Feminist Friday – Burkini

I’m away on holiday this week but here’s a Feminist Friday piece that’s been brewing for a while on the subject of the Burkini.

So in case you weren’t paying attention… here’s the catchup. Several years ago, an Australian clothing designer named Aheda Zanetti made a swim suit for women who wanted to adhere to Islamic dress codes. An Islamic woman herself, Zanetti has designed several pieces for Muslim girls to wear while taking part in sports, allowing for them to be active and healthy while still adhering to their chosen dress codes.

Burkini M and S

This summer, several towns in south eastern France objected to women wearing Burkinis at the beach and so decided to ban them. And when there was a lady who defied, or did not know about, the ban, armed French police forced her to undress in public.

Telegraph Photo - woman Birkini

For such an horrific mess of an issue, involving feminism, religious freedom, freedom of expression and the right to privacy, that can be summed up in a remarkably short paragraph. But oh what a mess it has left us with. I have so many problems with the entire scenario that I’m not entirely sure where to start picking it apart. So… starting with a personal slant might be the best option.

I don’t like showing my body in public. I find wearing short sleeves and shorts in public disconcerting. I prefer trousers, or long skirts. Or a skirt that’s at least knee or calf length, with tights. If I am wearing short sleeves or sleeveless tops, I tend to wear a cardigan over the top, or a wrap. Or opt for elbow length sleeves instead. I don’t like showing my bosom, I prefer to have it covered up, along with my shoulders and back. I never show my stomach. I feel naked and uncomfortable if I do.

This has nothing to do with body positivity. I have no problems with my body. I think I look great. I’m in proportion, curvy, I have an out-in-out figure with boobs and a bum and a real waist. My husband tells me I have great legs. In the privacy of my own home I have no problem being naked, or wearing just my underwear. I have no problem with my husband looking at me while I do so. But I don’t like being ‘on display’ in public. I don’t have to justify it. It’s a personal choice. My free choice.

And if I choose to cover it up, that is also my choice.

It’s nothing to do with faith. Or religion. Or patriarchy. Or control. The only control in this is mine, and I choose to cover my body up. And what I choose to cover it up WITH is my choice too. I actually find the idea of a Burkini oddly appealing. I would never, EVER, wear a swimsuit to the beach, let alone a bikini. But I love to swim. I love to exercise out of doors. A burkini would protect my skin, along with my privacy and allow me to take part in an activity I like without feeling uncomfortable.

But that wouldn’t be allowed on those beaches in France. Or rather it wasn’t, until the French government overruled the bans, in the first sensible action of the whole situation.

So why do people have a problem with Burkinis?

Several parallels have already been drawn between the Burkini and a nun’s habit, and nuns are allowed to visit the seaside and splash around in their religious clothing:

Nuns at the beach

 

 

So what’s so different about a Burkini?

Is it that it is seen as a purely Islamic piece of clothing? More to the point, a piece of Islamic female clothing?

Here we come closer to an uncomfortable truth.

Islam is frequently presented as a religion which oppresses women. Only, that’s not strictly correct. Certain interpretations of *patriarchy* within Islam have, and in some cases continue, to oppress women. The Taliban. ISIS/Daenesh. The religious governments in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Khazakstan, Indonesia or any of the other Islamic countries which mandate the adherence to their interpretation of sharia law. What have they all got in common? They’re run by men.

People see the Burkini as a representation of oppression of women. But actually the forced removal of that symbol is a far greater oppression. It is an enforced *lack* of choice, which has absolutely nothing to do with religion or secularism, and everything to do with oppression and the suppression of free speech and expression.

I’ve taught Islamic students. Worked with Islamic colleagues. Known and counted practicing Muslims among my friends. The vast majority of them have been women. I have not seen a single sign of oppression among them in the way they practice their faith. Yes, they chose to wear a hijab in some cases. So what? It is something that they CHOOSE rather than something which is forced upon them.

If a woman CHOOSES to cover her head, to cover her body, to conceal her physical form – that is her right.

If a woman is FORCED to conceal herself – for example, under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan where women were mandated by law to wear full Burkas which covered their bodies and faces – then yes, that is a problem. I don’t like Burkas because they conceal the face. Something that is not demanded by the Qu’ran, but is enforced by men, by that particular patriarchal interpretation of sharia law, in order to oppresss rather than honour women. I mean, seriously, look at these:

Burka

There is a big difference between these blue tented monstrosities and the other forms of Islamic dress:

Islamic Dress

This fits the dress code for Islamic women. The body is covered. The cut is loose and concealing. Only the hands, feet and face are visible. The hair is covered. And yet this is not that different from what I would wear to go to work. OK I don’t wear a hijab, but I’ve been known to pin my hair up, to cover it with a scarf if it rains, to wear a hat or a hood in the cold weather, to tie a scarf or wrap around my neck and shoulders.

But people have no problem with the way I dress. Because I’m a white woman who is not Islamic. Even though it’s not that different to the brown women who are Islamic.

The women wearing the Burkinis were making a choice. And suddenly, with the force of violence and law, they were told they had made an ‘incorrect’ choice. Because it made some people uncomfortable, to be reminded that in some places on this planet, women ARE victims of oppression.

The forced removal of the Burkini was not about liberation. It was about concealment, just not of the body. It was an attempt to deny that there are women in the world who are oppressed. An attempt to remove the symbol of oppression and impose a single view of ‘freedom’ (ie exposure) onto that woman. It was not freedom to her, it was humiliation. It was embarrassment, it was abusive. I would feel the same if someone asked me to remove my clothes and expose my body in public, even the parts of it which are not considered by society to be too sexualised for public display. And it has nothing to do with faith, religion or oppression for me. It has to do with choice.

Islam is not, in and of itself, incompatible with feminism. I mean, look at this fine lady:

malala-yousafzi

One of the greatest living feminists, Malala Yousafzi. Is she oppressed just because she chooses to wear Islamic dress? Is she heck, she’s a leading light for feminism, liberty and female education in this world. The patriarchal enforcement of a single interpretation of Islam is what is oppressive, and that must be fought against. That must be challenged. But banning things like Burkinis is not the way to go about it. In fact, it’s a backward step. One we must try to put right.

The French motto of Liberté, égalité, fraternité has long been held in high esteem as a code for Freedom.

Perhaps we need to add a little more solidarité féminine to the mix – viva la sisterhood!

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

SMC Review: The Imitation Game

I wanted to watch this film when it was out in the cinema, but I just missed it which was gutting. I was delighted when Mr Shandy picked it up over Easter and we watched it together last night.

Alan Turing’s story is very dear to my heart. A few years ago, I was working in Manchester full time in a building just off Piccadilly. I got the train in every day, because it was cheaper than driving and having to park, and I used to spend my lunch times wandering around the area surrounding the building, which included Canal Street (part of Manchester’s infamous gay village) and some of the buildings of Manchester University.

When weather permitted, I used to sit and have my lunch next to Alan.

Alan Turing

Alan’s memorial is in Sackville Park, sat right between Manchester University and Manchester’s gay village. If you’re in town, I suggest you go say hello.

I got to be quite fond of him. I didn’t know his story beforehand, but during my time working in Manchester I was deeply unhappy, very lonely and having somewhere to go where I didn’t feel totally alone was a little bit of sanctuary. I was working in an administration based role for a higher education research committee and I was trapped making tea and coffee and taking minutes for meetings that I longed to be taking part in. I had the intellect and knowledge to understand and put into context everything that these people were saying and I was stuck in the kitchen doing the washing up and unable to contribute the things I wanted to say. I felt like I was being wasted and under-appreciated. Alan was a great listener when I was going through all of that crap.

When I read up on his story, that respect I had for the real Alan Turing only increased. So when The Imitation Game came out, it was put straight onto my ‘must watch’ list.

There have been other films about the breaking of the Enigma code, but this one was heartbreaking in its honesty and affection, not stinting in showing the darkness of Alan’s story and experiences, but also celebrating his achievements as the acts of genius that they undoubtedly were.

What I loved about The Imitation Game though, is that there were two heroes who appealed to me greatly. The other being Joan Clarke.

Joan studied at Cambridge, like Alan, and was awarded a double first in Mathematics (the equivalent of two first class honours degrees in one qualification). Not only that, but she was that year’s Wrangler (highest scoring third year candidate in Mathematics).

However, because of Cambridge’s policies she was not allowed to actually graduate because she was a woman.

My feelings on such notions shouldn’t really need explaining. Joan was a genius, quite possibly on a level with Alan, but her abilities and potential were even more squashed on account of her sex. While Alan was forced to undergo a chemical castration on account of his sexuality towards the end of his tragically short life, he was given a precious handful of years where his abilities and inspirations were given a full stretch of encouragement and room to grow. It wasn’t enough for either of them though. Not nearly enough.

The Imitation Game shows a little of how hard it would have been for Joan to overcome societal embedded prejudice to even get to Bletchley Park, let alone be taken seriously in her work.

It is fitting that Alan is shown as the hero who opens the door for her. Because he saw and respected her intellect and abilities and saw past her status as ‘woman’, not recognising it as a barrier to the work she could do, and most importantly not helping her just because he was trading on being a ‘nice guy’ who expected a personal pay off for his help and assistance somewhere down the line.

In reality, Joan was recruited by her former academic supervisor, but she was a close friend of Alan’s and he routinely switched the shifts around so that he could work with her and they spent a lot of time together and enjoyed many hobbies and shared interests, even after their engagement was broken off. I am not surprised that Joan was not ‘fazed’ by Alan’s confession of homosexuality to her. It must have been such a relief to find a man solely interested in the contents of her mind rather than the shape of her body. How few and far between those must have been at that time.

Joan excelled ‘for a woman’ at Bletchley Park. She became deputy head of Hut 8. But she was paid less than the men and felt that she was prevented from progressing in her career, even though Hugh Alexander described her as one of the best cryptanalysts he had ever worked with.

She was awarded the MBE in 1947. How she wasn’t made a Dame for the depth, quality and importance of her work, I will never understand. Dinner Ladies and Lollipop Men get made MBEs for faithful service, and fully deserving of the honour they are. Joan’s work saved millions of lives. It’s not in the same category. Joan returned to work at Government Communications HQ ten years after she married, despite her failing health, and only fully retired when she reached the age of 60.

Joan and Alan were both heroes of Bletchley Park and neither of them truly received the credit they deserved for their work while they were in their prime. Joan’s work was stifled by the heavy secrecy around the Bletchley Park activities until shortly before her death, and Alan was dead from cyanide poisoning by the age of 41. While widely believed to be a suicide, I give some credence to a theory that it might have been accidental death, and so I can’t blatantly call it as such, whatever the coroner’s report says. The theory does state that the hormonal treatment Alan was undergoing, his chemical castration, might have increased his confusion and lead to him making the error, however. So I still see him as a victim of the prejudices of his time.

I loved this film. Yes it is dramatised and sentimentalised, but it captures the essence of both Alan and Joan’s stories, in one simple phrase.

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.”

How would these two people have changed the world even more, even further, if they hadn’t been reduced in the eyes of their peers to their sexuality and gender? What leaps might this world have made if they had been allowed to stretch and challenge themselves, unimpeded, for the whole of their natural lives and to the limits of their outstanding intellects and thirst for learning and experimentation?

If anyone ever asks me again why Equality and Diversity are important issues still in this world, this film will be on my prescribed ‘Watch This’ list. If anyone ever asks me why feminism is important, or why campaigning for equal rights for the LGBT* community is important, I will show them this film.

Under extreme pressure, with a narrow brief, working in huts, during a war time filled with deprivation, fear, danger and hunger – these two scientists, who nobody imagined very much of, changed the world. What more might they have accomplished if they had been supported and truly allowed to accomplish the things which no one else could imagine?

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week: Drive by Incubus (part 2)

I love living in the UK, for many reasons. One of which is the NHS. I love that I can access medical help when I am financially in difficulties and that I am not dependent upon insurance to be able to seek the help I need. I was diagnosed with Asthma as a child and mental health difficulties in my twenties – I would be a nightmare in terms of pre-existing conditions, but none of that matters on the NHS.

I also love that I can access contraceptives – including hormone based ones as well as condoms/diaphrams – through the NHS free of charge. Family planning is part of the service, free of charge, to anyone who wants it, and while my country might have a national religion, our approach to such matters is completely secular. Over the years I’ve had women tell me that they have encountered difficulties accessing what they want through the NHS though, which if I am honest has always surprised me. Not any more though, because last week it happened to me.

I’m 32. I’ve had hormone trouble since I was a teen (extremely painful periods, dark hair growth on my face, occasional bouts of acne). In my 20s I got fed up of dealing with this and was put on the pill. It was magic, but much like the Borg, my body adapts. So after 5 years on the standard pill, I got switched to another type – one called Dianette. Dianette is great, but fuck me it is strong. It took care of all my issues, but once you have been on it for a set time, the health risks associated with it go up. The max time is supposed to be about 5 years. I was on it for about 7.

After looking at the options and discussing things with Mr Shandy I decided to switch to the implant. I travel a lot for work, so this would be more convenient for me and would still contain a hefty dose of hormones to keep me steady. It will also be a more reliable form of contraceptive. I made an appointment with my practice nurse, who agreed with me. She checked me over and sorted me out with a docs appointment, as only a doctor can insert the implant in our practice. There was a female GP qualified to do the procedure. I decided to go see her.

That appointment was quite possibly the worst experience I have ever had on the NHS, in terms of being bullied into things I didn’t want, denied access to the things I did want and having my wishes and statements about my life totally ignored.

First the GP tried to convince me to use a barrier method instead.

I explained that this is not what I want. I am married, I have been in a monogamous relationship with my husband for seven years now, neither of us has ever had an STI and we are looking to make our sex life more interesting, with less faffing about with barrier methods, which we have used up until now in addition to me being on the pill.

She ignored me and tried again. I stood my ground and told her I was here to discuss the implant.

She went through my case history and suggested I might have PCOS (Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome).

I explained that my regular GP had through this and sent me for blood tests a couple of years ago. They came back negative.

She wasn’t happy with this and started insisting I should have an ultrasound scan.

I became concerned. The nurse hadn’t picked up on this, neither had my regular GP. Was this something to do with the implant.

“Well,” said the GP, “the implant lasts for three years.”

“Yes…?”

“And you’re 32 now.”

Confusion.

“Yes…?”

“So if you want to start trying for a family, it can take longer if you have PCOS, so you might want to start now.”

I was floored. At no time had I mentioned wanting to have a family during this appointment. If anything, I was here to PREVENT getting pregnant. Where was this coming from?

I explained that my husband and I have decided that this is not the right time to have a family for us, regardless of our age. And the nurse had explained that I could have the implant removed at any time.

She starts trying to change my mind.

“Oh I know it can be off-putting when other people’s kids cry and scream and they poop and vomit everywhere, but it is different when they’re your own.”

Feeling more than a little insulted, I decided to throw some more details into the mix, although the warning lights were already on for the fact that I had to. This was supposed to be a routine appointment, a check over to confirm the nurse’s findings and a discussion about a date to have the implant inserted. Why was this suddenly so difficult?

So in an attempt to open up to this GP I have never met before, I start talking about some of the details of my life. About the fact that my husband and I both have mental health difficulties. That he’s self employed in a successful but newly established business, where he sometimes works seven days a week to keep up and encourage demand. About how I am on a career high, working for a national company, travelling frequently, staying away overnight. In addition to this I am setting up my own business, working towards establishing myself as a writer and trying to run my own home. This is not the right time for a baby and it would not be fair to bring a child into this chaotic life which we are still trying to make sense of.

What happened next floored me. This woman sits there, looks me dead in the face, pointedly looks at my wedding ring, looks back at me and says:

“And what does your husband have to say about this?”

It wasn’t a comment. It was an accusation.

Not to be outfaced, and primed by my feminist reading in the last eighteen months, I was ready for her.

“My husband is in agreement. And more to the point he supports MY wishes to do as I wish with MY body. Now can I have this implant, or is there a medical reason why you are denying me this?”

“I am just saying you might want to consider starting a family if it is going to be difficult. What it you can’t later?”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“This is just my assessment of your situation.”

I lost my shit. This woman wasn’t listening to my situation. She had just taken one look at me and sized me up as a baby-making machine in waiting.

“Then if we can’t have a baby, we can’t. Not being biological parents will not break our marriage. Having a child at the wrong time might do. This is an informed decision. And your assessment of my situation is flawed. So, can I have the implant?”

“I want to send you for an ultra sound first. If PCOS is identified, you should know about it as quickly as possible. Then you can make…” she looked at me “an *informed* decision.”

By this point I was so angry, I could have slapped her, but I have excellent levels of self control. She fills out the referral, which needs my weight. So she asks me to hop on the scales.

My weight is not dangerous, but I am not a svelte skinny minx. I am a UK size 16 at the height of 5’7, so my BMI is slightly on the high side. She looks triumphant.

“Well I’m glad we checked that,” she says. “It can take longer for your fertility to return to normal if you weight is on the high side. So that’s another factor that might influence your decisions about when to have a family.”

I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“If you had listened to what I just said, you would understand that I don’t want to have a family. Not now, possibly not in three years time even.”

She settles back at her desk, looks at me and says

“Well, you might want to lose some weight, regardless. Have you through about improving your diet and exercise?”

I had one last shot at some dignity before I got out of the room.

“Everything I eat is fresh cooked. Lean meat, fresh fruit and veg, homemade sauces with ground spices and herbs. I eat mixed grain bread, fresh yoghurt, very little is fried. I have cut down my alcohol intake and I have never smoked. I swim four times a week, use an exercise bike at home and my holiday activities include camping and walking and canal boating. But then you would know that if you’re thought to ask me rather than make assumptions about me.”

She looked me up and down and said:

“Well … keep it up then. I’m sure you’ll see a change soon.”

**

I am not a weak person by any means. I buckle under extremes of pressure, but that just makes me human. But it has been a long time since I was made to feel so unimportant, undervalued and inadequate by anyone. I have always had a positive experience of doctors appointments before. I make the effort to be informed, I take notes, I ask pertinent questions, I listen to advice and I don’t have to go with the ‘just ignore it and hope it goes away’ approach that so many of my American friends are forced to adopt by circumstances.

I arrived home feeling extremely low and incredibly angry. How dare anyone, even a health professional, dismiss my input into an evaluation in such a way! I am my own person and I will make decisions about my life as I see fit. I have never been ready to be a mum at any point in my life so far. I am not ready now. I might still not be ready in three years. I fail to see how any of that pales in comparison to the ‘but you might not be able to later’ argument.

We still live in a world where women are assumed to be lacking if they don’t reproduce. This has been my first experience of this, even when I am cared for by a health service which is supposed to respect my choices, my rights and my options.

I am not a child hater. I love children. True – babies make me nervous, because they’re so tiny and fragile, but that’s the case for everyone before they have one of their own and get a bit more practice. I am a teacher, I love being around children, I love seeing them learn, watching them grow and knowing that they’re going to grow up to be awesome human beings. That does not mean that my life is the right fit to be a parent right now. This is not a selfish decision. It is a selfless one. I will not bring a child into a chaotic life and inflict two stressed out, not-completely-financially-stable, sometimes-very-ill, workaholic parents onto it. Into a house which has no spare room, where we are renting rather than paying a mortgage and where our employment and therefore means of support is far from dependable.

My choice to not have a child right now is far from selfish. Bringing one into the middle of this mess under the ‘it’ll all be fine in the end’ banner would be a stupendously bad idea. For me, for my husband and for the child itself. No matter how much love I might have for a child, this will not negate any of those factors.

I might never be in the right state to have children. Thanks to advances in modern medical care and the NHS in particular, this is a choice that I can make, that WE can make for ourselves without having to embrace celibacy, without having to sacrifice the idea of partnership and marriage. We are a strong couple in a brilliant marriage and yes, one day, we might choose to have children, but that will be as much an informed choice as our decision not to have them right now.

And if we never have children…? We will still have a marriage built upon love, upon a range of ideas and dreams, things we want to do, ways we want to grown. Children might fit into that one day. But they are not the be all and the end all, not the sole reason we chose to marry and certainly not the sole reason why we are together.

I chose Incubus’ ‘Drive’ as the Song of the Week, because the lyrics show how easy it is to be led astray be the crowd, by the loud voiced, by someone who thinks they know better. I’ve never been much of one for following the crowd, no matter how loud and large they might be. Not when it comes to my life. Especially not when it comes to another life which I would have a prime responsibility for.

“It’s driven me before
And it seems to have a vague
Haunting mass appeal
But lately I’m
Beginning to decide that I
Should be the one behind the wheel. 

Would you choose water over wine?
Hold the wheel and drive…
Whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll be there
With open arms and open eyes, yeah”

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

#InternationalWomensDay – why I don’t think it should be ‘celebrated’

Let me say that again.

International Women’s Day is not something to be ‘celebrated’

It is a call to action. A force of nature. A platform from which we get to tell the world exactly what it is like to live in it as a woman. And at the moment, that’s not something I can give to anyone as a positive wish without a list of caveats a mile long. This is not good enough. This has to change.  

…and yet what’s the first thing I see on Twitter this morning?

Where’s ‘International Men’s Day’?

Leaving aside that it does exist, and the fact that this is the sort of ‘rip it down’ bullshittery that I’ve already taken apart on this blog, here’s a few snippets of information to put this sort of gripe into perspective.

Here are some UK facts and figures about women’s experiences of Domestic Violence: 

1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetimes.

6-10% will experience it within any given year

1 call every minute is made to the police  to report domestic violence

Out of the people who reported incidents of domestic violence:

45% were raped by current husbands or partners

9% by former partners

29% of perpetrators were otherwise known to the victim.

Only 17% were raped by strangers

2 women every week are killed by violent partners/ex-partners. This accounts for 40% of all female homicides.

Women’s Aid estimates that only 24% of domestic violence incidents are reported. So if there’s one call every minute to the police reporting violence, that means there are another 3 incidents per minute not being reported.

And when they are reported – these incidents are not given the serious consideration that they should be. Let’s see what Patrick Stewart had to say about this!

Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.

Patrick Stewart

Let’s compare some facts and figures for men and women in the UK now:

Out of those who had been subjected to domestic physical violence:

48% of women have also been subject to frightening threats, compared to only 9% of men

Women accounted for 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence

So in short:

  • Women are more likely to be physically assaulted than men
  • Women are more likely to live in fear of being assaulted than men
  • Women are 9 times as likely to be repeatedly assaulted than men

41% we subjected to emotional or financial abuse, compare to only 28% of men

Women are more likely to be subjected to financial abuse, because their earning power is not as great in the workforce and they are more likely to struggle to return to work/remain financially independent after having children. A woman’s wages will be largely eaten up by childcare costs, or she will have to give up work to care for her child and may struggle to get back to an equal position once the child is eligible for free care. Women working full time in the UK earn on average 14.9% less than man who work full time.  (statistic taken from Everyday Sexism)

source

For those men who do suffer domestic abuse We’re not denying that men suffer. But women suffer more, suffer more often and suffer more violently. If you are experiencing this, take what’s happening to you and multiply it by a factor of 4 for frequently, 5 for fear and 9 for longevity. We aren’t against you. We are beside you, ahead of you even, in this fight. Telling us that we should put our fight to one side to focus on your plight will, quite frankly, only result in one thing: More Dead Women. Yes, it is that blunt. Help is available for you, and we don’t detract from that.  The only war here is against violence – not each other as victims.

As this is International Women’s Day, let’s look a little wider: 

35% of women in the world in 2013 have experienced violence

That’s more than 1 in 3.

Nearly a third of women who’ve been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their partner

38% of all murders of women are committed by their partners

Source

‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in conflict.’
Major General Patrick Carnmaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DRC

Only in 1998 did the UN pass a resolution classing sexual violence in conflict, including rape, as a war crime.

At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labour and bonded labour.

55% identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

That’s almost 12 million women being forced into the sex trade against their will every year compared to 250,000 men. 48 TIMES AS MANY. 

Source

Women simply do not feel safe in this world. That is enough of a call for action.

83% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment in the streets. (Everyday Sexism)

As many as 95% of women in India feel unsafe in public spaces. (Everday Sexism)

The destruction of monuments is seen as more newsworthy than ‘sanctioned’ crimes against women and children be the same regime.

Women who fight back against rape are blamed for their experiences of violence.

So are the ones who don’t fight back. 

If they are raped at home, they are told their should leave.

But if they are raped outside of home, they are told they have brought it on themselves by not being at home.

Women are expected to accept violence as part of their lives, even among the youth of our international cultures. In the UK, as many as 1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls believe that is acceptable to hit a woman or force her to have sex. 603 Million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not classed as a crime.

Those are just the stats on violence, abuse and death. Naturally these issues take the lead when it comes to a day of action/attention such as today.

But there’s more at stake than violence/abuse. Even if a woman is lucky (yes, lucky!) enough to walk through her life without fear of being abused, raped or murdered – there’s still a lot of other stuff that she has to deal with which a man will not give a second thought to.

For a personalised view of these experiences, I suggest you visit Everyday Sexism

If you’d rather have some statistics, here you go:

All of these stats are taken from Everyday Sexism, which have been cited and logged. You want to check up on them? Go buy the book.

At the current rate, it will take another 150 years for the number of elected male and female officials in government in the UK to be equal.

1/3 girls aged 16-18 experience unwanted sexual touching at school. And if the girl reacts, she is blamed for her actions.

Only 5% of sports coverage in the UK relates to female sports

Men write 80% of newspaper articles. Interestingly, 84% of the subjects of front page newspaper articles are male dominated or refer to male subejct specialists.

12.5% of women have left a job because of sexual harassment.

More than 70% of recruitment agencies have been asked by clients to avoid hiring women who are pregnant, already mothers or who are of ‘child bearing age’

30,000 women lose their jobs each year because of pregnancy discrimination (8% of all pregnant women)

20% of Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women in the UK are unemployed. Compared to 7% of White women.

Have I made my point yet? You should all know by now that I don’t do subtlety.

This is why I am a feminist.

This is why I protest against books/films like 50 Shades Of Grey being marketed as a romance/desirable relationship model.

This is why I feel so strongly about gender politics and issues.

This is why. All of this.

Because so much of this is my life. And more of it forms the everyday lives of my sisters who are of different colours, races, nationalities, faiths and sexual orientations/identities. And because if I lived their lives, I know my world would be a much darker and far more dangerous place.

International Women’s Day is not a holiday to wish to someone as a happy event. I hate the fact that this day exists, because it reminds me of the brutal necessity of raising these issues, challenging them, tackling them, fighting back against them, speaking out against them.

This is not a sociological experiment for you to ponder over and question the statistics of. This is the reality for millions and millions of women across the world, just because they were born female rather than male, or because they identify as female rather than male.

This is the cold stark reality. Compared to a man, a woman born into this world today is:

  • At greater risk of experiencing violence
  • At greater risk of a violent death
  • expected to accept violence as part of her life
  • Conditioned to accept violence as part of her life
  • Less likely to be employed
  • More likely to become unemployed
  • Paid less for doing the same hours of work
  • Less likely to be elected to a position of political authority
  • More likely to be sexualised at a young age

These things have an impact on men too. Of course they do. The thing is, they are often seen as ‘reverse sexism’. It’s not reverse sexism at all. It’s all down to sexism against women. This is a double edged sword and you will be sliced up with it too.

Men are more likely to commit suicide than women (3-5 times more likely according the stats in Everyday Sexism). Why? Because showing feelings, getting help and seeking assistance are seen as ‘girly’ things to do, something that men should be ashamed of.

Men are less likely to be given leave to go home sick from work and are pressured to return earlier than women are. Why? Because women are seen as weaker than men and men are expected to be strong.

Men are less likely to secure leave from work during school holidays, even if they have children. Why? Because caring for children is seen as a woman’s role, and men are supposed to devolve that to the mothers and stay in work.

At the end of all these things I arrive back at the first statement I made at the top of this article.

International Women’s Day is not something to be celebrated. It is a call to action. A force of nature. A platform from which we get to tell the world exactly what it is like to live in it as a woman. And at the moment, that’s not something I can give to anyone as a positive wish without a list of caveats a mile long. This is not good enough. This has to change.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Which ‘war crime’ is more important?

Let me ask you a quick question – Which ‘war crime’ is more important out of the following reported stories?

The destruction of historical sites by ISIS is being described as a ‘war crime’ and is currently the top story on BBC news.

Yet, the fact that ISIS have also recently published a pamphlet stating that it is “permissible” for their ‘soldiers’ to have sexual intercourse with, beat and trade non-Muslim slaves who have been captured as part of their war, including young girls has barely been reported and is nowhere to be found on the BBC website.

(The pamphlet in question was released in Arabic via an ISIS-friendly twitter account. The Middle East Media Research Institute translated the pamphlet into English, and you can read that on their website here.)

What’s more important here people?

An organisation’s systematic destruction of historical artefacts made of stone and brick? Or the rape, abuse and mistreatment of thousands of women and children, who will suffer and die at the hands of same organisation?

*EDIT*

A good friend of mine, who runs The News In Brief, pointed out that men’s lives are more important than Brick and Stone too. It is true that in my political leanings, gender discrimination and mistreatment take the lead and sometimes I need to check myself on that. But this is one of the times I have done so, so I am going to add in the comment I left in response to his point, as it bears saying here too:

My reason for focusing on women and children here though is that ISIS didn’t feel the need to realise guidance on what their ‘soldiers’ should do with male prisoners of war. We have all seen what ISIS do to male prisoners of war. They execute them and release the videos on the internet, and that already gets a lot of attention in the media. A quick google search for the phrase ‘Jihadi John’ shows you exactly how much attention.


I am appalled that our national media outlet didn’t think the ISIS ‘guidance’ on the sanctioning of rape and murder and ‘trade’ of women and children was equally worth reporting. Or worth reporting at all. It’s simply not been covered on the site. Not once. Even the Daily Fail did better than that.

Daily Fail

I resent giving them the hits/links but here’s some proof that the Daily Fail occasionally give a shit about something important


Regardless of the shape of human body that it is bound up in, human life is more important than buildings. You wouldn’t think that today when look at where the media’s ‘outrage’ and accusations of ‘war crimes’ are being directed.

Shame on you BBC. Shame on you.

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SMC: 50 Shades Of Grey? No Thanks!!

This was written in 2012 when 50 Shades Of Grey was at the height of its popularity. The thoughts that drove me to write it are still relevant now, regarding both the book and the movie.

However, as a known advocate of free speech I refuse to call for it to be banned. Instead I will suggest that people who object to the film/book and its presentation of the subject matter (there is nothing wrong with BDSM, but there is everything wrong with presenting an abusive relationship as being the same thing as BDSM) check out the $50 not 50 Shades campaign.

Continue reading

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‘If you care so much…’

If you checked my headline for this website, as well as every other social media network, it will tell you I am a feminist. I am proud of that label and no campaign of shame will ever drive me to dissociate from it.

 

I believe that a woman should have autonomy over her own body. That women should receive equal pay for equal work. That women should be free to make their own decision over whether or not to bear children. That women should have to right to refuse to engage in physical contact and have that right respected, as well as having the right to engage in physical contact on their own terms without being shamed for it.

 

Women across this world have a rough time of things. They are more likely to be controlled, assaulted, mistreated, abused and taken advantage of, and they will have less access to healthcare, education, employment and independence than their male counterparts.

I stopped by the #HeforShe hashtag on Twitter and was briefly heartened that so many leading male figures are lending their voices and support to this campaign. Things are improving for women, especially in the west. This year alone, a woman won the Fields Meal for mathematics and a woman became a Bishop in the Church of England. But until those sorts of events happen without the gender of the person concerned being made into the story, true equality will elude us.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t stop there and made the mistake of looking at the tweet replies.

 

But what about male rape victims? What about male victims of abuse? What about the boy soldiers in Sierra Leone? What about fathers who can’t see their children? And I am left thinking…

 

Well, yes. What about them?

The fact is they are not getting the attention and support that their own campaigns need. Do you know why?

 

Partly it is because their own plights are more likely to be used to tear down and attack those efforts being made to raise awareness about the plights of women. As if there is only so much attention and compassion available in the world to go around. And how DARE women ask for consideration in this world when there are men suffering too. And these attacks are, largely, being made by male commentators.

 

It is the worst form of cynical, cheap shot slacktivism and I am getting sick of it.

 

The world stage has plenty of space for good causes and positive action, for campaigns of intersectionality which support each other an share their media focus. However, the men who raise these topics for consideration in these debates aren’t actually bothered about consideration at all. Their intent is to make women feel guilt, to shut them up, to silence them, to step their voices and target their attention back towards the plights of men.

In fact women have great sympathy for male victims of domestic violence and child soldiers.  Do you know why? It’s because we know what it is like to live in fear. To know that we are at risk of violence. To know that our stories from our own mouths will be ridiculed and dismissed. We know how little support is available for people who are perceived to have ‘chosen’ their abuse. We also know what it is like to be cast into a life we didn’t choose, to be forced into a role against our will, to be threatened with violence and abuse and assault if we refuse to obey those who think they own us. And we know what it is like to be faced with the burden of adult male expectations from the age of puberty.

 

However, the point that these male slacktivists have missed is that until we have our own freedom – our right to bodily autonomy, our financial equality and independence, our equal respect and portion of the world stage, then there is staggeringly little that we can do to help these other worthy campaigns along.

Whereas you – and now I address the people who are trying to silence women in ‘favour’ of these other campaigns – YOU have the world stage,the independence, the attention, the focus, the respect, the ability and above all the PRIVILEDGE to be able to do something. To start the campaign, support the ones that exist, to raise awareness, to get involved and to actively try to improve things for the under-represented fathers, the male domestic abuse victims, the child soldiers and all of those other worth campaigns that you callously use as a diversion tactic, to silence women’s voices and impose a burden of guilt upon us, while refusing to support either our own aims or the causes of those you use for your grandstanding.

 

Stop asking what women can do for men while doing nothing yourselves. Start thinking what you can do for each other, and how much more able we would be to help you in those aims once we have succeeded in our own. With you support we might all get there a little faster.

 

 

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SMC: In Defense Of Alcott’s ‘Little Men’

It came as a shock to read Beulah Maud Devaney’s article for the Guardian about Little Men and her insistence that Jo March had been betrayed in terms of feminist principles. Days later, the shock still endures and I feel compelled to respond to defend my heroines; not only Louisa M Alcott but her wonderful character Jo March and Jo’s protégé, Nan Harding, who is introduced in Little Men and yet went unmentioned Devaney’s article.

It is true that it was a surprise to see Jo March happily settled as the head of a family. I read the combined version of Little Women and Good Wives at a young age, and Jo’s spirit, thirst for independence and her creative urge to write resonated with me from the outset. However, Jo’s marriage was not a betrayal of principle in my eyes, either by Jo or by Alcott. If Jo was going to be happy with anyone it would have to be a well read Professor with a love of books to equal her own, someone who would encourage her writing and push her to better herself rather than to be content with the sensational stories of her youth. Indeed, Jo does go on to have her own very successful career as an established author in her own right by the time of ‘Jo’s Boys’.

It also came as no surprise to me that Laurie assumed Jo would take responsibility for her boys’ medical care and physical needs, asking her to cure Nat’s ‘overtasked body’ while Fritz helped his ‘neglected mind’. Jo may have wanted to be a writer, but she was not blessed with a full formal education. Indeed at fifteen years old she was working full time as a companion to Aunt March. Fritz meanwhile is a Professor, an educated man and an educator himself. The assumption that Jo will care for Nat’s health should not come as a surprise, as Jo has always been inclined towards nursing. After all, when Beth fell sick Meg noted that ‘she did not like nursing, but Jo did’ and Jo proceeded to carefully and willingly tend to her sister Beth for many years, refusing to leave her side towards the end of her young life. Of course Laurie would assume that Jo would tend to her neglected boys, having supported her throughout her long vigil during Beth’s scarlet fever.

In fact, medical knowledge and the provision of medical care is the secret to unlocking the restraints placed on women in ‘Little Men’ and later in ‘Jo’s Boys’; not for Jo perhaps, but certainly for another headstrong young lady under her charge – Nan Harding.

Nan is introduced in Chapter 7 of ‘Little Men’, invited to come and live at Plumfield School by Jo who is keen to ‘bring up little men and women together’ and provide a companion for Daisy who ‘needs stirring up a bit’. Full of spirits, nicknamed Naughty Nan and described as a bright child who is running wild, Nan is one of the biggest handfuls that Jo inducts into the school and proceeds to cause havoc and mayhem throughout her stay. Determined to join in with every ounce of fun that the boys undertake, Nan asserts her childlike claim to equality and independence at a very early age, as she ‘attempted all sorts of things, undaunted by direful failures and clamored fiercely to be allowed to do every thing that the boys did … she would not be quenched and she would be heard, for her will was strong and she had the spirit of a rampant reformer.’

It’s interesting to note that Nan’s father had not sent her away to school, but would have been willing to if, according to Jo, ‘he could find as good a school for girls as ours was for boys’. Once enrolled at Plumfield, Nan has access to an egalitarian education, studying all of the subjects that the boys do, which she would not necessarily have had access to at an all girl’s school in the 1870s (Little Men being published in 1871). When she turns her efforts towards her studies, she shows the boys that ‘girls could do most things as well as boys, and some things better’.

Impatient, impetuous, and often feeling restrained and trapped by the expectations of femininity, Nan is a breath of fresh air. Frequently described by Jo as similar to her in her own youth, Nan picks up the cause for feminism where Jo left off, a delightful counterpoint to the docile and domestic Daisy who is destined to follow in her mother Meg’s shoes as a wife and homemaker. While Nan does attempt to imitate feminine ways in order to gain approval and even love, she has to ‘slip out to stretch her wings, or to sing at the top of her voice’ once in a while, rather than submitting with docility to the expectations of her gender.

Nan’s instincts are towards care and love, but not towards motherhood. Her willingness to abandon her dolls shocks her friend Daisy, while Nan declares that she will have ‘an office, with lots of bottles and drawers and pestle things in, and I shall drive around in a horse and chaise and cure sick people. That will be such fun!’ Just like her grandfather, Nan is drawn towards medicine as a career, something which Jo does nothing but encourage: “Fritz, I see what we can do for that child….Don’t let us snub her restless little nature…but by and by persuade her father to let her study medicine. She will make a capital doctor, for she has courage, strong nerves, a tender heart and an intense love and pity for the weak and suffering.’ Nan is given a herb garden to grow her cures and apprenticed to the nursemaid to learn plastering, bandaging and formenting and upon being accepted to Lawrence College for her medical studies at the age of just sixteen in ‘Jo’s Boys’, she becomes ‘the pride of the community’.

Nan’s desires for the practice of medicine grow with her, and her focus on this aim outlasts even her childish romance with Tommy Bangs, scrapegrace of Plumfield School. Tommy’s efforts to win Nan’s consent to marriage dwarf even Laurie’s pursuit of Jo in terms of patience and effort, and in ‘Jo’s Boys’ Tommy remains devoted to Nan in adulthood, and follows her to medical school against his inclinations in an effort to win her heart, saying to her “You know why I chose [medicine] and I shall stick to it even if it kills me. I may not look delicate, but I’ve a deep-seated heart complaint…only one doctor in the world can cure it, and she won’t”.

Nan remains devoted to her career aspirations and her studies. While she is sympathetic to Tommy’s affection, she regards it as an affliction rather than something to indulge. She offers him her own prescription, including a visit to a ball and a dance with ‘pretty Miss West’ and an instruction to ‘repeat the dose as often as possible’. She is still practical rather than submissive in her attitude towards femininity, recommending that a sick female patient of hers should take off her corsets, stop drinking coffee and dancing all night and begin to eat, sleep, walk and live regularly. ‘Common sense versus custom’, is Nan’s only comment. She is still supported thoroughly by the old March girls, including Meg and Amy and of course Jo, who maintains that ‘it is all nonsense about girls not being able to study as well as boys.’

Eventually Nan does outlast Tommy’s professions of love. He announces his engagement to ‘pretty Miss West’, just as Nan had predicted. Upon hearing the news of Tommy’s engagement, but not the identify of his fiancé, Jo is heard to exclaim ‘If Nan has yielded, I’ll never forgive her!’. Quite the feminist reaction against marriage and in favour of study and career, even if not for her own sake. Nan’s reaction, meanwhile, is as fair and understanding as Jo’s was to the news of Laurie and Amy’s marriage toward the end of ‘Good Wives’. Nan declares ‘it will be a relief to me and better for him; dangling is bad for a boy. Now he will go into business with his father and do well, and everybody will be happy.’ Nan’s diagnosis proves once again to be correct, when Tom resigns from his medical studies and joins his father in business.

Free from expectations and distractions, Nan excels and by the end of the book ‘remained a busy, cheerful, independent spinster, and dedicated her life to her suffering sisters and their children, in which true woman’s work she found abiding happiness.’

While Jo may not have spurned marriage in favour of a career, her role in Plumfield school as a guide and encouragement to her own little women, as well as her little men, paves the way for the next feminist revolution, for the equal expectations of both men and women, as held by men and women. Alcott may not have lead the rallying cry with Jo March, but she has provided a character who speaks loudly and often about the merits of girls’ education and the equality of expectation between men and women in terms of achievement. In doing so, Jo has lit the way forward for her own ‘little women’, in particular Nan Harding. It might be said that in this aim and outcome, Jo March is actually the most true feminist character of all, willing to encourage her protégés to go on to achieve even greater heights of independence and success than were available to her in her own youth.

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SMC: #weneeddiversebooks and SMC is going to review some!

Last night I took part in a lovely animated discussion with the followers of @tubooks about the unnecessary repeated tropes that show up again and again in fantasy, sci fi and speculative fiction. A lot of those tropes have cross-overs into other areas that interest me, such as the campaign highlighting that #weneeddiversebooks to improve and increase the representation of people of colour, anyone who identifies as something other than cis-gendered and heterosexual and  any culture which is not of western European direct descent. I’m also deeply interested in the current fourth wave of feminism and its focus on women’s rights to say no, to have freedom of choice and to be sexually active by choice without condemnation, and firmly believe that greater representation of women who make these choices and claim these rights within fiction could only be a good thing for the cause.

The Shandy Media Club (SMC) has lain dormant for a long time this year, while real life turned into a sulky child and got very demanding. Real life has now been put in its place and told to behave and I find myself with time to come back to these issues, ideas and inspirations and its time to blow the dust off and get reviewing again.

I can think of several books which DO successfully flout those genre conventions and which do portray women in a positive light, without solely depending on their love stories as plot fodder. I have decided to get started on reviewing those books, highlighting them and hoping to give them a tiny bit more of the spotlight. We need to show that these books do exist, that writers are engaging with these areas of interest and – most importantly – that they are loved and they are read and they DO SELL.

*Ahem*

I have a few to start off with, but SMC is a collaborative ideal. If YOU have read a book which flouts convention, which positively represents a wide range of people, which gives female characters a plot which doesn’t revolve around romance and gives men a plot which doesn’t revolve around angsting over the love/fate of a woman then please write me a review and I’ll look into posting it. And please sent it to me! You can reach me via my contact page with your pitch/idea and we’ll take it from there.

Hopefully by the end of the week the first review will be up. I look forward to writing it and sharing it, and I hope you all enjoy reading it!

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CSSB: Assumptions about women and shoes

How many pairs of shoes do you have?

I don’t have that many.

No, really, I don’t have that many. That wasn’t code for ‘not that many for a woman’.

So here’s the role call:

Black work shoes (slightly broken, but still wearable, I wear these most days)

White pumps (bought to wear with summer clothes)
Black slip on pumps (bought to wear with summer clothes and around the house)
White patent pumps (My wedding shoes)

Black lace up tennis shoes (bought for wearing on the canal boat – lightweight and sturdy)
Black trainers (bought for working on a summer scheme, now used for the gym)

Black fur lined winter boots
Brown knee high boots (bought for me as a gift)

Black high heels
Brown heeled court shoes
Purple heeled court shoes

I also have a couple of pairs of flip flops for use when I go swimming and some slipper socks for the winter.

My husband thinks I have too many shoes. Sometimes when I’m tidying them up and putting them away, I agree with him but given that they are all useful for different purposes I would struggle to choose which ones to throw out. Many of them cost less than £5, some of them were from charity shoes, some were bought from supermarkets. I don’t really go in for the expensive shoe shopping thing.

Truth is, I find shopping for shoes intensely frustrating. I’m an annoying size, 6.5 – size 6 is too small, size 7 is too loose. So just finding some that fit comfortably can be difficult. I don’t wear that many outlandish colours, I know what suits me and what colours are in my wardrobe, and they are fairly easy to accessorize – brown, black and white does the trick pretty nicely.

I don’t understand the compulsion that drives some women to have a pair of shoes to match each outfit. How many colours can there possibly be that need an exact match? I mean, black goes with most things. For ten years I had one pair of black high heeled shoes from Barratts which served me for every wedding, party, every night out, fancy dinner, college ball and social event. I wore them until the elastic in the ankle strap snapped and then replaced them with another pair, as similar as I could muster, purchased for £3.99 on Ebay.

I really don’t get the fascination that the media paints the women as having with shoes.

My female companions, being practical geeks, may not be the best straw poll of examples, but I don’t know anyone who obsessively collects shoes. If anyone does, it’s generally the vintage variety for larping and period costumes. But everywhere I turn in the Media, there’s an assumption that a women desires, more than anything, new shoes – it’s literally become a caricature in the form of Sex And The City’s Carrie Bradshaw and her Manolo Blahnik obsession.

I mean, makeup I can kind of understand because it’s on your face. It’s in everyone’s eye line. The impact you create with a smile, with a first glance, with your expression, can all be enhanced with a little colour, powder and texture. I can also understand clothes. I mean, I blog about clothes – clothes are great, I love buying new ones, I love feeling comfortable in them and knowing that I look good. But shoes?

They’re on the end of your feet. They’re down on the floor. More often than not, they’re half concealed by your trouser ends or long skirts, or they’re tucked under tables or hidden under chairs. Shoes do not make that much of an impact. I never look at people’s shoes. My husband claims he doesn’t either, and I believe him. Do you know how many people have ever passed comment on my shoes since I left school? Not one. That’s why I don’t really bother changing them that much.

I did get some bullying at school over my shoes. Mostly because I wore trainers that were more than three months old and liked wearing sandals in the summer rather than mules. But truth be told, if I had changed my shoes those people would have found something else to pick on me for. When I wore boots instead, it was my Manchester United scarf that attracted comments. When it wasn’t my scarf, it was my hairstyle. When it wasn’t my hairstyle it was the fact I was often upset and depressed, especially after the death of my grandfather and grandmother. The problems I endured at school weren’t really to do with my shoes, they were to do with assholes looking for an emotional cut to rub salt into.

What is it about shoes for women? I honestly would love to know, because it seems like something about being a ‘Woman’ is eluding me in not understanding this. Anyone got any theories?

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