“Papa, I’m hungry!”

By Farah Haque

A couple of days ago, I had an initially-casual-turned-grim Skype conversation with my partner. It was regarding the decision about when to be parents. Many people may find the sheer topic of the conversation to be too serious to start off casually, however, between my partner and I, this is a much talked about topic that we often bring up in humorous ways.

It is important to mention here that we have been married for the last 4 and a half years — out of which we have been away from each other for the last year, by virtue of my Master’s degree in London and his job in one of the developing countries in South Asia (where I spent the first 26 years of my life).

My partner knows that I love children and would love to be a mother at some point in my life but we both agreed on taking that step once I am ready to do so. In his words, “It’s your body and so you have to be both physically and mentally willing to undergo the whole process” — and he sincerely meant that. This initially sounded awesome and thoughtful, especially taking into account the kind of men we were surrounded by, in an unbelievably patriarchal society such as that of my home country. However, the more I contemplated it, the more I felt that there was something wrong with such a statement. This led me to start writing for Gender and the City.

Back to the conversation… While still joking around the topic, I asked him about his readiness for a child and his immediate response was that he is always ready because he is old and responsible enough to become a father. My pro-gender-equality mind responded saying, “I’ll only become a mother once you’re ready to take an equal share of the childcare responsibilities.” He replied that, needless to say, he would. He asserted that he is a very caring and understanding husband, (jokingly) unlike many of his friends, and that he would never place childcare responsibilities solely on the mother’s shoulders.

Nevertheless, when I asked whether his imagined caring responsibilities included tasks such as changing diapers; singing lullabies to make the baby fall asleep; waking up in the middle of the night to check if the baby was sleeping well; feeding the baby; trying to understand why the baby was crying; teaching the baby to write the first letters of the alphabet; waking the child up in the morning and preparing breakfast and a packed-lunch; getting him/her dressed for school and numerous other chores that I have seen my mother do for us, his simple solution to all these questions did not surprise me at all.

He effortlessly reminded me that many or most of these could easily be taken care of by a nanny whilst we share the rest and that I should not get stressed worrying about all these issues now. I responded by asking what would happen if I did not want to hire a nanny: “Well, in that case I’ll definitely help you out as much as possible but I’m not sure if I’m capable of doing all of those things. Also, given that I am so busy at work, I wonder if I’ll have enough time for these activities on a regular basis. But of course, I’m not insensitive: if you’re feeling unwell, or if you’re busy elsewhere, or if you have to leave for work early, or go out of town, I’ll try to take care of everything.” That was his earnest response and somewhere in the process, we lost the humour!

Before describing the note on which we ended our conversation, let me share my state of mind at that very moment. Too many things were racing through my head. Knowing my partner for the last 10 years as a man who has always been sensitive, understanding and respectful towards women, our conversation left me pondering the socially acceptable extent of a man’s sensitivity towards women. I realised that my husband’s appeals and offers were genuinely made and that he had no intention of looking down on me because this is what he has learnt all his life through our universally acceptable socialisation processes. Despite being open-minded and respecting women’s rights, he was unable to think beyond the socially constructed traditions; he too took it for granted that the above mentioned tasks were naturally meant to be the duties of a mother, even if she was a working mother, often substituted by a nanny. His response implied that being an empathetic husband and a responsible father meant all he could do was help me out in times of crisis. That was as far as his stretch of imagination could take him as a gender-sensitive man in a South Asian context.

I could sense his uneasiness around the topic because, knowing me well enough, he could also sense my apprehension. It took him a while to figure out why these foreboding thoughts were eating me up and that leaving these issues unresolved may well lead to jeopardising our marriage. I was left perplexed at how he ended the conversation — he admitted that he was nervous about making a commitment that he may not be able to live up to later on and that he was still not sure if he could actually make himself do all the tasks mentioned. He emphasised that he would love to assure me as my partner that together we could move mountains BUT apparently, my questions have left him baffled and he asked for time to think about these points.

After this conversation, I did not know what to feel: should I be delighted and hopeful that my partner understood my trepidation regarding equality in parenthood and actively decided to consider my questions? Or should I rather be miserable, feeling hopeless that I had to explicitly put a ‘responsibility chart’ in plain words in order for him to realise what equality in parenting responsibilities means — that parenting not only involves playing with a baby and buying chocolates and toys, but also the not-so-exciting feeding and cleaning?

***

I know I am sharing a very personal experience on a public platform and perhaps many readers may deem this inappropriate. Nonetheless, part of the reason for sharing this story is also to challenge the way we divide the public and the private realms, which has an undeniable role in the social construction of our gendered divisions of labour: the father, the mother, the nanny!

The way we attach roles to ourselves and to others based on sex, race and class is evident from this simple day-to-day conversation and there is certainly a power play — albeit unintentionally in my case — which in itself is problematic. These inherently unequal societal notions go unrecognised because they are so deeply rooted and ingrained and if someone points them out to us, they become points to ponder on.

Having grown up in an upper-middle class family in the capital city of one of the developing nations of the Global South, the socially constructed notions of ‘good girl’ versus ‘bad girl’ and ‘good family’ versus ‘bad family,’ always disturbed me. The reasons why my mother left her job in order to take care of us and yet my father continued to work, were always unconvincing to me.

The reasons why five of my female friends got divorced within a year of getting married and even worse, the reasons why they were to take the blame for that, were also unnerving. As a result, the way I used to think (and still do) was never perceived as ‘normal’ for a girl or a woman in my society. Time and time again, since childhood, I have experienced such reactions following my words and actions every time I protested against unequal gender relations.

My personal opinion on this — and I am sure many others will agree — is that we probably have a disproportionate number of women who are aware of and sensitive to gender inequality whilst men are unmistakably not on an equal footing here. The discrepancy in this awareness is probably increasing (if anything) the already-existing gap between the way men and women think of themselves and of others. Increasing men’s awareness of this issue may prove to have a greater effect than getting more women on board. It’s about time!

Botched Surgeries or Poisoned Medicine? – A Word on India’s Sterilisation Victims

By Ali Leyland-Collins

Last week, outrage spread worldwide as news surfaced of several women who had died in India after having had female sterilisation surgery. According to some sources, the number of victims is set at 15, whilst others state is as simply being ‘more than a dozen.’ How can 3 women be discounted in one fell swoop? Surely even one death is one death too many? Looking at the situation, as reported by numerous different countries, one can come to their own conclusions.

The important points, as reported by news around the world:

  • Sterilisations have been carried out in India since 1975 following a campaign aimed at curbing India’s fast-growing population.
  • The doctor who carried out the surgeries in question, Dr. R. K. Gupta, denies any malpractice despite performing 83 surgeries in less than 3, 5 or 6 hours (report depending). The protocol suggests 30-35 operations would have been the expectation for a whole day of surgery.
  • Dr. Gupta has never experienced complications before and therefore claims the deaths must have been a result of the medications these women were given after the surgery — he claims that it was clearly a drug reaction.
  • The doctors who performed the surgeries claim that it is not their responsibility to deal with the large influx of women: if people are sent to them, they will try to operate. The fear of public agitation if they turned people away — and the fear of losing their jobs — meant they would try to operate on as many women as they could in the time given.
  • Dr Gupta claims that his tools were as clean as possible in the circumstances and that he was wearing gloves. He sterilised his tools in the same way he has been doing for years, never having previously experienced any problems. It is this which leads him to believe that it was the post-surgery medication and not his surgery which lead to the deaths.
  • There have been denials that any incentives were used to encourage the doctors to operate above the expected 30 person quota. It has been admitted, however, that they may have been paid per patient.
  • Dr. R. K. Gupta was arrested on Wednesday 12th November on charges of manslaughter.

Developments:

  • The family of one victim was paid 200,000 rupees (£2,060) in compensation and was placing blame on the government for the way in which the ‘sterilisation camps’ were run.
  • This week, reports have shown that patients who were given the same medication as the victims showed symptoms in line with zinc phosphide poisoning (a compound commonly found in rat-poison).
  • The 15th victim is reported to have been operated on at a different camp, by a different doctor, two days later. The implications suggest that the deaths were not due to negligence on the part of Dr. Gupta but more likely the medicine, as this latter group of patients were given the same medication as the former.
  • There are also reports of a 75-year-old-man who ingested medicine from the same batch, for different medical reasons, who is now also reported to have died.

Did you know?

  • In terms of figures, female sterilisation is the most popular family planning option in the world.
  • More than 220 million women worldwide have undergone the surgery. This figure is demonstrative of 19% of all women who are married or in a union.
  • 28 million men worldwide have undergone the equivalent surgery — known as vasectomy — whose risks are lower.
  • In India, there is a lot of stigma surrounding vasectomies; as a result of this, men are less likely to have the operation whereas women are actively encouraged through government schemes. In the early years of India’s sterilisation campaign, many of the operations were forced.
  • Both male and female operations have the potential to be reversed.

What are your thoughts on India‘s sterilisation programme?

Do you think it is any more or less restrictive than China‘s ‘One Child’ policy? Are they even comparable?

The surgery is more dangerous for women than for men; why aren’t more men encouraged to have the operation?  

Sources:

Reuters

New York Times

CNN

Huffington Post

BBC News

Hindustan Times 

Get to Know thy Neighbour: Breaking Down the Gender Binary at the Local Level

By Daniel Oledzki

I awoke one morning to find myself shackled.
Not tied to something tangible, but bound by imaginative and yet definitive boundaries – like borders drawn on a map.

I think most people would call this puberty.

As I proceeded to navigate through the perils and pitfalls of adolescent development, I was made increasingly aware – by those looking out for my best interests – that what I was doing during this period of self-exploration and expression was just plain wrong.

Even now, as a straight, white, middle-class male (which, to be completely honest, is pretty much like winning the identity lottery) I find I am told what is or isn’t socially acceptable for me to do as a man just as often as I was as a girl.

Oh. Yeah. I’m transgender.
Did I forget to mention that?
Maybe because it’s actually not that big of a deal.

Though it certainly seems to be to other people.
To the extent that even strangers feel entitled to ask all about my genitals.
Are we going to have sex later? If not, you probably don’t need to know that in order to know me. And if that was your intention, your chances would be greatly improved by beginning the conversation with something like “Hey handsome, can I buy you a whiskey?” as opposed to something like “So, uh, how does it, like, work?”.

Oh very well thanks, but you’ll never find out first-hand: intrusive, arrogant, douchebags just aren’t my type – sorry.

Personally, I’m totally okay with answering questions about being transgender (after all, if you aren’t transgender yourself, you’d have no way of knowing what it is actually like), as long as you and your questions are respectful.

It is not a complicated concept.

In a similar way as if you were to ask me about the square footage of my igloo, I wouldn’t be super stoked to sit around and tell you all about growing up in Canada either.

In fact, some of my favourite conversations with new friends have involved them saying “I’m so glad to have met you – before I did, I didn’t know transgender people could be normal.”

This is because, in my experience, there is a fine line and a big difference between ignorance and unawareness. Unawareness is rooted in the narrow version of reality presented to us by mainstream consumer capitalist culture… whereas ignorance is usually rooted in assholes.

While I am fortunate enough to have always had a loving and supportive family and friends, I have also had my fair share of physical attacks and verbal venom spat in my face, simply because those people truly believed my very existence posed some kind of threat to their own.

The problem isn’t me – it is all of us and, more importantly, it is what we’ve been strongly conditioned to perceive as a threat to the very sanctity of social order.

That is, anything that extends beyond the arbitrary and yet somehow absolutely essential gender identities of male and female.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I have experienced having my identity reduced to a conceptual conundrum: the transgression of a seemingly impenetrable social boundary (from one gender to the other). I’ve also experienced the limitations placed upon both male and female people on either side of that binary – as well as the sincere fear in the eyes of people who didn’t know how to act towards me at a time when I appeared most androgynous.

I have also met far too many people – even those who are happy within “traditionally” defined gender roles – that find themselves restricted to their sense of self-identity and expression at various points in their lives.

If the majority of people feel this way, it can’t be natural.
So what happened?

I remember fondly the realm of playground politics, where nobody really cared who you were when you played house as long as you did not choose the character they wanted to be. Even then, you could easily accommodate gender switching: two moms or two dads to share and/or take turns.
I always opted to be the dog, in case you were wondering (budding psychoanalysts need not apply) but even that was totally acceptable!

This was all possible because of the classic kindergarten rule we all learned on day one: you stand in a circle with your arms outstretched and wave them around and as long as you don’t step into somebody else’s space and smack them with a flailing forearm it’s all good in the kinder hood.

Why isn’t that approach to sharing social space applicable to adults?

Because we are not supposed to be playing house anymore, we’re supposed to be buying them.

Simply put, the gender dichotomy supports the economy.
(I’m also ready to admit that it is not that simple: there are a myriad of other factors at play, but for the purposes of this particular post, I’m doing the whole “simply put” thing.)*

It is far easier for consumer capitalist culture to function if everybody is divided into two easily defined and identified opposing categories that can then be marketed and sold to each other.

Naturally occurring diversity has existed across time and space, but has been stifled, subverted, and swept under the historical rug for the sake of supporting power structures.

We can change that.

Us. All of us.

The pivotal linchpin of consumer capitalist culture also has the potential to become a very worrisome wrench in the works.

So let’s stop conforming and contorting ourselves into uncomfortable boxes at the bottom of the pyramid.

And hey, if you are among the fortunate few who are genuinely happy living your life within a “traditional” male or female identity, party on! Nobody is trying to take that away from you. The issue is that the same opportunity to identify and live a life of choice is not equally available to everybody.

Furthermore, this is not just about transgender individuals, or people who identify somewhere along the spectrum between male and female – this is about everyone and anyone who has ever felt restricted by “traditional” gender norms.

Fact: that is a lot of people.

What a shame! Naturally occurring diversity is the most excellent element of human existence and experience. Nobody likes hearing the same story told over and over and over again, so why do we keep paying for it?

To be fair, a lot of hard work by a lot of individuals throughout the years has led to mainstream media branching out into alternative representations.

That having been said, this means – for me at least – that I’m now faced with just as many presumptuous statements as I am questions.

“Hey! I know you! I saw something about you on [insert name of day-time talk show here].”

Well, no, actually, you don’t know me.
I’ve never been on a day-time talk show.

You know me about as well as I know astronomy based on the ability to name a few constellations.

But you could get to me know me.

About how I’m transgender, okay, sure, but also, how I’m right-handed.

Or about my unrequited love for various sports teams, or which Broadway musicals are in my personal top ten, or how much I know about dinosaurs – to name only a few examples.

Because I am so much more than just transgender.

We are all so much more than just our gender.

We don’t need to wait for mainstream media to offer us any alternatives.
We are the mainstream, and all of the alternatives therein.

We are the reality, not their representations.

So let’s leave the label making to the bureaucratic paper pushers and not let anybody else’s definitions define us anymore.

Let’s get to know our neighbours, in all of their wild and wonderful diversity, and support them in that (I’m not saying you have to love ‘em).

Get to know your neighbours for who they really are, regardless of what you have been told about them, and whether the facets of their gender identity and expression are socially acceptable or not. In the process, maybe even get to know yourself a little better, and learn how it is more than okay – in fact, it is our right – for all of us to live a life of choice.

Because, I support you wholeheartedly whoever you are, and whoever you want to be.

I just ask, in return, that you do the same.

 
*Encourage me to write another article on this, if you feel so inclined. Debate is healthy, and a true catalyst of change. I am more than happy to carry the conversation forward with you, I just ask that you bring an open mind. And whiskey.

Why We Should Not Stop Talking About Street Harassment

By Jane Derishu

As this is my first post for a blog named Gender and the City, I thought it would be appropriate to specifically discuss the relationship between gender and cities. I have been quite lucky in this respect: the timing of this article is perfect after Hollaback — an international movement that tries to end street harassment — published a brilliant video addressing this exact issue.

For those of you who haven’t watched it yet, the video shows a woman (Shoshana B Roberts – because credits are important) walking for 10 hours across New York City, and the reactions she gets from men on the street. To clarify, I am not arguing that all men are violent and harass women, but I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t experienced street harassment at least once in her lifetime. For this reason, I believe it is important that we talk about this.

Comments, whistling, various weird sounds… sometimes all you need is one guy looking at you weirdly to feel unsafe whilst walking on the street. I might be old-fashioned, but I still think that people should feel safe in public spaces.

The tricky thing about this is that you have two ways of reacting, and both are a trap. If you do not react initially in the way the harasser wants you to (whatever that may be), it is likely that they will continue to harass you. On the other hand, they can also interpret a lack of reaction as snobbish or even bitchy, or other not-as-polite profanities. As we all know, this is not the best way to start the day.

The second option is even trickier since it aims to make you feel like you are the one doing something wrong. Yes, I’m talking about answering back. From my own personal experience I can confirm that by replying to their comments (whether politely or not) often the perpetrator immediately pretends to be a victim who will accuse you of being hysterical, overreacting to what they think are normal social situations, or even resorts to calling you a sociopath. I frequently received this kind of reaction, one that pointed a finger at me for not being nice to them. They then claimed they merely wanted to pay me a compliment. I was also, ridiculously, blamed for disrupting the social order, with claims that, due to my behaviour, men now feel they cannot even talk to women anymore without being considered perverse. It is just great to have found out that I am actually the reason why men no longer know how to talk to women.

I am not even going to explain what is wrong with the comment above, but occasionally I found myself wondering if this harassment tactic ever worked for these men. What do they get out of it? I could never imagine myself stopping when a man whistles at me in the street and asking him out. I would love to know if it has ever worked for anyone.

But why am I discussing this? Firstly, because I think it is a serious problem. I have been to so many major cities all around the world and in every one, without exception, I have found myself in a similar situation as the one described above. I did not feel safe, not at all. Secondly, because I believe we should not stop talking about it. Regardless of what I think municipalities, policy makers and politicians should do about it, I believe that we – women and men who care and find it important – should keep talking about it so that it keeps receiving attention until words have been translated into actions. So please, flood the media with your personal stories, because public spaces will not be public until it is safe for both men and women to walk through them undisturbed.

On the same subject, a few days ago I was given the card below by a guy who was standing in front of me in a coffee shop queue: I felt flattered, I felt safe and we had a nice talk. I would never even consider stopping and talking to the same guy if he had shouted something to me on the street. This is something that those who claim it is impossible to talk to women these days without making them feel scared or uncomfortable, should think about carefully.

Omer article

Watching Men, Watching Women

By Ali Leyland-Collins

I have found that there are three main ways to deal with street harassment: 1) respond with a positive attitude, 2) respond with a negative attitude or, 3) not to respond at all – usually the most popular choice. Just to clarify: by respond positively, I mean engaging with the harasser in a way which could be interpreted – by them – as encouragement. By respond negatively, I mean giving them a piece of your mind. Sadly, this is an incredibly overwhelming and daunting option and is not employed often enough.

***

Recently, a friend of mine adopted the boldest response to street harassment there is: she called the perpetrator out on the fact that he grabbed her arse and let me say this now, things escalated very quickly. Now let me backtrack a bit and give the context of this particular occurrence: it was 2am; we had just left the student union; my friend was stone-cold sober (she doesn’t drink); and the offender did not go to our university. Let’s just think about this for a moment. These guys had waited outside the union under the pretence that they were ‘waiting for friends’ and essentially planned to prey on vulnerable – most likely drunk – female students. They picked the wrong target. My friend turned around without missing a beat: ‘Sorry, can you not do that..?’ Boom. Straight on the defensive: ‘It wasn’t me.’ As far as I’m concerned, this response begs the question how he knew what he was defending himself against if she hadn’t specified… Regardless, our chivalrous male friends came to her defence and after much shouting, fisticuffs and eventually also police, we were able to sleep easy that night. It goes without saying that this is not how it should be. Yes, these boys should not have been able to find their way onto our campus in the first place, but how is it humanely possible that a guy can actually grope a girl’s arse and then be genuinely shocked when he is called out on it?

Street harassment is, more often than not, less obvious than in the above case and it is astonishing to witness how men think they are being ‘subtle’ in such instances.

***

I have coined a term… maybe: ‘leering loiterers.’ We all know who I mean. Too often have I been walking behind a girl in leggings, or a girl bearing her legs or even just a female being and have witnessed men standing by the side of the pavement, turn their heads as she walks past. I am not ashamed to say that watching men who do this has become a favourite pastime of mine. I do not feel guilty being an onlooker and not saying anything because – and here is the crux – we know they’re doing it. This may come as a shock to those men who don’t understand how we can possibly know you’re looking when we’ve already walked past, but we do, and for multiple reasons:

1) If said man is talking on the phone or to friends of his, his voice projects as he turns his head. This is something which I’m sure we all notice but perhaps haven’t quite been able to articulate: your voice should become less distinct as we walk away from you, not more.

2) If you turn your head just before the girl walks past, it is still obvious. Too many times have I witnessed the ‘incidental head-turn’ just before said female walks past but then the lingering eyes remain transfixed on the girl until she is out of sight.

3) We just know. We’ve been putting up with leering loiterers since pre-puberty (grim, but true) and have therefore cultivated a sixth sense for it.

I understand male instincts and the appreciation of beauty but why can’t it be just that: an appreciation. Don’t make it stealthy, because it makes us uncomfortable. Don’t make conversation with us on the street unless it’s something that you would say to anyone (including other men) …in front of your parents. I appreciate female beauty on the street too, but I don’t do it in a way that would make her feel watched or scrutinised, only beautiful.

***

A friend once told me a story that I will never forget because it’s so unusual and quite wonderful. Her grandmother had been sitting on the tube, staring at another woman across the carriage from her for some time. She tried to stop looking but found that she couldn’t stop her eyes from flitting back to this woman. As she got off the train, she approached the woman and apologised for the fact that she had been staring at her: ‘you’re just so beautiful’ she said, and then left. I know some people will take issue with my saying that I think this is a wonderful way to conduct yourself in such a situation. Personally, I do not have a problem with anyone from any gender looking at anyone else because it’s not a dirty thing to do, so long as you don’t act in a way that makes it seem like it is.

Recently, someone came up to me and said something very similar to the above. I admit, if I had noticed him staring from across the cafe we were in, I would have felt uncomfortable. However, in this particular instance, he was just one in a sea of bodies but as he was leaving, he approached my table and said ‘I’m really sorry to bother you but I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re beautiful.’ Not sexy. Not hot. Not bangin’, or any of those other crude variations. Just beautiful. And then he left. He didn’t ask for anything, or linger – he just left. This made me feel happy and I won’t apologise for that. No, I don’t need the affirmation of a stranger to make me feel good about myself: this simply made me feel happy and showed me that there is another way to go about ‘looking’ that is not ‘leering.’

Calling Out Street Harassment

By Victoria Palazzo

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted about how empowered she felt after being wolf-whistled in the street by strangers. This is not the first time I have seen women react positively to some forms of street harassment. Tabloids, such as the Daily Mail, argue that women love some forms of light harassment as a reaffirmation of their attractiveness to men. Despite this, it is important that street harassment be recognised for what it is: a form of sexism that is regularly faced by females. It is a display of masculine dominance that is intimidating, can be threatening and, at other times, is plain dangerous.

So what is street harassment and why is it sexist? It is any public form of forced conversation, cat-calling, leering, vulgar gestures or noise that is uninvited and makes one feel uncomfortable. On the darker end of the spectrum, it can include flashing, sexual touching, public masturbation and assault. Many women, girls and females generally, will have experienced some or all of these things before even coming to the end of puberty. Speaking just for myself and the women I am close to, each one of us has been harassed near our own houses multiple times in the past week alone. Two of us have been followed in the night, all of us have had men trying to force us into conversation: “Excuse me! Can I just ask a question?”; “You alright beautiful?”; “Nice skirt! Yeah you know that’s a nice skirt!”; “Smile love!” All of us have also been stared at. This is not acceptable and it should not be normal to behave like this to people that you don’t know, on the street.

It is sexist simply because it is unwanted behaviour committed predominantly by men to women. It is far less likely for men to behave in this way towards other men or for women to do it to men. Harassment reminds us on a daily basis that public space belongs to the masculine; it reaffirms that women should be passive receivers of male attention and that they are valued, above all, on how attractive they are to men.

It might seem like an overreaction but the reality is that women limit their own freedom as a result of street harassment. Which woman hasn’t avoided darkly-lit roads when wearing skirts? Which woman hasn’t crossed the street to avoid a gang of boys? Which woman doesn’t think about how they would run away if attacked/followed on the way home at night? Which woman hasn’t been verbally abused for not responding positively to male attention? How many women have thought again before entering a bar that is full of men?

Harassment does not only happen at night or in bars, it happens everyday in shops, at bus stops, on the streets and in the workplace. It is not only directed to attractive women. It is not always directed to adult women. It is not exclusive to some ethnicities, classes or other social groups. There is no correct response from the person who experiences it. Responding back can lead to aggressive attacks; reporting it to the police can lead to your complaint being ignored; walking on by can lead to you being followed and harassed down the street; smiling can encourage it. I, along with most females, have tried some if not all of these reactions. The fact remains the same: we have no control over the situation. The masculine harasser who demands your attention verbally and sometimes physically has already claimed that power.

So how should it be dealt with? One answer is to try to deal with the sexist attitudes that have made it acceptable for men to interrupt women’s daily lives and force them into speaking to/noticing them. This can be done on a private level by speaking to our friends and family. Telling men that they don’t have to be chauvinistic in order to be a man and by telling women that they are worth more than their looks. It can also be dealt with locally. Councils can start to fund local initiatives that educate young people about the dangers of sexism. They can fund social movements that seek to make street harassment socially unacceptable. It can also be dealt with nationally by a governmental commitment to fund and support organisations that fight sexism everyday.

In a time of increased cuts to social services, local councils and charities it seems unlikely that a monetary commitment from the government will happen anytime soon. This does not mean that we should not care. It does not mean that we shouldn’t think about how this form of aggression affects women’s lives. I, and all my friends, have been hooted at, cat-called and harassed since we were children. The wealth of internet activity about street harassment assures me that we are not alone.

The world teaches women to value their self worth on their physical appearance/sexual attractiveness to men. It’s not surprising that my friend felt flattered by the wolf-whistle. By celebrating this fact, however, she is only encouraging masculine dominance over ‘passive’ femininity in public spaces. This dominance should be recognised for what it is: sexist bullying directed at feminine adults, teenagers and children. And bullying is never acceptable.

For more information about how to deal with street harassment and to share stories:

http://www.everydaysexism.com

http://www.stopstreetharassment.org

http://www.ihollaback.org

http://www.reclaimthenight.co.uk

http://www.police.uk/contact/

New Media, Role Models and Gender Equality

By Asha Dinesh

The rise of the YouTuber era has been increasingly documented across mainstream media. What is unique about these self-made celebrities is how they put a new spin on the rags to riches story: they did not start out with a talent competition, a record label or production powerhouse, but instead, more simply, with a video-camera and a YouTube account. What makes the average 20-something YouTuber so marketable is the vast influence that they have on their legions of loyal, impressionable young fans, in some cases replacing popstars who previously held the mantle for these age groups.  Companies and brands are taking notice and are eager to utilise the influence of these video bloggers to reach their target markets.

The role-model status of the celebrity is not always welcomed – the argument being that while they may have chosen to pursue a profession which casts them in the public limelight, they did not choose to publicise the private aspects of their life. This argument has less weight in terms of a YouTuber, since the very nature of the platform encourages a much more personal setting, with the stars interacting directly with fans across social media, unfiltered by publicists.

This new path to fame and fortune – and most importantly influence – raises some interesting questions about gender inequality in society and the role of new media in perpetuating or fighting gender stereotypes. For young boys and girls who fervently follow every movement of their favourite YouTubers, these celebrities play a major role in influencing thinking, attitudes and aspirations, whether unwittingly or not. Through their content and actions, they have a huge impact on how young people think about the ‘Gender Issue’.

Many of the most popular female YouTubers, such as Zoella and Bethany Mota, focus on fashion, makeup and beauty. This could be criticised as being a backward step since they encourage young girls to focus on materialistic aims, such as their appearance. At the same time, however, as independent business strategists who have successfully built marketable (not to mention bankable) brands, they are reinforcing the notion that feminism comes in all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, several of the biggest female names on YouTube are comediennes and activists (see Superwoman, Grace Helbeig, Hannah Hart).

The darker side of the power endowed by fame is a narrative unsettlingly common among A-listers, B-listers and musicians – not to mention long-dead TV-presenter-philanthropist-paedophiles. YouTubers, despite the close connection to their fanbase, still enjoy a slightly elevated status and position of power in relation to their followers who are mostly younger.

The sinister underbelly of YouTube fame was highlighted most recently by the sexual assault allegations associated with Sam Pepper and some other popular bloggers. It started with furious online backlash to a prank video in which Pepper pinches women’s bottoms while pretending to ask for directions, which he later tried to claim was a ‘social experiment’. This opened the metaphoric floodgates, with several women and even some fellow YouTubers coming forward with claims of sexual assault.

The whole saga illustrates two things: firstly, since YouTubers are more accessible in many ways to fans than movie stars and pop stars that they admire, young fans are therefore more ‘accessible’ to people like Sam Pepper who exploit their instant celebrity status. Secondly, the power of the online community was clearly demonstrated when the build-up of accusations led to the destruction of Pepper’s brand and a police investigation. By distancing themselves from Sam Pepper, other prolific YouTubers have sent a strong message that they do not condone sexual harassment in any form, even if it was for a prank/misguided ‘social experiment’.

What is clear is that YouTube and other platforms will play a major role in inspiring the ‘social media generation’ of feminists, most noticeably the male and female tweens of today (and while we are on the subject, check out this hilarious video of the mini-feministas dropping the f-bomb so much it could rival the Wolf of Wall Street, all in the name of gender equality). YouTubers can and probably will shape the attitudes of young people regarding the treatment of women’s bodies in the media, violence against women, and the gender pay gap, to name a few issues. Maybe they are the ones who can change the nature of a media which puts women under incessant, unforgiving scrutiny even when they try to conform to standards imposed on them by society. Maybe they can even encourage a feminist narrative where it is needed most: in a circumstance like the Pistorius case, for example, where the focus is entirely on the male perpetrator and the murdered woman has no voice at all.

Should we ditch the term ‘Check Your Privilege’?

By Lindsay Riddoch

Tumblr

I am going to start this by checking my privilege. I am white. I am able-bodied. I am heterosexual and cisgendered – so far as I accept the meaning of that word. I am writing this on a MacBook in my flat in central London – which, yes, is funded by Mummy’s money. I am, by all of these measures, privileged. Please be rest assured that in everything I write from here on in I am more than aware of all of these privileges, and of the impact they have had on the fortunes I have been blessed with in my life.

As well as all of these things, I have an unlucky affection for the website of Tumblr. Fondly thought of by many feminists, race activists, mental health aficionados and those that like beautiful pictures of interior design, this website harbours many a dark secret. Whilst I could spend the rest of my working life discussing these, today I will focus on just one – the phrase ‘Check your Privilege.’

Starting its long career on social media on the site shrub.com, it has become the go-to for many feminists in enraged wine-fuelled discussions on just why the good male friend sitting opposite you has no right to tell you that ‘you should just scream.’ I myself have used it on numerous occasions – unable to express to someone how little they could understand this feeling of certainty: that the person sitting next to you on that bus is stronger than you.

On Tumblr however, the phrase has taken on a life of its own. It has come to represent the privilege of lesbians who are only attracted to one gender – for they never have to feel the oppression of enjoying both genitalia. It has come to create the words ‘cisscum’ and ‘truscum’ – used to silence the voices of cisgendered or transgendered people who believe that claiming one’s gender as ‘only attracted to intelligent people’ alienates the long term cause of queer rights. It has formed the cornerstone ethic of a world where one’s level of oppression is one’s biggest badge of honour.

It is easy to write this off as the online ramblings of bored 16 year olds who have picked up words from Jezebel and ran with them so far that they could no longer remember where they came from. Or it would be… if ‘cultural appropriation,’ the new wave of feminist strength and even the useful modern concept of privilege itself hadn’t also started on Tumblr and sites like it.

Yet now, Tumblr has somehow managed to so flip the meaning of the word ‘gender’ that to be the oppressive class one must be completely absorbed in the society-subscribed notion of gender associated with what is between one’s legs, as well as having no obvious preference for any sort of person, based on any kind of personality trait. I could be wrong, but I think therefore Tumblrites would struggle to find the ‘cisscum’ that are oppressing them – except perhaps a few teenage boys in a dormitory somewhere, no idea that they are single-handedly responsible for the oppression of the rest of the world’s population.

When one adopts – and confidently uses – a phrase or concept, one not only bares the responsibility for how one means it, but also for where it could lead. The Oppression Olympics and Social Justice Warriors of Tumblr are the obvious, and very real, ending to the phrase ‘Check your Privilege.’ Instead of believing in human empathy you remark only on someone’s luck of having been born with certain advantages, and so you close down your cause. The more I delve into the deep dark worlds of Tumblr the better I understand the inevitably petty, ignorant and narcissistic ending of this obsession with privilege. Similar to the phrase ‘it could always be worse,’ it adds nothing useful to a discussion or a cause. It unhelpfully leaves all of us scrambling to justify our opinions by attaching them to some form of oppression which ‘they’ have put upon us. If you make having privilege a flaw or a fault, then you make the desire to be oppressed strong. Making the desire to be oppressed strong ensures people stop looking for solutions.

I have taken the active decision, therefore, to never use, or imply the premise of, ‘Check your Privilege.’  By not using this phrase I am not denying my, or anyone else’s, privilege. Instead I am merely accepting that bringing attention to it does not further my fight for gender equality, or for equality in any other areas of my life where I may consider myself unlucky. I am in no doubt that there will be much disagreement with just about every word that I have just written – and I have no issue with that whatsoever: never did I claim to hold everyone’s answers. As I do not claim to hold the answers of anyone else I hope that in rebutting what is written they will not claim to hold my answers either – whether or not I am ‘privileged.’