Sunday, 23 October 2016

STAND BY YOUR MAN

While in Egypt, I lived for several weeks with a Sudanese family. One day, one of the daughters told her brother-in-law what she thought of him.  It was not flattering.  There was uproar. The rest of the family rounded on her, even though she was saying what they all thought, but didn’t dare say.  One of her brothers took off his belt, wound it round his hand and stepped towards her  to hit her with the rest of the strap. He was held back. She sat before him, still and composed, but her eyes were full of fear.  No one chastised him and, of course, he never apologised I asked him  later, if he had hit his sisters before, and he said ‘Yes.’  Polls show that  the majority of  Egyptian women agree that men have a God given right to beat them. She probably agrees, too. Her brother  certainly does. This particular sister has a psychological problem. She spends hours in the bathroom obsessively washing herself, and scrubs the toilet several times a day. Clearly something is painfully wrong and her brother’s aggression is likely to have been a contributory factor.

Several months later,  he physically assaulted his partner. She called the police.  Fortunately they were in a European country, not Egypt, where her call for help would have been ignored.  The police  made it clear to him  that his behaviour was not acceptable and  led him away, explaining that whatever a woman did, he had no right to hit her. It was probably the first time he had ever been told that by a man. But it was his mother who tried to contact the victim to  persuade her not to make a police charge against him.  Another sister berated her for calling the police. It was a family matter, she said, The victim stood her ground.  “I thought he would kill me," she said. "They wanted me  to keep quiet, so he would get away with it.”  Refusing to collude with the family she went  ahead with the charge, believing it might stop him doing it later  to another woman. Statistics show that this is unlikely.

When Trump was caught out on tape, admitting with relish to having sexually assaulted and harassed  women, he was surprised by  the resulting outcry. It was ‘only locker room talk.’ he said peevishly. His behaviour was shocking enough, but it is even more shocking that so many women continue to support him. It is a sad truth, that  the complicity of women as an enabler of misogyny is one of the  reasons why men like Trump  continually  get away with their  abuse and degradation of women.

As the allegations against Trump pile up,  many  women, including me, are reminded of the shame and humiliation of their  own experiences. Recently, while discussing Trump with  female friends one of them burst into tears at something she had tried to forget. Twenty five years ago a doctor had groped her genitals when she was left alone in a hospital room. Shocked and traumatised she never reported it, thinking no one would believe her. 

In response to Trump’s misogyny, thousands of women  have tweeted memories of sexual harassment. One of them was Sharron Coulter. ”While working in Silicon Valley, my boss’s boss came breezing through. Suddenly he came up behind me and pressed himself right up against me and said, 'Why is it you always look so good?' He had a colleague with him and it was so humiliating," she recalls. "No matter how smart you are or how hard you work, they can do that."

Coulter is now calling for a boycott of Trump's daughter's successful  fashion business – urging voters to vote with their wallet and for major retail outlets to drop her products. Unwilling to jeopardise her high profile in her father’s campaign, but forced to respond to the outcry,  Ivanka Trump could only refer to  his comments as  'inappropriate and offensive'. In  the past, she has made excuses for his aggressive and misogynistic comments. “If Ivanka Trump had distanced herself from the campaign I would not be boycotting her," Coulter said.

Unless Ivanka separates  herself  from her father, the Trump brand is all the same. Her website promotes female empowerment and is  a one-stop shop  for working women. but while  she remains a  surrogate for  the most hateful racist and sexist  campaign  in American politics, she can only be seen as complicit.  Some would say  her support is understandable  - she loves her father.  Trump  may  have commendable fatherly qualities, just as the guy who took his  belt off to hit his sister is considered  a ‘good’ brother.   Ivanka  has  learnt from her mother Ivana, to stand by your man – or dad, regardless of  what he does. Ivana claimed she was raped by Trump in 1989 during their marriage, following a violent assault in which he tore her hair out.  Yet she  openly supports her rapist in his campaign to be President. 

We have all witnessed, and probably know,  women – mothers, sisters, lovers, wives, sisters - who have stood by 'their' men knowing they have killed, raped, beaten  and degraded  other women.  I remember as a child, my mother standing at the door, while my father beat me. “Don’t hit her too hard,” she said but made no attempt to stop him, or protect me.

The ex-Wales international footballer, Ched Evans, was jailed in 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman at a Premier Inn near Rhyl, Denbighshire. He was released from jail in October 2014 after serving half of his five-year term. Evans, 27, has always denied raping the woman. He served half of a five-year prison sentence before being released but there was a public outcry when he attempted to return to professional football. The  Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and ordered a retrial. The victim, who was already known to Evans, said she was drunk and had no memory of the rape, which also involved two other men invited to the hotel room by Evans. 

He was acquitted at the retrial,  even though the judge stated,  "A complainant consents if, and only if, she has the freedom and capacity to make a choice, and she exercised that choice to agree to sexual intercourse."

The sexual history of the victim was picked over in open court as if she were the accused.  Needless to say, Evans’ sexual history was left well alone. Vera Baird, the UK's former solicitor general, said the case had set the law back decades when it comes to treatment of a  rape complainants sexual history. ”The only difference between a clear conviction of Mr Evans in 2012 and the absolute refusal of him having any leave to appeal at that time, and his acquittal now, is that he has called some men to throw discredit on (the woman’s) sexual reputation,” she said in a radio interview. 

Evans’ fiancé, Natasha Massey stood by her man throughout his rape conviction, prison sentence, and  acquittal.  She has said it was not the accusation of rape that bothered her, but the fact that he cheated on her. She also revealed that her father later told her that a lot of stupid and drunk men of Ched’s age, who was 22 at the time, would have acted the same way.  More locker room talk then?

Just as Evans no doubt has his female admirers,  Trump has plenty of women who support  him. In the face of his disgusting rhetoric  and open trail of sexual harassment and aggressive assault. It is gobsmackingly bewildering  that any American woman  would  want to vote for him.

Melissa Deckman, In her book Tea Party Women: Mama Grizzlies, Grassroots Activists, and the Changing Face of the American Right states that Republican women like Trump’s constant refrain that the nation is headed in the wrong direction as well as his anti-immigration stance. His bitter criticism of the Republican Party, she says, resonates not just with white working class men but with white conservative female activists at the grass roots. They feel that the United States is turning into a country they no longer recognise, echoing the refrain of many Brexit voters, and that Trump is the only candidate who will keep Americans safe.  What I wonder, would these women  do if their candidate rammed his disgusting tongue down their throats, or  grabbed their daughters’ genitalia?

Deckman’s book ignores the root of what  prompts the collusion of women with misogyny and the men who act it out in appalling ways, often killing women in the process

Let’s go back to the abused sister passively waiting for her brother to beat her with his belt. She believed she deserved it. She didn't. NO woman does. She was not born sexist, and neither was her brother. They have both  been  socialized into believing she is inferior. Internalized misogyny is the involuntary internalization by women of the sexist messages we are drowned in by  all patriarchal societies and culture. It refers to the by products of th societal view that women are inferior to men. It causes women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender. It shows up even in the most feminist and socially conscious of us and robs us of our potential to be who we truly are, preventing the development of an equal and humane society. Religion, social values, media, institutions, governmentpornography  etc all conspire to ensure misogyny thrives. 
   
The  old argument that men are  stronger and taller than women and that this justifies a male hierarchy is laughable and does not  belong in the 21st century. The fact that a man  can lift a heavy sack of potatoes and I can’t, doesn’t entitle him to smash me with his fist, or believing that I am inherently inferior. But that's the way it's been for centuries.  In 2012 some 80 per cent of homicide victims  and 95 per cent of perpetrators globally were  men.  Almost 15 per cent of all homicides stemmed from domestic violence (63,600), but the overwhelming majority - almost 70 per cent - of domestic violence fatalities were women (43,600). While men are mostly killed by someone they may not know, almost half of all female victims are killed by those closest to them. Home can be the most dangerous place for a woman. A glance at today's news will tell which gender is the killing machine of this planet. 

Misogynistic messages are subliminal and ubiquitous - their drip-drip effect insidious. In religious societies, the constant repitition of texts that degrade and disempower women are internalized by both men and women. The result is societies where women are absent in decision making processes, are invisible in the public sphere,  are sexually owned and are victims of male privilege. The subliminal messages of advertising, the media and pornography promote an idealised image of feminity, usually youthful, resulting in  women mutilating themselves and the margnalisation of  older women. 

Internalized misogyny becomes an involuntary part of our thinking and women do not ha ve a lot of choices that don’t come with social consequences. Women who perform female genital mutilation, who traffic women, who make derogatory remarks about other women, who murder their daughters in the name of family honour, have all internalized the misogynistic messages of their societies in the same way as those who  remain silent witnesses  to the domestic  abuse by sons, brothers, fathers, husbands etc. The reward for these women is to remain comfortable within the status quo, and sometimes, even rewarded materialy for their collusion. The mantra of misogyny is: Don't rock the boat, or we'll all fall out.

It has to be understood that the lies, stereotypes and myths that subordinate the place of girls in patriarchal societies ARE NOT TRUE. Men and boys grow to believe many of these messages and treat women accordingly. Unequal pay, classification by looks, endemic unfairness, harsher punishment for crimes, lack of representation in government, domestic violence, lack of convictions for rape, male ownership of our sexuality and bodies, sexual harassment, the gang raping of Indian women, the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram, the sex xlavery and murder of Yazidi women by Islamist are all results of an unquestioned, internalized hatred of women. Internalized misogyny creates a uniform society, where everyone understands and complies to the rules. Men create them and women are expected to go along with them. Thankfully women are both quetly and noisily subversive. We have a heritage of the words and lives of wonderful, courageous women (and men) who have questioned, dared to be different  and refused to live by imposed stereotypes. Many have been killed for it.  
 
Change continues to  blow in the wind but it feels more like a breeze right now.  Increased understanding that the  roles  men and women labour under are social, means that they can be changed. And they are changing.  There is a growing army of women, and men,  challenging sexism both in private and public life. It was hoped that the  Neanderthals would  be left behind and that women rooting for Trump would be out-voted. Prior to the election, a  poll by the Public Religion Research Institute  showed a massive gender split, with Clinton trailing Trump  by 11 percentage points among men - they would rather have a fascist leader than a female -  but leading him by 33 points among women. The polls got it wrong and America elected its pussy grabbing Twitter King.  If a man like Trump had been  kicked out by women for a woman, the lesson learned would have been   a resounding  one  worldwide. It would have   encouraged more women  into realising that they are  more powerful than they have been led to believe. Instead his election has given a mandate for misogyny. But women have overcome worse. The redneck  extremism we are about to face will hopefully  inspire a new  female militancy. However, there is no liberation without  a strong sense of self which can only come about through  heightened  self surveillance and the assumption that we are worth more than we are getting  
 




















Sunday, 16 October 2016

HUNTER'S MOON


Late last night I went down to the beach, called by a fat, full moon. We didn't talk for long, and I declined its offer to sit beside it in the sky.
 "It's too far," I said. 
"Too far?" said the moon indignantly. "I smile on your sea, your face, light the way for you, my rhythms are yours...and you can't be bothered to come and visit me!"
I explained the difficulties of gravity, the light years between us, and my fear of heights. 
"No excuse," it snapped. "I'm leaving you if you keep treating me like this."
 I stood on the edge of the sea, wondering if I could walk the moon's path. Witches do. It might take me directly to it. After all, it was right: when an old friend is always there for you, no matter what, it's easy to take them for granted. If they ask you to do something, it ought to be done.  I didn't blame the moon for being cross. How often had it shown me the way, shone in the darkest corners, soothed my own eratic tides, reminded me of my place in the universe?
"I really can't come tonight. It's impossible," I said sadly. "I just came to say thank you.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

ALL THAT FUCKING, WHERE DID IT LEAD TO?


 

a theory of  exploding light
the indelible reality of illusion.
the perfume of your eyes.
your hair, a volt of vipers,
makes my spine hiss,
scalds my breasts.
your mouth, a temple of profanity,
robs my reckless dark.
you measure yourself not by length,
but by time, eternity of the moment.
the earth mire muck of  exquisite union.
don’t speak of love, it’s hardly done.
all this fucking,
where does it lead to?


the shaft and seed of you. 
the spread-open sin of me. 
put me on your table, dine on me.
leave sadness behind.
the depravity of wanting
makes love a glutton,
your unsheathed devil 
a thrusting beak.
dawn prayers rising.
god is great, but your breath is sublime.
all that fucking
where did it lead to?


timid light slippers through shutters.
rumours of love absconding.
the throat of my thighs swallows your tongue.
the limb locked cling of us
hurtling towards a moon.
I am your fleshly bouquet,
barbed wire and petals.  
nail me to the floor - a crucifix.
the outside of you in the  inside of me.
our explicit wonder moistening. 
all that  fucking
where did it lead to?


lust's hemisphere moves to conquer,
bares the dark-bright fade of you.
an old slavery clinks its chains:
a ringing phone, fist-bone masterful,
love’s eyes brimmed,  footfall running in snow.
a fallen king buries his queen and her bruises.
the ghosts of us call from that place
where an iron smoothed shirts on a  bed
and spices bled from our skin
and the tea by your side was left to go cold.
we are murdered by change. we are tossed to the dogs.
i’m in a dark corner where I can't see my hands. 
i dream of our bed, unwrapped like a sweet.
a crow passes over. you're crossing the desert. 
i 'm the sand on your feet,
tiny grains falling as you run towards home.

Still, I carry a song of lovers first meeting -
a rooftop and music, a city awaking -
forgetting the strangers we finally led to.

 

Cairo Photo: 'Nile Corniche in Cairo at dawn' by Yasser