28/11/2012

A WOMAN'S WORTH IS NOT DEPENDENT ON HER ATTIRE

1 comment
I wasn't planning to write anything on here until all my tedious university interview work was done, but a discussion in debating society yesterday really aggravated me. I don't have an enormous amount of time (I'm supposed to be writing my English coursework actually) so I apologise for only writing a short, incoherent rant.

The motion was supposed to be "this House would disestablish the Church of England", and bless sir for trying to get us all back on track after everyone ended up clutching their pearls and reaching for smelling salts over the picture of Rev Sally Hitchiner in the Evening Standard - even though only a couple of people in the room had actually bloody seen it, but everyone had an opinion based on a grossly exaggerated description.

The way this picture was introduced by someone was that "SHE WAS WEARING FISHNET TIGHTS, KITTEN HEELS, TONS OF MAKE-UP - IT WAS SO INAPPROPRIATE" etc. People refrained from using words like "slut" or "slag" in front of our teachers, but you could see their masked misogyny behind their false concern over Rev Hitchiner's faith. This is what she was wearing:


"Many people are scared of priests who look imposing and not like everyone else in society. I dress my age, in Topshop and Zara. One person on the internet has started trolling me, saying priests shouldn’t look like normal people. But it’s important that the Church reflects the range of people in society."

I guessed that the reason that the Evening Standard chose to run a huge image of her in the article was because she's an attractive young woman, and they wanted to provoke a reaction from people that focused more on Rev Hitchiner's attire than her opinion on the church - which I think says more about how the media manipulates the public rather than how devout we guess Rev Hitchiner is from what sort of clothes she's wearing. I looked Sally Hitchiner up on Twitter and she mentions that the images were "manipulated" as well as presented in a way different from discussed (I think they were originally taken for the Daily Mail).

After I was infuriated with people's comments, I pointed out that a) I had actually seen her outfit and it wasn't as "inappropriate" as it was made out to be, and b) it's sad that instead of remembering her deep disappointment about the outcome of the church's vote and what she had to say about women in the church, everyone has focused on judging her character from her outfit. I felt pretty appalled by the sentiment in the room which seemed to put equality under a condition pleasing to misogynistic attitudes - "if women want to be bishops in the church, then you have to conform to X, Y and Z, otherwise you can't expect equality!"

A thirty minute discussion in a London classroom filled with lots of sixteen and seventeen year olds, mostly girls, demonstrated how people feel that they can determine how "good" or "pious" or "respectful" or "worthy" a woman is from her clothing. No one gave a damn about her opinion on the church. The people who'd actually read the article didn't remember her words. Instead, they wanted to judge her commitment from her clothes, instead of listening to her demonstrate her faith through her words. 

27/10/2012

Where I Rant About Things You're Probably Sick of Hearing About

2 comments
I really think that this has been spoken about by several excellent people already, making this kind of useless, but considering that I've written a tiny bit about it on here, more for the school paper that got seriously cut down, and a furious rant on my angsty teen girl tumblr, I feel like I ought to collect it all in one neat piece of writing. (My previous post about Girls is HERE.) So here you go: a long rant about Girls, Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran, and Elementary.

Lots of television shows set in cities like New York lack diversity despite being set in diverse environments and/or make use of racial stereotypes whenever there is a non-white character in the cast (like 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother, etc). Some people perceive that Girls has been "unfairly" attacked for its lack of diversity because of the "look at all the other shows that have all-white casts!" defence but to put it bluntly: as "feminists" you ought to be doing better. A show that's supposedly All About Real Women Beyond Stereotypes only featured non-white characters as passing stereotypes.

Just last year, Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey's Anatomy) criticised the show Bunheads for its lack of racial diversity. Do you know what Amy Sherman-Palladino's response was? "I’ve always felt that women, in a general sense, have never supported other women the way they should." I am really sick of people refusing to accept any legitimate criticisms from other women on issues such as race because we're supposed to be part of some sort of magical sisterhood. 

Regarding the issue of diversity on television, the thing that annoys me just as much as all the problematic things related to Girls is the unwavering defence of it by lots of supposed feminists. Lots of the articles I've read on places like the Guardian by the Vagenda (more on that later) and Feministing making a passing comment about these criticisms and basically say that the "real issue" is the lack of positive representation of women in pop culture so we ought to shut up about wanting more diverse representations of everyone because isn’t it swell that we have a couple REAL (WHITE) FEMALE CHARACTERS ON TV?

I understand that not everyone will necessarily have the same privileged experiences as the girls on the show, but being shut out means that Girls is not the radical "voice of a generation" that it's hailed as. The great issue with Dunham's work isn't just because she excludes people of other races in developed roles (even though duh, a non-diverse New York is not realistic) but when she does include them, they're blatant racial stereotypes that exist for the sole purpose of being contrasted with her character. 

So, now it's time to look at the issue surrounding Caitlin Moran's tweets. A lot of people have tried to pass off her initial tweet where she said she "literally couldn't give a shit" about all the racial issues around Girls as being "out of context" or whatever, but she made her point seriously clear by saying that "asking every female artist to represent 3.3b women in every project she does is a crippling and unfair request" and really doesn't seem to understand why the exclusion of marginalised people is discriminatory, as seen where she compares the lack of representation on television with "not having someone Chinese" in her house.

It's disheartening to see all the people who really don't "get" the issue of lack of positive representation of minorities on television. To quote an excellent piece on the issue by Bim Adewunmi: "Is it unfair to ask Dunham to represent all of womanhood onscreen? Of course it is. But here’s the thing: no one did. We merely asked that she take a step back and question the underlying reason for why Girls looks the way it does.

Graham Linehan tweeted that people are "actually DEMANDING tokenism" and if that's all you've picked up from this whole debate, then you really haven't been listening. No one is asking for "token" POC characters (we're seriously not). Asking for more positive representation in the media shouldn't be this horrible stifling burden. The excuses people come up with for lacking well-written POC characters are ridiculous. If you can't do it, hire staff who can. Though to be honest, if you can only seem to write POC characters as token stereotypes and not portray them as the developed human beings that they are, you probably suck as a writer and seriously need to reflect on the racist attitudes you've internalised. 

Feminists like Moran, Dunham, and Arfin dominate the portrayal of "mainstream feminism" and promote a brand of feminism that only really thinks about their needs. A lot of the feminists like them promote "equality for some women now, everyone else later!" - and when they fuck up because they've continually refused to understand issues surrounding their privilege, they don't actually LEARN from their mistakes. And they will continue to be praised by liberal outlets as the "face of modern feminism".

The way that feminism ought to move ON from being limited to the needs of certain types of women is that feminists should listen to critiques of problematic aspects of it. It's not feminists calling out other feminists for problematic shit that's dividing feminism, it's feminists that stifle the voices of other people within the movement and refuse to listen, learn, and acknowledge their privilege that make lots of people uncomfortable  about identifying as a feminist. Why should they have to identify as feminists, if their existence isn't even acknowledged by the most dominant voices in the movement?

So the Vagenda saying instead of fighting the patriarchy, "we're in-fighting" about the Dunham-Moran situation is absolute bullshit because if you're not going to acknowledge why all the things that Moran said were hurtful to women of colour who always tend to be sidelined in "mainstream feminism", then you're not bloody fighting for all women. You're really just upholding the same oppressive standards as before. I'm both amused and annoyed at Moran and the Vagenda, who talk about how men patronise women about sexism, but don't see themselves doing the same thing as white women to women of colour. 

The Vagenda also wrote an article in the New Statesman as a defence of Caitlin Moran where they dismiss intersectionality as something too academic to comprehend and claims that "Moran at least speaks a language that we all understand". As the post on intersectionality by stavvers sharply counters: "If by “we”, they mean the privileged women with a national platform, then yes, they understand it. But not if you’re one of the groups Moran doesn’t give a shit about. At best, it’s dismissive. At worst, it’s actively oppressing others."

In the film A Girl Like Me, an experiment is conducted where African-American girls are asked to choose between a white doll and a black doll. The majority of the children chose the white doll, giving reasons like the white doll is "pretty" or "good", and the black doll is "ugly" or "bad". Pop culture influences us so when everything from children's shows to teen dramas to adult sitcoms lack diversity - or only perpetuate harmful stereotypes - then we shouldn't become shocked that these stereotypes become a part of the way we think. We shouldn't dismiss a problematic part of pop culture as just a film, or just a television show - there's no "just" about it. Pop culture does not exist in a vacuum as it relates to reality, to human history and human experience. 

I've only seen the pilot episode of Elementary so far, but I quite enjoy it as a modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. "What about the modern day television show starring Benedict Cumberbatch and his cheekbones?" you cry. Sherlock is quite problematic with regards to its portrayal of women and minorities, and some of the cast and some of the writers often spout a lot of questionable things. Sherlock makes me quite uncomfortable.

I think it says a lot that Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed as a mouse without any uproar, but apparently it's a cause for panic if there's an adaptation with an Asian-American woman playing Watson. It's set in New York and its cast is representative of that. Lucy Liu's Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes are portrayed as real human beings, and not reduced to stereotypes of Asian-American women or recovering drug users. Furthermore, the show presents non-white actors playing complex characters just as realistic and deeply human as the white characters because they’re a part of the real world, not just to be contrasted with the show’s hero.

On Joan, Lucy eloquently said: "It’s nice to be able to portray an Asian-American on camera without having an accent, or without having to be spoofy. And I think that’s a big step forward, because there are still representations of people that are more comedic. And that’s not what I’m playing. I’m just playing somebody who represents anyone else who would be living in America or outside of it, who is just a regular person."

I enjoyed Elementary because I thought it was witty and smart (with two very beautiful people in the lead roles), but also, watching a show that manages to portray women, people of colour, drug users, and so on as ACTUAL REAL HUMAN BEINGS is something that's unfortunately rare in pop culture. Right now, the discussions surrounding these shows are crucial - and everyone should be paying attention, no matter how uncomfortable the harsh truths may make you feel.


I mentioned it in the post, but "How to be better: on intersectionality, privilege and silencing" is a worthy read.

26/08/2012

On HBO's Girls

1 comment
A sickening amount has been written about HBO's new show Girls to the extent that you may be sick of the hype and its creator Lena Dunham before it's even aired in the U.K; if you fall into the category of people that are tired of hearing about this show, then I apologise but I feel the need to vent about some of the failings of Girls' staff along with some of the mainstream feminist community's response to it.

The show has been criticised for the lack of diversity in the cast; in the show's pilot, the only POC were the minor, passing characters of a black homeless man, a black taxi driver, and an Asian girl who was good with technology. For a while, I was naively willing to give Dunham the benefit of the doubt when she said she wants to "address" the lack of women of colour if the show has a second series, but you know what? The constant repeated instances of ignorance from the show's writing cast in conjunction with the whitewashing of New York shows that it's highly unlikely Dunham is ACTUALLY assessing her own privilege after each instance that she or the show is called out.

For instance, Lesley Arfin, one of the show's writers, is the one who said "what really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME" and said something ridiculously absurd about using the N-word. So by the time that Lena Dunham wrapped a scarf around her head and tweeted "I had a real goth/fundamentalist attitude when I woke up from my nap", I really wasn't surprised when I found myself rolling my eyes at something that's a ridiculous comment to make all year round but stings particularly after the Mosque bombing in Misouri and the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin. As Racialicious said so excellently about her "apology":
By “bad time,” she referred to the assault on the gurudwara in Oak Creek last week. So it only took people getting shot and killed by an apparent white supremacist–and using a pretext similar to Ashton Kutcher’s defense for those pro-Penn State tweets, if you’ll recall–for her to issue a non-apology. It wasn’t that the joke itself was lazy; it’s that she didn’t pick the right day to foist it upon us.

As for the rest of her argument, if she hasn’t learned about “boundaries” after being critiqued regarding her show’s casting calls–what, Donald Glover is supposed to be a salve?–or her staff’s stabs at hipster racism, then it’s not hard to imagine anybody holding their breath to start showing more sensitivity now.
But you know what insulted me as much as the ignorance behind a show that is supposed to be "all about real women"? Articles like the one published by Feministing that ask: "Does Lena Dunham’s “casual racism” matter?" Well, yes. DUH. The author says "I wouldn’t say this tweet and pic is obviously racist, as much as it is annoying and ignorant (and Islamophobic)" but in Western society, racism and Islamophobia are linked as in our public consciousness, we need to be wary of the "scary brown evil Muslims". “But, I’m fascinated by how much people are focused on her political representations since she’s essentially a comedy writer and comedians say racially offensive things all the time" - oh, okay! So by that logic, as many comedians say sexist or cissexist or heterosexist things, we should never call anyone out on it, right? Well, no. That's obviously not a sound argument to make.

Oh, and let's not forget the part that makes me rage: "I think the outrage ends up scrutinizing her personal behavior instead of looking at the real problem–the lack of diverse representations of women in popular culture." Seriously? I don't see how criticising Dunham's insensitive and ignorant tweet has anything to do with the lack of representation of women in popular culture. Calling Dunham out doesn't equal anything like "girl hate" or being unsupportive of women in the media, especially when she's had such an influential opportunity to do something powerful in the media. People defending her talk about the lack of racial awareness in other New York based shows (2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, etc). I mean, Gossip Girl is pretty much about Rich White People Problems but it's marketed as such and forgive me for hoping that a show about the lives of young women written by a FEMINIST wouldn't totally suck at intersectionality and inclusiveness, or wishing that feminist circles wouldn't equate calling racism out as being unsupportive to other women.

I fairly enjoyed the first season but I really don't know if I'm going to have the patience to watch the second, and I feel so uncomfortable thinking about Girls airing here in the U.K. this autumn and having everyone laud it as being SO GREAT FOR FEMINISM when all these issues exist. I think that Lena Dunham should watch this and maybe learn a thing or two:

 

16/07/2012

When Idols Suck

No comments
Most people have their idols; heroic figures that inspire them to wake up every single morning and do something. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but people like Anne Frank, Jessica Mitford, and Sophie Scholl make me want to attempt to change the world in some way, to be a better human being. We hold these people on a pedestal of infallibility and loathe it when anybody says a terrible word about them ever - which is why it can be difficult to acknowledge when our idols kind of suck.

Recently I've become dismayed by the fact that people I used to admire or respect have said questionable things (and haven't apologised) and further dejected by the fact that several feminists have defended them unwaveringly and rejected the worthy criticisms. Something that I've become more acutely aware of is about feminism being a process of learning and unlearning; this doesn't end the moment you reach the point of How To Be A Woman where you jump on a chair and shout 'I AM A FEMINIST'. It's no good saying 'but I promise I'm not racist/sexist/cissexist/ableist' - we need to check our own privileges and claim responsibility when we fuck up.

The basic principle here is 'don't be an arsehole'. Just because I identify as a feminist doesn't mean that I'm infallible; it's necessary to acknowledge the privileges you have and if you fuck up on an issue that you're ignorant about, don't deny your ignorance or become defensive over being called out on your privilege. I'm sick of people giving total non-apology apologies like 'I was young and stupid' or 'I'm sorry but I'm not sorry' that tend to be used as some sort of Get Out of Jail Card; apologise, educate yourself, learn from your error, and do better next time.

Furthermore, you shouldn't talk over people on an issue. For instance, continuing on from the topic of my last post, don't claim that 'Islam is the most sexist religion ever and even though I am a western feminist with no experience or understanding of the faith, I know that ALL Muslim women are oppressed and need saving to become liberated like me'. That there is some white savior bullshit. I'm sure that Muslim women need you, a non-Muslim, to enlighten them how they should feel. The idea of actually asking Muslim women, i.e. those who have experienced what you're actually talking about, about what they think seems to be a remote concept to some people.

I'm further irritated by feminists claiming that any criticisms from within the movement are dividing us, when really, it's the fact that they're stifling the voices within the community that weaken it. When I first started identifying as a feminist, I naively thought 'feminism is for me, feminism is for everyone' but admittedly, there are times where I feel that there is not a place for me. Perhaps one day, feminism CAN be for everyone but right now, mainstream feminism seems so focused on the needs of white and western middle-class able-bodied cissexual heterosexual women.

I acknowledge my privileges and my ignorance as I'm trying to learn and retrain away from the prejudices that society has made inherent. Your idols, as excellent as they may be on one issue, have their own privileges but if they're not aware and responsible of them, then they're not helping. If feminism isn't an intersectional feminism that's safe for everyone, and your idols aren't the intersectional feminists that the world needs, then it's harming rather than helping. Feminism isn't fighting for "some" women - it needs to fight for all women.

03/07/2012

On Burkas, "Liberation", and "Oppression".

1 comment
This is something that I have been thinking about for a while and I doubt that this is going to be coherent, but I think that the blog Oppressed Brown Girls Doing Things is far more well-informed about this than I currently am and I recommend that you read it! 

I have seen THIS picture (NSFW) doing its rounds on the blogosphere a lot recently, captioned as 'Muslim women protesting against the Burka'  and tags like 'freedom' 'oppression' - along with several incredibly uninformed comments making me feel a mixture of amusement and disgust. At the time of writing, this has 82143 notes on Tumblr.

My personal favourite unenlightened comment is: 'It’s great she had the balls to do that but now shes more than likely dead, stoned to death... not many people look like models without working out and I doubt Muslim woman are given time to exercise. Also if any of what I just said sounds racist it wasn't intended to be and it doesn’t seem offensive to me but someone else might'. (Just... what?)

NEWSFLASH: THIS IS NOT A MUSLIM WOMAN PROTESTING THE BURKA.

When you're on the internet, it's not incredibly difficult to find the original source of this picture if you happen to be in possession of common sense and access to Google. In fact, the only reason that it took me a whole five minutes instead of a mere two is that I had to sift through entries that were Islamaphobic and/or commenting on her breasts. 

It was taken at a Spanish festival called 'Carnaval de Cabezo de Torres' by someone called Guillermo Carrion. I took German and French at school, so I'm relying on Google Translate's translation of the caption which says: Hundreds of people took to the streets to watch the carnival of Cabezo de Torres full of light and sound that greeted the streets of the town despite the cold.

While it's not certain what the intentions behind the attire are (I've heard that it was in fact an occasion where Islam was being mocked), what we know for sure is that it's not of a woman protesting the Burka. Instead, it's been publicised as such because someone on the internet thought 'oh look, it's a woman in some sort of Islamic attire, let's just jump to assumptions without being bothered to fact check'. Furthermore, I saw a few bloggers who described themselves as 'feminists' but ranted about how 'barbaric' the Burka is and one or two of them even mixed it up with the Hijab and the Niqab. Here's a handy guide to the differences between them.

A recent PostSecret.
Some orders of nuns cover their heads, as do women attending mass at some particular Catholic churches - they're not being called oppressed but Muslim women need to be 'liberated' by Western ideals from the horrible 'barbaric' Middle-East. It's correct that we should speak out against abuse in a culture, but it's an error to assume that all the people in that culture are abused. Or, you know, you could actually listen to what Muslim women are saying about their own lived experiences for a change.

25/06/2012

A Minor Cultural Identity Crisis

4 comments

Theoretically, I have shared ownership of Marjane Satrapi's comic Persepolis with Dodo after a Christmas raffle, but truthfully, I've had it sitting on my bookshelf for the past two years. I think about the comic quite often actually - because while Marjane lived through a revolution and a war like my mother, she experienced a struggle with her nationality and heritage that I can identity with. 
'I didn't know you were French.'
'Do you think it's easy being Iranian here? If I say I am, they treat me like a savage. They think we're all violent, blood thirsty fanatics.'
'Is that any reason to deny your roots? You remember what I told you? Be true to yourself.'
My parents attempted to raise me as conscious of my Iranian heritage, but also fully assimilated into an English culture. My mother taught me to speak Farsi by clasping me in her chest and murmuring songs from her childhood in my ears, and English through watching Sesame Street with me. The reason that I struggle to pronounce certain sounds is the legacy of my bilingual upbringing and as such, I'm painfully self-conscious when I'm supposedly 'playfully' mocked for not being about to pronounce 'th' very well or god forbid, say the word 'orange' with a slight twang. 

I used to deeply feel that I was not 'British enough', as for all the Spice Girls tapes I owned, I was marked out for 'otherness' in childhood. I began thinking about when the extreme loathing I felt for my body began in primary school due to the mocking that occurred towards the dark features I inherited.

The way that other people saw me shaped how I saw myself and triggered my rejection of my Iranian heritage. I stopped learning how to read and write in Farsi. I began only referring to myself as British. It wasn't until I happened to catch Persepolis on television, particularly the scene where Marji shouts 'Yes, I'm Iranian and, yes, I'm proud of it!' at a group of snotty girls, that I began to re-consider  my cultural identity.

Someone anonymous on the internet (obviously the most informed person ever) tried to tell me that I am 'white according to history and anthropology'. Clearly they're misinformed by American crime television shows, but 'caucasian', which is where Iranians tend to fall, doesn't actually mean 'white'. There's a campaign I read about in America, where Arab-Americans and Persian-Americans have to tick the box for 'white' in the census, despite the fact that they've never been treated as such: 'What do you mean, white? I've been going through all this crap, all this ribbing and teasing for years, and I've been white all this time? You should have told me earlier.' The next time that my family goes through airport security in the US, I'll be sure to tell them that there's no need to racially profile us because 'someone on the internet' told me that I'm actually white.

My mother has lived through a revolution and a war. Although neither of my parents returned to their homeland, they can say with ease that they are British Iranians. I struggle to fully identify with a country that I've never been able to enter, a language that I speak clumsily, a history that I know woefully little of. But I cannot quite claim the label of the country I was born in quite so simply when I always end up having to tick the 'other' box on official documents, when a sense of 'otherness' has been deeply rooted in my identity. 


Truthfully, I feel very lost wandering between British and Iranian, and all the talk of war and hatred between the East and West makes my head spin. An Iranian film, A Separation, won Best Foreign Language Film in the Oscars. This is the speech that the director Asghar Farhadi made:
At this time many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture. A rich and ancient culture that has been under heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this honor to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment. Thank you very much.

29/04/2012

Rape Culture and Street Harassment

5 comments
TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of rape culture. 

RAPE CULTURE -  a term which describes a culture in which rape and sexual violence (usually against women) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualised violence.

As I bought lunch in a coffee shop the other day, I heard a discussion on the radio about a campaign that Mumsnet have started called 'We Believe You' which aims to show how many lives have been blighted by sexual violence.  I thought I was going to throw up when I heard the someone on the radio ask women to come forward with why they didn't speak out, but somehow, I managed to muster up the courage to research it online at the same sort of time that two hashtags began trending on twitter #webelieveyou and #ididnotreport.

Considering we live in a culture where those opinions are the norm - they are normal in our culture, our media, our teachers, our politicians, our doctors, our police officers - it's appalling that those same people criticise victims that don't speak up. From a young age, you're taught that if you obey those rules, you won't be raped. Don't go out late at night, don't wear a short skirt, don't talk to strangers, don't look like you're the 'wrong sort of girl'. There's a sinister implication sometimes in society that you were raped because you broke the rules that society has constructed for you.

I am a city girl. I have been raised to be wary of strangers, to avoid certain routes home, to sit next to non-threatening kindly old ladies on the tube. I have been harassed on the street before. But last week, I had an encounter that freaked me out so much that when I got into school, I just burst into tears because of it. Every time I've brought it up in class, the girls around me join in with their experiences, like 'oh yeah someone tried to follow me home last week’ or ‘someone stopped their car in a busy road to shout lewd comments at me’ - we understand the seriousness and the danger of it, but it occurs so often that it's making us desensitized to it as it's such a 'normal thing' to occur.

We're asked questions like: 'Why do you leave the house looking good then? Why did you wear that skirt?'

What's they're really asking is 'How dare you have the audacity to wear something you like and expect not to be harassed for it? Don't you know you're a sexual object? Jeez, get with the patriarchy already!'

I've been harassed wearing a leather mini-skirt, yes - but it's happened when I've been wearing my utterly grim and dull school uniform. It's happened when I've been wearing jeans and a jumper without wearing any make up or when I've left the house looking like a budget Helena Bonham Carter with lots of unruly hair and eyeliner everywhere.

'Don't you see, love? IT'S A COMPLIMENT WHEN I OBJECTIFY YOU IN THE STREET, AND THEN CONDEMN YOU FOR HAVING CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF AS A SEXUAL BEING.'

It’s a 'compliment’ if it feels good. The men that have leered at me on the street aren't complimenting me. It's done to intimidate, making me a sexual object. Being harassed in the street by someone who refuses to take no for an answer makes you feel threatened and scared - and you've got to be nice to them too, no matter how uncomfortable they're making you, because who knows how it'll end? As much as you'd like to tell them to go fuck themselves, you've got to pretend that you're really flattered and all but you've got to leave now.

The whole idea that 'women love it really' takes up a chapter - probably an entire volume - of Rape Culture 101. Despite what the Daily Mail may want you to think, I do not want any man that says 'darling' to be thrown into prison - I just want to be able to walk the streets without feeling threatened.

I am sick to death of living in a world where rape culture prevails and shames people into silence with dangerous myths that make excuses for the attacker and blame the victim ('only strangers rape' 'it's not rape if it's within a relationship' 'she didn't fight back really' 'she's a slut, she was asking for it' 'if she's consented to one sexual act, that how can she say no to another' 'he couldn't stop himself, she was too tempting' 'well, just look at what she was wearing!'). I am tired of hearing rape and sexual assault being used as 'banter' and that I am an unfunny 'wench' for being triggered by it. I am tired of hearing about case where an abused woman was prosecuted for withdrawing her rape accusation despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I am tired of this rape culture, which blames us for something that was beyond our control.

This is why if you make an ignorant, uninformed, sexist, misogynistic victim blaming, or a generally fucked up comment around me, I am going to confront you. This is your culture, my culture, our culture. It wasn't anyone's fault except the perpetrator and I will not apologise for calling you out on your uninformed bullshit.

05/03/2012

Adventures with the Nasty Party

3 comments

When I woke up this morning, I was expecting to perhaps deal with some jokes about feminism, not argue with members of 'the Nasty party'.

At 3 o'clock in the morning, Lucy and I wrote a presentation on feminism in the middle of discussing our favourite wife of Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn forever) - Thursday is International Women's Day, so we've decided to run a week of feminist themed activities, including a a feminism dedicated issue of the school newspaper, a bake sale to raise money for Oxfam (and smash stereotypes that say 'like, isn't that counter-productive to message of feminism'), run a craft workshop for the younger years to make their own glorious feminist sashes, and have a 'dress up as an inspirational female role model' day. In speakers, the assembly for sixth formers, we introduced the reason why feminism is still needed, whilst covering things like Suffragettes in the UK and the attacks on women's rights by our current government, to advertise what we're doing for the week. We falsely assumed that this would be the most fascinating part of our day.

After we'd spoken, I rejoined the audience with Lucy, expecting one of the bland speakers that are usually in to speak to us. Actually, they were two women from a Conservative Party Forum, with one speaker and another that (mostly) just observed. They began by saying that they were going to build on our feminism presentation, before making a weak joke about being from 'the Nasty Party'. The speakers said that they'd come to ask us what we want for the 2015 and 2020 manifestos, by asking us what we want by those dates. I sincerely doubt that their real intention was to 'ask' us anything, as she spent more time defending the party from whatever point someone brought up than actually listening to our concerns.

For instance, several people brought up tuition fees - but instead of acknowledging their concerns, she responded with a condescending, simpering statement like 'it's for your own good' and twisted their words to make the students seem utterly unreasonable for wanting to attend university without having a huge debt for a significant part of their adult lives. I think that a universally acknowledged signal for A Very Serious Argument is probably Lucy's ominous hand raising. She brought up that she'd like to be able to graduate university but have a job where she's actually paid a living wage for it, instead of being used for unpaid labour (in response to Workfare) in a mock simpering manner like the woman's own. The speaker seemed shocked at the prospect of confrontation.

She then lied about the state of benefits in this country, when she responded to someone's point on it by declaring that it's 'fairer than ever' and that things like the Disability Living Allowance were cut because disabled people themselves 'don't want it'. I know from experience that this isn't remotely true. I raised my hand to point out that under the 'fairer laws' implemented by the government, my mother was told that she isn't 'disabled enough' to continue receiving the inadequate, limited care currently offered to her by the council. Furthermore, the centre that used to offer her rehabilitation and physical therapy was affected by the funding cuts so much that they had to close down. Instead of responding to me properly, she patronisingly asked me what I'd do to prevent that from happening, in a tone that seemed to imply I was being hysterical. I pointed out that I think it's appalling that wealthy people aren't being taxed properly and/or are able to evade taxes, while the programs that ordinary people in our country need are being cut by the government. She just looked at me as though I was being completely absurd.

Lucy raised her hand to say 'I want a Minister of Equalities who hasn't voted against gay rights' and the speaker looked utterly shocked, raising her arms up to declare that she was 'at a loss'. (What does that even bloody mean?) They weren't expecting us to know what the government are doing, or to care about the future of our country enough to passionately argue back at them. I regularly look up MPs I see in the media on They Work For You  and it's on May's voting record that she's voted against gay rights:
  • In 1998 she voted against equalising the age of consent.
  • In 2000, she voted against the repeal of Section 28, legislation that banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local government and schools.
  • In 2001 and 2002 she voted against gay couples jointly adopting children.
  • In 2008 she voted in favour of a defeated bill which said that IVF rights should require a male role model - effectively discriminating against lesbian fertility rights.
What was her response to this factual evidence?

She thought it was appropriate to casually drop May's name in with a breezy 'oh I was talking to Theresa the other day, who said that if it looks like a marriage, then it is a marriage' and blamed her previous voting record on pressure and influence by backbenchers. (Keep this point in mind, it's going to come up again.) Suddenly, she just flipped, attacking our feminism presentation from earlier on and saying that we hadn't mentioned that there are more female Tory MPs than all the other parties all together, and that their offices have women and gay people employed there - hurrah! Apparently that means that we can all conveniently forgive the Tories from implementing laws and bills that harm those groups of people.

Lucy pointed out that we didn't mention either that people in their party (such as Nadine Dorries) have been attempting to limit abortion rights and control sex education. Their reaction to this was probably the worst part of the entire situation. The speaker just shouted that 'nope, not going to answer that, it's not the party really' and the other woman just turned round to scream at us that 'LABOUR DID IT TOO, IT WAS A CROSS-PARTY BILL'. How mature. We're fully aware of that - how ignorant do they think we are? It's not like we readily accept everything the Labour Party do and that they're free from my criticism.

Furthermore, Lucy pointed out that a) that is not an acceptable excuse, b) she calls out Labour MPs too, and c) the anti-choice movement is stronger in the Conservative party. The speaker then declared that backbenchers are irrelevant and don't have any influence on the party (contradicting what she'd said earlier). Suddenly, she declared that she'd fight for abortion rights standing next to us, in an attempt to look reasonable after shouting at teenager -  Lucy just promptly replied to with a curt 'good', which made everyone, including our head of year, laugh. Her attempt of taking back the discussion failed pathetically, as when someone pointed that she'd like to see the Tories talking about women as actual human beings without always trying to attach them to children, the speaker just replied with a 'tell me about it!' - what point was she exactly trying to make?

I really don't understand them. My issue today wasn't a childish 'they're evil Tories!' I deeply disagree with them politically, but I was willing to listen to what they had to say. In fact, I forced myself to be civil whilst speaking to them - a courtesy they really did not extend to us. They couldn't even manage a basic consistency in their arguments and they resorted to shouting at teenagers once they realised that they couldn't just force propaganda into the country's youth by declaring that it's all for our own good, implying that we're too ignorant to know what's we believe. They tried to make out that we're hysterical infants that don't understand what we're saying, which wasn't a wise decision considering that all the teenagers in that room are going to be able to vote in the next election. It's not exactly a good sign if representatives of the government are so scared of confrontation that they resort to blatant lying and speaking to young people like they're infants in a failed attempt to manipulate the next generation.

It was a mix of standing up for what we believe in and feeling sickened at the world. After they left, our head of year told us that he's not supposed to have a political bias, but he was very glad that we'd given them a horrible time. After they'd gone, one of our teachers had to calm us down because we were just furious that it was such an obvious (failed) attempt at propaganda. Somehow, the presentations I do with Lucy always feature a ceremonious crossing out of a Tory's face - I'm glad that we crossed out David Cameron's face in front of them (unintentionally, but still). I hope they go and tell their darling Theresa about their horrible morning.

EDIT: According to UK Political Info, the Conservatives have 49 female MPs, while Labour have 81, the Liberal-Democrats have 7, and there are six classified as 'other. That really doesn't look like the Conservatives have more female MPs than all the other parties put together. Huh.

24/01/2012

'JUST SAY NO' to the Sexist Abstinence Education Bill

No comments
Last week, we kept hoping that a miracle would occur and cancel our Religious Studies lesson on Friday so we could attend a protest against Nadine Dorries' Sex Education Bill for girls. Luckily, our teacher ended up attending a training course on that day, allowing my fellow angry teenage feminist friends to stand in Old Palace Yard looking gloomy and furious with picket signs until our fingers and toes began to numb from the cold weather.

The speeches presented on the day were from such a diverse range of groups and organisations, but what struck me was that they weren't just against Nadine Dorries' ridiculous anti-women policies that she claims 'empower' girls while she'd advocate for taking away their right to being educated about their bodies and sex (and if her abortion bill had passed, then she'd have limited the time in which they could actually get an abortion). The speakers ranged from journalist and feminist Laurie Penny to Education for Choice. Laura Hurley from Education for Choice demonstrated the sort of methods they use to teach sex education to primary school and secondary school age students. (Interestingly enough, she actually gave a talk at our school last year.)

The bill was withdrawn, but not without some controversy about how it actually occurred. There was a slightly condescending comment in the Independent: 'a hardy band of demonstrators gathered outside the Commons yesterday to protest about a government Bill that did not exist, and cheered when told it had been withdrawn, which it had not.'

Of course we were there to demonstrate against it - because if people don't come out to say how ridiculously sexist, misogynistic, ineffective and stupid a bill proposed by an MP is, it's simply going to make it easier next time for them to pass something a little less extreme without anyone noticing. Furthermore, yesterday wasn't just about Nadine Dorries - it was also about the institutional misogyny in law, the victim blaming encouraged by our government, the cuts to sexual health services, the disproportionate cuts that affect women. I'm not sure what else we could expect from a Tory government - when a government values corporations more than citizens, it's clear that they have no respect for personal autonomy.

We also discussed this issue in our sixth form's debating society today, and for the most part, people were quite intelligent and rational about the issue. One person kept contradicting herself, saying she agreed but then completely disagreed with the points we'd previously made, and said that 'if you tell five year olds what sex is, they're going to want to experiment' - excuse me? I think most young children vaguely know what it is and primary school age children are hardly going to be the Kama Sutra.

So, abstinence is not the way forward. What really should occur is that there should be a comprehensive, fact based sex education programme that teaches it's okay to have sex when you're comfortable enough with it, and it's okay not to as well - what's important is that, if and when you do decide to have sex, you have access to enough information about issues such as pregnancy and STDs in all schools. Furthermore, there really should be more of a focus on 'consent', what an abusive relationship is like, and so on - there's an appalling amount of people in this country that encourage a victim blaming culture, instead of teaching people that when someone says no, they mean no - we need more of an emphasis on an enthusiastic, non-coerced 'yes'.

I'm terrified that there's going to be a lot of brilliant, intelligent young girls in my school who'll get sucked into the misogynistic victim blaming culture of Dorries and her cronies.

08/01/2012

Nadine Dorries, You're Not Empowering Girls

2 comments
Here are some facts about Nadine Dorries:
  • She wanted to make the abortion services in the UK run by ‘independent’ anti-abortion faith groups instead of those who run counselling services at the moment as they have a ‘financial interest’ in encouraging abortions (erm)
  • She claims that she is pro-choice but has actually said ‘if you don’t want this baby, have it anyway’.
  • She makes up statistics.
  • Her idol is Sarah Palin and she’s a big fan of ‘the Tea Party’ (never a good sign)
Nadine Dorries is a Conservative MP that has tried to diminish abortion rights in this country, and now, she’s proposing a ridiculous bill that girls (and only girls, not boys) should be taught abstinence in secondary schools. She claims that current sex education isn’t working in this country, when in fact, thanks to fact-based education, teenage pregnancy rates are beginning to fall.

Abstinence doesn’t actually work as a policy, as those who are taught it are just as likely to have sex as those who aren’t. (For example, Rick Perry introduced abstinence education into 94% of state schools in his state, with the result of Texas having the highest teen pregnancy rate.) It’s such a misogynistic bill to propose, which would be enforced in schools around the country - she claims that if abstinence was taught in schools, sexual abuse would be reduced if girls could just 'say no' which is not only utterly incorrect, but it’s also irresponsible by promoting an agenda of victim blaming and it’s extremely offensive to victims of sexual abuse. 

In addition, it forces girls to be in charge of sexual morality, as if boys lack any control over sex and girls must be the images of purity and sexual innocence. What schools should really teach is 'look, you shouldn't rush into sex until you're comfortable. That may be now, or it could be in a couple of years, but when you do, here's some information about contraceptives! And this is what an abusive relationship is like!' & so on. What abstinence education does is teach young people to feel guilt and shame, and it creates a stigma around sex that isn’t healthy to anyone, when really, schools should be teaching about the relationships around sex, access to contraception, what consent means, etc.

Here's the video of the first reading of the bill, which only narrowly passed (Chris Bryant MP, completely defeated all of her arguments):


Her bill isn't 'empowering girls' as she believes, and even if it is likely that it'll be defeated during the second reading, it's appalling that it has even reached so far. National Secular Society have a very good piece about what's wrong with this bill, and it'd be brilliant if you could write to your MP, asking them to vote against this ignorance. There's also a protest on January 20th, and if you're in London on that day, you should really think about attending.

I really don't know what else to say about the matter, it makes me feel so furious that there are ridiculous beliefs like this.