Bringing you regular rage against the patriarchy, drenched in sarcasm and capslocks #FEMINISTFRIDAY

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

The Colour of Sexism

A long time ago, when I was about 14, I got a book out from the library entitled “Black British Feminism”. I did not get the book because I was interested in feminism or because I wanted to learn about the history of the black women’s movement. I, shamefully, took the book out because it sounded strong and powerful and I was listening to the Destiny’s Child album at the time (possibly still on tape, possibly recorded off the radio). Regardless, it was a good thing that happened that day.

From that book, I learnt about why black feminism exists and why it needs to start from a different place. A black women needs to reject everything thrown at her through consumerism and start by accepting the colour of her skin. Before accepting the size or shape of her body, before accepting her intellect or her capabilities, she needs to accept the skin she is in. Think about how fundamental that is. The fight combines sexism and racism. How exhausting.

But it started me thinking about my skin and what that means for me. I very quickly disliked the favorability that existed towards fairer skin in the Asian community. Out of all of my sisters I have the darkest skin tone. When I was younger I used to pretend that I was swapped at birth and actually belonged to Aretha Franklin or Woopie Goldberg (I never quite got around to figuring out how she may have lost her new born in a hospital…in Scotland, but that’s by the by). Since then, I’ve decided that I was blessed with this skin because the heavens above (or whatever) wanted to give me another reason to be an activist.

The Asian community (and I’m led to believe many other Black communities) have a preference for fairer skin. It’s believed to be more beautiful. How does that even make sense? You’re black, it’s your heritage, it’s literally, in your DNA to not be white. Yet, that’s what’s better.

My aunt once bought me a gift. It was a tube of something called ‘Fair and Lovely’ a product which originated in India and sells out. Have a look.

Yeah. That just happened. She gave this to me when I was about 18 and very, very, mouthy. Not had a ‘gift’ from her since.

But the thing is, I am mouthy and proud of it. Not everyone is. Not everyone has picked up a book in their younger years and randomly learnt about feminism or had people around them who accepted them just as they are. Think about the young black* girl who is bombarded with images of beauty which are thin, hairless, blonde and white. That’s beautiful. That isn’t her. Don’t get me wrong, there is now, more than ever before, diversity in magazines, on the catwalk and in films, but not nearly enough. And even this diversity has been photoshopped, bleached, straightened and dyed to look more white and to look more beautiful. This issue isn’t new, it’s been happening since ‘diversity’ appeared on our screens. Here’s one example about Beyonce.

This all came about again recently because my niece was comparing herself to her friends, as we all do, and without realising it, talked about their paleness whilst describing their beauty. I stopped her and asked why that was part of her description and she said “A lot of my black friends, like that they are pale, some of them wear lighter foundation to look paler, I’ve always thought I’m too dark”.

Sigh. I was under the naive illusion (hope) that this was a cultural issue that existed in the generation before mine and we were leaving behind. Apparently not.

It’s an issue that exists today and one I think feminism and black feminists need shout about more. Young black girls have enough to deal with as they grown up to be women, they will face inequalities and, hopefully, fight them. They will be told they are not good enough and become exhausted proving themselves. But what are they meant to do when they are told their skin isn’t the right colour? It’s not ok and something I intend to discuss with every young black women in my family now and in my family in the future. I want young girls to grown up feeling strong, powerful and equal, regardless of their size, their shape or the beautiful colour of their skin.

I found this on Facebook (where I gather most of my knowledge) and think it gets across just how big a deal this issue is. It illustrates that this isn’t just about what colour is more beautiful but how children distinguish morality and likability by black V white.

How sad.

* note: when using the term black I refer to individuals of Asian, Arab, African and Caribbean descent


Porn: When did it become acceptable?

It’s a controversial topic and one that I was unsure of how to approach with my niece. Turns out, I didn’t have to start the conversation.

She’s home from university for the summer (I think that’s the right word) holidays. She came over to mine and we were sitting watching TV. I try to let that happen on occasions, otherwise there is the distinct possibility she becomes tired of the sound of my voice. So it’s the middle of a weekday and nothing is on, accept, of course, several episodes of the sitcom ‘Friends’.

You know ‘Friends’ right? Gentle comedy that used to grace us on channel 4 primetime, Rachel’s famous haircut, Joey’s silly womanizing and their slightly incestuous ways with one another. What hilarity. The show had its golden years, and then slowly dropped down the list of money-making channels, first E4, now Paramount Comedy and soon, channel Yesterday (quite apt). Friends is one of those shows that I switch on in the background and no longer laugh at, because I know what’s coming, but hey, it’s better than switching the TV off and actually having to ask your loved one how their day was.

It’s 2.30 in the afternoon and we were watching this episode – if you can’t be bothered watching, it’s the one where Monica thinks Chandler is into Shark Porn. My niece watched it, then turned to me and then back to the TV. I had no idea what was going on, I just hoped to God she wasn’t about to ask me if shark porn was real. But she then said this:

“How come this is on in the middle of the day and their depicting porn on it as something normal and acceptable – surely porn isn’t a thing to publicise?”

Now, I didn’t really have anything to say for a few seconds, because at this point I was wondering, why that hadn’t occurred to me and wondering how I had become so immune to what is a really valid point. I also realised I had been watching Friends since the age of 12.

In this episode, not only is it a funny anecdote, which to be honest, it sometimes can be, but it portrays a wife going to lengths to be part of her husbands ‘porn fantasies’ and being relieved when she realises it’s just “normal porn”. Just normal porn. wow.

That episode used to be on at primetime, so 9pm ish and is now on at 2.30 in the afternoon. I can understand why my niece asked this question.

Porn is one most contentious issues in feminist debates. To some it’s anti-feminist, to others it’s about choice and sexual freedom. Well, to the latter: you’re wrong. At this point if you disagree or are an arrogant male reader, you’ll say I am anti-sex and anti fun. You’re wrong there too. I am anti-exploitation – and an industry mainly owned by men, which makes money from sexual violence towards women is exploitative. Fact.

You’d think the debate would end there, but bizarrely it doesn’t. I embrace the debate and welcome the conversation of those who disagree, but in all of these conversations, I have never left feeling that my mind has broadened in any way or that I have a shifted my view-point. I have, however, always left feeling quite sad and lost for words. Porn isn’t feminist. By its very definition and by the industry in which it exists, it cannot be.

I’ve been to anti pornography training, which actually showed me more than I think I wanted to see, but was necessary to get the point across. How can we accept an industry which promotes objectification of women. If you were to google porn (if you’re at work or under the age of 18 – please, please do not actually do this) there are millions of sites, all of which use derogatory words towards women and are angled to men. How can we justify and industry which come with a list of categories which include, ‘rough and violent’, ‘slave’ or perhaps the one I was most uncomfortable with – “underage and willing”?

I’m amazed that this is a divisive issue in feminist circles. I just don’t understand how it can be. You can use the line: women should be entitled to choose this as an occupation, but the fact remains, choice isn’t usually how they get there. Countless research papers have provided evidence that women in pornography have been victims of violence and abuse, furthermore, research has also found signficant links between abuse in relationships and men who watch porn regularly (for more info on this go to the excellent organisation object’s website)

And let’s think about what the women look like in porn. Aside from the repulsive, school girl look, they are all hair free and more often than not, injected with a mighty lot of plastic. What is a teenage boy meant to think? False advertising mate, women don’t look like that, and more importantly, they’re not meant to. Poor, sad, confused teenage boy. What part of this is ok? None of it seems ok to me.

So thank you, producers and directors of Friends (who, I presume have all retired by now), you made a conversation that could have been difficult, somewhat easier, but could you have a read at this and then ask yourselves, why you put it in your show and more importantly, how something with such a derogatory beginning became so acceptable in the end.

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