Let's Talk

A Fresh Perspective and The Battle of the Sexes

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Recently, I’ve been getting into self-help books like a bag of crisps. For someone who used to avoid them (if not laugh at them), you might be wondering what made me change my tune? As I am always very honest and confiding, I will admit that I was at a point (during a predicament) where I needed guidance beyond what my friends, family and own reasoning or instincts could give. Open mindedness and a willingness to try was simply the only option left.

One book I am reading stressed on the importance of “giving up frustration and anger in lieu of a new possibility” – basically making positive any negative situation. It encouraged the mindset of making your own life good, not waiting for an external source to do it for you. It also suggested that you can speak to the universe – that your choices and mindset shape what comes to you. Those who read too literally into this would see this as ridiculous, but those who are willing to understand can really take away a lot from this perspective.

The message of this particular book, although not one on feminism, reminded me of my struggles within the Women’s Rights Movement and gave me an idea on how to overcome this. One issue I really find hard to deal with is how many people see feminists as bitter, or a bunch of complainers. It’s easy to bring out the claws in defense, but what good does it do but confirm the accusations? And even if we are in the right, this is a person’s honest opinion of feminism. Perhaps we have to acknowledge this? So how do we deal with the continuing struggles of gender equality being of non-importance to many, while considering these statements against feminism, and still go forward towards our collective goals? (We give them a Pepsi of course. But if that fails…)

We change tactics, and we challenge our mindsets. We look at negative situations as opportunity to grow. 

Let’s take a look at the Women’s March on Washington for example. The love and community that came from that day inspired more than the reason for the march. Embracing the best from a negative situation inspires. Focusing on the negative – i.e. the reason women were marching to begin with – sucks. We have to think of ways to make positive every situation within the Women’s Rights Movement, even when we feel our anger is justified. And yes, it begins with acknowledging how far we have come and how many people have contributed to this ever-improving situation for global gender equality, even if we haven’t achieved a 50-50 world yet.

If this seems like a slap in the face of all those who sacrificed so much for the cause (or those who already do acknowledge how far we have come), I assure you, I originally thought this too. It took a while to get my head around this, but we have to understand that this doesn’t mean we ignore the wrongs that have happened, but we rather look at things with a NEW perspective. If we want a more positive approach and welcome more people into the fold of feminism – perhaps we have to further understand why exactly people don’t support this cause, digging beyond the surface level of people’s opinions.

After all, I think the root of our problems has little to do with superficial stereotyping of feminists, and more to do with a cultural habit that has existed for centuries, if not millennia. And this is where I get to the real guts of this blog entry.

Our whole culture – not just in the case of feminism – encourages a battle of the sexes. Since it’s birth, feminism has been mislabeled as a cause for man-hating, and every modern feminist feels like a broken record trying to communicate the true definition of the word (if not having it man-splained back at us). But let’s continue to zoom out: most men and women are in a constant power struggle to outdo one another and try to prove their superiority. In work, in education, in sports and reality TV, magazines and casual sexism in conversation, even down to the expectations parents place on their children. It’s hard to find one example where men and women, boys and girls aren’t compared or pitted against one another, or even simply separated based on biological differences. Despite the social and political advances of women in the last century, this war wages on, and I believe this is the fundamental reason for why feminism is seen in a negative light. People only see it as segregation of the sexes. This is why so many people opt to be called humanists or egalitarians, or denounce feminism when the values they speak are, in fact, feminist. This mindset runs rampant in our community, and until we recognize the nuances of it’s existence,  we unwittingly participate in the war. So this message is for feminists, self-proclaimed non-feminists alike:

If we all truly want gender equality in our lifetime, we have to recognise that the battle of the sexes – and how we stereotype men and women – are fundamental in our viewpoint of feminism. We need to redirect our understanding to be based around social justice (the principal of equality in all definitions, for all people), not solely focusing on the semantics of the name.

I became a feminist because I wanted to prove my value as a woman. The more I invested in the movement, the more I realised that this cause was bigger than my own. Our ideas on feminism are palpable and resonate with others. We need to make them positive and inclusive, if we want positivism and inclusiveness to come back to us. It goes back to that idea of putting out to the universe what we want returned. Basically, we have to acknowledge that most people want equality, and feminism is called feminism because it’s a cause directly associated with women, but that doesn’t mean it’s exclusively for women, or beneficial only to women. Changing the name of feminism simply takes away the special significance of women’s suffrage in the movement.

Call me idealistic, but I think if we actually learned to understand the reasons why people see our values differently, and learn to not take it personally when someone disagrees, we may become closer to Planet 50/50 faster than we think.

“Now you know better, so you do better” – Maya Angelou

This entry skipped and hopped around a bit, much like my thoughts tend to do when excited about an idea. But do you agree? Do you disagree? I want to know your thoughts! Share in the comment section below.

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Let's Talk

Weighing in on the Historic US Election

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So how do you judge what a man is worth
By what he builds or buys?
You can never see with your eyes on earth
Look through heavens eyes

Through Heaven’s Eyes – Prince of Egypt

I think every man, woman and their dog has commented on this election, but considering the nature of my blog, it’s about time I’m spoken out. Hillary Clinton’s name has become synonymous with the term ‘Feminist’ – but not in the way you’re probably thinking. We know, or at least some of us know, that the messages behind both Hillary and Feminism are positive and progressive; but through negative press, propaganda and fear-mongering, people are reluctant to associate themselves with the name.

So how do you change mindsets when people aren’t open to change? Looking at this year’s Presidential campaign, the GOP targeted the darker side of people’s belief systems to promote their candidate, allowing them to think these dangerous and hateful mindsets are normal. It seems impossible to use reason with people who think this rhetoric is okay.

But then there comes a point when you have to say something. If people are going to just verbally spew any opinion without fact-checking or kindness, when is the right time to stand up and say – hey, this isn’t okay? I can say confidently that anyone who supports Trump, for political or personal reasons, is ultimately turning a blind eye to the endorsement of lies, racism, sexism, idiocy, sexual harassment, general harassment, arrogance, elitism and corruption, and is guilty by association. That is, they are allowing such archaic prejudices to thrive by disregarding them as important. In terms of Clinton, I question the way people portray her simply because her words and principles don’t reflect the ‘crookedness’ that the GOP publicise. Do I think she is faultless? No. Find me one Politician that is. But for leadership, I believe you need to have good values. This means that the ideology that underpins your policies needs to come from a mindset of open mindedness and growth. In terms of this, frankly, Hillary’s policies are miles ahead of Trump’s, and reflect a more forgiving, compassionate, and human value system.

I could say that there are people indirectly excusing Trump’s behaviour by saying that, although they despise the man, they are voting for his policies. To a degree, this is reasonable. In the case of say, Bill Clinton, his infidelities didn’t stop him from being a successful President. Even Winston Churchill and FDR had failures in their personal lives that didn’t extend to their professional ones. But each as LEADERS had progressive and compassionate world views and inspired hope in all their people. In the words of JK Rowling, “if you want to know what a man is really like, take a look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals”. It doesn’t take the ‘liberal’ media to convince us that Trump has a questionable moral system. He clearly encourages a violent and racist rhetoric. The way Trump speaks about anyone who isn’t white, male, or doesn’t support him, shows that – in a world that is becoming increasingly more equality conscious – Trump is not a great spokesperson for all the people.

I consider myself a moderate in my own country – I see the benefits and flaws of principles from both major parties – but in terms of America, I am a strong Democrat. Largely because – throughout Obama’s two terms and through this current election – the Republican party have proven themselves to be untrustworthy, deceptive, hateful and holding back of a progressive first world country. (What kind of democracy lets an opposition block every move the party in power makes?). Because of the Republican party, America has held their citizens back from receiving first-world quality health care rights, have accepted and encouraged a gun-reliance mentality (unlike any other first world country), and are responsible for fundamentalist Christianity having too much control in political policy. Religion is a philosophical practice to encourage good. But the Bible was written thousands of years ago and isn’t practical in, or reflective of modern governing.

But for those who are vocally against Hillary by using ‘evidence’ dug up from right-wing conspiracy groups, I’ve had enough. Hillary Clinton’s name has been dragged through the dirt through this entire election, and a lot of the lack of support is not generally through a disagreement in policy (which is a fair reason not to support a candidate), but because they believe Hillary is as corrupt as Trump seems to suggest – without actually fact checking. (Look at it this way: the Republicans have been trying to dig up dirt on the Clinton’s for 30 years. The FBI, a neutral entity that was responsible for the impeachment of Nixon, is currently headed by a Republican. If they had found any shred of evidence that Hillary was guilty of such crimes, you can bet my bottom dollar she would be in jail. But she is not.)

I will admit that I am somewhat attracted to the concept of a first Female President. No – I’m not somewhat attracted, I am VERY attracted. As a woman, these sorts of achievements to woman kind are incredible and historic – it’s an amazing time to be a woman when witnessing these triumphs. So maybe to a degree I am somewhat biased towards Hillary.

To me, if Barack Obama is the Harry Potter of the US Political World, Abraham Lincoln the Dumbledore and so on, then Hillary Clinton is the Hermione Granger. Ostracized and disliked for her intellect, lacking in popularity, and even considered an ‘Undesirable’ by Voldemort’s government (ha!), but let’s be honest – more capable and compassionate and strong than many like to admit.

But regardless of whether you like Clinton or not, we can all agree that it’s a very negative, nasty and personal election. One that is very addicting to watch, but also leaves you with a bitter feeling. As a Feminist, I really wish that the first nominated female President of the United States got a fair fight and the campaign focused more on policy for the people than personal spats. But the election has become a metaphor for the fight for Women’s right’s, where woman has been victimised or painted as evil and corrupt, and man has wielded his dominance by use of abusive tactics rather than reason or compassion. She has to convince everyone of her intellect and ability. He just has to turn up and NOT say that he wants to bang his daughter, and he gets applauded for good oratory skills. Such double standards is why we have such a mistrust of women in politics, and why so many women don’t recognise their own liberation.

“We are not seeking ‘equality’ with men. We are inherently equal. We are seeking liberation from male social, political, economic and other forms of oppression. Until this difference is recognised and prioritised among all feminists and feminist allies, the seeking of anything will be at men’s discretion, and that is anti-feminist” – Unknown

This is such a historic moment in history for womankind, and yet it’s hardly been central to the election race at all. Partly, I believe, because Hillary wants to earn her right to the Presidency without the focus of her gender, but mainly because the significance of the role has been downplayed by a male culture that – although on the surface monopolizes on the modern liberation of races, gender and sexuality – secretly misses the power it used to wield on others. Call me cynical, but yes, this election has been very metaphorical, representing the struggle women have faced for thousands of years against a patriarchal culture.

Let’s not look back on this election in the history books and cringe. Let’s not miss our chance to make history. C’mon America! You can do this!

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Uncategorised

Enough is enough.

I usually avoid spontaneous posts, but recently I have had thoughts in my mind that I’ve been too angry to talk about, and just today I stumbled upon this inspirational (and now somewhat iconic) speech that eloquently covered what I haven’t been able to say. I felt the urgency to share it.

Michelle Obama’s recent speech in New Hampshire managed to convey what I’ve been feeling and thinking about the US Elections of late. But this speech goes beyond politics. It goes into the realm of basic human decency, and is a timeless speech that addresses a major issue that we are still facing every single day. I hope that all people make the time to hear it. Politics aside, this is an issue men and women need to listen to, and acknowledge.

Enjoy your weekends and stay positive!

 

EDIT: On another note .. have you seen Emma Watson’s latest He for She address? Watch below!

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Suffragette Chronicals

Historical Suffragettes: Nawal El Saadawi

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I haven’t ever discussed, let alone thought about the practice of female genital mutilation (FMG). Simply because I had never heard of it. We’ve heard of the practice of male circumcision, and the pros and cons of undergoing this for religious or practical reasons. But go figure that we wouldn’t ever hear about female mutilation – especially because it’s most commonly forced upon girls at a prepubescent age, and actually carries more health risks and long-term suffering for the victim.

Which makes sense as to why so many people don’t appreciate the feminism movement. They just don’t hear about what happens to women. They only believe that what they see, or what they experience. For me at least, feminism is not about the equality I can gain, but what can be gained for women who need it the most.

So when I came across this 84-year-old Egyptian feminist and radical activist, whose experience of FGM shaped her values and initiated her story, I was spellbound. As an Islamic girl, she was forced to undergo genital mutilation because of the obsolete beliefs of her religion. It left her with deep physical pain and torment, and a determination to rid the world of this illogical, and cruel practice. Her non-hesitation to criticise religion – where many fear it – is what I really find admirable. Religion may preach peace and love, but man does not. They say that religious fundamentalism is on the rise, and this is never a good thing for women. If men aren’t held accountable, which is often the case under religion, that is when practices of cruelty, or bigotry, or messages of hate spiral out of control.

“If the power of religious groups increases, so does the oppression of women. Women are oppressed in all religions”

FGM has existed since 2,000BC, but in the last ten years, FGM has only just been banned in Egypt. In the UK, it now carries a 14 year imprisonment sentence for anyone who practices it on a permanent UK citizen, but it is apparently still widely performed. Dr El Saadawi believes that you can’t eradicate historical and rooted habits by law only. Education is necessary to combat the spread of lies through misinformation.

Nawal El Saadawi has been published over 50 times, and she may have been nominated for Woman of the Year, but she has sacrificed so much in the name of feminism. In one case, it even lost her the prestigious Minister of Health post in her home country. In another, she was jailed for three months for ‘crimes against the state’. What crimes were these, to fight for the human rights of half a country’s population? And protest the brutality of an outdated religious practice? When feminist are compared with Nazis for standing up for what is right – you know that men have successfully oppressed an entire gender, and brainwashed the other half – all of which will take generations to fix.

“I’m fighting against the patriarchal, military, capitalist, racist post-modern slave system. I am going to fight for this for ever.”

***

What we can learn from Nawal El Saadawi’s story is not just the acknowledgement of cruelty in religious practice, but the importance of standing up for others and for what you believe in no matter what. Gender, age, persecution and imprisonment, and most difficulty: religious and governmental restrictions… if El Saadawi can do all this for the advancement of society – surely we in more privileged positions shouldn’t be afraid to do the same?

If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” – Jon Stewart

The way people roll their eyes and say “that’s just the way it is,” or “it’s none of my business,” or “perhaps it’s for the best,” when they are dead sure it’s not, makes me so angry. Resignation is not an escape route. My challenge to you for tomorrow, or today, is this: if ever you find yourself in a position where you feel obliged to stay quiet to avoid confrontation, or look the other way to avoid involvement,  I challenge you to do the opposite. Even if it’s calling someone out for everyday sexism. Even if it’s taking a stand against social and racial stereotyping. Even if it’s giving a few coins to a homeless person. We aren’t all called to be revolutionary leaders for change like El Saadawi, but every one of us has a duty to lend a hand when we have two. Small steps can change fixed mindsets.

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Making Herstory

The Ascent and Descent of Women in History (Pt 2)

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Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans

I have John Lennon to thank for getting me back into the Ascent of Woman series. I’ve been so caught up in the throes of day to day, that I haven’t had enough time to finish blog posts, let alone watch the second episode of The Ascent of Woman.

As this blog is a significant part of who I am and what I value, this quote reminded me that I am the one who constructs my life, and where my purpose leads. So I finally stopped, put my other jobs on the backburner, and got back into this wickedly awesome BBC series.

The first episode focused on women in prehistoric civilisation. You can read my review of it here. The second episode is opened with the introduction of an 11th century Chinese artwork called the Qingming Scroll, which depicts an idealistic view of China as envisioned by an Emperor: peaceful, well governed and almost exclusively male. Like in the many centuries before it, and across the globe, women are expected to be behind closed doors; quiet, chaste, obedient.

A large portion of the episode was dedicated to the effect of Confucianism on women; a Chinese philosophy that played a large part in the shaping of a deeply hierarchical and patriarchal China. It encouraged social harmony, through the idea of Yin (female essence) and Yang (male essence), but this was eventually challenged when Yin was labelled as inferior to Yang by male scholars. The hierarchical system went so that the Emperor was practically God, and women were fundamentally bottom of the ladder. Confucianism believed everyone had a social order, which aligned with heaven, and if everyone kept their place, the cosmos stayed in balance. But if not, the heavens wreaked havoc through plagues and famines and such. (No pressure, women!)

The confucian classics – written by all-male scholars – were a cornerstone of which Confucianism was based. Liji, the Book of Rites, governed rules of state and individual behaviour and conduct. Women were in the home, the men could be in the public realm of government and culture. Many beliefs of this society were shaped by writings that endorsed a mentality of male superiority – even up to the 20th century!

In this episode, what stood out to me was the story of a Chinese Empress in the 7th Century, Empress Wu, who defied the Confucian model of womanhood by creating her own dynasty. She came from a low-ranking family, ended up the concubine of an Emperor, and married his son, to become the new Empress. She clawed her way up to the top in order to prove herself, and in return was vilified, with hundreds of crimes laden upon her. This reminds me a lot of Hillary Clinton – who is by no means sleeping her way to the top – but for being ambitious and being a woman, she has been labelled a criminal for actions that in the case of others, were overlooked as mistakes. And like Empress Wu, who to this day is the only Chinese Empress to have ruled China, is still seen as an ‘evil and corrupt woman’. In reality, it was her challenge of the Confucian order that got her to power, and during her reign she lead as any other male Emperor lead, with some outstanding achievements and reformations, but also some cruelty in her practice. Despite the good she did, she was vilified more than any other male counterpart. But the horrific cliches of woman in power are pumped out in every culture. To this day, government and politics is still very much a male preserve.

“I think that people take a moral perspective when they judge a female political leader; people think from the achievement angle when they judge a male political figure.” – Ascent of Woman

Continue reading

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Let's Talk

Feminism is not a ‘Sisterhood’

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Remember when Feminism used to be associating with man-hating?

Yeah, me neither. 

For some reason, people had (and still have) this view that while it was accepted (rather, expected) for feminists to hate men – it was the ultimate act of true hate when a feminist didn’t support another woman. Like Feminism is some special Sisterhood, and that part of the membership requirements is that you stick up for every woman no matter what.

That sounds a little hypocritical, doesn’t it?

Take for example in 2013, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made fun of Taylor Swift’s personal life in their Golden Globes presentation. It was a bit of lighthearted comedy, but Tay Tay took it quite personally, saying, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. (This is widely regarded as her quote, but is actually Madeleine Albright’s. I disagree with both of them). Keeping in mind that a) it’s Tina and Amy’s job to poke fun at celebrities, b) Swift was not the only one targeted, and c) Swift’s career is built up on the bringing down of other people, she seemed to be unnecessarily sensitive about the whole ordeal. It was something that could have been brushed over but instead became a bigger deal for the sake of keeping Swift’s image pure.

Someone online (I don’t know who it was, for all I know it could have been the Queen, I’m sure she also spends most of her time posting snarky messages on the Internet like the rest of us) once said it was “unfeminist” of me for not supporting T Swizzle.

Sigh. I really do not like Taylor Swift. I don’t need to explain why, that’s my own business. However, for some reason, because I believe in equality of the sexes, I have to take her side? This was not in the job description.

Fighting for equality of the sexes does not mean you have to support every woman in every battle. You don’t even have to like every woman. Equality means treating everyone based on their character and the context at hand, not their sex, not their star power, and if a woman is playing the victim card, we should be able to call her out on this. Otherwise it promotes this female supremacy ideology, and women never learn from their errors.

Besides, I really don’t think Taylor Swift needs my approval. She’s in a very privileged position, but is also undoubtedly very popular and successful in her own right. She has worked hard, but remember she profits from the taking-down of other people. Taylor plays her cards very much like any ambitious man would, and you know what, I wouldn’t call her anti-feminist for that either. Just simply being a jerk. I think she’ll be fine without my support!

 

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Suffragette Chronicals

Historical Suffragettes: Ms Pankhurst

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I’m a little late on the posting schedule today, but I really wanted to think this blog post through. I might come across as having an adamantly single view on this topic, but I promise you, I’m open to discussion!

In every wave of feminism over the last 100 years, there is a figure who stands out as the face of the movement at that time. For the first wave of feminism in the early 20th century, that person was Emmeline Pankhurst. A warrior in a corset, Pankhurst was possibly the most critical political and social agitator in the 20th century.

I first became aware of the significance of Emmeline Pankhurst when Meryl Streep portrayed her in the movie Suffragette in 2015. She was in the movie for a whole 5 minutes, so you didn’t really get to know much about her apart from the fact that a) she was the head of the Suffragette movement in Britain, b) she had been arrested quite a bit c) she encouraged the use of force when peaceful protesting wasn’t working and d) for that, she was a controversial protagonist in many ways.

When the movement for Women’s rights wasn’t making progression, Pankhurst encouraged adopting the man’s method in order to make women’s voices heard: Violence.

Deeds not Words

This was a commentary about reform. Fight back. Make the news. Give them a taste of their own medicine. Sounds pretty terrible, but if you think about it, women engaged in peaceful protest were already being arrested, tortured, beaten by the police, and with little success; it would have been madness to continue with the same methods and expect a different result. I have to note that that this message didn’t involve murder. No one died – at least until Emily Davison stepped in front of the King’s Horse at Ascot 1913 and accidentally did. It did mark a turning point in the movement though – her death gained international attention and coverage and forwarded the movement.

As mad as it sounds, while it looked like suicide, Davison was simply trying to attach a Suffragette banner to the moving horse. A risky move, but it’s clear she was prepared to go to considerable lengths to make a statement. And she did so, as part of the struggle against the inequalities of society, in the face of hostility, imprisonment and violence. It raises the question of what we would be prepared to die for.

I have made speeches urging women to adopt methods of rebellion such as have been adopted by men in every revolution. – Emmeline Pankhurst

This resonates with the biblical belief that faith without works is dead, as seen through Jesus’ death for humanity. So can we really blame her?

Violence aside, ‘deeds not words’ teaches us that we need to walk our talk. Make whatever we believe in our lives and passion and commit to it through real action. It may open doors for persecution and hate, but this is all part of the struggle for change. Where in the old days people would stand on a soapbox in the street and yell out revelations, today we have social media in which to vocalise our thoughts, and these messages spread faster and further. A certain responsibility is necessary with this power. If the message isn’t ethical, moral or promoting the advancement or equality of all people, this tool can be more of a curse than a blessing. In the case of taking action, many people are keen to step up and help others out but often for the wrong reasons. For example, there is a problem of ‘voluntourism’ where well-meaning folk sign up to volunteer for people in need – particularly in impoverished and diseased places – but often end up providing superficial service dedicated to the social media experience rather than the goal of making a genuine difference. Now while I certainly don’t want to bag anyone willing to give up time for a good cause, and any sort of charity or volunteering is gratefully required, these people often end up being more of a burden than a help for the organisations they are working for. Similarly, most volunteers travel in summer time, so during winter these people and places can be desperately under-staffed.

Discipline. Sacrifice. Commitment. I know how hard this is! I’ve often flaked or half-heartedly committed to something. I wouldn’t expect everyone to drop their full-time job and travel to Kenya for a full year of intense volunteering in order to convince me they’re committed to the cause. I also wouldn’t expect anyone to die for it. But I have promised myself that whether I end up volunteering for or sponsoring a woman, or a community of women, I will travel during winter, or keep up sponsorship for as long as I agreed to sign up for. Our actions should not be the case of ‘lip service’, or because of ‘duty’, or when one is in the mood. If you want to make a meaningful contribution to the world, it’s simply a matter of following through with a promise. It doesn’t even have to be volunteering! It could be keeping a blog alive. Or donating money, time or skill without complaint. Or standing up for something that matters to you.

But whatever the circumstance, please, please don’t die for any cause!

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