Intersectionality – a Definition, History, and Guide by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 27.07.16

Intersectionality has been a common theme in feminist theory, writing, and activism for the last few years. It has even become something of a buzzword. And yet there remains a great deal of misunderstanding over what intersectionality actually means and, subsequently, how it is supposed to manifest within the feminist movement. This confusion has resulted in a degree of backlash, claims that intersectionality distracts women’s energy from the key aims of the feminist movement – dismantling patriarchy, ending male dominance and violence against women – when in fact it is only through a truly intersectional approach that these goals become possible for all women, not simply the white and middle-class. And feminism is about uplifting all women, a goal which becomes impossible when only those aspects of women’s experiences relating to the hierarchy of gender. This is where intersectionality becomes essential.


Read more Intersectionality – a Definition, History, and Guide by @ClaireShrugged

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 18.04.16

A brief foreword: This is the first in a series of blog posts on race and racism in the feminist movement. It is not a feel-good piece. Equally, it is not a reprimand. It is a wake-up call – one which I hope will be answered. Part two of the series The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement is available here


 

Solidarity between women is vital for liberation. If the feminist movement is to succeed, feminist principles must be applied in deed as well as in word. Although intersectionality is used as a buzzword in contemporary activism, in many ways we have deviated from Crenshaw’s intended purpose: bringing marginalised voices from the periphery to the centre of the feminist movement by highlighting the coexistence of oppressions. White women with liberal politics routinely describe themselves as being intersectional feminists before proceeding to speak over and disregard those women negotiating marginalised identities of race, class, and sexuality in addition to sex. Intersectionality as virtue-signalling is diametrically opposed to intersectional praxis. The theory did not emerge in order to aid white women in their search for cookies – it was developed predominantly by Black feminists with a view to giving women of colour voice.

White feminists of all stripes are falling down at the intersection of race. Liberal feminists frequently fail to consider racism in terms of structural power. Radical feminists are often unwilling to apply the same principles of structural analysis to oppression rooted in race as in sex.
Read more Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged

Replicating patterns of disbelief at Feminists Unknown

cross-posted from Feminists Unknown

orig, pub. 22.215

When I think of being young I think of being scared. I was scared all the time. I remember lying in bed, listening out for sounds, or watching for faces to change and if one face in particular changed, it wouldn’t change back, not soon enough.

I used to blame my brother. I thought that if he didn’t get hit, I wouldn’t get hit. I thought he caused it all. Then I blamed my mother. I thought that if only she’d let my brother get hit enough for all the hitting to be “done,” it would end and none of it would spill over onto me.

I never blamed the person who did the hitting, obviously. You just don’t. When it comes to blame it has to be women and children first.

When I had a breakdown in my teens I tried to speak about what was wrong. Unfortunately, people who have breakdowns are a bit like rape victims who drank too much, or women who’ve been called TERFs. They are not credible, not to friends, not to doctors, not even police (god knows why I tried the latter, but at least it was only the once – when I think back, my overwhelming feeling is not one of anger but embarrassment, for being so bloody naive). People did want to know “the key” to what was making me distressed but not that key; the answer I gave was incorrect. It felt like being in a dream in which you’re trying to shout and no sound comes out.

Why are there bruises down her back? 

She doesn’t eat enough and she drinks too much. They just appear. 

 “You need to cover up,” my mother said, “it makes us look bad.”

So I stopped talking and carried on drinking. You can’t fight for validation forever, even if that feels like the thing that would make you safest. You swallow it all down and a bit of you won’t be the same but perhaps the rest of you can be preserved.

Ten years later I was sexually assaulted by a stranger when I happened to be extremely drunk (as I often was back then). When I went to the police (I know, stupid) it was the same feeling of opening my mouth and no sound coming out, even though there were words, real words. Not being believed is an empty feeling. You might as well not exist. Another bit of you goes.

These things – physical violence, sexual assault – are more than mere words but it’s the words that hurt too. I don’t believe you can be the worst phrase of all. And sometimes it doesn’t matter whether what they don’t believe you about is an online rumour or a fist in the face.

Over the weekend The Washington Post featured a piece by Michelle Goldberg arguing that feminist writers are “so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire.” It offers a great deal of insight into just how hard it is to be a feminist voice in a misogynist world. However, it makes the mistake of treating online abuse and real-life misogyny as either/or, as though female commentators are, as if by magic, in a position to choose:

.. stories today about Internet abuse inevitably elicit cliches about heat and kitchens — demands that women toughen up and grow thicker skin. Punditry and activism, after all, are relatively cushy gigs. […] … the creator of Feministe, Lauren Bruce, no longer has an online presence at all. “I had to completely cut that part off in order to live the rest of my life,” she says. “In order to work, have a nice family and feel like I was emotionally whole, I could not have one foot planted in a toxic stew.”

Many of us have sought refuge from and understanding of real-life abuse within feminism itself. There is no real distinction between those who write about misogyny and those who experience it because most of those writing about it are women. Many of us are still in the “toxic stew” or still recovering from the trauma of having been there. This is why the current backlash against feminists who complain of online abuse is nothing more than misogynist bullshit. It’s the replication of patriarchal patterns of disbelief. Contrary to what some would like to suggest, there are no women to whom you’ve earned the right to say “we don’t believe you, your experience of misogyny is imaginary and you’re not really oppressed.” If a woman says a word is a slur and a threat is a threat, it’s for you to deal with your knee-jerk disbelief, not her “phobia.”

Online rape threats don’t cancel out real-life experience of rape.

Tweets threatening violence don’t cancel out real-life beatings.

The “privilege” of writing about male violence against women doesn’t bring with it the real-life privilege of never having experienced it.

Online misrepresentations and lies don’t cancel out all those times you complained about real-life abuse and no one believed you or, at worse, dismissed your voice as sick, hateful or vindictive.

No-platforming doesn’t replace all those other experiences of being literally left outside.

Using words that misogynists describe as “violence” does not grant you superpowers to fend off actual violence. It doesn’t stop you feeling afraid, not just about what you might read but of what might break your bones.

It’s not just that all this is triggering (although quite obviously it is), it’s that it is the very same dynamic, the same entitlement, the same dehumanisation, the same disbelief when you try to make your case. It’s the same dreamlike speaking without being heard.

When women are disbelieved online or are told that their complaints are motivated by sickness (***phobia) or spite (bigotry), it’s a replication of the way in which people in the “real world” might accuse them of lying about rape or emotional abuse. You’re vindictive, you’re unreliable, you’re not well. And the chances are women have faced not one or the other of these, but both. It’s how male violence sustains itself and online discourse surrounding “mistrustful” or “unaccountable” feminists is seeping back into the real world, endorsing the age-old view that women are pampered princesses who lie about their fears and make up stories just to spite men. It’s a view that hurts all women.

I think it is fairly safe to assume almost every woman who has faced online dismissals of her ideas, false accusations of bigotry and crude acronyms has also been a victim of some form of male violence and/or assault and/or sustained emotional abuse. If speaking out against male violence made us magically immune to male violence then there’d be no need for refuges at all. Just say the sort of things misogynists dismiss as “violence,” become magically privileged and that’s it sorted. Alas, it doesn’t actually happen like that because guess what? Women have been trying that for years.

When you decide that a woman is “too privileged” to talk about feminist approaches to sex, gender and violence, what are your criteria? Were her bruises not dark enough for your liking? Do you need more evidence that she has experienced sexual assault (perhaps a male witness who is a pillar of the community)? Is she just not credible, what with other people telling you she’s a slag/slut /TERF/SWERF/[pick your own one-syllable female credibility eraser]? Would you believe her if you hadn’t seen her hanging out with “the wrong people” and hence asking for it? Is an opinion the short skirt of the internet unless it’s the wrong opinion, in which case it’s all a grey area and she might have provoked it, you never can tell…? What would make her lived experience of misogyny credible: more rapes? more beatings? death? Would you need to be on hand to watch, just to make sure? (Or would you merely interpret the very act of dying as passive-aggression on her part?)

Because if these are your criteria – if you replicate the aftermath of real-life violence in your attitude towards online abuse and public misrepresentation – then you are re-traumatising women due to your own misogynist assumptions regarding female authority and credibility. You have decided that female experience is either/or, helpless victim or privileged bitch who deserves taking down. You can’t imagine that a victim might not base her whole identity around victimhood and could instead have the strength and perspective to discuss the structures that perpetuate it (you might use the word “survivor” yet when women show signs of actual survival, empathy evaporates). Online abuse is not the great equalizer, doling out shit to women who you’ve decided aren’t getting enough misogynist abuse in real life (and the same goes for the harassment and misrepresentation of female academics and feminists speakers. If that’s your idea of activism – spreading shit around and adding to it, rather than trying to clear the whole think up – then you don’t like women. And you’re certainly not speaking truth to power in any way whatsoever).

Despite what men do to women again and again, women are not either utterly crushed or in need of a good crushing. We stand up again. That is, I think, what offends misogynists the most and forces them to create the myth of the real-life-abuse-immune feminist with no right to speak. How can we have done that to you and still you’re able to talk back? You must have been missed off our list. 

No, we weren’t. We were always on your list. You never miss anyone out.

And if you’re the kind of feminist who doesn’t like women who don’t appear sufficiently crushed, you’re no feminist at all. Stop making us swallow your shit.

 

Feminists Unknown: This is a collaborative blog incorporating posts from a number of anonymous posters. It will be focusing primarily on feminism. There is no wrong view on this blog-only individual perspectives. It must remain a safe space for those who post and share. So leave your judgement at the door. Our criticism will be constructive or it will be bullshit.

Happy International Women’s Day

(Cross-posted from Opinionated Planet)

The months slip by so quickly, with article after article after blog post filled with thoughts on feminism and women’s liberation. And here we are again, on International Women’s Day, with the news headlines full of the murder, sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse of women and girls. The battle to be safe from male violence in all it’s forms is at the forefront of a lot of women’s campaigning. It never ends and it never stops. It may never stop.

But there are women out there who work tirelessly – often without pay – to keep other women safe and I want to thank them.

I want to thank them for their passion, their drive, their commitment.

Their unceasing determination to make the structural changes necessary to make women’s lives better.

These women work behind the scenes to ensure the safety of women’s services. They are known, and unknown. They are in every arena, from politics and policy to refuges and helplines.

Without them, we would be much, much worse off.

Thank you…

 

Opinionated Planet: a radical feminist blog by women for women on male violence, women-only spaces and sports

Bringing Back the Pillory: The Public Shaming of Feminists by @VABVOX

(Written for A Room of Our Own by Victoria Brownworth)

            If it weren’t for Mary Beard and Nimko Ali, I wouldn’t be writing this.

I wouldn’t be writing it because of fear.

But then there’s Mary Beard and Nimko Ali and actually a host of others, including a gay man, Peter Tatchell, whose work I have long admired, and so I must speak out. Even as my heart is racing. Even as my heart is racing and I just had a heart attack due to stress less than a month ago and am supposed to be avoiding any new stress.

But there’s no avoiding stress if you are a feminist in 2015. Especially if you are a lesbian feminist in 2015.

So my heart races on and I write on.

A few days ago some 130 academics, feminists, activists, gender critical trans women and some gay men signed a short letter objecting to the new McCarthyism taking place all over the West. The letter was about the UK but it could as easily have been written about the US or France or Australia or anywhere where the governments are democratic but political correctness has taken a  fascistic turn.

The letter appeared on Valentine’s Day in The Guardian/The Observer and was titled “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals” and subtitled “Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying.”

The letter was spearheaded by feminist writer and activist Beatrix Campbell. The focus was the no-platforming of a range of feminist voices including the recent controversy over Kate Smurthwaite being cancelled at Goldsmith’s College, London, and talk of Germaine Greer being no-platformed at Cambridge Union.

I’ve been a journalist my entire adult life, so free speech matters to me. Debate matters to me. Hearing alternative voices rather than just the endless chorus from one choir matters to me.

I’ve also been teaching in universities and inner city schools and prisons over the same years I’ve been a journalist. So I have that vantage point as well–of teacher and of witness to learning.

I have long respected the work of Mary Beard. Classics are a love of mine, as they are of most inveterate readers. I followed her on Twitter because, well, Mary Beard, classicist.

I never engaged with her. But after  I read a piece by her in the New Yorker last September about her experiences with trolling and misogyny, I was interested to see what else she had to say.

I first lived in London in the late 1980s at the height of the anti-gay backlash, before many of the current arbiters of who gets to speak and who doesn’t were out of Pampers. My partner was in grad school and I was reporting for a newspaper back in the U.S.

I was there when a scandal broke in London—girls were being mutilated by doctors in service to a tradition, female genital mutilation or FGM. I knew little about the practice except for what I had learned in a women’s studies course a few years earlier in college, but investigative reporters investigate and that is what I did. What I found was, not surprisingly, shocking.

I interviewed many different people for that story–a series of stories as it turned out–including a Somali woman who had been FGM’d and several women trying to protect their daughters from the practice as well as some doctors and other health care workers. The stories I was told–including one of a girl being held down in the basement of a Brixton home and the music turned up loudly while the “job was done” on her have never left me, more than 25 years later.

Which is why Nimko Ali is another reason for my writing this. Because she is, as co-founder of Daughters of Eve and a survivor of FGM,  the voice and face of the Stop FGM movement in the U.K. My respect for her and her work is boundless.

Both Mary Beard and Nimko Ali signed the letter. They signed because they are feminists, because they know about silencing–both historic and present–and because they have themselves often been the unpopular voice, the voice of debate that no one wants to hear.

The backlash over the letter was swift, terrible and painfully predictable. The many women of color on the list were tagged as pawns of white feminists. Gender critical trans women were called tokens. Peter Tatchell was said to have been duped into signing. I read that he had received death threats, although I could not confirm this. But it was Beard who seemed to receive the most repetitive attacks.

In a short response to the furor printed in TLS on February 16, Beard recounted how she’d received sixty messages in an hour’s time from one person. She had finally signed off Twitter sobbing.

Beard was targeted as either senile (she’s 61, the same age as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former PM Tony Blair, French President Francois Hollande, to name but a few) or duped (she’s one of the top classicists in the world, remember) or just, well, vile.

While Beard was getting the public treatment, a slightly less public process obtained–threats and doxxing of other women who had signed the letter or of “known associates” of those women. Columnist Glosswitch left Twitter, fearing for her own safety and that of her children.

The very McCarthyism being objected to in the letter was being conducted full-throttle on Twitter, Facebook and via email.

This has to stop. Really, it does. The silencing of women has reached a level of not-so-subtle violence. Every day there are threats delivered to feminists and lesbians online and off. It’s not just words being bandied about. It’s endless suggestions of what horrifying violence can and should be done to certain feminists and their children. These “words” are stressful at best, terrifying at worst. They can and do leave one sobbing or frightened or feeling as if one can never open one’s mouth in public again without fear.

Yet why are these attacks happening? The assault on Mary Beard and on other signatories is in response to a letter which only says debate must be a cornerstone of the educational process. It says nothing else. (You can read it here: http://gu.com/p/45zvp/tw)

Yet in the current climate for feminists, to even speak about issues like gender or patriarchal dominance, prostitution or sex trafficking, or the silencing and no-platforming of feminist speakers is to be labeled a bigot and to be silenced.

The main point is always and inevitably to silence.

How is that not fascism?

I can’t count the number of times I have silenced myself for fear of reprisals from people who have previously attacked me, slandered me, lied about me, attempted to (and succeeded in) no-platform me. I’ve been targeted by many of the same people who have targeted Mary Beard and Glosswitch. I ended up in the hospital with a sudden heart attack after a particularly grueling series of such attacks.

The question that never gets answered is this: Why is anyone claiming to be a feminist–as all these attackers and purveyors of abusive and sometimes violent language assert they are–why are these people targeting any women, ever?

As I tweeted the morning of the letter when the outrage was everywhere like a bad flu, I disagree with many women and yet I manage not to run round with a roll of tape silencing them night and day.

I can disagree with you and not threaten to kill you and your children or feed you into a woodchipper or sentence you to die in a fire or get ploughed or what any of the other common attacks suggest.

I can just not engage with you.

There can be no debate about whether or not women are oppressed. They are. If you disbelieve it, well, you’re ignoring history and reality. Women are designated second class at birth and they never leave that status regardless of whatever they achieve in life–witness the recent obituary of one of Australia’s most famous writers, Colleen McCullough, who was also a neurophysicist.

As second-class citizens and constant victims of male violence and repression and suppression worldwide, women have a right to speak out about that violence and oppression without suffering further violence and further suppression.

Women are no longer allowed to speak about our own lives without being told that we are insensitive bigots  for talking about our own lived experience. Which is, of course, silencing of the most insidious form and which is the most misogynist of patriarchal tenets–don’t talk about your bodies or your female experience.

It has taken women a millennia to be able to speak about our experience and that experience is broad and complex. Yet the very same people who demand that their life experience not be named or discussed would silence women trying to do the same thing.

How is that not fascism?

For me the Guardian letter was about debate–about being able to hear the voices of the silenced. It’s not about whether I agree with those voices or not. I’m actually not a fan of Germaine Greer and have never liked her dismissive treatment of lesbians. But other women think she’s a genius and just because I don’t doesn’t mean I feel the need to silence her. I can certainly provide a different perspective on her work, should I choose to. But I don’t need to silence her.

Nor do I need to silence others I disagree with.

What I do want silenced, however, is the violent speech and slander than abounds and which seems to always emanate from the same quarter. Violence, no matter what its source, is untenable, unacceptable and unconscionable. I won’t engage in it, I won’t promote it and I won’t stand for it.

This public shaming of women for being women must cease. This anti-intellectual bias against honest debate, by which I mean the simple presentation of ideas, whether or not we agree with them, must cease.

Some of us, myself included, have worked incredibly hard to be able to speak about issues that have long been the subject of patriarchal silencing. Rape, lesbian sexuality, women’s bodies, pregnancy, childbirth. I recently wrote here about the death of my child and was flooded with very personal responses from women who had also lost children but who had been unable to speak about it. I have written extensively about the complication of rape for women–lesbians in particular–and have gotten similar responses. The same has been true about my writing about my cancer experience and the cancer experience of other women.

University is where many get their first experience of disparate ideas. It’s where many learn that the world has a side other than the one in which they were raised–be that class, race, ethnicity or gender. All the complainants against the letter are university graduates. Would they be as adept at speaking out without that university experience? Likely not.

So why is debate suddenly anathema? And why, more’s the point, are the voices being silenced and no-platformed, those of women? Why would any woman want to silence another woman given the long history of patriarchal silencing–including stoning and burning at the stake (die in a fire!)–of women?

It’s simple and simplistic to say this is just unfair, although, of course, it is.. It’s unfair to further oppress women of color and lesbians. It’s also unfair to send a don who has worked her whole life to carve a space for women in academia to the corner with a dunce cap to sob herself to sleep after being harangued non-stop for more than 12 hours straight.

Any sentient feminist knows there are hierarchies within feminism. Lesbians and women of color are on the bottom. Straight white women are on the top. That’s a fact, it’s not an attack. So we must work to create a balance where one has previously been missing. But the way to that balance isn’t to silence women we think might possibly have more privilege than other women. It’s to open the door wider, not slam it shut on the heads of those we want to eliminate from the discourse.

In the end, no one benefits from censorship. No one. You can disagree with ideas all you want, but first you must know they exist and what they actually are. People who view themselves as marginalized are the ones who should be least willing to marginalize others.

People who try to shame others never seem to feel any embarrassment or shame themselves–that’s another basic tenet of patriarchy. But the pillorying of women must cease. We spent centuries being publically humiliated solely for being women–for our vaginas and our bleeding and our softness and our second-class-ness. We continue to be whipped and stoned and yes, burned to death, throughout the world simply for being female. That’s a reality you can neither deny nor shout down. Women’s collective history exists. Keeping it from the tender ears of university students benefits no one, but it does, quite definitively, perpetuate the very systems that oppress us all.

 

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her reporting and commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural&historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem will be published in February 2015. @VABVOX

The personal is political – living feminist politics by @saramsalem

One of the most difficult parts of my own feminist journey has centred around the inevitable and yet disturbing gap I see between what I believe in and the way I live. In other words, it is one thing to strongly believe in gender justice and feminist politics, and to advocate for both, and another thing to always live according to them. Whether in relationships, friendships, or even just everyday situations, more often than not I find myself acting or thinking in ways that go against what I believe feminism should be. And of course once I interrogate these situations, I understand why – and more often than it, it is because of the way we are socialised into our respective genders. But why is it so difficult to move past this when it comes to gender? ….

You can read the full post here. 

Neo-Colonialism and it’s Discontents A blog by Sara Salem on Postcolonialism, Marxism, feminism and other conspiracies. twitter: @saramsalem

Women Only by @PortiaSmart

(Cross-posted from Portia Smart)

Women-only spaces are VITAL for women – all women.

I have attended many feminist gatherings over the last 2 years – some were formal such as conferences and some were informal such as social gatherings. For me feminist gatherings should be for women only because only women can be feminist. However, post modernism and liberalism have developed an uneasy, amorphous, glutinous mass within feminism. Boundaries are blurred and many social groups no longer have the ability to gather without interference from more privileged social groups. I find this incredibly sad, damaging and erasing.

Men have been present at 20% of the feminist gatherings I have attended since 2012 and the impact of men in feminist spaces has been significant. Men silence women – even the “good” ones. Men in feminism fill the space. They infiltrate, dominate, captivate and warp feminism into a movement that is no longer about the liberation of women, but what men want. Karen Ingala Smith wrote about men’s role in feminism perfectly, as did Zeeblebum and it does not include access to women-only spaces.

The most abuse I have ever received online was when I tweeted “men can’t be feminists”. That was all it took to receive misogynistic abuse, death threats, rape threats, images of male violence against women mostly from men. This is no coincidence. Men are socialised to dominate, subordinate, silence and use women. A few men do manage to deconstruct this patriarchal violence and recognise that their role is to help end male supremacy over women and not become leaders or commentators on what feminism is. But the numbers are small. In 2014 we have men writing about the issues that feminism should care about, men telling women that men’s rights should be included in feminism and men leading University Feminist Society groups. This is patriarchy in action.

At the end of my first feminist conference I was crying and in shock. Many mitigating factors were present and days after the realisation hit me – this was the first time in 30 years that I was not on alert. I experienced a level of security that has been absent for most of my life and could only come from being with women. I was accepted for who I am, not what I look like. I was free. Free from wandering hands, suggestive comments, infiltration of personal space. I was free to speak, to be heard and understood. I realised that being in women-only space was so alien to me yet had so much power. Many women at the conference reported similar feelings and all of us knew that we not only wanted women only space, we demanded it.

Women-only spaces aren’t perfect. They aren’t “safe”. But by being free from men, they are a space where we are free to just be. In women-only space we explore our shared and diverse experiences, we challenge each other’s behaviour and beliefs, and we listen to and support each other. We grow in confidence, in strength, in passion. I rarely engage in challenging women outside of women-only space because men are always watching. Men gain power from our fragmentation, our competitiveness, our destruction and I won’t allow them to access this from me. Women-only spaces are the most empowering spaces that I have ever encountered. I believe that it is this that frightens men so much. It is this that we need to protect. The more of us that gather in women-only spaces, the stronger we become. The stronger we are, the greater the chance of stopping men from accessing our spaces, our movement and ourselves.

Men – you have most of the space all of the time. Keep the fuck out of ours.

 

Portia Smart: I write about feminism, politics, male violence and mental health & wellbeing. My blog is women-centred [@PortiaSmart]

In the coming year, I have ambitious plans to expand AROOO, including a full professional blog redesign to increase accessibility and optimise sharing of individual bloggers’ writing across multiple social media platforms, as well as publishing feminist reviews of books, radio, television, and film. I also want to expand outside of traditional blogging platforms and start a chat forum. In order to do this, I need to raise £ 3000 so that I can pay the women web designers for their work. The work I do for AROOO is out of love for women and their writing, art, photography and lives. My tech skills simply aren’t adequate to develop AROOO to its full potential. The women involved with AROOO deserve to have their work shared to a larger audience and this requires financial support. This platform will remain non-profit, and advertising free, but the amount of work to redesign the site is substantial. Even one pound makes a huge difference to my ability to support feminist writing by creating a professional platform for feminists by feminists.



FEMINIST T-SHIRTS, CALL-OUTS AND COMMODIFICATION by @boudledidge

(Cross-posted from We Mixed Our Drinks)bc

 

 

 

At the beginning of the year I made a resolution of sorts, to distance myself from the sort of feminism that only actually mentions a feminist campaign or organisation when it’s tearing it down. There’s nothing wrong with critique and highlighting issues within reason, but by the end of last year I’d become thoroughly bored with performative call-outs as a primary form of engagement. This has had its plus points: for one thing I haven’t had to spend most of my precious little free time telling everyone how I’m not here for this sort of feminism and not here for herbrand of feminism, thanks very much. And one debate I haven’t had to wade into recently has been the one surrounding ELLE‘s next step on its mission to bring a reinvigorated feminism to the readers of glossy magazines.
It is definitely a good few years since I first wrote about my discomfort with the commodified ‘trendy feminism’ campaigns that women’s magazines have run, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment, in the last five years or so. Here’s one disclaimer: I do appreciate ELLE‘s commitment to focusing on women’s issues in recent years; they’ve managed to do it better than other women’s magazines (putting aside that whole thing with the ‘rebrand’ of feminism. But I get it. I know they can’t exactly take a crap on consumerism; I’m just not going to say I’m comfortable with it). But I haven’t been able to force myself to care all that much about the magazine’s new partnership with Whistles and the Fawcett Society and, it seems, various attractive famous men (another disclaimer: I own an original Fawcett Society ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt, as I’ve supported its work for the last eight years).
It’s nothing we haven’t been through before. Feminist merchandise at £45 a time (£85 if you want a sweatshirt), unavailable any bigger than a size 16. The publicity opportunities for politicians and celebrities and the ‘outrage’ that David Cameron wouldn’t wear one. We know that there are some redeeming factors – well-known public figures at least claiming to support gender equality; exposure to people who might not otherwise think very much about feminism or think it’s something they can be a part of. If it changes anyone’s life and makes them a feminist or somewhere, somehow, improves a woman’s life, then, I will concede, fair enough. In the spirit of the times, online news outlets have shown us image galleries of people wearing these t-shirts and proclaimed that Benedict Cumberbatch being our ally ‘is everything‘. So far, so predictable.
Things took an interesting turn on Saturday night, when Twitter got wind of the Mail on Sunday‘s front-page exposé of exploitative conditions in the factory where the t-shirts have been made. One worker is quoted as saying: ‘How can this T-shirt be a symbol of feminism? These politicians say that they support equality for all, but we are not equal.’ The Fawcett Society was absolutely on the ball with crisis management and quick to issue a statement saying it had been assured by Whistles that the factory producing the t-shirts complied with the highest ethical, sustainable and environmental standards possible. I don’t doubt that this was a key consideration for Fawcett, and as we’ve seen, Whistles and ELLE have subsequently issued statements to the same effect. Ensuring standards are met isn’t always easy and the garment industry is a minefield in this respect.
Much has been said about the credentials of all involved in the campaign and in the Mail on Sunday‘s exposé. Politicians taking part in publicity stunts – how much do they know about how their clothes are made? The investigative journalism tearing down a very public feminist campaign, published by a newspaper with absolutely no previous form for supporting gender equality or migrant workers. What I haven’t been able to get behind, though, is the smug trashing of Fawcett, ELLE, and anyone who’s supported their campaign and bought a t-shirt. It’s a sad state of affairs when the first sign of interest in either ethical working conditions or marginalised women from the Mail comes at the expense of feminism, and the glee with which the whole thing has been reported needs nothing but contempt. What it doesn’t need is to be held up, alongside the screengrabbed tweets of Fawcett supporters and well-known names, as ‘everything that is wrong with feminism’, a stick to beat the same old women about the same old things in the same tedious fashion. Nobody wins.
ELLE and Whistles have received a trashing, despite their best intentions. The Fawcett Society has, as far as I’ve seen, gained some support for its professional handling of the situation – yet has clearly still received a trashing. The Mail on Sunday has jumped at the opportunity to take part in the same tedious progressive/left/feminism-bashing they’ve been doing for years. And I’m betting it won’t devote much time to covering exploitation of women and migrant workers overseas in the future, because clickbait misogyny and xenophobia will always be much higher on its agenda. Women working in factories in Mauritius are still working in the same conditions. The garment industry won’t get an overhaul any time soon – and certainly not thanks to the sort of people on Twitter who, as ever, will keep on posting screenshots of Things Well-Known Feminist Campaigners Have Said and devoting hours at a time to sneering at them. Politicians will continue to display a dubious grasp of what ‘improving women’s lives’ means. No-one will ever mistake David Cameron for a feminist.
So: no victories. Feminism got commodified, celebrities got column inches, activists got called out, and the majority of women in the UK remained completely untouched by whatever it was trying to achieve. Good job, everyone. I’m continuing to support the Fawcett Society because I believe it is a real force for good. I genuinely hope that this whole situation is resolved for the best and that all involved are able to make it clear that they did their utmost to ensure ethical production. But if awareness-raising initiatives can’t make a break with consumerism and celebrity PR opportunities, then I can’t help thinking that we’ll see something similar happen again. The co-option of feminist activism into profits for t-shirt manufacturers has been much discussed in the wake of #YesAllWomen and more recently, FCKH8’s ‘Potty-mouthed princesses’ video. Women in the movement can’t prevent this sort of thing from happening, but campaigners can be smarter about how they hope to engage women with feminism.
We Mixed Our Drinks I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church [@boudledidge]

 

A Christmas Homily: On Being a Radical Christian AND a Radical Feminist by @VABVOX

A Christmas Homily: On Being a Radical Christian AND a Radical Feminist

by Victoria A. Brown worth

When I was a girl in Catholic school, I was told the early Christians spoke in code in order to protect themselves from arrest or being thrown into the lion’s den. Part of the code was to draw half a fish in the dirt. If the other person were a Christian, they would draw the rest of the fish and conversation could ensue without fear.

As a radical feminist who is also a Catholic and a Christian, I often feel the same way: The lion’s den of social media doesn’t compare with being eaten by actual lions, but it can feel quite brutal. Having been attacked by dozens of atheists at a time, I can attest to how exhausting these assaults can be.

I have also witnessed Muslim women I know–all of whom wear hijab–being badgered by both atheists and progressives telling them their religion is retrogressive and violent and abusive to women.

These attacks on religious women, nearly always by men, are often framed as atheist  mansplaining: “Don’t you know your religion oppresses women?”

A curious counterpoint follows these attacks: women direct message me with their confessions of being closet Christians–afraid even to state it publicly, instead drawing their half of the fish in my DM after seeing me affirm my own Christian beliefs. This happened most recently last week when a young woman I know–an outspoken feminist in real life–asked me how I was able to reconcile my feminism and my Catholicism.

“Teach me how to do this!” she implored.

My answer may seem simplistic, but if you have a belief system, there should never be a conflict. There is none for me–I believe strongly in most radical feminist tenets and I believe in most tenets of Catholicism. (Note, I say most.)

I get attacked just as often for being a radical feminist as I do for being a radical Christian. What is unsurprising is that those attacks are almost wholly from the same quarters: atheist men and liberal feminist women.

Both groups cite their concern for my mental health as well as my mental acuity. Am I, I have been asked, “insane” or “retarded”?

There is also concern about my lack of knowledge of the world and my own place in it, a marginalizing tactic straight out of Patriarchy 101.

The perception that only the ignorant believe in God is itself ignorant–and, I might add, classist, sexist and racist given that the overwhelming majority of the world’s believers are women of color. The perspective promulgated by atheists that atheism is somehow more evolved than belief in God is as offensive as it is inaccurate, ignoring as it does the vast array of scientists who also believe in God, from Galileo to Einstein to Hawking. Atheism is its own belief system, with its purveyors every bit as strident as any fundamentalist.

I was raised in a Socialist Catholic household by parents who were civil rights workers. In addition to the leaders of the black civil rights movement, my mentors were women who conflated their religious beliefs with their leftist politics, among them Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Dorothy Day, Simone Weil and my patron saints, Teresa of Avila and Joan of Arc.

For me, feminism and Catholicism and leftist activism were always inextricably bound. Growing up in the era of Liberation Theology, I was fortunate to have models of feminist theologians from whom I learned a new way of viewing my own faith, starting with the work of the 19th century abolitionist women and their suffragist cohorts. But by the time I was in college, I had discovered–or rather, dis-covered–the work of Mary Daly and Sheila Collins, Rosemary Radford Reuther and all the many women in Latin America, nuns and lay women alike, who were melding their faith and their feminism.

These women validated the unarticulated reality that I had experienced as a girl in Catholic school: that women were the backbone of the Church. That women were the backbone of spirituality. That the activism of the female saints was not only just as impactful as that of their male peers, but in many respects they were the foremothers/foresisters of modern feminism.

Watching my parents civil rights work, much of which was inextricably bound to our parish and to the churches of the black men and women we (well, I was a small child, but our family) were working with and for clarified for me how integral God was to the work being done.

There is no writing by Martin Luther King, Jr. that doesn’t invoke Christ. Concomitantly the work of Malcolm X, often held up as King’s more radical brother in the battle for black equality in the U.S., was a follower of Islam.

For many, God propelled us into activism. For me personally, it was those female saints and Christ himself that made me a radical Christian feminist. Wooed by the literal fight in Joan of Arc and her refusal to bow to patriarchal mores, wooed by the refusal of St. Cecilia to become a concubine, wooed by the brilliant mystical writings of St. Teresa of Avila, I was certain that women played as keen a role in God’s plan as the male apostles whose names I seemed incapable of remembering past Peter and John.

As I delved deeper into the concept of feminist theology in college, meeting Mary Daly and interviewing her for the college radio station where I had the first lesbian feminist radio program in the U.S. for an hour on Sunday mornings, I saw that God was as much the divine feminine as the “He” we had been taught in catechism class. As Daly said, “Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb – the most active and dynamic of all.”

If our internalization of God–particularly for those of us who are radical feminists intent on smashing the patriarchy–is in activism, then how could feminism not be an outgrowth of faith? The synthesis of God and the work of making the world a livable place for women and girls, men and boys, was inextricable–Daly showed me that feminism did not requite that I  expunge it from my heart or my intellect. Rather she showed me that the two worked in tandem, each propelling the other–and me–forward into action, into the heart of the fray as Joan of Arc had done.

Activism drove me and Christ was my ultimate mentor. Jesus’s exquisite knowledge that the end of his activist journey was a slow, hideous and painful death from which he could not escape spurred me forward: if Christ could do this, how could I do less? How could I not fight every battle presented to me, work ceaselessly for a better world, a more equitable place, follow the dictates Christ presented in the Sermon on the Mount–a revolutionary treatise if ever there were one.

Following Christ means giving up a great deal. But following radical feminism demands the same. The over-arching thing that must be relinquished–the thing that contradicts every MRA, lib fem or atheist gunner–is ignorance. You can no longer ignore what is set in front of you. You cannot ignore the chasms between rich and poor, men and women, color of privilege and color of oppression. You cannot pretend.

Now perhaps in a fundamentalist religion or a male-centered feminism, ignorance is an imperative. If one acknowledges that we are all equal–which is the basic tenet of both radical Christianity/liberation theology Catholicism and radical feminism–then you cannot stand on the sidelines of either your faith or your feminism. You cannot ignore that people are dying in your very own city of starvation in the clear and abundant bounty of Western society. You cannot ignore that one billion women worldwide are victims of male violence. You cannot ignore the plight of the poor, the disabled, the oppressed. You have to be in not for a penny but for many, many pounds. You have to give up your life in service to your beliefs and you can never, ever take time off, because the criticality demands of your radicalism that you be invested 24/7. You can’t shrug off this rapist or that rapacious politician. You can’t flip past the photo of spikes being put in doorways to keep the homeless from sleeping there. You can’t pretend that FGM is a cultural thing that (white) Westerners should ignore.

You cannot ever stop fighting for what is right because you are not, as the atheists and MRAs and lib fems say, ignorant. You are ignorance’s obverse: you are keenly, hyper-vigilantly aware and you can never unsee all that is cruel and inhumane and immoral anywhere ever again. Mother Teresa explicated this clearly, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

I have always believed that God is love and I have always believed that feminism is love. How could those two loves not heal the world the way they have healed me?

Two weeks ago I had some surgery. It seemed to go well, but an infection set in almost immediately, hidden under the healing wound, showing little sign to either me in my own body or to my doctors. It spread rapidly and by Dec. 17 I was gravely ill. By Dec. 18, death was knocking. On Dec. 19 I had emergency surgery. Today, as I write this on Christmas Eve Day, I am home from the hospital and I am alive.

I am not saying that I prayed to be saved–although I did, madly–and I was saved, because millions pray every day to be saved from things as painful and horrible as what I experienced and are not saved. What I am saying is being on the brink of death yet again, I am reminded of the value of life, of the value of all that is left to be accomplished and that the purpose of our lives on this earth–whether we believe in an afterlife as I do, or not–is to work as diligently as we can to give to those who do not have what we have, to seek justice for those of us (including ourselves) who have been marginalized, to make a space for equity and equality for everyone, to end male violence. Mother Teresa said, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

There is often no more “humble” work than feminism. But those of us who are feminists–true feminists–do it always and unflinchingly because lives depend on it. We cannot walk away. That work of feminism, or the work Mother Teresa spoke of, is how I put faith and feminism together in the same place.

No doubt some will come away from this saying I haven’t addressed individual issues that are fraught in both the Church and radical feminism. Perhaps not. But I reiterate that I said at the outset I didn’t believe in every tenet of either my religion or my feminism. But I believe in the construct of both my faith and my feminism. I believe that both work in a truly intersectional way to bolster my activism.

Every Sunday when I attend Mass, I am re-infused with activism–compelled to leave and do the work Christ set me here to do: save lives. Of women, of girls. Save men from their own violence. Save the marginalized from suffering and bigotry and oppression. This is my answer to the question of how do I meld my faith in God and my faith in feminism–through the example of Christ and the radical feminist theologians his pro-feminist activism spawned. The answer for me is the women who came before me, God and feminism inextricably bound together in their hearts and in their work. My admiration for all they achieved is immeasurable, as is my desire to follow in their footsteps. And those of their mentor, Christ.

 

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her reporting and commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem will be published in February 2015. Her book Erasure: Silencing Lesbians will be published in June 2015.@VABVOX

 

I’m No Heroine: On Feminism and Strength by Gappy Tales

Originally published: 05.02.14

I have been thinking a lot lately about online identity. As in how we put ourselves across to others through our writing, and the ways in which that can be received and interpreted.

It was a short exchange over Twitter that started me thinking. A #saysomethingnice hashtag was floating around and I had tweeted an online friend to tell her that I thought she was kind and funny, and that I really liked her. She had replied back saying:

“Well then I think you are strong, amazing, defiant and kickass! I am rather envious of you. x”

Which was lovely and made me smile, of course. But perhaps more confusedly than anything because the truth was that I just did not recognise myself in those words at all. Strong? Amazing? Kickass???No, not me. And then a realisation hit me and I thought, my god, is that really the impression I give of myself with my words? Because honestly, it just isn’t true.

And then I got to thinking of a much wider picture, of how feminists are often regarded as “strong” women; stronger and braver somehow than supposed “other” women. I don’t necessarily think that’s true either, nor do I think the idea particularly empowering – not for anyone. We are all of us just women getting by, having a lot of the same experiences, interpreting and reacting to them in our own way. When you are a woman living in a world that does not value women equally, simply learning to survive and thrive as best you can is brave enough.

Defining ourselves as feminists and writing, however passionately, about feminist principles cannot ever make us impervious to the daily grind of male supremacy. Indeed, I think sometimes it is because we are so affected that we become so inspired. We empathise with – and are angry on behalf of – all women yes, but the anger is generated from within our own selves as a reaction to our own lives and experiences. The personal is political after all.

So if I am enraged by the incessant body fascism depicted in glossy magazines, then please know that this is always at least partly informed by the fact that after birthing and feeding three children, I find my own stretched skin so hard to accept without judgement.

And if you read me railing against street harrassment and shouting about the right of women to go about their business without being subjected to the endless staring, cat-calls and intimidation that occur daily in our public spaces, then understand too that the last time I walked alone down a dark street, I was approached by a strange man whose low muttered obscenities frightened me so much I ran straight out into the road to get away from him and was almost mown down by an on coming car in the process.

Know that feminism for me is neither an abstract concept, nor an academic exercise. I can intellectualise and deconstruct and pick apart patriarchy’s every premise, but I will still suffer the same pains and indignities of having been born female in a mans world along with everyone else. My feminism is born of lived experience. Really, it was the only rational response.

And of course it isn’t just me. In fact I was reading an article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman recently – the article was about intersectionality, but it was this passage that jumped out at me:

“Here are some of the things I know that the kind of feminists regularly decried for their privilege have had to deal with, in private: eating disorder relapses; rape; the stalking of their children; redundancy; clinical depression; the sectioning of a family member; an anxiety disorder that made every train ride and theatre trip an agony. (Yes, one of those descriptions is me.)”

There are none of us immune to that daily grind. Even those feminists who might be considered some of the most successful, celebrated and widely read. Outspoken, vocal feminists in the public eye. Surely they must be the strongest of the strong? But take a peek below the surface and what you discover are ordinary women who can still struggle right along with everyone else.

And no, I do not mean to imply that being in receipt of privilege does not have a significant bearing on a womans life experiences (from a purely personal perspective I cannot remember the last time I could afford to go to the theatre for a start), and nor do I wish to paint women as hapless victims. Certainly not. My intention is simply to draw focus on our common humanity, our common experience, our common strength, our… commonality.

Because there are no “strong” women as set apart from “weaker” women. Feminism is for everybody. The words I write and the values that I hold true do not make me inherently more powerful than anyone else. And with that I’ll leave you with Ani di Franco who invariably says it better than I ever could…

 

Jeni Harvey: Writer, feminist, mother. Likes cake, hates Jeremy Clarkson. These are my principles – if you don’t like them, I have others. @GappyTales or Huff Post

The Bartered Sex by @EstellaMz

(Cross-posted from Uncultured Sisterhood)

An op-ed on how payment of bride price turns women into commodities provided welcome respite from the endless sexism in Uganda’s mainstream media. While I generally agree with the writer, payment of bride price in itself isn’t what turns women into commodities. Rather, in a society where women are seen as commodities, bride price is just one of many cultural practices emblematic of a ridiculous notion.

Obviously the need to pay is taxing on men, as it is for anyone buying a good or service. In a hard-pressed economy, the pressures are more constrictive and likely to create discord for those who fail to deliver what is owed, be they women or men. Marital frustrations on the back of bride price debt could partly explain why in a recent UN survey across 37 African countries, Uganda was in the lead with 60% of Ugandan men considering beating their wives a ‘necessary’ aspect of marriage, while a similar percentage of women think themselves deserving of a beating. Neither the air we breathe, nor the food we eat could have led us to this warped level of odious beliefs. Nevertheless, they are evidence of a culture accepting of violence against women. And with practices like bride price, it is the woman received in exchange who pays the ultimate price for this innocent-seeming giving of gifts.

Yet often, culturalized human-to-commodity metamorphosis of females not only manifested in customary exchanges between men, but in the reality of women’s status in society, is brushed off; bride price touted as a good, traditional practice. Some claim it is paid to show appreciation; another equated it to a ‘tip’ offered in addition to payment for a meal. These views are neck-deep in paternalism; further expose the lower rank of women in a male-dominated society, and importantly, fail to deliver a non-sexist reason as to why this gratitude isn’t also shown by women for men. It is there that we find the woman-commodifying ideals celebrated as unique, valuable aspects of African culture.

But there is nothing uniquely Ugandan in the practice of men pimping “giving away” their daughters and sisters to other men in the name of marriage, nor in man-as-prize and woman-as-property ideology. Brides are walked down aisles to their new owners in Kampala, Cambridge, Calcutta, and California. Romanticizing bride price needs to be seen for what it is: a ruse to mask its significance as one of the markers of man’s assumed lordship over woman, in marriage, and in every other socio-political institution for that matter. We should at least be frank about that, if only for the sake of honest discussion.

Our honest selves would acknowledge that the dehumanisation of women permeates myriad settings and cultures wherein the female body is objectified and violated in the day-to-day. Take the recent case in Ireland where a woman impregnated by a rapist was denied access to health-care, specifically, an abortion. As per interpretation of Irish law, the right to life of the foetus took precedence over her needs. In addition to the mental and physical suffering from sexual assault, she was placed under confinement and forced feeding, culminating in delivery. Being female, she had no right to deny the seed of the man who raped her from growing off her body – her trauma now in flesh. Whereas the rapist walked away from his crime, most likely unscathed as many of them do, she carries brutal lifelong reminders.

Such a horrific conclusion can only be seen as moral and justified in a society where women are valued only to the extent to which their bodies serve men and the wider good. Her right to self-determination was of little to no significance within and outside the law; first the rapist violated her by exercising his (perceived) right to her body, and then her personhood is dismissed for the ‘higher duty’ of woman as womb. Justice may not have been dealt to the rapist. His offspring will get it, the state will see to it. But for sure it will not be afforded to woman for whom, regardless of circumstances, child-bearing is the raison d’être.

The injustice is replicated in laws like the Mozambique one which exonerates a rapist if he marries a woman he raped. That a man’s crime can be written off because a woman’s status has been ‘raised’ to property of the miscreant who violated her (thus awarding him, in retrospect, the right to do so) underlines the position of women in a woman-hating society: commodities whose worth is in the value men can make of them.

Similar dynamics are in force when a man opts to ‘try elsewhere’ for a boy child; essentially taking advantage of his (perceived) male right to find another uterus in which to play reproductive lottery. Such recourse would be considered unbecoming of the wife – who is usually blamed for a couple’s seeming inability to conceive children of a preferred sex. Which is just as well since her duty, with bride price firmly in dad’s tummy, is to fulfill her husband’s physical/biological demands.

This normalization of men’s right to women’s bodies must be seen for its role in many societal ills. According to the World Bank, women between 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria. In Uganda, the high incidences of different manifestations of male violence against girls and women indicate a society which views female bodies as objects to be beaten/raped/bought and used for sex; enforced by cultural practices which naturalize inequality between the sexes. That women too can be violent doesn’t negate the fact that gender violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.

Meanwhile in India, the rule of male over female rages on like a cancer. The long-outlawed dowry system, characterized by a bride’s family ‘gifting’ a prospective groom and his family in exchange for the honor of having him as their son-in-law, still thrives. Dowry institutionalized the hatred of femaleness in that land of ancient goddesses; spawning female infanticide, poor investment in the girl child, rape, bride burning, and death – one woman killed every hour over dowry.

Like dowry, payment of bride price presupposes the inferiority of women to men. It establishes wives at commodity level; subordinate to husbands, and supposedly privileged to be in service to them. It relegates women to the same category as slaves bought to perform field labour, or a heifer added to a kraal for reproductive labour. The analogy may not be representative of the intentions of a 21st century African man when he is paying bride price. But good intentions don’t change the fact that commodities are given in exchange for the reproductive, domestic, sexual and emotional labour expected of a wife.

The individual woman’s favorable view of bride price doesn’t attenuate its legitimation of the commodification of women into human objects that are exchangeable between men in return for material objects.

Men’s favorable view of the practice is expected because it is for their benefit; as fathers who receive goods/animals/money, as husbands who receive wives, and as future fathers expecting a ‘return’ through their own daughters. They also get to retain a position of superiority and ownership over women.

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that men are major advocates for bride price as a “woman-valuing” tradition.

In that tradition, women will remain treated as lesser human-beings for as long as the bedrock of our society, the family, is built upon customs cemented with the bartering of ‘things’ for female life and labour.

Aiming for so-called ‘gender equality’ without striving to dismantle the cultural practices keeping inequality alive maintains the pillars of the mindless belief that to be female is to belong to an inferior caste, and women are, thereby, living commodities existing to be in service to everyone except themselves.

This nonsense must end. Starting with bride price.

 

Uncultured Sisterhood:  I am a Ugandan feminist, based in Uganda. The blog, unculturedsisterhood, started out of extreme personal frustration with the state of affairs for women in my country, outside of it, in pretty much every area of life. From a feminist theory perspective, I critique topical, community, and cultural issues in Uganda (and the wider continent) as they relate to women. Hoping one or two sisters read/engage and join in as we work toward liberation. Category: Feminism; AfroFeminism; Radical Feminism Twitter: @EstellaMz

TAKING ON THE ULTIMATE CLICHÉ OF THE HAIRY FEMINIST by @thewritinghalf

Cross-posted from: The Writing Half
Originally published: 03.09.14

Am I a bad feminist? For over a decade now I have been battling body hair with razors, creams, wax, tweezers, epilators and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments. Of course, hairy legs and armpits are the ultimate cliché of the 70’s feminist, a stereotype that still hangs around. The image works quite well for people who oppose or misunderstand the concept of feminism. It’s repulsive, or ‘unwomanly’, some would say. (An interesting argument, given that most women do have body hair naturally). So are my half-hearted efforts at body hair removal offensive to the Sisterhood?

It’s not like I haven’t thought it through. From a personal viewpoint, it’s time-consuming, expensive and, depending on the method used, painful. Equally, from a feminist perspective, it is sapping me of productive use of time and disposable income that a man would take for granted. I don’t want to think about how much I’ve spent on the thankless task of dissolving, ripping out from the roots, plucking and bleaching, only for the forest to spring up again overnight.

Now, I don’t want to distract you with a discussion on pornography here. I don’t personally object to it per se. I do, however, have some specific issues with its development on the internet over the last decade. One of these is that regular women are now expected to perform a porn star-level of personal grooming. The really annoying thing about this, aside from the associated crazy pain and expense, is that nobody even asked us if this was okay. As Caitlin Moran puts it: ‘It is now accepted that women will wax. We never had a debate about it.’ She makes a very good argument when she writes ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a fanny… This is the money we should be spending on THE ELECTRICITY BILL’. It really is quite ludicrous.
Read more TAKING ON THE ULTIMATE CLICHÉ OF THE HAIRY FEMINIST by @thewritinghalf

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Burka Avenger fighting for women’s education

(cross-posted from Petal fall from my afro like Autumn)

MY MIND IS BLOWN…

burka avenger

Pakistani Pop Star Aaron Haroon Rashid, has created a new super hero: the Burka Avenger. Quite literally a burka-clad super hero who fights for girls right to education, punishing the bad guys with nothing more than books, pens, and inner peace. This anti-violence, pro-education icon is ‘creating quite an impression in a country where female literacy is estimated at a grim 12% and the Taliban are continuing a campaign which has seen hundreds of girls’ schools blown up in the north-west.’ the BBC tells us. As arguably the biggest weapon of the Arab Spring, social media is once again championing a peoples movement, although this time through animation instead of protests. Could this be a indicative of a move away from religious extremism and back to a cosmopolitan Pakistan where the levels and standards of education rise exponentially across the country, providing both male and female future thinkers, speakers and teachers of the world?

Haroon told the BBC “The Burka Avenger is a great role model. We lack those in Pakistan.” But what about, now author, activist, and international spokesperson Malala? A young Pakistani woman who was the victim of an assassination attempt as a child by the Taliban after blogging for the BBC about her life under Taliban rule, Malala survived a terrible headshot wound and now lives in Birmingham. She continues to campaign for education, and specifically the education of girls, but whilst she has become the champion of many human rights campaigns she is also hated by many people from her home country, not just Taliban supporters, some doubt the sincerity of her campaign, going so far as to claim that she is a CIA agent. Even people who knew her from her own village have called her attention seeking, stating that “Malala is spoiling Pakistan’s name around the world,” Leading me to the question: is this a peoples movement, is it what the people want?

The Burka Avenger shows-off obvious western influences, including a rap-theme tune ‘Don’t Mess with the Lady in Black’ by Haroon and Adil Omar which is sung in English. I was interested to see what responses had come out of a society with a currently anti-Western mood. As I suspected many of the comments agree that “Burkha Avenger” will be written off by many as just more Western propaganda,” And yet, as a U.K occupant myself, I think that this animation could have a tremendous effect on anti-muslim ignorance here in the West itself. Episode one introduces funny, likeable protagonists, not so different to the characters you might find in Dora The Explorer or even our very own Kim Possible which, in a fear-driven world that is increasingly alienating all and any aspects of muslim-culture (both assumed and literal) can only be a good thing right?

However this symbol of education emancipation for women (the message I have tattooed on my forehead) is wearing a burka, seen by many as a symbol of the oppression of women and has, in itself caused a fair amount of debate. “It is demeaning to those brave women in the conservative parts of Pakistan who have been fighting for women’s rights, education and justice, and who have said ‘no’ to this kind of stereotype.” Comments Islamabad-based journalist and human rights activist, Marvi Sirmed to the BBC, “…it says that you can only get power when you don a symbol of oppression,”. But the burka is not just a symbol of oppression. There are many muslim women both in the west and around the world who have spoken out against this stereotype.

hijab choice

I have read accounts that assert the Burka empowers women, allows them to walk the streets without being stared at by men in a derogatory way. I myself have experienced feeling so objectified by men all around me in the middle of an average street in London that I wished to become invisible, to give them nothing to look at. I would not equate this to covering my face as a symbol of my religion, but then, I am not dedicated to any religious body, so accept that such devotional practices are somewhat alien to me. Women also talk about modesty and state that men are also obliged by the Q’ran to cover themselves from neck to ankle in loose clothing. Women have insisted that that they are not forced to wear the Burka or Hijab by any men in their families, but wear it because they want to, and wear it with pride. A particularly concise comment I found on a polling website stated: “The burka is no more a symbol of oppression than the bra.” Well, you’ve got me there…

burqa_liberation

Whilst this really isn’t the image I  have in my head when I think of women’s liberation – neither is this –

nightclub

– a common occurrence in a seemingly ‘equal’ country…

So I’m afraid I stand a little on the fence with this one, and if this heroic, independent female-role model is fighting for literacy and education for women in a highly-oppressive society, how can we fault her? If she’s not offering me a feminist female president of Pakistan, isn’t she at least giving us a good start?

School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms? by @LK_Pennington

The streets in Scotland are full of children in navy blue, black and grey school uniforms trudging or skipping back to school. This week, schools in England and Wales return: with children in school uniforms that are very clearly gendered with lovely pleated skirts for girls and polo shirts for boys. Considering the increased awareness of the harm caused by gendered stereotypes as seen in the campaigns Let Girls be Girls and Let Toys be Toys , why are school uniforms still embraced? Is there really a difference between Lelli Kelli selling sparkly shoes for girls that come with make-up and Clarks selling school shoes for girls that you can’t play sports in, as per their recent advertising campaign?

I’m always perplexed by the obsession with school uniforms and the questionable defence of forcing children to attend school in clothing that are simply not designed to be played in. School uniforms may have worked in the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s when children were forced to sit in rows and learn by rote. Considering the amount of proof there is demonstrating that that is the least effective way of teaching, why on earth are we still obsessed with stuffing children in clothing which simply does not match current theories in childhood education?

Whenever I ask this question, there are two answers that always pop up: that children behave better in uniforms because they respect themselves and the educational environment and that it decreases bullying. I have yet to see evidence that supports either statement.

I have read studies which link increased performance of students in state exams to uniforms, but once you read the research it turns out that uniforms aren’t the only change in the school. Frequently, the implementation of uniforms follows a change in management or the discipline policy. These have actual measurable outcomes. Forcing six-year-olds to wear ties does not. The strictest uniform policy in the world will not compensate for poor management or poor teaching. Kids wearing jeans to a school where the staff and management respect one another and the children will do far better than children in ties in a school where staff are demoralised with poor management.

Many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as schools in the UK. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, branded sports clothing and, in certain areas, banning gang colours. You can have a dress code that requires children to be presentable that doesn’t involve cheap nylon pleated skirts or ties.

Let’s be honest here, a lot of school uniforms that are available are of poor quality, made by sweatshop labour and rip easily. It is more cost effective, especially for those on limited incomes, to buy a few pairs of jeans from Tesco or Asda that can be worn throughout the year, than it is to buy uniforms that are “seasonal”. This is without addressing the utter ridiculousness that is the price of school shoes or schools demanding children wear official uniform to gym class. Do children really play football better in shorts with the school logo on?

Another reason given for school uniforms is poverty; the theory being that if all the children are in the same outfit, then children won’t get bullied over clothing. Ten minutes in a school playground will demonstrate just how wrong this theory is. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, then parents on limited incomes will struggle to pay for it. Kids can also tell the difference between clothes from Tesco’s and clothes from John Lewis even in schools, which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing uniform as they are for wearing Tesco’s brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the real issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a bad school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the school environment that allows bullying to continue without intervention.

Bullying is part of the patriarchal structure of our society, which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mould. In many ways, school uniforms are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay: jobs which are frequently performed by women.

Clothing is the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make a clear distinction between those with power who have value and those who have neither. As a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

The conformity encouraged by school uniforms is about maintaining hierarchical social control. It is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not important.

Fundamentally, school uniforms only serve to reinforce Patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.