culture

You are exactly like all the others, whatever they say

If you were one of those people who insisted it is not Islamophobic to scrutinise Islam and Muslim people when you are neither of those things yourself then you personally contributed to the actions which led to a Sikh man being identified as a Muslim terrorist (by Gamergate trolls who exist only to torment vulnerable people cos ethics) and reported to the rest of the world before the information was even verified. This happened beacause the western world is largely ignorant of the rest of us and experiences it as a sort of quaint skewed little fairy tale which best fits their centuries old prejudices. The media were fooled because they are perhaps the most ignorant of the bunch and a brown face to them is always a terrorist. When a poc is probably responsible, as it is whenever there’s a disaster then due process becomes a privilege only afforded to white people. It’s consistent with the experience I have of the western world, where it doesn’t matter what you do to distinguish yourself from all the others, you’ll always be a paki, regardless of whether or not you are actually from Pakistan.

I’ve been asked where I’m from more times than whether I’ve had a good day, I know this much without doing the maths. Once upon a time I humoured it and asked people to guess and they did; Maltese, Greek, Arab, Iranian, Afghani, Latina, the list goes on and on. White people literally see colour before they see anything else and depending on your answer to this question draw conclusions before you need say anything further. I was always wary of saying Pakistani because I’d grown up feeling like the proverbial shit on one’s shoe for no apparent reason, it was just a feeling that was ever present. I used to say I was Kashmiri and this was partly true, my mum hails from there but I always had a sense it was preferable to identify as Indian, as all the Muslim Indians I knew liked to rub it in, for why, I had no idea, but it was there, this unspoken rule. I imagine now it was the residual tenets of divide rule and conquer which had passed down the generations, infecting us before we were even born. It’s apparent in the token few who deny our existence and experiences of the world so that white people can write us off as bullies and attention seekers, this idea that we must only object because we are jealous and not genuinely critical for the greater good. They will attach themselves to each other as allies and ambassadors for one another just to keep you out and struggling.

The ignorant world we find ourselves in is a direct consequence of white supremacists and their token allies. Every time a white person says to you you are not like all the others and you’re actually some kind of special snowflake, it is a lie. You are maybe a toy to the person who says that to you, someone they can wind up and watch make a fool of themselves but you are most definitely just like the others to all the white people you haven’t yet met, and probably most definitely the person who would say such a racist thing in the first place. If you’re a poc and you’re still struggling with observing and identifying divide rule and conquer, if Veerender Jubbal’s case has not made your blood run cold in horror, that the people in control of narratives can get it so very wrong, then you alone will be responsible for the ways in which you are abused.

A Sikh man (wearing a Sikh turban which is completely different to other brown people’s head coverings) can be thrust onto the world stage without his consent, without any viable reason for this attack on his identity (not that racist targeting is a viable reason even when the subject is Muslim), have a Quran photoshopped into his hands (replacing the ipad) and the media will probably get away with it, but we mustn’t let them. Remember that time little old me made a mistake that barely a few thousand people will have seen (though they will have most definitely witnessed my unprompted apology) yet the media acted as though I had killed someone with my false allegation of racism, the way they used it to whip me with because it was just such a terrible thing to accuse someone of being a racist shitheel. Well it’s actually worse to be a victim of racism, even more than being falsely accused in a system where actually, racism is inherent, it being a proud nation built on the looting and erasure of other people and cultures, and unrepentant in its ways.

The media is massively racist, whatever they might say. They just proved it.

Why the truth matters to me

truth

Growing up a stranger in the place of your birth is disorientating. Asides from the challenges one might encounter when starting at a new school, like making friends, children with foreign parents have to overcome additional obstacles in order to fit in. They must learn another language sometimes, as I did, but language is one of those things small children master within a surprisingly short period of time. Other barriers to assimilation are not so easy to tackle and there are so many, it’s no surprise people from ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately with poor mental health.

When you are told you are, but also feel, a member of the underclass, you either buy into the narrative – especially when you’ve not been taught to think critically – or you seek to distance yourself from the perceptions others have of your people. You buy into their hate or your own, in a bid to survive, but to survive well. Self-love just isn’t an option. I was conscious of the lies I needed to tell if I had any hope of accessing the world I wanted to belong to as early as age 6 when I decided I wanted to be called Sam. Even for one so young and innocent I had an inkling Sam was a name they just couldn’t mess with. It was English for a start. I didn’t have to spell it out every time, or have people poke fun at it, whether my peers or teachers (who should have known better). Even at this age I knew I had to change who I was if I was to have a fighting chance in life.

Racism wasn’t the only thing that informed the shaping of an identity that sat at odds with who I was inside. In fact as time went on, it became less of a conscious thing and something I normalised, and believed everyone did. Of course I now know this isn’t true, that many people are born into their identities and have the freedom to express them without the judgmental white gaze waiting for them to slip up.  Or the limitations of a violent home, living your days in fear of attack, never knowing where the next hit was coming from, desperately trying to cover up the evil truth from outsiders, in case they confirmed you did actually deserve the abuse you endured.

I was bubbly and outgoing, smart and organised, my mouth permanently fixed in a smile. I was part of the school council, a class monitor, a straight A student, a member of the quiz team and captain for rounders, netball and cricket. We were the champions of it all. None of the teachers would have guessed the situation at home was escalating, that we were living in fear and self-harming. My personality was split early on, through necessity; I had to be two different people in order to survive. Entering the big wide world as a teen on the run, I had to invent another persona to fit in with all these interesting new London types from all over Europe and beyond. When I left school, I left my world, my friends, my life behind. I had to learn how to speak in a way that didn’t set southerners off in a fit of giggles at my dulcet Brummie drawl. I had to be flexible if I was going to make it, whatever it would take. I lapped up my token status as the one who wasn’t like all the others, as though this was a reflection of my amazingness and not a divisive and racist microagression used by white people to remind you of your place (not so worthy but not so bad either, a reminder to keep doing what it is you’re doing for cookies), and keep you from questioning their problematic views.

Of course I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to be so amenable. I was on the run from a culture I had rejected because of the ways in which it made me a target and was desperate to adopt new ways to help me blend in. I became so many different things to so many people; I forgot who I was and what I wanted. I lived a life where I was manipulated by people who identified this willingness to please and then exploited it. I was used and abused, scapegoated. I was called a liar for keeping secrets I was too afraid to share. A gestalt therapist I accessed through my work noted that I smiled when I spoke of negative things and asked me to consider the incongruence between my words and my body language. I had become so jumbled up in my thoughts I began to dissociate whenever I was afraid. There was drug abuse, promiscuity, domestic abuse in my intimate relationships whilst I struggled to hold down a job as an advocate fighting for victims of domestic abuse. I was my own best example of bad practice though it did have the bonus of making me non-judgmental, however hopeless a situation might have seemed, I believed it was essential they had access to the same support. Cops for eg are less likely to want to help repeat victims, especially those who may have been warned off from being a witness previously (cos it’s all about them and paperwork, not an infectious social disease).

I couldn’t find my way out of my living hell. I couldn’t access the support to do so because then people would know my secret; that I was ugly and horrible, and undeserving of love and respect. That I should die. My adult relationships confirmed the self-hatred I had as a small child; nothing I did would ever change the fundamental flaw from within, my low social standing as the daughter of immigrants who never did escape the ghetto or the colonial mind-set (despite the straight As) and respect for hierarchy (within patriarchy). I was a slag before I had even kissed a boy, they must have known what I would grow into I reasoned.

A tragic incident in my personal life provided the catalyst for PTSD. All the feelings I’d ever suppressed bubbled to the surface and consumed me. I existed, and that’s all I can say for my consciousness over the period of a year except that I never want to go back there. With the right support, I was able to identify the pathways responsible for the ‘random’ panic attacks. I sorted the snapshots in my mind onto the correct collages and vowed to trace them back to the first triggers so that I could beat them. In order to do this, I have to be 100% honest with myself and everyone else or the carefully constructed administration of my mental health will fold in on itself.

A huge part of my recovery is about owning my genuine mistakes and experiencing them in a way that doesn’t cripple me with anxiety (the white commentariat can go to hell for the ways in which they hindered my progress, not forgetting the PoC who’ve perpetuated the lies about me).

Don’t lie to (or about) me; I will come at you with the rage of a woman who knows she is being gaslighted, because it triggers a collage of all the people who’ve knowingly put me in harm’s way, by minimising, denying and erasing my experience of things. I always feel a little crazy following a spat with people who lie because it hits me hard in a way you cannot appreciate. Sunny Hundal occupies the same brain space as the mosque teacher who molested me and continued to enjoy the kudos of being a holy man. Helen Lewis triggers the same feelings as the guy who molested me at 15 then said he’d heard I was a slag so thought he’d try his luck. That dude denies to this day that he ever put a finger on me.

If I say something and it seems dishonest to you, run your concerns by me, to my knowledge I am always telling the truth. I do however appreciate the arbitrary nature of most things so if you know better, do tell. I won’t lie and say it doesn’t help if you’re already a friend, coming at me with criticisms, however well intentioned, won’t end well if we’ve barely exchanged a RT, or even the bare minimum of support considering the shitehole the internet can be (and has been towards me).

Femme and Proud

image_29

Gender is something that is very personal to each and every one of us. It can’t be written off as a binary with two distinct identities or dismissed altogether as a construction of the patriarchy, it is often complicated, as it should be in a world we share with billions of other people. Culture influences our perceptions of gender and what we deem acceptable from other people. Except it really shouldn’t be about what other people think, our bodies are our own. If someone is more concerned about the contents of your pants, if determining your sex is the most important thing in their mind, then you are reduced to their idea of your primary function, which is to procreate. We think of our babies having babies as soon as they are born (even if we’re not consciously thinking it) and in many cases months before they make their entry into the world. Isn’t that odd?

I was inspired to write this piece after reading a friend’s disclosure regarding their gender identity. They have been empowered enough to state what has been a constant for them but couldn’t before because of society’s expectations of men and the way they are to interact within a patriarchy. It’s a brave step and one that has become possible because of the many ways it is becoming more acceptable to talk about, and our awareness of the rest of the planet and their attitudes towards gender. It is becoming clearer that the binary is predominant in western societies and those nations generally deemed backwards tend to be more relaxed with the idea of a spectrum of many identities. It is with this knowledge and support I now feel able to make my own statement.

I am a cis femme woman and a feminist and I adore my femininity. There, I said it, judge me all you like. I did the tomboy thing, when I thought that was the path to true feminist nirvana, when I bought into patriarchy and behaved as my male peers did so that they couldn’t treat me like a woman (that just made me a bit of a prick tbh). I became that manic pixie dream girl, girly but with enough blokey humour to ensure my place with the lads. All of that sucked for me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be everything anyone could ever want me to be and it didn’t feel right. I noticed the looks from my feminist colleagues, the comments about my clothes or the ways in which white women just have to write about your hair and your desperate gender performance because you’re not so enlightened and don’t know any better. I’ve tried to be something I’m not to fit in with others ideas of what it is to be x but I’ve never felt more empowered since I embraced the femme within.

I LIKE looking after people. I prefer dresses and skirts to ambiguous clothing. I’ve had my hair cut into a million styles, even a short back and sides yet the only one that feels comfortable is the one that covers my breasts. I also LIKE being looked after. I LIKE the idea of staying at home and looking after any children I might have. Heck, I love babies, most of them, in fact. I know some people find it difficult to handle, but they would, it being a patriarchy, where femininity is judged and mocked by both men and women alike. It’s weak to be feminine or sexually coercive, the mere sight of your curves drawing unsuspecting predators to you like a moth to a flame. Yet all these judgments, these insinuations come from the feelings your body provokes in them (and their tiny little minds). The men hate you for having any control over them and their trouser snake (what are they, 2 fucking years old? Nobody MAKES you do anything. You have to work for that privilege not demand it as your birth right) and the women hate you cos the men are looking at you and not them. They think you’re a strumpet dancing to the tune of the MRAs who believe they deserve a real girl except they get to define what is and isn’t one, something they also have in common with TERFs. Those women who deny gender completely, who seem indistinguishable from power tripping white middle class men.

So there, I’ve said it and I’ll say it once more out loud; I’M FEMME AND I’M PROUD.

I know who I am and I couldn’t give a stuff what you think about it.

A person like me

What is the point of social media for someone like me? When I say ‘me’ what exactly do I mean? I’m not under any illusions about my existence; I don’t see myself leading you all to revolution or winning a Nobel peace prize or anything. I haven’t the knack for self-promotion for a start. In order to do this I’d need an internal editor capable of presenting an image that fits easily in a white patriarchy; the kind that asks questions but lets you come to your own conclusions, no doubt confirming your own biases, whatever the message. No, there isn’t a place for someone like me, not when I spell it out for you that people like me are suffering, if not fighting for their lives.

I may have been heard if I hadn’t turned the spotlight around on the people mendaciously constructing a world that doesn’t reflect the reality many thousands of ethnic minorities (and ‘others’) experience on this rainy fascism island. My primary malfunction was assuming that the world was ready to hear how the individual contributes to the unjust and unequal system we find ourselves trapped in. The beginning of the end for me was initiated by another woman. A feminist no less, one of the ‘race is not a feminist issue’ brigade, as I discovered when they felt buoyed enough by the support of other white people to say whatever they liked, without consequence.

The world of social media is a microcosm of the world I cannot be a part of irl. The same white gatekeepers exist in positions of power that mark someone like me out as a troublemaker, a loose cannon. Instead of saying this though, noting that we’re all human and fallible, apologising for our prejudices and making promises to do better, it has been standard practice to obliterate the dissenting voice instead, by subjecting the speaker to all of the things they have been protesting against.

I am a survivor of male perpetrated violence and sexual abuse. I was subjected to this violence whilst I was still curled up with my twin in our mother’s womb. I am a survivor of immigration and now realise that a lot of the violence I and the other women in my family were subjected to was exacerbated by the ways in which the men of my family were treated by the British Empire. I am learning about my heritage and I can finally understand the ghosts that haunted my grandfather, a child who witnessed partition and then never spoke of it again. He was in the army, we knew that much. He had his name crudely tattooed on his arm in biro ink, in case they needed to identify his corpse I presume. On leaving the army he came to settle in Birmingham and worked extremely hard for 5 years before he could bring over his wife and 3 small children, my father being the middle one. When he eventually did call for them, they were almost lost forever when the plane they had been ordered to leave – to make space for VIPs who were given priority – crashed over France killing all those on board. My family is a miracle. They survived the empire and they made it to this country in one piece.

However, the struggle for basic survival didn’t end with them, whatever the white knights of Twitter seem to think. It’s a bit rich for these white saviours to mock us with stories of how our dark men are mutilating our vaginas and killing us for talking to boys and how much worse off we’d be if we’d been born in any of the brown countries. The fact that my female cousins had a private education in Pakistan with one of them awarded a scholarship for a doctorate in engineering isn’t something I’ve ever felt the need to share to silence the hecklers, as if they would listen or believe me anyway. I don’t need to be reminded of patriarchal violence and control; my great grandmother was beaten to death by her man. It wasn’t the Asian or Muslim in him that made him do this or ensured she was victim to it. It was power and control. Patriarchal power and control; the kind that rears its ugly head when your country is under attack and ‘your women’ are being raped, being as they are merely vessels for the patrilineage. The kind that prompts my apparently relaxed Sufi like ancestors to suddenly turn inwards and toughen their cultural praxis so that others cannot accuse them of allowing the British to bastardise their values. Of course that’s going to be amplified when they arrive in said coloniser’s country. I see the anger and disapproval they pelted me with as I was growing up as a reaction to colonial power and control and their abuse of my person as a manifestation of their own post-traumatic stress disorders and Stockholm syndrome. My grandparents were promised a home away from home but when they arrived here they were faced with severe violence and abuse yet their reaction to it was to accept their dehumanised status and suffer the blows. That pent up rage and hurt had to make its exit somewhere and it was people like me who bore the brunt of it. I forgive them though, because I know it wasn’t their fault. It was yours ‘Great Britain’.

I shunned my brown Muslim family the first chance I got, running away from home aged 15, cutting my dark waist length hair into a bob, eating all the pork products I could ram into my mouth (denouncing the Muslim God as I masticated), just out of spite. I thought the drunker I got, the more they’d accept I was one of them. I had to find a white boyfriend cos that would give me the protection I needed from both racist whites and vengeful brownies. I was annoyed at my gran for not telling us a distant cousin had married a white man (who’d converted to Islam for her) and that she’d instructed the other women to keep it a secret too. She was afraid we were ripe for the poaching y’see. She was right. Maybe if I married a white man I could have a properly white sounding name too. I was already called Sam and had dropped my uber Arabic surname because of the lack of opportunities it had lumped me with. A mere 6 hrs after I’d begrudgingly westernised my name, I was given my first interview in 3 months. That’s how racist Britain was in 2005, regardless of what we were told.

I’m not proud of the ways I have ducked and dived the judgements racism has thrown my way. I am not ashamed of it either. I am able to reason that survival is cruel and I did whatever was necessary. White people make it impossible for you to exist in a way that honours your cultural background then mock you for leaving it behind. This is the exact reason why I give up, why I’m done trying to get people to think. The issue here is not one of co-existing in a tolerant society and resistance to this liberal way of life but the shifting of goalposts so that it never matters that we do our best or bow our heads, it’s just not good enough. White Britons want us to jump through hoops like the good little Asians do, they want us to change our beliefs/personalities depending on who is calling it at the time, even if it is some beer bloated ignorant pig of a chav (I’m working class, what of it?) who thinks they’re better than you cos their ruling classes stole from yours. On this matter of working class whites, I am done with trying to understand a section of society so downtrodden and put upon by the illuminated ones “It’s not their fault they’re poor and stupid, their racism isn’t really racism, they’re just ignorant”. Stop right there and hear me on this; I left school at 16, I don’t have a formal education or trust fund and I am not a racist either. When I look at white people I don’t see degrees of racism based on their level of education/class. I see people who recognise my humanity and those who want me silenced/dead because they believe I am not human enough. Call me a paki and I’ll call you white trash.

So y’see, I know why my peers and even those with a much smaller vocabulary than me are being published in the papers, their voices resonating with all who look like them. They are the ones who know how to play the system because it has been set up to benefit them. I know how this game goes but I’m not a very good liar and it’s never been about a high flying meeja career. I want to say what I need to say and for it to be heard and believed as my lived experiences. However if anyone actually did that then they would have to admit how they benefit from the status quo and nobody wants to relinquish their privilege or share it with someone as outspoken as me (they think I think like them and want the things they want and this scares them).

I am a British Asian woman who tried to be all that was required of me but soon realised that meant I had to be dishonest and dissociate for the privilege of success in a white capitalist patriarchy. I have grown to hate this country I so loved once upon a time. I don’t want to bomb it or teach anyone a lesson, terror is terror, whoever experiences it, even the knuckleheads but I will smash anyone upside the head if they ‘do a racism’ in my presence. I am shackled and gagged on social media, I am prevented from defending myself, I do not deserve solidarity and so I give up, take it, keep it for yourselves. We’ve come too far to backtrack the racism of the past year and now I fear we’re hurtling towards the inevitable. Sticking around without the backing I need from white ‘allies’ is waving myself like a red flag to a bunch of fascist bull shits.

It’s safer to behave as though you do not exist.

East Vs West

(via Facebook “Anonymous ART of Revolution”)

The shame we feel as women

It creeps up suddenly; self-consciously you adjust your posture to close in a little on yourself. Your eyes drop downwards. Suddenly you feel very exposed. This happens frequently; whether in a meeting at work or walking into a bar and almost certainly when walking home late at night. By slouching, we hope to divert attention away from our breasts, by avoiding eye contact, we can hope they won’t think we brought it on ourselves. We are reminded everywhere we turn, of the temptations we promise, and if we don’t fit the bill, we can be stuffed and pumped up with man-made fillers and human bum fat. If we’re healthy, we’re “starting to waddle”, a timely reminder we shouldn’t eat so much else who will fancy us?

The shaming begins early. They make mini-skirts and boob tubes for 3 year olds. I will always feel sick to the stomach remembering the fascination with Emma Watson’s impending sweet sixteen. Her boyish figure on the turn, she still looked like little Hermione Granger to me. But the lad mags cooed and pushed and towed the line. The difference a day makes, predatory behaviour now legal. The men writing these articles, having this ‘fun’ ‘banter’ are in their 20s and 30s. What kind of meaningful discussion could be had between a young person and a fully grown male adult?

“Getting a bit podgy” they remark when you embark early adolescence. Girls get called sluts for letting boys kiss them. And frigid, for refusing to bow to pressure. The shaming naming begins; slut, slag, whore, cunt, bitch, pussy, ho, sket, ‘punaani’ and many others I’m glad not to think of off the top of my head. When these words are spat, they are designed to cut to the core of woman, what lies between your legs is dirt and because of it you choose to be shamed in this way, with the very same words they use to describe your vagina. They cut deep. Toxic and humiliating, they are effective. The world has made it so. Half of the world’s population has a menstrual cycle, the most crucial component of the human condition and yet, it is considered unclean. In many religions, women are forbidden from intercourse/intimacy at this unholiest of times of the month, forbidden from entering places of worship or from handling holy texts. A ritualistic bath is required to cleanse the body of impurity once bleeding ceases. This dirty blood provides the cushion for nestling cells from which all life springs forth! It nurtures life! It is creation! But they would have us believe it’s a punishment for eating an apple, bleeding comparable to a “stuck pig”.

I am ashamed to admit, in the past, I have used men for protection. You can walk the streets at 2am, your heels clicking on the street, without the fear of someone pouncing over your shoulder. Walk into a bar and they’ll look once but maybe not twice, you don’t even have to think of who is where and whether they could get too close.

1 in 4 women will experience rape or an attempted rape. How can one begin to understand why this is a reality?

But sometimes the same men we look to for protection, violate us. You are more likely to be raped by your husband or partner than a complete stranger. In fact, 1 in 7 women have been coerced into sex. I would call this rape too. In my work with women, I asked “have you ever been raped?” Most women would reply “no”. Follow that question on with “have you ever had sex when you did not want to?” A large proportion then replies “yes”. Non consensual sex is rape. Why do these women feel it is not? In many parts of the world, sex is an ordeal for women, its only function to satisfy man so that he may create life. Male life, preferably. They have been brainwashed into believing that their role as woman is to suffer, because they are temptresses and they are asking for it.

Here in the West we are filled with outrage at the brutality our sisters in the East must suffer. They are not permitted to touch holy books when bleeding; they cannot excitedly declare their pregnancies for they are the result of impure deeds. The birth of a daughter is mourned not celebrated. When challenged, many will defend their rights to such feelings because, one day, their daughter must leave. She is only theirs temporarily, someday soon she will be handed over to another man and her destiny will be in his hands. They can only pray he will be merciful. This belief that daughters are born a burden drives families to increasingly barbaric methods of control; where death is a desirable outcome, preferable to shaming of the family name. What is more shameful than the taking of a life? Why is all the honour of a family placed on its female members? Like a classic car, they are cared for and then sold. No previous owners, no mileage on the clock and you get a brand new CD player, with the plastic still on it and everything. Be sure to check it’s sealed properly; otherwise you are entitled to renege on the deal. Your statutory rights will not be affected.

We have every right to feel angry. How can the world stand by and allow such suffering? Such behaviour justifies war, apparently. “Have you seen how they treat their women?” THEIR women? “True story right, mate was on tour, walking through a village in Kandahar and there was this pretty girl putting the washing out, anyway, they only looked at her and her husband came running out and beat her in front of them. She was pregnant too”. Well, in that case, why don’t you bomb the whole lot and make it your country? How about not staring at pretty girls in a country where rapists are made to marry their victims? The person telling me this story was the last person to educate me in global women’s rights. I knew him to be a user of women; he thought it was funny that he and his 10 friends had collectively taken their turns with the ‘village bike’. His words, not mine.

2 women a week are murdered in the UK. Many of these post separation. Perpetrators murder because the victim failed to obey, or she left or they felt she was going to leave or they’d heard she was sleeping around, for example. Perpetrators feel betrayed and angry and humiliated and so they murder. Is this not also a question of perceived ‘honour’?

15 year old Gemma’s brother in law decided to maul her at home, whilst the family were elsewhere in the house. When she asked, in shock, why he would do such a thing, he responded he’d heard she was a slag so thought he would try his luck. There are girls born free for all, they would have us believe. Bound by secrets and lies, many women suffer in silence. They did not report when they were violated, their resignation an unspoken norm in our 21st century Western society.

I was very young when I first acknowledged I was lucky to be born British, access to a free education being one of the perks. I resented being brought up Asian in a culture that despised us; our clothes were different and we spoke a funny language. I yearned to be English. I wanted to wear shorts and begged my parents for a paddling pool. I loved music and was thrilled to learn my secondary school specialised in this area. It quickly dawned on me, however, that the music teacher only picked the girls with short skirts and beige canvas shoes. I had been graded a clear A for my singing ability but despite this, he would only speak to me briefly and on occasion, ignore me completely. Even at this young age, I knew it was because he did not like me for who I was. It was a well-known fact, a scandal, that this same teacher was married to a previous pupil of the school, 30 years his junior. Aged 11, I felt life was unfair, if I had a short skirt, I could sing a solo too.

I rebelled, naturally. Under my school uniform of shirt and trousers, I’d wear vest tops and wonderbras. Having been an exceptional student throughout my schooling, I started truanting. Aged 15, my friends and I would sneak into wine bars, shirts and ties stuffed deep into our schoolbags. We’d share a couple of lager and limes and marvel at our grown-upness. We had our fair share of male attention. Made up to look 20, I soon started dating a 19 year old. He knew how old I was but that didn’t stop him. My skirts got shorter, my eyelashes ridiculously fat. And why? Aged 15, I’d learnt I had to attract men to get noticed. The contrast between home-life and the world outside the front door was confusing and given the choice I chose the unknown. English girls seemed free. I believed this until aged 22, I applied for a job working in a domestic violence refuge. My attitude rapidly changed as I learnt about feminist principles and how they came to be. In the year 2004, I learnt that women, English women, were being murdered for daring to leave their partners. Domestic abuse is estimated to be the biggest killer of women aged 19-44. Although there are no figures to say for sure, it is estimated that less than half of all incidents are reported to the police and yet, they still manage to receive a call a minute.

“We don’t treat our women like that over here”. OUR women? And yes, yes you do.

We can’t get drunk in case we get raped. We can’t walk the streets at night because then we’re just working them. We can’t wear skirts above the knee or a top revealing the outline of our breasts (like, totally asking for it). If we speak up about our bodies, our choice; we’re baby killing lesbians. If we dare to leave, we leave ourselves open to further attack. If we have more than a few partners, we are slags. If we get raped, we lied about it (unless it was a stranger who dragged you into the bushes in broad daylight, wearing a balaclava, wielding a knife.) What were you wearing? How many sexual partners have you had? Why kiss him if you did not want to have sex? When pregnant, we become vessels. Strangers will chastise you for smoking a cigarette, cupping their hands around your swollen stomach. Why do our pregnant bodies become public property? A visible panty line is the mother of all sins. Our vaginas scrutinised for signs of a camel’s hoof. Young Western girls have their labia minora sliced off so they can resemble their 3 year old selves. At the first sign of fuzz, we shave, wax and depilate ourselves as soft as a baby’s bum. What is so attractive about resembling an infant? When we ask for anything, we nag. When we speak up, we are uppity. We are trouble-makers. We aim to cause mischief. We are responsible for the breakdown of family life. We are the upholders of original sin. We dumb ourselves down to get on in life, lest we are seen as a threat. And still, there are people out there who think we have too much.

When feminism first began, it made a massive difference to the lives of Western women. They made the world change its laws to recognise woman as man’s equal. In a short space of time, they were able to elevate the status of woman to a place where she could be considered, on the surface of it, an equal in a developed world. And yet, here we are 101 years after the first International Women’s Day, developing callouses from the tug of war we are still having with patriarchy. We have papers like the Daily (Hate Fe) Mail refusing to refer to violence against women as domestic abuse. Unless of course it is a female perpetrator. Women of the Western world are frantically knitting uteruses for congressmen in the hope they’ll keep their hands off theirs. And one is never stuck for a pro-choice rally to attend. They’re obsessed with our hairy armpits and shame us for having non-blonde body hair. We write to spread awareness of our struggle, but in doing so we leave ourselves open to attack from sexually threatened men. If only it were that easy to shut a woman up!

It is not a question of OUR women or THEIR women; we do not belong to man. We brown women do not need white knights in shining armour to rescue us from the savages and white women are not just sleeping with black men because they have larger penises. Wherever we are in the world, we are controlled because we are female. We birth the boys, they, as well as the girls, come from our vaginas. Is it a fear of creation? Is it a jealousy, an inadequacy at not being able to do the same? It must be shunned because it is incomprehensible? Whatever it is, it’s bullshit.

Honour Based Crime: It’s Their Cultural Right

Domestic violence is illegal in this country. The term domestic violence extends to threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) and it doesn’t just affect spouses but also family members or members of the same household, irrespective of gender or sexuality. When an assault or threat of an assault is reported the police have a duty to investigate. Except in some cases they say they cannot undertake their duty lest they offend on grounds of cultural differences.

I am yet to encounter a culture where domestic abuse is enshrined as one of their respected practices. As in any culture across the world, the majority of people are peaceful and benign in their actions. They can be reasonable and resolve issues without resorting to harm. Islam, a religion that is touted as punitive and regressive to the development of women is often held up as an example by right wing pressure groups and media in the West of how men in the East continue to control their women because their holy book says so and somewhere in this book, it is alleged that God decrees domestic abuse as the right of man, it is not apparently a religion of peace as its followers believe but one of violence and control, oppressive and archaic. I’m not a Muslim by a long stretch of the imagination but I was institutionalised once upon a time. And I was victim to such abuses. However, I cannot say that I was abused because the good book said so. I was abused because the men in my family were hellbent on control.

Having arrived in the 60s, my grandfather (ex-army) had to muddle his way through British life by himself for the first few years. He found work as a foreman for British Steel. Without their wives and children, groups of men in their tens would share grotty bedsits in an effort to stay alive on the meagre wages they were paid but also to save so they could bring their families over. It was a time of deprivation and disorder; they were not wanted in this country. I think my grandfather was a very angry man, put upon and controlled by other men he could not afford to say boo to. And so the cycle began. They would bark orders at him and he would beat it down to her, my grandmother. She was a poor village girl he’d fallen in love with and eloped. Strange that my grandparents had what we term a love marriage whilst they forced most of their own children into marriages they did not want. I believe they did this because they felt they had to protect their culture. I remember my mother laughingly telling me how my gran had reacted to the news a distant relative had recently got married to a white man. My grandmother was adamant my sister and I should not hear about it, just in case we did the same.

Whenever any group migrates to new shores, they become insular, protective of who they are and where they come from. The culture in the Motherland will continue to move on and adapt, becoming modernised and globalised. When I went to Pakistan in 2002, I was shocked to find my girl cousins wearing short sleeves and getting their eyebrows done at the local beauticians. We were forbidden from doing such things. When your culture is not being oppressed, it is easier to move with the times. My cousins were not beaten, they were all studying and one was even going into engineering. Domestic abuse is not part of South Asian culture.

It is not part of Islam either. You’ll get the fundos with their beards and cropped trousers offering dawah, with their various takes on Islam and the role of the woman. One offered “if God did not exist (wait for him to finish saying his astagfirullahs) then woman would look to her man as her God”. Wait a minute, last time I checked it was women who had the power to create. If God did not exist (sorry god), then surely it is woman who takes the place of creator?

In relation to abuse, I have found two teachings which shed some light. Firstly, there is a passage on chastisement (domestic abuse to you and me). It is recommended, if the woman should speak out of turn (my mind usually wanders at such a sentence) then it is permissible to strike her on the arm with a ‘miswak’. A miswak is a twig from the Salvadora Persica tree which is used to clean the teeth. It is no bigger than your hand and about the thickness of a standard pencil. Texts are largely open to interpretation but I believe this to mean, you shouldn’t hit your wife. There is another teaching from the hadiths which suggest that if an argument ensues and your opponent is not a physical match to you, one must lay down on the ground. The change in stance has a calming effect. Perhaps I have chosen to focus on the bits where confrontation and violence are discouraged but when Muslims the world over call it the religion of peace, maybe it’s time we started listening.

Domestic abuse is not a cultural practice. It is the worst manifestation of control by people who feel the need to exert their control. I personally believe that statutory agencies are using this excuse to avoid having to deal with people they might not understand or actually care for. This excuse has gone on long enough, why are these agencies not putting some of their budget into courses designed to tackle culturally sensitive issues? For if they did, they might realise that saying domestic abuse aka ‘honour’ based crime  is a cultural thing, they ‘d be saying the same about us Brits. Where one person has intentions to harm another’s body or state of mind, the state has a duty to protect. Irrespective of the excuses the perpetrators think up.