#womenwrites: on abortion, racism, science, and queer theory

Even high seas pirates can cut through whitewashing, by Samira Ahmed

There is a strange feeling that settles on you within the first half hour of the new Disney Pirates of the Caribbean film. And it’s not the presence of the reputationally tarnished Johnny Depp as a comedy alcoholic. Nor is it the laboured joke about the scientific Beauty-and-the-Beast-Belle-like heroine Carina being confused with a prostitute by the pirates. “I’m a HOROLOGIST.” Or even one of the two other women in the film with a speaking part being the fat, ugly and ginger one Sparrow is forced to marry. No, it is not quite any of those things.

What weirds you out is the realisation that you’re watching a comedy lavishly recreating the peak of the slave trade-era Caribbean and there’s not a single reference to it anywhere. Not in the crowd of entirely white people running around as the pirate gang come to rescue Jack Sparrow from a hanging. Not when the Royal Navy ship turns up with its nasty captain boasting about how the British Empire rules the waves.

The Right To Choose Must Not Be Put Up For Barter, by Jeni Harvey

This article will begin with the true story of two women.

The first was fast approaching her nineteenth birthday in 1950’s Ireland when she discovered, unhappily, that she was pregnant. Unmarried, she had grown up steeped in a religion that viewed abortion as a grave and unspeakable sin. Still, there was no possibility of her being able to raise the child; the social stigma waged against unmarried mothers would be too much to bear. And so she did what many Irish girls did at that time: she quietly gave her baby up for adoption, and tried to get on with life as best she could. I imagine she must have thought of her child every day. I imagine it was a great source of pain and sorrow. But I couldn’t say for sure – my grandmother was always more of a drinker than a talker.

Some forty years later in England, a careless teenager became pregnant while in the middle of her A-levels. This young woman had dreams of going to university and the good fortune to live in a country that granted her the right to choose her own path. She would want children one day but knew now wasn’t the time; she was too young, she had other plans. And so she attended a hospital with grounds full of buddleia, where she was treated with kindness and dignity, and where her pregnancy was terminated legally and safely. She didn’t weep. Neither was she full of regret. But she was grateful that she did not have to suffer the same fate as her grandmother, forced to give birth against her will to a child she couldn’t care for. To this day I remain grateful for that.

Why Wonder Woman Is Bittersweet for Black Women, by Cameron Glover

… Yes, Wonder Woman was an entertaining film. The bright colors, the female gaze of director Patty Jenkins’ lens, and the slight nuances which nodded to the superhero’s origins and various incarnations all made for an entertaining watch. I found myself rooting for Diana to rid the world of Ares, god of war, and bring peace to mankind. But like many other films about feminist themes—Mona Lisa SmileThe Help, even Mad Max: Fury Road—I was unable to shake the reality that the film embraced feminism for a very specific community—one that does not have people like me in mind.

In the film, the only Black women depicted are a handful of Amazons on Themyscira, the hidden island where Diana and her people live in peace without men. The first Black woman we’re introduced to is Diana’s caretaker, a representation which hits the Mammy trope on the head. With roots in the transatlantic slave trade, Mammies were Black women who were domestic caregivers, mostly charged with taking care of the children of slave owners and, once slavery was abolished, white families who hired them for low wages. A Mammy literally exists to care for others, with no autonomy and independence of her own. Today, the image of the Mammy—a smiling, grandmotherly type who loves to take care of others—offers white people comfort within their own supremacy by creating the illusion that she did her work out of love, not necessity or survival. …

Not talking to white people about race doesn’t mean withdrawing, by Huma Munshi

“White privilege is one of the reasons why I stopped talking to white people about race…the idea of white privilege forces white people who aren’t actively racist to confront their own complicity in its continuing existence”. This quote from Reni’s book captures the struggle many people of colour have experienced.

Talking about race and racism in white spaces can be emotionally draining
and frustrating. At times it has led me to withdraw from activist spaces. But Reni Eddo-Lodge new book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race isn’t a book about withdrawing, it is a book to galvanise activists into taking action. …

Science Has Consistently Underestimated Women Because Scientists Are Sexist, by Sirin Kale

In 2013, three scientists from McMaster University published an article in peer-reviewed journal PLOS Computational Biology called “Mate choice and the origin of menopause.” In it, the trio of esteemed male scientists argued women had evolved to pass through menopause because no men of any age find older women attractive—not even older men—therefore there is no need for their continued fertility.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, science journalist Angela Saini read their research and was filled with a pure and clarifying rage. After observing similar pseudo-scientific sexist bullshit everywhere she turned, Saini wrote Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story. …

When Queerness Is Cultural Capital, Lesbians Go Broke, by Jocelyn Macdonald

… What I learned from this abecedarian of narcissism is that LGBT didn’t include enough people, so we added literally everyone else. We are witnessing an interesting cultural trend of inclusion so radical that it demands a catchall (I know I don’t have time to list out those 26-to-infinity letters): queer. What this viral Pride season commercial illustrates is that queer identity is about more than who you love or fuck. There’s no requirement to be homosexual, just to be open-minded. This whole thing is less about “labels” and more about the lifestyle attached to sticking a “Love is love” sign in your front yard.

How did we get here? How did queer go from a slur, to a political slogan, to an identity, to this purposefully impossible to define denotation of the in-crowd? This marketing campaign? And where do lesbians fit? Do we get to sit at the cool kids table? Or should we return to our camper vans where we won’t inconvenience anybody with our folk music and our boring monosexuality? …

Sharing images of ‘missing children’: the problems of violent fathers and spiteful trolls

Within hours of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, people across social media were sharing images of those who were declared missing. Some of these were shared by family and friends who knew girls and women attending the concert, but who had not yet heard whether they were safe. These images were also being shared by those wanting to help – a desire borne out of genuine kindness. Unfortunately, by early Tuesday morning, media were already reporting that some of the images being shared were of people who were not at the concert. One of the first images we saw when we logged on to Twitter was of Nasar Ahmed, who died in November from an asthma attack at school. We immediately tweeted out asking people not to share images of children declared missing unless they knew that the source is real. At that point, we didn’t know the scale of the spiteful and cruel trolling. Then we were informed that another image being shared was of Jayden Parkinson who was murdered in 2013 by her boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence. In the end, multiple false images were being shared; many of which originated from a thread on reddit where men were encouraging each other to deliberately and maliciously harm the families and friends of victims with ‘fake news’.

Male violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The toxic hyper-masculinity, which results in suicide bombers targeting young girls attending a concert in Manchester, the mass sexualised violence of children, and the proliferation of violent pornography is also responsible for the so-called ‘trolling’ of victims of male violence. Terrorists, like rapists and domestic violence perpetrators, depend on the support of these men to increase the carnage and fear. Whilst we’re quite sure that these ‘trolls’, who deliberately shared misleading images will have absolute tantrums about being compared to the supporters of Daesh, they are part of the same conducive context of violence against women and girls that allows male violence and toxic masculinity to flourish.

This is the reality of male violence in the global context: men believing they have the right to commit violence against the bodies of women and children; men believing they are entitled to control women and children; and men thinking it is hilarious to maliciously target traumatised victims and their families.

There is another reason to be careful when sharing images of ‘missing children’ online, which is also due to male violence. In this case, it is men who are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.The most dangerous time for women is when they leave a controlling or violent partner. It is this time period which sees an increase in the intensity of violence, such as that requiring medical treatment, but also murder: of the woman, a mother with her children, or the children to ‘punish’ the mother. Violent fathers denied access to their children have been creating fake ‘missing children’ notices for years, relying on the kindness of strangers on social media to stalk former partners and children.

It is essential to ensure that images of ‘missing children’ come from a reliable source: a family member or police in order to prevent violent men finding victims of their violence and, now, preventing so-called ‘trolls’ for targeting victims of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, due to institutionalised racism and misogyny, police forces don’t always recognise missing children as ‘missing’. BAME children are far more likely to be deemed ‘runaways’ and, therefore, not worth ‘wasting’ police time in searching for them. Mainstream media are equally culpable and are far more likely to share images of white children who are missing. Sometimes social media is the only place actively searching for these children. If a missing child image does not come from a reliable source, you can reverse image research to find the origins of the photo.

In a just and fair world, all missing children would be deemed equally important. Mainstream media would give as much attention to a missing 14-year-old Black boy from London as they do a 13-year-old white girl from Surrey. The police would have appropriate resources to find children and support them – after all, children who do run away from home do so for a reason. Sometimes home is the least safe space for a child. Children, and their mothers, would be able to live free of violence, or the threat therein. Perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions and choices. Family courts would ban violent fathers from using them to continue controlling their former partners. Child contact would be deemed in the best interest of the child based on peer-reviewed research, which clearly shows that children do better without being forced to visit violent fathers.

We don’t live in a just world though. And, until then, we need to take care on social media to ensure that the children labelled missing are actually missing. We need to hold the mainstream media and police to account when they fail to investigate and report on missing BAME children. It is a delicate balance that no one will not always get right every time, because it is hard to believe just how spiteful and malicious online ‘trolls’ are. They depend on our compassion for others, which is why we need to hold the men who posted false images of ‘missing children’ legally culpable, as well as those who commit terrorist attacks. Sharing fake images of ‘missing’ children is a heinous act and it is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls. We need to eradicate all forms and this starts with insisting that spiteful and malicious ‘trolling’ of the victims of violence is a serious criminal act so that no other family has to go through what happened to those impacted by the Manchester bombing: as victims themselves or families like those of Ahmed and Parkinson.

 

First published at Everyday Victim Blaming on 7.6.2017

Voting Labour; even if your local candidate is a bit of a buckethead

My local labour candidate is a nincompoop. As 30 seconds perusing Gordon Munro’s election pamphlet would demonstrate. Not only does he include a rather unnecessary amount of information about his history of swimming and water polo at our local pool, he’s also included a huge photo of himself with George Clooney. Quite why no one questioned the relevance of that photo is anyone’s guess. It is not the worst election pamphlet I’ve seen this time. That honour goes to a UKIP candidate who is strangely obsessed with the types of metal used in a Robin Hood statue.

I’ve been involved in local community organisations in Leith for over a decade. It’s safe to say Munro’s questionable tendencies predate his photo op with Clooney. Munro is fairly well-known for supporting projects that increase his prestige and power – such as his insistence that the Duncan Place Resource Centre closure due to the building being condemned following years of council mismanagement isn’t really a big deal. And, that the programs offered by the DPRC could be transferred easily to the Leith Community Centre, despite it being a third of the size and involving only halls rather than community education classrooms and other specialist facilities. 3 guesses which community centre board Gordon Munro has been involved with over the years.

For years, I’ve been saying that I only voted for Munro because my former Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, could be trusted to squash Munro’s more eyebrow raising decisions. Chisholm retired at the last Scottish Parliament election and was replaced by a male SNP MSP who looks about 12 and has zero understanding of male violence (or even what his own parties policies were on this prior to the election). Since a write-in campaign to have Chisholm elected Prime Minister against his will isn’t an appropriate response to destroying the Tory party, I will be voting for Gordon Munro. I fully intend to be as big a pain in his arse when he’s an MP as he was as a local councillor, even though I appear to be permanently off his Christmas card list now.

I’m voting labour because I’m a single mother with 2 children, an obscene amount of university debt, and a disability that has severely curtailed my ability to work, even part time. Gordon Munro might not be my favourite politician, but neither are my other local councillors Chaz Booth (Green) and Adam McVey (SNP). I do trust Munro on a number of issues that are important to me and I’m perfectly content to spend the next 5 years campaigning to ensure that Munro changes his stance on other policies (provision of community centres, massive investment in the crumbling fabric of school buildings, 3 block radius ban on parking near schools for non-residents, the banning of all men from driving cars in my neighbourhood).

I’m voting Labour because:

I’m also a fan of Labour’s leaked policy expanding abortion rights to women living in Northern Ireland. I’d like them to go even further to remove the “2 doctor mental health’ rule for women accessing abortion in England and Wales (Scotland will be reviewing the rule during his parliament).

I’m going to campaign for Labour to do the following over the next few years:

  • Ban Trident
  • Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia
  • Recognise that the child poverty is due to fathers refusing to pay maintenance, which is a form of child abuse
  • Ring fenced massive investment in schools
  • Ring fenced massive investments in the NHS
  • Ring fenced massive investment in community care
  • Fundamental changes to family courts and child access that recognise that viewing domestic violence against a mother is also child abuse. Children have the right to live free from exposure to violence and that includes violence perpetrated by their fathers
  • Higher corporation taxes
  • More post-secondary training programs for young people
  • End to housing refugees in detention centres (and increasing financial support for asylum seekers)
  • End to charitable status for private schools.
  • Expansion of right to vote to all 16 year olds.

 

I’m voting Labour because we cannot afford another 5 years of Tory rule. Too many people have already died because of Tory policy. My local Labour candidate might make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but he isn’t creating policies that force people into poverty or supporting polices that actively kill people. Perfection is a goal, not a reality in politics. And, right now, we need a labour government more than ever, regardless of whether or not you actively like your local candidate or if you loathe Jeremy Corbyn.

We need a labour government now more than ever.

Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow in May 2014. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable.Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

#womenwrites: “child prostitution, racism, capitalism, misogyny, and queer politics.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute”: a review of the BBC’s Three Girls by Rahila Gupta at  openDemocracy

… The drama was careful to address some of the race, class and gender tropes that have coloured the national debate. Victim blaming is frequent in situations of male violence; in Rochdale it comes from the police who described the girls as coming from “chaotic, council estate backgrounds” (a euphemism for ‘white trash’). The drama’s writer, Nicole Taylor, is careful to counter this narrative by choosing Holly as her protagonist – she is from a middle-class family forced to move to a council home after her father’s business fails. “Chaotic lives” better describes Ruby and Amber whose parents are nowhere to be seen until episode two, when their mother suddenly appears to pick Ruby up from the police station.

The drama also rubbishes the trope that these girls were making “lifestyle choices” as the social worker alleges. Sara Rowbotham, a sexual health worker and the only member of the establishment these girls trusted, argues compellingly that “there is no such thing as a child prostitute, what there is – is a child that is being abused” in trying to get complacent social workers and police to take action. The widely-held view, encouraged by the police officers themselves, that the police were reluctant to take action for fearing of stoking racial tensions just doesn’t hold amid ongoing “stop and search” tactics which target black men, lead to very few arrests and even fewer convictions, and do cause racial tension. My view is that the race argument was a cover for a deep-seated misogyny that these girls were ‘slags’ therefore no police action was required. …

How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation by Clelia O. Rodríguez

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again?

The PWR BTTM debacle demonstrates why queer politics don’t protect women by Jen Izaakson

New York queer punk music duo PWR BTTM, a vowel-less take on “power bottom” (Google that term, if you like), have become the center of controversy, due to multiple allegations of sexual assault levied against guitarist and drummer Ben Hopkins.

On May 4th, Vice dubbed the group, who identify as “queer, non-binary, and transfeminine,” “America’s next great rock band.” One week later, on May 11th, Kitty Cordero-Kolin, a member of the DIY scene in Chicago, posted in a closed Facebook group, alleging that Hopkins had been seen initiating “inappropriate sexual contact with people despite several ‘nos’ and without warning or consent” at shows. This initial post was shared on Reddit, so the story spread, prompting swathes of PWR BTTM fans to come forward, accusing Hopkins of abuse, sexual harassment, preying on minors, and using misogynist slurs. One woman, referred to as “Jen,” told Jezebel that Hopkins raped her after a PWR BTTM show last year.

Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all by Marcie Bianco

… In the age of celebrity feminism and performative male feminists, the idea that feminism is about “equality for all genders” has become increasingly fashionable. And yet, to me, nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all—as if focusing a movement, or policy, or activism on women alone is taboo. Or too risky. The knee-jerk, “all lives matter” refusal to center women in this latest iteration of feminism is, I believe, a significant cause of the stalled gender revolution. We cannot address or end the systemic oppression of women if we refuse to center women in that fight. And that means reconsidering what we mean when we talk about equality and power. …

“Why It Matters That the Portland Killer Was a Far-Left Extremist” by Val Perry Rendel

“Before you #notallBerniebros me, I’m not talking about people who preferred Sanders in the primary but voted for Clinton in the general election; those are known as “rational people.” I’m talking about the people for whom it is an article of religious faith that the primary was rigged, and they are hellbent on vengeance. Corrupt corporate crony capitalism, they cry; to them, the DNC is a bigger threat than Trump, and the entire system is rotten and must be burned to the ground before the new socialist order can be ushered in, or something.”

Whole Foods represents the failures of ‘conscious capitalism‘ by Nicole Aschoff

“Mackey has loudly declared unions akin to herpes and state regulation little more than “crony capitalism” – that all we need to solve things like the climate crisis are better, smarter, “conscious” capitalists. The crisis of Whole Foods belies this notion. There’s no way to “fix” corporations’ compulsion to produce ever more, ever more cheaply. It’s written into the DNA of global capitalism.”

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

… “At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are “different” in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.

“They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not to really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong. …

Why there’s nothing racist about black-only spaces | Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

” …. Some white people have got so upset about their exclusion from parts of the Nyansapo festival, an intersectional black feminist gathering scheduled for 28-30 July in Paris, that the mayor of the city called for the festival to be banned, until organisers clarify details with her, and anti-racist groups have claimed that Rosa Parks would be “turning in her grave” at the event.

In the same week that some men have kicked up a fuss over not being allowed to attend women-only film screenings of Wonder Woman it seems a discussion is needed as to why spaces that are centred around marginalised groups, whether they be women or people of colour, are not racist or sexist.

Unofficial safe spaces have existed for all denominations for centuries, and self-organising has long been a key part of anti-racist and feminist movements. As one of the editors for gal-dem, a magazine and creative collective written and produced exclusively by women of colour, I think about our position of racial exclusivity a lot. In some ways I appreciate it might be difficult to grasp why such spaces feel so necessary. The simplest way to understand why the Nyansapo festival has elements that aren’t open to white people (the festival is split into three areas, one specifically for black women, another for black people, and a third for everyone) is to acknowledge the racism we suffer in western society. There’s no moving forward unless we accept that racism against people of colour is deeply systemic. …”

(Re) Writing Reality: Voices from the front lines of Male Violence

EVB Press is seeking submissions for an edited anthology:

(Re) Writing Reality: Voices from the front lines of Male Violence

Edited by Louise Pennington

Deadline for Abstracts: August 14,  2017

The purpose of this collection is to explore the intersections between the reality of women’s experiences of male violence and the representations of male violence in the media and in policies developed at the local, national and international level, through governments, non-governmental organisations and grassroots activism. We are interested in the personal and cultural impacts of male violence explored through theory, activism, campaigns, and reality of living with and the consequences of male violence.

We encourage submissions of scholarly works, personal testimonies of male violence, and creative works. As such, we welcome submissions from researchers, students, activists, artists, mothers, children, victims, survivors and human rights campaigners.

Topics include the experience of male violence through: domestic violence and abuse, sexual violence and abuse,fatal male violence, rape, rape culture, stalking, harassment, street harassment, child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, financial abuse, emotional abuse, torture, criminal justice system, mothering and male violence, perpetrators, feminist theory, feminist activism, genocide, human rights abuses, rape in war, rape as an act of genocide, racism, intersectionality, globalisation, colonialism, post-colonialism, imperialism, military-industrial complex, capitalism, environment, homophobia and lesbophobia, classism, disablism and ablism, poverty, art, music, television, movies, pornography, objectification, reproductive justice, women’s rights, women’s liberation, so-called revenge porn, popular culture, media representation, government policy, the welfare state and austerity measures.

Submission Guidelines:

Abstracts: Please send a 250-word description of the proposed paper, including a tentative title to louisepennington@hotmail.co.uk. Along with this, please include a 50-100 word biography and your full contact information, including blogs and social media.

Deadline for abstracts is February 1 2017

Full Manuscripts: Please ensure that the manuscript conforms to Chicago style, and is 15-20 pages (double-spaced) in length. Final acceptance of the manuscript for inclusion in the collection rests upon its fit with the rest.

Deadline for full manuscripts is October 21.  2017

To Submit: Please direct all submissions and inquiries to Louise Pennington at louisepennington@hotmail.co.uk

#womenwrites: misogyny, women blaming, women shaming, and racism

An open letter on the Hypatia controversy via @FeministCurrent

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern and outrage over both the recent demand for the retraction of Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” which was published in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy on March 29th, and Hypatia’s temporarily acquiescing to this demand by removing the article in its online form for a period of time.

The open letter to Hypatia (published on April 30), which garnered over 800 signatures of academics from universities within the US and elsewhere, in addition to a handful of writers, was a mean-spirited mischaracterization of a scholar’s work that was conspicuously lacking in any attempt to engage with the primary argument offered therein. Instead, the letter demanded a retraction based on spurious and, in some instances, demonstrably wrong assertions regarding the content of the work. We agree with Jessie Singal’s overall assessment in his article, “This Is What a Modern Day Witch Hunt Looks Like,” and we share his suspicion that despite calling for its retraction, many of the signatories had not read Tuvel’s article before adding their names to the letter. In fact, one must wonder if some of the signatories had even read the open letter to Hypatia given the petition’s absolute defiance to critical inquiry and academic deliberation. …

Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all, by Marcie Bianco  via @qz

The women’s movement has an “equality” problem.

Last semester, I asked my college students to define “feminism.” Everyone bandied about the word “equality”—“equality for women,” “equality for all genders,” “equality in the workplace.” But the class grew quiet when I asked what equality meant, and what it looked like. The word has become an empty signifier, underlying a larger definitional problem in regards to the mainstream women’s movement.

My students knew that strict hiring quotas aren’t an effective, long-term solution to sexism, just as they understood that equality under the law does not ensure the equal treatment of women. In New York City, for example, women can legally walk around topless, but not one of my female students said they would ever take advantage of this legal equality—they didn’t want to risk harassment or assault. …

Tiffany Dufu’s ‘Drop the Ball’: Women Blaming Themselves, Again via @LucyAllenFWR

A quick post, in irritation. Today, I read in the Guardian that women should expect more of their partners, and less of themselves. Not terrible advice (though not really a revelation either). The article is a puff piece for a book I never plan to buy, written by new mother and bringer of epiphanies to the oblivious, Tiffany Dufu. In her book, so we are told, Dufu describes her revelatory experience navigating the return to work after her first child’s birth, and her growing realisation that her partner would have to do some of the work around the home, since they both had full time jobs. The experience that brought on this revelation sounds depressingly familiar. Back from a full day of work, while struggling with breastfeeding difficulties, Dufu heard her husband return home to the meal she had prepared, past the dry-cleaning she had picked up, only to dump his dirty plates in the sink for her to clean. …

How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation by By Clelia O. Rodríguez http://buff.ly/2rtRUWJ

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again? …

Child abductions and torture: Northern Uganda’s forgotten war by Karen Williams  via @WritersofColour

Uganda’s north was the inexplicable war that I first heard about during my London days in the early 1990s.  Reporting on it from Britain, it seemed an unfathomable conflict: bands of children marauding through the countryside, killing people, setting buildings and refugee camps alight and kidnapping other children.

Years later I made my way to Kampala, but there were no explanations there, either: after President Yoweri Museveni ended his war against the previous Ugandan government in 1985, Ugandans outside of the north benefitted from the dividends of peace and the country boomed.  And for many of them, the northern war was elsewhere, over there: the Acholi people were seen as largely animist people with strange customs, who couldn’t rein in their fellow Acholi, Joseph Kony, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  The northern Ugandan war went on for more than two decades, invisible to all but its victims. I spent years in northern Uganda, following the LRA war, drawn back again and again. It was another trail in a lifetime of following mass atrocities and broken children. …

 

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ femaleand the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

Thank you: on train stations, sea lions, and gratitude

Several years ago, I took my daughter to a feminist conference in Newcastle. We had a lovely time. Right up until the very last minute. We were booked on the last train home on the Sunday night. Unfortunately, there was a huge kerfuffle due to an error on the notice boards, which had the last train to London and the last train to Edinburgh leaving at the same time from the same platform. Mistakes happen, but people were very stressed and there was a lot of pushing and shoving from adults. A little girl, no more than 5, standing to the right of me was pushed off the platform under the train that had pulled up. It was one of those moments where time stood still. Every second felt like a million minutes. I froze. The man, who was directly behind my daughter and better in a crisis, knocked my daughter over so he could grab the little girl.

He saved her life.

He also apologised to me for knocking my daughter over.

I caught the apology as I was dealing with my daughter who was in distress. I hope I said something along the lines of ‘don’t worry’ or thank you. I can’t guarantee it though as I was trying to get my kid, our luggage, and help the other mother with her luggage onto the train. I don’t remember if she said thank you to him either. She definitely said thank you once we were all on the train, but the man who saved the little girl wasn’t in the carriage and everyone who was told her not to apologise.

Usually, this memory only comes up when we’re at the Newcastle train station and my travel anxiety levels explode. What kicked off the memory this time is an incident in Canada where a little girl was pulled off a dock by a seal lion. There is some debate as to who was responsible: the child’s guardians for letting her get to close to a wild animal or the people who were feeding the sea lions (which may or may not have been a family member of the little girl). What caught my eye was a media article that quoted a complaint from an eye witness who claimed that the family members didn’t thank those who intervened to rescue the little girl, which seemed rather beside the point. Granted, this could be the media making a mountain out of a molehill or deliberately misrepresenting a comment. Equally, this statement could have been from an eyewitness in shock babbling – certainly it’s the kind of babble I have come out with in difficult situations where my mouth bypasses my brain. And, obviously, it would have been good if the family had said thank you, but none of us really know how we would act in an emergency. Would we rush into help? Phone an ambulance? Provide emergency first aid? Panic?

When did our cultural empathy get permanently lost? – that we worry more about the performance of good manners than actually being kind.Why do we refuse to recognise how different people react to trauma?Why don’t we accept that it’s okay to be so distraught in a moment that we don’t see what is happening in our immediate vicinity; that there is nothing wrong with focusing on an injured, frightened, and wet child to the detriment of having ‘good’ manners. I suspect my reaction would be similar to the family, who left immediately with the child. Because I would be embarrassed and my anxiety response to everything is to hide. Having been severely bullied at school for years and dealing with an emotionally abusive stepparent, I know my trauma reactions in difficult situations (and that feeling in my stomach writing that down). I know that some people have lived lives free from such issues have different reactions. I’m just not sure how we’ve arrived at a place where the performance of perfection is more important than giving people the space to process events.

If this story is as stated in the media and you agree with the bystander’s main complaint that a frightened person should have expressed sufficient gratitude, you probably want to review your priorities. A little bit of kindness goes a long way.

Justin Trudeau is not a Feminist Superhero: Part II

French President Emmanuel Macron has fulfilled an election pledge for gender parity in his cabinet. Obviously, this is a good thing. Unless you read the Huffington Post who credit Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, with the phrase ‘pulls a Trudeau’ in the headline. Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 13.33.49

Because no one ever thought about gender parity before Justin Trudeau. Who is now a God among men: what with his constant photo ops with pandas and taking his kid to work. Obviously, Trudeau clearly spent the entire day balancing childcare and being Prime Minister. And, had no help whatsoever from anyone.

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 13.41.43

 

The Huffington Post cleverly forgets to mention that the previous French President, Francois Hollande, also had a cabinet that was 50% women.* Or, the years of feminist activism and policy development on the importance of gender parity. Because only men count.

The constant referencing of Justin Trudeau as a feminist superhero is so beyond tedious that I can’t quite understand how many people believe this. For the record, having gender parity in your cabinet does not make you a feminist; nor does taking your kid to work when you are the boss in a building full of staff capable of caring for your kid.

Before you start banging on about how feminist Trudeau is, it’s worth checking out his environmental record. After all, Trudeau wouldn’t have joined the protestors at Standing Rock, he’d be with Trump signing off on yet another environmental disaster that is destroying the lands of Indigenous Peoples.

Using Trudeau’s name as a signifier for feminism erases the real work of women globally to end the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It ignores his sale of arms to the Saudi government and his full support of pipelines and the Tar Sands. Trudeau is a hypocrite. Not a feminist.

*  Clearly, I always knew this. And, did not come across this information in a comment on twitter.

 

Part One is here.