If she knew

If she knew, why didn’t she do something?

Why didn’t she?

It all depends on what you mean by knew.

Us women, we’re like Spiderman, you see. Sometimes knowing isn’t a concrete fact. It’s not a single blatant offense that belongs firmly in the harmful or criminal categories. It is a long slow accretion of data. Sets we’ve been building our whole life. Knowledge that means sometimes we meet men, even outwardly charming men, and they set our spider senses tingling. The little buzzing in our brain that warns us to be on guard in the presence of this man.

We’ve spent our whole lives being taught how to keep ourselves safe. In a world that will not grant us a right to safety in our workplaces, in our leisure time, not even within our own homes.

And we learn, we learn from a young age to watch out. The world is full of subtle invasions of our safety that we navigate every day. Right in front of your eyes and you don’t even notice.  The acquaintances whose eyes linger. The ticket collector who holds onto your ticket a moment too long, forcing you to look at him, or look away. The men who ‘bump’ into you and then eye you up as they apologise. The jokes you are expected to smile at, because is there anyone around who will back you up if you don’t, or will things just get nasty? So, you smile and move on. And the whole time our spider senses are tingling. We know these men are creeps.

This is just the boring backgrounds of our lives.

I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of being expected to know who’s a creep and who’s not. I’m sick of being expected to watch out, to be careful after dark. I’m sick of being expected to be nice to men when they are decidedly not nice in return. I’m sick of men whinging that they all get labelled as predators just for being nice to women, even though we know hundreds of men we don’t label predators, so spare me your sob stories and reflect on what aspect of your behaviour we dislike so much. I’m sick of being told not to rock the boat, not to make a fuss, not to take things too seriously. I’m sick of being minimised, and made to feel small, like we’ve been doing this wrong. I’m sick of wondering if this will ever, ever change.

On 8th November, almost exactly one year ago, Trump was elected President of the United States. We know he is a sexual predator. His ex-wife has testified that he raped her. His own words have been played for us to hear, over and over, and over.

How can any women ever expect to be believed? How can we ever expect to be supported when knowing that a man is not just a creep, but a bona fide sexual aggressor is not enough to see his career finished, his public persona confined to a trash heap, any shred of respectability razed.

Speaking out has got women nowhere. One individual might be stopped. Weinstein’s career is finished, maybe even for good. There are a million Weinsteins and a million Trumps. A million men ready to turn a blind eye in the hope they can hoover up the crumbs that fall from the gold-encrusted plates. A million women ready to chance it, see if they can be the lucky one to get through the obstacle course unscathed and grab a prize at the other end. Or at least, get through, relatively unscathed.

Right now, I want to call out every creep I’ve ever met. I want to scream from the rooftops but I won’t because then I’ll seen as a crazy misandrist and who will listen to me then?

No one.

It’s so easy to ignore our suffering isn’t it? You can ignore it when we are quiet and smile and play along with the status quo. You can ignore it when we are angry, because then we are just hysterical bitches. If we didn’t say something at the time, you can ignore us. It can’t have been that bad. Did we say No?

The point isn’t that every instance is that bad. It is just the sheer volume of shitty behaviour we put up with in our lifetimes. Every time our spider senses tingle there is a calculus to be made. Is it safe to say something?  Is this someone I will ever see again, or can I just swing away to safety, putting their foul jokes behind me? If I say something about this colleague how will this affect my relationship with others in the office? Will my bosses support me? Will any one in this crowded public place intervene, or will they assume it is “just a domestic”?

And you know what, we can’t call it all out. We just can’t. It is too much, too tiring. If we do we are far too easily labelled as uptight, humourless, man-hating, asking for it, bitchy, hormonal, slutty, imaginative, sensitive, bossy, hysterical, misandrists, wishful-thinkers, heartless, career-wreckers, frigid, ugly, fat, shrill, flirts, cold, nags, anything, anything but someone on the receiving end of calculated male aggression.

If we kicked up a fuss every time we put up with a shitty comment, or an unwelcome look, or even touch, the world would grind to fucking halt.

It is not just Hollywood, or the BBC, or sports teams, or public transport after dark, or your average office work space. Sexual Harassment is everywhere. Everywhere.

Our entire world is supported by women keeping their head down, being strong and powering through because sometimes we just need to use the photocopier.

That’s the way it is.

Some weeks, weeks like this, like that one last November, I think about that. I think that if that’s the case then all these systems, all these businesses aren’t worth it. If that is what your capitalist society has built its foundations on – I don’t want it. If your business model is predicated on lip service against harassment and the bare minimum of protection – then piss off. If you require the silence of women and minorities to keep power – then we should be tearing it from your hands and grinding it under our heels. We won’t even care how you think our legs look while we do it.

Sometimes I just want our collective rage to burn so fierce these men and the systems that support them will be reduced to nothing but ashes on the ground. Every single one of them.

We know who you are. You are every man who has felt entitled to something he is not.

Maybe it is finally your turn to be afraid.

We are finally hearing the power of our collective voices. It’s a power that won’t just allow us to swing to the rescue. Tangling misogynists in our sticky feminist traps. No. This is real power. Power that shows that if women know they will be supported and believed then we can make the world a better place.  Power to redraw the line, so as Emma Thompson put it, one women, once would be enough.

Power that says no women has to keep quiet.

If she knew.

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Calm down. It’s just a Burqa Ban

I’m fuming.

Last week Denmark’s coalition government agreed to a formal vote on whether to ‘ban the burqa’. Apparently, a majority of Danes are willing to support such a ban.

Another fact: the majority of Danes have never had a conversation with a woman who wears a burqa.

In an ideal world the women effected by this ban would be central to the ongoing debate. So far, they are not. Coverage I have seen in both Danish media, and English language media worldwide is more likely to quote politicians involved than the women themselves. I have no intention on writing about what the experience of wearing hijab or veil is like, or of trying to convince people of its virtues or its faults. As a white non-muslim that is not my place. If you can read Danish this is an excellent interview with a woman who wears a niqab, and I urge you to read it.

Before we start on why this is a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad idea, let’s cover what this ban actually means, and who it effects. While the ban is named a ‘burqa-ban’ it is called so just because the western media thinks it is fun to misuse terms for the sake of catchy alliteration. More accurately it is a niqab ban. Burqa is a full gown, covering the head with a mesh for eyes, and is unheard of here. Niqab is a full veil with slits for the eyes, and while more common, is also, virtually unheard of here.

So, who is actually affected? One difficulty with this is that we don’t actually require people to register themselves as niqab wearers. Aarhus, my home city, has a large Muslim population. In 2009 a report estimated 18,000 Muslim inhabitants, and of that 20-40 women wear niqab. If that figure was extrapolated to the whole of Denmark then that would give an upper estimate of 400 women, in a population of 5.5 million. That’s an absolute maximum. The actual figure of niqab wearers is believed to be much lower. The concluding estimate of that same report was only approximately 100-200 women in Denmark wear niqab.

200 women.

That’s it.

All this parliamentary time, and media time, is devoted to restricting the rights of a tiny minority of women.  We should not have doubts about this. This ban is not about protecting women.

Now, you might be thinking, surely as a feminist you object to the treatment of women in parts of the Middle East? Don’t you object to the way women are forced to cover up? Or not granted freedom of movement? Well, yes. I do object to that. But, this ban isn’t about women in the Middle East. This ban is about what women living in Denmark are wearing. I object to any women being forced to wear any form of hijab. In the same way I object to aspects of Christianity’s purity culture and the demands placed on women there. Or the way I object to women’s clothing choices being routine evidence in sexual assault cases. I object to any law in which the burden of compliance falls solely on women, because then the issue becomes misogyny.

There a million ways the rights of women are infringed upon in our society and being forced to cover up is only one of them. In the absence of any evidence that coercion is the case for the niqab wearers in Denmark I do not see how forbidding its use will free anyone.

Any attempt to control what women wear is an attack on women’s freedoms

When one of the working partners in legislation think schoolgirls should be forbidden from attending school wearing headscarves, you should be questioning what kind of freedoms you are creating. The Danish People’s Party argue that teenagers are not able to understand the ramifications of their decisions. Isn’t experimentation with how you look the whole point of being a teenager? Like, isn’t everyone entitled to make questionable choices as a teen? There are many things teenagers can be doing that are worse than wearing headscarves.

Women in Denmark are free to dress how they choose. Some women have chosen to wear niqab. If that is their free choice then so be it. If it is not their free choice, then how does the ban help? You do not free the oppressed with further marginalization. In a truly tolerant society we must make room to tolerate difference.  Otherwise it is akin to saying “Look, I’m giving you freedoms! Here are your freedoms! Enjoy your freedoms! WHY AREN’T YOU USING YOUR FREEDOMS THE WAY I TOLD YOU TO?!”

Mattias Tesfaye, an MP with the Social Democrats, another party supporting this ban, is quoted in DR saying:

Jeg bliver også mega provokeret, når jeg ser en kvinde komme gående i en burka. Ikke så meget af kvinden, men mere hvad det er et udtryk for. Jeg betragter det egentlig som et slags fængsel.

I also find it provocative, when I see a woman walking along in a burqa. Not so much the woman, but more what it is an expression of. I see it as a type of prison.

Well, somebody just get this the guy a white horse and some shining armour.

That last sentence right there. I see it as a type of prison.

How many times do women have to say it? How we choose to dress isn’t about you. We Westerners are so convinced of our tolerance that it is easy to turn a blind eye to our intolerance. I am sure that Mattias Tesfaye believes in equality for women. I am sure he believes that he is freeing women. I’m sure he thinks of himself as an ally. In this circumstance at least, he is wrong.

Equality isn’t something given to us at men’s largesse. Equality is something we have whether you like it or not. Equality is when women don’t need your approval for how they dress, or behave. Equality is when we can make our own choices without regard for how you perceive them.

Denmark is generally considered forward-thinking in areas related to gender equality. It is further advanced than many countries when it comes to gender equality. That doesn’t mean that it is perfect. That doesn’t mean that its citizens are universally enlightened as to what equality means. In a society that has historically been very homogeneous, it also doesn’t mean that people here are very skilled at navigating multicultural societies, or understanding foreign cultures without ‘othering’ them.

This is about immigration and to what degree the Danish population will accept Islamic values in the country they perceive as belonging to them.

Tolerance has long been considered a cornerstone Danish value. Sometimes it is tolerance with limits. It is a tolerance that says as long as you look more or less Danish, and act more or less Danish then we will tolerate whatever goes on behind the closed doors of your home. The niqab is so very, very undanish, so udansk that many people find the mere idea of its presence – intolerable.

That is what Danish law makers have chosen to pick on. The most visible reminder of a people and way of life that exists in Denmark, and yet somehow remains udansk.

Jakob Ellemann-Jensen a spokesperson for one of the governing coalition parties The Liberals, is quoted in DR, the state broadcaster, saying:

Livet går videre, og det skal det også, for vi skal kunne fungere i dagligdagen, og vores børn skal stadig kunne klæde sig ud til fastelavn. Så ro på.

Life will go on, and that is because we must be able to manage in our daily life, and our children must still be able to dress up for Festelavn (Carnival). So calm down.

Calm down.

CALM DOWN?!

Did you actually think telling people to calm down helps? Have you ever met a feminist?

The point is not that we really think you are trying to ban Batman costumes, it is the hypocrisy of banning face coverings without actually banning face coverings. Why do you get to decide which circumstances are socially appropriate for people to cover their faces, and which not? And while Ellemann-Jensen might think ‘life goes on’ the very point of this ban is that for the women effected life won’t go on as normal. Their life will change. So, no Ellemann-Jensen, you don’t get to tell us to ‘Calm Down’.

I feel a lot of Danes are quite convinced by their existing reputation that they are the good guys. They look to America and see a stripping of rights from people of colour, and the disabled, and women. They think they are doing better than that, but to me it only goes to show how easily and quickly things can change. Denmark is currently one of the most equitable nations on earth, and as for the Danish far-right goes, historically they have not been nearly so nasty as some of their neighbours. Being the “good guy” doesn’t mean that they are above mistakes. Being the “good guy” doesn’t mean any choice you make is a good one. Being the “good guy” relatively speaking doesn’t mean there aren’t signs we should be concerned.

The far-right Danish People’s Party had their best election results at the last general election. Since then a new, even further right-wing, party has formed –The New Right. In our neighbouring Germany the far-right AfD received a record 13% of the vote. A number of European countries are enacting similar burqa bans. In a time of geo-political instability in the Middle East, and with the following record numbers of refugees fleeing into Europe, politicians are mainstreaming Islamophobic views.

Take Islam out of it, then the question comes down to this. Do you think it is acceptable to take rights away from a small religious minority?

If your answer to this is “Yes” then I believe you can no longer call yourself a free, and tolerate society.

If your answer is “No” then now is the time to step up.

Burkaforbud? Nej, tak.

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Sally Jesse and the Baying Masses

I used to watch TV instead of going to school when I was in my teens. Now, now, don’t leap down my throat. You think just because you’ve read one sentence, that gives you the basic idea so now you can spew bile on the comments section. No, no. I was sick okay? Also, that’s a bad way to behave.

I learned a lot about good and bad ways to behave, stuck at home with the TV remote. Daytime TV is super educational, in a brain rotting sort of way. First infomercials (home gym equipment, Suzanne Clip), then between Oprah (book club, touchy-feely, car giveaways) and MASH (honestly it was a welcome relief), was Sally Jesse Raphael. The queen of trash talk TV.

Families would drag their teenage daughters on to the show. Tearfully, angrily, they would divulge their disgust in how they dressed and who they spent their time with, because there is no better parenting than slut-shaming your child on internationally broadcast television. Concerns would be brushed aside, brazenly, brashly, by these abrasive girls.

Sally Jesse, in her power suits and oversize red glasses would look suitably disgusted and appalled at all this carry on. Revolted by the choices these girls were making. How they chose to dress. Dragging it all out for the drama, and then offering platitudes in the guise of helping these families. We were all with her, weren’t we? It was a learning experience. A chance to clear the air, between loving family members and a declining audience share.

Looking back I do not for a second think that these girls (and they were girls) were exemplars of feminine empowerment. I think many of them were making very unhealthy choices. How easy it is to blame them. To blame their families. Perhaps even to blame the television executives who used their poverty of choices as fodder for entertainment. Millions bounced around by corporations, creating growth, profit, jobs for the hardworking, and here was the bread for the masses. Keep the crowds happy with the cut and thrust of a domestic spectacle. A drama where the only people hurt were those already on the bottom of the heap.

Years later I lived in the UK with my husband. Cambridge, a town full of elites and drowning in its own beauty. My husband was completing his PhD, while I worked a low wage job. Looking for a flat for our last year was stressful, we looked at many shitty flats in many dodgy locations before finding a reasonably good option. A one-bedroom terrace flat in a block of council flats. The type of flat with pre-pay electric meters, and neighbours who stocked up on extra large cans of lager at the corner store in the morning. The type of flat whose previous tenant had decided to disappear after the mounting debts got too much. The houses across the street had nice gardens, but the occupants never said hello, unlike the guy who thought I should be grateful for the aggressively friendly attention of him and his two large pitbulls as they wandered the neighbourhood.

We shared an entrance with a boy in his late teens (and he was a boy), who moved in not long after us. Let’s call him Mark. I don’t know why Mark ended up in a council flat on his own at such a young age, though I can make a few guesses. It’s clear Mark had been badly let down, first by the family who should have looked after him, and then by the social structures that should have been supporting him when his family failed. But, he wasn’t a bad guy. He didn’t set off the alarm bells that some of our other neighbours did, or that some of his friends did.

The flat had been noticeably quiet for some days before we were woken, early, by banging on the doors, “Mark!” The police had turned up. We opened the lower door, let them up, said we hadn’t seen him for a few days, and then minded our own business like good neighbours should. A few days later he came home, but he stopped going out at night.

Mark was under a curfew.

I don’t know what Mark had done. I only know that by the time we left Cambridge, Mark was in prison and his girlfriend was pregnant. I only know that social services worked in such a way that, though money was thrown at housing him, we never once saw someone checking if Mark, this barely literate teen, was okay. The only officials we saw in our time next door were police and debt collectors. He was dumped in a flat without the emotional skills to cope on his own, the maturity to keep him out of trouble, and without a clue how to manage basic tasks like putting out rubbish and recycling until we took the time to show him how.

All these years later, I still feel angry for Mark, for all the Marks. For the waste that was once a child with promise. I liked what I saw of his girlfriend. I’ve always thought she’s probably doing a good job of raising that child in a society full of hurdles. One where we set up single teen mums to fail and then wonder why it happens, if they do. But Mark? I’ve never thought a stint in prison would see him come out a better man. I wonder, how safe I would feel now, opening my door onto a quiet corridor and seeing him there.

And that curfew? It didn’t solve anyone’s problems. It didn’t stop Mark from having his mates over. It didn’t stop the noise, the drinking. It didn’t stop his mates from hooning off in a hurry in their cars late at night and probably drunk. It didn’t stop him from collecting a sawn-off length of pipe and running a lap of the block the night that bricks got thrown through our second floor windows. It didn’t stop Mark from trashing his apartment in a rage one night. I don’t know, but I think I’d feel like punching holes in walls if my life felt that hopeless too.

All it meant was his problem was contained. Away from the rest of Cambridge. The nice Cambridge.

Away from the successful middle class who tut-tut at these messy people with their messy lives as though somehow our societies are completely separate. As though the choices we make about how we share, and with who, are fair. As though it is these kids’ damn fault for the mess they find themselves in. As though we solve their problems by forcing them to be home, even if home is where they don’t feel safe.

Do you think Mark ended up where he was without the people who work on those front lines supporting kids thinking, ‘we are failing this kid’? Without someone wishing they had the resources to offer him something more. We listen to the mainstream media asking their tough questions. But when people tell us what they need, we peer into our bank vaults, count our change, and shake our heads sadly. Tell them to find ways to manage. Pour scorn on these wayward youths in a Sally Jesse style trial by media, and yet we refuse, refuse, to listen to the evidence for how to prevent Marks from becoming Marks in the first place.

We pretend we live in better, fairer societies than the Victorians, or the Romans before us. These days I get to sit in my nice flat, in my nice neighbourhood, and listen, as our politicians punch down. We all nod our heads, as though we too know what these kids need. Fool ourselves that we are not complicit.

Then we take our ring side seats, switch on our TV sets.

Grab your popcorn folks. Real life. It’s the best damn show in town.

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The world I would give my daughter

My daughter is asleep in her bed.

She lives a safe, secure life. I’m a stay-at-home-parent. She has never been left in the care of anyone other than her parents.

She cannot live all her life this way. I do not want her to.

One day I want her to venture out in this world. I want her to have freedoms. I want her to have choice.

I want her to be able to acknowledge that so many blessings and privileges she enjoys are due to the hard work of women before her. The right to her own money. The right to work, to own property. The right to an education. The right to control her own fertility. The right to marry and divorce, when and if she chooses.

I want her to understand that these blessings and privileges are not extended to all women around the world. I want her to believe in the right for all women to enjoy them. I want her to be unafraid to speak when necessary for those who can’t, and to listen and support those women who can.

I want her to live in a world where her right to exist in public is never questioned, where it will not make her a target for abuse. A world where women can be leaders without being called bossy, argumentative without being called shrill, annoyed without being called hormonal. A world where she can be a mother without being called slummy or yummy. A world where women are not judged by what bathroom they choose, or what size they wear. A world where women are not shamed for the natural functions of their bodies. A world where women are not asking for it. A world where women never have to be told to smile, or brushed off because it was just a joke.

She is too young to ask for things herself. She knows nothing of these troubles. So, while she sleeps, safe in her bed I will be her voice.

This is the world I would give my daughter. Tell me, is this too much to ask?

Stuck in the middle

The other weekend we went blackberry picking on a path near where we live. Like we might be the type of family that lives knee deep in Lego and laundry, watching TV in a super-urban apartment, and goodness knows what Janet Lansbury would make of the way I snap at the kids sometimes, but, whatever. We are also the kind of family that makes foraged jam. So wholesome.

I concentrated on filling up my ice-cream container while my husband helped M, who was very proud of the ten or so berries that ended up in his bucket. We left A buckled in her pram for safety’s sake, and as long as I fed her a berry every now and again she was happy. Until she wasn’t. And just then a family boated past us on the river, having a family sing-along.

Dammit. This isn’t wholesome family fun. Family sing-alongs while you boat is wholesome family fun. I’m doing this wrong. What must they think of the crazy woman standing in the blackberries while a toddler yells in a pram.

The yelling turns into crying.

I try to extract myself from the bush – cursing myself for wearing a skirt. And realise my jacket is snagged in many, many places. Turning to deal with that, my hair gets snagged by more thorns. I remember a recent episode of Peppa Pig, the one where they go blackberry picking and Mummy Pig gets stuck in a blackberry bush.

I have turned into Mummy Pig.

Dammit.

Mummy Pig just wants wholesome family fun. She just wants some fruit. And five minutes to pick berries without having to stop and admire a four year old’s basically empty bucket, or be yelled at. She just wants jam and maybe a crumble or two. Why does she have to be judged for her food choices? Why does she have to have her dignity stripped away by a blackberry bush – let’s all come laugh at the fat pig stuck in the prickly thorns! Why does she have to involve the whole family and share when all she wants is a fucking dessert? It’s not all about you Peppa!

Somehow I ripped myself free.

Or did I?

I came home to see the always excellent Andie Fox (@bluemilk) retweeting an old post because the same old tired arguments about mothers keep happening.

We will know we’re living in a world of equality not when just as many men as women are staying home making jam and looking after babies but when women can talk about their life making jam and looking after babies without everyone freaking the fuck out.

Because maybe the blackberry bush I am actually stuck in is a metaphorical one; a thorny tangle of attacking mothers for the choices they make. It seems in these days of information overload, we can’t just make a decision. We are expected to have thought about it – to have done our research. Then everyone gets to analyse our decision, and journalists write crappy clickbait articles about the mommy wars. But these choices (if we actually get a choice) aren’t about society. They are just the choices that we make for our life. Choosing jam doesn’t mean giving up on gender equality. But it is hard when you are in the thick of it to know if what you are doing is right. So does picking blackberries make me a better mother? Or does being mired in domesticity mean I am a poor role model? Or does it tell you nothing about me other than the fact we have blackberry bushes nearby and I like to cook?

And to eat.

So I made crumble. And I made jam. And my children and I shared licking the spoon and got happy, sticky, jammy faces.

Conclusion: It’s just fucking jam. Stop overthinking things.

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