Newt In A Tea Cup

{October 24, 2007}   Fascist Family Values

Edit: I have received a well-intentioned email from my older sister telling me that, quite frankly, I can do better. She is most probably right. In an attempt to displace her deep-seated feelings of inferiority that I did better at her at GCSE and A levels, she subtly inserts a comment regarding her uni learnings, my spelling and grammatical errors and lack of quoting sources. To which I reply; some of us actually have got jobs (you know, that work thing you haven’t touched since the end of college?) and the entire Ugly Betty Series to get through before it’s due back at blockbusters next week!

So here goes the post redux.

A few days ago I read an article in the Times where it says that a worrying number of Germans are starting to have nostalgia for the era of the Nazi’s. The leader of this radical rethink is Eva Herman. Herman used to hold down a job as newsreader however began trumpeting for the old values of femininity. Anyone who follows US politics will be familiar with the Schlafy’s of politics who make fortunes by insisting other women return to domesticity. Herman is keen to join them.

The Nazi kafuffle is to do with Eva deciding that the Nazi’s did great things with the roads and that their idea of family was quite spiffy really. The reason for this is that they had fabulous family values; you know, the three Ks (Kinder, Kuchen and Kirche).

This is exactly why anyone promoting family values is someone I instinctively avoid with a ten-foot barge pole. “Family” in this case stands for white, moneyed and “Values” means bigoted. In fact it’s pretty much a code word that can be used to signify the kind of Neanderthal political ponderings exactly the same way that “in my humble opinion” is usually followed by anything but.

I mean what kind of sick world are we in where the systematic killing of the disabled, militaristic jingoism, the active oppression and subjugation of women as breeding machines (who received medals for mass-producing) to supplement cannon fodder can be seen as family values?

How can the interests of our families be at such odds to the interests of the individual human being that forms the family?

Pah! Family Values as we know it is an illusion, I say!

Family Values are; love, compassion especially for those in trouble, understanding and respect especially for those who are not like us, a thirst for knowledge and understanding, a communal attempt to hoist each and everyone up instead of pressing people down.

Basically exactly what the feminist community is agitating for despite our reputation as wreckers of society.

The horrors of that era are simplified in a type of tunnel vision. The Aryan ideal is very narrow and anyone who didn’t fit it was out; homosexual, homeless, people with mental or physical disabilities, non-traditional women, pacifist, foreigners…Family values are the equivalent of propaganda posters- they look good and shiny but they are mass-produced dead, painted and eventually peel away under the rain of life to reveal a crumbling wall.

It seems to me that the important things in life are not things that can be measured or counted or dispatched with bureaucracy. When we start reducing relations to this in the name of morality we end in danger of forgetting the real faces behind the stories. No two people are the same and no two families are. This isn’t a defence of moral relativism but a rethink of what “moral” actually means.

No one can accuse the Nazis of being proponents of “moral values” by any stretch of the imagination. But “family values” are apparently not that irreconcilable with that type of fascism.

The fact that people can tie that together with “family values” shows that perhaps our idea of what a family should be is founded on misogynistic, exclusionary, bigoted ideas and traditions. Bringing this back may well be traditional, but it’s hardly beneficiary to anyone.

This article was very specifically focussing on the role of women and there is a certain backlash at the moment towards female upward mobility. Not a day passes that there isn’t some kind of article bemoaning how what women really want is traditional gender roles and abandoning advocating equal rights and opportunities to embrace passivity, baby bottles and unemployment is what we really need if we want to solve the problem of unequal pay/rape/discrimination; all variations on “don’t you women worry your pretty little heads. The men will take care of it and if we tell you it’s fair how dare you question it?”

Change is scary and uncomfortable so I can understand this nostalgia a bit. And yes, this is very familiar role and people like familiar because it may be brutal, terrifying and cost a thousand lives but at least you know where you stand; even if it’s barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

Don’t expect me to join you there.


{September 6, 2007}   My Rwanda

I find it quite hard to write sometimes, mostly because when I write to this blog it tends to be fuelled by a cocktail of anger and sadness. Desperation, I think. The truth is that I need to keep busy and at that point I’m naturally optimistic and happy. But when I’m not busy and my mind sinks back onto itself I end up feeling incredibly down. It’s predictable like clockwork; vacations are the worst. Those days I can’t face people so I spend what feels like hours fighting back tears and hoping no one notices. If it weren’t for the absolutely amazing friendships I’ve made throughout high school and the last two years of college I don’t know where the hell I’d be.

The other day my sister and her youth group were giving a talk about their experience in Zambia. After I overheard a mother berating her boy for not really saying about all that they learned and focussing on the Victoria Falls and Safari instead. I took pity on him because I know how hard it is to talk about that stuff when it’s so fresh – especially in front of people who you don’t think will understand.

So I talked to her about my own experience in Rwanda in 2005 and how much I’ve changed since then.

It was getting up to sing for our hosts that gave me the seeds of courage to become a confidant woman. I didn’t notice that for ages, but some of the things I’m happy doing now I could have NEVER done then.

Rwanda made me politically aware of social justice in a way I’ve never been before. The difficult questions of racism where thrown in our faces in a seriously uncomfortable way – the way people would gawk at my skin and act so honoured to see me was horrible.

And I told her how my predominant feeling was anger.

And this bit is completely messed up- I was angry at the poor people.

Because they had nothing and were happy to see us. Because they had nothing and still sat down and thanked us personally for the work of every Aid Agency in the country. Help is from white people and aren’t we white people too? Because they gave us food and hospitality when I would have said piss off in their place.

Because they smiled.

How dare they? They are dying! Living in squalor! The children have no parents and no clothes and no food! They have had a genocide for Christ’s sakes! Don’t they know what that means?!

That was wrong of me and yet my intentions were right.

When faced with those atrocities anger is appropriate.

Children are dying. Children are dying. Repeat that phrase with every inflection until you know everything it means.

The children are dying.

For all our wonders and technology and every single damn thing we have ever achieved the children are still dying.

Who is guilty? This is a crime. Someone must be at fault. Who? That’s something that I really don’t think any of us can answer properly. Yes, the big corporations don’t help but there are so many strands of culpability it is impossible to fix or blame one single thing. The closest I had to visualise this problem was what was in front of me. I was angry at the Rwandans because I was going through so many different experiences and shocks that all I was certain of was the smile on their faces which never flickered no matter how threadbare their clothes.

I felt like I was arriving empty handed and yet they were begging to receive 10 pence for a meal.

The anger festered a lot and I’ve been having to deal with it since. The important thing is that you focus the anger. I’m only responsible for me. It’s wrong of me to be upset at them for taking what they can from life. I don’t like that they think they have been blessed by a white presence; it is seriously problematic. But they have so little that means something – what’s the situation? Do I take that away? What is ethical here?

But where does the anger go?

I want to talk about something else. Most people know Rwanda for it’s holocaust. The HIV/AIDS infection rate is so high because of the mass rapes during the attacks. There were very, very few men that we saw, a fair amount of women and absolute legions of children under 14. Think about the reason why.

Under the insistence of our hosts we went to what was supposed to be a school before it became a memorial. Outside a man talked to us, but not really… His eyes were rimmed permanently red, his voice was quiet and his demeanour was like he was living in a reality transposed unto ours. But what really drew the gaze was the smooth, bullet sized indent on his forehead.

When the killings started the people had been maliciously told the school was a centre of protection in the hands of the French so 65000 flocked there. The water and electricity was purposefully cut off. They fought against the Tutsis with stones. It was a massacre.

He told us of how he fled through the rainforest, across the vertiginous hills and into the next country with that bleeding head wound. But only after hiding in the bushes and seeing his wife shot. The children were all buried alive around the school.

Today it’s quiet. Walk down the path beside the green grass where it’s kept even and no one comes. To your right there is an elevated mound and a flag flies above it. The solemnity and grief clocks the air and worms into your lungs so every breath you take is a prayer. God, no. God, why? No, no, not this. Please, God, please. Answer me. Where were you, God? Why? Why?

Behind the modern building there are some twenty odd typical African classrooms. The walls are bare, cracking a bit and the floor is grey slate. You walk down where children would have learnt to change the world; where they would be reading and playing and growing to help the country become something amazing. You’d visited a few classrooms the day before and had been amazed at their aptitude. The lessons are trilingual, the pupils had been apt and eager, well dressed with the girls in the blue uniform and the boys in brown. Here there is no one.

But first you smell something strong. When you look in the classroom what you see is a frozen moment of time.

The body’s have been dug back up and are thrown onto low tables. They are preserved in lime- bleached white, still wearing their clothes and some of them still have their hair. Every wound is visible. The position of the body has not been altered and the facial expressions are agony. The mouths are open, contorted in their last screams of pain that no one hears now or listened to then. They are still trying to scream.

The first classroom is full of only children. And so is the second. And the third.

You can’t step in the room but look from the door. You feel sick from the smell. They show you a pile of tattered clothes and shoes.

When you walk back out you understand what he meant when he said 40 000 people were buried under that mound with the flag on it. You imagine their stretching arms reaching, up, up but beat back with dirt thrown on them by caterpillar trucks.

Right then you understand something. And you feel the anger it brings.

Every single one of those contorted, smothered people loved, was loved, dreamed for tomorrow (do you know how precious being able to dream is?). They thought about things- Oh, my God, they imagined and reasoned and that blows your mind away. They had ambitions and families and they laughed. Do you remember that? Stretch your mouth open, get that rolling wave of sound rise from your throat and watch your eyes crinkle in the mirror. Isn’t that absolutely incredible? They liked things, saw beauty and created beauty in so many different ways. There is nothing so earth-shattering as seeing what a miracle this life is. You see that if there ever was an image of God it is right there in front of you. Think about what that means; what it really means when all the mundane is revealed to be something so astounding that we could not do anything but marvel about it if we truly understood it. People aren’t just people. They are everything they experience and more.

And someone decided to take that away – because they felt like it.

My anger made me a pacifist from that moment. Nothing and no one has the right to take someone and violently murder everything that they are and had and could be. It’s absolutely vile that it can even be considered.

When you leave the memorial at Murambi a group of children run up to you, hands out for money or a touch of your elusive pale skin. They’ve most probably worn the same shirt without changing it for years and now it’s a brown colour with stains and rips decorating it. Their feet are bare and they have no one to supervise them. Most must be orphans of war or aids. After a while death is all the same thing. In a few years time the malnutrition or the malaria will have killed a handful of them. If they survive to adulthood they’ll be old before their time and live in the drudgery of poverty with no options of escape or relief – not from the dirty muddy water which will surely infect their families or from the growing debt gnawing at the last portion of food. The girls will give birth in the dark alone when they are much too young and watch their children die or die themselves.

You know this.

They are still smiling.

Murambi Memorial Pictures. Not safe for anyone. But then, it wasn’t for them either, was it?

{January 22, 2007}   Blog for Choice Day

I know I should really be doing coursework for now but today is Blog For Choice Day so here I am.

Let me start by saying that I don’t like abortion. Good – that’s cleared up. But then how many women getting abortions like it? Contrary to stereotypes women don’t skip into the clinics with sunshine and flowers and rainbows lighting their mental path.

Abortion is not a choice that is made lightly and there are real reasons behind it.

I believe that Abortion is a symptom, not a cause of social ills. Until poverty, discrimination, lack of education, rape, the wage gap, childcare and many more fundamental issues are dealt with abortion will keep coming up – and for good reasons.

Abortion has been around since the beginning of time in the form of herbs and violence against oneself. Desperate women are nothing new. It isn’t going away and whilst the debate for when life starts (which I refuse to go into because I can’t pretend to know despite my GCSE Child Development Certificate) life is ending for many women in countries where abortions are illegal.

I would rather those women had an abortion and lived to take care of their families – don’t you?

The point is that this comes down to an issue of autonomy. If you trust women to be fully intelligent and capable human beings then you should trust them when it comes to what happens to their bodies. Bringing a life into the world is so monumental that we need to leave that to the individual doing it and certainly not force it on them.

Being pro-choice does not mean loving abortion. It means recognising that some women are in very real situations where they have a real need for help and abortion provides that.

If you believe abortion is bad, fine. So do something about the root causes of it – help teenage mothers, financially and emotionally, help disenfranchised areas, support sex education, support research into mental and physical illnesses, don’t discriminate against working mothers and protest a culture that provides women’s self-validation only as sex-objects.

If we do all that then I think abortion will go down, and not just in the way that means women travel to another country, or secretly risk death with a coat-hanger out of desperation.

Until then- get the bloody hell out of my uterus.

There is a statistic going around that around 70% of Anti-Choice leaders are men. It is obscene and sickening that men feel the imperative to legislate women’s bodies. Because that is what it is – ussually rich white men sitting around a table deciding the fate of women they have never met and never cared about.

What happens to women’s bodies is women’s business, and until these men find themselves pregnant they have no say whatsoever in my eyes. It is absolutely none of their business.

If a woman decides not to tell her partner about a pregnancy and abortion – she’s probably got a good reason. Most of these types of decisions are made in the partnership after much deliberation. And even if they aren’t – the final choice should always, always be the woman’s because it is her fundamental right to human autonomy that is being dealt with.

It is her body. To legislate a person’s body is nothing short of oppression.

et cetera