Child of the World: Misogyny or A Massive Overreaction?

The thing with rape and sexual assault is, for whatever reason, you are either full of rage about it or you are not. The rage is neither good nor bad and it is not an indication of whether or not you support rape culture or how woke you are. For as long rape continues, the rage will remain. It will be right there alongside us angrily analysing gender politics and rape culture, whenever anybody, be it a stupid comedian telling rapey jokes or a pious rapper, decides to settle on the topic.

Introduction

So, a couple of weeks ago, Falz released his music video for Child of World. I read the lyrics (https://genius.com/Falz-child-of-the-world-lyrics) when the album ’27’ came out last October  and I was so put out by them that I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the song. I wrote a couple of bad-tempered unpublished posts and moved on. I read a few similar posts but most people hailed it as the most socially valuable song on the album.

Now that the video has been released, previous grumblings about Falz’s alleged misogyny, particularly in relation to his numerous songs about the evils of ‘runs girls’ have turned into loud, vocalised outrage. I was a bit gratified that other people have noticed this but  tried to contribute to the conversation in what I hope was a reasonable and even-handed manner.  Unfortunately I just happened to read the lyrics again and filled with fresh rage, have decided that now is the time to write the objective article that I vowed not to be distracted into writing.

Social Media Wars

Predictably, with the Falz dissent came Falz’s super-fans, ferociously in support of someone they deem to be the most ‘socially conscious’ musician in Nigeria. I don’t really understand why there is such a burden on Nigerian artists to produce conscious music or how this will make Nigeria a better country but there you have it. I can understand their outrage, if I’m being honest. Falz is a brilliant rapper and I too feel a constriction in the throat area whenever I think that people are criticising him unfairly. The fact is some people think that he’s a genius and, like Beyonce’s fans, feel real emotion when he is being attacked.

However, I was astonished that respected feminists and allies also praised and couldn’t see the problems with the song. They were conspicuously silent during the short period of backlash and counter-backlash. You can always tell a good debate by the number people who feel compelled to keep quiet to avoid being caught up in a mob – that’s what I say. Other people also expressed genuine bafflement at the outrage.

Incidentally I have kept a tally, in terms of likes and retweets, between Team Falz and Team ‘Falz Is A Sexist Little Shite’. Team Falz is winning judging by the retweets although there is a sneaky Team FIASLS tweet which may have more retweets than the most popular Team Falz tweet but I’m not sure I should count it as it doesn’t mention Falz by name. I am aware that this is not the most accurate way to judge the competition since sometimes people retweet to mock rather than endorse the original tweet.  However, I think any further analysis of the tweets would mean my descent into madness over this issue has finally become irreversible.

The Hard Questions

So! Is the song sexist? Is Falz sexist? Why are we so invested in the answers to these questions? Also, what is it about mild-mannered Falz that occasionally evokes such frenzied bursts of public outrage? Tracy investigates…..

The Lyrics and Story

Okay, the lyrics are graphic and triggering (I have hesitated to say this out loud because I don’t want to sound like I’m censoring his art) and the storyline is so clichéd that it would make a 1990s Nollywood director blush but is there anything actually wrong with the song? Is Falz not entitled to tell a story, dumb it down and sensationalise it as he sees fit like anyone else?

I will freely admit that very few fictional accounts of rape pass muster for me in terms of whether the triggering is justified by the story or message. I didn’t like it when Adichie dropped a rape scene into Half of Yellow Sun and I ain’t going to like it when Karashika Boy drops one into an album but even taking into account my personal bias, I do think that some of the lyrics are extreme (and by extreme I mean vile and disgusting) and I find it hard to explain why:

Uncle please stop…Shhh be silent Uncle didn’t stop till he broke the hymen”

“She don dey look for the thing she dey resist before
She never had a daddy figure so she need the love (?)
Uncle peter don create a beast he can’t tame the storm (???????)
She like make e rough, she can’t have enough
She met some ladies wey go like rub shoulder
On some quick business with a high turnover
Say if you ride the stick, you go ride range rover”

The first line above sounds like the imaginings of a rape by someone very unfamiliar with the topic with the kind of detail that can be harmfully triggering or be turned into a rape fantasy. It would take an extremely good point to justify such detail and as it turns out the song almost has no point at all.

Also, what the heck does “Shola ti mature, gbogbo body ti di large size” mean in English? Surely he hasn’t thrown in a reference to the victim’s figure. Not in a song about rape. Please tell me he hasn’t.

It appears that director Kemi Adetiba has tried to make something more out of the song by including captions  like ‘rape is never the victim’s fault’ in the music video. Well, who but a complete idiot could think that this particular rape was the victim’s fault? She was in her room, in the house she lived in when a trusted relative forced himself on her.

I once watched a trailer of a Nollywood film or series where a woman, played by Adesua Etomi (W), appeared deranged by her desire for a married man. She made it clear to all and sundry, including his wife, that she intended to continue a sexual relationship with this man for as long as she wanted to. She stalked the couple and subjected the man to unwanted sexual attention (it turns out that any sexual attention from your mistress in front of your wife is almost always unwanted – go figure). The characters ended up in a criminal court case as Etomi’s character accused the man of raping her when they were alone somewhere.

I don’t understand the jump from pursuing an affair to the rape allegation and of course, nothing, including any previous sexual relations between the victim and the rapist, negates the necessity of consent. However I can understand how this story could, in Nigeria, start some kind of discussion on how rape is never the victim’s fault. A man creeping into his niece’s room, on the other hand, is a bit bloody obvious!

As the lyrics above illustrate, the terrible thing that the victim becomes is a person who (1) likes sex (with the added unnecessary detail that he means rough sex – whatever the heck that means) and (2) starts to have sex for money which results in abortions and an HIV infection. She doesn’t, for instance, become the kind of person who empties a machine gun magazine into a crowded theatre.

I have no doubt that being sexually assaulted can have a traumatic effect on a person and may even change their sexual behaviour but the fact that he chose these fairly common things and doesn’t explain how they are inherently wrong to make his grand contribution to the issue of sexual assault makes for a very unimportant and clichéd tale and shows his warped thinking on the subject.

People have pointed out other aspects of the song. The girl laments that she has let her mother down when it is she who  has been let down by relatives. Nothing is heard of the uncle but of course the story follows such an obvious line that the missing detail about the uncle can only be a flash Christian conversion and the uncle clutching his wife’s knees, wailing that he will ‘never follow devil again’ before gratefully accepting a large plate of jollof rice from her. No, not jollof rice, it has to be some kind of starch and soup, eaten with his hands to show his astounding humility.

Falz is entitled to tell any story he wants to and the path from good girl to runs girls to abortion and HIV to activist is, however implausible and unevolved, just a story. One reason for the anger, I suspect, is that it reinforces what people think of as a sympathetic rape victim – virgin, not fraternising with strange men etc – therefore not disturbing people’s comfort with seeing a so-called bad girl being harmed. Worse than that, it attempts to distinguish the characteristics of a good girl and bad girl based on the very flawed assumption that a woman is to be judged as good or bad  by her sexual behaviour.

Gender Issues

The song touches on four very important gender issues and reduces them to a hodge-podge of mawkish sentimentality, pity and judgment, I’m afraid. Social media informs us that so many people are dealing with memories of sexual assault and abuse. It happens at every age, every where and to every type of woman with various degrees of sexual experience and values. Rape is not committed just by monstrous uncles but by thousands of young men who think that a girl stepping over the threshold of their house is the equivalent of signing an irrevocable consent form and men who think that buying a girl food or paying her bride price grants them  inalienable rights over her body. Falz knows this – he appears to be good friends with Nigerian comedians who advance and joke about these ideas. It’s committed by school boys who have made a pact with each other and lecturers who threaten to fail women who won’t have sex with them.

I don’t expect him to rap about rape culture (what a fun song that would be) but I expect him to speak about rape as if he understands that rape culture exists or not to speak about it at all. We don’t all become runs girls, we don’t all require redemption. We don’t live our lives completely driven by the experience and the most basic research could have shown Falz this. If we did, a high percentage of Nigerian women would be non-functional. It is always there in the background and in the forefront as we hear of more and more stories of rape; as nothing seems to be getting better. We don’t need someone telling us to ‘rise above our circumstances’, we need society to buy into concentrating on making it stop.

As to runs girls, there are conversations about agency and transactional sex and whether marriages and our more conventional sexual relationships have an element of the transaction about them. On abortions, conversations about reproductive rights. There is an entire television series on HIV and safe sex. There was no need for and no value to this triggering nonsense.

The Man Himself

I’ve watched quite a few Falz interviews and listened to a lot of his music because I am a fan. The most obvious thing which is now being pointed out about is his obsession with runs girls. This song might have passed under the radar if (1) Someone else sang it (2) Falz didn’t turn the victim into a runs girl and spend an entire verse lamenting the evils of the runs girls lifestyle or (3) he didn’t decide to make such a big, bloody production of it all.

When I started listening to Falz, I did notice his contempt for runs girls and women who didn’t fit his definition of a good woman – women who bleach for instance. At first I assumed he just thought that it was a clever thing to write about. That such women were an easy target and perhaps he didn’t expect to be challenged on it in sexist Nigeria . To be honest, I didn’t really expect him to be a feminist. If all Nigerian entertainers were feminists, that would probably be an indication that the gender issues in Nigeria are not as dire as they are made out to be. In my naiveté, I compared him to American rappers who wax lyrical about bitches, hoes and harming women who don’t behave

However the lyrics seem to be getting worse, as with Lekki Girls and even comedy rap Faize Yi, and it does make me wonder whether there isn’t something more to it. Also, I’ve noticed that it is frequently in the background of some of his non-runs girls songs – the girl he loves who doesn’t ‘drop for the cake’; the workaholic who ‘prices her body’ in the evenings.

I don’t know what his issue is with runs girls is.  It is however noteworthy (has been noted in fact on Twitter) that the male characters in his songs are often wildly promiscuous and don’t, according to him, require similar bashing or an idiotic backstory to justify their actions.

Actually contrary to the various rumblings about him and his mates and runs girls (said with startling confidence), he seems to have very specific standards for women that he would consider dating. These interviews , (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBBd-viX4hM, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ8Hnavvo5Q) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZKJlLNZNTk, show that he is blasé about his observations that ‘body count’ is a matter that is judged differently between men and women. Also, he appears to be highly suspicious of Nigerian women who aren’t themselves rich. The interview with Beat FM contains (just in case you can’t be bothered to watch it all) a long, self indulgent whine about why he is still single and the state of Nigerian women.

He is put out that women he meets often want to be openly associated with his fame or (and even I was shocked when he described this behaviour) want him to appear in their SnapChat stories!!! Even asking is indicative of deviousness. My conclusion from watching the video is that he requires a prospective girlfriend, upon meeting him, to focus immediately on the inner him (who she doesn’t really know much about) and put out of her mind any thought of his fame, wealth and talent (which apparently aren’t part of the real him). A woman who expects him to spend money on her is a no-no. Very idealistic in a country where women are sexually harassed, discriminated and shamed, for not being wifely enough, out of money making opportunities.

His open contempt towards runs girls is unfair and demeaning to them. It encourages us to think of them as less human – the hop to deserving of harm and not deserving of sympathy is not a long distance. It is also harmful to women in general. Imagine, if you will, a white singer who constantly sings about the bad things he thinks goes on the black community. Oh, but he is not singing about all black people – only the ones he thinks are bad. Would that have the effect of demonising and dividing the entire community or not?

There really isn’t that much to link between being raped and being a runs girls. And being a runs girl isn’t the evil thing that Falz thinks it is. I personally don’t think it’s great and I certainly wouldn’t want us to concentrate so much on protecting the validity of sex work that we accidentally leave swathes of women with this as their only career option (“I don’t know what she is complaining about? How is it different from working in, say, a Nigerian commercial bank?” How indeed.) but there really is a better discussion to be had about it before he plonks it in the middle of his moralising song.

Another thing I’ve noticed from his interviews is that his activism isn’t accidental. It’s highly unlikely that he is going to say that he was just telling a story in Child of World. The screenshots I’ve seen of the video, complete with the trite captioning and his outspread arms, definitely give the impression of spreading a message. But even if it did not, when asked about the song a Pulse Magazine interview, he made it clear that he wanted to speak about the societal problem of sexual abuse. He didn’t do a bad job in the interview- https://www.pulse.ng/entertainment/music/falz-rapper-talks-about-27-album-m-i-abaga-s-fix-up-your-lives-more-interview-id7532629.html. The only glitch was when he said the “upside” of it all is that sexual assault victims can always “bounce back”. Apart from being hopelessly inept phrasing, yes we do survive but we still think it’s a terrible thing and we still want it to stop happening to other women.

The interviews about ‘This is Nigeria’ also shows how serious he is about being an activist (as stated in this critical article about Falz – https://thenerveafrica.com/19168/woke-falz-this-is-nigeria/). In his view, things are messed up in Nigeria, people like him need to talk about these things and anyone who disagrees with him is guilty of something- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1HjXdELuhM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6u-ELxvWlM. It’s just that sometimes he, and other well-to-do socially conscious young Nigerians, get it wrong.

His detractors have asked him to concentrate on Yahoo boys instead of runs girls and his supporters have retorted that he has taken shots at Yahoo boys actually. Firstly, he talks about runs girls about 78 billion million more times than he talks about yahoo boys. Secondly, when he talks about Yahoo boys or other poverty driven crimes, his thinking is still confused.

He was lambasted for some very mild comments about praising known fraudsters in music in June 2017 and since then he’s spoken and sang about the topic more boldly. Fraud is of course bad and rich Nigerians seem to be aware of the need to make some kind of reference to political leaders who put Nigeria in the position that it is in. However they happily conflate all the issues and conclude that if everyone would just stop stealing, then everything would be alright. But it wouldn’t, would it? The rich will still have their loot and the poor will starve to death.

Peep the pearl clutching in his interview with Wazobia Max, linked above, – Do you mean to tell me that people actually commit property and theft crimes in a poor country with a chronic lack of opportunity??? Who would have thunk it?.The song ‘Confirm’ tells us how how you can go from being a plantain seller to flying first class if you hustle honestly but in reality, this is very difficult even in a relatively stable country and this kind of thinking in Nigeria is the reason why people give all their money to rogue churches in hope of ‘breakthroughs’ and ‘blessings’.

Falz is obviously very passionate about some real issues and I generally try not to be critical about his efforts especially in light of  the unnecessary pressure on Nigerian singers to be overtly political. Unfortunately, I don’t really believe, I can’t believe having read the lyrics to Child of the World, that rape is one of those issues. I think this song is the worst combination of his excesses – the desire to write a worthy song mostly for the sake of appearing ‘socially conscious’, too little research to convince me that he has any real interest in this subject, his failure to examine his own gender bias and his sometimes deficient activist tactics.

Why does it bother me/us so much?

Okay, I don’t like the song but why do I feel unreasonably aggrieved when somebody else likes or praises it. One obvious reason is Falz’s influence. He is not as popular as some of the other Afrobeat entertainers but people take him very seriously. He is at pains to emphasise his legal qualifications, perhaps because he uses poor people’s accents to promote his art. I see tweets demonising women for asking for ‘Something Light’, for being Karishikas (such a vague concept that it could include virtually any woman) or for being a ‘Lekki girl’. It’s even more disheartening because of his good guy image.

Also, I’m annoyed that, in his eagerness to cover every topic that he’s not qualified to cover, he could not take some time to do the basic research to dismantle rape culture just a little bit before producing this ridiculous song. Most of all, I’m glad some attention has been brought to his shortcomings, even if Team Falz won the Twitter war in the end.

But I have to admit that there is an element of irrationality to my reaction and the reaction of others. Even this post is a little incoherent in places. I can’t say I don’t understand why some well-meaning people are surprised about the backlash. However I have resisted the temptation to edit my anger out of this article.

The thing with rape and sexual assault is, for whatever reason, you are either full of rage about it or you are not. The rage is neither good nor bad and it is not an indication of whether or not you support rape culture or how woke you are. For as long rape continues, the rage will remain. It won’t always express itself properly or say the right things but it will be right there alongside us angrily analysing gender politics and rape culture, whenever anybody, be it a stupid comedian telling rapey jokes or a pious rapper, decides to settle on the topic.

 

Mothers vs Daughter-In-Laws: A Misogyny Hangover?

Why do we spend so much time raging and plotting against mothers and daughters-in-law who we haven’t even met?

I wonder what I would do if I had one of those Nigerian mothers-in-law. You know, the ones who want their sons’ wives to kneel at every occasion of greeting, who think they have the right to scream at and even hit their daughters-in-law, who think their sons’ new wives are unpaid domestic help? How common are they anyway? Is this another narrative designed to portray Nigerian women as demons?

MILimage1

I’m hoping, at least, that the evil Nollywood mother-in-law is a caricature which has been exaggerated for entertainment (much like the evil Nollywood daughter-in-law who instead of saying “I don’t like the way that you are speaking to me”, snarls inexplicitly “If you mess with me again, I will kill you!”). One clip that recently1 made the rounds on Twitter is from a film featuring a younger Funke Akindele-Bello. Her character’s husband tastes a meal she has prepared, coughs dramatically and complains that it is too spicy.

“I’m sorry, honey. It was a mistake.” she says sadly, abandoning her comedy accent and emphasising first syllable of ‘mistake’, late nineties/early noughties Nollywood style (incidentally this was the second time I’d heard Akindele speak without her comedy accent. The first  was at the 2016 AMVCA awards. Before then, I had, in a very patronising way, been congratulating Nollywood for promoting an actress with a strong regional accent contrary to their previous obsession with Western accents. Imagine my shock when she gave her thanks for the award and announced in a transatlantic accent “You guys rock!” The whole thing has gone full circle and posh young Nigerian entertainers, who were educated in foreign, elite and/or private institutions, are at pains to demonstrate with their accents how close they are to the average Nigerian. Ah…the joy of a completely unrelated rant!).

Anyway, back to the film. Seconds after Akindele delivered this line, her character’s freshly-faced mother-in-law burst forth from the kitchen, armed with a fully cooked alternative meal for her son and an arsenal of insults and aspersions about the wife’s upbringing.

What would I do in that kind of marriage? I doubt I would do the right thing which is either to get a divorce or politely refuse to respond to such treatment, enduring whatever physical or verbal abuse may come my way as a result. I think I’d either become a slave or a psycho. Either way, there’s a high chance it would end with murder and mayhem, after a few long years as slave-Tracy and very quickly as psycho-Tracy or maybe at the funeral of said mother-in-law when someone comments that I don’t look sad enough.

I think with the state and society sanctioned inferior status of women in Nigeria, it’s easy to think of reasons why a mother-in-law would wield her power over her son’s wife. It’s possible that, having had to put up with similar treatment as a daughter-in-law herself, she feels it is only fair to flex her muscles when someone is stupid enough to marry her son. Her time has come, as we used to say, but the serious point is that it is very common for an oppressed person to seek to emulate their oppressor when dealing with someone on an even lower rung than them.

Also, quite a lot of Nigerian women seem to find disrespect from their “fellow woman” very difficult to bear. Add to this a very strong culture of respect for elders and a lack of tolerance for disrespect, or even disagreement, from a younger person and the fact that a young person is supposed to treat their parents, their friend’s parents and therefore their spouse’s parent with the utmost respect, and one can easily see the potential for some serious abuse of power.

I’m not saying all Nigerian mothers-in-law behave badly towards their daughters-in-law but judging by some of the stories even positive behaviour can be benevolent rather than good. The stereotype goes something like this: the daughter-in-law is only rewarded if she is the epitome of respect and subservience and a potential source of unpaid labour at all times. She must always be delighted to see her mother in law. She must never forget to call her ‘mummy’. She is expected to anticipate that her mother-in-law can act irrationally at any time. She herself is never granted any leniency to have a bad day. She must communicate any complaint she has through her husband.

If, and this is a big if, any of this is true in a substantial number of marriages, I marvel at the things I get away with with my own mother-in-law. I also get very suspicious when a Nigerian woman starts praising her daughter-in-law (I’m mad, I know). What has she had to endure to merit such praise, I wonder? I’d almost be more comfortable if she said ‘Gosh, I love my daughter-in-law but she really can be a bitch sometimes’, I feel like at least that the daughter has been allowed to be human.

Now I’m a hundred percent sure that many Nigerian mothers-in-law are kind, gracious, respectful and loving and don’t only respond to extreme subservience. But if you are an African woman reading this, imagine this scenario. Your daughter-in-law has just had your new grandchild, is wretched with sleepless nights because of a colicky, constantly-feeding baby, raw bleeding nipples and the fact that she can feel her tummy dragging her C-section stitches every time she tries to get comfortable in bed. Now let’s say she responds with a bad-tempered ‘Not right now, mum!’ or ‘Can it!’ when you ask her ‘won’t you do your hair?’ (I’m not judging; stupid questions happen to all of us). Would you be more concerned that she is so overwhelmed by the experience that she has acted out of character or the massive disrespect that has come your way (apart from worrying, quite naturally, that this will become accepted behaviour on her part)?

In The UK

It’s easy to point to reasons why there’s this dysfunction in mother/daughter-in-law relationships in Nigeria but it also exists in the UK and presumably the rest of West. One reason is, despite my use of the word hangover, the misogynistic reasons that may apply in Nigeria were firmly entrenched in Britain not so long ago. Of course, a substantial part of Britain’s diverse population is made out of 1st and 2nd generation Africans (and Asians) and some of the more traditional attitudes regarding marriage and this particular relationship persist. But is the modern-day division just (or even) the result of misogyny or are there other psychological factors at play?

All I can say about my own mother-in-law, apart from the fact I love her dearly, is that she’s extremely generous, liberal and tolerant. I try to be courteous and loving but am allowed to have bad moments and days. Having said that, the relationship is not without its difficulties in communication. We’ve had different upbringing and life experiences that have made me more protective of the children than perhaps she would like. I’ve been told by other women that they found their relationship with their mother-in-law to be tricky. One day my mother-in-law surprised me by telling me she hated her own mother-in-law!

Complaints on Mumsnet (or Netmums) and blogs are more subtle than Nigerian examples – they are complaints of manipulation, power struggles especially regarding the kids, implicit undermining and of course criticism about how mum keeps the house and raises the children. Issues that have come up include whether mum should stay at home or work (subtle, very subtle “Oh I don’t blame you for not having time to do so and so. You career women are so busy. In my day, I just led a simple life and took care of my family. Simple old me!” and other declarations of war) or whether babies should be breastfed and for how long.

I read an article in which the author expressed her lack of comprehension at her own need to explain to her mother-in-law in explicit terms exactly why she disagreed with suggestions by the latter. I can relate. If a friend makes a suggestion that I don’t like, I can fob it off with an excuse without expressly disagreeing (while secretly thinking that she’s lost the plot). If my mother-in-law makes one, it seems absolutely compulsory to tell her expressly that I don’t agree and give a reason (or 300) why. Very odd. Perhaps I feel that if I don’t say something now, whatever she has suggested will become the absolute rule. An almost opposite problem is friends tell me that while you can tell your own mother to go away, you can’t do that with someone else’s, even your partner.

Modern Living

There are clearly other reasons here that have nothing to do with sexism. A lot of people point out that while you choose your partner, neither you or your mother-in-law (who I will call ‘MIL’ for the rest of the article) chose to be in each other’s lives. The portrayal in pop culture of mother and daughters-in-law at war may mean that there is among polite people, a determined effort to make the relationship work (not all English people. A work colleague told us that her mother-in-law tried to punch her at her wedding. I never got the full story but there was something about her playing the guitar and singing at her own wedding that appeared to tip MIL over the edge. What kind of resentment must have been building up in MIL for that to happen? And why wait until the wedding?). You have to act as if you are in love with each other from the day you meet and it can be a shocking realisation when the mask occasionally slips.

Another reason may be a tension between MIL’s and mum’s needs. In modern UK, mum is often juggling work and a number of hobbies or sidelines she may have as well trying to live up to high standards of motherhood in a society where people are very sensitive to criticism. What she may want (or thinks she wants) is support from MIL on her terms. MIL may be retired and may have less mandatory obligations. Yes, she wants to help but she also wants to feel that she matters. She wants a stake in her grand children’s upbringing (which may be interpreted by daughter as wanting to re-live her glory matriarchal days; children  can of course bring out wide cracks in the pretend love affair that MIL and mum have been engaging in since husband introduced the woman he was going to marry) but she also wants a relationship with the family. Often times, what is seen as criticism is a desire to contribute more than anything else.

Gender Issues

However, I do think there are some gender issues (of course I do!). Someone on Netmums thought the difficulty that a poster had with her mother-in-law stemmed from the fact that her son defers to his wife in a way that he hasn’t done to his mother since reaching adolescence. This seems like a fairly plausible theory. But if this is the case, why doesn’t it happen more often with fathers and sons-in-law? That would make sense because people push around the theory that sons are more attached to their mothers and fathers to their daughters (snotty as I am about such gender-based generalisations, I must confess that when my daughter started talking she referred to my husband as ‘Daddy’ and to me as ‘Daddy Tracy’). Why aren’t fathers-in-law upset that their daughters now defer to their husbands? Is it because men are more likely to defer to women (and sneakily pass on all the labour) when it comes to household and baby matters, than the other way round? Or is there some discomfort, linked to the stereotype of the conniving, shrill, emasculating wife (every mother’s nightmare apparently ), that makes MIL uncomfortable about seeing her son ‘defer’ to his wife?

Digging deep, I also think there’s something in the re-living of the matriarchal days. This is probably dying out to some extent as people born in the 1970’s and later are becoming grandmothers, but it almost goes without saying that some of today’s mothers-in-law lived in different times. Their role was firmly centred around the family and the house and it created a definite sense of identity for women. Modern women want an identity outside the home but at the same time desperately don’t want to miss out on the ideals of motherhood even though in reality, we may be overwhelmed by work and our unfair share of domestic labour. MIL may, seeing us, miss the sense of identity that came with being the grand matriarch.I’m convinced that the above sometimes pits mothers-in-law and daughters against each other.

MILimage1

Bizarrely the resentment seems to start even before they meet. How many hours did my friends and I spend as young girls trying to figure out our reaction to terrible things that our mythical evil mothers-in-law would do to us? Oddly enough, being a mum, to a 6 year old son, I feel quite stressed out when I see the same thing on Twitter. Threads are written about how mothers should take responsibility (including and up to being imprisoned) for their sons’ bad behaviour and how it is the mother’s fault if the son is domestically useless. They may be right but why isn’t any blame being laid at the dad-in law’s feet? The risk is that these women, while being fully prepared to go to war with their partner’s mothers, will be kind and over-indulgent to their future father-in-law and so the circle of men avoiding responsibility begins again. Men are allowed to opt out of this seemingly petty conflict.

Stereotyping doesn’t help either, like the evil mother in law cliché (this is thankfully dying out too), as it also demonises and ridicules older women, who having exhausted their ‘sexual and beauty capital’ have nothing to offer society except for comedy fodder because of their apparently weird and irrational ways.

I hate that this division exists. I hate that I am more likely to challenge my mother-in-law than male relatives when they are being patronising to her. I must work on that. I’m not entirely sure that passing any difficulty through your husband helps. Not only does he sometimes definitely fail to communicate accurately and effectively; why do we have to participate in this childishness  which seems a bit like the adult equivalent of passing notes in class? Why shouldn’t mothers and daughters-in-law be able to speak freely and respectfully to each other? It all adds to the pitting and dividing of mother against daughter-in-law, woman against woman.

1‘Recently’ at the time of first draft

Hip Hop and Its 30-Year War on Women

With the onset of groups like N.W.A, hip hop turned on black women.

Self-image is a funny thing, isn’t it? I obviously see myself as the kind of social media participant who is very much in control of her online emotions. Gone are the days of trigger-happy Facebook Tracy. Now I channel my anger into clever, sarcastic blog posts or hoard bits of outrage and under the guise of responding to tweets, release my little nuggets of wisdom (“I totally agree. This perfectly demonstrates…[something which I’ve been seething about for months and have written about in several draft blog posts which never made it on to the actual blog]”). I’m certainly not one to shout at strangers on Twitter and especially not at celebrities!

Well, that seems to be changing. I recently posted an angry rant in response to a tweet by all round dandy R’n’B singer Jidenna…and even more shamefully deleted it. I wish I hadn’t deleted it. I was confused about some of the surrounding facts but at the end of the day it was a tweet not a claim form.

Jidenna’s tweet referred to deceased rapper XXXtentacion. Very briefly, XXX was shot dead on 18 June 2018. Prior to his being shot, Spotify had stopped streaming XXX’s music. The reasons they stopped streaming his music included accounts of horrific domestic violence allegedly committed by XXX against his ex-girlfriend. XXX also admitted to a gruesome attack against a gay inmate who was apparently “staring” at him. Reading this http://www.miaminewtimes.com/music/the-real-story-of-rapper-xxxtentacion-10410980 and other articles, including his ex-girlfriend’s testimony and pictures, I am not at all convinced by XXX’s denial of DV. He was 20 years old when he died and awaiting trial for the DV charges.

Following his death, which came shortly after the revelations of his violent past, his fans naturally showed their grief on social media. There were also a number of people actively celebrating his death with memes, tweets and the like, presumably because of his domestic and homophobic violence. Jidenna’s discomfort over these celebrations turned into a tweet-rant about how we all did stupid things at 20 and how anyone can change (interestingly enough he seemed to accept that the DV allegations were true). He asked where our compassion is and seemed to come to the conclusion that woke twitter, not XXX, were the real villains here. He even went so far as to compare XXX to Malcolm X – apparently a shoplifter and abusive towards women at that age (is it very wrong to point out that, firstly, in no way was the level of Malcolm X’s abuse remotely comparable to that of XXX’s and secondly, Malcolm X did believe women were inferior to men although like Jidenna, he thought they were to be protected or revered or something benevolent that does not quite reach equality?).

A number of people took Jidenna’s point a bit further. T-Pain stepped out boldly with a series of bizarre tweets (‘Look your father in the eye and ask him how many times he’s thrown your mother across the room. The silence is scary, right? Right?’ The silence is because your father is contemplating how much money he will have to contribute to your state-enforced ‘rest and retreat’, T-Pain).

The tweets turned into a familiar attack on the left for replacing “compassion with moral superiority”, for being dogmatically intractable, tolerating no dissent from the party line, holding no truck with oppressive ideas like forgiveness and sympathy (which people keep calling empathy – must look up these words again) and just generally being bad, illiberal liberals. According to these people, XXX may have been bad but so were a lot of people at 20 and we were under some sort of duty to ‘forgive’1 him because of his youth and talent.

I won’t debate these points at length – I’m not sure I’m knowledgeable enough to. There are so many questions starting with the bizarre assumption that majority of people can relate to XXX’s damn near homicidal psychosis, a natural discomfort at seeing people openly celebrate someone’s death, why on earth people would have ’empathy’ for a very bad person, whether it is fascistic to say that anyone who mentions how apparently talented he was hates women and as stated above whether it’s now wrong to refer to the sheer level and depravity of his abuse or whether all abuse is equal.

What this case highlighted to me is how little regard American hip hop, and to some extent RnB, and its artists have for women. Specifically in relation to this incident and has been proven time and time again, these artists have no qualms about working with abusive men. As long as the abusive man in question is popular enough they will continue to be impervious to his abuse. As this article shows http://www.vulture.com/2018/06/a-complete-timeline-xxxtentacions-controversial-career.html, a number of artists weren’t discouraged by the tales of XXX;s stupendous violence from working with or copying him. Kendrick Lemar even threw a hissy fit when Spotify stopped streaming his music. This has been the case with Dr Dre and the distinctively unrepentant repeat-abusing Chris Brown and will be the case with Nas and Fabulous. The only thing that may make other artists pause is the possibility of any public backlash .

It is of course artists’ prerogative to work with whoever they want (and I reserve the right to my private, dark opinions) and they are free to ‘rest in power’ XXX into the devil’s arms if they want to. What I found particularly enraging about Jidenna’s tweets is the pious admonition of people who can’t mourn this man’s death or even those who are happy he is dead. He does not consider whether these people may have been DV survivors or watched their loved ones perish at the hands of an abusive man. Armed with moral and spiritual blackmail, he jumps to the conclusion that they are liberal posturers desperate to prove their wokeness. He preaches the power of redemption, not by providing a scintilla of evidence that XXX has changed, but by referring to a completely different man, a man who died over 50 years ago and whose memory is supposed to evoke unquestioning loyalty.

Actually I don’t believe he jumped to the conclusion. I think he is completely indifferent to XXX’s abusive behaviour and only framed his tweets in that way, I think, to add the appearance of morality and even-handedness. And then to add insult to injury, he threw in some shallow wording about respecting women and how he is thinking about XXX’s and other domestic violence victims. This is of course crap since there wasn’t a peep from him about DV prior to this man’s death. He, like many of XXX’s fans – celebrities or not – seemed annoyed that something as trivial like violence against women could stop a young rapper’s career. As you know, every time a rapper fails to reach his full potential, no matter how much vile crap-spouting that full potential entails, an angel loses a wing2 .

Perhaps I’m being harsh on Jidenna . It’s safe to say I have never warmed to him; not sure why –  is it the arrest scene in the Classic Man music video or the fact that he apparently is not going marry a woman who can’t cook jollof rice or just the almost lethal levels of grooming and styling? So much of so little consequence to choose from. Whatever the reason, I’d obviously just been waiting for an opportunity to unleash a tirade at him and that’s enough reason in itself for deleting my tweet.

Image result for jidenna

But more seriously, as tweep Kim Love says, it seems like since the 1990s with the onset of groups like N.W.A., American hip hop has turned on black women. In songs they’ve called us every name under the sun, spoke proudly of domestic violence and rape, demonised us, dehumanised us even – we are now female dogs and garden implements – dissected us, divided us into body parts, dragged us by our hair, put us on leashes, slid credit cards through our butt cracks…the list is endless. And it’s getting worse. There is conscious rap and religious rap but as I told my husband (who came into our marriage fully prepared to argue against hip hop to the death with me and has done so admirably notwithstanding his false start of angrily questioning me about RAGGA song ‘Boom-boom Bye’) not all American rappers are misogynistic; just the successful ones it seems.

Image result for hip hop misogyny documentary

I can’t figure out whether it was because of genuine hatred or just a convenient sacrifice. I watched a documentary about hip hop once that suggested that it was an antidote to all the saccharine love songs by Luther Vandross and the like. So…just an afterthought then. This would explain why I was one of the few people silently and bitterly cursing Ice Cube as he gave his impassioned speech to Bill Maher about the latter, as a white man, not being able to use the ‘N’ word. ‘Black people are not going to allow that anymore!’ he wobbled – one of the pioneers and reasons that women are customarily referred to to as bitches and hoes.

It’s astonishing that black women put up with it for so long. We done more than this – we’ve internalised, endorsed and distributed it. We wouldn’t tolerate tweets which are a tenth as derogative but feminists are happy to be fan girls of rappers who spread these vile and harmful lyrics in the name of art. I think we might have got distracted because of the initial push back from white Americans; perhaps we were fooled into thinking we, black men and women, were in this together. Now that mainstream has embraced hip hop, and people have tacitly accepted that it is impossible for them to publicly condemn hip hop without being accused of an act of racism, these artists have exported wholesale their lyrical artillery against black women.

Off-stage, the story is the same. Rappers are beating, harming and disfiguring their significant others as least as much as other men. It’s certainly not a case of only using those lyrics on stage. It is, for many of them, who they are. The stories keep repeating themselves.  The ones who don’t are often illogical, rampant sexists or are  not concerned enough to distance themselves artistically from abusive rappers.

Obviously hip hop is not responsible for violence against women nor is it the first kind of art that has normalised this violence. However, as illiberal as this sounds, I think almost 30 years of this has had a real effect on relationships and especially how black women are viewed and devalued. I read screenshots of conversations that go like this:

Boy (heartbreakingly young): ‘I like the way you look. Please come and hang out at my apartment’

Girl: ‘No thanks’

Boy: ‘Fuck you, you bitch hoe! I’ma track you down and…..’ (insert your fave’s preferred act of violence)

This is what I think women should do. I don’t know how sexist British rap is but as far as American rap is concerned the default position is not to support any particular rapper until he has proven himself to be an ally or not harmful to women. Listen to the entire album – for free of course as buying it rather defeats the purpose. Give them two strikes to vent at failed relationships and then they are out. These men care about themselves and the industry and that includes any abusive man who can escape any consequences of his abuse against women. It’s time we start doing the same. But no one will listen to me of course……

1I’ve put ‘forgive’ in inverted commas since XXX did not do anything to most of the social media commentators. The way to stop people from saying that they are glad that a man, who may very well have ended up beating women to death, is dead is bring up the irrelevant concept of forgiveness. This is supposed to fill people with remorse and drive them to demonstrate their capacity to forgive by forgetting their outrage at the alleged DV and and continuing to support and buy XXX’s music, presumably.

 

2The part in italics is stolen wittiness

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.

choice gif 2

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.

cinderellaworking

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.

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.