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.