My Vagina Monologue

By Amelia Brown

I read ‘The Vagina Monologues’ three years ago today on a coach back to London, laughing and sobbing the entire way. I used to not even be able to say the word “vagina”. It terrified me. It stuck in my throat, liked folded cardboard, choking me. If I did manage I’d say it quietly, coming out more like a splutter than a word, said with hands folded and eyes averted. Eve Ensler (author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’) says that the word ‘vagina’ sounds like a disease, even a “medical instrument”. To me, it sounded stoney and cold and rooted in Latin. It took me a long time to get past that. I had to go back through all the letters in this short word, turning them into my own.

V – smooth on my tongue, buzzing at the back of my throat like a vibrator or a bee, open to an a, ah, a laugh, a song, g, oh that g, the softness of the g, like plunging your fingers into warm clay. ‘In’ came together, inside, centre, then a again, moaning. V.A.G.IN.A.

On Ensler’s advice, I bought a hand mirror, I set aside an afternoon, I closed all my curtains, and I looked. First thing: the hair. As a child I would spend hours, eyes tight shut, wishing the hair away, hoping that if I wished hard enough it would just disappear. I dreamt of waking up one day and seeing nothing and feeling so happy and not feeling ashamed. For years it was red, barren, and itchy. Now I do not shave. The hair is my comfort, my softness, my safety. I like to twirl it in my fingers at night. I like its darkness after I have showered. Monique Wittig refers to pubic hair as a “pubic fleece”.  I nearly cried when I read that. Yes, I thought, yes. It keeps me warm, holds me soft.

Beneath the hair was red lipped softness that I could fall into like love. I discovered vaginas at the same time as I discovered love. I fell faster and more hopelessly than I ever thought was possible. There were some bruises, but mainly I experienced an overwhelming sense of life and wonder.

My love affair with vaginas will be one for life.

My vagina terrifies me some days. I do not understand it, I cannot control it. But I trust it.  We are a team, my vagina and me, us against the world.

If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?

Silver doc martens, my favourite crop top, dungarees, wings in case it ever needs to fly away.

If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?

Be kind.

What does a vagina smell like?

Home.

About the Author

Amelia has always lived in London and finally made the move from the dreaded suburbs to central London. I’m 22 and I a writer and theatre maker, who also pulls pints in an attempt to avoid the 9-5 grind. I love dancing all night long (I’m told enthusiasm is more important than skill), art that changes the world and pizza.

Does Blade Runner 2049 succeed as a Reproductive Dystopia?

By Polly Hember

The reproductive dystopia has become an increasingly popular thematic trend within the sci-fi genre. Global human infertility causes societal collapse in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, Margaret Atwood’s blazing novel The Handmaid’s Tale sits at the centre of this anxious exploration into what the future might look like for women, with the recent Hulu dramatization planning to take Offred past the last pages of Atwood’s masterpiece into a second season. So, a film about the creation of bioengineered androids (replicas) and the creator’s morbid obsession with making them able to reproduce, in a world filled with sexbots (sorry, “pleasure models”) and larger-than-life holograms dancing naked in the billboard streets of the sprawling, nightmarish L.A. of the future, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 fits right into the trend. Except… it kind of doesn’t. There are intensely anxious themes surrounding reproductive rights and gender politics that resonate profoundly with contemporary polemics, yet they are never pursed or unravelled in Blade Runner 2049. The portrayal of the female form is central in this film and almost wholly problematic, begging the burning question: is this an inherently sexist film or a clever exploration of the reproductive dystopia?
The villainous Wallace, played by a brilliant Jared Leto, is fascinated with finding a way to make female replicas fertile. A particularly nasty scene sees him slice open the womb of a helpless, newly-birthed replicant, as if to show her utter lack of value as infertile in his (very creepy) eyes. The main plot sees K (Ryan Gosling), a beaten-down replicant “blade runner” who chases down old models to “retire” (read: kill), search for the missing miracle child of Rachel and Rick Deckard, as seen in Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner.
There is an ominous underbelly to Wallace’s Frankenstein-esque desires; is he attempting to create an android race that has no need for “human” women at all? What does this mean, then, for the women of 2049? Is he attempting to outdate or perhaps “retire” an entire gender with the invention of synthetic wombs? Why, then, is there no mention of this plot that precipitates the possible extinction of an entire gender?
Well, because, as many other critics have pointed out, this is a man’s film. It is a film aware of and solely driven by specifically male desires. This is critically apparent in K’s relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas), a hologram that he can switch on and off at his will as he walks into his cell-like apartment. Programmed to please, she learns and stores K’s likes and dislikes, playing the doting housewife, switching instantly to sexy, then simply switched off when no longer needed – or else paused as a telephone call comes in, interrupting her Siri-like control system, flickering comically, waiting for a kiss that never comes.
The critical questions that swirl around in the swampy L.A. nightmare of Blade Runner 2049 are the same ones as the book the original film was based on. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? asks what it means to be human. K seems to place value on being physically born, on having a soul. Replicants, we are told, cannot lie or disobey orders, but we see K do both of these things. Does this mean he’s human? In Joi’s case, I feel it becomes a crucial issue of autonomy.
She is a sexy simulacrum, she is “a sci-fi fan’s wet dream” who is programmed into servitude and therefore has no free will of her own. Their love story is touching, yes, and it attempts to ask the viewer whether this can be genuine emotion the android and the hologram feel. However, this question seems concerned with K’s hurt feelings rather than gender politics. A distraught Gosling looks up at a rainy, urban swamp of advertisements; swirling Sony projections and Coca Cola signs blare in the background as a giant, nude version of Armas looks down at him, designed to advertise the very ‘Joi-ous’ personal hologram product K purchased. He looks beaten, as he seems to question the validity of such a (critically male) consumer-driven society and whether Joi is unique and her feelings for him are valid. However, even when it asks these questions, the film remains problematic. When their entire relationship is built around a one-sided fulfilment of male desire, it becomes exploitative.
Joi’s complete opposite, the cut-throat and cold Luv (Wallace’s personal replicant companion) is fierce and fantastic, but the power politics are still inherently problematic. She is governed by Wallace’s whims and follows orders imperiously, which results in her nightmarish and dramatic death. Lt. Joshi, played phenomenally by Robin Wright, is fantastic as K’s strong but worn-down director, however she is severely underused and her character unexplored, killed off before the film gets going. The politics of the sex worker and underground rebel Mariette are muddy and never fully explored; she seems trapped in the same cycle of exploitation as that Joi operates in. In fact, Mariette is hired by Joi to act as a sentient, soulful sex-puppet so K and Joi can consummate their perturbing relationship, then bitterly ordered away by a jealous Joi, who tells her: “I’ve been inside you, and there’s not as much there as you like to think.”
Blade Runner 2049 is a cinematically spectacular film. It is visually stunning with a fast-paced plot, engaging characters and clever nods to the original, it’s highly enjoyable and attempts to ask interesting ontological polemics concerning the human condition. It presents a fragmented, polluted world that explores the horrors of what might be. However, the evocative female characters are all tied into reductive narratives where they simply serve and comply to the male drive behind the story. By neglecting to unravel Wallace’s sinister intentions with his reproductive replicas, the film avoids stating the true horror of this reproductive dystopia. It’s a film wreaked with a perturbing and persistent male gaze, which, seen through this lens, makes the nightmarish landscape of L.A. look even more frightening. Whilst K continues to seek out the answers to questions like “what does it mean to be human”, the women of this film are killed, silenced, retired or simply switched off at the flick of the button on their remote control.

***

About the Author

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Polly Hember

Polly is a Freelance Writer, Editor-in-Chief of On the Beat, Art Editor at the The Rational Online, a coffee-drinker and country-music listener. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Bristol where she focused on feminism and early twentieth-century women’s writing. 

 

 

 

Editor

Daf Jenkins

Image:

Photosource: Ana de Armas with Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. Allstar/WARNER BROS.

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About #Allies

By Giulia Boggio

Today I want to discuss a concept that is related to feminism and gender politics, as well the LGBQIA+ movement: Allyship.

What does it mean to be an ally? The dictionary definition is: “a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose”.

Pretty simple, innit?

In 2017, according to the recent neo-vocabulary of politics and gender movements, the meaning of this term has shifted to a more specific definition: an ally is a person (generally coming from a more privileged position) that supports and seeks to work in solidarity with a more marginalized group by fighting along their side. Crucially, an ally  listens, unlearns and re-evaluates their conditioned belief systems. Being an ally doesn’t necessarily imply being a part of the group that are supported, but being rather – showing empathy with their fights and using their voice and actions in support.

“We’re not asking you to be on the front line of all our protests, just to use your privilege to help us speak to who’s not listening to us, at least part-time.”

As a femme, I often feel like a lot of people around me are “getting what I mean” but not really doing anything to help it. Being it feminism or gender politics, I feel like a lot of people that “support it”, but are not really being allies. Personally, I would divide the path to allyship into three steps:

  • listening & re-evaluating,
  • (un)learning
  • speaking & doing

If a good amount of people are available to listen and open to learning and discussion, then why are there fewer individuals who translate this new knowledge and sensibility into words and actions? As one of the “y so serious, u should laugh sometimes” feminists, I find this frustrating and incomprehensible.

What is stopping people from taking the last tiny step into vocalising their allyship?

And yes, as ever, this is mainly addressed straight cis men (sorry guys, the spotlight is on you now, get used to it or do something about it).

On a sample of my Facebook friends (a good mix of people I know, friends, and people I’ve barely ever met), I see a shocking difference between women and queer people being vocal about social issues, feminism and gender politics, and the other half of the sky, apparently unaware of it but definitely ignoring it.

B o y  you always have opinions on everything where are your opinions now?

I don’t have fingers enough to count the many men I know that are almost perfect ‘on paper’, but then don’t do anything to bring this out in their world, or to their friends and family. Why are so many men feminists, but go “I don’t want to label myself” when you tell them they are? Just think about it practically: if I tell one of your dickheads friends that they’re being a misogynist piece of trash, I will be automatically labelled an Angry Feminist™, while if you do, then maybe there would be a space for discussion ( and possibly understanding) of what’s wrong and why. We’re not asking you to be on the front line of all our protests, just to use your privilege to help us speak to who’s not listening to us, at least part-time.

It almost seems like men speak out only when they’re ‘against’. Is this a consequence of toxic masculinity pressuring you into conforming to a hyper-masculine idea? Here’s a recipe: if you bite into the feminist apple, you’re now ‘woke’, and you must speak out. It won’t make you soft or less-of-a-man, it’ll make you a decent human being and it could actually help someone.

Also, being purposely politically incorrect is so 2009, just get over it, it’s not funny anymore, it just makes you look stupid and anachronistic.

If you feel pressured to be funny and easy going and think being openly political would turn you into a boring person, that’s toxic masculinity kicking in, and I suggest trying to check yourself and try to understand where this pressure is coming from and how it affects your actions. If you hear a friend of yours making fun of queer people, making rape jokes or acting in a misogynistic or racist way, just tell them they’re not funny, tell them how they’re wrong, tell them to check themselves. Help. Them. Wake. Up.

And if you find it boring to have to be “politically correct”, maybe you should check your privilege and understand why you’re in the position to find it boring and someone else is not.

Overall what we’re asking of our “woke” friends is to help us be loud about our fights, educate people and make space for everyone. We’re asking you to channel your privilege and turn it into actions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big, start from your circle of friends.

It’s not inherently bad to be in a privileged position, if you use your voice and space to be a good ally.

***

About the Author

Giulia Boggio is a graphic designer and photographer from Italy. Her interests move from art to gender politics. She worked as a freelance writer for different magazines and is passionate about poetry.

Social : @bojjoe

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Illustration by Javier Jaén

 

Doctor Who (Will Jodie Whittaker Be?)

By Jo Gough

The 13th Doctor will be a woman. This is not simply a case of the BBC being ‘PC’ for the sake of it; this proves that a female hero can be realised within the Doctor Who universe. I would have thought that the plethora of complaints have begun to arrive, as they did when the Master regenerated as a woman (a pretty big hint). I imagine that many haven’t even been watching Doctor Who, and just want an ‘i’m not sexist but…’ grumble.

This is a positive step and is not particularly surprising, as should be the reaction if we ever get a more diverse James Bond. If these characters can be reprised looking and acting differently, why can’t this include skin colour or a change of gender?

This will keep the show fresh, as long as the writing mirrors the progressiveness of the casting; we want to see a reinvented Doctor with a new personality and character, as well as a new gender.

I was an avid fan when Doctor Who returned to our screens. However, when Steven Moffat took over the writing of the show, I did struggle to watch as I found the language and tone problematic from a gender perspective. Actions to and from women in the script became highly sexualised, which I found unnecessary. What statement was this making to a young audience? Women can be strong and clever, but only if we are framed in a sexual light?

The recent Wonder Woman movie is another example of this. It was hailed as a feminist success; however, there was still at the centre a male hero. This character teaches her how to behave and dress, and makes constant (and exhausting) references to her appearance.

This makes it more important than ever that we see beyond the fact the Doctor is a woman, but instead examine who she will actually be. Will she be scripted like a male with her companion besotted? Will she be saving male companions from the tedium of life, whisking them away in the Tardis? Or will men remain as the heroes, saving her from danger? Will she need a love story to seem interesting, or will the scenes be scattered with references to her female form? Will female characters work with her or be jealous of her? Will she be fought over?

When Mackie was cast as Bill, the first openly gay character in Doctor Who, she said sexuality was not the defining role of her character. This gives me hope that the gender of our hero won’t be either.

Hopefully, she is constructed through the strength of what makes the Doctor a role model, with all the trademark traits that we love: wonderment, enthusiasm for teaching and learning, puzzling out the science of the universe, needing help, taking advice, being protective … and ultimately saving the day, with compassion in her heart(s). Children and adults alike will then learn that women can be heroes based on their ability and personality, not because they look good or try to mimic a male stereotype.

This is a fine time to encourage hero status as a result of character and personality, regardless of the sex you were born, or regenerated as.

***

About the Author

Jo is an aspiring writer, deeply interested in gender, current affairs and popular culture. She has a degree in Education and Psychology, and it is what is not being said in news reports and how people react to the news and popular culture that gets her writing. To the left in politics, Jo has always tried to make the world that bit fairer. Twitter: @redphiend
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The Role of Gender in Harnessing Social Capital

By Shani Akirov

Is it a boy or a girl?

Typically the first question asked of a new-born baby. Across the diversity of human societies, the question of gender arises at the very beginning of life and plays a central role throughout. Our experiences and perspectives are all shaped by this accident of birth. If humans are a gendered species, they are also a social one. But what difference does gender make to the way we use our social networks to harness social capital, and our success at doing it?

Social capital generally refers to our social network and our contacts (our friends, acquaintances, business contacts and wider circle) as if it were an economic resource – something with a value. Not necessarily a financial value, but a value – something that has the potential to be transformed into things that can bring us concrete benefits which either propel us forward in our lives or which make life more enjoyable or enriching. This could be as simple as being friendly with a nightclub owner who can ‘hook us up’ with a table on short notice, allowing us to impress an important business contact on a night out by appearing to be well-connected. Or it could be finding a lifelong friend and mentor who can steer us through key moments in our lives.

The term social network refers to any social network in the broadest sense. Let us make this clear – we may be millennials, but we fully appreciate that ‘social network’ does not necessarily mean an online social network, like Facebook. We understand that social networks have existed for centuries and that Facebook is simply a piece of technology that helps us to maintain our social network – it is arguably not a social network in itself. However, we have tended to focus on online social networks in our study. That is simply because online social networks are easier to study and to measure. A typical Facebook user can tell you (with reasonable accuracy) how many friends they have, the gender split, geographic split, etc. The technology exists to measure who ‘added’ who, in a way that isn’t possible in real-world social networks.

All of us will seek to use our relationship with another human being – be it social, romantic, professional, familial or other (or a combination thereof) – in order to realise a concrete benefit for ourselves or for someone or something of importance to us. We will seek to harness our social capital. We ‘harness’ our social capital whenever we successfully convert our social contacts so as to deliver concrete results like those above. It is not only the person seeking the favor who harnesses their social capital.

The ways in which we seek to harness social capital – and the opportunities to do so which are available to us – will differ considerably depending on the gender of the person seeking to harness and the person being harnessed. Much of this is due to the relationship between sexual dynamics and power. In most human societies, power has traditionally been (and largely still is) concentrated in the hands of men. If we find ourselves in the position of needing to harness a social contact, the person whom we need to harness is more likely to be a man.

We conducted a survey in Tel Aviv, Israel. The sample was 30 anonymous users from our social networks. It comprised 24 questions. The majority (57%) of participants were aged from 18 to 24 years, while 33% were aged 25 to 34 years, 7% between 35 and 44 years, and 3% were aged 45 years or above. The ratio between sexes was roughly equal with 53% female and 47% male (16:14) participants. In terms of relationship status, 60% described themselves as single and 37% in a relationship (whether married or otherwise). A stubborn 3% said ‘it’s complicated’.

Most of the population (73%) believed the gender balance of their social networks to be roughly equal. When asked about random people messaging the participants from the opposite sex it revealed a gender difference in networking. The data revealed that the 37% that said they would not answer a message of the opposite sex, were mostly female while the 33% that said they would answer at face value were mostly male. This also rolls over to the other options where suspecting negative motivations based on sex came from women and suspecting negative motivations based on money came from men. The other two answers came from two women where one said she would answer after two days and the other said it depends. In addition, when asked how confident the participant is in asking for help the majority all were in the average medium area while few fell to the sides, but most revealed the comfort they have in their social networks.

The differences were measurable but less pronounced than may have been expected. We suspect this may be due to the sample group being younger, more affluent, more urban, more liberal and more cosmopolitan than the norm, and hence exhibiting less gender difference and less strict adherence to gender norms than would be shown in a broader societal survey.

The above is based on academic research conducted by Shani Akirov and Sivahn Gottlieb at IDC Herzliya, Israel, 2015.

My Post-Election Fears Haven’t Changed: A (White) American Lesbian’s Reaction to Trump’s Win

By Camille Brown

I have had such a hard time in the last few days between my own personal fears and the reactions of people I know. My non-white friends are terrified. My friends who are immigrants (documented or not) are terrified. I have white straight friends my age saying ‘it will all be okay’ and older white straight friends comparing this to the Bush and Regan presidencies. I have relatives who know that my cousin and I are queer and yet who voted for Donald Trump.

As a queer, feminine-presenting woman and survivor of sexual violence and sexual abuse, I’m terrified too. A rapist is our new president whose rhetoric makes me fear for my personal, everyday safety more than usual. Every time I go out in public, whether they leer, or make kissy sounds inches from my face — where I can actually feel their spit, or verbally catcall me, men violate me with their eyes and often with their words. They want to grab my pussy. My only comfort is that, at least most of the time for me so far, there is one thing or another keeping them from actually doing just that. Now, my country has elected a President who politically, figuratively, and QUITE FUCKING LITERALLY wants to grab women by the pussy. I had hope in common sense yet this popular vote biopsy of our nation has shown me just where that common sense lies. That small ‘one thing or another’ which sometimes protects me and everyone else who isn’t a cis-man is utterly gone with him in charge.

On top of all these fears for myself, I fear for my partner who, although she kicks ass at Muay Thai, is 5’2″ and 118 lbs. As a butch lesbian she is quite visibly gay and often walks home from school in our college town on the edge of multiple conservative farming communities. Trump doesn’t think people who look like her should feel safe in bathrooms. He doesn’t think people who look like her deserve to be seen as women. He thinks women who look like me — regardless of sexual orientation or consent — exist for the gratification of men. He and his followers think I am a thing to grab. His running mate, who is actually a successful politician, thinks people like us can be electrocuted until we stop being queer. I’m not going to be calm.

I’ve been out and proud for a year last Saturday and I thought I was coming out into a much safer world than generations before me. But really, I’m out in a country that can very well take away our security in owning a home someday, our right to be married, our right to adopt a child, our rights to personal safety.

I can’t talk or write about this without being moved to tears. I’ve broken down in all my college classes since Tuesday night. If I feel this way I can’t imagine how people of colour, people who aren’t cisgendered, people who are undocumented immigrants, people who rely on Obamacare, people who rely on Planned Parenthood, and the countless others who are threatened by Trump’s rhetoric, must feel.

President Trump: Reactions to the US Election (Part 2)

Today

Today I wept. I wept for all of the survivors.
I wept for
This
Present
Moment.
I wept for the message blaring out into the ether
as the numbers wormed towards 270,
oozing but booming,
And each time reminding:

“We. Condone. This.”

The numbers kept creeping
10 Complete and utter lack of knowledge
20 No taxes/Yes lawsuits/Thanks, Dad.
50 Misogyny/Misogynoir
100 “There has to be a religious test”
150 Ban Gay Marriage.
200 Incite Violence
220 Sexual Violence
250 Racial Violence
270 Ableism-bigotry-grab-her-by-the- pussy-they-rip-it-from-the-womb-where’s-your-birth-certificate-eating-machine-build-a-wall-no-Muslims-you’re–fired
You’re Hired.
…We rubber stamped this guy?

We took everything we knew about him, and we said, “That’s okay by me”?

……………………………………….?

I know things will get better. I know that this will push some people to finally say, “I need help, too.” “This isn’t ok with me either.” And we will dig in our heels and lock arms and move forward.

But today?
I wept today.

Meredith, based in Chicago

*

I think more than anything, the victory of Trump goes to show that we are a long way off the achievement of gender equality. How a man can be elected president having incited such hatred towards women, objectified them to such an extent, and spoken out so openly against their legal, maternal and bodily rights is truly terrifying.

The disproportionate amount of women who voted in his favour, regardless of this bigotry, goes to show the dire need for greater discussion of gender issues and evidence of their reality. I hope the women of America do not suffer to the extent that I fear they will. Hopefully his sickening combination of racism, sexism and homophobia does not translate into even greater struggles for women of other minority groups too, for I am sure they are those most at risk in Trump’s America.

Ellen Jones, student at the University of Bristol

*

I feel this so personally. My daughters are growing up in this world. With the changes global society has started to see, of people becoming more accepting of different races cultures and sexualities, of racism and sexism being condemned slowly more and more, it felt as though we were on a slow but positive trajectory. The possibility that my daughters may face their adulthood powerful and free was within grasp. Hillary could have been the PoTUS of their childhood, and that could have led to events which defined their generation as Femennials or something. But the American voters have taken this away from them, away from us, not simply by voting in another boring old white guy, but by sinking to very low depths and going to extraordinary lengths to prove just how sexist the world still truly is. And that hurts. Personally.

Noa Sasson-Brooks, based in England 

*

I am no expert in US politics (though I do watch VEEP) but as a former student of Political Science and IR, I am trying to keep up with important events in ‘international’ politics. There are so many horrible things that happened during this American election that I don’t even know where to start. I do know that, sadly, this proves why feminism is still very much needed. Oh yes, my friends, we have not finished, we have barely even started.

Racism, chauvinism, LGBT+phobia, xenophobia and other evils which have been invented by humanity — we thought that we would be able to reduce them. But in practice, these things did not disappear — they just became silent. Many (I am afraid to think that it is most) people learn over time that, in order to avoid shaming, it means that they do not just need to stop saying offensive things out loud but they need to stop thinking these things too. It breaks my heart when I realise that people who believe in equality, justice, human rights and women’s rights are marginal in this world. We are the minority who are fighting for our right to support human rights.

I want to offer my condolences to the Americans who did not vote for Trump based on my experience. It’s hard and it is going to be harder. Every step that your government takes will tear a piece of your soul so that eventually you will become completely alienated from your country and start to think about it as something that happens far away from you. Just take a look at the people who worked with Trump along this election. How many of them are white? How many of them are men? Take a closer look now because some of them will be nominated into key positions in his government. Toto, we’re not in Obama’s regime anymore. The good news for you is that he will not be President for more than 8 years.

Goodbye Barak Obama, I will truly miss you.

Jane Derishu, based in Israel 

*

The prospect of the first female US president brought tears to my eyes. I am not even American, but as a woman and a global citizen I was aware of what it could mean. We saw a woman who stood by her husband’s side and lived in his shadow her entire life. A woman who, when she was allowed to stand front and centre, managed to shine bright by her own merits. But then we saw that not everyone took her seriously, some believed her flawed just for being a woman. After the results, I was impressed — the US is a lot more sexist and racist than I thought.

Many may say that she didn’t loose because she is a woman, but the fact is, it is one of the reasons she lost. There is a huge cultural problem worldwide: women are not taken as seriously as men, women are not considered as trustworthy as men, women are not believed to be as capable as men.

I thought the election would be the beginning of a period of change. I am from Latin America, women have been presidents in various countries in the region, but the first US female president had a different meaning. As much as we want to deny it, we still see the US as a land of hope, and I hoped that the US example would help to lower the macho culture we have in the region. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I am both confused and disappointed.

Majo Guevara, based in Ecuador

Ghana-na, What’s my Name?

By Jenny Cranfield

If someone had said to me 12 months ago that I would be going to Africa with a group of people I had never met before, to do voluntary work with International Service and live with a host family for 3 months, I would have most likely laughed them right out of the room.

Travelling to West Africa, essentially on my own, really pushed my comfort zones. Yet here I am, 12 months down the line, having recently returned from Ghana. Although it was one of the most daunting experiences my life, I am so glad that I went. It has been one of the best things I have ever done, if not one of the best things I’ll ever do.

I made the decision to volunteer with International Service when I stumbled across their website while randomly searching for ‘free overseas voluntary work’ (emphasis on the ‘free’ bit). I knew immediately that it was something that I should do. Not only did it satisfy my desire to travel with minimal expense, but I also strongly believed in their mission statement. Unfortunately not many people have heard of International Service so for any readers who do not know, International Service is a human rights-based charity, working to protect and promote the rights of some of the most marginalised people across the world.

*

One of the things that hit me the hardest about being in Ghana was the relaxed attitudes towards education. Within Ghana, education is not compulsory nor is it affordable. Seeing young children who ought to be in school out selling items at the market was a far too common occurrence. For the most part, it was young girls who were out of school.

After a bit of probing, I found out that boy’s education was prioritised, mainly because of the gendered stereotypes that are so entrenched within Ghanaian culture. It is the responsibility of the girls to take care of all of the domestic tasks on behalf of the family so that one day they will make the perfect wife who will know how to care for her husband. The expectations placed on young girls seemed, to me, unreasonable. Girls’ education should not be neglected and it should be considered of equal importance to that of boys. Yet this is not necessarily the case.

'Seeing young children who ought to be in school out selling items at the market was a far too common occurrence' photo © Gavin Edmondstone
 © Gavin Edmondstone

Gender is not the only barrier to education. Low family incomes and lack of funding also play a massive part in low school attendance. Whilst out in the community of Kpunduli, I met a woman who could not afford to send either of her two teenage daughters to school. Instead, she sent them to Accra, the capital, to earn a living at a popular hotel carrying guests’ luggage. It is a saddening and sobering thought to know that without formal education, the employment that these girls have obtained will possibly be the best employment they can gain. Yet this situation is not an unfamiliar one — many parents cannot afford to pay school fees. Continue reading “Ghana-na, What’s my Name?”

Gender and the City: Reflections on Identity and Crossing the Two Year Line

By Kaammini Chanrai

There are lines everywhere.

Lines we draw. Lines we quote. Lines we write. Lines we learn. Lines we neglect. The outline. The front line. The line on your forehead. The fine line. The forgotten line.

Lines often come with rules or meanings.

Don’t cross the line. Toe the line. Line up. Read between the lines. Keep within the lines.

Lines don’t have to be positive. Lines don’t have to be negative. But in a way, we are defined by lines.

Boundaries are made by lines. Borders are drawn by lines. Lines are the twelve edges of the rigid boxes that we are put into. Gender, sexuality, race, class, religion – lines are used to determine the boxes we are meant to tick to neatly identify ourselves into these categories. But what we have learnt is that identity is not neat – it’s extremely messy and, rather than use a single straight shape to categorise ourselves, we should be allowed to scribble with curved edges and fluidity to represent who we are.

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Gender and the City will be celebrating its second birthday this week. In the last two years, we have had the privilege of publishing nearly 100 articles – thousands of words – hundreds of lines – which have been written by our incredibly talented and passionate group of writers. For this, and the support that we receive, we are infinitely grateful. If you are reading this now, I thank you.

Line by line, we have tried to do justice to the topic of gender equality in a multitude of ways. This is not an easy task. There are an infinite number of subjects that can be analysed through a gender lens. Our contribution is a microcosm of what is discussed and writing about gender-related issues is a drop in the ocean of what needs to be done to actually achieve gender equality.

When we started Gender and the City two years ago, I asked the questionWhy now?” This time last year I asked the questionWhat more can we do?” This year, my question veers from the nature of this blog slightly because, in a little over a week, we will be facing a divisive day in global politics. Because in this past year, we have seen changes to the world that I hoped I would never have to witness in my lifetime. This year I ask the question “How did we get here?”

I might be prone to hyperbole but I don’t ask this question to philosophise. I ask it in relation to societal attitudes – how we think – because this is at the crux of the way that gender, race, sexuality and class, and all the intersections of these, are viewed. How are we allowing people fleeing from their homes to be perceived as parasites on our state, whilst others who were once in the same situation seem to be pulling up the drawbridge so easily? How are we still defining our state policy and funding on the narrow perspectives of historically dominant societal groups in our so-called democracies? And how on earth is it possible that a sexually predatory, racially discriminative, inflammatory, destructive and callous bigot is in the final two to take one of the highest positions of office in the world?

We are lining up to a performance that I, quite frankly, don’t want to see. We are spectators of history – a history that will no doubt be remembered in parts for it nationalism, conservatism and bigotry, amongst other things. The lines have once again been blurred around the acceptable ways there are to act towards one another. The efforts we have made to erase the lines which so clearly distinguished us from one another are undermined. Those lines are being redrawn with more vigour, ripping through the already delicate outlines of what originally existed. If I sound like I am speaking in metaphors, I confess that I am because, in truth, this is not the first time we have been in this position. This stream of consciousness is relevant in countless situations, times and places.

It hurts me how this war on ourselves has become personal. “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” This was a recent line drawn by the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May. The rationale, “You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” As someone who has consistently defined themselves as a global citizen, this is not just an insult but a dismissal of my identity. I have spent my life trying to feel comfortable in the shades of grey and, with one statement, Theresa May has drawn a line in the sand and polarised black and white even further. We are made to feel as if we no longer fully belong. We are rejected by both our homes because we are a part of the Other. As Ijeoma Umebinyuo said,

“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.”

In a time when xenophobia is already rife, we are told to hold the lines of borders in higher regard – we are told that we should erect linear walls to sanctify these lines.

Peter Singer in his work on The Expanding Circle said, “The only justifiable stopping place for the expansion of altruism is the point at which all whose welfare can be affected by our actions are included within the circle of altruism.” It seems that, somehow, society has reached the end of its altruistic line in the infinite circle. Paradoxical, yes, but dangerous more so. The contraction of our circle of altruism happens hand in hand with a retraction of empathy. We are able to relate less to those around us. We are less compassionate, less considerate for those who are not like us in some way.

This is a problem. From a gender perspective, this reinforces the binaries. It undermines the spectrum of sexuality, the fluidity of gender identity and redraws the stereotypes which we have fought hard to overcome.

If you are not already paying attention to what is happening around us, please start. We are in a constant stage of change. What happens around us are not setbacks but indications of where we actually stand. Achievements will be made, I have no doubt about that. But as the saying goes, the finish line is just the beginning a whole new race. There will always be more we can do to improve this world. That’s the bottom line.

Fatherhood: Parenting, Not Babysitting

By Noa Sasson-Brooks

I sat down behind an old lady in a synagogue last Wednesday afternoon. She turned around, recognised me, and said “Have you abandoned your children?”

I thought this was odd, but I decided she probably meant no harm and replied, with a non-threatening chuckle to emphasise that I had taken no offence, “No, they’re with their father.”

For some reason I said their father rather than my husband, even though he is both. He had taken the girls home at 4pm to give them dinner, bathe them and put them to bed, giving me the final few hours of Yom Kippur to spend in prayer without having to worry. A pleasant situation for me, not something so interesting I thought I would write a blog post about.

The lady, who I think is probably in her late 60s or early 70s, laughed as well and responded “Well some would think that amounts to the same thing!”

That threw me a bit. Yes, some men don’t make good fathers, some women don’t make good mothers, there are a lot of roles a lot of people don’t necessarily fit. A strange assumption to make about my children’s father.

“Not in my family.” I said, and I thought of all the fathers I know. My husband. My own father. My father-in-law. The fathers I know in the circle of friends I’ve made since becoming a parent. The fathers I observe in the playground, on the bus, in cafes. Not one of those men take an approach to parenting that looks anything like abandonment.

Also in my circle of ‘parent friends’ are single mums. Of my childhood friends, several had divorced parents with varying levels of contact with their fathers. Many of my extended family members have been touched by divorce and again, that has resulted in a variety of different paternal relationships, and I am not saying that all fathers in my experience are paragons of good parenting. In fact, I am hugely angered by society’s double standard that any small parenting responsibility undertaken by a father is met with disproportionate praise, compared to the extreme scrutiny and harsh judgement mothers encounter for every little slip-up, every decision made (like the really fun one of being a stay-at-home mum versus going to work…surprise! There’s no right answer. You lose every time).

But this double standard is the other side — or maybe even the same side — of the same coin which the old lady in synagogue was using. The ingrained societal belief that men are incapable of performing basic childcare or household chores. Look no further than your local card vendor for a card on Father’s Day for evidence of this. Dad can’t cook, dad can’t clean, he doesn’t even know where the washing machine is; don’t let dad dress them or they’ll look like wizards trying to dress as Muggles; it’s great when dad’s in charge of dinner because we just get chips and mum still has to do the washing up….you know the kind of thing I mean. It’s all part of society’s toxic masculinity and I’m sick of it.
And a lot of people I know are sick of it, and society is changing. I encounter more and more dads who work part-time to share childcare responsibilities, or even take significant time off work when the mother goes back to work after maternity leave (because childcare costs are colossal), and when I go out and about in my local area in the day time, mid-week, I see a lot of dads with buggies or baby carriers or small children. They don’t do it to be congratulated or win dad of the year, they do it because they love their children. This is my reality. This is a lot of people’s reality. But clearly, it’s not enough.

What’s in a (Sur)name?

By Kitty

Predictable blog titles aside, when was the last time you thought about your name and what it signifies to your identity? I suspect a lot of people in the UK go through their lives not giving much thought to their surname – after all, it’s pretty much a given. Until it comes to getting married, that is.

It is estimated that up to three-quarters of British women change their birth surname to that of their husband after tying the knot. Same-sex couples face an even more complicated question, not only “should we have the same surname?” but also – in the absence of the heterosexual dynamic on which this tradition is based – “which one of us will make the change?”

The custom of a wife taking on her husband’s surname is uniquely British and spread to other countries through our imperial or otherwise cultural ties. According to the BBC, the Norman’s invasion first imported the rule that upon marriage a woman loses her surname, becoming a possession of her husband, referred to only as “wife of X”. The English in particular put their own spin on this by allowing married women a surname: that of their husband as a show of sacred unity.

Feminists looking on the matter now might argue that the tradition should be scrapped as it has historical roots in the subordination of women. One example is that of nineteenth century suffragette Lucy Stone, who had to fight legal officials who refused to let her vote using her maiden name which she had kept after marriage.

For some women, it’s a matter of future practicality; one colleague assured me that things can get complicated if, as a mother, you try to travel abroad with your children who have a different surname. Of course, this assumes that subsequent offspring of the marriage will take their father’s surname, which brings forth another gender issue.

Give a child a double barreled surname and people might (wrongly) assume it’s a child out of wedlock, divorce, or terribly posh. In my case, it was neither. In much of Spain and Latin America, women keep their surname and children take both parents’ first surnames, which are paternal. But, alas, I had a particularly long cumbersome name that involved switching languages (e.g. Carlota Miller-Gutierrez) so I decided at the age of 19 to officially axe one of them and be like my fellow single-surname Brits.

After a long, hard think I opted to keep my mother’s surname. It wasn’t originally as a feminist statement but rather because it was unique and more in-keeping with my “ethnic” first name. Five years on, I’ve invested physically and emotionally into this semi-new identity against which all my contributions to the world will be remembered, even if it is a hassle for others to spell and pronounce. My name is part of my legacy and no one is ever going to make me change that.

How Discreet is Your Period?

By Martha Silcott

Shh! Keep it quiet! Nobody must know. Even in the liberal modern world, menstruation is the last taboo. Despite it being a mundane biological function, periods remain shrouded in mystery and shame. Great strides have been made in normalising how women talk, act and feel about their periods, but one concept seems to endure: discretion.

In some ways it’s understandable. People tend to be discreet about other toilet functions too, not just periods. We mock TV commercials where sanitary pads absorb blue liquid, yet we’d never expect to see an ad for toilet paper smeared with anything realistic. As a society, we’re happier with the bathroom door firmly closed.

But whereas most women would feel comfortable talking openly in the office about the loos running out of toilet paper, it’s likely that they’d lower their voices if they’d run out of tampons and needed to borrow one. It’s in a whole different category of discretion. Does that mean, in the scale of revulsion, menstrual blood falls somewhat lower than excrement? What does that say about women’s status in society?

When sanitary pads first went on sale, they were kept behind the counter as a secretive purchase. Some pharmacies even offered an honesty box, so women could complete the transaction without making eye contact. Even now, sanitary items are packaged with discretion in mind, individually wrapped to minimise blushes should they fall out of a handbag.

Recent research by FabLittleBag with Mumsnet users found that 84% of women felt embarrassed disposing of their tampon at other people’s houses. It’s a very high proportion, but perhaps unsurprising given that many bathrooms don’t seem to have caught up with the fact that women have periods.

The research revealed the unspoken angst felt by women who are too responsible to flush their tampon, but are uncertain if they’ll find a bin in the loo. Without a bin, women are reduced to MI5-worthy manoeuvres, such as the Handbag Smuggle (sneaking their used item out the loo in search of a bin). It’s a miserable ritual and wholly unnecessary, if only the silence on this subject weren’t so deafening.

Even with the luxury of a bin, the indignity continues. Many find themselves faced with an unlined basket, or a lidless bin, none of which lends itself to dignified disposal of a used tampon or pad. Having a period is nothing to be ashamed of, but depositing a soiled bundle in someone else’s bathroom remains beyond the pale. And women can only wonder what genius invented see-through bags for sanitary disposal (a male one perhaps?).

The journey towards a society with a truly enlightened attitude to menstruation continues. Until then, we need to find a balance between exaggerated secrecy and being able to manage our bodily functions with some dignity. All we ask is a bathroom bin, an opaque, sealable disposal bag and a world that grows up a little about periods.

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FabLittleBag is an alternative form of tampon disposal to flushing or the “bag and bin” option. FabLittleBag is the end result of many, many years of trying to get a new product in a taboo area to market. It is about having a proper solution – one which is discreet, hygienic and provides confidence to users in a typically awkward scenario. Importantly, they also ensure that people bin such products and do not cause blockages or environmental pollution by flushing. FabLittleBag degrades so does not add negatively to the plastic mountain in landfill – it just ensures that what needs to go there, gets there. Its purpose is unique and manages to bring a cool and attractive design to an area not previously associated with those words!
For more information on the FabLittleBag, visit: http://www.fablittlebag.com