The Race Issue (Part 1): Reverse Racism and Cultural Appropriation

Until one day in my twenties, I had absolutely no doubt that black people could be racist and no awareness that people thought otherwise.

Reverse Racism

Is there such a thing as reverse racism? Can black people be racist, specifically against white people? Until one day in my twenties, I had absolutely no doubt that black people could be racist and no awareness that people thought otherwise.

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It was at some sort of conference for black lawyers that I was enlightened. A cocky but articulate teenager was speaking (she’s probably secretly running the world now) about a black barrister who she obviously considered to be a bit of an Uncle Tom.  Her main complaint was that he refused to acknowledge that racism existed at the Bar. It’s not that he expressly denied it, but he didn’t mention it and was, in her view, deliberately opaque even when prompted. I think when asked how he ‘made it’ at the Bar – a question which was supposed to prompt a discussion of black inclusion at the very middle/upper class, very white Bar of England and Wales – he said something like ‘Well, how long is a piece of string?’ – not sure why – ‘people go to the Bar because their fathers have done it and their fathers’ fathers have done it.’ The teenager was most unimpressed with his answer.

Because I had, by that time, met one or two black male barristers that seemed, for whatever reason, to be unusually unfriendly towards me, I was nodding enthusiastically at her speech until she said something followed by “with his WHITE wife!”. I stopped nodding and started shifting around in my seat probably thinking of the string of white boyfriends and crushes (well, a couple), I had left in my wake at Bar School more than anything else.

I can’t remember if it was I or someone else who raised their hand to protest what we felt was racist language. In response to our objection, someone from the audience said “Excuse me! Excuse me! Can I just say….?” (in an ‘excuse me, excuse me, can I just say’ voice) “Black people cannot be racist because we lack the power as a group to be racist.” One or two people clapped. Others disagreed. The chair eventually encouraged us to move on.

At the time, I thought I’d never heard such gibberish in my life. By the very definition of racism, which is regarding one race as inferior in any way (intellectually, morally, physically or otherwise), of course black people could be racist against white or any other group of people. As time passed, my indignation expanded to cover the term ‘reverse racism’. Racism was racism and as a black person, my racism was as good as anybody else’s, thank you very much! It was not ‘reverse’.

I think I spent an entire decade railing internally and externally against this stance before I realised that it was the other part of the definition of racism that this person was talking about. Not the assumption of any kind of inferiority but the bad, unequal, unfair treatment that followed – the persecution, discrimination, denial of rights and benefits and antagonism directed at members of the degraded race.

A friend explained it to me quite well. Black people, where they are the minority, can be racist because racism is a state of mind but they often lack the power to implement real prejudice. It’s not that anti-white racism necessarily has no effect, it’s just more difficult to sustain a longer term prejudicial effect. A white man is likely to find racist insults and bad treatment difficult and traumatising.  However, unlike a black person and perhaps in a more racist society than the UK (despite recent goings-on), he may also find it easier to report and have dealt with racial prejudice at work, . It may be less likely that he will be accused of playing the race card or being over-sensitive; he may find it easier to find another job; it’s more likely that the people managing the racist person of colour will be white and therefore find the racist behaviour as alien, incomprehensible and bizarre as he does.

This may explain the irritation felt when a black person makes a point by saying white people do this unfair thing or the other and and receives the response is “But isn’t what you’re saying just as racist? You said ‘white people do’. You actually just said that. Isn’t that just as racist as, say, Jim Crow??”. Presumably the objection is based on the view that any statement starting with the words “white people always…” is always racist because of its generalised nature but equating it with institutional and historical racism will naturally grate.

As always the position isn’t clear cut. The drive, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s after the equality legislation of the 1970s had had some time to bed in, to tackle racism sometimes failed to have a basis in eradicating inequality in general or the realities of economic distribution.  Also, in some parts of the UK, there has been a failure  to tackle racism beyond people knowing what not to say to avoid ‘trouble’ and who to avoid saying it to  – gypsies, for instance, remained fair game long after racism was decried as something only cowards and stupid people do.

Overall, immeasurable good has been done by diversity programmes, not least in allowing people of colour to feel less like intruders in a country that often times is the only one they know.  While I can’t take seriously attempts by some white people to directly apply anti-racism campaigns to themselves, completely ignoring historical context, as if it was formulated to protect them first and foremost instead of people who have actually suffered institutional racism over the last few centuries, I can’t deny that swathes of working class people have been or feel left behind by the drive for diversity or multiculturalism.

It has in fact left some people seething with resentment because no one bothered to address or consider class-based inequalities and ripe for encouragement by main and fringe political parties alike to blame all their problems on ‘immigration’. These people appear to have come into their own post-Brexit but that is another article.

Another point is when does such a statement (“white people do this…”) cross the line from complaining about a genuine social problem, albeit in generalised language, into racism. For instance is a statement that white people in the U.S are oblivious to the fear of police brutality and make silly statements because of that oblivion racist or is it a false and disingenuous equivalence to say ‘well if I said that about black people, won’t you say I’m racist.’? Is it different from another disparaging (and to my mind definitely racist) remark I’ve heard to the effect of ‘well white people are quite unhygienic anyway’?

It’s also (as depressing as it may seem to someone who thinks that reasoning in this article has been crap so far) somewhat of a false equivalence to say, well if a black person is in a majority black country said something generalised about white people, would s/he be racist then?? Unfortunately because of colonial history, African ‘poverty porn’ favoured by charities and post-colonial economic and social upheavals, inhabitants of those majority black countries are likely to have been indoctrinated into the thinking that being white is somehow superior, so it doesn’t quite have the same effect as anti-black racism in Western countries

Having said all of the above, I’m not sure I agree that because of history, a black person can never be racist. I agree with my friend that racism is a state of mind although expressing despair at stubborn anti-black attitudes can just be that rather than proof that the person is just as racist as some club swinging policeman and his paymaster in apartheid South Africa (on that topic, it’s clear that the late Winnie Mandela was no saint but people bemoaning the fact that she was racist because she hated the apartheid regime and lashed out at its beneficiaries shows how far we are from understanding this issue. According to these people, it was her duty – duty no doubt! – to forgive her oppressors and show them the kind of love, empathy and respect that they spectacularly failed to show her. How dare she not!?! Monster.).

Even in terms of prejudice (depending on your definitions; I may have got these the wrong way round), if we are working to eradicate inequality, isn’t one of our ultimate aims, a rather depressing one admittedly, that one day every group will have enough power to be equally prejudiced against each other, so that institutional prejudice/racism will be eradicated? Kumbaya.

Cultural Appropriation

Has the push against cultural appropriation gone a teensy bit mad, like some of the fringe elements of trans rights activism? Or is it just on Twitter?

It used to be related to the general complaint that if a white person copied another group’s art, they were generally more accepted and rewarded for it, I think. I recall a taxi driver’s rant about Pink’s recently released debut r’n’b album which was playing at the time . “They steal our music and get all the rewards for it while black singers get left behind”. He moaned “It has to be in a white package to be acceptable.”  Unfortunately, I haven’t got the restraint to resist the urge to crow that yes, Pink used to be an r’n’b singer, you know….

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I at least understood his points and didn’t disagree sufficiently enough to challenge him in his own cab. I asked which radio station it was that seemed to be playing Pink’s songs on a loop. I really shouldn’t have been surprised when he mumbled that he had bought the album himself. In fairness, he seemed equally angry with himself.

Now, fast forward 20 or so years and it seems, according to some, that Bruno Mars can’t pretend to be Michael Jackson anymore and Kim Kardiashian is not allowed to wear her hair in braids.

Twitter has to be a world of its own when a picture of a white person wearing a kimono and arguing about crunchy peanut butter elicits the comment “Well you are appropriating someone else’s culture so you’re cancelled!” To which the equally bizarre response is “WELL TELL BEYONCE TO GIVE US OUR HAIR BACK THEN!!!!!!!!!”

I’m doing it again. I’m oversimplifying and assuming everyone else is an idiot. I will discover in 10 years’ time that I have missed a huge and important point so perhaps I should take the sarcasm down a notch and do some reflecting.

I know very little about the history of all this but it seems to me that cultural appropriation is somehow related to the earlier form of entertainment that was taking the piss out of black people. Blackface is an entirely different topic but I think there’s some correlation. White people who were contemptuous of or uncomfortable around black people were wildly entertained by ‘blackness’.

I also think the black band/white crowd combination you see in old films or new films about old times is also another related point of reference. My completely unsubstantiated theory is that there has always been a challenge of selling black art without selling the whole black experience. I think this has been mostly commercial rather than a cynical attempt to exclude black people (the exclusion of black people being habitual and therefore only collateral).

The first idea was selling a more palatable version of black people – the sanitised Diana Ross’s, Whitney Houstons and sharply dressed, soft-toned, tip-toey dancing r’n’b male groups (I’m ignoring the more overtly black acts like James Brown or Aretha Franklin and hip hop for the moment because I’ve discovered that if you are willing to let every single fact get in the way of your essay, perhaps informal, unpaid, no-one-really-asked-for-your-opinion blogging is not for you). Then they managed to just have white singers who sounded traditionally black and the public seemed to eat it up.

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There is of course no real crime of ‘Being White While Singing Black’ nor should there be. I for one want every single one of those records – from Elvis Presley to Pink to Jamoroquai to Amy Winehouse to Iggy Azalea (yes!) – to have been made. I have however been irked by complaints of oversinging against the likes of Whitney Houston and Beverley Knight which instantly morphed into cries of ‘genius!’ when Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone did it. 

Then there are things like Gwen Stefani’s affinity for South Asian dancers and Katy Perry’s experiments with different cultures which I’m more ambivalent about. I can understand how someone can interpret it as reducing cultures to a backdrop to a white pop singer but again there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it does not descend into caricature or mockery. What would be great is if  people from those cultures could take centre stage in popular music more often.

Now, according to some gatekeepers of the cultures, it seems there can be no sharing or sampling of cultures by a white person in any form – whether it’s a prom dress or a music video – without accusations of theft or ‘appropriation’. Groups are falling over themselves to accuse each other of cultural appropriation – presumably the top prize goes to the person who can accuse a black entertainer of cultural appropriation and make the accusation stick.   This is a competition that the ‘original oppressors’ – white Christian groups – will never win by the way.  Somebody tried to accuse the participants of the Catholic-themed 2018 Met Gala of it and in a tweet that impressed and exasperated me in equal measures, someone else droned that ‘when you violently impose your culture on other groups, you can hardly turn around and complain about cultural appropriation….’

Also, only black people are allowed to ‘dance or sing black’ no matter how times Bruno Mars says he admires black culture.

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Incidentally to appropriate some phrasing from David Mitchell’s memoir ‘Back Story’, anyone who thinks I’m going to cancel Bruno Mars because of cultural appropriation needs to find something more tangible to place their hope and faith in. Perhaps if you showed me a picture of him in full blackface – although some people seem to take his appearance and failure to wear a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘I’m Filipino (& Things) By The Way, Not Black’ as an attempt by him and his team to trick us into enjoying his music.

Black people are the only ones allowed to profit from their culture, according to the gatekeepers – despite the fact that black culture is not a homogeneous thing and that an African rapper is as much appropriating African American culture as is a white rapper – and the role of others is to pay them do it. It’s fair to say that the more racial injustice and tension in society (like the re-energised wave of police brutality against black people in the U.S), the more extreme and exclusive these gatekeepers become.

It is now very, very mad. Also, few people seem to be paying the slightest bit of attention to the new rules and regime – people continue to appropriate merrily.

It was never the sharing of the cultures that was bad – it was the inequality, the pushing of black artists to the background, the insistence that only white sells, the public’s racism in griping and complaining about black art only when it was delivered by a black person, the already ingrained idea that any culture which is not Western white culture is a bit of a freak side show. These ideas play out in every part of of society and unlike what the record companies say, it is not inevitable. Address the actual problem and Beyonce can keep her blond wigs.

In Part 2…..My Windrush Story.

What’s Choice Got To Do With It?

I wrote the first draft of this post before the Moesha/Amanpour debacle (aswear)….

I’m getting worse. I don’t know when I started to feel rattled by the argument “At the end of the day, feminism is about choice!”. All I know is that within an alarmingly short period of time, hearing the phrase in any context made/makes me feel like this:

I must admit I do find it difficult to understand, practically, where choice fits in with feminism. I think I can set out my theoretical view quite easily – feminism is about fighting inequality, bias, gender-based harm etc against women. One of the ways sexism or the patriarchy works is to take away choices from women; choices that men readily have. Therefore restoring those choices to women must be an act of feminism. However, women can make sexist choices….. Okay, so maybe it’s not that easy  after all.

Clearly, choices are not made in a vacuum.  Some choices have their origins in historical conditioning or even women obtaining what advantages they can from patriarchal systems. For example, the choice to take back a serial cheater in a culture where unmarried women are pitied and scorned and the blame for the  failure of a marriage is laid squarely at a woman’s feet surely must warrant some scrutiny.

On the other hand, I don’t want to stray into thinking that, whenever I disagree with a woman’s choice, it must be because she is too stupid or conditioned to understand all the relevant implications. So, where do we go?

Extreme Examples: When is A Choice Unacceptable?

My first gripe is that the bald statement ‘feminism is about choice!’ misses the point if it is meant to prohibit any criticism of a choice because it is made by a woman. I think, deep down every feminist understands this.  A sexist act or gender-based violence is not transformed into a feminist or even a fair act by choice or  consent.

To use an extreme example, take a mother who was subjected to FGM and wants to carry it out on her own daughter. Say, in her view, her own operation was done very well, she can’t see any way in which it adversely affects her life and she wants her daughter to be brought up in accordance with her traditions.

Of course, our first argument is that she has no right to make that decision for her daughter. Okay, she says, putting down the blade, but ‘I maintain that it hasn’t caused me any harm or distress. Please stop putting the idea out there that it is an inherently evil thing and listen to people like me who have actually gone through it’. Now I don’t know if such a woman exists – presumably yes because there are women willing to do it to their daughters.

It’s very likely that anyone who supports FGM when they have gone through it themselves is ‘brainwashed’ but we can’t prove it. The reality is that we fight and rail against FGM, regardless of women who choose to believe that it is advantageous, because it is unfair and cruel for girls to go through that physical trauma and to have their sexual organs and responses interfered with in that way.

Take another extreme example – this time in a distressing video I saw which depicted a Russian couple of some ultra-orthodox Christian sect. I’m not sure whether this had anything to do with their religion but the husband demanded complete subservience from his wife. His wife was articulate, published and seemed to completely buy into the idea that it was fair and necessary for her to endure beatings from her husband because of her, and women’s, natural deviousness.

Like the FGM example, there is  some doubt as to whether I can blame ‘choice’ for these women. However, there are many domestic violence victims who support and defend their partners and ask the public to respect their choices to stay with their partners even after footage of shocking violence. The fact remains that we cannot prove that these women don’t have the mental capacity to settle for beatings in exchange for whatever they think they are getting out of the relationship.

Indeed, beyond the initial feeling of shock and pity, many of us don’t really care deeply about the welfare of these strangers. A lot of our strong emotion is outrage and horror that we live in a world where people think that this is a viable way to live. We don’t want people living this way, partly because one woman enduring this has consequences for all women in a world where domestic violence is very much a pattern of the patriarchal society that we are struggling to get out of.

(Directed) Sexual Empowerment

On to less dramatic examples  – this part deals with the fact that we identify behaviour and patterns that are rooted in, and in some cases the very foundation of, sexism, pronounce them bad but then reserve a space for men to keep practising them as long as there are good things attached like consent (technical or not) or agency or not judging. And if that’s not enough, the focus shifts to protecting the choice to do these things and not the original patterns which were being fought against in the first place. Therefore anyone criticising these choices becomes the real anti-feminist because they are apparently attacking choice and ‘feminism is about choice (!)’ after all. As you can tell, this really cheeses me off.

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Before I give examples I will freely admit that I’m not the most sex positive person in the world.  However,  I  don’t really have anything against nudity per se. My first, second, and third thoughts when I see a picture of a naked woman are to compare her figure to mine and vow bitterly to ‘get it together’. This is before any moral, social or feminist thoughts.  Also, I’m not particularly modest myself.

The Passive Mistress

Disclaimer in place, let’s move to the first example which  is what I’d like to call the ‘passive mistress’. This is a geisha-like relationship, not to be confused with an ordinary extra-marital affair, between a wealthy man and an often much younger woman. The woman is not a sex worker but the relationship is rather one dimensional – he gives her money and other advantages and she only shows the complacent, compliant part of herself – always ready for sex, always groomed and never arguing with, irritating, or challenging him. He is king in her house.

To me the feminist issue is that the character being played by the woman is a figment of chauvinist society’s imagination. It’s this idea that a woman exists solely to please her partner and free him of all the troubles of living in this troublesome world. It’s a bit like the 1950s ideal that when a man comes home from work, rather than reflecting real life, his house should be an oasis of calm. It should be perfectly tidied, there should be no sign of the children, a meal should be perfectly prepared, drink and slippers in hand. All things that would keep a woman slaving away physically while suppressing any emotional or mental needs that she may have. On top of that, she is supposed to keep herself forever youthful, attractive and perfectly groomed and very much aware of her sexual ‘duties’.

The feminist outcry was that women, wives and girlfriends were being reduced to this one-dimensional rearing, domestic creature whose only reason was to please her man  sometimes to the detriment of her children and always to the detriment of herself. To expose my radicalism (well, expose, scratch the surface, who’s monitoring?), it is sexist and dehumanising to want your significant other to do nothing other than look pretty, provide for your needs and never challenge you.

Why then do we approve of men doing this in the name of consent and choice? A passive mistress, geisha, runs girl, sugar baby, whatever should not be demonised  but I don’t agree that we have to act like it’s a choice that has no effect on other women. I think it is unrealistic to say that we want the standard for relationships in a modern society to be on a equal footing – both parties are individuals with their own needs and ups and downs, who are trying to make each other happy and build a life together – when we reserve this space for men who have enough wealth to escape equality this way. We also can’t pretend it doesn’t put pressure on wives to regress back into the intellectually-empty-vessel 1950s stereotype if it would reduce the chances of her wealthy husband from going elsewhere.

‘Sex Work is Work!’

I have a similar problem with presenting sex work (not exotic dancing or stripping which I don’t really consider to be sex work) and participation in porn as simply empowering choices. Again they are valid choices and for some, real choices. For sex work, I think decriminalisation would assist in regulating these choices and preventing abuse. I want sex workers to have the same right to respect and protection from harm as other women.

This is an entirely different matter from castigating someone as ‘not being a real feminist’ for questioning the  effect that some of these choices have on women or if they suspect that not everyone making these choices has any other option.

Perhaps prostitution, in a completely equal world, would not be inherently harmful to women (or more harmful to women than men). But we don’t live in an equal world – at the extreme many sex workers are not wiling participants and there are still prevailing harmful ideas about sexuality and consent which means viewing women as sex objects still harm women as a whole.

Apparently I am not allowed to refer to the fact that some people only do sex work because of poverty.  That’s now like saying people only work in McDonalds because of poverty.

I must confess that I am unable to reach that level of endorsement of sex work for reasons that I can’t quite articulate.  I get that it is inaccurate to describe prostitution (a term which I can tell is fast falling out of favour) as ‘selling one’s body’ and with the right amount of agency, it can provide more freedom than being, say, a Stepford wife but still….I don’t think it’s just because when transacting for money, handing someone a burger over a secure counter carries inherently less risks that going alone with them into a room, removing your clothes and surrendering to whatever act they think they paid for.

Perhaps it’s personal.  Or maybe it’s because many feminists and other women who promote the idea that sex work is nothing more than a commercial transaction are often lawyers, doctors and other middle-class people who have no practical concept of what sex work involves and no appetite for trying it.

It is true that some women simply don’t mind or even get a thrill out of sex work but if I was dating, I would be very careful around men who used the services of sex workers, no matter how liberal they appeared. Even if I could get my head around his addiction to relating sexually to women who are there predominantly to meet his own desires; could I really be sure whether he cares or checked whether any of these women are there solely out of their own will (I’m pretty sure that most of these transactions take place online but my overactive imagination has liberal men striding up and down grotty brothels shrilly demanding EVIDENCE of AGENCY)?

Any man who enthusiastically exercises his right to view women as one-dimensional sexual objects, whether through porn or prostitution, is suspect to me. I wouldn’t trust him to snap out of it when it came to ‘real relationships’. Incidentally, I think that’s where some of these well-meaning liberal men go wrong.

They have good thoughts and intentions but their diet of ‘harmless’ porn may explain why they are reluctant to take no for an answer when they come across a sexually liberated woman who doesn’t want to, on the first date, tangle herself into a some kind of complicated knot (that and constantly straying into wild inappropriateness. Pro-tip, liberal men: if a strange woman on Twitter is reluctant to give you her name in a personal message exchange, chances are she will feel offended and insulted if your next message is to enquire about threesomes. This is probably largely down to the fact that life is not actually a porn film. On a more serious note, enthusiastic consent also relates to, apart from touching, verbal communication and includes recognising and not ignoring signals that a woman does not want to have any kind of intimate conversation with you.)

Female Entertainers and Hypersexuality

A brief word about the pressure on female entertainers to be hypersexual: by this, I don’t just mean sexy, like the picture of Tina Turner above which I’ve only used because of the title of this essay and her brilliant song ‘What’s Love Got to do With It’.  I’m talking more about Nicki Minaj’s Paper Magazine Shoot or Beyonce’s sudden self-discovery in her videos for the 2013 album ‘Beyonce’.

Great if you make the choice; I just don’t believe a lot of women do make the choice. And if they do, it’s not for the reason that you think they do. I’ve seen singers in the….shall we say autumn of their careers, put under pressure to release that hyper sexual photoshoot. I’ve seen aspiring models verbally abused and screamed at for not wanting to ‘go topless’. I’ve read of actresses responding to a script which simply states that ‘she shows her tits’ for no reason that is connected to the storyline.

Everyone wants to be sexy and attractive; I think fewer people want to be as constantly naked as some kind of prisoner of war. I don’t believe Nikki Minaj or Beyonce really want to. They may not mind; they may accept it as a necessary step for a female entertainer to achieve world domination but that is not the same as the spontaneous expression of sexuality that is being presented to us.

So what’s the harm? These women are perfectly entitled to make commercial choices to disrobe, aren’t they? What’s the worst that can happen apart from Jennifer Lawrence freezing in a tiny dress, while her male co-stars are covered with layers of clothing talking about “ch-ch-ch- choice.”?

Yes a commercial choice is still a choice but I think it’s quite wrong to rip through people who question what this is doing to female self-esteem and future female entertainers. Firstly, it sends out the message that anything a woman has to offer in the entertainment industry has be accompanied by a side-order of T&A.  It chips away at our humanity; it seeks to reduce us. No matter how successful or powerful we are, we can only obtain recognition by being naked and hold on to fame by being even more naked.  It makes it all the more easier for men to insist that aspiring and usually quite vulnerable and young female entertainers are as naked as they (men) want them to be (there is an interesting story about a young Beyonce walking out of a photo shoot when the French director had the bright idea of her posing naked covered in honey).

Of course a lot of that naked investment is lost when our looks start to go.  It is a double con – if you want me to stop pretending to be sane about this – it is often not really a choice in the first place and the fake non-choice has a negative effect on women as a whole.

Purity Culture and My Idiotic Childhood

The other end of the spectrum is virginity and purity culture. I’ve written about virginity. All I have to add is this – when I was a teenager, I used to regard women who  scorned virginity as extreme cases of ‘pick-me’s’ or I would have if the term existed in my youth.   Of course, like everyone else, I regarded too much female sexual activity as sluttiness but I like to think that even then my suspicion of any kind of empowerment that seemed male-pleasing was already being formed. I thought basically women like this wanted men to want them so instead of holding out and making men suffer like a good decent woman, they gave it away freely, under the guise of expressing themselves sexually but with the real intention of holding on to men. A bit like I regarded women who appeared to like football. Absolutely disgraceful and a complete reduction if not erasure of female sexual identity. I’m only just understand how harmful purity politics and culture are.

Summary

Just in case anyone is in doubt or cares, I don’t think sleeping with men for money or ‘advantages’ is a good thing or anything approaching an ideal.   I think women should get on with their lives, whether it’s careers, relationships, sex, friendships, study, amassing wealth,  in accordance with their values,  instead of all this endless worrying about how their sexuality is going to get them a man, job, money, grades or whatever.   That, to me, is what a equality looks like.  And yes, I do think it’s wrong, in that it is participating in the hurt and deceit of another human being, to have a covert sexual relationship with a married person or a person in a relationship.

It’s just that it’s none of my business what women choose to do.  My feminist issue has always been, apart from wondering what aspect of patriarchy encourages women towards these choices,  that women are demonised  for the very same acts that men are held blameless for.  In fact, society would  rather blame the men’s wives, who had none of the illicit sex, than the men who instigated and committed them.

A more recent feminist issue seems to be that we are concentrating on and regressing back to the sexist paradise for men where women existed for their domestic and sexual pleasure instead of addressing the issues that got us there in the first place, under the guise of choice.

Domestic Duties

Moving on to my bugbear of the share of domestic labour in marriage and partnership. The choice here relates to a range of heightened level of domesticity for the female partner.

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I’m definitely not one of those feminists who think that  it is a crime or pity or shame when a woman chooses to give up her career, temporarily or permanently, to be a stay at home mum or just wife or girlfriend. There are good valid reasons for this – a child that needs extra care, a female partner earning less (although there is a sexist back story to this) and the sometimes astronomical cost of child care. Being a working mother myself, I personally can say my job does get in the way of what I would consider optimal parenting (but would I optimal-parent? Or would I just sit around clicking on Twitter and overeating?).

My only concern is leaving the woman with less economic power – money that is not provided by her male partner and increased difficulty in getting back into work. This probably makes it harder to leave a harmful marriage and even with laws relating to shared marital property opens her up to humiliation and accusations of gold digging as her very valuable contributions to home-making are disregarded when she tries to secure a share of the joint property (notwithstanding stories of hard-done-by sports men).

Also, I’m a bit grumpy that workplaces around the world and male partners can’t collude to allow women to work more easily and be mothers. Why does the bulk of childcare emergencies fall on mothers? Why don’t men do more in the home?

This brings me to the feminist or woman who choose do all the cooking or take the lion’s share of housework. The woman who is happy doing all the cooking and cleaning for a boyfriend she only met a month ago. The woman who chooses to submit to her husband. But if she chooses to, aren’t I the real enemy of feminism, progress and everything else to comment negatively about her choice? Isn’t feminism supposed to be about being what you want to be?

It bloody well isn’t – it’s an organised system to fight harm and inequality. But leaving that aside, it’s the  inherent unfairness that bugs me – why on earth should one gender be allowed to be domestically incompetent leaving the other to run around after them like a toddler? I’ve had otherwise sensible women tell me  that a man shouldn’t go into the kitchen if he has a woman. Put that way, any self-respecting feminist would and should be outraged. And it’s not just about the cooking. It’s the constant drudgery of unshared housework. We acknowledge that this unfair system exists yet our answer to it is to create a space where, through apparent choice, men can continue to exist within it and defend that space with every breath in us.

Also, let’s examine that apparent choice, shall we? It’s not hard to imagine that the ability to make this choice would be a highly desired asset for men that have no interest in changing the status quo. Perhaps then finding a partner is the predominant factor behind this choice rather than a nurturing nature and a desire for only four hours sleep a night.  Also, I wonder how many men made the ‘choice’ to take on a significant share in the household chores before second wave feminists started hinting that they should do so?

But fair enough, if a woman thinks that this will  increase her chances at partnership, she’s perfectly entitled to do so. To have this presented to me as feminism sticks at the back of my throat; to be told that if I challenge it, I’m the real anti-feminist sticks back even further.

The Cancer Scare

I think I’m in the middle of a very mild ‘cancer scare’.  I am supposed to be editing a post about choice in feminism to go up tonight but I’m doing this instead.  I’m not even going through my usual process of writing this as a word document first and copying it on to the blog.  I’m just going for it.  This is going to be another spontaneous post – we’ll see how it  goes.

Let me start by saying I don’t usually allow myself to think about cancer under any circumstances.  It is so scary.  The pain and suffering.  The horrendous process of chemotherapy (which is apparently a separate second set of  pain and suffering).  My personal fear of being cared for  – what if they get tired of me, begin to resent me, are forced to put on a bright smile for my sake or mistreat me (you have no idea where my mind has gone) – by even my nearest and dearest.

What else? The excellent but less than completely co-ordinated National Health Service.  Money matters.  Not being able to look after the kids.  Maybe not even seeing  the kids grow up.  Being trapped in a hospital bed while annoying people visit me.  Changed physical appearance.  Those terrifying pictures accompanying pleas for people in advanced stages of cancer who have not been, up to this point, able to afford treatment.  I can’t think of or look at any of it.  I can barely read through a short article telling us how to check for breast cancer.

Another more trivial and rather mean thought that occupies me is what if I do  have cancer  and decide to ‘live life to the fullest’.  What would I do?  In what ways will I completely embarrass myself?  For example, I write stand-up comedy in my little notebook.  Just ideas that occur to me because I consider myself to be a funny person (I’m saying that with not a hint of irony, by the way).  I would never perform stand-up comedy because I would be terrible at it.  I’m a terrible actor and I am not good at delivering jokes.  When I do say these jokes out loud, I sound like a  really bad combination of Kevin Hart and Basketmouth.  I guess I sometimes think of selling them to an actual stand-up comedian, but mostly they are just for fun.

If I am diagnosed and as part of ‘doing what I’ve always wanted to do’, would I wrap my head in a scarf, drag all my friends to the first dinghy club that would accept me and force them to listen to my cancer comedy?  A friend of a friend has recently recovered from a very serious illness.  She’s taken up stand-up comedy and, having met her, is an unlikely candidate for it.  My friend has simply reported, without comment on the performance, that she attended her gig.  This bothers me.

My cancer scare only started on Thursday.  Yet here I am on Saturday full of enough terror (and vanity) to write about it.   For about 2 weeks, I’ve been woken  by a pain in my right arm.  It started with numbness and tingling in my hands, travelled up my arm  and became severe enough to wake me up – not going away until I had stood up for a few minutes, and then starting up again as soon as I tried to lie down.  It has been, quite frankly a pain, but until Thursday cancer has not crossed my mind.

Through the usual mish-mash of internet research, I’d come to the conclusion, having first started with the premise that I was sleeping badly and  then progressed on to carpal tunnel as I write a lot, that it was some sort of trapped nerve probably in my neck area.  I was actually miserable with the idea that I would become one of these people with ‘chronic’ pain for which no cure can be found and who people begin to suspect of milking it out of laziness and for sympathy (you will learn, in the course of reading these posts, that it’s not that I’m an unkind person but that I’d much rather be in the position of defending people who are suffering than experience any kind of  suffering).  I’m also dealing with a stressful new role at work so I hoped it would be some kind of muscle spasm instead, which would relax as relaxed into my new role.

One day, I finally called 111 and was given an emergency appointment with my GP (there were other symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath etc).  She conducted a number of checks and tests, seemed puzzled and said nervously that ‘it could be a number of things’.  That still didn’t make me think of cancer.  She also mentioned some kind of test for pinched nerves.

The pain continued and then lessened but, as it happened the night before, I went to see my (quite spaced-out) GP on Thursday, as planned,  who said that she just wants me to do some blood tests and an X-ray before she tests the nerves.  “Good luck!” she sang as I left the surgery with my two fussy and disobedient children.  I still didn’t think of cancer.  I thought the ‘good luck’ was about the  kids (it  probably was – I had to hush all three of them, including the GP,  at least once during the visit).

It was my visit with a friend later that day that finally did it. My dear friend is bubbly and fun, but given to  intense spells of pessimism, especially when it comes to cancer.  It was she who uttered the phrase “It’s going to get us all!” a few years ago, which appears in my latest short story.

She hinted that a number of people had discovered cancer following a pain in their arm/shoulder.  She mentioned that I had lost a lot of weight (I have not! I was wearing black clothes and long, straight hair extensions), she questioned me about my hair loss and asked why I hadn’t gone to the doctor (I’m not balding from the scalp; my hair is breaking, I explained.  And now that I think about it, hair loss isn’t a sign of most kinds of cancer – it’s a side effect of chemotherapy) and asked me to keep an eye on it.  This got me thinking  and remembering that my husband had said one morning after I told him brightly that ‘the pain didn’t bother me last night’ that I needed to get it sorted out in one of his rare serious moments.  I’d expected him to say, as he normally would ‘Great! Let’s forget about it, then!’.

I started researching first signs of cancer and noticed fatigue.  I immediately started feeling tired and tried to remember how long I’d been feeling this way.  Also, apart from a few twinges which I’m sure are mostly psychosomatic, the pain has gone although the arm is still tingly, tender and weird.  Also, and this is very important, NO HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL HAS MENTIONED THE WORD ‘CANCER’.  All the GP did was order blood tests and a scan instead of, as I expected,whisking me off to the nerve specialist, tell me ‘it could be a number of things’, act with unprecedented haste and say ‘Good luuu-uuck’ as I left (she really is strange.  I mean, who says that?).

I therefore realise that I am far from a fully blown cancer scare.  What is a cancer scare anyway?  What do public figures, when they are doing ads for cancer charities or responding to a belligerent tweet, mean when they say ‘I had a cancer scare 3 years ago so I know how you feel’?  I think, hope, it’s beyond googling random symptoms and getting down to a cancer article on page 15 of your search.  Almost anything can be a ‘sign of cancer’.  I suspect it’s at or beyond the biopsy stage (she says, like she knows what she’s talking about).  I’m at the blood test and X-ray stage so I’m not even there yet.

And even beyond the biopsy stage, isn’t there the possibility that a tumour is benign? Isn’t cancer malignant in that it spreads and destroys everything (see? I told you I never read about cancer) thereby producing this kind of phrase that an average Nigerian man with a pulse may use “This idea that women are entitled to the same rights as men is spreading like cancer,” (Feminism, crowbar, any article.  It’s like a magic trick.).  And of course there is the type of waiting that comes after you’ve had cancer, have been treated and are waiting to see if the treatment is successful.

Therefore I don’t really understand what people mean when they say ‘I’ve had a cancer scare so I know how you feel.’ like it puts them in some kind of club with cancer survivors or patients.  Or people who give testimonies in church stating that their cancer scare turned out not to be cancer after all.  Of course we should always be grateful to God for life and health but, beyond going for the initial tests and all the anticipation and terror of waiting, what is this kind of testimony about?  How has the person actually changed?  How exactly does having a cancer scare make one understand what a cancer patient goes through??

cancer 2

Another grievance of mine is all this talk of taking cancer on as if it were an opponent in a boxing match.  Stand up to cancer.  Say no to cancer.  Give cancer the finger.  Give it two fingers.  Give it as many fingers as you want.  Eff you, cancer.  Spit on its….Has the world gone mad?  I saw an article that advised that people waiting to find out whether they are in remission should keep moving as  it’s ‘hard for cancer to hit a moving target.’.

I can think of nothing more off-putting than feeling at my worst, and being jollied along in this manner.  Also, I can’t help but think it comes from a world that is weary of taking care of any kind of sick person and wants to trick them into thinking that if they just smile enough and stop feeling sorry for themselves, they will hardly notice their green skin and propensity to vomit up anything they have eaten.

Well, I’m due an X-ray in a week.  I’ve been told I have to wait another week for the results.  I am going to force myself to wait a further three days before calling the surgery.  I may update this post.  Alternatively, if this article simply disappears, it’s probably because I thankfully do not have any signs of cancer and therefore have lost the right (and the courage) to write about things that may give true cancer patients some comfort.

Update:  The results of my blood tests came back and they are normal!  Whoop whoop!  I called the GP tentatively to ask about the procedure for reporting back on tests.  I don’t know why I was so tentative, why I’m so keen to appear reasonable.  Anyway the receptionist said they don’t report back unless there’s something to report – an unusually cruel way of operating, it seems, especially if they are able to climb into my mind and read my paranoid thoughts.  Yay!  Now I just have to wait for the x-rays but I doubt they will show anything too sinister.   I’m so relieved that I’m not even embarrassed about what a state I was in when I wrote this post : )

 

Weird Feminism: Conversations in Modern Feminism that Make Me Uncomfortable – Part 2: Bridging the Gap Between Trans and TERFS

Tracy Treads Trepidatiously Into The Terrifying And Treacherous Terrain Between Terfs And Trans

The war between the trans community and so-called TERFS has become increasingly polarised with the kind of name calling and paranoid debate where each side assumes that they are the true victims. Transwomen claim that some feminists are bent on excluding them from feminism and indeed womanhood (hence the acronym which stands for ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’), are of course completely transphobic, want to deny transwomen access to healthcare and treatment and delight in scare-mongering and witch hunts.

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Feminists claim that, while they support civil liberties for transwomen in the conventional sense, transwomen and their allies bully anyone who disagrees with their “dogma” and are a new incarnation of a bunch of men trying to intimidate and shut women up. At its extreme, the debate has seen some feminists resorting to misgendering as a taunt and insult and dismissing transgenderism as a form of temporary mental illness and some transwomen advocating violent speech and actions against people who disagree with their beliefs and assertions, as in the ‘Punch a TERF’ and similar movements.

punchterf2

Definition of Transwoman

Is there any sane middle ground between these two points? I think part of the difficulty is that, unless I have misunderstood things from the start, the definition of transwoman has changed. I always thought it was a man transitioning to a woman, physically and otherwise but particularly physically. I thought sex reassignment surgery or at least extensive hormone therapy was the ultimate aim.

It turns out a transwoman is anyone who identifies as a woman. Physical surgery is not necessary and even other physical manifestations, like dressing up as a woman, can be done on a temporary basis. Some people have substituted the word ‘transwoman’ with ‘woman’ in this definition so the equation now looks like this: woman = transwoman = anyone who identifies as a woman.

So potentially you could have transwomen who are not physically transformed, have no intention of being (or can’t for some reason be) physically transformed and only dress up (‘present’ is the correct term) on the weekends. These transwomen are apparently women and anyone who questions this is at risk of vitriolic online accusations of transphobia.

There is of course the legal process one has to go through before the transition is legally recognised. For instance, in the UK, transwomen have to live as women for 2 years before being officially recognised as such (according to legal online law firm, Wikipedia)  although there are proposals for reforms to enable a quicker processes of identification and legal re-assignment.

Another part of this definition is the thinking that sexual and reproductive organs don’t determine gender. This in itself is not new to me if one tags on the word ‘necessarily‘. So in my ignorant way of thinking, the default position is that such organs do determine your gender but for reasons and psychological processes that I don’t claim to understand, a person can feel trapped in the wrong body as far as gender is concerned.

However the thinking has evolved. To some, sexual organs are just an irrelevant accident as far as gender is concerned. There is another internal indicator of gender that penises and vaginas have nothing to do with. If sexual organs have nothing to do with gender, why label them male or female in the first place (I saw a tweet stating “A penis can be incredibly feminine”) and why bother removing them if you want to change gender?

The final piece of the puzzle appears to be that it is transphobic (again, to some) to say that a woman requires a vagina, whether natural or surgical. To pose an unhelpful, clever-clogs (stolen) question, if it’s transphobic to conflate being a woman with possessing female sexual organs, is it also transphobic for a transwoman to surgically obtain a vagina because she thinks that having one is more suited to her true gender? Is the next divide and example of the ‘left turning on itself’, going to be between transwomen who want a vagina and transwomen who think it’s transphobic to want one?

A slightly related question is , within the spectrum of ‘transwomaning’, at what point can we be accused of bigotry if we think a transwoman is not yet a woman? Also, are cross-dressers and drag queens men who like dressing up as women or are they necessarily transwomen or non-binary? Presumably the key is in self-identification.

The Construct of Gender

To say this subject is controversial is an understatement. Hopefully this post can provide some understanding of the confusion that well-meaning people who are not, and may not prioritise, being immersed in  trans-culture have (even though I have tried to at least do some research before writing this post). I have identified two issues with the above thinking which demonstrate that the whole issue of gender is extremely complex.

Firstly, it seems to me that feminism and transgenderism are not completely aligned. Traditional feminism has been about questioning gender roles – pretty, quiet, and helpful for girls and loud, boisterous and undomesticated for boys. Some radical feminists believe that we are simply human with differences. Yes, there are biological and physical differences between men and women, undeniably in the area of reproductive organs and strength (most times) but we think that a lot of the gender roles and stereotypes imposed upon us are unnecessary and are often a source of great oppression.

Transgenderism seems to reinforce the notion that there is something so inherently different between a man and a woman, that our brains, hearts and minds are wired so differently, that being a woman can be completely divorced from the physical differences between us and men. This does not of course mean that transwomen support traditional patriarchal gender roles imposed on women. The truth (suspicious as I am of all this talk of ‘ inherent differences’ between men and women) probably lies somewhere in between.

Of course traditionalists would probably say that we feminists and liberals have brought this on ourselves. They claim that questioning gender roles (which they believe in almost religiously) in the first place is what has led to what they see as a merging of genders. This argument fails to take into account the probability that the existence of transpeople  pre-dates feminist discourse on gender roles.

Feminist Frustration

Another issue with the above is the insistence on the above formula, i.e. woman = transwoman = anyone who identifies as a woman, without allowing room for argument or even question about the history of feminism, biological or cis women,  and why they are reluctant to let former men into their spaces. There doesn’t seem to be an attempt, by transwomen and their allies to understand at least the bewilderment of some women who have had oppression thrust upon them because of their biological condition and who are now told that they cannot point out the differences in history, physical attributes and experience between themselves and transwomen. I appreciate, of course, that cis women like me are equally ignorant of transwomen’s struggles.

Apart from the issue of safety and spaces, there is clearly some resentment from feminists about the supposed take-over by transwomen of feminism and women’s issues generally. I can’t say I don’t agree with some of the resentment. I find it extremely irritating when someone tries to censor in any way a conversation about periods or pregnancy on the basis that it is apparently transphobic. But, is there really a take-over of women’s issues by transwomen? Are transwomen being invited to discuss women’s issues on, say BBC Woman’s Hour evidence of this takeover or is it that we are so unused to seeing them that their relatively small representation automatically sounds alarm bells?

There is also some outrage. Women have been fighting this battle for centuries now. How dare these former men come in and insist on standing by our side? Besides the temerity of joining us when we’ve finally made some gains and established some systems for protecting ourselves, they want to tell us how to define women. I can completely understand these arguments but I think they downplay the history of transwomen and huge deal it is for a man (as far as the outside world can see) to come to terms with the need or desire to transition into a woman. It must be an extreme psychological process and is unlikely to be brought about by the shallow reasons of becoming a woman for the fun of dressing up or annoying us.

Another interesting thing is my strong adverse reaction to anything that even hints of guilting or pressurising lesbians (or straight men) into welcoming sexual advances from transwomen, including ones who are not physically transformed. This is probably part of a larger reaction to the growing visibility of transwomen. Even as we champion their rights and use them as an excuse to heap more insults on the Religious Right, we as a cis-society are just waiting for them to attempt to tell us that our failure to be attracted to, or consider sex with them, is as a result of our own bigotry so that we can slap them round the head with a clunky first generation iPad. Whatever it is , whenever I read the unfortunate phrase ‘the cotton ceiling’, I feel a fierce protectiveness towards my lesbian sisters, who are otherwise as under-represented in my mind as in the real society.

In fairness, transwomen have denied more than once that they are trying to pressure anyone into feeling obligated to form sexual relationships with them. Firstly, there is no shortage of cis-men very much interested in having sex with transwomen (although they are often shamed for doing so, by apparently liberal media that feels the need to broadcast these liaisons complete with photographic and video evidence !). In relation to lesbians, transwomen say they are simply discussing one of the many difficulties they face in blending into cis-society.

What I think it does show is that the assertion that a ‘transwoman is a woman’ is not a complete answer to the complex questions that arise between trans and cis-women. Clearly one can decide and may be socially obliged to, in an inclusive society, address and think of transwomen as women, but when it comes to defining them for the purpose of our intimate relationships, Adichie was right in a way. A woman is a woman yes but a biological woman is a biological woman and a transwoman is a transwoman. It’s not, I would argue, just a matter of preference for a lot of people.

Female Spaces

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At what point do we have to let transwomen into women’s spaces without question? Do we even need women’s spaces anymore? Should that be the topic of debate?.  All very controversial questions that go against the ‘transwomen are women’ ideology but which a lot of people quite obviously have.

It’s fair to say that some of the resentment regarding transwomen in women’s spaces does seem to be based more on emotion than fact. It may be that some women feel that the only way to be safe from male or patriarchal oppression is to keep away from men or anything that seems male as much as is possible. There is an emphasis on safe spaces which extend beyond bathrooms, refuges and locker rooms and to entire websites and online chatrooms .

Having said that, there are reasons for some safe spaces, particularly bathrooms, refuges, prisons and locker rooms. Perhaps an ideal world will contain exclusively unisex bathrooms and people will be so well-behaved that there won’t be any physical threat from having 30-something year old men milling around naked fifteen year old girls (and vice-versa, I know!) but I daresay that utopia hasn’t arrived yet. There will still be some discomfort and questions as to whether a person who openly displays male organs (presumably another rare occurrence since not all transwomen are out and proud types) should be in women’s changing rooms.

There is also apparently a new threat of men posing as transwomen for the purpose of entering changing rooms and the like. I’ve done a bit of research and I genuinely don’t know how real or likely this threat is. You can always, I suppose, be attacked by a bad biological woman in a locker room or public toilet; the difference is that men (on the assumption that they are not just simply confused or bad transwomen or even men who think they are transwomen and are not) have 2 weapons at their disposal that cis women do not  – a penis and substantially greater body strength (someone said ‘upper body strength’ once. I don’t understand – do we have the same leg strength as men? Will I win a fight with a man if both of us are restricted to kicking? I have pretty strong legs). It’s not the only threat in the world but it’s precisely the kind of threat that women were trying to avoid when they created female-only safe spaces.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: MY JUDGEMENT ON ALL PARTIES AND MATTERS CONCERNED!

The question is can the bridge be gapped? I don’t know. We can all stop calling feminists that question the popular leftist transgender view ‘TERFS’. Some of them may indeed be transphobic but you can’t define transphobia as questioning a view that a number of vocal people on the internet hold . For instance, I find it ludicrous that the person who wrote this article – https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/are-you-now-or-have-you-ever-been-terf felt they had to write it under a pseudonym.

I also find it absurd that, solely based on her comments on Channel 4 news, that Adichie has been dismissed as a TERF, a term that seems to be synonymous with a rampant racist or homophobe (a woman who defends transpeople in Nigeria. Does anyone have any idea how hard it is to defend transculture in Nigeria???? – although I don’t agree that gender can be defined solely by reference oppression vs privilege.  Privilege may be part of it but to me,  a more complete way of describing the difference is that it is between women who have inhabited male bodies and have lived as men and those who have not).

There are transpeople and their allies and there are people who believe transpeople are bad or mad. There is a whole spectrum of people in between, including people who are very ignorant of the issues raised – they can’t all be TERFS, can they? Wondering whether a person is or should be immediately regarded as a woman, solely on the basis of self-identification, may or may not be transphobic but it’s not the same as believing black people should sit at the back of the bus. This should be obvious even without the need to refer to any kind of Oppression Olympics. if I’m honest, I think the term ‘TERF’ needs to be abandoned.

Some feminists need to stop with the taunts and the insults and realise that transitioning is a complex and probably traumatic process. It is only fair and right to acknowledge the proportionately high level of transphobic violence and bullying (beyond saying “it’s MEN who commit the violence” while simultaneously complaining that a verbal slur, like TERF, is going to lead to violence against them). If like me, they don’t understand parts of the transculture, that should not manifest in sarcasm and insults. Also, when they cite extreme examples like the one above – bad fake transwoman beating seven bells out of everyone in the women’s locker room with superior strength and penis –  they need to give full facts including stating whether or not the examples are relatively rare to avoid scaremongering.

The truth is, despite the explosion of interest in the media and the frantic rush of legislation to keep up,  most of us are still at the very early stages of understanding transculture within the context of the mainstream. This is one reason why the ‘Punch a TERF’ movement is so scary and wrong. We are only just understanding trans discourse – maybe we should have got there earlier and yes, people can’t use ignorance as an excuse for bigotry  – but there is still so much to untangle. In this context, how do you even define a TERF, much less advocate violence against a concept that can be twisted to individual will and agendas? Bullying, shaming, labelling or threatening people or saying ‘enough is enough’ may lead to the demise, rather than the strengthening of the movement (this is what I always say about these divisions – until it relates to sexism or racism or something else that directly affects me).

So there you have it. Some of my thoughts on the subject. Perhaps they could be described by some as TERF-y (or TERM1-y if you count the contributions made by men to this article) but I hope they show what I intended –  a genuine wish for a discussion that promotes understanding rather than just protecting one’s turf.

1Trans-exclusionary Reactionary Male – we just made that up

Guest Feature: Mansplaining the Bible by Iain Lovejoy

First off, there is no such word as “helpmeet”: “help” and “meet” are two separate words, with “meet” meaning “suitable”: the phrase means “a helper suitable for him”, “help meet for” coming from the King James version of the Bible: if you can’t read 17th century English, leave the KJV alone.

Christians who can’t be having with all this “women’s rights” malarkey are very fond of mining the Bible for “proof texts” about how women should shut up and do what their menfolk tell them. Non-Christians, too, are happy to help and point out how terribly sexist the Bible is, and Christians who don’t think having a Y chromosome brings you closer to God often get accused of ignoring the Bible in order to pursue a personal agenda of their own.

This is aided and abetted by the fact that the Bible is written in Koine Greek, which nobody speaks any more and which is not fully understood and men looking for justification for lording it over women have had centuries to dig out all the helpful out-of-context little snippets they can find to support their case.

It’s also very easy to take passages explaining how to be a Christian in 1st century Rome and creatively misinterpret the bits that explain how to be a 1st century Roman as bits on how to be a Christian.

Now, although you might think as a man I would have a vested interest in preserving a Biblical justification for ordering my wife about, I have no particular desire to do so (and Tracy wouldn’t let me anyway) so I have, as a public service, set out below some of the most common “clobber” passages for misogynists and what, in fact, they say.

(I have no doubt some people may disagree with my interpretations, but I don’t care.)

Women are just “helpmeets” for men?

“God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Creation of Eve from Adam's rib

First off, there is no such word as “helpmeet”: “help” and “meet” are two separate words, with “meet” meaning “suitable”: the phrase means “a helper suitable for him”, “help meet for” coming from the King James version of the Bible: if you can’t read 17th century English, leave the KJV alone.

Secondly, “help” is a translation of the Hebrew “ezer” which of the 19 times it appears in the Bible not referring to Eve, 17 are referring to God as man’s “helper”, so if you think being man’s “helper” means being man’s obedient little servant, you might try explaining that to God.

Man rules over woman?

“To the woman he said “I will greatly multiply your labour and your pregnancy, in pain you shall bear children, and you shall desire your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

See, God says man must rule over women: case closed!

Cobblers.

For one thing, this isn’t a command from God, but part of a warning as to mankind’s future now they are cast out of Eden: God doesn’t say man is obliged to rule over woman, or that it’s actually a good idea.

For another, I’m not at all sure the above is what the Hebrew says, anyway.

The last phrase doesn’t fit: the verse is about Eve bearing children, then her desiring her husband, and then an unconnected bit about Adam “ruling over” her.

In Hebrew the word for “and” is “waw”, but it can also mean “but”, “ when”, “or” or “because” depending on word order and context. The word order suggests that “and you shall desire your husband” might in fact read “when you desire your husband”, and the whole thing may read something like:

To the woman he said “I will greatly multiply your labour and your pregnancy: in pain you shall bear children, when you desire your husband and he has his way with you.”

and have nothing to do with men being the boss of women at all.

Husband as head of his wife?

“The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Now, obviously, this is a heirachy, with God at the top, then Christ, then men, and with women bringing up the rear: another slam-dunk for the penis-worshippers, right?

Nope.

For one thing, Christ is God and not some kind of servant or subordinate to God, unless you want to re-write all of Christian theology.

For another, the above fairly standard translation is a bit wrong: the middle phrase actually says “the man is head of a woman”, or, more accurately, head of a wife (since in Greek they were the same word). This is directed at men, not women, and reminding men that they are accountable to Christ as their head, and also (if married) have responsibilities as the head of a household (and that even Christ has responsibilities if his own).

Sure, in Paul’s time, the Romans had hubby legally in charge of everything and everyone in his household, and he had responsibilities accordingly, but then the Romans also had gladiatorial games and crucified slaves who rebelled against their masters and child prostitution was legal, and we are not commanded to copy them either.

Keep Your Hat On

“a man is the image and glory of God, but a woman is the glory of a man” (1 Corinthians 11:7)

hat

The problem with trotting this out as a quotable quote for misogyny is that it, and the preceding and following verses, have nothing to say about the relationships between men and women, but in fact purely and exclusively about hats (seriously!).

Paul’s problem in 1 Corinthians 11:4-16 is that women have been worshipping in meetings with their heads bare in the same way as the men were. He sees this as a problem because, to the Romans, wearing a veil or headcovering was the sign of a being a respectable woman, and for a woman to be going around bareheaded in public was seen as something of a scandal. Indeed, a woman who had committed some offence against society (e.g. adultery) would be humiliated by being forced to parade through the streets with her head uncovered or, in extremis, even with her head shaved completely. This was still done in Europe fairly recently: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/jun/05/women-victims-d-day-landings-second-world-war

What Paul is trying to do is put a stop to this, while being very careful to say it’s not because women are somehow less in God’s eyes than men.

So what he says is, is that while men are required to pray without their heads covered, as it is a sign they are unashamed before God (verse 4) the same rule doesn’t apply to women because having their heads uncovered would actually signify the exact opposite (verses 5-6).

The rule for women, Paul says, is that they instead should cover their heads (and here we reach v 7, quoted fully): “because, while a man ought not to cover his head being the image and reputation of God, a wife is the reputation of her husband.” (NB “Glory” in this verse is really “reputation” and, as usual, the words for “man” and “husband”, and “woman” and “wife” are the same.)

It’s hopefully clear that Paul isn’t saying that a woman isn’t the “image and reputation of God”, but rather that she doesn’t need to keep her head uncovered because of it. But what’s all this “a woman is the reputation of her husband” stuff?

What Paul is saying is that while a woman doesn’t need to uncover her head out of consideration for God, she should cover it up to avoid embarrassing her husband, whose dependent she is. Not exactly “woke”, but a piece of realism in 1st century Rome.

But what about verse 11: “For this reason a woman ought to have power on her head because of the angels.”?

Again, nope. What this says is: “For this reason a woman ought to wear an exousia on her head because of the angels.” Although exousia means literally “authority”, in this case all the commentators are agreed it is here either a veil or other kind of headdress, and all Paul seems to be saying, as he says all along, is women should, out of respect as being in the presence of God and his angels, keep their hats on in church.

No talking at the back

Women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Tittle-Tattle; Or, the several Branches of Gossipping

This has nothing to do with women preaching, and everything to do with conducting orderly meetings, which is what Paul has just been writing about in the immediately preceding passage, and which is what this bit too is actually about.

In the above, almost every word is translated a bit “off” to get the result wanted:

The Greek word for “woman” was the same as that for “wife”, and the fact that Paul goes on to talk about “their husbands” means that is what we have here.

“Be silent” is actually more accurately “be quiet”

The word translated “speak” actually principally means “talk”, and while Paul could be saying women should remain completely mute throughout, not even praying, saying any responses or singing hymns or participating at all, this would be completely contrary to everything we know about Christian practice in the early church (and indeed ever since).

“Be subordinate” is the Greek “hupotassó” which as a technical military term meant to line up in order or place oneself behind a commander, but in civilian use had a number of meanings, none of which were exactly “be subordinate”: the most applicable one here is “keep oneself under control”; and, finally

There is no known law, Jewish or Roman, which forbids women from speaking in churches, but the same word also means any kind of rule generally, and Paul has just set out a rule that meetings should be conducted in orderly fashion without everyone speaking at once.

If the above is taken into account, what Paul is actually saying is:

“Wives should keep quiet in the churches, since they are not permitted to talk, but rather they should keep themselves under control, as this rule indeed requires. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a wife to be talking in church.”

What Paul is objecting to is believers’ (non- or only nominally believing) wives who have been dragged along by their believer husbands not participating at meetings but chatting at the back instead. (Non-believing husbands, of course, got to stay home…)

What do you mean, “submit”?

“Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord” – Ephesians 5:22

wives-submit

First off, the word “submit” doesn’t actually appear in this verse: it just says “Wives, do so to your husbands …”. That what they should do is “submit” is read in from verse 21, which is a bit of a problem, since verse 21 is a general instruction to all Christians which says “submit yourselves to each other in the reverence of Christ”. Now, it’s kind of hard to submit to someone if they then insist on submitting right back at you: it creates a bit if an impasse.

Fortunately, “submit” is completely the wrong word. This is our old friend “hupotassó” again, and one of its civilian uses is to place oneself at the use or disposal of someone else, or place their interests first, and is the only sense that sensibly can be mutual, which is what is required here. A wife’s duty to her husband, then, is part of the general duty of all Christians to serve each other and place each other first: it doesn’t mean a wife is supposed to be at her husband’s command. (After all, if her husband is Christian, he should be placing himself at her service too.)

Don’t get hung up on “as the Lord” either, and try and read it as “as if the Lord”, as if women were supposed to abandon God entirely and served their husbands instead. It means “equally as the Lord”, and all Paul is saying is that women shouldn’t neglect their responsibility for running the household for their husband for the church. Sure, it was a bit unfair that Roman husbands left their wives to do all the housework, but that’s 1st century Rome for you, not the Bible.

Not that sort of head

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” – Ephesians 5:23

This verse runs straight on from the last bit we have been looking at.

There is a further last bit of verse 23 after this which is variously read “his body of which he is the saviour”, “the body of which he is the saviour”, “his body, and of which he is the saviour” and other combinations, but what it actually says is simply “he is the saviour of the body”.

Now this only makes sense if you take into account that sneaky “for” at the beginning of the verse, which everyone ignores: Paul is saying that it is a husband, not Christ, who is the saviour of the body”, or rather that a husband’s being his wife’s sustainer in material / bodily things (which is what the Greek can also mean) makes him her “head” in worldly matters, in the same way that Christ is the church’s spiritual head because he is its saviour in matters spiritual, and so a wife ought to do her duties at home for her husband accordingly (there tended not to be that many married career women with househusbands in 1st Century Rome, as I understand it).

But what kind of head?

“However, in the manner that the church places itself under Christ, so also in the same manner are wives under their husbands in every respect.” – Ephesians 5:24

Having made a concession to 1st century Roman realities, this is where Paul gets radical. The key word in this verse (which of course everyone ignores) is the “however” at the beginning.

Roman law, society and custom made the husband the head of the household in the sense that the wife was basically his slave or subject, existing for his convenience and at his command. In this verse and in the rest of the chapter Paul turns this in its head. Paul says that although custom and law made a husband head of his wife, the way a husband should be head of his wife is in the way that Christ is head of his followers: not as a monarch or lord and master but as a servant who gives himself up in service to them. Between Christ and his disciples, which one of them washed whose feet, do you recall?

Women, know your place!

vintage-ads-that-would-be-banned-today-14

“Let a woman learn quietly with all due submission, but I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” – 1 Timothy 2:11-12

First off, this isn’t Paul responding to the alarming news women were in fact being taught with a reminder that if they do so they must still be properly obedient to men as their divinely-ordained superiors, but rather Paul responding to a question about whether women should be allowed to learn at all by saying that they should be if they show the appropriate respect to their teacher (a respect which would be required by the standards of the time of male pupils too). ‘

You can tell this by looking at Paul’s but (will the dirty minded note the spelling!).

Most versions of the Bible pretend the “but” isn’t there, but it’s a very prominent and important “but”, and can’t be ignored. Without the “but” it sounds like Paul is saying women should firstly keep their traps shut when learning, and furthermore shouldn’t teach at all. The “but” means that in fact the first half Paul is instructing that women should be permitted to learn, while setting out the limits of his permission in the second.

But what exactly is Paul prohibiting women from doing?

What it isn’t is “exercising authority”. The Greek actually says something more akin to “take over”: it may even mean “usurp”. What Paul is in fact saying is that while a woman should be permitted to join in and learn with the men, that doesn’t mean she should be allowed to come in and take over the class. (Quite what was going on in Timothy’s congregation that Paul felt he needed to say this, God alone knows: I have visions of gangs of hacked off women excluded from Bible classes turning up en masse and heckling…)

What is clear, however, is that nothing here suggests that once the woman has completed her study, she can’t go on to teach herself. There are plenty of mentions of women in prominent positions in the early church.

Weaker vessels?

“Husbands, likewise, live with your wives out of consideration of them as a weaker vessel” – 1 Peter 3:7

Savior on White 2

This is a fine example of a determination to read the Bible as it is wanted to be read, rather than what it actually says. The verse comes right after Peter exhorts wives to stay with non-believing husbands, and says that “likewise” husband should stay with their wives. That “out of consideration of them” is just two words in Greek, and in fact says “in respect of / with regards to understanding” – Peter is describing nonbelievers as “in respect of knowledge weaker vessels”: it has nothing to do with their being women.

Conclusion

The Bible isn’t a feminist tract, and its central theme may not be the overthrow of the patriarchy, but it makes it quite clear all are equal before God. As Paul himself says “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28): when we were made in the image of God, God created us male and female, and if you think God’s image isn’t female too, she might want to have a few words.

By Iain Lovejoy

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The Aziz Ansari Story: Me Too or Not Right Now, Grace?

I must admit I’ve not read too many #metoo stories. I’ve read a few. Not only do they make me fear for my daughter simply because she’s going to grow up to be a woman, they are just too depressing. Don’t get me wrong – they are absolutely necessary. The attacks, assaults and harassment have clearly been going on for too long and have been accepted not only by Hollywood but in a way by the rest of society – an illustration is how the reaction to the term ‘casting couch’ is usually salacious amusement instead of the outrage now being expressed at the #metoo stories.

However, one of the most depressing things about watching man after man being accused is the feeling that the more the numbers stack up, the less likely it is that any individual is going to face tangible consequences. It’s almost like a statement I read in an account of a genocide which said something like ‘if all of us do it, then none of us are guilty/wrong’. At the very least, not everyone can be punished in any meaningful way (why am I so obsessed with punishment?  I don’t know).

Not only does the chance of justice for these women decrease but compassion fatigue starts to set in. The only thing I can wearily wish for is that even if no one is punished, whether by criminal prosecution or even socially or career-wise (beyond the initial fleeting moment of embarrassment when the media is all over a particular story), at least there will be a change of culture. A bit like the expenses scandal but with far more personal, harrowing consequences (just watch Uma Thurman’s response to a question about #metoo for an idea of the pain that this sexual violence has caused women).

I did read the Ansari story though. I think majority of people would agree on two things. Firstly that he committed no crime. The second is that he was definitely being a creepy dickhead that night. Less people may agree with the second statement but I still think they would be in the majority.

Opinions will probably be more divided on whether he should have been publicly shamed. Was it necessary for the world and his dog to know that his post-date routine is to disrobe completely the second the front door clicks shut behind him, require the other party to do the same and then spend the rest of evening directing any and all attention, queries and commentary towards his crotch? Is that what’s going on out there? Never in my decades of reckless, mixed-signals, problematic, I-know-I’m-a-Christian-but-I-sure-do-love-the-D-but-then-does-this-mean-I’ll-fry-in-hell dating have I encountered such strange behaviour.  Yet lots of women have told similar stories of average guys behaving this way.

Another more important question is whether this story really should be a natural, logical extension of the #metoo revelations. In other words, is it right to try and attach this story to the #metoo movement, a movement about how powerful men have, imagining that having any woman they want is a reward for their so-called success, attacked, degraded, dehumanised and just generally made life a misery for women who are just trying to get on with their jobs, or is this a different story altogether?

The reason I say that fewer people would agree that Ansari acted reprehensibly is that this story is as old as, at least, modern courtship and dating. I heard the much derided term ’emotional rape’ in high school in the early 1990s in relation to US college campus rapes and sexual misdemeanours. Emotional rape was alleged when a male college student technically obtained consent, after coercing and breaking down a girl who clearly did not want to have sex with him. Quite a few people took the view that if she said ‘yes’, did not say ‘no’ or did not protest by some kind of physical manifestation – screaming, shouting, moving or running away – then ‘it’s on her’.

Other people are more sensitive to the more subtle issues. One is that once it appears that a man is unwilling to accept a negative response, some women will choose to avoid the risk of a more violent attack by unwillingly consenting to sex. Yes, a man will not and should not be successfully prosecuted if that happens, but it really does come to something when a woman’s choice, on a date, is to run out or unhappily acquiesce to sex. No one can sensibly say that the guy who opens the door and says “Run then! Run for your life!” (like a 1980s action film villain) is a good guy. Even a world weary “Well if you don’t want to have sex with me, I’d rather you’d leave my flat this second.” would raise a few eyebrows much less continually pawing a woman until she flees.

Another issue is the confusion she must feel, when the mask slips off a nice guy that she is attracted to and has herself been lusting after. The mask is one of mutual care, or at least admiration, and respect; not using any means necessary to sleep with her as if she were nothing more than a sex doll.

On one hand I really  don’t understand the mechanics of ploughing relentlessly with one’s quest for sex, whether  in a casual encounter or a committed relationship, when it is abundantly clear that the person they are with does not want to have it with them.  This is especially because I reject the premise that male lust and sexuality is an uncontrollable object that can be involuntary unleashed at anytime up to the point of sexual attack (remember how we believed in ‘blue balls’ until we realised it was a load of gaslighting nonsense?)

However, the way we approach romantic and sexual relationships makes this story unsurprising. It comes from the left and the right. From reactionary socially unreformed meatheads’ point of view, a good girl not only does not have casual sex ; she does not put herself in a position where someone might think that having sex with her may go unobserved. If she does, well, there really isn’t any escape for her – if she has sex enthusiastically, she is a slut, an object of vicious gossip and potentially a target (if she’s ‘giving out pussy’, why isn’t she giving it to me? What’s wrong with me? WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?!?), if she doesn’t, she’s a prick-tease; if she complains about sex obtained by coercion, she is trying to ruin the life of an upstanding, promising young man.

From the left, which is where I understand Ansari comes from, I have noticed an almost aggressive entitlement to casual sex. Once there is an acknowledgement of mutual attraction; there is pressure and almost an obligation to consummate that relationship immediately. This pressure doesn’t always come in the form of a horrible ‘date’. It’s there when it is suggested that a woman who hesitates about when to have sex or whether to have more unusual forms of sex is a brainwashed prude; when liberal men shout about how virginity is a SOCIAL MYTHICAL CONCEPT/CONSTRUCT (is it your virginity?); when they are extremely grumpy about a decision of someone with whome they have no interaction to remain celibate for religious or other reasons; when they meet someone who posts sexually explicit tweets and immediately demand sex or sexual acts from them; when they demand naked photographs as of right; when their immediate response to being asked to go on a date by girl is ‘will you be on the menu?’

All this frenetic sexual expectation doesn’t come with any commitment (and I accept, without equating it to coerced sex, that people can also be wrongly pressured to enter into a committed relationship which they don’t want to be in) or even friendship, of course. If a girl asks for this prior to sex she’s not only being silly, she’s manipulative and clearly needs deliverance from the thorough brainwashing she has received in the past. Some girls like this but I really do think some of these men need to move away from the idea that the sexual revolution was solely for their benefit.

From the left and the right, we are left with this confused idea about male sexuality and of course, as several have pointed out, the damaging notion that the woman responsible for controlling not only the sexual temperature in any one encounter but the man’s sexual response.

It’s not enough to say no or not yet, she must not let him touch her if she isn’t prepared to go ‘all the way’. A lot of the talk about mixed signals is not that the man mistook her crossed legs, complete with hand over her crotch (different story) as a sign that she was about to collapse with lust; it is that once a woman crosses a line sexually, she must accept the entire male response whether she wants it or not (not) and no matter how clear it is to him that she didn’t want it. If she kissed him at 7:05 pm, then she must vaporise at 7:30 pm to avoid being taken against her will or pestered out of her sanity. Illogically, if a woman likes a man and lets him know, she should always be on the alert for him to launch an attack.

On the man’s part, sex is viewed as something he takes so his goal is to keep trying until he is gets it or is physically stopped. It’s a sign of prowess when you, as a man, ‘get what you want’ and ‘don’t take no for an answer’. Maybe debatable when it comes to your job or chosen vocation, but whose crazy idea was it to extend this principle to a woman’s body?

The difference between Ansari’s story and the #metoo stories is that in the former both people liked each other – or at least had some attraction for each other. ‘Grace’ may have had sex with him at her own pace had Ansari not being singularly focused on his almost unstoppable goal of having sex with her that night (again, why? Why that night? Why was that so important?). The issue is co-erced consent in that context.

In the #metoo stories, it was very unlikely that the women involved were remotely interested in Weinstein and the others. These are stories of men wielding their power over women and womankind in general for a range of reasons – from the right to have any woman they want to the dark and perverse pleasure in violating another protesting human being. There are some similarities but the main one is that they involve powerful and/or famous Hollywood men.

So, me too or not right now, Grace? I think probably somewhere in between. I definitely think Grace’s story, or a version of it, was one that needed to be told. Whether attempting to lump it in with the #metoo movement  is effective or detracting remains to be seen.

Addendum – 19/1/2018

I try to resist the urge to change blog posts too drastically once I’ve published them- if only to avoid stealing other people’s ideas and cleverly  weaving them into my original post.  In this case, however, I feel it’s worth commenting on one of the opinions that has been expressed on this matter.  Quite a few people are saying that they too have experienced bad dates like this one (some a lot worse) and what they did was leave, not try to turn them into incidents of sexual misconduct.

Fair comment but if this is an implicit acceptance that Ansari’s behaviour, as described by Grace, was bad, I’m confused about why society tolerates and accepts this kind of bad behaviour from men.  Not just a random person from the internet who turns out to be bad  – but also average men and nice or good men.

People have queried why she went into Ansari’s flat in the first place on a first date (my bet is that they would have posed this same question even if he had attacked her).  Well, why wouldn’t you go into Aziz Ansari’s flat? He says, writes, acts and produces the right things about women.  He seems such a  lovely, cuddly, decent person.  As a public personality, he has more than some to lose if he acts badly.  Why would anyone be afraid to go home with him, even if you could interpret his speedy exit from the restaurant as a desire for sex?  Is it because, as a man, he is expected to activate ‘beast mode’ at any time?  In that case, can we really complain about the ‘men are trash’ hashtag?

In fact, I can’t think of any actor or male celebrity (except for the ones who have been exposed obviously), whose image is not so carefully tended, that one can expect horrible behaviour from him once you cross the threshold of his residence.  They all seem such completely reasonable and left-leaning, right on types.  Not Tom Cruise with his Scientology (didn’t he stop to help a car accident victim, when the accident had nothing to do with him?), Russell Crowe with his gruffness or James McAvoy with his gleaming forehead.

Maybe Mike Tyson.  If it had been Mike Tyson’s place that ‘Grace’ had gone into after their date,  even I might have left this blog post for another feminist to write.  Go upstairs after a date with Tyson?  Is she mad???? Is she?  We are told he is a reformed man, that his rape conviction was decades ago and we should not judge him on his past actions.  That’s apparently why we have no right to complain when we see him on our screens.  Why should we assume that we are tolerating a man in the public eye who everyone accepts will turn into a monster if he is left alone with a young woman?

So which is it?  Is it that Hollywood and TV-land would have nothing to do with these men, who have made ‘mistakes’ in the past, if they were still the same overtly female-harming men or that they really don’t care about what the person has done or is doing as long as he can bring in the ratings?  Are all men prone to turning into, at the very least, ‘bad dates’ if you catch them on the wrong day, and are therefore potentially trash, or should we treat them like inherently decent human beings and stop lumping them with the same label?  If someone had said, before this incident happened, don’t go anywhere alone with so-and-so nice, woke actor, because as a man  and based on no other evidence, he can and will exhibit highly questionable sexual behaviour, would they have been vilified as a man-hater or not?

Questions, questions.

Worldviews Christmas Special: What Terrifies Me About Christmas, Flash Fiction and 2017 In Review.

My first world terrors about Christmas, Phobia, a very short story, and my celeb obsessed 2017 in review.

What terrifies you about Christmas?

christmas bells

Of all the first world problems, Christmas (in the run up to Christmas) seems the most terrifying. There are so many things to consider. Take Christmas dinner, for example. This is a meal you only cook once a year; its different dishes require a level of co-ordination unlikely to be repeated for, again, the rest of the year. And here’s the killer (as my exercise video would say): No shops are open so if you cock it up, there’s nowhere to go. Why do we do it? Luckily this is not entirely my problem. My husband (shall I annoy everyone and call him ‘hubby’ for the rest of this article?) cooks the Christmas dinner so my role is limited to managing the kids and stress levels, should anything go wrong, and occasionally chopping up the vegetables.

The two things that terrify me about Christmas are the run up to Christmas and the dreaded 3-day vigil. I’ll deal with the latter first. My family is scattered around the globe (I’ve definitely made that sound more exciting than the somewhat grimmer reality) so I rarely see them during the festive season. When I first met hubby, he had quite big family gatherings so I could get lost in the 3-day vigil (oh, before I forget, the 3-day vigil takes place roughly between the 24 and 27 December where families are forced together in cramped accommodation and not let out until a big enough fight has occurred) . His family was new and exciting to me (strange and exotic even!). Also, there were enough of them to entertain each other so I could, whenever I wanted to, escape to a quiet corner and read a book while stuffing my face with cakes.

Two things have changed. I have small children who I’m required to in check.  Also, family Christmases have shrunk, in terms of the number of people who attend. I now want out of the 3-day vigil. I don’t want to go to someone else’s house and have to ask every time I want a snack (“Ooooh, are you having another biscuit, dear? I hope you leave enough room for lunch.  I’ve worked very hard.”), or when I want to park the kids in front of Christmas telly so I can vegetate for a while. Another thing is, while I quite like Christmas dinner, 3 special meals on the trot (eve, day and boxing), cooked by someone else over which I have no say, is a bit much for me. What I would like to do is eat something tasty but simple on Christmas eve with lots of alcohol and a good dessert, have Christmas dinner and spend boxing day snacking on leftovers and delicious unhealthy party food like sausage rolls and pork pies, as well as scandalous amounts of sweets, cake, mince pies and biscuits (and Baileys at 12pm).

I also don’t want to negotiate strange television channels, try and understand why the wifi won’t work or try to figure out any of the stuff that goes on in someone else’s house. I want my children to be somewhere familiar where I don’t have to scream at them for knocking figurines off someone’s shelves or have to worry about them cornering strange dogs who, no matter how angry they look “are only being friendly/curious/carnivorous”. This is before you take into account the social duties – constantly having to talk to family, when all we do is ignore each other in my own house, and having to arbitrate on festive fights.

“Okay!” Sez everybody. “We hear you Tracy, loud and clear. You’re a mum now. You can’t be expected to pack up presents and children. You can’t be expected to make sacrifices and take other people’s feelings into consideration. We’ll come to your house for the 3-day vigil. You can’t complain then.” I bloody well can. Sorry. No. It’s mildly better than being at someone else’s house but I work, I’m battling addiction (alcohol and Twitter) and I have to be in the office between Christmas and New Year days. I can’t stand all the good cheer. I’ll have to keep the house tidy. I still have to entertain you. You’ll still suggest going for a walk after Christmas dinner forcing me to come to terms with the fact that I can no longer zip up my winter coat.

Then there’s the run-up to Christmas. I spend the latter half of October and the month of November answering people who ask me if I’ve started preparing for Christmas with a smug smile and this “No, I really don’t start preparing until the 1st December. That’s when I put the tree up. As a society, we can get so obsessed about Christmas. I mean, it’s alright for the children….”. Then 1st of December arrives and I realise that I don’t have 24 days to prepare for Christmas, I have about 2 ½ to 3 weekends. That’s 6 days at the most. 6 days! To….buy presents and the tree, decorate the house, order the Christmas bird, order the Christmas food (not the same thing), co-ordinate my leave with the school holidays, fix all the stuff in the house that has to be fixed before people come, send out Christmas cards, buy Christmas crockery, glass etc, attend Christmas do’s and nativity plays. What was I thinking?? I don’t have enough time! It almost goes without saying that I need some time to nurse my growing resentment (well, resentment to rage) against people who have bought 90% of their presents or whatever by 2nd December.

And this year, I lack motivation. I know I say this every year but this year is really, I mean, really bad. Take this weekend for instance. We were lucky enough that the first day of December fell on on a weekend. What did I do? I unpacked the Christmas tree and brought the decorations out of the garage. I then freaked out because I couldn’t figure out how to put the Christmas tree lights on and also couldn’t find the receipt for the tree. I spent the next hour rifling through the bin for the receipt and then another hour on my computer trying to find out how to get a duplicate receipt (with frequent Twitter breaks to calm my nerves). For some reason I thought that having a Tesco Clubcard would give me an advantage.

In that time, the children took every single decoration from the box (quick tangential question – why is it when I get the Christmas decorations out of the garage, they invariably disappoint me with how crap they are?) and either broke them or hung them on the tree. This apparently tired me of Christmas preparation for the rest of weekend. If I was on target, I should have sent out the Christmas cards and fully decorated the house this weekend. That should have been the least of my goals. Maybe if I quit writing, just for December, I’ll be able to get things done (but then how would I get this important article out to my 8 followers?).

What would be my ideal Christmas? I moan when I have to go to them and I moan when they come to me? I complain that I am expected to take some responsibility for organising the day. I don’t know. I think I’ll try to (1) focus on the reason for the season (this is supposed to be a faith blog after all – thankful for the birth of our Lord and Saviour, thankful for the gift of salvation and faith, thankful for all we have, give to/pray for the people who have less)) (2) ‘do’ Christmas prep for at least 30 minutes a day (3) remember that when it actually comes, I usually enjoy it.

Have a happy Christmas and a blessed and fruitful New Year

Flash Fiction: Phobia

rat shadow

“It’s ridiculous!”

“Adam, you really have to calm down. The therapist said…”

“She’s not a bloody therapist, she’s a charlatan.”

The therapist said family and friends would..may react like this. I know it seems mad but this is something I have to do. For me. For my sanity”

“Waaaaaaaah!”

“We are spending 350 quid, which we don’t have…”

I’m spending 350 quid…”

“WAAAAAAAH”

“I’ll go and get Chrissy.” Big sigh. Dramatic shuffling to our bedroom.

Hmmmmm…that didn’t go as well as I might have expected. I just don’t understand why he can’t see that this – hypnotherapy – isn’t some sort of mad trend. I wasn’t just saying it. I really need it for m-.

Squeak-squeak-squeak. Scratch-rustle-scratch. Tap-tap-tap.

Frozen. The familiar horror washes over me like cold water. My throat is instantly dry. My skin is crawling. I break out in goose pimples. My heart seems to contract. My stomach cramps so much it feels like my insides are being put through the spin cycle. I am petrified with disgust and fear. One foot starts to manically scratch the other. I can’t move. How can I protect Chrissy if I can’t move? IT! It’s here again.

“Here’s mummy. Here’s mummy. Shhhh…Fola? What’s wrong?”

Ragged whisper (Good. At least I can talk. If I can talk, I can call for help. But call who?) “Did you hear anything?”

“Hear what?” Handing Chrissy over to me. Another bonus. Arms seem to work. “Oh for Pete’s sake. Not that again! They are all gone. You’re mental, you are!”

Squeak-squeak-squeak. Reassured by Adam’s presence (cranky as it was), I wasn’t expecting that. I almost dropped Chrissy. Unfortunately Adam noticed.

“What’s wrong with you?!” He started to reach for Chrissy and decided that I could be trusted with the baby as long as he sat uncomfortably close to me.

“Didn’t you hear it?” I was suddenly angry.

“That’s the dodgy fire alarm, babes. It’s not a rat. The exterminator got them. It.”

Usually I’d laugh at myself at this point but today I felt defiant.

He continued “Don’t worry. It’s just the hormones. It’s only been three weeks. You’ll snap out of it. No need to spend-”

“I’m going to see her, Adam.” Firmly.

He said nothing. Just starting cooing at Chrissy and stroking her cheek in a manner that infuriated me. I turned myself and Chrissy away from him.

“Let’s see if there’s anything in the other booby, Chrissy!”

Inside I was seething at him. But beneath the anger, I felt foolish. When did I become so terrified of rats? When did I become such a child? I honestly cannot pinpoint one single event that kicked off this insanity. I remember seeing rats when I visited my grandparents. Not many. I didn’t like them but I don’t think I was unreasonably scared of them. Somehow years of myths, books, news reports of poor babies in various cities being half-eaten alive by rats before being rescued by distressed parents, not actually seeing a rat for a long time and probably being pregnant had culminated in absolute and immobilising terror when, one month before my due date, I was confronted with a rather large one in our little kitchenette.

It scurried away. I barely saw it but I was horrified. Jesus! I was a wreck. However, I can understand why Adam is a bit sceptical about spending over £300 on a hypnotherapist. We’ve just moved into our own place. The deposit was a lot but the flat itself is what you expect two broke (broke because of being overeducated, over-expectant and under-fulfilled, career wise) people to be able to afford, hence, I suspect the rat. The landlord acted very quickly. The terminators were in and out before I had the chance to enjoy being back at mum and dad’s. My parents were very pleasant indeed now they knew that I had somewhere to go back to.

I keep having waking nightmares about what I would do if I walked into the bedroom and discovered a rat on Chrissy’s face or body. Even in my fantasies or daydreams or whatever you want to call them, I can’t make myself walk over to Chrissy, lift up the rat and fling it out of the window. I freeze then back out of the room in terror and leave my three-week old infant to fend for herself. I have to get therapy. I have to beat this phobia. I don’t care how much it costs.

……

“How was it?”

“It was okay.”

“Yeah, but what did you actually do? C’mon. It’s £350. ‘It was okay’ doesn’t cut it, yeah?!

“Adam. Don’t start. It’s £350 for three sessions – ”

“Practically a bargain.” Huge, endearing, grin. I felt a sudden rush of affection for him for a few seconds.

“Adaaam! Anyway, I’m not sure I want to talk about it. It was weird. I just want it to work.”

That did the job. The idea of spending over £300 and it ‘not working’ was enough to send him into silent introspection. The truth is the therapy didn’t feel like much. She asked me a whole load of stock questions – When did you first start feeling this way (about rats)? How do you feel when you see a rat? – and then didn’t seem very interested in the answers. We didn’t talk about Chrissy and she didn’t even show me a picture of a rat. Well, I’ve paid already. Let’s hope things pick up, eh?

….

That was more like it! I was ‘under’ for some time at least. I think I feel asleep but Ana (one ‘n’ of course) assures me that a lot of work was going on “beneath the surface”. I feel quite positive to be honest. I almost feel ready to look at a picture of a rat – the first time in a long time. I think it’s the going under that helped. And Ana seemed far more animated. Maybe she was grumpy about something the last time. Cash-strapped and living in a rodent-infested shoebox in a very expensive city? Yeah, I know the feeling.

……

I’m cured! I’m cured! After three sessions! I touched a rat. He (his name is Veg, you know, because of the film, Ratatouille, where the rat-chef makes a great French veggie dish, Ana told me). It turns out he’s been there the entire time. Watching me. Only kidding. I’m not insane anymore! They really are quite ordinary, you know. There he was, just running around in his little cage, minding his business and I have them ruling the world. Ha! I’m cured. Well worth it. But I’m not going to rub it in Adam’s face. I’m just so happy.

……

Off to the park with Chrissy. I’m still feeling elated over a week later but also bored out of my mind. I still feel a bit weird – buzzy (if that’s a word) in my brain half the time. Still. Well worth it. What was I thinking of cooping myself indoors for all that time?

Frozen. Throat dry. Skin and insides crawling with terror. I think I’m going to pass out. My baby! I gather Chrissy up. She was reaching out and grabbing fistfuls of air (as far as I can tell) and chortling happily. I pull her out of the pram and she cries out. I guess I was a little rougher than she would have liked but in the back of my mind, behind the terror, I’m glad I am still capable of picking her up.

My heart is pounding. I am unable to move for a few seconds and then I start running; pram in one hand, Chrissy in the other. Fast, surprisingly fast, but not fast enough. Uh-oh. Chrissy’s slipping. I’m starting to lose her. Better put her back. Now, I’m running as fast as the pram will allow me. But they are everywhere. What are these monsters? Red eyes. Oversized fangs shining with saliva. Huge huge monsters, some of them, running towards me and my baby! So big and fast!! I’M NOT FAST ENOUGH! What is that awful noise? What is that roar coming from them?

“Oscar! Here boy! Come on.”

“Max! Heel! Right now!”

“Daisy! Good girl, Daisy! Nooooo…”

One is heading for me. Me and my baby! He’s making this horrible noise. I can hear another horrible noise.

“RRRRRRR-EEEEELLLLL-RRRRRLLL- URRRRRRL. Get. Him. Awayyy! RRRRRR-URRRRRL. GET HIM AWAY!!!!”

“Is she alright?”

“Are you alright, dear.”

“It’s okay. He doesn’t hurt. Oh dear. Your baby is falling out …..”

The end.

dog shadow

2017 – My celebrity-obsessed year in review

`2017

2017 – What a year! We dealt with the fall-out of the Brexit referendum and invoking Article 50, found out what Trump really was like as President, declared Cardi B the best thing since sliced bread and discovered that Jay-Z cheated on Beyonce. We lost our collective cool over a Dove advert. We were the horrified witnesses to the rise of the far right, neglect in the face of national disasters and conflicts (Grenfell Towers, Puerto Rico, Texas, Burma, Maidugiri, Sierra Leone) and a modern-day slave auction.

What are the, mostly trivial, things that moved me (or almost moved me) to writing action. Let me check my notebook:

February 2017 – Tuface pulled out of a national protest against bad governance. How could he do it? Was he only pretending to care all this time? Is this the first time he’s pulled out…ever?? Sorry.

March 2017 – In this month, I wondered bitterly why women could decide not to be feminists because one feminist was rude to them but continue to groove to certain artists, no matter how many women they beat. It must have been around the time Karreuche successfully obtained a restraining order against Chris Brown.

April 2017 – In this month, I raged and raged at AY’s joke about Big Brother Naija contestants. No one paid me the slightest bit of attention. Probably because most of my raging took place in my notebook.

May 2017 –  BAAD2017-mania started this month – I fell in love with a tiler and now I’m getting laid (that was sent to me by my charismatic Christian friend. I was shocked. Shook even.) – and ended with Adesua Etomi-W traumatising an already bruised nation by revealing, during her honeymoon, that her legs didn’t connect directly to her back (sorry again).

June 2017 –  I started this blog. It was spurred by the need to share my musings on the Falz/Yahoo boys social media debate. One thing I never found out was what the presenter from Hip TV asked Falz in the first place. I can only imagine that the conversation went something like this:

Presenter: Wow! That’s a great outfit you have on, Falz. Can you talk us through it?

Falz: It’s funny you should mention Yahoo boys….

August 2017 – I started to receive an education on the transpeople – transwomen in particular – so of course immediately assumed I was qualified to write the first draft of my article on all things trans and TERF-related (the article is on its way!).

September 2017 – I wondered why charismatic evangelical churches seemed to be failing so many people but decided that I definitely wasn’t qualified to write an article on that (despite being a Christian all my life. Unlike the trans issue, I lacked a ‘fresh perspective’, m’kay?)

October 2017 – A very dark period of my life as I wrote a planning law-themed #forthedick challenge.

November 2017 – Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged. I love a good Royal wedding. In this case, we are still feeling the ripples of the announcement (well it is only early December!) as black girls are being told by journalists who should know better, that this particular engagement represents “hope” for them (for anyone who doesn’t already know this, Meghan Markle is only 25% black at most, identifies as mixed race or heritage and looks remarkably similar to the Duchess of Cambridge). Ridiculous. However, occasionally, I still find myself replicating my mother’s mad Nigerian prayers for her (“Anyone who wants to block her happiness, Father God, block their respiratory system in the mighty name of JESUS! Amen.”)

December 2017 – Here we are. It’s Christmas time! This month has started with the #ENDSARS campaign. SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) seems to be made up of a sometimes uniformed, unchecked force that has taken to acting like armed militia. The tales and videos are shocking. They remind me of my youth (oh my lost youth!) in Nigeria and the mobile police force, which I believe was created while I was in Nigeria are apparently still around (why do they need SARS then, I wonder?). As a young girl, I watched with fascination and morbid excitement as these mobile policemen dragged people out of cars and beat them. However, even at that age, violence was very much normalised for me – it seems I’ve been re-sensitised.

Again, Happy Christmas! Let’s hope I spend less time next year cyber-stalking celebs.