#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? …

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