Saturday, 8 March 2014

On International Women's day: Feminism, Culture and the Broader Picture.

Today is International Women's Day and what better day than this to make a post about something which changed my whole perception of Feminism and women's experiences generally.It was this time last year that my interest for gender equality began to develop and I wrote a post exactly a year ago about IWD!

A few weeks ago I had a essay to write for my feminism and political theory class and wanted to share briefly some of the ideas that I learnt from it. The essay was 'Given the variety of values and priorities between cultures, is it inappropriate to try to apply the same feminist agenda to all cultural groups?'
Now the conclusion I got from researching this question was that, of course, a one-size-fits-all feminism is not going to work because women are not just a solely a social entity . To assume that all women face oppression in the same way just because they are a women is clearly wrong, and it's an idea that has been challenged and has lost its popularity over many years. It has become clear to me though that yes, feminism has a clear general aim, but it will mean different things to different women. 

In studying the topics of multiculturalism and feminism, and particular looking at the lives of women in poor developing countries. This quote in particular stuck me. 

‘although sexual egalitarianism is a major goal for all feminists, gender discrimination is neither the sole nor perhaps the primary locus of the oppression of Third world women’. - Cheryl Johnson-Odim [x]

Now maybe this is a disputed idea, or maybe this is an obvious point, but it made me rethink in some ways what for me, feminism's purpose is, and how it needs to be catered to the women or the community it hopes to liberate. I can't really remember what I thought intersectionality meant before I did this essay but I believe now I have a better understanding of it. 

Although people's perception of other cultures is slowly getting better as people become more open and understanding. I would say there is a still a problem. The fact that we assume harmful practices such as Sati, dowry murders, child marriage and FGM are things innate to a countries culture or religion is so awful. To push these terrible things under the category of 'cultural values' gives the idea that because the west don't have these practices that the West is somewhat superior. 

Yet, if we are being honest, western countries are in no way better; forms of oppression and discrimination are widespread. The key difference is that the oppression of women in the west is seen as a problem that just needs solving, while the oppression of women in developing countries is seen as 'culture'. And the media goes to perpetuate these ideas. In an article by Leti Volpp, she talks about how the New Yorker, in writing about Dowry Murder in South Asian communities called it 'the cultural alternative to Western divorce'. This is the article [pdf link ]. I would really recommend it, as it explains it much more detail the problem of terming these practices as part of 'culture'. 

Anyways, before I get off on a tangent and start re-writing my essay, the ideas above are just some things that got me re-evaluating how I see the struggles of women in countries other than my own. For the main thing I want to get across in writing this is that women's experiences in countries other than our own can not be seen as just a gender issue. Oppressive structures of racism and poverty are playing a part in women's lives.

I feel like the feminism I read and talk about can be so western centric and sometimes I found myself assuming the discrimination and difficulties found by women in my near vicinity as ones faced by all women and therefore are the most pressing issues facing women.  It never crossed my mind before that women in other countries may be in such a difficult position that achieving gender equality is not the only and first way they need to improve their lives.

So there are just some of my thoughts on International Women's Day, for me, a day to open my eyes beyond my experiences and look at the broader picture. 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Feminism In London 2013 and Reclaim the Night!!

I haven't posted in ages, so having had such an amazing experience nearly a week ago, I felt I really wanted to blog my experience at #FIL2013. As well as my experience at my first march!

Well, to start the day, a group of us, from the University of Reading Woman's Campaign, REPRESENT! got the train at 9. Arrived, collected our bag of stuff, and sat for the welcoming talk. Speeches were on sexism in the media, Disability and bisexuality in feminism, and shocking presentation on Acid violence by Shabina Begum
The atmosphere was amazing, and just being around like-minded woman and men was such a good feeling.

Next was the morning workshop. I went to the 'Challenging links of system of power: Towards a whole-istic feminism' one. We sat in groups, hearing the ideas from the panel first. (Cynthia Cockburn, Pragna Patel, Jenny Nelson, Ece Kocabicak, and Brigitte Lechner) and then got to share our ideas of how we can create a more intersectional feminism. Some ideas that came out were:
  • Looking to the iceland model of women's only political parties.
  • Changing attitudes from a young age, through education, implementing changes with governors and equality officers.
  • No taxation til representation.
Other than the workshops, speeches and panels, there was loads to discover in the foyer area.  Full of stands representing different feminist organisations. Pro-Choice abortion group, The Feminist Times, The White Ribbon Campaign, the Feminist library and loads more. Selling badges, stickers, bags, etc! One of the areas I loved were the stalls selling books all on gender and other related areas. I bought myself some badges and got loads of postcards and leaflets on some great organisations and groups!

After lunch at Pret, we had the afternoon session. I attended the Afternoon panel, 'Women in the Media - A Post-Leveson world'. Speakers included, representatives of Object, Yasmin Alibhai- Brown and Ruth Barnes, a radio presenter. I found the whole session pretty interesting, especially a debate which came up, whether wearing the Hijab or Niqab is actually a choice or not.

Finn Mackay speech in the afternoon ended the conference brilliantly! Highlighting important issues, and making it ever more clear why feminism is so important. You can follow her on twitter here:

Now for RECLAIM THE NIGHT! A brilliant way to end the evening. With two friends, we each took a sign which said the words, 'End Violence Against Women'. Starting off at the Institute of Education we walked through London, passing through West End, Trafalgar square and ending up near Charing Cross Station. Throughout the march we sang a number of different chants. Being my first experience, I really enjoyed it! Coming together with women from all over the place and marching for something which is so important. Plus there were people waving and clapping in support of such a cause!A few pics:

And to end my little summary, here is us lot, looking awesome. :D


    Thursday, 1 August 2013

    Why 'Orange is the New Black' is pretty brilliant.

    Orange is the New Black. My new obsession. It went from seeing an advert for it on TV,  to consuming the whole season within days. My love for this show has not stopped there. I now follow the related twitter accounts, actor's twitters, scroll through the growing GIFs of the show on tumblr and die with happiness when I see cast members posting "behind-the-scene" pictures on Instagram. The fact that the cast hang out with each other outside the show makes me love them even more. Could they be any more perfect!? This buzzfeed article captures my feelings towards the cast pretty well. And I am now re-watching the 13 episode season, as a way to cope with the sad reality that season two is a year away.

    So why I am writing this on my blog? Well because this show is brilliant in so many ways I had to share it. Its emotional, it's dramatic and it's hilarious. But one of the biggest reasons why it is so brilliant is how ground breaking it is. Making new waves in the entertainment we watch out in the TV world!

    The whole show is based around a women's prison in NY. The story of Piper Chapman, who enters the correctional institution for smuggling in drug money, something she did 10 years ago. As the season goes on, you learn more about her life as well as her fellow inmates and their experience in prison. There are many better synopses out there but there is one thing I can say, it's not necessarily what you expect. A story of prisoners, their life in prison, the bad choices they got them in there. Yet the show, to me,  reveals how although these women made a bad choice. They themselves are not bad people.

     A heavily dominant cast of women makes the show pretty refreshing. Such a brilliant cast of female characters, it makes it ever more clear that there is not one way a women should be. Women don't have to feminine and look girly. In a world that seems to suggest that women need to dress and look a certain way. I love how these women are totally themselves and don't feel they need to conform to be anything other than who they are.

    All types of ethnicities and cultures are represented. The three main groups are Black, Hispanic and White. In a humorous way you see how the lives of each ethnic group are separate, how the prison canteen and sleeping areas are divided. Yet they don't stay exclusively within their group. When prison elections are held,  inmates divide between the set groups: Black, Hispanic, White, Goldies and other (asians).

    Sexuality is also a key theme within the show. Uzo Adubu, who plays inmate Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" talks about sexuality in the show in an interview and I think she explains it pretty well.
     "It [the show] crosses every arena in terms of sex, sexuality. It lets people who are open, fluid, defined, whatever! You can be any place in this show."[x]
    It is for these reasons why I think this show is pretty special and why I recommend it to anyone. There are characters which represent all walks of life, in terms of Ethnicity/Sexuality/Gender/Age/Income. As many articles on the show have explained, these are the stories of women that have not been seen on TV and yet OITNB is exposing its audience to so many of these types of characters. A great example the character Sophia, a transwomen, played by Laverne Cox, also a transgender women herself.

    Thanks for reading! x

    Trailer -

    Wednesday, 10 July 2013

    Sexism: Examples in Sport, Politics and Film.

    The news stories have recently got me riled up. Therefore I wanted to highlight some examples of sexism that have frustrated me in particular.

    The Women's Tennis Champion Marion Bartoli. This blog posts highlights the disgusting and enraging comments made towards her.You can read it for yourself.
    What makes the whole thing even more depressing is that John Iverdale, the Radio 5 live commentator, commented on Bartoli's win by saying  "I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, 'listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker.".
     And its the sad fact that a male sport person never has to worry about the way they look, they just perform and if they are not necessarily conventionally attractive, it doesn't matter! In fact it doesn't even pass through anyone's mind to comment on it. Yet the way a women looks in sports is somehow relevant enough to be commented on and surely must be relevant to their performance! People commenting that Bartoli was sweaty and using that to put her down. Wow, she was sweating, no shit!

    Another example I want to highlight is with the case of Julia Gillard. Now whether you think she should have been removed as Prime Minister or not, and whether you think she was a good leader or not, is not what I want to address. What I want to address is how she has been treated by the media. In an interview, a radio DJ asked her if her partner was gay, because he was a hairdresser. Why did this even seem an appropriate question to ask her. We can all assume that an interview with a male person of similar position say Paul Rudd, or Tony Abbott, would not have been asked such an inappropriate question. I really recommend this guardian article. It shows how difficult her position was, being the first Australian Prime Minister. That she can't just be seen as a Prime Minister like all others before her, but because being the first Female PM she put on a pedal stool and heavily criticised.

    How Scarlett Johansson gets asked questions about her underwear and her diet while her co-star Robert Downey Jr is asked a serious questions about his character.
    Its this idea that women have to look conventionally pretty and if not they are not worthy of respect and can't be praised for their achievements. It's this idea that someone finds it perfectly acceptable to ask a women questions that are obvious inappropriate and humiliating. Its this idea that for a female actor, its more important to know how she fits into her clothes, what she eats to keep her figure and what underwear she wears rather than asking her a serious question about her role in a film.

    Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Intersectionality and Privilege-Checking - NS Feminist Debate.

    I recently listened to the NewStatesmen Feminism Debate podcast. The question that centred around the whole debate was 'What is the most important issue facing feminism today?'. The whole discussion interested me so much that I wanted to write my thoughts about some of the areas that came up.


    A definition: A theory which "holds that the classical models of oppression within society, such as those based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, species or disability do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.” 

    Having listened to the debate and thought about it some more, intersectionality is something that seems kind of obvious to me, feminism is there to improve rights of women, but women are all so different and they experience things differently. So surely feminism, there to represent half the population, has a difficult job in representing all women. Thats were intersectionality comes in. It further proves as well that Feminism is not a one size fits all.

    Another reason why its so important. - "Intersectionality allows the integration of systems of oppression – patriarchy, capitalism, racism, among others – to be identified, analysed, and challenged, and it provides a means of transcending and critiquing single-issue politics." - [link]

     The term was first coined in the 1980s. It was the theorist KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw who realised that Black Women in the US during the 1980s were suffering from both racial AND gender discrimination. Although the concept of intersectionality was heavily relevant and talked of in the 1980s, it has now become more and more used within discussions of feminism today. One of the panalist, Bim Adewunmi really made this clear in the NS debate.  She spoke of how Nikki Giavanni, a well known activist, was once asked a question, 'Where were the black women in the second wave equal rights movement?' and Giavanni replied - 'That wasn't our fight'. 

    Many argue that the Feminism that is so well known is not representative of the progress of all women. This so called "Feminism" has only truly improved the lives of White, middle class women of the west. Feminism of the 1980s was hijacked by these women of privilege and used for their own benefit. This post is very interesting and talks more about the women's movement in the US and how it wasn't there to help black women.

    Another article I found shows furthermore why intersectionality is important and what feminism should be about. Taken from the Open letter to the white feminist community. 
    "Because feminism is not merely a movement about middle-class white women and their interests; it is about queer women and straight women and women of all colors. It is about making the world a better place for women and men alike, and it is a cause that should unite all of us."
    Some have criticised intersectional feminists, saying that women need to focus on the bigger issues that effect all women, rather than having this in-fighting within the feminist community. But on the other hand, you surely can't expect someone to ignore issues such as race or class that are clearly integral parts of their identity.  Bim makes this very clear when she says 'If I am telling you that I have a migraine, don't tell me to focus exclusively on the gangrene eating away at my leg. There's time to treat both, no?' [Bim's article] 
    This suggests that although the women's movement as a whole is important, this doesn't mean that the inequalities suffered by working class women or women of ethnic minorities can be swept away under the giant movement that is feminism and seen as a lesser issue. 

    Privilege Checking?

    Combined with the idea of intersectionality is the concept of 'privilege checking'. Some have  become very defensive at the term. I feel that it is something you just need to accept, and by accepting it you are in a better position to realise the difficulties of people less fortunate than you. Louise Mensch, a conservative MP is one person who has criticised this idea of privilege checking and asks for a return to "reality-based feminism". Laurie Penny responded to the whole area of controversy in a very clear way:
    Actually, "privilege" isn't at all hard to understand. It just means any structural social advantage that you have by virtue of birth, or position – such as being white, being wealthy, or being a man. "Check your privilege" means "consider how your privilege affects what you have just said or done."
    I agree with this alot. For people who write feminist publications, this is probably more difficult. The balance is between being so afraid of generalising that you only speak of your own experiences and at the same time not attempting to speak for all women, everywhere.

    Zoe Williams in her Guardian article words it very well, the idea that being aware of your position, however privileged is not necessarily a bad thing, but just something one should be aware of.
    "Reason to  "check your privilege" – not from some restrictive idea about how authentic you are, or whether you've endured the hardship to qualify as a progressive voice, but because not all prejudice is extinguished – some of it is just displaced. If someone else is taking the flak you would have got, in eras past, that flak is still your problem."

    In Summary.

    I found the theory of intersectionality very interesting but also very confusing, there is alot more I could read on the topic, and I haven't gone into much detail about it. One thing I think I can say is that intersectionality is very important, and people need to be aware of its necessity
    Not being part of these minority groups does make me wary of discussing the problems for those groups, and in some ways its makes me more wary. I think the most important thing is that I am aware that each feminist's experience of inequality will be different, and if you find yourself disagreeing with a fellow feminist, take a step back, try and see it from their point of view. Listen more and talk less!
    Just some of my thoughts. :)

    Saturday, 11 May 2013

    Gender Labelling - Children's Toys.

    So I recently saw this picture on my twitterfeed. Courtesy of LetToysbeToys. This example in particular is pretty terrible. When there are toys such as trucks and cars I sometimes have associated those as mainly toys for boys, I don't think this is right by the way. But the 'Chemistry Set' being labelled as for boys seems to hit me harder for some reason. It is just perpecuating the old-fashioned stereotypes of what boys and girls are supposed to enjoy playing with, and more seriously what they should want to do at school and later on as a career.

    Now, I'm sure many would say that these labels will not stop children playing with what they want, and I agree. I played with legos, cars, my older brother's chemistry set, a toy microscope and many other toys that some would associate with boys. I also loved to play with dolls, kitchen sets, barbies, etc.
    But then surely, if a child can play with anything they want. What is the purpose of gender labelling anyway?

    From reading my twitter, having many complained to Tesco, this was their initial reply, which I'm sure many will see as very strange, "based on research":
     I'm happy that action is being taken, but there are so many cases of this.
     In some ways, I don't think these labels effect what children play with. I hope that parents will see these labels and not limit what their child can play with, and I believe that most parents are better than this. I also hope a child will not stop themselves playing with something because it is deemed 'a boy's toy' or 'girly'. Personally I feel these labels send a very bad message generally in our society.

    The biggest problem I have is that it is the toy companies that are actually doing the labelling. Someone purposely labelled that 'Chemistry Set' for boys. What does that say about people's opinion of what girls and boys should do? Surely what feminism has been campaigning for all these years is to get rid of these ideas of what women should and shouldn't do! This one example is not helping the idea that girls can be a scientist if they want to be, and it is showing. Women are still under-represented in jobs related to Science, Maths, Engineering positions - (Guardian Article).

    This example is just one way that gender labelling is to continue having a detrimental effect on the progress towards gender equality. Toys don't need to be for a certain gender, there is literally no need. If all labels like this could be removed, then maybe it would help reduce other damaging stereotypes of boys and girls. The ideas that boys need to be tough while girls should be sensitive and gentle. All of these things continue to limit what girls and boys should do!

    Just some of my thoughts.
    Thanks for reading!

    Sunday, 28 April 2013

    The Progress of Social Movements and the question "Where are we in 2013?".

    As a history and politics student I believe get to learn the best of both worlds. I study events that are happening right now and depending on what you define as history, events that happened ten to a hundred years ago. History; some question the relevance of a person who lived 200 years ago, and often see it to have very little meaning to the world we live in today. Yet surely the events of the past have shaped the world we live in today, and as the quote goes "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

    When I look at the news today, it often makes me think; in years to come, these events I see will no longer be defined as current issues. But will be written as historical facts in textbooks. They will be intensely analyed by academics, historians, sociologists, etc! If you think of all the areas of history that have shocked you, or made you question the morals of people at the time. Students will study the events will are living in right now and some will think "I can't believe that happened, why did no one do anything to change that, I'm so glad we don't live in a world like that anymore".

    I wanted to put it into the context of social movements. Those campaigning for improved women's right in the western world, in the developing countries. The LGBT movement: the concept that homosexuals deserve the same legal and human rights as heterosexuals do. The fight for gay marriage.  The African-American civil rights movement, the position of black americans today still shows that it is not over, as well as the fact that racism is still a sad part of society.
    Many of these social movements have been, in different forms, campaigning for years. Some argue so much progress has been made if we compare the rights of these social groups in the 1960s and 70s. Yet many are frustrated with the progress of change. I noticed this frustration in the women's movement.
    Women are in such a better position than it was 40 years ago, but it makes us question. In the year 2013...

    - There is still so much sexism. Just read the accounts of women and girls from the everydaysexism twitter account. [@EverydaySexism]
    -Women are still being paid less then men. This is supposedely unlikely to change until 2067. [X]
    - The Steubenville Rape Case, highlights the terrible stigma there is to rape victims and the fact that the media continues to enforce this "Rape Culture".
    - The case of the 5 year old girl raped in India. The first response of the authorities was to dismiss the complaint by the girl's parents and the offer of 2,000 rupees to the parents to keep quiet. That shouldn't be the first response. [X]
    -The list could go on.

    It makes you think. 'Really, this is where we are in 2013.'

    Sometimes, it is quite disheartening seeing the great areas of progress in social movements, but then seeing examples in the news that makes you think, "if this is still happening, how is there ever going to progress at the pace that we want it?". I question sometimes this progress, and I wonder, will I see a female Prime Minister or a female US president in my generation? Or even a female political party leader.
     But I suppose, for those fighting for social rights, we, of course should demand change now, but these efforts should also be seen as part of history. That as long as people continue to campaign, areas will improve, and its the past movements that fuel the present, which will then empower future generations. I have no summary to this post, but yeah, there are some of my thoughts.


    A side note: I recently read a really interesting essay in the Newstatemen, Centenary edition. A piece by Natasha Walter called "Lift up your voices". I think the edition has passed now, but if you happen to have it, I really recommend a read. It basically talks about the progress of Feminism over the last 100 years, as it the anniversary of the Newstatemen. It is very interesting and empowering piece.