society

The First Obstacle To Equality

“I don’t want to say anything cos they won’t believe me.” A sentiment almost exclusively owned by women. Whether disclosing rape or thinking of telling our pals their boyfriends are womanising scum, we fear repercussions on speaking the truth. There was an incident in which we were victim, we were hurt physically and/or emotionally, we know what happened wasn’t right. Yet it’s instinctive to bottle up and withhold justice for ourselves because we know, society will simply not believe us. What makes us so unbelievable?

Bro code, an unspoken agreement between men that their woman is their property and brothers must not risk the woman coming between them. Yes, she is damn fine and tempting but don’t fall for her, instead, give that big man chest a primal thump and a knowing look; “bros before hoes”. They will believe each other before they believe you, in some misguided solidarity with the brotherhood irrespective of the offender’s track record. Whereas, a woman; her reputation, her previous record says everything there is to know about her morality.

Do women who have had sex always tell lies? Jane Clare Jones asks for the Guardian.

“In the patriarchal playbook, a woman’s moral virtue is synonymous with … well, her virtue. Good women are chaste and pure. And the others – those who express their sexuality in ways not sanctioned by church and state, those who are sexual at all – are quite simply not to be trusted. They seduce and entrap. They’re dirty and diseased. And, above all, they are deceitful and duplicitous. If they want to moralise, they should, as Rogozin told us in his second tweet, put their pants back on. And if they refuse, nothing they say is to be taken seriously or believed by anyone. A simple sexual slur, and, as if by magic, a woman’s word is instantly devalued, divested of authority and discredited.”

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/13/women-sex-lies-pussy-riot-madonna)

This makes sense. Rape victims, sexually assaulted against their will have actually had non-consensual sex. Despite the fact that they did not agree, potentially fighting off the perpetrator with every bit of strength they had, men will instantaneously believe they must have brought it upon themselves. “They love it really.” By the mere fact they own vaginas. If she wasn’t doing a good job of keeping her vagina shut, i.e. sewing it up so it’s not a “gaping pocket” or covering herself so that she looks just like any other Dalek, then she must have been “asking for it”. How patriarchy has twisted the way we view women, their bodies sexualised even when breastfeeding their infants. People are disgusted by the most natural act of them all. Because, well, it’s private, for a husband’s eyes only. Only on humans though, we are more than happy to guzzle back billions of gallons of other animal’s bodily secretions, quite happy to munch on the reproductive efforts of birds. Females, whichever species, are to be gorged on, to satisfy male bellies and sexual urges. It’s their only function. Do you know what human breast milk smells like?..Isn’t it time you found out? Why don’t we talk about it? Is that why breasts are so sexualised? Is it also why we push sugar laden formula milk on people who can’t afford it, because breast milk smells so.. womanly? It smells as it does so that visually impaired newborns can recognise their mothers. It’s NATURAL.

So they forcibly impregnate and take what they can from the female form. Rape it at will. A vessel, it carries through new life, but the womb is pure filth. Full of dirty blood, it smells. In many cultures, they shave off the downy soft hair on small babies, coming as it did from that evil place deep at the core of woman. She must take 40 days’ rest, unwashed and unmade; cleanse herself of all impurity when her time is up. Reintroduce her into society as a born again virgin, God put the baby in there, they have no idea how it came out. Vaginas, they smell bad too. Why don’t we ever talk about semen? It’s not an odourless, colourless gas we can’t see. Boys start off by teasing girls about their periods and how they can “smell when you’re on”. I don’t remember teasing the boys back just feeling utterly ashamed at being afflicted by this curse I thought was going to bypass me, being as I wasn’t like all the other girls…

Nuns. People believe them (unless they too are raped). Mothers who never remarry, sacrificing everything for their broods; they are exalted in my local community. They are however, also called ‘rundhi’ in Punjabi. ‘Rundhi’ means both ‘widower’ and ‘whore’. For a woman without a man (having already experienced sexual intercourse) must be like a whore?

Will you join me in an unspoken celebration of the female form? Not to ogle it and take from it what you want to satisfy your own desires but marvel at its resilience and adaptability, the ability to create life, sewing together all the parts that make a human… Magic, no? And what might it be like to be with a woman who is proud of her body and what it can do too? Not just reproductively but sexually. And if there were more men who knew and appreciated female sexuality, maybe then we’d be happier sharing the truth about when we were violated?

Our bodies are not shameful. Patriarchy is.

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.

Petitioners.. Lend me your ears

Avaaz, 38 degrees, Care2… We British love a good petition. We can save the forests, halt Rupert Murdoch in his dark and dirty tracks. If enough of us get involved, heck, we could even save the NHS! Couldn’t we? Dr Kailash Chand’s petition to ‘drop the health bill’ currently stands at 151,565, surpassing the 100k mark backbenchers need in order to discuss the will of the people. By a long shot. The people have spoken, it would seem. The NHS is saved! Isn’t it?

Mark Donne wrote an enlightening piece for the Independent in which he explains that our collective voice has been given a platform that is not all we perceive it be. ‘Clicktivism’, signing a petition, hashtagging,  is holding us back and merely “provide an extremely convenient holding centre for disgruntled or livid voters. Most are unable or just too busy/ exhausted/lazy to attend a demonstration or occupation, but click here, “like” this and you have resisted: you (and the forces you oppose) can sleep at night.”

A ruse to divert us away from actually acting.  As a nation, we’ve been forced to subscribe to this method of activism because we have seen what happens when we do vote with our feet. Armed police on horses charge into crowds full of children, politicians strike up dialogue calling for water-boarding and rubber bullets and people get beaten and detained, their identities embedded into systems that will hold them for however long the establishment deem fit. We live in a tyrannical state.

When the Prime Minister of this country holds a summit to discuss NHS ‘reform’ and how these changes affect GPs yet refuses to invite said GPs, he is making a statement that the matter is not open for discussion. Why haven’t the BMA and Royal College of General Practitioners been asked to attend? Could it be because they oppose the bill and fear that rather than reforming the NHS, they are in fact destroying it? So PM Cameron is actively denying a voice to anyone that might object to his make-the-Tories-even-richer-by-going-private scheme. When a number of Lords and MPs look to benefit personally from us all going private, it makes it all the more sinister.

A selection for your perusal:

  • The former Conservative Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley is a Director of BUPA, the health insurance, private hospital and care group.
  • Baroness Cumberlege of Newick, Former Tory health minister, runs Cumberlege Connections, a political networking firm that works “extensively” with the pharmaceutical industry
  • Baron Newton of Braintree – Advisor to Oasis Healthcare on dentistry and general healthcare matters.
  • Lord Ballyedmond – Chairman of pharmaceutical company Norbrook Laboratories.
  • Lord Bell – Chairman of Chime Communications group, whose lobbying clients include Southern Cross, BT Health and AstraZeneca. Tim Bell has a conviction for ‘wilfuly, openly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act.
  •  David Cameron – Nursing and care home tycoon Dolar Popat has given the Conservatives £209,000. The Ugandan-born dad-of-three has amassed an estimated £42million fortune as founder and chief of TLC Group, which provides services for the elderly. Mr Cameron made the businessman a peer shortly after entering No10 last May, and Lord Popat’s donations include a £25,000 gift registered a week after the Tories’ health reforms were unveiled last July.

HT @socialindepth

(For a comprehensive list of MPs and Lords set to financially gain from the dismantling of the NHS, please visit http://socialinvestigations.blogspot.com/2012/02/nhs-privatisation-compilation-of.html)

With all of this going on right under our noses, we have a right to be angry. We have the democratic right to protest, apparently we live in a ‘democracy’. Mark Donne agrees, posing the question to Noam Chomsky “what he thought the outcome would have been if the nearly 500,000 who have signed a yet-to-be presented petition against the privatisation of the NHS had joined the other 3,000 in occupying Westminster Bridge in late October.” Noam simply replied, “You would have no bill”.

Although petitions are proving to be entirely useless, history will remember we opposed this bill in our hundreds and thousands. To ensure an outcome, we need a million (wo)man march. Somehow we must fight back against the scare tactics employed to silence us. Disgruntled citizens the world over are saying enough is enough, organising marches, rallying, making their governments fear them and the will of the people.

Why do we remain so afraid of ours?

REFERENCES

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-donne-could-a-renewed-activism-translate-into-serious-pressure-on-the-government-6256633.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/feb/19/david-cameron-nhs-summit-criticism

It’s a tough Hijab but someone’s gotta do it

Hijab – A personal choice

Click on the link to read feature

HT @MrChrisEllis