talatyaq

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

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Faux feminism, Islamophobia and that article

I thought I was done for the year. I really did, but then Twitter reared its ugly head and I found myself having “debates” (that’s me being polite) about an issue which is in fact, a non issue.
Yesterday, The Guardian published this from Laurie Penny. Here’s the summary: There are bigots who abuse feminism as a mechanism to spread their hate of Islam.
What happened after was a release of hate towards the article for quite frankly writing about the accurate and obvious. How on earth can we take seriously the sentence “save Britain from radical Islamic sexism, women deserve better” from someone holding up a banner saying “Burn mosques” any other day. Bigotry is bigotry, even when it uses the mask of feminism to make itself more palatable.
But I was uncomfortable with some of the article, and I understood some of the (real) feminist backlash (although I would have preferred it to be a backlash leading to a debate rather than the, all to common personal attack, of “my feminism is better than yours”).
Firstly, and possibly most importantly, this article would have had more value coming from a Muslim feminist. If anything we should be pointing the finger at this and wondering where these voices are in mainstream media – much of the same happened during the niqab debate.
Secondly, Laurie seems to pit one type of sexism against the other. She mentions gender segregation in Universities as a lesser issue being used to create Islamic hate, which for some it will be, any ammunition for racism. But gender segregation is, to me, a big issue, and when Universities UK puts out guidance which gives more importance to the religious belief of one speaker than an audience with women, we have a problem. We also have a problem when Universities UK puts feminism in inverted commas. It is a threat to what public spaces look like for women.
Thirdly, whether western sexism or religious sexism, all of it needs to be eradicated. The most pertinent line in the article is this:
We are the fools, if we believe that accepting aggressive distinctions between nice, safe western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism is going to serve the interests of women.
We cannot stand by and allow Islam, or any religion, to be purposefully interpreted in a way to allow disadvantage and often atrocities against women. I don’t care where in the world it’s happening and what shape or severity it takes. Equally, we cannot and will not allow racists and misogynists to use the feminist movement as a tool to fake their support of women and spread their vile agenda.

Here’s the deal: Laurie Penny wasn’t telling us that she is turning a blind eye to the sexism in the misused culture around Islam, she’s telling us that we can’t let one silence us or let us turn a blind eye, to western sexism. Where she may have got some of it wrong was is in the way she chose to express it. What we need are feminist Muslim women getting their opinions on the platforms they deserve to be on and we need to push the fight against all shades of sexism, no matter where or who it comes from and no matter how uncomfortable it seems.

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2013; The Good, The Bad, The Change Making

Well, somehow we have got to the end of 2013, and it’s time to reflect and consider how on earth the last 12 months went by so quickly, particularly without the rage finally getting to me and ending in throwing my laptop out the window, feminist rock star style.

The purpose of this blog was originally a place for me to get angry after the BBC’s 2011 list of top women, and was meant to be a one off, but since has become a much bigger part of my life as it has since become a place to write about the feminist conversations with my nieces – which I adore, and apprarently some of you do too – so thanks for your comments, tweets and posts.

sandwichBut let’s look back and see what happened in 2o13,

I’m going to write you a sh*t sandwich….

The Good; Feminist excellence that has given us hope and strengthened the movement:

Malala: I don’t need write much of an introduction; but from 2012 local campaigning to allow girls to be educated in Pakistan lead to her being hunted and shot by the Taliban, Malala came to be operated on in the UK and started her education there. Throughout the last year, she continued to campaign for girls rights, was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, addressed the United Nations, had her biography launched and casually went on a speaking tour with Gordon Brown. She is 16. (Just for the record, I managed to get up AND got to work…so we’re all achievers….sigh)

Wendy Davis:  became a hero in my feminist history by staging a filibuster in the senate house lasting a phenomenal 11 hours. She was staging a protest to prevent the passing of a bill that would see almost 90% of the abortion clinics be shut down in the name of “protecting women and children” read as “interfering in a woman’s body, because that’s exactly where a government should be, in your lady bits” 

Caroline Lucas: Aside from being an excellent MP, Caroline Lucas led a debate on removing The Sun from the House of Commons whilst it published it’s degrading Page 3, took on grumpy old men who know nothing about women’s liberation and equality and did it all whilst wearing a “No More Page 3” t-shirt, breaking a whole lot of boring rules, and making Westminster debates a lot more exciting.

Next Year’s Oscars: We had “We saw your boobs” in this year’s Oscars where Seth McFarlane decided to degrade the talent of women actors to their breasts. Nice work, you cheap -shot- shooting, comedy- lacking prat. However the silver lining being that Oscar big bosses are considering going in the Golden Globe direction and having an all women hosting panel form 2014 (the first ever in 86 years)

Chime for Change: So I can’t say that the event didn’t cause me turmoil – its a mixed message to talk about empowerment and on the same stage sexualise women artists, but let’s just take it at face value, because on paper, we had Beyone, Madonna, John Legend and Florence and the Machine, coming together to campaign and raise funds for health, education and empowerment of girls and women. That’s pretty damn cool.

Doc Brown: (swoon) rapper and entertainer extraordinaire, takes on the feminist fight to remove Page 3 and misogyny- He loves boobs, just not in The Sun – cheers pal

Banknotes: For some the campaign wasn’t the right issue, it was too small, to insignificant, a waste of time. Well it was a campaign that got the headline, got women and their role in history on front pages, made feminism more mainstream and took on the Bank of England…and won. I’d say it was worth it.

Dubai Women Drivers: Dubai women stuck their fingers up to one of the most oppressive and sexist governments of our time and decided to get behind the wheel to protest the driving ban, which seeks to ban their movement and freedom and prevents them from going anywhere without a male chaperon

One Billion Rising: It caused a campaigner like me some angst, What were we changing? Who were we asking? But it got people talking about violence against women in a non victim blaming way, in a way that was mainstream and a way that made people who normally walked around with their eyes shut, have them open. Mainly because the dancing would have been pretty difficult. And i have to endorse anything that gave me the opportunity to dance to Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT outside parliament.

Bollywood takes a feminist tone: Having grown up with Bollywood, it is about as far away from feminism as Robin Thicke is from being a decent human being. But an actress took on the fight when she was asked about the status of women in India, calling the country regressive and was criticized by a journalist for being negative. She shouted down the journo with facts, passion and determination. Pretty damn awesome.

The bad; the bits of 2013 that reignited the rage and reminded us why feminism matters (you can read a version of this here)

The Coalition Government, in amongst targeting the most vulnerable in society and dis-proportionally damaging the lives of women, they also had a reshuffle. We went from the dizzy heights of five, to four women in cabinet. Bravo.

Julia and Hillary. This year we saw Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton reduced to…chicken. Whether on a badge or a menu, powerful women were described as “2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts and left wing” by their male opponents.

Twitter and Facebook: Twitter became an unsafe space for women who were simply expressing an opinion. We had Caroline Cairo Perez and Stella Creasy MP, threatened with assault, rape and death, for using their 140 characters to galvanise support for women’s rights. The irony was lost on the twitter trolls. Along with this, Facebook decided that rape jokes, revenge pictures of ex girlfriends and slut shaming websites, didn’t contravene their terms and conditions. Apparently, social media is run by the oblivious.

Victim Blaming: As every year, this was a feature of 2013, we had A Barrister use the term “predator” to describe a 13 year old abuse victim, the start of a twitter #Ibelieveher to combat the constant stream of victim blaming, and rape apology throughout the media just because the perpetrator was rich, powerful, famous, or just a man.

Robin Thicke; he made a come back that we all wished he hadn’t. He described making his video as “a pleasure to degrade women” and why wouldn’t you when the lyrics are calling women “good girls” that he “knows they want it” and that he would like to “Tear that ass in two”. He then tried to call himself a feminist. No pal, just no.

Those UNI LADS: Stirling Universities Sports Club ended up on youtube after it decided to provide the public with some entertainment on a bus singing about rape, miscarriages and sexual abuse, then there’s Glasgow University’s debating society that heckled sexist comments at women debaters and then did nothing about it. University, the place where people broaden their horizons and apparently, get an opportunity to give oxygen to their ingrained misogyny. But that’s ok, it’s just a laugh.

Wimbledon – sometimes we forget out ingrained sexism is in our society and especially in sport. Well, it became perfectly clear when the Wimbledon Women’s Champion, Marion Bartoli, was described by the BBC commentator John Inverdale, as someone who was “never going to be a looker”. I was hoping she would take her title winning racket and smack Inverdale with it.

Nottingham Police revealed just how far we have to go to erase victim blaming in their Christmas safety campaign, by focusing on the drunkenness of women and trivializing rape in a poem.  I can imagine all the women who will feel safe after this.

Saatchi – That’s right the headline starts with the perpetrator not the victim. We had bystanders ignoring Nigella Lawson being chocked, we had Saatchi blame his abuse on her drug use and the Daily Mail giving us tips on how to get Nigella’s court look

The remains of the Arab Spring. Whilst there was a fight for freedom, apparently women’s rights were not part of that agenda. In 2013, in Egypt, women had to be surrounded by a safe zone to protect them from frequent sexual assaults from the very men protesting for freedom and UNICEF estimated that a staggering 91% of the female population had been subjected to Female Genital Mutation. In Libya, there have been significant increases in kidnapping, random arrests and abuse of women.

Mainstream Media; Where to start?! Adverts where women are objects, films where women are objects, videos where women are…objects. Well, Miss Representation takes care of that here

*leaves laptop to take a long walk and consider life*

I’m back. And that’s not because I have reduced my levels of rage, but because there is a place to take action with it and change the status quo:

The Change Making: Without campaigning for change, we wouldn’t have even got this far, we’ve still got a long way to go, but we can do it, provided we keep trying, here’s a few places you can do that:

Rewind Reframe – A campaign for young women to take on Music videos sexism and mainstream music industry

No More Page 3: Taking on the fight against The Sun and it’s “traditional” misogyny

End Victim Blaming: An online campaign to fight the victim blaming culture in news and media

Lose the Lads Mags: UK Feminista and Object are working together to get Lads Mags away from Supermarkets

Counting Dead Women: An online petition to pressure the Home Office to publish the reality of gendered abuse and the causes of death of the estimated 2 women a week who die at the hands of a current or ex partner

Let Toys be Toys: UK wide campaign to end gender segregation of toys in stores, limiting the imagination of children and creating sexist minds.

Female Genital Mutilation – Daughters of Eve is petitioning the Home Office to implement a strategy to eradicate FGM, which it is estimated 66,000 women in the UK have been subjected to.

Everyday Sexism – Social Media campaign collecting the stories of women experiencing the “normalised” sexism of our society

Because I am a Girl – Plan UK’s campaign to get the 65 million girls out of school back into education and empowered.

So there you have it, a review of sexism and feminism in 2013 (although, there are things I have missed, so please feel free to add ones you think should have been on the list below). xmas-card

Feminism has been in the spotlight a lot this year, we’ve campaigned for change, but for the first time in a long time, it’s actually made the headlines and created momentum. The problem with that being, that it’s creating momentum in a patriarchal society, one which knows a trend that is worth jumping onto and creating an helpful PR spin with. It’s a subtle enemy feminism needs to be aware of, mainstreaming it is fine, provided it’s women campaigners leading it wherever it goes. Just because the noise making got some attention, now is certainly not the time to let our voices become any quieter – the fight hasn’t been won yet.

But for now, watch your Christmas telly, pull on your questionable Christmas jumpers and spend time with the family you will no doubt argue with.

See you in 2014.

(Not so) Leading Ladies.

It’s cold, the weather is changing, we’re all at that point where we are pretending to work, when actually just trying to restrain ourselves from buying presents online – no? Just me? Ok. Well, let’s warm the cockles of your heart with a little feminism, where mulled wine would make you feel warm and add a glow to your cheeks, I will pour fuel on your fire of feminism and get your anger to warm you up.

As ever, my nieces and I have been chatting about things that come up in their lives that relate to feminism (so that’s pretty much everything, as they are finding), and if things don’t come up, I create an environment where I point out things and then find a tedious link; “oh look there is a tree, isn’t mother nature wonderful, speaking of mother’s and the parental role of women….” you see how I am exceptionally subtle in my ways.

This week they pointed out the tediousness themselves by saying, hey Aunty, you remind us of this woman on TV, Mindy. Mindy is a gynecologist in “The Mindy Project” and is possibly the only Indian woman I have ever seen as a protagonist on mainstream TV, apparently that’s not why I remind them of her…as I was repeatedly convinced of. Having watched the show, there may be some other reasons… But it started a question about women in mainstream TV and sitcoms. Now, there was lots we talked about, they went through Made in Chelsea and Hollyoaks, and rightly, pointed out that many of the women that are friends are connected because they have dated a male character or are not really friends as they are all backstabbing each other…over a male character, or are going shopping to buy a dress to impress….a male character. There was a pattern, and we talked about why this existed. They decided it was because media mimicked what was going on in society. But then I asked, what if media is what causes this happening in society? They went quiet, and I think this may have been too much for one evening! They then felt bad for watching these shows but I explained that it’s ok for them to watch it, provided they know to question it and they know that it does not need to reflect society for them.

We talked about the Bechdel Test (which links to a lot of what I write about below). The test analyses films for the capacity they have for women characters. The film passes the test if they a) have at least 2 named women b) these women talk to each other c) they do not only talk to each other about a man. You will be saddened at how many fail.

But it got me thinking about the shows I watch and the women in them, and how I balance the cognitive dissonance about watching them and being feminist. I’m focusing on three comedies, because comedy tends to be the genre that is the biggest criminal of sexism:

The Big Bang Theory: Well, lets be honest, it’s funny and I like science, so we are winning there. But let’s take a look at the main women in the show. First Penny, the blonde, beautiful woman next door, who is struggling to become an actress so is waitressing to get by. She becomes the object of one of the main male characters affections and causes others to make particularly sexist remarks or, just not be able to talk at all, her appearance seems to render one speechless. Often Penny is the butt of the joke, as she is beautiful but stupid (a woman can’t be both, you see), it becomes exhausting how the “funny” is her not getting a scientific joke. One particularly difficult episode saw her learning about physics to maintain her boyfriend’s attention, another sees him use Penny as an object to parade around to old filthy men academic to ensure he gets tenure. A second character is Amy (who I love) she is a neuroscientist (not just on the show) and is introduced to a particularly emotionally incompetent who is similar to her,  so both start a relationship of convenience. However this doesn’t last long, as Amy becomes attached and wants a proper boyfriend like other girls and becomes emotionally invested (silly, woman) the male character, Sheldon, remains unchanged (at least it’s realistic…). Lastly, and worst, Amy maintains a status quo in the show, you can’t be beautiful and clever, she is often depicted as frumpy, unattractive and undesirable….you know, cause she’s smart and that’s enough. The third character is Bernadette, she too is a scientist and gets together with another male character. She defies the idea that we can’t be beautiful and intelligent. But strangely she is given a comically high voice and very  traditionally “girly” disposition, perhaps this is just in case, we at some point forget that she is a mere woman? I have never been quite sure why she needed that addition. In the beginning of her relationship she was more known for her scientific endeavors and the intellectual exchange, there was even a time where she earned more than Howard (her partner) which was presented a “emasculation” however after marriage, she has become more of an extra piece in the show, and stories are mainly about her as a wife…. So, whilst I love a bit of funny, when I think about it with feminist goggles, it could have aimed higher (incidentally, it doesn’t depict a great picture of academically intelligent men, either…but we all know that too, is actually about patriarchy….)

The Mindy Project:mindy

Given that I have been (not just by my nieces) compared to this woman, I thought I should give it a try. So I watched through and some of it admittedly, is closer to who I am than just her ethnicity (not sure I am happy about that but lets leave the psychology for my friends). She is a partner in a medical firm and a main character who is female, who is not white and is not ridiculously thin or “mainstream” attractive (she is attractive FYI). This is all excellent and she even talks about feminism in her weekly escapades, preventing young girls from feeling forced to have sex, not bending to norms by losing weight or taking down stripper polls with hilarious results (at this point I may start to see the similarities a little more). Where the show lets itself down is that it is essentially about how messed up her love life is and that she sits at home watching “You got mail” crying into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and mourning about the fact that she hasn’t found a man to make a family with. Almost, TV box, you almost had me. I get how that is funny, but why is it the only thing that is funny? Why is it the only funny woe of a woman?

Often the episodes is around a new man in her life and whether she will manage to make this work, given how flustered she seems to be by the opposite sex and how desperate she is (obviously, I mean, she is in her thirties and should probably feel bad for not fertilizing her ovaries yet). But hey, we’ve got a non conventional looking woman character, TV can’t bring all our Christmases at once.

New Girl:

Never has a show cause me inner turmoil the way this has. Everything in me wants to not like it, yet, there I am laughing and being compelled, WHY?!?! On paper Jess is everything you don’t want a protagonist to be in 2013. Big eyed, wearing ribbons, in need of care, a flustered teacher, who sings songs to her pupils about friendship and doesn’t know how to parallel park. But don’t worry, she lives with 3 dysfunctional men who are man enough to park her car for her. But maybe what keeps it going, is that the 3 dudes are so far away from maturity that if she was to ask them to park her car, they would all suddenly realise their licences had expired. Perhaps by default then, she becomes the competent one and I have therefore made my piece with the situation…?! There are episodes which garner some merit; those where she is unapologetic for her femininity and she sums up why I secretly like her:

“I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children. And I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. That’s just weird, and it freaks me out. And I’m sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown And I hate your pantsuit. I wish it had ribbons on it or something to make it just slightly cuter. And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.” Quite. I have a polka dot pink skirt, in case you were wondering.

But like all things, it molds to the TV gods and gets all up in my feminist grill, particularly with her need to be the “mother” to the dysfunctional men, or when talking about fertility issues, all the women characters suddenly start to worry they will be incomplete if they cannot reproduce. Don’t get me wrong, babies are awesome, they just don’t need to be the only thing you do. TV, you’ve got some learning to do.

But LOOK! it’s not too bad. If you step out of the comedy genre (because comedy, let’s face it, has rarely had a feminist face) and move into drama, you find a lot more to love and feel ok about. Shows like The Good Wife, The Newsroom and Revenge, do a better job of depicting strong, multi-layered, unapologetic, realistic woman characters.

The best example of this is the one and only, CJ Cregg from the West Wing. Let me introduce you to who I would like to be when I grow up. CJ is (at the beginning) the Press Secretary for the Whitehouse, the spin machine. She is charismatic, intelligent, strong and principled. Yet she is emotional, affectionate, personable and caring. THAT’S RIGHT MULTI-LAYERED. Her character has romantic attachments and goes shopping for Vera Wang dresses whilst talking about the realities of being a woman in public life, the differences she experiences being the only woman around a table of men army officials and the injustices women suffer across the world. One of my most favorite features was that she was allowed to be funny.Take a look on TV the comic isn’t usually a woman. Aaron Sorkin got a lot of things right with that show, but CJ Cregg was, for me, the top of the list.

There is a particular episode called “The Woman of Qumar” which, if you have never watched the West Wing, you should watch and you will understand why this is a character worthy of the praise. Pure class.

TV is not feminism’s friend, for all the patriarchy pulling reasons you’ll know. But there are characters that come along every so often to make it bearable. If you’re looking for a prime time show without sexism, sell your TV, radio and subscriptions because, pal, you’re better off making your own show with sock puppets.

Alternatively, there’s no point in feeling guilty for the patriarchy of generations which you did not create (unless you choose to partake or stay silent). You can change it by question why it’s there and joining in with campaigns and change making projects which are attempting to change main stream media so we can change society and vice versa (a great example of this is Miss Representation)

For now, I’ve made myself feel better so I am going to laugh at something Schmidt says in New Girl UNASHAMEDLY.

Peace out.

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