LINK. It was to a piece in the Indy today, entitled, To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists. Well ain’t that the truth.

I did my usual quickhitting and tweeting on Saturday – International Women’s Day – but I didn’t bother with the day itself so much or with its coverage. It’s not that I don’t support International Women’s Day (there’s very little women’s anything that I don’t support) but this year, it weighed heavily on me that we still need it. There was the usual backlash on twitter from all the detractors. When is International Men’s Day, they asked. RICHARD HERRING HANDLED THAT MUCH BETTER THAN I EVER COULD. I, of course, would have responded that every single day is International Men’s Day because this is a patriarchy and that is how it works.

Yesterday, also over on the quickhits, I posted the MAIN FINDINGS FROM A REPORT on violence against women in the EU. The report interviewed 42,000 women across the EU about “their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including incidents of intimate partner violence (‘domestic violence’)”. That’s a good sample size by anyone’s measure so there shouldn’t be any doubt about the findings. Here are some of them:

  • One in three women (33%) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since she was 15 years old. Out of all women who have a (current or previous) partner, 22% have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner since the age of 15.
  • Of those women who indicate they have been victims of sexual violence by a non-partner, almost one in 10 indicates that more than one perpetrator was involved in the incident when describing the details of the most serious incident of sexual violence they have experienced.
  • Whereas in most cases violence by a previous partner occurred during the relationship, one in six women (16%) who has been victimised by a previous partner experienced violence after the relationship had broken up.

There are many more on the link and in the REPORT’S PDF. It is not until you see the starkness of the statistics, written neatly in a paragraph, that you realise and understand just how much violence women experience. One in three women and girls. I’ll say that again: ONE IN THREE WOMEN AND GIRLS.

So why do we still need International Women’s Day? We need it because of violence against women, because a young student I know was belittled and humiliated by her campus welfare support team for reporting on women’s issues, because another young student I know was called a “feminist bitch” and threatened when she stood up for women and girls at her college, because I get a taxi home after dark instead of walking even if it’s still early, because of RAPE CULTURE ON CAMPUS, because of EVERYDAY VICTIM-BLAMING, because of EVERYDAY SEXISM, because VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IS UP FOR BETS, because the DEFAULT POSITION IS TO QUESTION THE VICTIM’S STORY, because of STREET HARASSMENT, because of OUR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, because there are “BLURRED LINES“, because OF LAD CULTURE, because OF PAGE 3, because of the IMPACT OF PORN, because of THESE STATISTICS, because OF THESE STATISTICS, because OF THESE STATISTICS, and because OF THESE WOMEN.

 

Feimineach quick-hitting the hell out of everything. occasional thinky blogging. [@grainnemcmahon]

Pieces of History by @histoftech

(Cross-posted with permission from White Heat)

In the middle of the woods in Durham, NC there is an abandoned dinosaur. It remains one of the greatest curiosities I’ve stumbled upon in my life, and it got me thinking about how we can tell history through objects.

So here goes: at over 100 feet long and 30 feet tall, the Durham dinosaur is probably the biggest thing I’ve ever walked by without seeing. It was part of an educational “dinosaur park” that was attached to the Durham Museum of Life and Science, but in the 1990s the rest of the park was severely damaged by Hurricane Fran. As a result the exhibit was closed and the remaining sculptures fell into disrepair as the forest grew to engulf them. The brontosaurus remained, but became largely invisible behind the trees and dense underbrush, despite its great size.

The Museum moved to a better building across the street, and on to other exhibits with a different focus. In fact, the museum had steadily expanded since the original dinosaur park was built in 1964 by a determined and energetic young man who started as a volunteer and then served as curator and director for many years.

Richard Wescott, born in England in 1924, joined the British Navy at 17 and served as a radio operator during World War II. While in the service, he met a young woman who was a lieutenant in the US Army’s Nursing Corps. He married her, and promptly came back to the U.S. as a “war bride.” Wescott and his wife settled in Durham, in aneighborhood that was itself largely a creation of the post-war boom years. Only a few years earlier, German prisoners of war had been kept in a camp in a nearby town.

When Wescott began working at the Museum, it was known at the “Children’s Museum.” It had only been started in 1946. Early memorable exhibits were said to include a stuffed wallaby and a 2-headed calf. With Westcott’s hands-on intervention, the museum grew from a small-town curiosity to a regional attraction–the jewel in its collection being the outdoor dinosaur park that Wescott planned and spearheaded, going so far as to design and sculpt the figures himself.  

In 1964, he completed the massive brontosaurus, the centerpiece of the park. In this picture, you can see Wescott working on its teeth, which he carefully sculpted out of chicken wire before covering them with plaster and paint. Unlikeroadside dinosaur parks, the life-size models in the museum’s park were meticulously accurate, reflecting the best paleontological knowledge available at the time. In addition, they were naturalistic–and artistic–in ways that helped visitors easily imagine, on humid North Carolinian summer days, how these animals had once moved across the same earth that we now occupy. When the dinosaur park opened in 1970, it had close to a dozen sculptures, and more were added in the next few years. None remain except as wreckage hidden in the woods today.  Except, that is, for the Brontosaurus.

Wescott and his family moved on to Georgia, where he headed another museum.After the park closed in the 1990s, locals in the know still delighted in catching a glimpse, or a snapshot, of the old dinosaur when winter thinned the trees enough for it to be seen. It became a quiet local landmark, but steadily fell into disrepair, its underside clawed open and its interior home to raccoons, and at one point, a homeless person.

Then somebody cut off its head. Using a chainsaw, the vandals ripped the concrete and fiberglass skin off the neck and face, and then carted it away in a pickup truck, dumping it in the woods near a local high school. Though the museum knew the identities of the high-school-age vandals they kept it secret–for fear the community would try to do the same to them. With the enormous steel infrastructure of the dinosaur now exposed, it became clear how this sculpture had survived so well, for so long. It seemed to mark the end of an era. Standing headless, the care and memories embedded in the brontosaurus seemed to have evaporated. In their place had been left a surly reminder of antisocial acting out.

As it turned out, this was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the old dinosaur. The community rallied around it, demanding that it be fixed and accorded the proper respect for the landmark it had become, rather than continuing to be treated as a forgotten relic. It helped that the Museum was opening a new dinosaur park around the same time: this made it difficult for Museum officials to decide to dismantle the old dinosaur given the community pressure to fix it–it would have torpedoed their publicity for the new exhibit. The community raised thousands of dollars and the Museum hired an artist who works on large outdoor sculpture to not only repair the head and neck, but close up other tears that had developed, particularly the gutted belly area.

After that, improvements and beautification to the land around the dinosaur continued, rescuing it from the overgrowth that had obscured it. (The photos you see above show the dinosaur after this work had been completed.) During a celebration of the dino’s re-capitation, goats were brought in to eat away the underbrush, to the delight of the children in attendance. Shortly after, the trail on which it stands was renamed as a memorial to its creator, and a promise to the community that it would continue to remain a Durhamlandmark.

BONUS: Want to make your own “Durham Dinosaur?” Try this sewing pattern that I made. Print it at whatever size you like, and piece the pattern shapes together.

 

White Heat:  a blog about the history of technology and how to teach it. Women, gender and sexuality in history and technology. Queer and feminist analyses of the past. (@histoftech)

Gender and Infrastructure: Part II by @histoftech

Last spring my Gender and Technological Change class did a project on bathrooms and gender, using our campus as a laboratory.

You can read all about the rationale for the experiment here, but the short version is that we tried to look at how the built environment influences, and even enforces gender divisions, and how resources in the real world impact how people feel and express themselves in public spaces. This tied into larger class discussions about how seemingly neutral technologies create and enforce categories in society, rather than merely reflecting them.

The outcome of the project was a variety of visualizations of the data the class collected–including graphs, charts, and spreadsheets. Perhaps the most impressive and useful one was the google map that drew on the class’s research. For those who might not be familiar with the abbreviated names for each campus building, an IIT campus map is available here.

(Note: Data is incomplete for the Life Sciences Building (LS). The men’s bathrooms for that building were unfortunately not counted. So although it appears on the map as *only* having women’s bathrooms, this is not the case. We hope to update that soon.)

Two students in particular took the lead in creating this resource: Carla Kundert, who did all the meticulous work of setting up the map and transferring information it, and Cruz Tovar, who created a unified spreadsheet of all the information collected by the class that allowed the data to be easily utilized for the map.

 

By giving information about the relative sizes and locations of men’s and women’s bathrooms, the map tries to show the inadequacy of facilities on campus for women, as well as the paucity of bathrooms designated as gender-neutral. It tries to comment on which bathrooms are easily accessible for users with mobility concerns, and also indicates which bathrooms on campus might be good targets for future conversion to gender-neutral spaces, noting which facilities have a single stall configuration.

It was the class’s hope that this map could serve as a resource for current and future IIT students, and perhaps jump-start a public discussion about how IIT’s administration can meet the needs of students more effectively when it comes to this basic and essential resource.

As the chart to the left shows, there are significantly fewer facilities for women than there should be based on women’s numbers in the Illinois Tech population: Though IIT still struggles to attract and retain women students and faculty, overall we are 37% women, with our undergraduate student body currently 31% women, and roughly 21% of our full-time faculty. Critically, this chart also shows the woefully tiny resources devoted to safe, gender neutral restroom spaces on campus.

 

 

White Heat:  a blog about the history of technology and how to teach it. Women, gender and sexuality in history and technology. Queer and feminist analyses of the past. (@histoftech)

Gender and Infrastructure by @histoftech

(Cross-posted with permission from White Heat)

 

In my Gender and Technological Change course the students are currently looking at how gender and infrastructure shape each other, and in particular, how technological infrastructure disciplines our thinking, and our bodies, into specific patterns.

The class read a great historical article on the moral, political, and economic wranglings to try to get public bathrooms placed in major U.S. and European cities during the late 19th and early 20th century. The catch? Public bathrooms for women were seen as outside the pale by most men in charge at the time, leaving city women in an uncomfortable situation. Professor Maureen Flanagan, department head here at IIT in the Humanities, shows in “Private Needs, Public Spaces–Public Toilets in the Anglo-Atlantic Patriarchal City: London, Dublin, Toronto and Chicago” that attempts to keep public bathrooms for women out of cities were also attempts to shape women’s behavior into “respectable” patterns–namely to keep women out of public places and to keep their time out and about to a minimum.

We also looked at more recent bathroom projects: particularly ones designed to highlight or make more available genderqueer and trans-friendly bathroom spaces. In this regard, college and university campuses have often led the way, making specific policies to create gender-neutral and genderqueer-friendly bathroom spaces.

On a personal note, I still remember how my undergraduate institution lacked enough women’s bathrooms in many buildings–including the undergraduate library–because women had only been allowed into the main parts of the campus as (almost) equals in the 1970s and 1980s. And even in the 1990s, when I was a college student, genderqueer-friendly bathrooms were barely even acknowledged as an issue by the administration, despite student groups’ protests.


Campus Map of the main buildings at Illinois Institute of Technology:http://www.iit.edu/about/campus_map.shtml

 

 

 

 

 

Here at IIT, we have a multi-layered problem: not only is the discourse on queer issues on campus relatively quiet, the infrastructure of the campus has long been designed to reflect the fact that the majority of IIT’s students and faculty are men. (Currently, women make up roughly 30% of the student population here.)

So our class did an experiment to try to see how these things were reflected in, and also shaped by, the physical infrastructure of the campus. Each class member went to a series of buildings on campus and made notes about the bathrooms, including the gender of the bathroom and accessibility issues. Once their comments have been collected below, we’ll put them up on a campus map using Google maps to create an online resource for the campus.

 

White Heat:  a blog about the history of technology and how to teach it. Women, gender and sexuality in history and technology. Queer and feminist analyses of the past. (@histoftech)

How Mumsnet put some fire in my belly and why I hope my boys embrace feminism by @mummytolittlee

A couple of weekends ago Mumsnet Blogfest 2013 hit my radar. I didn’t go but I heard lots about it. Twitter and the blogosphere were awash with comments and stories about the day, particularly the final session in which a panel of women responded to the rather irritating question “Can you be a ‘mummy-blogger’ and still be a feminist?” I say “irritating” because as far as I’m concerned the answer is a resounding: of course you bloody can. I’m guessing what Mumsnet were really asking was whether we can be stay at home-cupcake baking-craft goddess-domestic queen type mummy bloggers and still be feminist. My answer to this would still be: of course we bloody can. Mummy blogging and feminism are entirely compatible and the fact that this question was posed demonstrates several layers of misunderstanding. 

Feminism isn’t about dictating your choices or experiences; that’s the very antithesis of feminism. If you want to bake all day, wrap your child from head to toe in Cath Kidston, swap your career for kids, or be a mummy blogger, then flippin’ go for it. Feminism argues that we are entitled to do what we want. However (and it’s a big however) feminism also argues that we shouldown our choices, that we should be our masters, and that we shouldn’t be subservient to men. These things can only happen if we acknowledge the impact of patriarchy on our decision-making. We must try to establish whether the choices we make are truly free, or whether they are just disguised as free. And that’s not always an easy thing to work out. We are institutionalised from a very young age to accept gender inequality, and in extreme cases we are made so vulnerable that our agency and our freedom of choice is removed.

The illusion of choice
If you’ve read this blog before you may be aware that my family converted to a strict form of Islam when I was younger.  My stepfather reverted to his faith and as children we were expected to follow. There was no discussion, no compromise and life as I knew it – my friends, my school, my appearance, my identity, my voice, my autonomy – was ripped away from me. I was helpless to the changes and I felt like I was drowning. I realise now, in hindsight, that I had a breakdown that spanned a few years. Bear with me, there is a point to this cheery anecdote. I lived a life in which my freewill was made defunct because of patriarchy. One day I woke up (no exaggeration, it really was thatinstant) and I was expected to become a different person – subservient, ‘modest’ and weak. I did it, not because I felt it was the right thing to do, but because I was terrified of the male voices ordering me to do it – the voices of my step father, the religious leaders, the men screaming out from all the religious books I was told to read. Even when the women in our new religious community offered help and advice about ‘my’ new faith all I could hear in their words were the fears and desires of men.You’d think that the experience would have left me cynical and jaded, but I was brainwashed and I couldn’t see that patriarchy had pushed me to the point of breakdown. And when I finally broke free I became an apologist for the ideology that had controlled me. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised how blind I’d become. I was on the phone to a journalist who was considering running a story about my experience of conversion. She questioned my unswerving and aggressive support for the hijab (I was defensive and angry towards anyone that questioned it and at the time I thought I was standing up for tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and women’s rights) and she introduced me to an idea that turned my blind faith in male authority on its head: the illusion of choice. Suddenly I became aware that my ‘conversion’ and the decisions I’d made in the years following it hadn’t been born out of choice. Instead, I and many of the females I’d grown up amongst had been stripped of our freedom by patriarchal values and behaviour. I was fed dogma and religious doctrine that imposed such guilt it undermined my intelligence and my confidence and it made rational thought virtually impossible. I was taught that ‘my’ new faith was all about submitting to the will of God, but in reality all I ever did was submit to the will of men. I wasn’t beaten into covering up (although I know girls who were) but the threat of violence always loomed. Just as terrifying as the violent methods of control were the concepts of duty, purity, honour and shame – they wormed their way into my psyche, made me ashamed of my body and my gender, and paralysed me with fear.

I don’t suppose the specifics of my patriarchy experience are shared by many women; however I believe the fact that I spent a good chunk of my life being ignorant to the illusion of choice puts me in the majority. Gender expectations and sexism are present in all cultures and they skew women’s decision-making. It means that often, when we think we’re making free, autonomous choices, we are actually being herded into lifestyles and decisions to fit the sexist principles of our culture.

We are not sausages
Aside from the silly opening question the final session at Mumsnet Blogfest proved contentious for other reasons.  A panel of women discussed a range of things related to feminism, gender and motherhood. But it wasn’t until Sarah Ditum explained her return to university after having children that the atmosphere in the room shifted. There were terse exchanges on Twitter about her comments and those of us who couldn’t attend Blogfest were intrigued. I wondered what on earth she’d said to generate such upset and because I had nothing better to do that day *ahem* I found a video of the discussion and read a few blogs to try to figure out what had happened. Hercule Poirot: Eat. Your. Heart. Out.

It turns out Sarah Ditum went back to university because she believed having interests and ambitions aside from her child made her a better parent. I was shocked, not by the choice she made or the reasoning she gave, but by the fact that people were offended. It seems her personal choice was misconstrued as an attack against mothers with different experiences. It made for uncomfortable watching and reading. Feathers were ruffled, angry murmurs were audible on the video footage of the debate and a consensus was reached amongst many that what Sarah was really saying was that mothers who don’t go to university or who are satisfied by motherhood alone were less than her. People ‘retaliated’ with anecdotes proving how going to university isn’t necessary and that being a SAHM isn’t failure. Blogs were written lambasting Sarah and feminism.

In my short time as a mother, and my even shorter time as a blogger, I’ve noticed a lot of this kind of reaction. There is a dangerous assumption that being part of a mother community predicates conformity. When women dare to deviate from the norm (for example by admitting that motherhood alone doesn’t fulfil them) they are seen as antagonistic and judgmental. I don’t understand it, especially in the context of the Mumsnet session. To me the very nature of a discussion panel is that it should draw on a plethora of views. Like Sarah Ditum I need something other than my children to be fulfilled, to be happy, and to be a good mum. Without my job I’d be a miserable person and therefore a miserable mother. But I understand that there are masses of other women who get complete fulfillment from motherhood alone. My life choices and experiences don’t negate theirs and vice versa. We can co-exist happily with our differences, people! The diversity of the motherhood experience should be celebrated, talked about and shared, not stamped out through fear of difference and insecurity over our own lives. It seems that unless we mothers sugar-coat our views and pander to the expectations of one another we’re demonised. I’m not just talking about the Mumsnet debate. Mothers are viewed (and are encouraged to view each other) as an eerie homogenous subculture with uniformed beliefs, values and aspirations. We’re expected to mimic the values and voices of the majority, and to conform, like an endless chain of identical, mass-produced sausages…hmmm, probably should have thought up a slightly less phallic example. But my point is if we dare to strike out with voices of our own it’s assumed we’re attacking everyone else, never mind the fact that our experiences make our lives as unique as our fingerprints! Sharing a gender doesn’t mean we should act like nodding dogs (or sausages?) for fear of upsetting other women. As Glosswatch so succinctly puts it, “no one owns motherhood. No one owns the articulation of this experience”.

And it’s a similar situation with feminism. Somewhere along the line feminism has been misconstrued as a monolithic ideology and feminists as a flock of sheep bleating out man hating rhetoric. The reality is that feminism is embraced by huge numbers of women with differing backgrounds, experiences, value systems and beliefs. As Natalie Reed explains, the only principle we share is the belief that women are equal to men, “Just like skepticism and atheism, feminism is a HUGE tent, united by a very simple tenet and assumed value. Everything else is up for discussion”.

But I guess it’s easier to dismiss those demanding more from society if you corral them into a single group and claim they are crying out for an irrelevant cause. But that would be a lie. We are not the same, nor are we an irrelevant cause.

Why I am a feminist
I’m a teacher and a couple of times a year I ask my classes to think (critically) about feminism.  Each year without fail a number of the girls (not the boys) in my class become uncomfortable and embarrassed by the topic of feminism. They try to undermine and brush off the idea of gender inequality. They insist that feminism is out of touch with contemporary society and that it hates men. After a couple of lessons, some fact-finding and a lot of discussion they are more open to dialogue and understanding. But I’m starting to think that those first couple of lessons reflect a wider social issue – some women are embarrassed by feminism. The attitude I see demonstrated in my classes (and online) reminds me of that inherently British custom of apologising for everything. Sorry you stood on my toe. Sorry you drove your shopping trolley into me. Sorry for feeling discontent about the oppression of women, and double-sorry for suggesting that female emancipation is a topic deserving of discussion and activism. I’ll just go slink off into my corner and stop moaning…

The Mumsnet debate raised a fundamental question: is feminism relevant? It’s obvious to me from what I see in my classroom and online that many think not. It’s argued that feminism is a restrictive, unnecessary label, that it unfairly blames men, and that it ignores the male experience.  I understand where these points come from but none of them convince me to disregard feminism.

I fully accept that men get a shit deal. I have 2 boys (no girls) and I worry (a lot) about the crazy social expectations imposed on men. Boys in Britain have little to no opportunity to learn in ways conducive to their learning styles, they are overwhelmed with unhealthy media messages about masculinity, sex and aggression, and they often grow up unprepared for real women’s bodies, how to behave in loving relationships, or how to take ownership of their emotions. I could go on. But the fact that men have unfair hurdles to jump over doesn’t detract from the reality that women have it harder. It’s not a competition, it’s a fact. The sweeping assertion that everything is ok now for women (so feminists should quieten down or disappear) is just plain false. Everything is not ok, far from it, and here is just a brief list of why we shouldn’t be sorry or embarrassed to call ourselves feminists:

As well as the heart-breaking social injustices women face there are other issues, inextricably bound to my life, that make me feminist. At the moment I’m feeling pretty peeved that I’m expected to take time off work to look after our kids when they’re sick. My husband’s workplace is less than understanding about him sharing the responsibility of childcare. It’s frustrating not least because I feel conflicted by the fact that *whispers* I want to be at work! I love my job (most of the time) but it’s hard to be a good teacher when I’m taking huge chunks of time off to look after my poorly babies. I’d much prefer to split the childcare 50/50. That doesn’t mean I love my children any less, it just means I trust my husband implicitly with their welfare and I feel entitled to my career. It also means my preferred definition of motherhood doesn’t involve being with my kids every second of the day. I should be able to work without guilt but I live in a society that often demands I’m the emotional and domestic caregiver in my family.

The religious and cultural sexism I experienced growing up also plays a big part in shaping my political thinking. I was stifled by rigid gender roles and an assumption that I shouldn’t aspire to anything more than the ‘pinnacle’ of the female experience: marriage and motherhood. I was taught that feminism was a dirty word and the significance of women’s rights was undermined, but that only furthered my interest. So for me feminism isn’t some abstract concept that poses silly questions like can mummy bloggers be feminist, nor does it only argue for the rights of women half way across the world who have it so bad that we should be ashamed of the human race. No, feminism is what saved me. And the fact that it was my husband who taught me what it really means feels like a pretty sweet victory.

We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY? – Caitlin Moran,How to Be a Woman

Let’s cut the jargon
I think misunderstandings about feminism occur because it’s inaccessible. Apparently some feminists find this view patronising. Well, they should probably get over that. As is reflected in all spheres of society, the economically and culturally privileged become the voice of the majority. The voice of feminism is no different – it’s overwhelmingly white and middle class. As was hinted by some of the commentary after Mumsnet-gate, feminism comes across as exclusive and elitist – not just in terms of the issues that are focused on, but also the language used. Overly complicated academic language and jargon puts off, if not completely excludes, those who should be empowered. I’ve been to university and I’m used to reading academic literature, but I still find a lot of feminist writing comes across as self-righteous and intimidating. It makes me picture an old man sneering over his glasses and telling me to “hand back the feminism dear, it’s far too complicated for you to understand”. I know some feminists would turn their noses up at my rather enthusiastic use of Moran quotes, but I couldn’t care less. People need to be less territorial about feminist thinking. We need to share and we need to play nicely. Yes there is a place for academia, but if women are to understand the relevance of feminism, and if they’re to stop feeling embarrassed by the concept, then it needs to be accessible.

What does being a feminist mean?
So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina? and

b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist – 
Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

There seems to be a divide within feminism about who is entitled to call themselves a feminist. Personally I think that the very principle of feminism is so simple that we shouldn’t be quibbling. As Natalie Reed puts it, “to insist on being skeptical of feminism is to insist on being skeptical of the concept that women are not inferior human beings, and therefore to posit that men are indeed the superior sex. Or that we should not be thinking or talking about social and cultural treatment of gender, and that it is all fine as is”. As far as I’m concerned anyone willing to acknowledge the indisputable truth that men and women are equal is entitled to call themselves a feminist. But others argue that feminism is a political ideology necessitating a certain degree of activism and an adherence to ideological principles. Well, there’s certainly more I could and should be doing for the cause, but that is true of all human rights issues. Life gets in the way. It’s a shit excuse, but it’s true. But unlike other human rights issues that I support and care about, I feel the very act of identifying myself as feminist is a political statement. I know that if I told people I was deeply concerned about the rights of those with disabilities, or children, or dolphins, or badgers, I’d get a lot less stick than for being vocal about my unwavering belief in the liberation of all women. It’s a strange one, that. Strange and utterly depressing.

The issue of activism does play on my mind though. I want to be doing more and I feel it’s my social responsibility to raise awareness of what feminism is about, especially when I see my students flinching at the mere word. Once my boys are a little older and a little less dependent I’d love to be more active in raising awareness about gender inequality. But for now I will continue to embrace and discuss feminism. I will continue to use this blog to expose the religious and cultural sexism I experienced, in the hope that it reaches one of the many girls and women who are in the incredibly lonely situation I was. I will continue to discuss feminism with students who are socialised to disregard gender equality issues. For now, that will be my activism. I won’t be burning my bra, or plaiting my armpit hair, or hating on men, or jabbing fingers at women who do motherhood differently from me because none of that is relevant or helpful.

Feminism is simply the fight for gender equality. I refuse to accept that it’s a dirty word or an unnecessary label. It’s what set me free. If I’d been a little less active, a little less rebellious and a lot less feminist my life would be so different right now. I’d have been bullied into leaving university in my first year, I would have submitted to an arranged marriage, covered my hair and lived a life in which I had little to no control. Luckily I had just enough confidence to hang on at university. A few months later I met my husband and my tiny seed of self-belief grew beyond measure. He taught me that I’m born equal to all men. He taught me to be fierce and demanding and uncompromising with regards to my gender. He taught me I should never apologise for being a woman.

One of the reasons I love reading mummy blogs is because I’m nosy I love reading about the diverse experiences and opinions of mothers, but I won’t lie, the blogging angst directed at feminism this past couple of weeks has made me a bit ragey. More importantly though it’s put fire in my belly. We should all be made to question our ethics and values otherwise we become passive and inert to the reality of life around us. So, YES, I am a feminist. As is my husband. And I truly hope my children grow up to embrace feminism too – not because I want to restrict them to a label, nor for some selfish desire that they become political clones of me, but because I think the principle of political, economic, and social equality between the sexes is essential in a humane society. Fighting for women’s rights is in no way being overly dramatic or militant, neither does it emasculate men or negate the problems they face. Feminism goes some way to remove the blinkers that society imposes on us. Feminism is about liberating women from the physical and psychological shackles of sexism. Feminism is about allowing men and women to build healthy, respectful relationships based on that fundamental, incontrovertible truth: we are equal.

 

Littlee and Bean:  I’m a mummy and a blogger. Sometimes I’m all about the saccharine, other times I’m all about the rage. Motherhood doesn’t define me but right now it’s the biggest part of me. I record moments with my boys, from the sacred to the profane. I discuss how I’m trying to find that elusive work/life balance. And I reflect on how breaking free from fundamentalist religion and sexism has shifted my horizons and my psychology. (https://twitter.com/mummytolittlee)

 

More articles on Mumsnet:

“It’s only 9 months to save a life” by @Herbeatitude 

Feminism and Motherhood: On Choice, Criticism and Self-Confidence by @LynnCSchreiber

Right, Listen up everybody by @TheSamDavis

“Deeply Romantic”: Hemingway, Domestic Violence and Romance by @LeStewpot

The Signs of Controlling Behaviour: Red Flags and How to Spot them by @LynnCSchreiber

 

International Women’s Day & the feminists who inspired me to reclaim my body

(Cross-posted with permission from littleeandbean)

Saturday was International Women’s Day – an annual, global event encouraging us to think about the social, political and economic achievements of women. When I saw that Lucy was hosting a link up for bloggers to write about women who inspire change I knew I needed to get blogging. I’m a proud feminist so it goes without saying that I support anything raising awareness of female experiences. But while I knew I wanted to write something, I wasn’t sure what. I thought about blogging generally about women’s rights issues, but after reading lots of personal reflections over the last couple of days I’ve decided to talk about my experience of being inspired to resist sexism. Mine is an experience shared by other women, but it’s rarely spoken about, probably because of a skewed sense of political correctness and some very justified fears. But lasting change is impossible without dialogue. So here is my story, or at least a tiny part of it – about how I was controlled, marginalised and made vulnerable by religion. And about two feminists who inspired me to change my life for the better.

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My story

My experience of sexism began during my teenage years, after my parents converted to a fundamentalist type of Islam. After the conversion my gender became my defining feature. I was restricted from experiences I’d previously taken for granted. I was told what I could and couldn’t wear and who I could be friends with. I had to move schools so that I’d be surrounded by ‘like-minded’ people (girls). 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 a dangerous place encouraging destructive freedoms, that women should walk behind their husbands, that unmarried women shouldn’t leave the house unaccompanied, that my body and my sexuality made life dangerous for me, and that gender equality was a fallacy invented by the West.

I kept my head down and focused on going to university and the freedom it would bring. A few months after going I was estranged from my family for starting a relationship with my now husband. Forging an independent life after being so controlled was terrifying, it didn’t help that the irrational beliefs I’d been forced to embrace had left their mark. Amongst other things I’d been taught that my body was my downfall and that it needed to be covered for everyone’s sake. It’s impossible to change that kind of thinking overnight, so for a long time I felt ashamed and painfully self-conscious.

My body

Much of the sexism I was subjected to was linked to my my body. I was forced to cover my hair; something I felt intensely uncomfortable about, but when I questioned the demands to cover up I’d get one of two responses – either saccharine nonsense about my ‘beauty’ needing to be preserved and not being for public consumption, or the classic (and surprisingly convincing when you’re vulnerable) argument that I’d burn in hell if I didn’t conform. Back then I had no outlet, no blog or voice that was listened to. I was being dictated to by aggressive men who thought my opinion was irrelevant. It was dehumanising, isolating and frightening. And I wasn’t alone. I know other women who were forced to wear the hijab, sometimes with threats of violence, but mostly through emotional manipulation.

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I should state a couple of things here. The hijab is a deadweight; loaded with cultural, political and religious ideology about female autonomy. It’s a topic so huge I could never do it justice in this post. So, just to be clear: I’m not debating the ethics of religious dress. I’m just reflecting on my experience.

There are of course women who assert that their hijab is a statement of choice, liberation, and freedom. And who am I to judge? If a woman feels the it frees them, empowers them, or in some way adds to the quality of their life, then more power to them. I will always respect the rights of women to dress how they want. But that was not my experience. I felt suffocated by what I saw as an obsessive sexualisation and objectification of my body. My choice and agency was systematically stripped from me. And I wasn’t alone. There are girls and women everywhere who are made vulnerable by religious sexism. They are made to feel ashamed of their bodies. Their opportunities are stunted in order to satisfy the demands of men. And as far as I see it, they have little chance to escape the oppression they’re subjected to. I was one of the lucky ones.

The women who inspired me to reclaim my body

As well as developing an unhealthy body image I internalised the prejudices and fundamentalist rhetoric I’d been exposed to – that women and non-Muslims were inherently flawed. I’m ashamed to admit that for a long time I found it very hard to connect with non-Muslims. I was indoctrinated to believe that the worth of a person’s experience and advice was inextricably linked to their religious belief. I hate that I allowed this to happen, but from what I saw all those years ago it’s a common (if taboo) prejudice.

Over the years I’ve learnt the art of self-analysis. I now realise how limiting my prejudices were and I’m free to see inspiration everywhere. A few years after leaving home I stumbled across several writers who helped me to reconnect with who I am. I can’t tell you what a relief it was in those early days to discover that people were shouting angrily about the sexism and fear perpetrated by fundamentalist religion. It was life changing to know that there were people who believed I was entitled to freedom of choice and a voice. Two of the writers I had the good fortune to read about were Mona Eltahawy and Fatima Mernissi – Feminist Muslims whose writing shone a light in some of my darker moments. Reading Mernissi’s book The Veil And The Male Eliteand Eltahawy’s articles gave me hope. I realised I wasn’t alone. I learned that the controlling behaviour I’d experienced wasn’t unique to me, that I was justified in wanting to resist it, and that the guilt and shame I felt was merely a symptom of the sexism I’d suffered.

After the sexism

Since walking away from institutionalised religion I’ve existed in a strange limbo. On one hand I’ve a relevant story to tell having experienced fundamentalism from the inside, but my voice is trapped in a void between two cultures. I’m nervous of saying too much or offending people, so in the past I’ve opted not to say nothing. But as the years go on I’m noticing how overt the control over women’s voices is. I’m noticing the culture of intolerance and bullying that skews the narrative of women in Islam. Voices that should be entitled to a platform are being oppressed. Fear is being used as a method of control. People wishing to be part of the debate on women in Islam are being silenced and derided, often for being too feminist, too liberal, or too white. I fall into all three of those categories but I don’t see how that diminishes the significance of my experiences or my opinion. I find this collective silencing technique obnoxious. It’s what I had to put up with for years from men. Patriarchy is partly sustained through this grand-scale selective hearing and I hate it – the enforced silence, the fingers in ears, the sheer arrogance of believing that one voice reigns supreme; surely it’s the bedrock of all misogyny?

#lastingchange

I could just creep around in the shadows for the rest of my life, raging every so often at the injustice of it all, but women like Fatima Mernissi and Mona Eltahawy inspire me to be braver and to embrace my social responsibility. If I’d found a post like this while I was trapped between the rock and the hard place of teenage vulnerability and religious control, I would have cried with relief. Education was my ticket to freedom, but some girls don’t have that opportunity. The only escape from sexism is to know that there is another way: equality, and to feel an entitlement to that equality.

But what now? How can we improve the situation for girls and women trapped in misogynistic cultures or religions?

1. It’s essential that we talk about religion and women, and about the associated cultural practices that limit the female experience. We need to stop feeling so terrified of offending, because it only serves to maintain the inequality. Presenting my story and my belief that women should have complete autonomy is not an attack on Islam, it’s a legitimate demand for equality and a necessary calling out of injustice.

2. We must think carefully about whether our choices are truly free. I’m no longer threatened by physical or overt emotional manipulation, but socially conditioned sexist behaviours aren’t so easy to identify. As far as I’m concerned we women (with the physical and emotional freedom to do so) have a responsibility to check our freedom, to think about the choices we make and to ask – why am I doing this? who is it pleasing? who is it empowering?

International Women’s Day is a fantastic reminder that challenging sexism is a life-altering process. You only need to take a look at the website or theTwitter feed to feel inspired by the huge number of people and organisations ‘challenging the status quo for women’s equality and…inspiring positive change’.

The path to feminism is unique for everyone.  We all have a story that taught us about the disparity of opportunity between men and women and we can, in our own way, make a difference. My hope is that through writing and dialogue we can redefine the archaic ideas of modesty, shame and honour that ground women in cultures across the world to a halt. I want all women to realise they must never be weighed down by the burden of collective male guilt. They must never be physically or emotionally coerced into someone else’s idea of acceptability. They must always have a voice, freedom of choice and complete autonomy. Because these are our bodies and our minds, and only we have legitimate claim to them.

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Littlee and Bean:  I’m a mummy and a blogger. Sometimes I’m all about the saccharine, other times I’m all about the rage. Motherhood doesn’t define me but right now it’s the biggest part of me. I record moments with my boys, from the sacred to the profane. I discuss how I’m trying to find that elusive work/life balance. And I reflect on how breaking free from fundamentalist religion and sexism has shifted my horizons and my psychology.