Newt In A Tea Cup











{July 25, 2007}   Religious Crossroads

At the moment my thoughts, whilst never far from feminism, has been more focussed on more ecumenical matters. I’ve been plodding my way through “A New Kind of Christian” by McLaren and it’s helped enormously though I know little about said author (enlighten me, anyone?) and haven’t quite finished the series.

I’ve struggled for a long time with believing in a God whose followers don’t seem to believe in me. This is a particular struggle that I feel many fellow feminists don’t understand and don’t really help with.

After all, if it’s misogynistic chuck it out and do something else, right? It’s not that easy and nothing ever is. We’d have nothing left at all if we applied that across the board!

Pick any two Christian- any at all – and put them in a room together. They will always find something to disagree on; why else are there so many denominations, styles of worship or traditions? And within those there are even more conflicts. The fact is that church is interesting in the way it unites people who wouldn’t normally have anything to do with each other under the belief of a God.

That’s the problem though; God most certainly isn’t his people and often the bundle that comes with the religious motivation has little to nothing to do with the Holy One. Spirituality is something that quickly gets stale as it is something individual, mutable and metaphysical therefore any attempt to quantify or regulate is, dare I say, counter-productive and inherently destructive to spiritualities true nature.

My problem (one of them) is that the church inherently seems to accept a gender reductive stance.

Whilst I find this incredibly damaging, it doesn’t mean I disagree on matters such as Jesus’ role etc.. etc… I can be a Christian and still call out patriarchal bullshit in other words.

I find it galling because one of the first things claimed is that we are made in God’s image ; why should the capability of God’s image be reduced to a who’s who of genitalia? Isn’t that somewhat blasphemous in a twisted way?

Why was Junia erased and why do Christian Brothers seek to actively reduce the service and impact of women’s work for God?

Why does, in return, our image of God look nothing like me? Are men somehow considered more in God’s image than women? That’s the only explanation for the fact that I can read page after page of my Bible and not find anything that seems to refer to me, not christian-whom-we-assume-to-be-male-unless-specified-and-then-some.
If the word of God is supposed to speak to me in my everyday live how can you expect me to read page after page of “brothers” this and “let he” that? It jarrs and disconnects me.

More than that I think we need to be actively redefining and shifting the boundaries of the implications of faith in a changing world. I’ve read a couple of feminist biblical scholars and what they said was completely revolutionary; and lest we forget so was Jesus at the time. How then, has he become a by-word for tradition or conservationist attitudes?

When Eve is introduced to Adam, God introduces her as a “helper”. This has directly been used to subjugate and introduce a legitimised subordinate female position through the authority of religious language. But, going back to the original language, that term for helper has been used only a handful of times in the entire collection of books; each time (apart from that one) it is used to describes God’s position is relation to us.

How different would the church be if we applied this meaning and implication?

I don’t mean placing women on a virginal pedestal with “whores” wallowing around the bottom of it. I mean seeing women as fully capable, functional and self-sufficient to stand by themselves in all of their glory.

And the whole rib thing- culmination or left-over? Actually it makes more sense that the rib is symbolic- neither above Adam (from his head or similar) nor below (his feet) but from the same source and therefore not an “other” but a completely equal counterpart with the same faculties.

How different would the church be if it applied this?

I seriously think that the church is a crossroad of the type that separated the Jews from the early Christians. The rights and wrongs of sex before marriage (what is marriage anyway?), homosexuality or abortion are complete and utter red herrings which belie a bigger issue of conflict over personal autonomy, dogmatism and viewing all people as inherently equal (yes, even women and non-whites too!).

The real issue is how we relate, and permit people to relate with God; how we love our neighbours who are poor, disadvantaged, socially outcast; how much we want to be good.

There is a inclination to want to be “right” about everything, especially religious things. I’ve seen some Christian take a “You’ll burn in hell and then I can say I told you so and so there!” approach; what we need to focus on is not our theology but our attitudes. We can’t always be right and we can’t always be good but a heart that is searching and genuine will eventually find the answer even if it takes forever.

The church and it’s members needs to shift it’s focus on becoming the kind of community you would want to spend eternity with.

This may mean a complete split where a whole new path emerges. Maybe “Christianity” needs to become something different. Think of early Christians who slowly learnt to do without circumcision, kosher food or Passover ceremonies. It would have been frightening and they would have felt perched on the edge of deadly blasphemy. Maybe we need not be afraid of that perch but embrace it; I reiterate that I don’t think God expects us to get it right but I do think she expects us to search for her.

Feminists and women-positive people need to be involved in this. Women have been busy behind the scenes of religion, working around imposed restrictions to do good and fulfil their callings. Now we need to step forward and deconstruct then reconstruct what God means to us from within the narrative frameworks of our lives, on top of in our relations to men and their power.

This, except for a precious few women, has been sorely lacking.

You can’t expect a devout woman to abandon her faith – it’s like asking someone to stop believing in gravity; to them it is something fundamental, obvious and essential to life. What you can do is examine the theory, research it and rewrite the wrong bits or misinterpreted bits whilst telling off the scientists (or priests) who wrote it up in an exclusive, incomprehensible way.

We need discourse that isn’t belittling of faith or dismissive of change.

Someone once told me that Jesus came to earth as a man because if he’d been a woman his sacrifice would have been void; he’d have had nothing to give up. Maybe it’s time Christian men started acting like him and giving up their privilege too.

How different would the church be if it applied this?

I’ve got more questions and less answers. But I’m feeling hope because, at least, I’m knocking on the door.



{May 24, 2007}   Invisible Women

A couple of days ago I watched The Magdalene Sisters on Youtube (if you do a search I’m sure it’s still there).

We are introduced to three young girls in the mid-half of the twentieth century- one is raped by her cousin, another deemed too flirtatious by the owners of the orphanage she resides at and the third is an unmarried mother. They are all carted off to one of Ireland’s various Magdalene Laundry’s (like Victorian poor houses) where they are abandoned by their families/guardians, made to do backbreaking work without respite and for no pay, and forbidden all contact with the external world under the pretext of working away their stain of sin. We witness beatings, humiliation where they are made to strip naked and the sisters ridicule them, one girl’s hair is violently shorn off to “cure her of her vanity”, another is raped by the priest, tries to commit suicide and is eventually locked up in an insane asylum; which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When this film was first released at an Italian film festival, the Vatican, of course, took umbrage. So there was an investigation and women who had been in these laundries were asked to come forth.

Out of fear, shame and most probably indoctrination the voices speaking out about this are few and far between. After all this was sponsored by both the Catholic Church and the Irish government- both of whom refuse to apologise and the compensation given has gone to “religious charity projects” and thus back to some of the actual abusers and not the women. There is little incentive for them to relive this. But a few women were found. Women who had no previous contact with the director. And their conclusion was unanimous.

The reality was much, much worse than shown in the film.

According to an article in The Guardian’s archives:

Mary-Jo McDonagh takes a different view, as do the other women who served time in the institutions run by orders like the Good Shepherd Sisters or the Sisters of Charity. “It was worse in the Magdalenes, much worse than what you see. I don’t like to say it, but the film is soft on the nuns,” says McDonagh, who spent five years in one in Galway after being molested by a neighbour. She was spirited away early one morning by a priest and told she had “brought shame on her family”. McDonagh eventually escaped to England after she was farmed out as a servant to a cousin of one of the “holy nuns”, an expression she still uses without a hint of irony. Every other “Magdalene” I’ve talked to says the same: the reality was more brutal….

Thirty thousand in all were locked away in these penal establishments, some for decades, to scrub away the sin of being poor, pregnant, unwanted or for simply being an embarrassment to their families and communities. A few, who had spent their childhoods in orphanages run by the nuns, were put away for being too beautiful, and therefore in the twisted logic of the sisters, too “in danger of sin”.

There were no trials, no inquiries, no nothing. The presumption that you were a sexual being was enough to condemn you. So the victims of abuse were guilty too, and, by bizarre extension, those in danger of corruption by their fathers, brothers, cousins, or just men in general also had to be saved from sin.

Once you were placed on the Register of Penitents your identity was taken away, your name was changed, and you were not allowed to talk to any of the other Magdalene women….

…Technically, every woman who entered one of the closed laundries did so voluntarily, following the example of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who became the “13th apostle” of Christ, after whom the convents were named. But there was nothing voluntary about the grinding work, the beatings, the breast-binding, the head-shaving, the forced fasting or the humiliating weekly mortification sessions, when the women were stripped and laughed at for their vanity. Now this technicality, the notion that they collaborated in their own imprisonment, is denying the bulk of the survivors proper compensation for the years they spent in servitude.

And what’s even more horrifying? The last one of these bastions of abuse was shut in 1996.

I keep trying to throw my mind backwards; I see myself, perhaps, fifty, seventy, perhaps more years ago. And I start trying to think how different I would be; what would I do all day? It seems to me that all the things I enjoy now would mark me as mentally and morally deficient. My love of fiction, messy room, education, provocative fashion, philosophy and theology, my intense late night parties, my desire to never marry, my resolve not to ever give birth, writing stories, my drive for independence, habit of flirting and so many more things… These were all considered inappropriate if not dangerous to the good of society if coming from a woman.

Would I alter myself to fit; repress everything that makes me who I am? And if I do that would I not go mad from depression, repression and boredom?

And the more I think about it the more there seems to be only one place a person like me could end up in that world…

I’ve done some research on women and mental health history, spurred by reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and my stomach feels like a big rock has been placed in it’s pit. Imagine this world where the author confides that in her research she was approached by…

a man [who] told me about being taken as a child to visit his mother in a psychiatric institution and how she would whisper to him, “I shouldn’t be here. Help me, help me.” As an adult, he found out the reason for her incarceration: her admission documents said that she “persistently and obsessively read books”….

…It is a book I have wanted to write for a long time. I tried to start it more than a decade ago but I ended up abandoning it to write what became my first novel, After You’d Gone. This was in the mid-90s, when the aftershocks of Thatcher’s care in the community scheme were still being felt. The large Victorian-built asylums had been closed down and as many as 20,000 people were sent out into the “community”.

Around this time there were stories circulating about some of these women – they tended to be female, more often than not – who had been put away in their youth for reasons of immorality. They had shown too much interest in boys, or not enough; they had had an affair or even got themselves pregnant.

Sometimes they had been put away for almost no reason at all. A friend told me about his grandmother’s cousin who had just died, a month away from being discharged from an institution in the Midlands. She had been committed in the 1920s, at the age of 19, for planning to elope with a legal clerk. I spoke to someone whose aunt had been incarcerated in Colney Hatch, north London, for “taking long walks”…

…[It was] A time when a man could commit a wife or daughter to an asylum with just a signature from a GP. A time when it was considered a sign of insanity to refuse to cut your hair. Or to be found trying on your mother’s clothes. Or to turn down offers of marriage. Or to show reluctance to sit on your relatives’ knees. Or to not wash your kitchen floor for a week. Or to feel sad and weary after having given birth. These were all written in asylum records in the early half of the last century…

…Once you were put inside, the “mad” label foisted on you would, in all likelihood, become true, not only from the shock and horror of your new surroundings, but also courtesy of the “treatments” you received. It must have been hard to retain mental stability in the face of comas induced by insulin injection, or a combination of straitjackets and cold baths, or the more severe, invasive procedures of cliterodectomies and frontal lobotomies. Society’s view of you as insane could, in such circumstances, become a self-fulfilling prophecy…

It’s grim, grim stuff and it’s our heritage which we have to face. It’s very difficult to find information about all of this; the women where erased from the family and community, and their voices ripped out of their throats.

This page has some very interesting information on the issue… Imagine being “frigid”, lesbian or a spinster meaning you would be incarcerated and then raped as a standard procedure to cure you. Imagine being hospitalised for “flirting”… Having any emotion meant you were “hysteric” and worthy of solitary confinement…

This is all so chilling to me; it’s another world and yet the vestiges are familiar. “Frigid”, “hysterical”, “all she needs is a good shag” etc… The enforcement is so different and yet a lot of the Lexis and basic theory is frighteningly similar. An invisible permeation or our understanding where any vocal disagreement is taken to reflect more on the defects of the plaintiff and their complaint rejected; where the most extreme horrific abuse can be spoken off only in the most polite and agreeable, mild terms unless we are to be marked as worse than the perpetrators and not worth speaking to.

I’m not sure what more to write… There has to be a moral beyond my initial response, poking through the denying fingers covering our societies eyes ; about labelling us as defective, diseased, wrong and needing treatment if we are people and not cut out of cardboard to an ideal ; a warning about the black ink of tick boxes and diagnoses seeping over the skin of our humanity ; that our own good cannot be found in our effacement ; that our complaints are not resolved because of this excuse out of societal responsibility ; it happened so, so easily, silently and completely in so many ways ; that if women have been or are fainting flowers it’s because we’ve been living in the shade of a giant foot trampling us down; that we are complete as we are; don’t listen to those words; don’t, don’t don’t…

…but all I can hear and echo is the resounding silence of bleached corridors and hard, clockwork trodden floors.



Inspired by a comment or two in a previous post I’ve decided that it would be a great idea to compare our experiences in an honest, straightforward way. I’m not quite sure what the best way to start a discussion is so I’ve set up a few survey-style questions.

One thing I’ve noticed, especially from personal experience, is that it’s very hard to talk to someone else, a friend or family member for instance, who does have really bad body image/ health issues to do with body image. And it’s pretty clear that all of us will most probably meet at least someone with those issues; we can’t avoid it.

So let’s start talking to each other at least.

Copy and paste the questionnaire to your own blog, fill out what you want to fill out, and link it back here in the comments. If you don’t have a blog just do it straight into a comment.

Please do not refer to just yourself but to your friends and family as well – i.e. the environment you live in, or anything else you want to share. Add or remove questions if you want! Remember this is a loose questionnaire, intended to start an honest discussion not solve the worlds problems.

Name:

Age:

Height:

Weight

Do you consider yourself attractive?

Do others consider you attractive?

What is your biggest insecurity and why?

Have you/Would you consider using plastic surgery? Why or why not?

What is your relationship with make-up?

How much money do you/think is reasonable to spend on your appearance?

What is your experience of dieting?

Have you/ anyone you know tried any specific diet programs i.e. Lighter Life? How did that affect your health? your moods? your relationships?

Do you have any experiences of eating disorders i.e. either yourself or someone you know?

How did other people react to this; what was the fallout?

Have you had negative experiences relating to your appearance and people’s reactions to it?

What about positive reactions to your body?

How has your body image and attitude changed over the years?

What do you love about your body?

What is your opinion on the media portrayal of women’s bodies?

What would you change about the way you/ your friends/ your family/ general people see their bodies?

What makes you feel beautiful?

and just for fun… Do you shave legs/pits/upper lip moustache?



{April 8, 2007}   International Chocolate Day…

…is always welcome in my books.

I’ve been meaning to write for a while but everything doesn’t seem to come out at all. Lately I’ve been going through some kind of personal mental crisis at the moment. So I’m just going to write a bit about myself because maybe this will help me understand. Whilst I am aware of the very public nature of this blog, it is also a place for me to explore my thoughts and discover things, shape my opinions. So here are some free form thoughts.

When I first moved to England I was finding it very, very difficult to fit in. I tried very hard figuring it would be a fresh start from the old school which was less than ideal and apart from that I think I was forcing myself to like it to the point of being blinkered.

I was twelve, naive and blind to the warning signs. I tried so hard I screwed it up for myself and, without even realising it, I became one of the top bullying targets for my year group. I think it was a mixture of reactions to my clumsy religion, xenophobia (having moved from France) and perceived American accent (Canadian thank you very much). That and, I hate to say this, but being in a girl’s school there is an unusual amount of passive aggressive tendencies…

Well, I wasn’t popular, despite making some die-hard friendships whom I still have all these years latter. About, if I remember correctly, 13/14 I went all rather emo and downhill. It’s embarrassing to even think of.

Anyway, I was with this youth group and I didn’t feel all that comfy with them. The dynamics hadn’t clicked yet and I don’t think they did until about two years ago when we went to Rwanda together but that’s another story. This was a holiday weekend; my first with them. However things were going to get awkward.

One of the girls, who hung out with the girls who bullied me (still following?) had started coming to the group. I disliked her; she was friendly with some of the meanest, most vindictive girls in school and, besides, she never even tried to stop any bullying. Not that, she would have had any effect anyway.

She was camping with us. And we were sharing a tent.

Can you say awkward?

So, there is me- wanabee goth, and her, popular baby blue and pink tracksuit diva, in the same tent. Very interesting night time conversations we had.

And we actually did.

One of the later nights she said something that got under my skin and followed me until today.

She said “I admire you. You’re the only person I know who doesn’t make a difference if it’s a guy or a girl. It doesn’t matter to you.”

She then expressed how there was always a barrier between the guys and girls, they didn’t spend time with each other, couldn’t talk to each other on the same level. Apparently I didn’t do that.

That made me feel like complete crap.

The reason I was hanging out with the guys and girls equally was because I didn’t have any friends in either group and was desperate to find someone to talk to! I couldn’t afford to be choosy! I was hanging out with anyone who wasn’t ignoring me for god’s sake!

I didn’t quite understand what she meant then. I just felt like a hypocrite and I think I still am. But I’m trying very hard to learn.

One of my friends seems to open my eyes to what she meant- he is the only guy I’ve met who doesn’t regard me under that big sign saying “FEMALE!” first; who isn’t waiting for me to fulfil a list of givens on a gendered check list and to whom my personality is not whim to those powder pink whims, even somewhat. To him I am me; Newt- first of all and female is a coincidence. Of course he flirts and makes saucy comments and I make them straight back but we do that to everyone on reflex, like young people will. We have all, honestly, forgotten perspective genders before if only for a minute. I didn’t know that was possible or that the aforementioned check list was there, until I felt the absence of it, like a weight of constant judgement and evaluation released from my shoulders.

I’m still trying. I’m not there yet.

But I think that’s what she thought I was like, in that cramped, cold, uncomfortable tent and if I fooled her out of sheer desperate “trying to be friends-ness” without even noticing, then maybe it’s a real possibility when I’m stronger and in control and aware. I want that. I want to be what she thought I was.

I don’t want any more hypocrisy or pretence or false intentions. But I’m not fully naive any more…

So, is that feeling, that treatment possible? Is it just me? A girlish fantasy? Or is a reality for me or anyone else?

If it isn’t, why does my mind go back to her words every so often like a spiritual seeker on a pilgrimage?



{March 19, 2007}   This is me. Who are you?

transcript of an text message conversation

Yo sexy mama! Is it forbidden 4 a human with an “almighty cock” to enter ur household establishment? xxxxxx s—–

Note: “almighty cock” is an expression I used to explain misogyny to a friend who, bless him, couldn’t understand what on earth it was because “It’s not true”, “But women aren’t inferior!” and “but that doesn’t make any sense.” I tried to tell him that’s kind of the point but maybe my sarcasm gland took over. I think he gets it now. 🙂

Ill give u acess to my coven a better day – but u shall have to bring a sacrifice 2 ur godess

Yes, I am now a sexy mama, and a goddess. Worship me, heathens.

Ahem. Explanation: My parents have left me home alone for the next 3 weeks. They have enforced a strict “no guys after seven PM” rule showing that they honestly don’t know me that well. I said that. They said they trust me but they don’t want to give the neighbours a false impression of me. I am seriously puzzled as to how important the neighbours opinion on my virtue counts as they are complete idjits who have a caravan and two cars and leave them parked any which way, blocking room for our own car. Anyone with such low environmental regard and, worse, regard for my parent’s blood pressure does not get to judge me. So there.

Also, no guys over doesn’t mean I can’t go out. We’ve spent the last few nights blaring out Britney Spears and Steps until early morning (quickly turning the volume down and closing windows at the traffic lights in town so we don’t get beating to death by the rather large chav populace for being too flamin’ fabulous. They just don’t understand the genius that is “Tragedy”, honestly.)

Secondly I’ve started a new job and I’ve worked overtime (the morning after a friend’s eighteenth non-stop dance party meaning I didn’t get home ’till two in the morn. Oy, oy. Customer service, here I come!)

I am aware this has little to nothing to do with feminism. But I guess it has a lot to do with me.

Freedom like that, is something that feels very rare to me. Maybe it’s because I’m getting to the independent stage and maybe it’s because of how I grew up. And I think that has influenced me a lot. That is why this subject is so key to me. Because I remember being little and being the outside one, the one feeling outcast because of the expectations placed on me. I still remember my mother breaking down in tears over our long-running argument about my domestic habits (messy room, ok?). She revealed the real reason it bothered her was because she felt that when I grew up it could cause serious marital difficulties if I wasn’t domestic, that I would end up divorced. I think I was ten at the time she said that.

We still fight about my room. And it’s becoming pretty clear I will never be able to fulfil her idea of woman-hood. So I’m trying to build myself a new idea and, like an archaeologist trying to discover a layered buried world of women where my past and options of the future lie.

And I’ll admit I’m struggling. I’m trying to figure out where I stand, spiritually and physically – especially in relation to my mother, in search of female role models. I don’t think I have all of the answers. But I do have plenty of questions and sometimes it is the act of asking, the questioning that is the most important step. That is the real journey and adventure.

So I’ve been really busy, too busy. But I’m not going away until I’m satisfied and even then I won’t stop. Because I know how easy it is to slip backwards, for entropy to grab us. I know because when I was ten I fought and won a several year long, drawn out battle to get permission to wear trousers to church. It’s hardly the biggest feminist battle – Oh woe are my poor skirted, oppressed legs! – But if something like that drew so many tears and yells and anger, how can we begin to expect to solve the big issues without a lot more of the same?

And I also understand more than you think. I know her point of view and I know that she believed she was doing the best thing for me, that she acted out of love.

And those are the reasons why the issue of women is so difficult for us women, irrespective of the way men feel about it. This is an issue concerning identity, concerning the way we have been brought up, what we consider right. It’s hard to shrug those things off and asking someone to “shrug it off” is not appropriate.

You see, people who hate abortion, believe women should always be modest to ridiculous extent, think a women is best in the home don’t necessarily hate us, as women. They don’t mean hypocrisy and they don’t want violence against women. They just genuinely think that this is what is best.

But more than that I think they are scared. They are scared of a big bad world, where justice isn’t there to save the day, where the innocents are sacrificed without any outcry, where the way they were brought up doesn’t keep them safe. Change has been big and it is frightening. It means that things you have believed so strongly in could be wrong or not work. It’s easier to hold on to the frozen moments of yesterday than the change yourself and let go of lessons painfully enforced.

I think that is why there seems to be a backlash, why women’s issues always cause so much controversy. Because whilst this is a fight over individual issues, it really is a big fight over what the identity of woman is, about what women mean in society. It’s a fight over how we fit in this new world we are building and about the old one we are leaving behind.

It’s all about one question:

Who are you?



{March 8, 2007}   International Women’s Day

Don’t know about you but that seems a bit little to me. To be frank I’d be happy for a whole millennia to focus on women. Might offset the way we’ve been judged throughout the last couple of millennia. Of course I have been accused of narcissism before.

Does my sassiness upset you?

So let’s bust out the narcissism. I will freely admit to being selfish in many ways and I don’t believe that a necessarily bad thing. After all being selfish is recognising the self, the inner needs and drive. To be selfish you have to first recognise that you are worth something and that you have individual dreams and ambitions that are valid.

Does my haughtiness offend you?

But a bit of narcissism has almost become a self-defence, survival tactic and I would recommend it to all young girls with body image issues.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness

There is so much to bring us down, constantly thrown violently in our faces. Shopping for clothes can be emotionally draining, leaving an urge to cry and there are days when you feel like all of a sudden your body is too big for you to fit in it, awkward, fat, ugly.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise

Let the narcissism in, quick. As a class women have been beaten, abused, raped, killed, made to feel inadequate, starved, airbrushed, forced into contraptions that hurt and maim in the name of beauty, trafficked, sold, objectified, dismissed, abandoned and ignored.

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

BUT that’s not the end of the story. And that knowledge is why the narcissism is deserved, even merited.

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

We have not been destroyed. We are still here and despite all that we are still thriving strong. We have given the world a pantheon of strong guardian mothers though the world may not know it yet.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise

I have a lot of hope in young women and I believe that the coming generations can and will change the world. We are more powerful in ourselves than you can imagine; because our mothers and grandmothers have fought for us; because we are still fighting, struggling but our momentum means we are no more on our knees, that we shall and must win; because we are standing proud and we hold our hands out to our sisters beside us and around the world and we say, without apology in our eyes and minds, that we hold the key to the world that men have been unable to create alone.

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

It is through women that we shall resolve the issue of poverty, of AIDS, of violence, of sickness and it is through women that we shall learn to love. You cannot judge us now; as a world class we are still in the process of becoming. But the journey, though painful, is opening a new world, a new tree of life that will bloom with the accomplished works and ambitions and desires of complete people, complete souls.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise

Still I rise is by Maya Angelou



{February 23, 2007}   …T’ill my mood does us part…

February 24, 2007
Married and abandoned – the 30,000 wives ‘duped by Westerners’
Jeremy Page in Barapind

October 28, 2002, was the happiest day of Parveen Paul’s life: she was 26 years old, newly graduated from university and she was getting married.

What is more, within three months she planned to leave her village in Punjab and move to Bedford to live with her new British Indian husband.

As she watched the 300 guests dancing and feasting on sticky Punjabi sweets at the Anand Palace wedding hall, her head spun with excitement.

“I felt like I could fly,” she said , leafing through the wedding album that she keeps under her bed. “What a joke.”

Five years after her wedding, Mrs Paul is still sitting in her village with no hope of joining her husband in Britain and few prospects of marrying again.

She is one of tens of thousands of Indian women abandoned by Indian émigré husbands — many of them British — after hastily arranged marriages.

Some husbands simply lose interest after their brides fail to obtain visas, but many pocket their wives’ dowries or demand money to support their visa applications.

Others are already married and use their Indian brides as “holiday wives”, often leaving them to bring up children on their own.

There are no official statistics, partly because so few victims speak out, but the Government estimates that 30,000 Indian women have been duped in this way since 2004.

Of them, an estimated 15,000 come from Mrs Paul’s native district of Doaba, which accounts for the majority of Punjabi émigrés.

“This is ruining the lives of thousands of Indian women,” said B. S. Ramoowalia, an MP and former Cabinet minister, who is campaigning against the practice.

“The boys in Britain or wherever have absolutely no fear of any legal action against them in India. They can exploit this craze for emigration.” The problem is not new: Indians, especially in Punjab, have long regardedthe marriage of a daughter to an Indian émigré as a way to get the whole family to the West.

It has become so acute in the past two years that the Indian Government now wants Britain and other Western countries to deport errant husbands. It also wants Western governments to carry out background checks on nonresident Indians (NRIs) applying for Indian visas to find out if they are already married.

It wants foreign laws tightened to stop NRI husbands getting divorces without the wife being represented in court, and it is drafting new laws at home to protect abandoned wives’ rights. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs announced that women who are divorced or deserted within two years of marriage to NRIs would be entitled to legal and financial aid of up to $1,000 (£510).

“We need more dialogue because it has become like a disease in the last few years,” Girja Vyas, head of India’s National Commission for Women, said.

“We are also raising awareness in India so these girls realise that all that glitters is not gold.”

The British Government has yet to receive any formal requests from India, although British officials say that they have also become increasingly concerned about the problem.

Mrs Paul and her husband, Gulshan first met through a relative when he came to look for a bride in October 2002. He was divorced and a little on the old side at 35, but she was marrying late and could not afford to be picky. Also, his family did not want a dowry.

So the two families arranged a meeting and six days later the couple were married. Three days after that Mrs Paul applied for a British visa and Mr Paul returned to Bedford alone.

The problems began when her visa application was turned down because the couple falsely stated that they had known each other for two years.

Mr Paul says that was a genuine mistake. Mrs Paul says he instructed her to lie on the application form and then deliberately contradicted her in front of consular officials. She also alleges that her husband demanded 500,000 rupees (£6,000) to continue supporting her visa application. When she refused he filed for divorce in Britain.

“That’s a lie,” Mr Paul said. “Why would someone in Britain demand money from someone in India?” He says he helped his wife to appeal the High Commission’s decision twice and filed for divorce only when it was clear that she could not live in Britain.

“I’m ready to live with her in the UK but I don’t want to move to India — what would I do there?” he said. “Her family must accept that the marriage is over and find a new husband while she is young enough.”

That is easier said than done in a small village in Punjab, where divorced women are strongly stigmatised.

“I want him to come back to get divorced and face trial here,” Mrs Paul said. “He took my youth. Now my life is ruined.”

Wedding list

For a husband or wife to be allowed to settle in Britain, the married couple must:

— Prove the marriage is legal and that they have met

— Prove that they intend to live together permanently

— Prove that the British partner can support the emigrating partner without relying on public funds — providing evidence in the form of bank statements or a letter from their employer

— Show that they will live in unshared accommodation

— Fiancées are also eligible, provided the couple can show that they plan to marry within a reasonable time, usually six months If a man has more than one wife, only one will be allowed to join him in the UK

Source: UK Government

The thing that strikes me about this is the very strong dependence that the women have on men. The woman in the first paragraph is educated at university, strong, and still she hinges completely on her absent husband. Their financial, social and emotional standing is literally in these guys hands and yet the alternative isn’t that great either – why else would you marry someone you’ve only known for a week?

With the rate of marriage in the UK at an all time low this reinforces what’s been there all along. For no matter how beautiful a loving, mutual, equal marriage can be, it is founded in a tradition of ownership. Perhaps the women are valued, but in the same way as property, and harm against them is a type of human vandalism. For women dependent on men to live a marriage is joyful because she is now told she is guaranteed a good meal and bed. However what she is told is not always true. If a guy doesn’t place much worth in his “property” it is much too easy for him to throw her away without a second glance. I’m not saying they should stay with those jerks but they have to bear an unjust weight of consequences. A single, older and especially divorced women is obviously a disgrace- why else would he have left her?

Women don’t have a leg to stand on either way. Doomed if you’re married, doomed if you aren’t. Marriage has not been a successful institution because it was a success in of itself. It’s been successful because for many women there aren’t many other options. That and dowries, which don’t exists here any more and are also illegal in India but still common. It’s the physical gain from the union that has always been at the forefront.

It’s so important to teach all women how to develop financial independence – one of the reasons why the pay gap needs to be universally closed. Women should never have to be scared of being single, and they should never suffer for their partners thoughtless actions in such a way. Being in control of your finance, of what you own is a huge part of this.

Don’t be scared to end up single. That is not alone. Single can be one of the most satisfying states of being if you are comfortable with yourself and secure with the world, emotionally and financially and intellectually.

It is when you have had your promise of love and protection grabbed away from your hands and are left gasping for it, that true loneliness invades.

When your self is dependent on someone else- when that someone haunts your self respect without caring; One can be very alone with that company.



{February 13, 2007}   Slut part 1

Slut.

You dirty slut. Filthy slut. Shut your trap slut. Stupid, bloody slut.

Slut.

Sounds familiar?

Sluts are bad, we are told. Sluts are women who have strayed and don’t follow the laws of the way things should be. Or they follow the wrong laws or they follow them in the wrong way. Either way, sluts are out of line. Uncontrollable. Wild.

Men hate sluts.

And yet, they are still largely attracted to them, for the simple reason that they have a parasitic relationship, where they want to take something (sex) that they believe a proper woman, a Madonna, would not give.

Men want sluts. And they hate them because of that very reason.

Misogyny is a form of selfishness. In a relationship there is give and take but in the world of the patriarch all they have to do is take. Sex is important to them, because it is raw human emotion and physicality at its peak. It is the ultimate release. Controlling someone’s sexuality is a form of controlling their innermost emotional being.

A Madonna does not enjoy sex unless there are conditions. Marriage (meaning financial and domestic dependence here) seems to be the main one. Sex has grave consequences for these women, and it is that unequal share of responsibility that helps keep men at the top.

Sluts don’t follow that rule. They give a quick fix but they are also receiving something for themselves. They are aware that both people are using the other for something. It is a mutual and equal transfer.

The patriarch doesn’t like being equal to a woman. And he certainly doesn’t like feeling that women have something that he wants. He doesn’t want to be dependant in any way, shape or form on a woman.

A slut throws everything out of kilter for him.

She has the agency to give or refuse him sex because of her own desires. She is sexually independent from him and isn’t hung up only on him and his ego.

He has a sneaking suspicion that she is just like him in many ways. She is usurping his manly role, rejecting the virtuous female role and therefore threateningly emasculating.

Sluts are bad for that reason.

And yet, I’m not quite sure what the word entails.

We’ve got the definition as

a. A person, especially a woman, considered sexually promiscuous.
b. A woman prostitute.
2. A slovenly woman; a slattern.

Okay. Who exactly is a slut?

Sexually promiscuous women, prostitutes and slovenly women. That is still too vague for me.

Let’s focus this part on definition b.

The Prostitute

So we’ve got the entire female population.

Remove every single woman who has been involved in the sex industry.

Those are all sluts.

The problem with prostitutes is that men aren’t happy with just the body. They want the woman to be desperate for him. It’s about power. There is a power trip in knowing that she is dependant on you for her food, that she is desperate for you. But that trip is compromised when it is revealed to be a short term dependence (once the fee is paid that it) and that she can always find someone else to pay that fee. The power and control isn’t exclusive and therefore the notion that a woman in the industry is “tainted goods” comes in.

You may be a porn star and have all the so-called power that entails but you are still a slut at the end of the day.

But wait; here is the hypocrisy. Don’t men use prostitutes? Don’t they watch porn?

If a woman sells her body she is a slut. If a man buys it he is a… what? He is just a man. A real man. Possibly a “john” but he casts off that title the second the purchase is over. A woman cannot cast off “slut”. Once she is a sex worker she will always be viewed in that capacity.

Observe the obituaries of Anna Nicole Smith. Here is a woman who made a living off her looks and her body. It does not take long at all for the papers to mention this. However if a man dies and is known to have used these services time and again, this is not mentioned unless it is to say “he loved women”.

Or perhaps let us contemplate when the Ipswich women were murdered. Or perhaps “vice girls” and “prostitutes” first of all as it was reported. Many men are equally murdered but the attention seems to be drawn first of all to the crime not their status or sexual history.

Women’s involvement in the sex industry makes them sluts. Men’s involvement doesn’t really define them. You see they have personalities.

(Hugh Grant has bounced back pretty well, hasn’t he?)

Men aren’t labelled – they don’t even have the chance to be labelled

There are after all 220 English terms for a “promiscuous female” and only 20 for a male. (Stanley 1973). There exists 350 terms in the English language to say “prostitute”.

That sounds slightly excessive to me and also like an unhealthy fascination with labelling (therefore passing judgement and controlling) women’s sexuality.

To adopt and invent that many terms means that this is a big topic expanding a lot of energy. Who is it who controls our language? Historically that has been men. Women’s words have been lost since no one bothered to write them down or educate women so we could write them down ourselves. We are still emerging from that, believe it or not, and in many parts of the world that is still the case (two thirds of the worlds illiterates are women). So women have always been defined by men. And what aspect of women have men chosen to focus on?

That’s right.

Sluts.

So to sum up; women in the sex industry are sluts and therefore beneath contempt but they are also something that men in a patriarchy can’t seem to do without.

This leads to self-hatred. Self-hatred leads to hatred of the scapegoat.

The cycle continues.



{January 3, 2007}   Outer Confidence

There is a mainly woman-only epidemic that’s been going around for a while now. Everyone knows about it and whilst much has been done to tackle this disease it keeps cropping back up.

Confidence.

Young women especially are notorious for their lack of self-confidence.

We are scared of being fat, we think we are ugly and we depend on make-up like it’s a life-support machine. And this is true for many of us.

Much is said about building self-confidence and belief in our own abilities. We are told that if we want something hard enough… Or at least that is how the philosophy goes. But really do we need it? Self belief and self confidence?

I don’t think that’s what we need to be focussing in on at all.

You see; it doesn’t matter how much you love your body and how much you respect it. As long as the people around you don’t, you’re screwed.

There is only so much love one can build from the inside before it is time to turn outwards.

Fact is women do not develop insecurities by themselves. When tabloids hate women’s bodies (and don’t tell me they don’t) and highlight with bright red circles all the bits that even slightly resemble real flesh instead of plastic it’s kind of hard to measure up. What, it’s not real? Those women are somehow separated from us normal people and we don’t judge ourselves on them?

May I call that complete and utter bull?

When hair anywhere apart from on the head is reviled and we are expected to pour hot wax on ourselves, wear painful shoes and spend all we earn on our appearance, how the hell can we love ourselves?

Men and especially other women expect of each other a standard that is impossible to reach. A standard of beauty that can be bought, bartered for and ultimately surrendered; penetrated.

How can someone be confident when they are harassed on the street, insulted because of their gender in the press, and judged all the time by perfect strangers?

No matter how much self-confidence you have that is damaging.

The world around me hates women in all their cellulite glory. It hates that we have hips and bellies. It hates stretch marks and lazy eyes, breasts that hand low, moles and bumpy skin. But these are all things that make women who they are. What are we to take from that?

How can we claim to be building self-confident young women whilst pervading our very culture with hatred of them as they are?

Women have done most everything we can on the inside over the last years. We’ve gotten educated. We’ve gotten jobs. We’ve gotten stronger and more aware of the issues of our world.

Now it is not a problem we can solve within us but a problem from without.

We don’t need to develop more inner confidence.

It is the world around us that most show outer confidence in us.



{December 29, 2006}   Where Do We Go?

Lately I’ve been suffering from a particular French word- “malaise”. Whilst the English translations say things like “dissatisfaction” and “melancholy” or “disquiet” the word is subtler than that. Breaking it down it simply means ill at ease (mal a l’aise) but it also has connotations of physical discomfort. It certainly sounds close to “maladie” the word for “illness”. So it’s the word for mental anguish and discomfort taking a physical presence and form.

I feel physically ill because of the things I see and mentally perceive.

The lad’s mags on the shelf made my head tighten, the pink and fluffy Playboy merchandise made my throat go raw and dry. I don’t feel well and my arms and legs feel heavy.

So what do I do?

More importantly where do I go?

When someone is ill, they go to hospital, but there are no hospitals or doctors available to someone feeling socially and culturaly ill. I guess activism is the answer but it’s difficult to fight for a better world when one has no idea what that would be like. It’s fighting for something that feels as intangible as a cloud sometimes, and that brings its own problems.

Here is the philosophical conundrum: truth and misery that you cannot fully change? Or ignorance and happiness?

Where do I go?

I remember reading Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple (a book I recommend to everyone) and in it the protagonist- a black woman living in the era of segregation and who is further victimised by seemingly all the men in her life – dreams of Africa. Africa is the home she has never seen, where she can be free. It is the home of her mothers and of proud people just like her. It is a place that symbolises her identity even though she has never been there.

So where is my own place?

Where do I go?

I do not even pretend to have faced that same degree of struggles, as I have grown up with a lot of privilege; I’m white, able-bodied, relatively well-off, well-educated and whilst I’m certainly not considered traditionally pretty I’m not at all fat. I don’t believe that anyone has gone out of their way to oppress me consciously because of those reasons, though I have dealt with a lot of bullying when I moved to this country.

(Some was racially motivated- I came from France and spoke with an American accent which isn’t a good combination in the days coming up to the Iraq war and especially not in England which has a natural antipathy to those countries anyway. However I’m not about to start on woe-is-me.)

But sometimes the collective cultural pressure gets to me. Sometimes, like today, when I’m shopping for clothes and see all those shop assistants with perfect smooth and acne- free faces, clothes that will never look good on me and all the other crap pressures hoisted on women I feel like crying.

And when I feel like crying – where the hell do I go?

I know there are a nice group of safe-spaces for women on the Internet but sometimes I want a physical safe-space because the problems are just that- physical.

And tell me, what do women have that men haven’t had first or created or appropriated?

It’s funny but sometimes I wonder if a great problem that women face when it comes to actualising ourselves is that we have very little, or very little acknowledged, cultural heritage. We have no Motherland to dream of, no Africa. We don’t have an identity of our own. Everything written about women, everything said about women (and I accept there may be a slight hyperbole there) has to do with men and us – not us alone.

We are not allowed to stand-alone and together as one group, and so we don’t know what we want because we have never had it.

I am speaking as a white woman here, and this does not hold true for everyone but I know that I want this- I want my own Africa.

Because where else do I go?



et cetera