It was 2008 and I was at an awards show for the Asian entertainment industry. I was the girlfriend of a magazine editor and we got all the invites going. Sunny Hundal was relatively unknown then. He had a couple of forums through which I’d met my then partner, and was well known in the nepotistic world of Asian media. They knew him as the IT geek done good and I guess some were secretly bewildered they’d underestimated his prowess.
I liked him in those days. I thought he was doing something important for Asian people by getting them involved in politics and providing a hub where professionals could network. I even stuck up for him when the others sneered at his success. I looked up to him and that is the only reason I did not slap him in the face when he proposed I go undercover for an expose of the national domestic violence charity, Refuge. At the time Southall Black Sisters were under threat of closure because Ealing Council decided that there was no longer a need for a culturally sensitive service and the contract should be given to someone more inclusive, like Refuge. I was as dismayed and shocked as the rest that a national charity with miles more funding than this small set up would present themselves as competition like this. I assumed Sunny was upset by this also and so I shared my negative experiences of when I had temped for them. I wasn’t immediately angry when he suggested I could go undercover for him. I was annoyed at the kyriarchal oppression playing out, on this occasion there was no solidarity from the white women but it was only when I went away to think of what Sunny was asking me to do that I decided it was harmful and maybe his intentions were not so sincere.
Here’s the thing, if I’d done that for him I would have risked putting the wellbeing of many thousands of women at risk. I might have had my issues with the management but I could not let this affect the fate of the service users. This is when I showed my solidarity to feminism as a whole, regardless of the way they’d attempted to sell others like me down the river. We never spoke of it again until the past year when, frustrated at Sunny’s liberal white feminism and his complete inability to recognise his own straw man presentations, I challenged him just like I would anyone else. How did Sunny respond? Well, first he laughed at me for being someone nobody believes on account of the one false allegation of racism I made in my entire life. Thanks for the solidarity ‘comrade’. When I responded with the above account, he GASLIGHTED me and said I had approached him, suggesting this was just sour grapes cos he’s so successful yo. He blatantly did this because he knows he has a following and I have already been hung up to dry as a liar. What he doesn’t know is that I don’t bow to this kind of bullying, really and if anything, I am not going to let him forget.
How dare the BBC approach him for a quote regarding the feminist hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick? To my understanding this was a hashtag where Asian women could discuss the ways in which Asian women are controlled, by the white majority but also men of colour. Why then is Sunny happy to jump on to his PR friendly soap box and speak for me and others like me? I’m not surprised at the BBC; this is patriarchy at its very best. Wanna talk about abortion? Bring in the menz. Wanna talk about teen pregnancy? Well, we haven’t heard from any men lately.
It is not the BBC I hold responsible here, it is Hundal. He could just say no, y’know? He doesn’t though and that’s something we have to think about.
On the 23rd January 2013 I made a terrible mistake. It was a duvet day because I was in a fair bit of pain due to a spinal injury. I knocked a cocktail of drugs back and settled under the covers so I could Twitter. After a skim read of the timeline, I posed a tweet to Mary Beard. I mistakenly accused her of racism. Out of nowhere I was met with a tweet from Helen Lewis who demanded I prove it. Still none the wiser to my mistake, Helen’s tweet got my back up. It’s what they say when they know your proof won’t matter. But Helen had prompted me to think about what I had just tweeted and so I thought I had better make sure.
On realising exactly how big a mistake I made, I immediately apologised. I wasn’t cajoled, I wasn’t defiant, I was honest. And I believed I deserved the fallout taking over my mentions. I bowed my head in shame but I was determined to turn it into a positive thing. I was grateful for the amicable respectful exchanges between me and Mary. I chose not to delve too deeply into what people were saying about me, I didn’t have the spoons. After many requests from fellow tweeters, Helen agreed to delete the storified set of events. I thought it was because she understood that I had meant no malice. I also thought she might have understood that even though she was fighting with my peers on all matters regarding intersectionality, this incident was separate. It wasn’t in any way connected with her other battles. But she saw an opportunity. If she could make an example of how terribly wrong it can sometimes go, it maintains the power structure and status quo. Rather we have 100000s of ethnics suffer real racism than let one white person be wrongly accused.
On the 15th April 2013, I found that Helen’s storify piece was still online. I was stunned. Why would someone agree to delete something only to republish without ever informing you? What were her intentions? When I went to ask her, I discovered I was blocked. After a while I was made aware it was something to do with a blog and the storify had been up for a couple of weeks. My friends politely asked her to reconsider and instead, she left Twitter. It was only when she’d done this that I saw she’d written a piece that day. I still haven’t read it because people believe the ‘bullying’ she received in response to the piece was the reason she ‘flounced’. It wasn’t. It’s because she was challenged and she couldn’t justify what she’d done. I hadn’t blogged about her; I just tagged her on a criticism of a New Statesman piece.
She wants to silence intersectionality. That’s what the offending blog was about. A NS writer had pondered on the least privileged women of them all and I had nominated my mother. It was heartfelt and for that, Helen Lewis decided I’d take the bullet. How many of us have discussed intersectionality in recent months? Why is a 3 month old incident being dredged up to prove her point that privilege is being silenced? Am I the best argument you have against true equality? “Don’t listen to those stupid deranged idiots, they lie or they make things up.” Except I didn’t lie, I made a mistake. One I publicly acknowledged and apologised for.
But she has her allies. Anya Palmer seems to want to stalk my every move on Twitter. She never speaks to me, just hangs over my shoulder, waiting for the money shot. She seems to revel in the fact that the incident caused me embarrassment. Of course it would, I don’t make a habit of hurting people unnecessarily. There have been all manner of eggs tweeting racist, ableist, sexist shit at me, somehow strengthening my resolve against all who seek to undermine me. The course of events has quickly spiralled into the honest truth of it all. My feminism is not their feminism. Mine is intersectional. Theirs is bullshit. Their feminism is about: never changing, never thinking, denying privilege as if it’s a zero sum game. All positions are positions of privilege- like the way racing cars start on a sliding scale. You could have the fastest car in the world, but if you’re last you’re gonna have to pull a miracle out of the bag to make it work. I may have had an abusive childhood but I also fit the patriarchal ideal of a cis gendered woman. I may have not had a formal education but I can grasp new concepts without too much trouble. Some people can walk through life carrying their baggage, some people are crushed by it, just getting up in the morning brings back painful memories and triggers etc. It’s also about justifying using hurtful words because they can’t be bothered to think about their power.
The Mean Girls piece spoke of scary wimminz who attack well known wimminz and we shouldn’t cos sisterhood and that. Well, when we attack the famous ones, we have a few hundred people at most fighting our corner. When the commentariat attack us little people, they have many more thousands poised to crush us. That, my friend, is privilege. All of the arguments the non-intersectional feminists have made in recent months regarding solidarity and the bigger picture, fuck that. This incident has proven that it is not so much we’re all in this together but they will actively stifle any dissent. Just like my mothers and grandmothers before me. “Pipe down now brownie”.
When Helen Lewis showed us words she’d been called, it transpired that she had been searching for her name (lurking, again) and discovered two feminist women using gendered slurs. Two tweets she had to go looking for. Two WOMEN she was not afraid to make an example of. When I received tweets, they were from accounts set up to hound me, mainly men. I’ve had lot of white ‘opinions’ on this. All of them have also referred to me as some kind of cunt or whore. A few think it’s ok to mock me for my disabilities. And all of them simply do not get, why I, as a woman of colour would feel this in any way than every other time a white person has made me feel shit. I had 5000 views of my blog the other day. Imagine how many comments. People are also searching for information on my family and ex partners names. It is telling that Helen’s most vocal advocate is a prolific misogynist hellbent on securing an apology from me. If at one time I would have considered approaching this is in a calm and reasonable manner to make amends with my cisters, that opportunity is long gone. The commentariat are quick to identify and expose dissenters, launching their mobs at us with full force but somehow, condemning abuse from a misogynist would be drawing unnecessary attention to us. They suggest they are ‘protecting us’ by not calling out abusive behaviour committed by the patriarchy against another woman.
Nice one Helen Lewis, solidarity from one feminist to another feminist on an entirely even keel in this fuck up a world.
Jane* was a client at one of the places I worked. She was a working mum, barely making enough to break even with childcare costs but she preferred to work. She had been accessing our service for a while. We provided support to women still in abusive relationships, safety planning so as to reduce the frequency of abusive incidents.
She adored her small child; she was maternal and caring and would often begin a conversation with an update on how her baby was doing. Except on this occasion she was fighting to get her words out. She’d called me at the office, asked for an emergency appointment, she’d just found out she was pregnant. I asked her what she wanted to do. “I can’t keep it.” She repeated this sentence a few times. I asked her why. “Because the last time I was pregnant, I lived in fear for my baby’s life.”
30% of domestic violence starts in pregnancy.
Between 4 and 9 pregnant women in every 100 are abused during and after their pregnancies.
(Women’s Aid Statistics)
That’s right. When a woman is at her most vulnerable, most in need of support to protect and nurture the life she is creating within, she has an increased likelihood of experiencing violence at the hands of the father of her child. I’m reminded of a training course where a male middle manager responded to this fact by saying “women are a nightmare when they’re pregnant; I’m not surprised some men react”. An acquaintance shared how his father had beaten his mother when she was suffering postnatal depression. He’d grown up believing his father had been pushed to the limit. It is only when I challenged his belief by pointing out that pregnancy is a difficult time for women, many people appreciate this and make allowances, decent people at least, that he began to see it differently. Personally, I could not understand how he had ever felt his father had been justified. But then, this acquaintance had also been beaten.
Jane felt guilty she had already subjected one of her children to this man. She had been taking steps to leave him, setting a little money aside each week, moving her baby’s toys out one at a time. She did not want to have sex with him. She tried to say no at the start but knew better than to say it again. And so she became pregnant.
“I can’t keep it”. I had to respect her wishes so I arranged for her to attend a Marie Stopes clinic. I went with her. She held my hand whilst we waited, but barely spoke. I wanted to say it was OK if she changed her mind but didn’t want to sound like I was suggesting anything. I just reassured her that I was there to talk, without judgement, if she needed. She smiled gratefully whenever she looked at me and my heart broke a little for her. She was a good woman and an exceptional mother. She shouldn’t have to go through this. But I knew she had no choice. The alternative would mean reinforcing their relationship, enduring another nine months of physical and mental torture, the effects of which would leave a lasting impression on the foetus inside her womb. Attachment and dependency on a person who seeks to control and manipulate and abuse, even his own children should he see fit. She wanted a better life for her children.
I stand by her choice because I have seen the alternative. Abigail* had three children and was expecting a fourth from her new partner. He was a known sex offender. Because of her faith, Abigail did not have the choice to abort. She was however frightened for her life. She endured being dragged around by her hair in the 8th month of her pregnancy. Whilst she was in labour, she had to defend herself from an attack, struggling to prise his fingers from her neck as she experienced another contraction. Following multiple agency intervention, her children were eventually removed from her by social services for neglecting the needs of her children by remaining with her partner. It did not matter that Abigail had been warned she would die if she ever did. The perpetrator was not being brought to justice through a lack of physical evidence, yet they had enough evidence to call her a bad mother and take her children away. How many pregnancies start off unwanted and end up in the care system?
And then there was Sarah*, a very close friend of mine. Following a casual relationship, she discovered she was quite happy to be expecting. She hadn’t known her partner very long but he seemed nice enough and in agreement about the pregnancy. They sailed through the first few weeks, excited about their little secret. One day she called me. “I can’t do it”, she simply said. They’d been out together at the work’s Christmas do. She thought he’d had enough to drink and attempted to hold his arm. He responded by pushing her down. My brave and strong friend did not want a child with a man who did not care about harming her or the baby. She was upset before the termination. And through it. But she maintained she’d made the right choice.
One of the main reasons we abort is to protect the future. Pregnancy is vulnerability. No longer are you only responsible for yourself but innocent new life that does not deserved to be abused. “Pro-lifers” argue that the foetus has rights, more rights than that of the mother. Despite the mother’s mental and physical well-being, she is a vessel bringing forth Mr Man’s seed and effectively signs over her rights. Is it preferable that unwanted pregnancies are forced to continue thus resulting in unwanted children who will have possibly been abused, growing into abusers themselves when they are big enough?
When a 12 year old school friend had to abort, where were the “pro-lifers” and their campaigns to make fathers more accountable?
How many domestic violence refuges offer mother and baby units? Not very many.
This war on women and our wombs is not about the brazen baby killers. It’s about control.
*Names have been changed
** I am aware that this entry has received some attention from ‘no choicers’ who think I have chosen to justify ‘killing of the unborn’ by using domestic violence as some sort of get out clause. They have made the assumption that this is an easy option rather than tackling the abuse and helping mothers leave abusive relationships. *sigh*
I have been involved in women’s services almost 10 YEARS as a refuge worker, outreach floating support in the community and advocate for women at risk of domestic abuse, at crisis point and survivors. I am fully aware of the support available to women both through the state and various charitable organisations.
No choicer comments:
“The fact that these women DO have a choice, i.e. to leave their abusive relationships”
NO THEY DON’T. 76% OF WOMEN LEAVING ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WILL FACE ANOTHER INCIDENT OF VIOLENCE FOR DARING TO LEAVE THEIR PARTNER. WOMAN IS PROPERTY, WOMAN HAS NO AUTONOMY.
“If she is helped to extricate herself from the abuse and domestic violence, then so will her children be too!”
EASY SPEAKING AS A MAN ISN’T IT? THE ONUS IS ON A VULNERABLE WOMAN TO GET HERSELF AND HER CHILDREN OUT. WHERE IS THE PRESSURE ON VIOLENT MEN TO STOP BEING VIOLENT?
“If there is a lack of mother and baby united in women’s refuges, campaign and fundraise for more!”
MAKING ASSUMPTIONS AGAIN.. NO CHOICER, DO YOU KNOW THE DEVASTATING EFFECT TORY GOVERNMENT CUTS HAVE ALREADY HAD ON WOMEN? DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW RECESSION OFTEN HURTS THE MOST VULNERABLE, IE WOMEN AND CHILDREN LEAVING VIOLENT RELATIONSHIPS? SUPPORT FOR VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS NOT CONSIDERED IMPORTANT UNDER RICH WHITE MEN.
“If society is lacking in holding fathers to account, campaign and politically lobby for a change in the law so they can be – but don’t think that you can say “father’s have no rights” if then you wish to make them accountable, it doesn’t work!”
NO CHOICER, THESE THINGS WILL NOT HAPPEN IN MY LIFETIME. IT PAINS ME THAT PROTECTING VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IS MY LIFE’S WORK AND YET I KNOW, DESPITE MY BEST EFFORTS AND OF THE THOUSANDS OF WOMEN WORKING TIRELESSLY EVERYDAY, WOMEN EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE WILL CONTINUE TO ABORT THEIR PREGNANCIES BECAUSE.. PATRIARCHY.
THAT’S YOU SIR. WITH YOUR JUDGMENT AND CONTROL. YOUR RELIGIONS AND YOUR PATHETIC OPINIONS.
Solidarity with my sisters. It is your body, it is your choice. #Feminism