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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.

Warped Feminism: The No.1 Hit Single

So unless you live under a rock, you will have seen, heard of, or read something on Lily Allen’s latest single.

Rather than start a conversation with my niece (and by conversation I mean I rant and ask her if she’s got anything to add after a 20 minute monologue) I simply put the music video on and asked what she thought. Here it is:

“I think I get what she’s trying to say, but she kind of ruins it with the video, it’s not really feminism is it? She’s just doing what men do, how is that right? And I don’t want to be called a bitch. Why did she make that the chorus, that ruins the whole thing. I don’t think she even gets what she’s doing”

And my work here is done. 16 years old and more feminist intelligence than Lily Allen and her entire music industry team. Well, I’m not sure that says much, but my point is my niece is awesome.

See, Lily told us that her latest musical journey was all about empowerment. Cheers Lily, but I’ll be the judge of that. So let’s start.

Let’s just do a little analysis of the lyrics first:

I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinkingNo, last time i checked, I wasn’t keen on calling my gender something derogetory. Reclaiming bitch is not on my feminist agenda. 
You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchenWomen who are in the kitchen are not less than you, feminism is about real choice, Lily, if you like I can recommend some reading for you? 
I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain – So we’re now hating on other women? Way to push the cause, pal.

If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slutYou’re fine here, I’m on board, well done. 
When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss
There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh-huh, there’s money to make
And now it’s time to speed it up ’cause I can’t move at this paceRubbish Rhyming, nothing to do with feminism, it’s just pants.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say
I’ll go ahead and say them anyway
Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits

It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard out here for a bitchWe’re WOMEN, Lily, WOMEN.

It’s hard, for a bitch (for a bitch)

For a bitch, it’s hard
It’s hard out here for a bitch
It’s hard, for a bitch (for a bitch)
For a bitch, it’s hard
It’s hard out here

You’re not a size six, and you’re not good looking
Well, you better be rich, or be real good at cooking – Because patriarchy sucks, yep got it.
You should probably lose some weight
‘Cause we can’t see your bones
You should probably fix your face or you’ll end up on your own

Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?
Have you thought about your butt? Who’s gonna tear it in two? reference mocking Robin Thicke, loving your work, Lily.
We’ve never had it so good, uh-huh, we’re out of the woods All fine, you’re on a winner, keep going pal. 
And if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood

So, looking at the lyrics, she got a fair bit wrong, but I’m willing to say that the bar for feminism in the music industry is so low, that I would maybe still applaud this. I’ll give it a 6/10

BUT HOLD THE PHONE. There’s a video, and here I lose faith in faith itself.

Lily decides to bring what she defines as “satire” to the stage. But the reality is, Lily brings confusion and objectification with a side of racism. In one very foul swoop she manages to drown any empowerment she was attempting to create.

The video begins with Lily being advised on surgery to get herself back in shape and a male manager, tell her to “cut more there” and that it’s “disgusting that women leave themselves like this”. This is the only scene that could remotely be related to satire. Because after this, the video resembles every music video on the telly. The difference being that Lily takes on the place of 50 cent, Snoop Dogg or Robin Thicke; Fully clothed whilst semi naked women writhe around and she gets to spank them. Satire? No. Confused objectification? Yes.

If Lily is trying to turn popular culture on it’s head, why not have men around her, or better yet, how about nobody gets demeaned and the video producers just try a little harder, I don’t know, maybe a mini film about inequality. Yeah, alright, maybe not.

But here’s the icing on the cake of this utter wreckage of empowerment; all the women around her are black. As if urban culture hasn’t done that enough, Lily takes black women and turns them into bits of sexualised bodies and props. Because hey, if we’ve learnt anything, it’s that what Lily is talking about, all that glass ceiling shizz, that’s for white women, black women, they’re still awesome at “shaking their arses without having brains”. Lily may have been impersonating the objectifying rappers and performers of today to show how ridiculous they are, but when has a point ever been made, by becoming all that you are trying to rid the world of? – Read more about Lily’s feminist racism in this excellent article.

There are many who are congratulating Lily’s bravery and edgy ways, but in truth, Lily has done with feminism what, ironically Rupert Murdoch does to women’s breasts. Use it as a means of selling. Here’s the reality check, whilst I would love to embrace a new feminism through the medium of popular culture, don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s arrived. Feminism is a trendy bandwagon here that is all. Lily has jumped aboard and taken this route to create a comeback hit, in the same way Miley uses riding a wrecking ball naked. Some PR heroes have said “let’s use this feminism thing to be “different”, women will love you and you’ll be back in the charts.” That’s why I wouldn’t hold my breath for Lily to suddenly educate herself on what feminism actually is and be the kind of empowering we were all quietly hoping for. At least not whilst sexism still sells. This here, is “almost but no cigar” feminism, the bits that appeal, the bits that sell, and the bits that offend, but only as far as to get YouTube hits, not offend and change thinking.

There is yearning space in pop music culture for a feminist fight back and perhaps Lily was attempting it here, but she took too many steers wrong and ended up in a bit of a ditch; but Lily, you could still do it, I’m happy to become your PR team, give me a call.

It’s hard out here, for a feminist.  

Sexy or Slutty? Halloween Decisions

It’s that time of year again. When we make a poor attempt at being fun (and/or frightening), where stores sell the exact same thing at higher prices by adding “Spooky” or “scary”; Spooky Sardines….Scary Satsumas?! Who knows, It’s usually a pretty tedious link.

The Halloween season isn’t complete with a school halloween party. I remember mine, Mother dressed me as a pumpkin, and made me an orange dress that she stuffed with pillows and then stuck leaves to my head…School was a tough time.

It won’t be difficult to see the link between this and Feminist Fridays…My niece came into the room this week and asked “How can you dress up as combat Barbie?” SHUDDER.

I reply with, “How do you think you would dress up as combat Barbie?” She replied with “Like some kind of army outfit, loads of make up and heels?” Yes, that’s exactly how you would dress in combat, that’s right up there in being as practical as Lara Crofts unrealistically large boobs and Wonder Woman’s corset.

SIGH. I asked why she wanted to go as Combat Barbie, and she said she couldn’t think of anything else that works, it’s all cats and witches…Indeed, even Sex in the City got it:

“1.45m Miranda: There are only two choices for women; witch or sexy kitten. Carrie: You just said a mouthful there sister” (admittedly, you have to ignore a fair bit in this movie to find feminist points)

So I asked my niece for other suggestions about what she might like to go as, or get her to think about how she would like to create a combat Barbie. Don’t get me wrong, if she looked happy about “loads of make up and heels” I would have told her to go for it, it’s the fact that she explained it as if, it was what was expected of her, in a tone of “obviously cause I’m a girl who’s dressing up,so that’s got to be there”.

I’ve always viewed fancy dress a different way. An opportunity to turn things on their head, I’m assaulted with messages of “make up and heels” on a daily basis, when you read “fancy dress”, social protocol changes and I can go out looking like I please, and to be fair, that usually resembles something pretty frightening anyway.

Then, my niece and I made the mistake of googling fancy dress. Much like googling symptoms of a health condition, the internet provided us with things we never asked for or wanted to know.

The most striking was when we looked for women characters and found GI Jane. On the left is GI Jane character in the film, on the right the costume interpretation:


I, and I am sure neither you, are particularly surprised by this. Google costumes for women. Seriously go do it, I’ll give you a minute….

Done? What did you find? Disney princess…made sexy, Women heroes…made sexy, animals…made sexy.

Google even gives you a handy quick to use category guide: Homemade, sexy, cute, witch, pirate.

Google men’s costumes and you get categories such as women, cool, 2012 and Zombie. To be fair, sexy also comes up, as a fireman and a man dressed as some kind of vending machine…whatever floats your boat.

I’m not being prudish, this isn’t a call to shut down costume stores. It’s about choice and yet again, the narrow pick we have to choose from. Almost all campaigning in feminism is about pulling away expectations, providing more social, economic and political power and CHOICES for women. Equal pay is about giving women the economic power for them to make choices, pushing for the vote was about women having their choices considered in how their country should be governed, encouraging women into STEM subjects is about them having real choice about their future career prospects, being pro-choice is about women having real choice about what they do with their reproductive systems.

It’s not a big thing to, in 2013, ask for choice in bloody Halloween costumes. You want to look sexy great, but if you don’t want to, why is it the only choice you have? Why can’t you easily buy the whole GI Jane outfit (either kind), if I wanted to do that today, I would have to buy the men’s size, with the man on the front, in the men’s section…reaffirming at every turn, that it’s not aimed at me, it’s not about me and it’s not what society expects of me.

Well, suck it costume makers, I’m getting the pumpkin costume back out again.

This just in: whilst writing this piece I came across the Ana Rexia costume. (been around since 2011, apparently) Yes, it’s a costume that allows you mock a severe mental health condition as well as society’s ongoing obsession with making women feel inferior and self conscious about how they look. You see it’s not enough that we ridicule your physical appearance, we would also like to ridicule the mental and emotional well being of women too. Just when I think the state of society can’t shock me, here I am with my head in my hands.

Back to the conversation, After this google searching, my niece, rolled her eyes and said to me “Ugh! Why can’t you just say; Combat Barbie, sounds great, here’s a lipstick to go with it, now I hate that idea.”

Yes, welcome to the burden of knowledge, also welcome to having an uncool feminist aunt. SCARY BEANS.

You know what’s really scary folks: STRUCTURAL INEQUALITY AND PATRIARCHY. Yeah, that’s right.

Happy Halloween for next week.

Herstory vs History

It’s summer and school is out. BUT not feminist school! That’s 365 days a year, just like sexism is.

That’s pretty much the sentence I said to my nieces as they told me about their summer plans. I think the sentence was the equivalent of blowing out the candles on someone else’s birthday cake. Cruel, yet hilarious.

But given they hadn’t heard from me for a while, they kindly accommodated. Sometimes I wonder who’s really the adult…

My niece was telling me about how they were given a reading list over the summer period to get ready for the next academic year. I looked through it and of 12 books, only 2 were by women. You read that and shrugged, didn’t you? Yes, sadly it’s all a little unsurprising, but it got me thinking about women in the curriculum.

When I was at school, the only time I remember women being discussed was over a 2 week period when we were studying the Suffragettes in History. I asked my nieces if this was still the case, and essentially, it still is. Although one of them mentioned more women authors recommended by one of her English teachers (bravo). So where in history is Herstory?

Why women are excluded from much of the curriculum is obvious, women were not entitled to educate themselves, participate widely in society or have careers, so how would they have made the scientific discoveries, the political speeches or the athletic achievements that would entitle them to be part of the history books? But that’s not the whole truth, is it? Women were still accomplishing things behind the scenes and in more “contemporary” history were working alongside men – but they are a mere shadow in comparison to men in history. In a 2013 curriculum, where we are creating minds that will shape the tomorrow of our society, shouldn’t we be making more of an effort to celebrate to accomplishments of women throughout history? Now that we “know better” shouldn’t we be looking to undo this error of erasing women from the tapestry of society? Our classrooms are doing the equivalent of what IKEA did to their Saudia Arabia catalogue.

This all has made me look up this clip from 10 Things I Hate About You (go to 5.30)

“the oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education.” Brilliant.

Dearest Kat from the film (secretly who I wished I was) has a point, what about the women?

If we’re teaching history are we including Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, Indira Ghandi? From what I remember I was taught about Emmeline Pankhurt and I was introduced to Anne Frank as “a girl who wrote a diary” (forget that it’s been translated into 67 languages) before we moved on to talk about the second world war. I managed to get Jane Austen into my fifth year at school, but it was after pestering my English teacher to allow me to do my discursive essay on “feminist protagonists in English literature”, maybe I was more like Kat, then I realised *high fives self*

If we’re teaching Modern Studies or politics are we including discussion on the gendered analysis and impact of sexism on political decision making? Do we hear about contemporary women leaders like Hillary, Aung Sang Su Ki, Angela Merkel or Julia Gillard? I only remember something about Thatcher (I also remember a pretty sexist bias in how I was told about her) despite being at school in the late 90’s/early 20’s, by which point some other women had made their political mark across the world.

If we don’t talk about the contribution that women make, then we disregard their place in history and we tell young people that the world was, and still is, built on the shoulders of men only. What attitude does that give the boy who is already in a world which entitles him to greatness or the girl who wonder whether the world will be willing to accept her greatness?

It is on this note (see what I did there?! You will in a minute) that a campaign has emerged to keep Elizabeth Fry on five pound notes (now you get it). The campaign states that by removing the only woman (yes, except for the Queen) on banknotes, we are erasing their accomplishments. Currently Fry is to be replaced by Winston Churchill. It might seem small, nobody really pays attention, you just hand it over at the check out in Tesco. But, when you think about it, it’s quite a statement. A piece of currency, representing the United Kingdom, pays tribute to a woman for her accomplishments. Removing her makes quite a statement too.

Back to education, it would seem, I’m not the only one who sees this deficit in the curriculum. The Astell Project aims to get an equality audit performed on the school curriculum (albeit only in England and Wales) and to have gender studies included as part of the core curriculum by 2015. You can find out more about it here and sign up to support.

If you’ve got young people in your family or are a parent, how about this summer, doing a bit of an equality audit yourself, and find out how many women appear in the history books? If like me you, unsurprisingly, find the books to me male, pale and stale, pick a woman from history and maybe talk to them about her (try and make it fun though, otherwise, I’ve ruined more summer holidays than just my nieces’)

P.S My niece just called me to tell me that she is reading the two women authors on her list first and then making a summer list to ask her teachers about – so chats with me can’t be that bad! (although, I doubt her teacher will be saying the same thing)

Shaming and blaming

I return, with another tale for you all. Yes, a feminist tale obviously. I would love it if my stories were wonderful fiction written from what would have to be a pretty dark imagination, but alas, these tales of inequality and oppression are all non-fiction. Welcome.

As with most Feminist Fridays, I am writing down conversations with my nieces and for them to read and ponder later, as a combination of Twitter, Made in Chelsea and One Direction lyrics, have left my nieces with a shorter attention span than a goldfish. I digress.

Today I chose the topic, because it is important, and I feel, urgent. Last weekend I walked down the street one evening with my niece, a vile man, cat called us from the other side of the street. I walked on, my niece looked down, embarrassed, and zipped up her jacket. I know what she felt. I’ve felt it too. She felt like she might have done something wrong to provoke that. SHE DID NOT. But she will be made to feel like that, time and time again.

This is a small, everyday, illustration of how our society blames women before they blame perpetrators. I had a conversation with her about it and asked her to deconstruct the scenario.

What was she doing? Her reply “nothing, just walking with you” What was he doing? “nothing just walking himself”, Why do you think he shouted over at you? “because he’s an arse?” Well, yes. She had someone with her to say “No, hold your head high and keep walking, there is nothing you have done, could have done, should have done but there are MANY things he could have and should have done. Like simply minding his own business and not degrading women on his evening stroll.” She seemed satisfied and was cheery once again. I unfortunately, thought about this a lot longer, and thought about the next time she would be made to feel like that, and I worried that it wouldn’t be too far away.

I might not be there to have that conversation next time, and society will tell her she should feel to blame. Because you see, although we might have moved away (matured) from saying “a woman can be blamed” overtly, I still regularly hear “It’s just what boys do” or “girls like to wear clothes that ask for it *wink*” I don’t know any woman who puts on her outfit for the evening and thinks “Gosh, I really hope some drunken arse shouts something about my tits at me in the street, that would be a dream come true”. NO.

This is just a tame fraction of victim blaming culture. When it comes to sexual violence, victim blaming becomes a serious and dangerous issue. One that can cause severe distress to what I would term survivors rather than victims. In rape cases, sexual abuse or harassment or domestic abuse, too often (not just in court rooms) we hear phrases such as “but she’s a real flirt” or “she was leading him on” or “she was wearing a short skirt”. Do we do this in other situations? If someone is mugged do we tell them, “well you do have money in your wallet, probably shouldn’t walk around like that”? No, we don’t.

When it comes to sexual violence, the most dangerous aspect in my opinion is confusing victim blaming for safety tips. We hear safety tips all the time; look both ways before you cross, hide you pin number when entering it in a cash machine, don’t leave valuables in your car. All of these things make sense and it is our duty to remain safe. But when it comes to sexual violence these “safety tips” are very different. Often they pass common sense safety and quickly veer into “stranger danger”, pushing women to live in a constant state of fear and essentially accusing all men of becoming perpetrators:

“Always walk home in pairs”

“Take a rape alarm”

“Only walk in well lit areas”

“keep your drink covered at all times”

“be aware of new people” > yes, very good, don’t make friends, they might attack you. Only talk to people you know and be unsociable

And if you’re in Colorado, apparently vomiting might put off your attacker. and if you’re a friend of Caitlin Moran, I wouldn’t wear heels, they might hear you coming...

Safety tips are meant to protect you, just reading the above makes me feel unsafe. For women, safety tips come in thick and fast, and this takes us down an avenue where a woman takes on the responsibility of being attacked. These tips can easily become an internal monologue: “I SHOULDN’T have talked to that guy”, “I SHOULDN’T have walked home that way”.

What about the woman who did all of that, but her attacker was waiting for her at home and was someone she trusted? Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Following these safety tips doesn’t help that woman, nor does it make it easier for her to come forward for support.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who ponders and worries about the state of our society and the impact it has on women. A new online platform to tackle victim blaming has sprung out over the inter-web and shone a light on the few good things (aside from cats wearing sunglasses) on line. Much like the Everyday Sexism project, this exists to give women a place to share their experiences and tackle the victim blaming culture. Bravo! (p.s they are also on twitter @EVB_Now)

Shame and guilt are not emotions for the victim, they are emotions to be felt by the perpetrator. By creating a society where women are victimised and shamed, we allow perpetrators to abdicate themselves of these emotions. We allow them to, at least emotionally, remain unpunished. That doesn’t sound like justice to me. But there is hope, if we stand up to this culture, call it out and make sure we are not perpetrating it.

Below is an excellent video I found this week, which emphasises these points brilliantly:

Speaking to the right audience

Speaking to the right audience

Today’s blog is a not about conversations with my niece as per, I wanted to highlight a campaign by the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre focusing on violence against women in Muslim Communities. It’s a big and difficult campaign, but I’m glad someone is doing it. I was asked to speak at their regional launches and below is what I said.

Note: A few things about this speech: Usually I don’t advocate using the line “what about your sister or daughter?” when talking about feminism. I believe women should live free from violence against them and in a just society regardless of how they are related to a man. They should be equal as simply women in their own right. But I am also a campaigner, and I know that for a campaign to be successful it needs to talk to the audience in a way in which an audience would hear and relate to. For that reason, this campaign, and I, have talked in terms of relationships and family, because at the heart of the muslim community and indeed, islamic scripture, is the notion of family and belonging. We’ve talked in the same terms, as we, as muslim women are often talked AT or ABOUT.

“I was asked to come along today and speak to you not only in my professional capacity but also as a Muslim women, who understands not only the religious but, perhaps more importantly the cultural implications of being a women in an Islamic community.

In my professional capacity I work in the anti violence against women sector and my work involves tackling violence against women by working with men and boys. Why do we work with men and boys? Because last year in 82% of the cases of domestic abuse a women was abused by her male partner, because young boys are brought up to believe that they needs to be strong, aggressive and dominating and because we live in a society that gives disproportionately more power to men and boys. As such, we need to talk to them, engage them in conversation and change their minds and behaviours. By talking to men and boys we can develop a society where no woman is considered inferior and no man raises his hand at her.

But I’d like to talk to you more as a woman from a Muslim family and feminist.

I’ve been asked, far too often, whether I can be a Muslim and a feminist. I’m often asked this question by people who have misunderstood the religion and have only got their information from the media. If you searched a little deeper, you would realise that Islam is a religion that teaches us about respect and equality, in particular the respect of a woman, a mother, a daughter and a sister. It is not Islam to blame for this perceived attitude, but there is some responsibility in the culture we have fostered within the Muslim community.

In this culture I have often felt less important and less valuable than a man.

In this culture, you are pitied for only having daughters.

In this culture a woman is given identity through her father or husband.

That’s not in Islam, that’s in a culture we have created.

Let’s be honest, this exists across the world and across societies, including western cultures or non-religious cultures. The sad truth is that there is no society where women do not experience violence and discrimination simply for being born women. However over recent decades, many of these societies have become more open and able to question themselves and their practices. Many of these societies have women speaking out and leading change. Progress is slower than it should be, but at least we can say it is moving. But our Muslim culture still feels closed off to conversation about challenging men’s behaviours and supporting women experiencing violence. There is a reluctance to engage or offend and there is a worry that it will create uncertainty or will lead to unislamic practices. But changing to create a safer and better world for women can never be unislamic. It is time for this culture to change, and for this culture to actually reflect the true religion it stems from and the needs of the women it should represent.

Take the example of a woman, newly married, has been welcomed into a new family, but over the months, her friends stop hearing from her, her family don’t get to see her. She has been confined to her husband’s home, is no longer allowed to work and rumour has it, is being abused by her husband. How many of us have heard a story similar to this? How many of us have actually seen this story within our extended families?

What do we do about this? From what I’ve seen, we shake our heads and continue with our lives. But shaking our heads won’t stop this woman from suffering abuse. It won’t stop this woman from experiencing fear, but it will allow her husband to continue abusing and it will give him the power to continue doing wrong. What’s worse, is that if this woman comes forward for support or finds the courage to even consider leaving the abuser, is it our culture’s natural instinct to open or close doors for her? I ‘m sad to say it’s the latter.

There is a Pakistani saying, one that my Dad says often:

“Betian, Maa Baap kehliye Allah ki saab say barhe rehmath hoti hein”

Loosely this translates into, “Daughters are a mother and father’s greatest blessing”. If that is the case, should we not be creating a world in which they are respected, are equal and are free to live from fear? Should we not be teaching our brothers and our sons to treat them as the blessings they are, and in turn get them to consider their own behaviour and think about how have the privilege of living their lives free from judgement and prejudice simply because of their gender?

Respect, or Izzat, is something very central to Muslim culture, but Izzat does not come from a woman being forced to remain silent about abuse, Izzat does not come from seeing domestic abuse as a private issue and Izzat certainly does not come from a man believing he has the right to abuse or own a woman. Izzat, respect and community exist, when every individual in a society is treated with dignity and equality.

I would like to congratulate AMINA and the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre for launching this overdue campaign, I would like to thank everyone in this room for coming, listening and participating and I would like to express my gratitude at being given the opportunity to speak to you today.

All I ask is that you listen to what this campaign is asking of you and never remain silent about violence against women, never allow anyone to hide behind their misinterpretation of Islam or Muslim culture, and finally I would ask that you speak to the women and girls in your family about their right to equality, life and aspiration and you speak to the men and boys about their attitude towards women, privilege and power.

Thank you again, and I hope you leave with the inspiration to create change and the strength to challenge.”

The Freedom of Nudity

Nudity was the topic of choice this Friday and for reasons you can probably guess. Not a topic I particularly encouraged, I take no joy in awkward conversations with my nieces. I mean your aunt, who to a 14 year old must seem and I quote “sooo old” saying the words “nudity” or “naked” is the stuff of nightmares for any young person. But it was still the topic this week.

I’ve encouraged my nieces to read and talk about what’s going on in the world and then, if they want to, talk to me about it. I have also explained that if what they are reading happens to me a complicated economic theory then to perhaps give me a week or two to get back to them…At which point I take the financial times and a dictionary out.

So this week my niece asked my about FEMEN and was a little perplexed. FEMEN is a radical feminist group which uses provocative imagery to make feminist statements, usually these statements are written on their naked bodies. Saves money and trees making a placard, I guess.

It has escalated in the past week after Amina a young woman from Tunisia, took a photo of herself with the words “My body belongs to me” in Arabic and posted it on the FEMEN Facebook page. This has caused outrage and has called for her to be stoned to death or ostracized from society. People have been quoted saying she will “given other women ideas” – that their body belongs to them too?!

Up to this point Amina is right and the right-wing extremists using Islam as a shield are wrong. Religion, morals, spirituality, beliefs are individual and should be respected as such. Who is anyone to say what Amina’s relationship with her body or her God should be?

What comes next is where things go wrong, and this is where my niece was most confused. Any conversation I have had with my nieces has asked them to question what is around them (including me) and have told them that feminism at it’s core was about liberation and choice. Here’s the dealo – Liberation doesn’t necessarily mean western values. I know, MINDS BLOWN!



After the episode with Amina, the FEMEN group has decided to turn against not only patriarchy but Islam. They are not the same things. Yes Islam, like all religion, and indeed every avenue of society, is soaked in patriarchy but they are not the same thing. At this point, myself and FEMEN must part ways. Not because I come from a Muslim family, my decisions are rarely influences by that, since I have been taught a very open minded Islam, but because of my feminist values. The values that tell me my feminism is not for imposing on others. That in itself defeats the purpose of the entire movement.

FEMEN have urged women to come forward to defend Amina by writing ‘My Body Against Islamism!’ on their naked torsos. They have also asked people to tweet and sign a petition, I have done the latter two, because that works for my feminism. But the problem arises when FEMEN have equated not protesting topless with my oppression. I can assure you I am not oppressed. I respectfully ask you to stop patronising me and countless other women.

It’s much like SlutWalk. I understand and nod in agreement but personally, I am not looking to take back the word “slut” but I applaud you and wish you success on your march, because at the end of the day, you are fighting patriarchy and whilst we all might do it a slightly different way, as long as we are standing up, we are winning. But don’t you dare, Don’t. You. Dare. Say I am not a feminist or I am an enemy to the sisterhood, because I don’t do it your way. That sounds an awful lot like patriarchy to me. 

The founder of FEMEN has said “Muslim men shroud their women in black sacks of submissiveness and fear, and dread as they do the devil the moment women break free” You are making a few too many assumptions in this statement, assumptions that make it difficult for non western women, in this case Muslim women, to partake or support your cause. You have reduced Muslim women to objects not by their bodies, but by presuming their thoughts and not entitling them to a voice.

This, has now created a counter-movement “MuslimahPride” who are protesting this assumption about their liberation. Rightly so, but here’s hoping they too are fighting the patriarchy within Islam and Muslim countries.

Muslim or not, western or not, religious or not. Here is a handy checklist for you to ensure your feminism is supporting rather than suppressing those it aims to “free”:

  • Are the women in question being forced to comply to a certain behaviour? (be that wearing a Burkha or being nude – yes, it works both ways)
  • Have said women asked for your support to speak up?
  • Have you asked the women what they would like you to say or how they would like your support?
  • Have you ensured that the women you are speaking for are also leaders in the cause alongside you?

If the answer the above questions is yes, then by all means, grab a megaphone and get to work for your cause, but if the answer to even one of the above is no, take a long hard look at your methods and consider whether this helps or hinders the cause of feminism.

If we continue down this, very ignorant, oblivious road, we will turn feminism into a movement fighting within itself, whilst patriarchy flourishes. (Although I’ve written about this already!)

You Hip Hop and You Don’t Stop

It’s a Saturday afternoon, which meant two things, I had teenage nieces at my house for a little feminist discussion and I had to tidy up, because between Monday – Friday, I allow my surrounding to look like a tip. I like to think the mess reflects my lack of time due to changing the world, but actually, it’s a reflection that I rather watch Revenge than do ironing.

My nieces, 14 and 16, are over and they have decided to entertain themselves with whichever remotely cool (and free) channel they can find whist I make lunch. The channel they chose was Chart Show TV. This carries on until Chris Brown comes on. Naturally, I came through from the kitchen, and did something that probably looked like the unhinged women from the Simpsons who throws cats at people (replace cats with a sponge at the TV), and explained that for this reason, I would rather they did not support his music by watching the videos.

So then a few more minutes went by, I carried on, they carried on talking and then the music videos that were played made me alert again: Snoop Dogg, Pitbull, and something from 50 Cent that I can’t remember.

I was in the kitchen, so could only hear the words:

“Tear off this clip of clothes, i wanna see u in the nude

You can keep on your high heel shoes

So follow me down to yellow brick road

Where ni**as go to see naked hoes

Shake that shit b*tch

And be off in the club with a hard ass d*ck

Then drop like this b*tch

If you wanna make the money shawty work that shit

That ho’s fine but but but but this one’s a killa”

I could figure out the video that went along with the track and that’s where we find the topic of today’s discussion.

I don’t believe in censoring people from the reality of the world and my nieces are not children. So rather than marching into the living room and switching off the TV shouting “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”, I had a conversation with them. The most empowering part of feminism, for me, is the ability to critically analyse and question the world around you. Why do things exist? How do we make it better? What choices are there for me and why do I make certain decisions? Not pretending it doesn’t exist.

So we talked. They said it was “just listening to music” or “we don’t really pay attention, it’s just how the music is, we just sing along”. Not a surprising response, but one that can easily be used to explain, how subconscious sexism and misogyny works. We watched some videos and paused at particularly degrading parts. Often the lyrics wouldn’t be about a woman writhing against a stripper pole, but that would be the visual, we explored some of the words and although, at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, most of the lyrical content was bleeped out, they knew what words were being used to describe women.

Then my niece asked “Why do they have to call them that, why can’t they just call them women or girls?” “Why are they calling them something you say to people you hate?” Indeed.

Sometimes, the penny dropping is hard work, because sometimes, you just want to listen to music, so I left it there for them, and asked that all they do when they see this, is understand that it is part of patriarchy, it is a false illusion which is dangerous for both women and men, and that this should not influence the way they see themselves or how they allow men to see them. They are strong women, not b*tches or ho’s.

I’ve listened to rap music since I was a teen, and yes sang along to sexist lyrics, without actually realising what the words meant. I love hip hop music, but usually it’s the beat rather than the lyrical content or the videos. I love a heavy bassline. But this wasn’t always what hip hop was, it started as a creative expression of black culture and the experiences of black people. In my opinion, hip hop became more sexist, as it tried to appeal to the masses. And we all know patriarchy owns the masses. (At this point it’s important not to penalise only hip hop, it’s all across music; rock, pop, alternative….I think folk music might be the only one out…).

I’m not about to start a campaign for the censorship of hip hop (we would have to close ourselves off to music, radio, TV, advertising, the list goes on…) and I think that steers too close to “let’s shut down the internet!” but I would like to see more respect for the art and for women. To the makers of the videos; who are you trying to appeal to? You’ve created a norm that nobody asked for. To the lyrical geniuses; what are you writing about? Fame, money and women? I’m pretty sure there’s more to be said and, quite frankly, it’s getting boring.

Hip hop, or the music industry as a whole, isn’t about to change any time soon, but what can change is what we buy into and what subconscious sexism we allow. Gaining a little perspective and questioning what you see before you, provides you with a barrier which makes it that little bit harder for subconscious sexism to get in and makes it that little bit easier for you to understand and fight patriarchy. So next time you’re listening to the radio or watching a video, just pause for a little self reflection.

PS: In the time the conversation with my nieces happened, I burnt 2 pizzas. it’s fine, we ate toast instead.

PPS: I’m now listening to Justin Timberlake *hangs heads in shame*

Searching for…A little Muslim Feminism

There are times when I feel like a bit of an anomaly. My nieces often ask me why I’m not like mummy or other aunties, sisters ask why I insist in being so difficult (difficult being a synonym for feminist), often this arises after I walk through the door after a day of feminist fighting, whilst simultaneously reading tweets from feminist haters and a lynx advert comes on the TV. What else is a women to do but be enraged? But, particularly as Asian Muslim woman, it feels quite lonely out there in the feminist world. I’m not sure if, despite efforts, women in my family would describe themselves as feminists. It’s usually about the third word I use to describe myself, after sarcastic and unstable…

I’ve realised one of the reason I have been talking to my nieces about this is because, from where I am standing, there are a shortage of young Asian (especially Muslim) women engaging in feminism. It’s important at this point for me to admit something. I use Muslim in a loose sense. By no means am I a scholar or dedicated to the practice of the religion, I’m not looking for an influx of Muslim women discussing religious text and the meaning they have to gender equality. My focus has always been culture not religion. The culture is the problem, it is the culture that has created communities which question and judge a Muslim women and turn a blind eye to the actions of Muslim men, it is culture who tells Muslim that being single after 30 is unacceptable, it is culture that dictates what kind of mother, wife and daughter a Muslim women needs to be.

This will be on my next t-shirt

This will be on my next t-shirt

To be perfectly honest, all of the above can be translated to the women in any culture, any religion and any society. But, perhaps from my own experiences, it is more acute and more accepted in the Asian/Muslim culture. I find myself surrounded by strong activist women and very, very few of them are Muslim (or even Asian) women. This is a problem. It creates a polarized feminism. It creates a space where the perspectives of Muslim women aren’t included in feminism and means that there are a select few talking about women’s issues despite it representing billions of women in different cultures across the world. Of course, feminism in India, China, Pakistan and countless other countries will be mostly led, rightly, by women from those cultures, but the women leading the feminist movement in a country must reflect the women they represent (much like how are parliament needs younger, non-white, non-male representation to reflect our society). We live in  a multi-cultural society, so we need a little multi-cultural feminism. It wouldn’t be ok if, for example, an atheist feminist talked about Muslim women ‘s experiences of in British society. But where are all the Muslim women feminists to talk about it? If they don’t come forward, then their issues won’t be discussed.

I’ve talked to Muslim women my age, younger or older, and I get the usual “I don’t need feminism, We all have equality, right?”  (Not all of them!)  But it’s not just the usual brushing off of feminism, it’s seeped in an even deeper cultural patriarchy. I know lots of successful Muslim women, ones who are mothers, wives but also educated professionals, business women and leaders. But there seems to be a big gap between the boundaries that I am proud to say they have pushed in the professional or external world, and the boundaries they are still accepting in their homes, their communities and their culture. I understand that it is harder to question and change things close to you, but if we don’t who will? The menz?!?!

Even checking the #Everydaysexism project or twitter feed, there are not that many Muslim women engaging – are they immune to everyday patriarchy, I can assure you they’re not. So why aren’t they engaging in this uprising? Do they care about reputation within the community? Is it saving face? Is it because they don’t feel it’s a problem? Maybe it’s not, but nobody is even having the conversation. There are countless Muslim, or defined as Asian, women’s organisations which exist to support women or sometimes simply to build a network, but what would be the harm if these groups started these conversations – simply asking the questions about equality, asking about each other’s experiences in the community and what injustices they see. These are the conversations which lead to change.

If you’re a Muslim women and you’ve read this and something in you has stirred, comment, tweet, email me and I’ll be happy to start this chat, in fact bring your friends, sisters, cousins. If you’re part of a Muslim or Asian women’s organisation get in touch, I’d LOVE to work with you.

Ciao (or salaam) for now.

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