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.

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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

World Views Round-Up: About the Royal Wedding and New Music

I write about last week’s royal wedding, the album About 30 and Falz’s ‘This Is Nigeria’.

The Royal Wedding

The royal wedding was last week and I found some of the opinions and takes on it to be a bit strange. I think it’s great that our beloved Prince Harry has found love. It’s also great that the couple were in a position to have such a stately and lavish wedding that was watched and adored by millions. As with William and Kate before them, it was like watching a fairytale come to life.

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In terms of the wider picture, yes, it is a sign of progress that an American person of colour is now part of the royal family. I can’t deny that this would have been unimaginable just 50 short years ago. The same reasoning applies to the fact that she is an older divorcée.

The sentiment that the wedding ‘gives black women hope’ is obviously offensive and ludicrous but I’m mostly over my outrage – although I did tweet at Alex Jones who repeated it during the commentary to the wedding (she didn’t reply proving that she is committed to remaining an ignorant simpleton).

It’s the ‘this is what you have to do to became a princess’ takes that got to me. The advice included being a feminist, renouncing feminism (which Meghan Markle apparently did by giving up her career for Duchess-dom) and, of course, making sure that your first stupid marriage doesn’t work. But really, even if the princes (or every male with one drop or more of royal blood in England) decided to re-marry a minimum of 5 times each, how many women (even white women, Alex) have a shot at marrying into royalty?

Also, in respect of giving up feminism, the analysis of exactly what she’s getting in return – i.e. a bigger platform for her charity work – doesn’t hold water. May I go on a little side rant? I discovered during the many interviews in the course of the coverage that the end goals of one of the charities supported by the new royal couple are giving a disadvantaged group a ‘voice’, a ‘bigger platform’ and a ‘chance to change the world’. Yeah, I’m definitely not donating to that charity.

It seems to me that Meghan Markle’s decision to give up her career is less about any kind of forensic weighing of pros and cons and more about the realities of falling in love and deciding to marry a member of the British royal family. It’s clear that being part of the royal family is a demanding, scrutinised task if you choose full participation. It would be noteworthy if you didn’t and you retained your original profession, especially as a woman but it’s far more usual to give up your career and immerse yourself fully in your new role. Nothing more to it, I think.

The race takes were less annoying. Like I said, it’s impossible to deny the signs of progress – including the royal family having to deal officially with racism, previously conveniently ignored, and the slightly more diverse official wedding photograph. It was heartening to see the couple bring a bit of African American culture to the wedding, if only as a thumbs-up to people who are incredibly grumpy that Meghan identifies as mixed race instead of black.

Some takes and jokes were a little out there. It’s not that the wedding will change race relations; it’s that the wedding is a reflection of how society has changed for the more inclusive – a rather cheerful reflection given the race shenanigans going in both the United States and the United Kingdom. I also don’t accept that the ‘black elements’ of the wedding was a cynical ploy by the royal family to use black culture to remain relevant. If it was, judging by the tormented looks on their faces during the sermon (which I was astonished to discover was less than 14 minutes long – it seemed to go on forever!), they were definitely failing to keep up a convincing performance. The jokes about Harry’s previous girlfriends were sexist and in poor taste.

Nigerians uniquely took the opportunity to complain that Nigerian brides, in comparison to Meghan, wear far too much make-up on their wedding day. The theme was taken up by sensible and less sensible people. Debates raged as the twitterazi couldn’t decide whether to blame the brides or the make-up artists for this assault on their senses and whether brides had trial sessions or not; turning even (religious) feminists against (choice and sex positive) feminists.

From my limited experience, I can make two observations – yes, Nigerian make up artists can be a little heavy-headed and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the royal wedding.

About New Music

About 30

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I’ve finally got my new computer to download my iTunes library; thus permitting me to listen to About 30, the new album by the saintly and gorgeous Adekunle Gold. When I told my husband this morning that ‘it’s actually really good!’, he asked why I had bought it if I thought it was going to be bad. It’s not that I thought it would be bad but I have a theory about the apparent disappointment that sometimes comes with second albums, especially when the first album has been so well-received. I’m pretty sure this theory is not originally mine.

Firstly, the artist has had an unlimited time period, I think, to write their best material for the first album but, conversely, is under pressure to replicate their success in a shorter space of time for the second, often leading to shoddier songs. Secondly, even if the album is as good as the first, their audience is no longer in awe of their particular type of music. If their second album is too similar to the first one; they are accused of ‘not growing’. If it is too different, they have abandoned the original sound that endeared them to the world in the first place – striking the right balance is a difficult challenge.

I’m pleased to report that I don’t think this album has any of the above problems. I honestly thought, having bought the first album and then heard the intermittent singles Call On Me, Only Girl and Money, that the second album would be more of the same. I was prepared to put up with it because of AG’s beautiful` voice and above-mentioned saintliness and gorgeousness. However, he has somehow managed to strike…well, gold (I can assure you that AG has never before and will never again hear this particular pun about his music). My favourite songs so far are Yoyo, Mama and Mr Foolish (honourable mention to ‘Back to Start’).

This is Nigeria

Falz has also released his video and song version of Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ called ‘This is Nigeria’. Reactions can be roughly categorised like this: the vast majority, I’d say over 85% and that includes me, think it’s really good, creative and clever and the rest are griping about it.

The complaints range from the fact that Falz didn’t use symbolism or as much imagery to the alleged shoddy production of the video (?) to disrespect for Christian and Muslim religions to something else that even I can’t understand but sounds suspiciously like trying to prove how clever they are by refusing to be impressed by Falz – someone who ‘woke Nigerian twitter’ insist continually and aggressively is the cleverest thing to happen to Nigerian music and only the truly thick can fail to agree with everything he says. Incidentally, if there is any general antipathy towards Falz, I suspect this type of thing is the source. Like Beyonce and the Beyhive, I think that he will rise above it all and the world will continue to appreciate him for his brilliance.

thisisnig

The negative comment which has attracted the most gob-smacking is the accusation that he copied the concept from Childish Gambino’s video and song. Yes, that’s it. In a clear remake of the song, using the similar music, choreography and cinematography, a large group of people have decided to make political capital out of the fact that it’s kinda like the original, isn’t it?. Some people have grumped that he has no right to complain about yahoo boys if he is just going to steal someone else’s concept (proof that some people will NEVER EVER get over his yahoo boys comments) and wondered whether he obtained all the necessary copyright permissions (something that, as long as he doesn’t try to pass off the concept as his own, is actually none of our business). This reaction has provoked a pained video response from the man himself in which he couldn’t seem to decide between his comedy accent, pidgin English and regular English, sometimes switching mid-word, and more than one embittered ‘lol’ type tweet from him.

Somehow amongst all the contempt (as demonstrated above) that I have for the criticism, I have unwittingly fallen into the category of ‘haters’. This is how it happened. I retweeted the video as soon as I saw it – a simple reaction to a brilliant video, especially since I hadn’t seen the original. I didn’t actually see the negative comments at first, because I follow woke Nigerian twitter mostly; just the responses to them. I searched ‘falz’ to try and understand the furore, started reading unrelated tweets about how sexist some of his music, in the way that he and fellow ‘clever’ artist, Ajebutter, demonise women, is. I was so delighted that other people finally got it that I started liking these comments indiscriminately, trying to find the one that encapsulated my thoughts most precisely. Therefore my handful of followers, if they pay any attention to my tweets, may be forgiven for being slightly confused as to how I feel about Falz (I really like him and his music but his sexism discourages me in a way it wouldn’t if it came from someone like Wizkid).

Falz said in his response that the video is “moral instruction”. He  is a brilliant writer but his attempts at moralising sometimes fall flat mostly because he has a gender privilege blind spot and like the vast majority of well-to-do Nigerians, is quite classist. ‘This is Nigeria’ is actually one of his successes as far as moralising is concerned. He hasn’t said anything that he hasn’t said before, but he says it very well in the song. He understands that it’s not enough to pass on the message; he still has to fulfil his artistic obligations. It’s a great song and video.

As for being unique, he approached the song in a different way from Childish Gambino (and if he understands ‘This is America’ completely, then Falz is a much more intelligent person than me). As far as I can tell and having watching some explanatory videos, ‘This is America’ is directed at the distractions of celebrity/insta/popular culture (black or not) with an undercurrent pointing to the disregard for life and freedoms in America, presently and historically, while Falz took a more straightforward approach of pointing out various ills in Nigerian society.

Both are good. Falz’s is not better than Gambino’s of course – don’t be silly – you only have to see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_LIP7qguYw to appreciate that the original version is as intricate as Falz’s is literal. And there’s nothing wrong with either approach. Well done everyone. Wehdone.

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

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

Reverse Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Appropriation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

race 7

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

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

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

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

In Part 2…..My Windrush Story.

What’s Choice Got To Do With It?

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Examples: When is A Choice Unacceptable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Directed) Sexual Empowerment

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

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.

The Cancer Scare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cancer 2

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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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)

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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

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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!

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“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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