by Guest Blogger // 10 December 2013, 08:30
Today, 10 December, is Human Rights Day 2013. Guest blogger Angelique Mulholland has written this powerful post about FGM and gender inequality. Angelique is a writer for The Pixel Project and a women's human rights activist. She can be found on Twitter at @LeakyM.
CONTENT NOTE for descriptions of FGM and gender based violence.
"No one wants to marry a girl who's like an open supermarket." - Young man from a practising FGM community, The Cruel Cut, Channel 4
"Rape has become normal and inevitable." - Report "If only someone had listened" by The Office for the Children's Commissioner
Today is Human Rights Day and Michael Gove, I want you to know that boys are not born misogynistic monsters. Men who rape do not enter the world with a mission to annihilate the rights and bodies of women. Female Genital Mutilation perpetrators are not pre-destined to torture and mutilate little girls.
Those who commit and perpetuate gender based violence are influenced by the culture in which they live, and a society which deems women worth less than men. To end violence against women and girls, we need to start educating our children about gender equality and gender based violence.
Watching Channel 4's "The Cruel Cut" was an experience. An inspirational yet heartbreaking experience. Leyla Hussain, FGM survivor and activist, take us on a journey and educates us about Female Genital Mutilation. FGM is one of the most extreme forms of gender based violence prevalent in many countries today, including the UK. There are four different types of FGM; but the practice mostly involves the outer parts of the vagina being removed, without medical purpose, and without anesthetic.
At one terrible, memorable point in the documentary, we hear the excruciating sobs and screams of a little girl having the most delicate, sensitive part of her body - her clitoris - hacked away from her. Nothing prepares you for the screams of this innocent little girl. We know Leyla, our bubbly presenter, was once that little girl. The injustice of what is done to her body is overwhelming. You not only want to sign Leyla's petition to end this - you want to jump into the TV and scream at the adults around her. And it's clear I wasn't the only person in Britain who was moved by her pain. Leyla's petition has sky rocketed with signatures and it is just a few thousand shy of the 100,000 needed for FGM to be debated in parliament.
The little girl's cries of pain are deeply moving; yet for me, they are not the most powerful part of the documentary. Leyla conducts a lesson on FGM with a group of young men from practising communities - and their reaction - tells us everything we need to know on ending gender based violence and securing the rights of women and girls. The most powerful part of the documentary demonstrates the power of education.
Before the lesson, the young men are interviewed on their perception of FGM. In their communities, FGM is a ritual which is supposed to ensure the purity, virginity and cleanliness of a girl. It proves she is not promiscuous. (Indeed, sex is likely to become too painful for the young victim and it's highly probable she will not enjoy sex with one person, let alone many). The boys start off confident, cocky and perpetuate the same old, tired sexist attitudes that exist in all patriarchal societies. "I don't want to marry a girl who has been around the block." Virginity and 'purity' surmises a girl's worth. Their words are cutting and derogatory. "No one wants to marry a girl who's like an open supermarket". Their future wives are not to be judged on their intellect, work ethic, personality or humanity. No - it's whether she has or hasn't had sex. Like with the staggering unfairness in all patriarchal societies, it is clear that men and women are not judged by the same standards.
Cue Leyla, a pair of garden shears and 3 giant plasticine vaginas. She tells the boys that they are going to learn exactly what happens when a young girl, a potential future wife, is made 'clean' and 'pure'. How is a girl moulded into good old fashioned wife material? Leyla starts to stab, cut and hack away at the vaginas as she explains the different types of FGM. The boys wince and look away. Leyla wills them to watch the re-enactment of what happens every time a little girl from their community is so cruelly violated to prove her worth. Two of them walk out distressed. One of them feels "dizzy." The ones who remain are shocked and upset. Leyla asks, "Will you join my campaign to end FGM?" "Yes, yes, yes" they stammer. One of the boys then asks, "Why aren't our elders doing something about this?"
Leyla's lesson shows the transformative power of education. The young men had no idea what FGM really entailed. They placed the value of a girl from their community with whether her hymen (the highly prized yet useless piece of skin) was still intact. After this lesson, the young girls in their communities, their future wives, become human beings; not vessels of chastity and honour. "What are we doing to our babies? What are we doing?" exclaims one of the boys.
Leyla's lesson shows the power of education to end violence. The frustratingly unused, untapped power of education.
Why aren't our elders doing something about this?
FGM is not the only form of gender based violence that is being ignored by those who have the power to create systemic change.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner published a report on 25th November, International Day for Elimination of Violence against women, that states that 'rape has become the norm' in many communities throughout the UK. It also states that young girls and boys have no idea what consent means. Many young men get their education from porn sites where women are routinely beaten, violated and humiliated during sex. Sexual violence against women in porn has become the norm. Sexual violence against women and girls, in many communities, has become the norm.
All patriarchal societies have a role to play in developing the misogynistic monsters that annihilate the rights of women and girls. Gender based violence feeds on a society where women and girls are less. It thrives in a world where a girl's worth is determined by how many men she has slept with. It positively flourishes in a society where the most well-read newspaper publishes pictures of a woman's tits, rather than her opinion on subjects that matter. It succeeds in a country where girls are trafficked to fill a demand for "commercial sex" and the men who pay to rape the young victims are not prosecuted.
It's Human Rights Day and Michael Gove, I want you to know that boys who grow up to rape and commit gender based violence are not born misogynistic monsters. Until we start educating our children on gender equality, healthy sexual relationships and basic human rights - gender based violence will continue to thrive.
Agree? Tweet this article to @commonsED (hashtags are #AskGove and #care). The @commonsED committee will be taking questions between now and Thursday at 5pm; details can be found at the UK Parliament website.
Image attribution and description: The public domain image at the head of this post is called menschenrechte, which means 'human rights' in English. It shows a blue pictogram which may be seen as representing either the hand of friendship or the dove of peace and was found at the website of the German Embassy in Lusaka.
by Lynne Miles // 9 December 2013, 10:41
I posted a call for volunteers to take on a monthly guest blogging slot during 2014 last week. We've had loads of great responses already, so thank you. If you haven't applied yet, but would like to do so, please email me by Friday.
Image, courtesy of Stephan Rebernik, depicts an (assumed) older white woman partially visible behind a laptop. It is shared under a creative commons license.
by Shiha Kaur // 9 December 2013, 10:33
Welcome to this week's round-up and open thread. The following are links that we have found that might interest you. If you have found anything that you think other readers will enjoy, please add links in the comments section below. As usual, please note that a link here doesn't imply endorsement or agreement, and some links might be triggering.
Domestic violence services 'at breaking point' (BBC)
"Child Taken from Womb by Social Services" - What is going on? (Scriptonite Daily)
It's not the caesarean but the adoption that is an act of violence(Guardian)
How mothers with mental health issues are forced to give up their children(Guardian)
French lower house backs new prostitution law(Reuters)
The radical ideological background of slave women suspects (with comment from a leading cult and mind control expert)(Telegraph)
Police officer accused of assaulting student at University of London protest (Guardian)
Young people 'angry at sexist peer culture in Wales' researchers say
How Nelson Mandela helped free the women of South Africa (Telegraph)
Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel(OKWONGA)
Don't Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He's Honored Now, But Was Hated Then(The Daily Beast)
Lulu: Fake feminism for the 'hashtag generation'.A new app, wrought with vulgarity and lack of empathy, showcases the worst of female empowerment. (AlJazeera)
This is not intersectionality (Glosswatch)
Multiple arrests as hundreds of student protesters clash with police in central London(Telegraph)
Content note: includes transphobic language andhate speech Hey, she was just a ho: Sick bid by killer's lawyer (New York Post)
Content Note: includes transphobia and violence Attorney: Transgender murder victim's life not as valuable as higher class victims (LGBTQ Nation)
Women MPs 'face sexist gestures' in the Commons (BBC)
24 Years On: Never Forgetting the Montreal Massacre(Ms Magazine)
Policewoman jailed after falsely claiming prosecutors had dropped rape case (Independent)
WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison: 'How can you take Pierre Omidyar seriously?'(Guardian)
About queer women, families and holidays (Black Girl Dangerous)
Content note: brief reference to child smacking Gendered toys - a transgendered perspective (Let Toys Be Toys)
Childlessness is a political, as well as deeply personal, issue(Guardian)
Grace Hopper, 'mother' of Cobol, lands a Google doodle(Guardian)
Second woman faces deportation after sex claim against Yarl's Wood staff (Guardian)
Image shows a ponsettia plant with red leaves. Picture taken by Flikr user geradov. Used under a Creative commons License.
by Carrie Dunn // 8 December 2013, 16:32
Katherine Williams is intrigued by The Tattooist by Louise Black, a sinister insight into a controlling, cruel obsessive
I mostly avoided all the furore surrounding 50 Shades of Grey (I was going to read it for 'educational purposes' once, but after a quick skim in HMV I saw enough to make me change my mind...), so when the call-out came to review The Tattooist by Louise Black, I thought I would push the proverbial boat out and dip my toe into the murky waters of erotica -- if The Tattooist can be accurately labelled as such, or 50 Shades for that matter...
It tells the tale of Fabrice, a tattooist working in Paris, and the lives of the three women he seduces (or abuses); Xanthe, an alcoholic abuse survivor; Yoshiko, a naive Japanese student and Zairah, who suffers from an eating disorder.
Fabrice is obsessed with the notion of transcendence and believes he is some kind of modern alchemist; he lives a sparse, holistic life that he thinks makes him the perfect man and, with the right elements, hopes his 'alchemy' can 'create' a perfect woman.
by Laura // 6 December 2013, 17:14
On the 4th December police raided 25 premises in Soho and evicted, detained and harassed sex workers. They kicked down doors, closed working flats, took money and personal items, and manhandled women in the street in front of the photographers and news crews they invited to witness this violence and intimidation. The media presence included Sky news, BBC and the Evening Standard. It would seem that "victims" of sex work need to be publicly humiliated and shamed in the media in order to be properly saved from their work.
The raids were supposedly undertaken in order to locate "stolen goods" and to tackle "prostitution" (despite the fact that selling sex is not actually a crime) and to 'tackle' human trafficking. A number of migrant sex workers, many of whom have lived in the UK for years, have - devastatingly - been conveyed to the UKBA detention centre at Heathrow; this, despite having reassured police that they had not been trafficked into the country, and were working voluntarily. Other women were instructed to appear in court the next morning. The charges against them are not yet known.
The closure of working flats will mean that women have lost their peer support network, and their regular clients who they know to be safe. They will also now be working in locations unknown to outreach and health services, and will be less likely to access services - or report crimes against them - for fear of being forcibly detained or arrested as either a "victim" or a criminal. They will have to continue to work, but may now have to work alone or outdoors, exposing them to greater risk. Amy, a sex worker within SWOU noted, "if we're talking about 'greater risk', people should know, and should see from these events, that those who are supposed to 'protect' us often pose the greatest risk to us. This is the case both directly and indirectly - directly, when the cops kick down our doors, drag us onto the street, and facilitate our humiliation; indirectly, when they signal to those who might wish to target us, that we don't deserve the protection of the law, that we can't report. The cops make us targets twice over". The lasting effect of the raids will be increased risk, fear, violence and instability for these women, and many others like them.
"Elisa", a migrant sex worker, said, "This is all so frightening. This backlash is spreading across Europe. It is more and more clear to me - seeing the German debates now too - that it all is an attempt to silence and marginalise mostly migrant workers, specifically women, because if sex work was decriminalised and our work made safer, migrant women would achieve a place in society that they are not desired to have. Migrant women in the sex industry have to be victimised, silent, invisible (though sensationalised and exposed at the same time when it needs to be for propaganda, and to add that spice), and better stay at home."
Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes, said: "It is outrageous that the police are raiding premises where women are working together safely and collectively with friends. The police must know that some women will end up working on the street as a result, where it is much more dangerous. Most of the women thrown out of premises are mothers and grandmothers who have now lost their livelihood."
"Nic", a sex worker in Soho, said, "I feel so frightened. This is on my doorstep. Will I be next? That the police brought the press with them demonstrates so much why we need the only legal framework that reduces, rather than increases, police power over us. Who can look at these events and think the police are using their power respectfully, appropriately, non-abusively? This is violence against women, that the mainstream women's movement turns it's head from. We need full decriminalisation, including of our clients and our workplaces, because that is THE ONLY legal context in which we are not at the mercy of these abusive and traumatic policing tactics; where we are not at risk of being dragged out onto the street. Sex work is work - we're already in mainstream trade unions. This is so frightening - we need solidarity".
by Holly Combe // 5 December 2013, 09:26
Marta Owczarek sees this Mercury-nominated act live and finds a performance that is full of conviction, with no hesitation and no second-guessing.
Savages have been hyped for over a year now, with a line of sold out shows and the super anticipated full-length Silence Yourself, which is getting plenty of appreciation from London record shops (number one at Sister Ray and number two at Rough Trade). The Mercury Prize critics didn't go with this, but someone clearly did and booked Savages to play The Kentish Town Forum, their biggest show to date. If this is a band who has never played to an audience this big before, they're either lying or naturals. Their confidence shines brighter than the lights, and those are really something else too.
The Forum is absolutely packed from the very beginning and, for whatever reason, all those guestlisted are sent straight up to the balcony, so crowdsurfing opportunities are extremely limited -- jumping off wouldn't be too bad, height-wise, but not very wise in general as the mixing desk is immediately below. Still, from that elevated perspective, the venue looks particularly huge and theatre-like, with some vaguely Ancient Greek ornamentation. There's never a big venue gig without technical issues but, here, those are limited to the support slot of A Dead Forest Index, which is unfortunately the opposite of spot-on. But once Savages are on stage, everything goes dark, then light and then awesome...
Jehnny Beth stands astride onstage at The Forum, with her left leg slightly raised, holding up the microphone in her right hand. She wears a long-sleeved white top with black baggy trousers and looks down, with a serious expression, over her right shoulder. The stage is filled with dry ice smoke, giving a grey wash to the background. By Paul Hudson, shared under a Creative Commons License.
by Ania Ostrowska // 3 December 2013, 15:18
Marta also got to interview the film's creator Shomshuklla, "an impressive figure: a playwright, actress and director with her own theatre company Kali Theatre, a prolific poet with many published volumes and a famous classical Indian and Indian pop singer as well... She came up with the story of Sheila, a modern upper-middle class Indian housewife who seems to have it all but yearns for a writing career, authored the script and directed the feature, all for the first time in the service of the Tenth Muse."
You can find more information on the Sandcastle's website.
The image is a cinematic poster for Sandcastle, a watercolour of two female faces, taken from the film's Facebook fanpage.
by Lynne Miles // 3 December 2013, 11:37
Once again we're planning on running a programme of monthly guest bloggers at TFW over 2014. If you've ever wanted to voice your opinions here, this is your chance.
The gig is a one-month long slot during which you could blog much as you'd like. We would love it if you would blog once a week or more, but we recognise everyone has their own personal circumstances which may make that difficult. You'll be given support and guidance by an assigned 'buddy' from the collective. We have a written guide for guest bloggers explaining what's what. You don't have to have perfect English; what you have to say is more important than being a fancy writer.
If you're keen, please email me. Tell us a bit about you and what sort of things you would like to write about, and anything else you think will interest us! Alternatively, if you would like to recommend someone else, please feel free to suggest them, with contact details if you have them.
We're open to anyone who applies but are particularly interested in views, topics and perspectives that are currently under-represented on the blog, particularly intersectional perspectives. This could be older women, sex workers, women of minority ethnicities (including Black, Asian, migrant or refugee women and women of dual or multiple ethnic heritage), disabled women, trans* women, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer women, male feminists, socialist feminists or just someone keen to write about about a topic that you think we should feature more frequently. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list - please don't be put off from emailing us if you're interested but don't identify with the perspectives above; particularly if you feel your perspective is currently under-represented in the feminist blogosphere.
We can't promise a slot to everyone - we'll try to set a programme over the next year that is as varied as possible. If you've emailed us in the past about being a guest blogger but haven't heard anything then please do put your hand up again.
Last year for the first time we were approached by a campaign group to take a monthly slot, something we hadn't previously considered (but were pleased to host). We will consider other such groups in future where they're relevant, but we will want to keep the balance more towards individual posters, so we can't guarantee any campaign groups a slot. If your groups wants to host multiple authors during your slot we will ask you to 'curate' this from your end and provide a single point of contact for us. As with all site content, hosting campaign group content doesn't imply editorial endorsement unless explicitly stated.
Finally, a reminder that outside of the monthly guest blogging programme, everyone is still very welcome to submit features, reviews and one-off guest blog posts at any time to The F Word as normal; please see here for more details.
Image, courtesy of Stephan Rebernik, depicts an (assumed) older white woman partially visible behind a laptop. It is shared under a creative commons license.
by Guest Blogger // 2 December 2013, 12:27
Katharine S. compares attitudes to feminism at her new high school in Kansas with those of her former classmates in London.
Finding out my family was moving us halfway across the world, from London all the way to Kansas, was daunting to say the least. Doing my last two years of high school surrounded by Midwestern teenagers? I couldn't think of anything more terrifying. What if my classmates made fun of me? What if my lessons were too difficult? What if, as my friends put it, they tried to "Stepford wife" me? It'd only been a couple of years since I'd developed an interest in feminism, and I feared Kansas would be a deadly antidote to my newfound interest.
Well, the good news is, I've been here four months and I still have 'My Pussy My Choice' stuck on my wall. I haven't let my interest in feminism dwindle, but have become increasingly aware of my classmates' reactions whenever the f-word leaves my lips. They laugh and ruffle my hair. "Oh Katharine," they say, "You're so cute."
I think the time it hit me hardest was when I was in a class discussion about internet shaming and I tried to make the point that slut-shaming is a cause of rape. The guy next to me looked at me like I had lost the plot. I attempted to explain the way the word "slut" creates rape culture and victim-blaming, allowing a society in which men believe that rape is okay. But no one was listening. The guy laughed scornfully, said "you're ridiculous" and changed the subject. I realised that apparently most high school students don't grasp that feminism extends beyond claiming the right to vote. Maybe that's why they think I'm so over-dramatic. It's because, in their minds, feminism is no longer needed. Women already have equality: "You can go to university and wear trainers - what more do you want?"
I find that even when one of my peers seems to be engaged and educated in women's rights, she'll still shy away from actually calling herself a feminist outright. We'll discuss everything from women in the army to female representation on Saturday Night Live but as soon as I identify myself as a feminist, she'll say, "Oh I don't know about that, I'm not radical or anything, I don't hate men."
And so then I wondered to myself, what is it that makes girls here cringe away from the word "feminist," while many girls in London label themselves with pride? The first idea that comes to mind is, of course, the way feminists are ridiculously caricatured in the media, burning bras and attacking beauty pageants. But it has to be more than that; could it be the fact that perhaps the girls here just were not exposed to the things girls back in London were exposed to from such a young age?
The young driving age in Kansas means I've barely walked the streets at night at all, and when I have I've never once felt threatened. Perhaps girls here have never had to jog the long way home to avoid that group of builders and their catcalls, or walk on a winter evening with their hands clenched around their keys in their pocket.
Since I've been here I've only had one girl openly and freely identify herself as a feminist - and interestingly enough, this girl didn't grow up in sheltered suburbia, but lived in a capital city abroad until she was fourteen - well enough time to experience just how scary being a woman in today's society can be.
I think that's the reason. I, like so many other young women in London, clung to feminism as a shield, because being a part of something so huge and powerful made me feel less vulnerable in my everyday life. The girls in this town aren't ignorant or backwards. They're smart, confident young women; I just think that most of them have never been driven to realise just how unfairly the odds are stacked against them.
Photo of sign reading "Welcome to Kansas" by J. Stephen Conn, shared under a Creative Commons licence.
by Helen G // 2 December 2013, 08:45
Here's this week's open thread for discussion and our regular round-up of some of the articles and blogs we've noticed over the last week or so, but not had time to post about.
If you have a link or comment that doesn't fit anywhere else and would like to share it, feel free to drop it in the comments here.
CONTENT WARNING: This post contains links to external websites and blogs, some of which have comment threads and other material which some people may find triggering. The links here are posted in good faith but, as The F-Word has no control over the content of external sites, readers are advised to use their discretion and approach them with due caution.
DON'T SHOOT THE MESSENGER CLAUSE: The inclusion of any link in this post should not be construed as agreement or disagreement with its content by anyone at The F-Word. Links are posted for information and/or discussion purposes only and do not reflect any form of "official TFW party line" on any subject because there is no "official TFW party line".
- Everyday Sexism Project's findings on maternity discrimination (Mumsnet)
- All hail the vampire-archy: what Mark Fisher gets wrong in 'Exiting the vampire castle' (Ray Filar, Our Kingdom)
- 4OYS: Woman claims officer sprayed mace on genitals (KOB4)
- True Story: A Photoshopping Site Stole My Selfie Off Instagram And Gave Me A "Makeover" (The Frisky)
- Sexual violence in parts of UK 'as bad as in warzones' (Guardian, Society)
- After speaking out against FGM, I faced a backlash. That's why we all need to stand together (Nimko Ali, New Statesman)
- The politics of Rihanna's hair: Her AMA do was a powerful form of resistance (Salon)
- Prison Rape Jokes and Rape Culture (shamelessnavelgazing blog)
- 'I can't go home tonight': supporting survivors of domestic violence (The Toast)
- From the private to the public sphere: new research on women's participation in peace-building (Oxfam GB, Policy & Practice)
- Invisible People: LGBT Lithuanians to 'Come Out' En Masse in Defiance of Anti-Gay Laws (Scriptonite Daily)
- Sexism is daily reality for girls, says Girlguiding UK (BBC News)
- UN adopts landmark resolution on Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders (ISHR)
- 5 benefit changes the government don't want you to know about (New Statesman)
- Evan Rachel Wood attacks ratings body for cutting cunnilingus scene from new film (The Independent)
- Meet the Woman Who Waged an Artistic War Against Her Street Harassers (Mother Jones)
- Southern Poverty Law Center: Monitor Gender Identity Watch as a Hate Group (change.org)
- How to be a feminist according to stock photography (22 Words)
- Women and the Internet (A four-part series by Quinn Norton at Medium)
This week's closing video is 'I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry' by Rachel Newton from her 2012 album The Shadow Side:
Image attribution and description: The image at the head of this post is called Autumn leaves. It shows a selection of autumn leaves and was found at Eva Ekeblad's Flickr photostream. It is used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.