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The “Trouble” With Feminism: On Friendzones, Frustrations, and Robin Thicke

It’s 2014 and there are still women on Twitter creating bizarre anti-Feminist trending topics. It’s 2014 and there are still men out there who refuse to take no for an answer when a woman declines their advances. It’s 2014 and a woman’s sexual agency is still deemed a crime and she remains subject to gender-specific criticism and condemnation. It’s 2014, and there are still men out there who go to great lengths to exercise their supposed authority over women and humiliate them should this supposed authority be challenged. It’s 2014 and unfortunately we *still* have to remind the masses of the importance of Feminism in a world of Patriarchy. It’s 2014 and we must *still* defend our belief that Feminism is an important and fundamental movement in our long crawl towards equality for all. Well in this post, Naomi Maxwell – No Fly on the WALL’s Assistant Editor, an original Fly Girl, and one of our original line-up of writers – returns with a much-needed piece on privilege, frustration, ‘The Friend Zone’, and that awful, awful man… Robin Thicke. 

A lot of people still haven’t made their minds up on feminism. They’ll whisper feminist sounding ideals in convert voices, whilst stating time and time again, that they are NOT a feminist; lest they be lumped in with hairy, bra-burning caricatures of women. Because apparently men aren’t feminists(!) Whilst a great deal of this is of course down to ignorance, I can’t help but wonder if people also fear this almost conspiracy-theory-like gravity of a doctrine that rests on the premise that universally, society is ruled by a set of hegemonic masculine rules, norms and power. So essentially, the male who best fits this model is the only one who stands to benefit or be in a position of privilege. For those of us who who didn’t do AS/BA/MA Social Sciences, the term “hegemonic masculinity” coined by Connell, derived from Gramsci, alludes to characteristics, cycles of power, socialisation and numerous other ways by which women appear to be greatly disadvantaged in all areas of society, solely, because of their gender.

Feminism will

“A lot of people still haven’t made their minds up on feminism. They’ll whisper feminist sounding ideals in convert voices, whilst stating time and time again, that they are NOT a feminist.” – Naomi Maxwell. 

 

The scariest thing about feminism, is that it is right.

It is harrowing to explore the realities with which women are harassed, persecuted and ignored. It is disturbing to observe how young girls are undermined by their teachers as being “too bossy” and “too much of a know-it-all”, how they are denied, or seen as possessing a lesser right to education in poorer parts of the world. Gender inequality filters down to every level, to every subculture, to every ethnic group. And as with much of society’s problem, if we’re honest, it is much easier to turn a blind eye to it or shrug it off as misandrist spiel.

I find myself writing this piece, as I often do, because I find myself increasingly frustrated with the stack of cards I’ve been dealt. My life is great, don’t get me wrong, but the frustration is a just reaction to what I see more and more in my own age group as gender inequality.

I have a boyfriend. I’m quite fond of him. I should not have however have to invoke his existence because some guy refuses to take my ‘no’ as enough of an answer when I don’t want to give him my number. I find it utterly deplorable, that for you to leave me alone, because by now you have crossed every boundary that there is to cross, I have to call on a male saviour. The fact that more often than not, this still doesn’t work, is not the point. The point is – why is my voice, my lack of consent, my autonomy NOT ENOUGH?

Every Bigot Shutup 1

Some people may mock this as not a real problem when across the globe girls are subjected to FGM and forced marriage. A lesser evil, is still very much an evil. Some would put this down to male immaturity or the sub cultures that I interact with. But I don’t buy it. You see twenty-somethings on nights out shouting swear words after women who’ve rejected them, drunk or sober. You hear jokes ridiculing the middle aged man in a long-term relationship who’s going through a sexual dry spell, reeking strongly of that ever-present male assumption. There are expectations and generalised thought patterns that run deep in the male psyche, rather than understanding individual relationships with women, and it is these issues with which I hold my qualms.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s put aside wage inequality, employment discrimination, and increased likelihood of poverty and look at something many of us come into in the everyday. If you’re between ten and sixty, the chances are that you’ve come across the formidable term that is “the friend zone”. For those of you who still live in a wonderful world outside of childish labels I shall only too happily burst your bubble. “The friend zone” is the term applied to a male or female being “relegated” to being friends with a person. For some reason people appear to use it a lot more with “nice” males being thanked for being such good friends, or never quite seeming to “score” with females. The blatant linguistic issue there of “scoring” comes fit with wailing sirens and flashing red lights, but I can only touch on it because that would be an entire series of articles – suffice to say gaining my attention, affection and openness is not a game, it is not a competition, it is not yours to win. When you look at the more sinister background of this term. *ducks feminist killjoy jibe* and read between the lines, the assertion is ‘I’m a nice guy, how could you not sleep with me?’ For anyone to feel affronted that they are “nice”, but being called a friend, places us right back at this disturbing position of entitlement. As if your kindness means I should sleep with you, ‘oh you sat with me through a film?’ I’m now normatively required to hook up with you(!)

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No one sums it up quite so well as Mr. Robin Thicke. I’m getting awfully tired of Robin. Whilst I’m sure his face is on the dartboard of many a feminist, I don’t follow showbiz news, I have no interest in the lives of the celebrity, I couldn’t care less. And somehow Mr. Thicke has got onto my radar, which is quite an impressive feat.

So here’s my thing – he released a song containing lyrics so insulting that I almost hurled my laptop onto the floor in reaction, if you somehow missed the gift that keeps on giving “Blurred Lines”.

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Purportedly since then he has been unfaithful to his wife; she has chosen to separate from him and they’ve not seen each other in five months. His wife did not leave him for another man, she did not walk out one day, but in reaction, at the very least, to increasing displays of a disrespect to the female gender, herself included, she got tired of his blatant disregard. How did Mr. Thicke respond? He named an album after her, released songs detailing their private conversations, accompanied by a video to “Get Her Back” with their personal texts in it !

I mean if you’re repairing a damaged relationship that’s exactly how you go about it…

He publicly humiliated his wife, purportedly engaging in public and private lewd displays, hardly acting like the man you’d want go home to and cuddle up in bed. So then he took it upon himself to ignore those messages which she sent to him detailing her distrust, her need for space and her hurt, sharing it on a platform that has now been viewed over five million times. Let’s not forget singing about how it’s “so hard, but it doesn’t have to be” – Nothing quite says “I understand the depth of distress I’ve caused you”, as trivialising your partner’s hurt. Reading through the lyrics of this song, you have to wonder if he even knows why she’s upset. I mean this so sincerely, you’ve got to question it, because had my partner been unfaithful to me, like heck would “I should have kissed you longer” soothed that wound.

It would be both incredulous and amusing if this didn’t put a face to the symptomatic attitude of a number of men towards women. She has said give me space, he has ignored it. She has said I am hurt, he keeps on attracting PUBLIC attention. It’s just a larger platform for the same narrative to play out on, and I’m getting more than a little bit tired of it.

Young woman rolling her eyes

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The Westerner’s Guide to Nigeria and Boko Haram: An Introduction

Over two months ago, on the night of the 14th of April 2014, 276 school girls were abducted from their dorm rooms in their secondary school in the village of Chibok, Northern Nigeria. Nine weeks on, as the world forgets them, we at No Fly on the WALL, after a long period of mulling over and personal individual deliberation, are now using this platform to bring to you some thoughts from Nigerians and observers outside the country that we know, in order to do our part to revive the conversation – at least in our little corner of the Internet. Now that the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag’s popularity is in decline and the celebrities and other big names are no longer posting selfies with their placards; now that the papers are reporting on the progress or lack of progress of the so-called hunt for the girls less and less (if it were even possible); now that the marches have stopped and the Nigerian Embassy in London is safe from protesters once more, we ask you, what do we do now? 

Starting with an article by Daniel Shodipo – who makes his NFotW debut here – we give you an overview of the history of Boko Haram’s vigilante/ Terrorist activity in Nigeria and, from the perspective of a British Nigerian who found himself in Nigeria at the time of the abductions, we hope to offer more insight into the current situation in Nigeria. We hope that it goes without saying that the abduction of over 200 girls from their school simply because they were being offered “Western Education” is a Feminist issue. We hope that the captivity of human beings as though they were animals strikes you as being a diabolical infirngement of Human Rights and absolutely, categorically unacceptable. We hope that all those who believe in freedom and equality for all will join us in attempting to revive the conversation that once was (be it for a brief period of time, at least as far as Western Media is concerned). Most of all, we hope that the Nigerian Government will do more to ensure the safe return of these innocent children, these young girls full of promise, and punish Boko Haram for their numerous crimes over the years. We hope these girls will not end up as yet another story, another lost cause, another social media fad (see: Kony 2012). We hope this article, and any others to follow, will help educate us all on the complexities of the issues that face Nigeria and perhaps help us work out what small things we can do, as members of the Global Community, to keep pushing the Nigerian government to do something and to remind them that all eyese are on them. And that all eyes will remain on them until all the abducted girls are safely returned to their families and friends.

 

The Easter holidays granted me the opportunity to return to the land of my parents for the burial of my Grandfather. The festivities were based in the Megacity, Lagos (aka Las Gidi), the economic focal point of Nigeria. “Lagosians” enjoy a higher standard of living compared to other city dwellers in Nigeria. I lived in the city whilst I was in secondary school for six years. After my seven year hiatus, changes to the city’s benefit were evident. From cleaner streets, to safer public transportation, new road signs and improvements to road travel in general. Lagos, with an estimated population of 21 million people appeared to be in order. It was amazing to see the advances brought about by the state government, which has added weight to Nigeria becoming the biggest economy in Africa and a true giant within the continent. In contrast, the majority of people in Borno – a state in North East Nigeria – still experience abject poverty. This has fuelled the rise in Islamic militancy over the last five years in the form of Boko Haram.

Having been in the country for almost a week already, on the 26th of April, I glanced at the front page of the national newspaper‎, The Punch, and there was a column on the abduction of over 200 Nigerian girls (although at this point the number was thought to be 149 and Boko Haram had yet to claim responsibility). Without having the exact number, names or pictures of the girls or any known suspects, the story had been relegated to a tiny column on the front page – another example of the ongoing divide between Northern and Southern Nigerians, and even more so, the numbness of Southerners to the constant calamities occuring in the North. Judging by the number of girls initially quoted and that it occurred whilst they slept in school dorms, you would expect more attention would be given to such a devastating event. My heart immediately went out to the girls and their families. Poignant because, amongst other reasons, this could have easily happened to anyone. At the time I thought it was extremely weird that the mood hadn’t changed in Lagos and life seemed to continue as normal.

Figure 1. Locations of recent Boko Haram attacks

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Having been in the UK when Madeline McCann was kidnapped whilst on holiday, I expected a similar if not greater response from the UK due to the extent of the abductions and the callousness of its manner. Especially considering the West’s history of indignation over atrocities occurring in the rest of the world: the outcry over Kony in Uganda in 2012, Syria, Iraq, and the crisis in Russia and Ukraine, one would expect the reaction to have been more intense much sooner. The fear of Lagosians towards such a threat was non-existent. On the morning of Monday 5th May 2014, the video of the leader of Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau boasting responsibility for the kidnappings had circulated the Internet. Initially the group’s intentions for the girls was for them to be sold off into marriage, however these terms have recently changed as the group attempt to barter the girls for their imprisoned comrades. The international media had its attention fixed firmly on the separatist problems affecting the people of Nigeria and our government, somewhat misguidedly.

To fully appreciate the acts committed by this group of terrorists and the delay in response of the government, you have to understand how Nigeria as a country works. The country is divided into three major “Nations”: the Yoruba in the South West,made up of a mix of Christians, Muslims and those that follow the traditional ways of their forefathers; then we have the Igbo in the South East, consisting primarily of Christians; and finally we have the Hausa in the North, who follow Islam. The literacy levels and income disparity are gaping along these lines.

Figure 2. Mushin, Lagos

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Figure 3. Lekki, Lagos

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The southern states are blessed with the largest oil reserves in Africa which has greatly helped commerce, however poverty is still a concern within this large region (see figure 2 and 3). Such conditions aren’t ideal for a secular nation whose indigenes are extremely resilient and religious. The conditions experienced by the masses, have manifested as symptoms in the oil rich Niger Delta region in the form of MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) and in the North Eastern states as Boko Haram (meaning Western Education is forbidden). Boko Haram recruits the youth from the poorest northern states which suffer from low literacy. This has allowed the ruling northern politicians to go largely unchecked by the poorly educated masses. The acts of Boko Haram have been allowed to persist due to the misappropriation of funds by the government on every level‎. However with the Northern youths being largely poor, who is arming Boko Haram (see figure 4)? There are those in government suspecting financial support is coming from within and also from abroad.

Nigeria is essentially a privatised nation. If you want the best goods and services, travelling abroad (a luxury for many) and the private sector are your only options. Electricity supply is erratic, causing the indigenes to purchase electrical generators to power their homes and businesses. Wells and Boreholes have to be constructed due to the lack of trust in the public water system. Security has been a major issue as the police are not to be trusted (if you require safety the palms of police officers have to be “greased”). Every big business place from hotels to fast food joints, has to hire or contract private security firms due to the essential lack of trust in the federal government to protect its people.

Education has not been an exception to this wave of privatisation, with majority of the schools being privately owned. In the Northern states the outlook is even even more grim. According to Sanusi Lamido, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria turned whistle-blower, 93% of the girls are thought to be illiterate, with only 3% of girls completing secondary school within the northern states of the country. Traditional roles are still the way of life in the country, where it is normal for women to be considered of a lower social status compared to men. Many parents, due to the poverty, send their children to work as opposed to school, which contributes to the vicious cycle and poverty becomes the norm. As a means of raising money for their families, daughters are given up for marriage in exchange for a “dowry” or bride price as compensation.

Figure 4. Boko Haram Leader in front of an armoured vehicle (This image is a still from the harrowing video they released, showcasing the abducted girls)

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The #BringBackOurGirls campaign was a response to the absence of support from all levels of government towards the kidnapping of hundreds of female pupils. By utilising demonstrations and social media the attention of the international community and Nigerian government was captured (slowly but eventually). As a Nigerian, I appreciate the help from the international community for the worldwide coverage and forcing the hand of our government. However I am concerned that the global buzz created by this hashtag will fizzle out just like with #KONY2012. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has encouraged western governments and China to supply intelligence towards finding the girls. Unfortunately I am not hopeful for the long term prospects of such aid as it may eventually lead to foreign military intervention. We only have to look to recent history in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to see how such an intervention in national problems may destabilise a country.

Figure 5. #BringBackOurGirls, left: Toronto, upper right: London, lower right: Lagos

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However the kidnappings appear to be the least of the nation’s problems as focus has been placed on the incompetence and corruption rife within the government. The Borno State Government had been advised by the West African Exam Council (WAEC) to close the schools ahead of the exams for fear of the security conditions. The state government had assured WAEC that security measurements had been put in place. Three weeks after the abductions, President Goodluck Jonathan assured the nation and the world that ‘Wherever these girls are we will surely get them out’. However a few days before this the first lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan had two female leaders of the protest arrested, for allegedly belonging to Boko Haram and for trying to besmirch the image of the federal government.

Considering the circumstances this event may be what Nigeria has needed. From Nigeria to the UK, to Canada, to the USA – people, irrespective of race, gender and religion have tried to do their part to ensure the safe delivery of the girls. Finally the imagination of the global community was captured, with celebrities and other influential persons coming to the fore to demand that ‘Our Girls’ be brought home unharmed. This unfortunate event has made me feel as part of a collective and even prouder of my heritage. Now the ball is in the court of the people of Nigeria. This is the most stressful time within the nation, since its unity was threatened during the Civil War of the late 60s. The people of Nigeria and her diaspora need to continue to work together to pressure our government. Now the Nigerian Government needs to take their eyes off of the 2015 elections and do their job in protecting and serving every Nigerian, regardless of their gender, sexuality, tribe or religion.

All eyes are on the Nigerian government to do everything within their power to #BringBackOurGirls .

Political mistress Angry black woman

‘The Colour of My Struggle': Black Feminism and Double Jeopardy in a World of Whiteness

An abridged version of this article was originally published in the Spring Edition of STRIKE! magazine -  a radical, quarterly newspaper dealing with politics, philosophy, art, subversion and sedition – in their celebratory Feminist Issue. This extended article is republished with permission.

An ongoing struggle and point of tension within the Feminist movement is the subject of race and how this intersection in particular has a significant effect on the experiences of women of colour in the UK and abroad. This tension has been written about extensively by esteemed Feminists of colour such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Patricia Hill Collins (notice how these prominent names are names of American women and not women of colour from the UK – another issue and another conversation entirely) but still, in 2014, women of colour are battling one-sided mainstream dialogues of the ‘women’s experience’, fighting to put a spotlight on some of the traumas, challenges, and daily struggles they experience based on the colour of their skin. And although there are white Feminists who have acknowledged and checked their privilege, there are still far too many who refuse to do so and it is this refusal that threatens to damage any potential for a unified movement – something that has been difficult to achieve since the sixties and seventies.

Although bell hooks might take issue with a call for accepting FeminismS, it is necessary to accept that for each woman, equality means something unique to her wants, needs, and priorities and revolution may come in different guises. Women are not a homogeneous group and yet we are often spoken about as if we are. When the brave decide to speak out against such white-washing, derogatory caricatures, such as the well-known ‘Angry Black Woman’ stereotype are thrown around in order to shame and silence them. It is against this backdrop that Black Feminism has come to be and in all respects is flourishing as a legitimate political movement. Out of necessity, frustration, and the desire for their own voice, women of colour – the politically ‘black’ – are adding to the Feminist dialogue more publicly and more loudly than ever before. In this post, the debut from the founder of No Fly on the WALL, Siana Bangura, we explore the so-called ‘double jeopardy’ of being black and being female, the myth of the ‘Angry Black Woman’ and why it is a damaging stereotype, as well as why gender discrimination works alongside racial discrimination to ensure black women are not seen as equal to white women, even in the Feminist movement – a radical movement that is supposed to call for equality for all people regardless of their gender (and race, sexual orientation, class, and so on). 

 

“I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognise that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.” – Audre Lorde.

I – like Lorde, hooks, Walker, Hill Collins, Davis, Morrison, Malveaux, Beal, and countless other women before me – declare fearlessly, unapologetically, and relentlessly that I am a Black Feminist. I am a woman. I am a member of the working class. I am a person of colour. I am a working class woman of colour and I wish to be accepted in my entirety. And it is only through acknowledging every facet of my complex identity that you will be able to understand my liberations, my incarcerations, my struggles, and my stance. As Lorde also said, ‘…what is important to me must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.’ Amongst many things, it was this call to face adversity and have those difficult conversations that first encouraged me, the reluctant feminist, to wear the title for all to see. Having become radicalized at university after one too many ‘you’re pretty for a black girl’ comments and certainly countless occasions when it was argued my gender was more important than my race when it came to ‘the fight’, I was compelled to supersede the former and take on the label of Black Feminist. You see, I have learnt that there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because ‘we do not live single-issue lives’ and oppression works across several axes at any one time.

Having been told I am an ‘angry black woman’ – a very damaging and reductive caricature of a black woman who understands (what is more often than not) her difficult position – because I am outspoken, present, and resistant to patriarchy, I know very well the importance of refusing to be silent when people are uncomfortable with your truth. Let’s face it, women, in particular women of colour and working class women have much to be angry about. When Frances Beal wrote of the ‘double jeopardy’ of being both black and female, and offered her powerful analysis of the relationship between capitalism and racism, she spoke of how both were intertwined in denying the humanity of all people, especially the humanity of black people.

When Friedan spoke of “the problem that has no name”, she was not talking about the plight of women who were not like her: white, middle-class, well educated housewives of privilege. She spoke for a select group of women who were bored with leisure, with the home, with children, and with cleaning the house. For some women, this was the “problem that has no name” and the cure for said problem was a career and independence. For most others, being given equal access with white men to the professions would not solve their problems. These women without men, without children, without homes, without time for leisure, non-white women and poor white women did not feature in Friedan’s brave new world. Significantly, the one-dimensional perspective on women’s reality presented in The Feminist Mystique became (and remains) a marked feature of the contemporary Feminist Movement. As bell hooks observes in her Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre, like Friedan before them ‘white women who dominate feminist discourse today rarely question whether or not their perspective on women’s reality is true to the lived experiences of women as a collective group.’ Arguably it may be impossible to ever to speak of the ‘lived experiences’ of women as a collective group as we are not homogeneous and nor should we be. I cannot assume that the lived experience of a woman like me – a child of a Sierra Leonian single mother, raised in a council flat in South East London, who went on to study History at the University of Cambridge – will be the same as the lived experiences of my female friends, black or otherwise. And I do not ever wish to speak for all women like me, despite sometimes feeling as though those that do not understand and wish to understand, expect me to. I think therefore I am? I speak therefore I speak for all.

And it is this frustrating pigeon-holing of my experiences, particularly at university, that drove me to seek refuge in a movement that argues that sexism, class oppressions, and racism are inextricably bound together, with their relationship being called ‘intersectionality’. Intersectionality itself is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, and so on – are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Third Wave Feminism, especially, thrived on the concept of intersectionality in order to redefine Feminism as inclusive, but fell short. The concept first came from legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 who brought the term to wider attention. It is largely used in critical theories, especially Feminist theory, when discussing systematic oppression. In the past, I and many other black feminists have been accused of trivialising the experiences of white women because I stand by Walker’s claim, and one of the theories that evolved out of the Black Feminist Movement – Womanism – that black women experience a different, more subversive, and more intense kind of oppression from that of white women. Black Feminist theory has argued that black women are positioned within structures of power in fundamentally different ways to those of white women. The added axes of oppression – race – added to factors of marginalization such as class, gender, and sexuality makes experiences and the consequences of oppression more intense.

Mainstream white feminist theory has neither comprehensively accounted for the economic, racial, ad gender exigencies of black female experiences, nor in many cases tried to. And although in recent times white women have been called to ‘check their privilege’, from my own experience, it is something that many find difficult to do. It takes great understanding of self to be able to imagine yourself in someone else’s position, particularly someone who is completely different to you. It is tough for the majority to put themselves in the position of the minority – not least because of fear and guilt of seeing what you may have knowingly or unknowingly been complicit to. And as is the case when the minority finally has their five minutes in the spotlight, the majority often takes offence and reacts. I’ve been in conversations with white women who claim that ‘check your privilege’ is a tool to exclude them from the Feminist discourse. I find such claims deeply troubling and ironic. In all cases, the privileged – be them white, male, wealthy, well educated, able bodied, and so on – can only struggle alongside the struggling minority (or in some cases the majority) and be true allies if they remove their privilege and see their counterparts as equals.

In December 2013, my friend and comrade at London Black Feminists, Lola Okolosie wrote in the Guardian:

“Within the media, and indeed the movement, there has been much celebration of our feminist resurgence. Yet our success is being marred by infighting. White, middle-class and young women are often seen as the ones spearheading this new wave of activity. Their high-profile campaigns – to have women on banknotes, challenge online misogyny and banish Page 3, for example – though necessary and praiseworthy, do not reflect the most pressing needs of the majority of women, black and minority-ethnic women included. The problem is not that these campaigns exist, but that they are given a focus and attention that overshadows other work feminists are engaged with.”

Her point is profound. Although seemingly contradictory, I advocate that it is important to acknowledge the existence of FeminismS – with a capital “S”. This is not a call to divide (an already fractured) movement, but instead to give centre stage to all groups of women and allow them to speak for themselves and highlight their needs, wants, and what change means to them. My heroine, bell hooks, would raise an eyebrow as she lamented extensively on the disunity and disharmony amongst women who claimed to fight for the rights of women. However, the age-old problem that Feminism has faced is the alienation of most women because of a handful of non-representative voices silencing everyone else. At this point it is worth pointing out that “black” is used throughout in its political sense – that is to denote women, including trans*women, who self- identify, originate or have ancestry from global majority populations (i.e. African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin America) and Indigenous and Bi-racial backgrounds. Groups such as London Black Feminists and Southall black sisters use this definition in the work they do, which is important to note. The term is indeed inclusive and further emphasises that on a global scale, white women would be considered the minority. Interestingly, as written about in an article by Lianne De Mello, editors of a prominent Feminist publication, The Vagenda, in 2012 had the audacity to claim in a blog entry in New Statesman that “feminism is, and to an extent always has been, a white, middle class movement.” They also expressed their concerns over “issues of race, class, religion, sexuality, politics and privilege… fracturing feminist dialogue.”

And there are those who question why we are irate? No matter how well meaning, women like Caitlin Moran and Laurie Penny have all put their foot it in it at some point and dismissed intersectionality as an unnecessary consideration in Feminist theory. Intersectionality may be an academic term that has spilled into common usage among many feminists, but that does not mean that the concept it refers to isn’t real and worthy of discussion. In Who Said It Was Simple, Lorde ends by musing:

‘But I who am bound by my mirror/ as well as my bed/ see causes in colour/ as well as sex/ and sit here wondering which me will survive/ all these liberations.’
Which ‘me’ will survive all these liberations? Which part of my whole must I sacrifice in order to attain equality? Which part will survive the revolution that has not been led by me? Which part of my whole must be silenced so as not to ‘fracture’ the Feminist dialogue? The failure to accept the struggle of our sisters in their entirety seeks to threaten the overall success of the Feminist movement and will continue to alienate those who are on the sidelines, who watch and feel that they have no ownership of or part to play in the conversation. Lorde wrote that “The failure of academic feminists to recognise difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower” is true now as it was then.
She goes on to say, “We welcome all women who can meet us, face to face, beyond objectification and beyond guilt.” Black Feminism does not exists to divide. It exists because there is no room in the mainstream for the voices of women of the “black” diasporas. It exists because prominent white feminists on the left, and opponents of any movement promoting equality persist to silence the voices of those sharing opinions that do not fit into their understanding and analysis of the female experience. Black feminism exists because for the most part, the mainstream Feminist Movement is transphobic. It exists because white privilege is real and it is only through accepting this and endeavouring to rid oneself of such privileges that we will be able to struggle together as sisters who accept that we are not homogeneous. I spoke at a conference to celebrate International Women’s Day earlier this year and Baroness Flather – a no nonsense, fierce, teacher and politician – said something extremely significant and rather sad because it is so true: “Women do not support women”. Constant in fighting between different groups within the movement will only serve to keep us fractured. The ultimate aim is a united sisterhood, which will nurture a movement that is part of a greater struggle and more noble cause: The struggle for equality for all.

And just as we started, so too we will finish with a few wise words from my “black-lesbian feminist mother lover poet” heroine, Lorde:

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

At the root of things_ Hannah Boxall_picture 2

At the Root of It: An Exploration of Attitudes Towards Female Body Hair

Raise your hand if you are a woman who spends her money on buying razors and shaving creams and/ or attending weekly waxing sessions. Step forward if you endure threading sessions or torture yourself with an epilator, tweezing, plucking, and pulling. You’re not alone. Every year, vast amounts of women undergo painful hair removal rituals – risking in-grown hairs, shaving bumps or worse – to ensure faces, upper lips, underarms, legs, arms, nipples, and bikini lines are as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The hair removal industry is worth over $2.1 Billion in the US alone and a similar figure is estimated in the UK. 2013 was a big year for laser hair removal with the total number of bookings across all major UK licensed clinics increasing by roughly 25% on 2012s figures. Furthermore, laser hair removal is currently growing 20 times faster than any other form of hair removal, according to studies by leading hair removal service providers such as  City Hair Removal. However, as with every action, there is a reaction and self- proclaimed feminists and (not so self-proclaimed feminists alike) are taking a stand against this ‘cultural norm’ and letting their hair grow ‘wild and free’ on all parts of their body. With hairless bodies being closely associated to ideas of femininity, cleanliness and aesthetics, Hannah Boxall explores the difficult relationship that she herself has had with her body hair and asks us to get to the root (pun intended) of the issue. In this post, we briefly explore some of the common attitudes to hairy women and ask why we’re so obsessed with fighting our follicles. 

I’ve immersed myself in feminist media (blogs such as Bitch media and The Vagenda and books by feminist thinkers like Inga Muscio, to name a few) for a good few years now, so I’m fully aware that the subject of body hair has, for some, been exhausted by now. However, I’ve yet to see that the discussions have been taken notice of, or made some minute change to our daily lives. It is still completely normal to waste precious time scraping, waxing, plucking, threading and shaving every last hair until we women are as bare as the day we were born (and strictly speaking this very comparison is not accurate!). I do not doubt that, for many, if not most of us, removing bodily hair is viewed as a personal ‘choice’ as no one strictly enforces this ritual. We ‘choose’ to spend precious time and energy worrying how much everyone will judge us for missing a single follicle.

shaving-legs

Mostly out of boredom and laziness, partly as social experiment and personal test to see how I cope, I’ve gone and given up torturing myself over the fur. As expected, ‘au naturel’ is pretty repulsive to most. Only a few good friends have been supportive and even joined me on this fluffy journey. Mostly because I know they see through the outer layer and judge me by my personality rather than image.

At the root of it_Hannah Boxall

Ditching the razor is almost a test to see who even gives a damn. Male friends were just shocked initially. But then my guy friends are generally masters of mockery and I realise any insults to the state of my legs are only jokes. As a teen I went to extremes to get rid of the stuff, like pretty much every girl my age. Epilating – a glorified torture method – left me with painful welts of ingrown hairs and has potentially permanently damaged the skin on my underarms. All that agony for no good reason. My boyfriend at the time didn’t care, so why was I still so bothered? He even made a point that it is weirder to shave/remove facial hair than not. Five or six years on, at this point in my life, the males I mostly associate with are 20-somethings, and although they may be a far cry from representing the student voice, I am lucky to know a few young men who are very encouraging and supportive of my decision.

Hairy Ballet

As young women, we are extremely sensitive to what is the social norm and very impressionable by what the media presents to us. Beauty businesses have successfully marketed their products by conjuring up this ‘issue’ with body hair, preying on our insecurities and then creating the ‘solution': hair removal. Whatever the reason to begin shaving whether it is to just fit in, a preference for the aesthetics or feel, or anything else really, it easily becomes habit. Interestingly I discovered when visiting Tunisia, that it was more common for the men to shave their underarms- perhaps because sweat does gather more in thick hair which would be rather unpleasant for the unsuspecting fellow commuter standing under said pits on the metro. But who knows.

It’s important to question whether this hairless ideal has been fabricated, not for our benefit, but as a big money maker. Is their an argument for cleanliness or is it simply an aesthetic obsession? Is this beauty myth designed as yet another handicap for us? Well, the media has never had any qualms about making women feel insignificant and inferior, and I fear that, due to societal pressure, all women have it ingrained in them to appear this way. Honestly, I’ve been too anxious to reveal all to the crowded streets and go bare legged.

embarrassed-elderly-woman

Fear of showing something in public clearly means I’ve been manipulated my entire life to think of this as some blasphemous and disgusting sin that I should be ashamed of. Except every last woman naturally has hair on their legs. Why can’t we just face the facts and deal with it? My only evidence so far for general responses to what Mother Nature has blessed me with is, therefore, from close friends or family. Even my sister, the person I am closest to, shivers at the sight. When asked, she wasn’t even sure why she had this knee jerk reaction, but in all honesty I can emphasise with her. If I hadn’t read and talked so much about attitudes towards body hair I think I would still recoil initially. We’re just not used to seeing it. Anywhere. Even the legs in shaving adverts are stony smooth pre-razor! She knows that there’s nothing wrong with it, but just can’t imagine giving up shaving herself out of fear of what other people would think. However, if somebody is evaluating you by something as trivial as hair, they’re clearly not the sort of person you’d like to get to know…sod their opinions. In fact, I think if a complete stranger had a go at me about growing ‘em out, I’d be more inclined to bare them to the world as an act of defiance.

It seems like the majority so far are torn between a grimace and following their morals as liberally thinking egalitarians.I think most people are far too PC to make a comment. I’ve had a couple of jokey remarks on my ‘need’ to shave and exasperated rolling of the eyes (oh, you’re one of those feminists). The sole rude observation, which was perhaps unintentional, still only made me judge him as someone with a very sheltered upbringing (didn’t you know women grow body hair too?).

Judge Judy rolls eyes

One thing I’ve been extremely disappointed about is how my mum never encouraged me to be happy in my own skin, and even introduced me and my sister to hair removal mechanisms. Parents or guardians have a huge influence on us as we grow up (whether we like it or not) and for women of my mother’s generation, dieting and other self-deprecating beauty regimes are unfortunately pretty standard, despite the harmful infectious effects on their daughters. I know it’s not necessarily her fault, she was brought up in a similar environment of media pressure, but her actions have only made me more self-critical. Even now, as a 21 year old, she has offered to pay for treatments like facial hair threading! If your own mother is embarrassed by the way you look, no wonder our body confidence has gone down the drain.

All I can do is soldier on and hope that I’m no longer judged by the hair on my body or my physical attributes alone, but perhaps by the strength of my character. Ideally, I’d want no girl to go through what I had to, people would grow to be comfortable in their own bodies and happily choose to shave or not, but wouldn’t be judged for it either way. So for the foreseeable future, my razor is down and my epilator has been put away – hopefully for a very long time.

Despair

“Blurred Lines”: The Gender Politics of Romance

Now that the dust has settled, the roses have died, the cards are in the (recycling) bin, the chocolates have been eaten, and the commercial song and dance has been made, it’s time to sit and reflect on that day of love and gift giving (with not quite with the same merriment as Christmas), that we know as Valentine’s Day. Plenty of legend surrounds the festival, including tales of secret wedding ceremonies, cherubs and baby cupid, and of course execution. However, whatever the true history behind the day, somewhere along the way the appending traditions have become deeply gendered, with the onus of making the day magical more often that not falling on the shoulders of one party. When and how did this happen? Has the romantic become the political? Is Valentine’s day just another meaningless commercial holiday? Have the genders resorted to a bartering system with love as the pawn? In this article, Jesse Bernard explores all these questions and more and tells us why he is rather cynical when it comes to the gender politics of romance and the double-standard presented by occasions like Valentine’s Day. 

Although Valentine’s Day has been and gone, the discussion about gender roles in a relationship is always worthy of debate. Gender roles become much more transparent on Valentine’s Day than at any point during the calendar year but it is worth exploring it further. There are many legends surrounding the origin of St Valentine, who lends his name to the festival which falls on February 14th. I think, however, the most appropriate is the one that occurred in the 1st century AD. Valentine refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, as at the time the Roman empire had not yet fully embraced Christianity. He was imprisoned for this, and during his time in jail he healed the jailor’s daughter through prayers. Before his execution he left a note which legend has it, said ‘Your Valentine’.

The day was first romanticised by Geoffrey Chaucer and the ritual of exchanging gifts evolved in the 18th Century. Historically, the idea of Valentine’s Day sounds great and pure in thought However, I can’t help but think that what it evolved into circa 18th Century is outdated. This was a time when the affections of women were bought not with love but with social status, elevation of class and other trinkets. The very idea of falling for someone because there was an absurd chance you may love them was just that indeed, absurd. More importantly, women at the time often had very little say in the matter in regards to companionship and when they did it was most often a case of, which suitor could provide more. Still to this day, men are viewed as the hunter and women, the prey. Men must chase as many women as they can humanly possible, whilst women must make themselves approachable in case of an advance. Women on the other hand can sometimes be ostracised, often by peer groups, when they reject the advances of other men. This is must be experienced by many women as they approach their late twenties/early thirties yet they still have no desire to ‘settle down’, whatever that means. Herein lies the question for many, is marriage still the ultimate goal in life? The average of which a woman gets married increased for the first time 29.9 years in 2008 to 30 years in 2009. Now that jump may not seem huge, although it has probably increased since then, it highlights the change in attitudes. For men, the jump is considerably greater, although over a larger time period; the average age for men climbed from 25.4 in 1984 to 32.1 years in 2009. Priorities are changing for many people, marriage isn’t seen as the be all and end all of happiness, especially if you are already in a stable relationship with a partner. Not to add, that the cost of a wedding could be substituted by a deposit for a mortgage.

heart on fire

One of the many pitfalls with Valentine’s Day is that the onus is on men to make the day as memorable as possible. Interestingly enough, in same sex relationships, research by Newman and Nelson has suggested that same sex couples rebel against the heteronormative idea of Valentine’s Day and express pride in their gay identity. Whilst, I’m sure many men show their love and affection 365 days a year, it appears that there is an absolute frenzy around this one day. This is the one day where we are supposed to give that love and affection a boost and if we forget, we are committed to a sexual purgatory. So, I ask the question; do we men have to purchase gifts and trinkets in order to receive affection and sex on the day? If this is the case then many relationships are based on a bartering system. You give me gifts, I give you access to my vagina. Should it not be this; ‘I give and show my love and affection, you give and show your love and affection, then we both have intimate, passionate sex’? The concept of a sexual bartering system is intriguing in itself because it promotes the idea that sex is a commodity and in order to receive it, or give it depending on your view, you have to put something on the table. Let’s say a woman is in the ‘market’ for a man and one just happens to catch her attention. She may be unwilling to just offer sex to him without getting anything in return, which is fair enough. However, it’s not until he offers something that he may then be offered sex. The commodity that he offers could be affection, a decent conversation, financial security or just looks. Thus a transaction has been made in order to for the sex to take place. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter who offered whom sex but since women are seen as conquests, women are dealt the upper hand in this respect. In a same sex relationship, the dynamic becomes more interesting. We’ve all come across the ‘so which of you is the bloke in the relationship?’ rhetoric which is pretty boring now. I can’t speak on behalf of those in gay relationships but perhaps there is a more level playing field and it’s less about assigning gender roles and more about just being happy.

I do suspect that the pressure of Valentine’s Day has been placed at the feet of both genders; men having to declare their love in the most spectacular way and women having to offer the best sex they can find in their locker. I came across an interesting argument by Christopher Gutierrez, who wrote a book called Hard Feelings. Gutierrez questioned why sex is the pinnacle of the demonstration of love. I’m inclined to agree with him, sex isn’t necessarily that difficult to get, in theory of course, so why is it the ultimate peak? Personally, if the greatest way of showing someone that I love them is by having sex with them, I don’t want a part of it, love that is. It’s a wide known fact that statistically men are more likely to spend more on women than vice versa on Valentine’s Day. In 2013, the average spend for a man on Valentine’s Day was £39.57 and £22.64 for a woman. The research also suggested that men would spend £623m compared to women only spending £55m. I can hazard a guess that in regard to courting, traditionally the man is supposed to spend more in order to win/keep the affection of the woman. I was in a card shop on the 13th as a colleague was buying a card for his loved one and the queue of men buying cards was comical. What would’ve happened had they all decided to pack it in and just forget about buying a card? What does a card even mean? It’s like that scene in (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character has a breakdown and rants on about how card companies have taken the ability to convey feelings away from everyday people. Perhaps I’m being cynical but I feel that if we are to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there is much more to it than a ‘I Love You’ card, roses and some chocolates. I’m not saying there needs to be some extravagant declaration because some women just don’t like that. However, since we’re living in a world where gender equality is becoming increasingly important, then perhaps women as well should be declaring their love in extravagant ways that doesn’t involve sex.

Despair. Hands on Head

I do like the ancient legend surrounding St Valentine as it encapsulates what the day should be about. However, I feel that got lost along the way in the patriarchy of times when men were taught to chase and women to eventually submit. I would like to say times are changing for the better but with login I make on Twitter, I notice that not a huge amount has changed.

 

Further reading:

Wallop, H. (2011). Average age for women to marry hits 30 for first time. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8415852/Average-age-for-women-to-marry-hits-30-for-first-time.html

Ama, S. (2013). Valentines spend nearly £1bn on gifts and going out. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/9865114/Valentines-spend-nearly-1bn-on-gifts-and-going-out.html

Newman, P. J., & Nelson, M. R. (1996). Mainstream legitimization of homosexual men through Valentine’s Day gift-giving and consumption rituals. Journal of Homosexuality, 31, 57-69.

 

X_Fly girlz TLC Forever

FEATURE: ‘A Fly Girl’s Handbook to Life’, Part 1

As February draws to a close and we enter March, it looks like Feminist activity is heating up. Lots of events are on their way, including International Women’s Day on March 8th 2014. A number of conferences and workshops will be attended and all in all, gender politics will continue to take centre stage. True to form, we here at NFotW could not be left behind, so to celebrare Feminist March, we’re running a new three part series, inspired by a workshop we ran at the very first annual Girls’ Conference at Highbury Grove School on February 13th 2014. It was certainly the first event of its kind in any UK school and left a tremendous impact on our editors. During the event, we explored everything from self-esteem, visibility and invisibility, to building a sisterhood and making an impact despite the obstacles we might face along the way.

X_Highbury Grove

After mulling things over and much reflection post-conference, we’ve decided to start the series with some advice from us, the NFotW team – the sort of advice our fifteen year old selves could have done with hearing (all those years ago!). So kick back, read on, and get to know us a little bit better… 

Some wisdom from Naomi Maxwell on Self-love:

Self-love and self-respect must come first always. Learning their value can be an arduous process, so do yourself a favour and listen to older friends and siblings. A lot of people act out and when they reminisce, they see their own fragility, hurt, naivety and helplessness. OWNING your self-worth, knowing that you are valuable and important and absolutely amazing, means that there will be certain things that you won’t stand for, so you need never feel pressure to compromise or suffer these things. Knowing your self-worth means you can feel comfortable in your own skin, and do things in confidence, making you a true force to be reckoned with.

X_Naomi Maxwell_No Fly on the WALL for Team Fierce Advisory Gang

Sound advice from Precious Oyelade on Relationships:
Take YOUR time. Romance, that whimsical concept. Something we hear so much about and have so much to learn at 15 or even 50. There is no need to rush. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, as you get older it doesn’t necessarily get easier but it may become clearer. You will never evolve in a relationship faster than you are ready for. So don’t pine after any relationship that is not your own.  And if you are not in one, don’t worry. Take time to get to know YOU. That way when the time comes, it’ll be so easy to add someone else to the mix who thinks you’re just as special as you already know you are!
X_Precious Oyelade_No Fly on the WALL for Team Fierce Advisory Gang
And finally…
Siana Bangura speaks from experience and shares a few words on being ‘different':
Everybody else has been taken so work with what YOU have. You don’t learn this until you get a bit older but your biggest competition should always be yourself. We are all a work in progress. It’s okay to stand out in the crowd and not be ‘like the other girls’. So they’re rocking the ‘in’ thing – be that a hairstyle, or a pair of shoes, an item of clothing, a bag or another type of accessory – and you’re not. They’re going out to clubs with the fake ID and you’re at home watching your TV with the folks. That’s okay. All girls aren’t the same. Some like boys and maybe you like girls… or you don’t like anybody at all and the idea of sex frightens you or freaks you out. None of that is ‘abnormal’ or ‘weird’. You like heavy metal instead of slow jamz, and perhaps your breasts are taking their time to arrive; or maybe you’ve developed faster than your friends and you feel like the awkward girl. Maybe you don’t want to shave your underarms or bikini line. Guess what? That’s your lane. Drive in it. Don’t be ashamed of who you are because there will always be people out there who love that you are ‘different’ or unique. But before anybody else can celebrate you, you must give yourself a standing ovation. And remember this: In YOUR skin, you will ALWAYS win.
X_Siana Bangura_No Fly on the WALL for Team Fierce Advisory Gang
Grey Matters

FEATURE: ‘Grey Matters’

In a bid to break the silence surrounding mental illness in Cambridge, Ifeyinwa Frederick and Josh Simons have decided to put the topic at the heart of their new immersive theatre production, Grey Matters. For the first time, mental illness will take centre stage in a student production at the prestigious university and as opening night fast approaches, we had the honour of catching up with the play’s co-director Ifeyinwa – despite her hectic schedule – and find out more about why Grey Matters is not to be missed.

Siana (NFotW): So Ifey, tell us why you decided to embark on such a challenge and put this play on.

Ifey (Grey Matters): I didn’t know exactly how it would happen but I decided in Easter Term of last year that I wanted to put on a play that addressed the issue of mental illness. It stemmed from my frustration over the fact that a significant number of people I knew at Cambridge had suffered from or were experiencing a mental health problem and yet mental health, whether good or bad, is rarely given the attention it deserves in the university. It can be difficult enough to live with a mental illness but the situation is made worse by the stigma attached to it and I think the silence around the topic only adds to that stigma. I wanted to put on a play to break the silence.

Siana: The concept is very interesting – why the multi-room experience? What does it signify?

Ifey: After conducting all the interviews, we realised just how powerful the stories we had were, and we wanted to share as many of them as possible. By abandoning the traditional play format we have been able to tell more stories and communicate them in a number of different ways. By spreading the show over three rooms and using immersive theatre we are better able to convey the complexities and nuances of mental health than a standard play format allowed us to do.

[In a previous interview, co-director Josh Simons also explains how the show came to form its current shape: “From conducting engaging and moving interviews, Grey Matters has come a long way. We wanted to produce a piece of theatre that tried to convey all the nuances of mental health, without simply creating a play about mental health. This is why I suggested immersive theatre. It's a form that allows the audience to be taken on a journey, with all the confusions and complexities that come with understanding mental health. We hope that whatever journey the audience is taken on, they will be entertained, engaged as well as challenged.”]

Siana: How did you find the experience of conducting interviews with sufferers of mental health issues? Do the interviews form the entire body of the play?

Ifey:  It was definitely sobering at times but it was encouraging to see how many people were willing to talk about their illness. It definitely wasn’t bleak all the time. There was a lot of laughter in some interviews and people commented on some of the good experiences they’d had because of their illness. Something that people might find surprising is that most interviewees said that despite the challenges they’ve faced they wouldn’t change themselves. The whole production is inspired by the interviews but different elements of the show rely on them more heavily than others.

Siana: What do you want each audience member to take home from the experience?

Ifey: There will be a variety of experiences. Two people can have the same mental illness but both relate to it differently. Whilst some may think it is convenient to think of people with mental illnesses as a homogeneous group, more often than not it is damaging to do so.

Set in an old, abandoned theatre over three rooms in King’s College, this immersive theatre project tackles mental illness in an unusual fashion. Based on in-depth interviews of individuals about their experiences, a variety of media has been used to interweave these accounts into each part of the audience’s journey.

Thought-provoking and entertaining, Grey Matters is an innovative piece of theatre, which is not to be missed. Opening night is tomorrow and the production will run from the 22nd to the 24th of February 2014. The experience begins in Chetywnd Room, King’s College and showings are at 19.00, 19.50, and 20.35 EVERY NIGHT.

Get your tickets here at ADC Ticketing.

Credits:

Concept: Josh Simons, Ifeyinwa Frederick
Writers: Poppy Damon, Alex O’ Bryan Tear, Josh Simons
Directors: Josh Simons, Alex O’ Bryan Tear, Ifeyinwa Frederick
Producers: Rikki Wolkind, Nikita Simpson, Ollie Imray, Cate Cameron
Design: Madeline Dunnigan, Tyro Heath, Bronya Meredith
Character inspiration: Ellen Robertson, Hellie Craney

 

Conference: The Oppression and Resilience of Women

NoFlyontheWALL:

So our Editor-in-Chief will be speaking at The Lawyer’s Secular Society annual conference to celebrate International Women’s Day. The event will take place at Conway Hall on Saturday 15th March 2014 and is FREE to all. The theme of the conference will be ‘The Oppression and Resilience of Women.’

Originally posted on Lawyers' Secular Society:

The LSS is delighted to support a fantastic event at Conway Hall, London on Saturday 15 March 2014 (International Women’s Day) called “The Oppression and Resilience of Women”.

The event is organised by Central London Humanists, Conway Hall Ethical Society and the National Secular Society, and it will celebrate women’s achievements in the arts, science and politics.

These are the speakers:

View original 50 more words

Bend it like Beckham - celebration!

‘Bend It Like Beckham': Does Women’s Football Need a David Beckham?

As news of Iran’s gender testing laws for women in football surface, and football season gets back into full swing internationally, the discussion surrounding women’s presence in the sport finds its way back to the fore. A sports enthusiast and a self-proclaimed ‘avid Arsenal fan’ herself, Kadie Kposowa makes her debut to the No Fly on the WALL blog by asking us whether or not Women’s football needs its own David Beckham-like figure to garner the respect it truly deserves. Read on and see what she has to say.

Ask even the most avid hater of football to name you any football player and nine times out of ten his name will pass their lips. He’s that guy with the hairstyles, he’s married to that Spice Girl, he’s that guy with all those tattoos and he’s that guy who’s done ALL those adverts. Earning an estimated £43million from endorsements alone, David Beckham is the most recognised and therefore most marketable football player of all time. From shirt sales to Sharpies, from Armani to Adidas and even his own perfume range, he has become probably the single most powerful ambassador for football globally. Everywhere he has gone has seen a surge in football coverage. Of course, being so famous meant he became recognised for more than his footballing ability, but in this day and age publicity is publicity and football thrives off it – on and off the pitch.

Now, if I were to ask the most avid football fan to name me women’s ‘answer’ to David Beckham, I can guarantee that they would be hard pressed to pick someone. There is Birgit Prinz, Mia Hamm and of course, Marta Vieira da Silva but at the end of the day there is no one quite on Beckham’s level in terms of representing the sport. Nevertheless, on football fields across the planet, boys and girls declare they want to be just like David Beckham or Ronaldo, or Zidane and Pele. I find it sad that girls don’t grow up with female footballing icons the way boys do. There are women’s leagues but the coverage in comparison to men’s football is nearly zero. In Britain girls are more encouraged to compete in individual sports, such as tennis or athletics rather than team sports such as football and rugby, most likely because of lack of money.  When I was younger, and indeed it is still an ideal career for me, I aspired to become a professional footballer. I was met with unconditional support from my father and with derision from my mother, who asked me to name a rich and famous footballer. Inevitably I had no answer, and so my dreams of stardom were suppressed. Primary school teachers were both impressed by my ability, and quick to push me into something else, insisting I wouldn’t get far before realising it was ‘pointless’.

In 2007, Wimbledon changed its rules and now awards the same amount of money to both Women’s and Men’s Singles champions, despite the fact that women spend less time on the court due to playing only three sets per match compared to men playing five. Because of the physical differences between men and women, it was decided that men should play for the best of five sets, meaning their tennis matches can potentially go on for hours on end. Ironically, there have been many complaints from male tennis players arguing that, per hour, women get paid more and in trying to even out the game, Wimbledon has completely flipped the game and given women an edge.

No such progress has been made in football. I personally discovered for myself, after attending trials that women footballers usually take up second jobs in order to supplement their careers. The average earning per annum for a professional male footballer in the Premier League is £676,000 while their female counterparts would be ‘doing well’ to see £18,000. Unbelievably, even a semi-professional male footballer would earn roughly £25,000, and he wouldn’t even be of the same calibre of a female professional. Of course, depending on the position you play, you will earn more or less than the average figure. For the same work rate, for the same job, regardless of performance, a female professional footballer earns less than 3% of the salary taken by her male equivalent. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, earns something in the region of £200,000 a week. If I were to think of a female equivalent to him in terms of ability, Marta Vieira da Silva springs to mind. She is the most decorated female footballer of all time, winning the FIFA World Player of the Year award consecutively for five years. While she earns £875,000 a year, Ronaldo earns about £8million a year, even though you could easily say they are equally matched in terms of skill and finesse. The inequality is simply beyond belief.

In order to understand such staggering statistics and why women’s football is so poorly invested in, it is necessary to acknowledge that women have only very recently been recognised as professional footballers.  Initially in the 1920s women’s football had a large audience but this diminished when the FA banned women’s teams from playing at the grounds of their member clubs. The ban was lifted in 1971 which saw a much slower rise in interest in the game. England’s most successful women’s team, Arsenal Ladies, was only formed in 1987. Manchester United, one of the juggernauts of modern football, does not even have a women’s team. A petition has been started asking them to create one, which you can sign here. It is unbelievable that a club of Manchester United’s stature has failed to establish a ladies team but it sadly reflects the attitude many people have to women’s football. Some say it’s boring, some say they watch women’s sports to watch breasts move around beneath shirts (!), and others just insist all female footballers are butch lesbians (!). Potential sponsors are discouraged by the non-existent women’s football fan base; whereas footballers like David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo could sign sponsorship deals safe in the knowledge that this income won’t be snatched from them because of silly reasons such as, ‘there’s just no money in it’.   This lack of interest from a wider audience deters investors and means the FA can avoid any debate on developing the sport at all levels. At the end of the day, it is simple ‘supply and demand’: there is nowhere near enough demand for women’s football, but until recently it seemed there was no one, bar actual players and managers, willing to build up a reputation for the sport.

I was once told by a teacher at school that if I truly wanted to become a professional footballer, I would have to consider moving to America or Germany, where women’s football is a much bigger part of the sport and widely acknowledged and respected. Sporting opportunities are much more advantageous in America because unlike in Britain, America has created a seamless culture of merging sport with education. For example, if a student discovers a niche in “soccer”, they can train, play in games and compete in tournaments with the only requirement being they achieve certain grades by the time they leave college. If they do not maintain said grades throughout school, they are dropped from the team. Britain’s education system does not accommodate for sport as it is, regardless of gender. More often than not, in order to pursue sport seriously, a student has to make the time for this outside of school, as a parallel interest. Ignoring extreme headlines, America appears to have a less conservative society than our own and while you do get the inevitable chauvinist sect, their culture means women are seen as ‘plain’ for not taking an interest in something outside education. Part of the American dream, of course, is that gender cannot and should not restrict a woman from being on the same platform as men around her, and this attitude means it is miles ahead of Britain in terms of promoting women’s football.

I initially asked whether women’s football needed a ‘David Beckham’ – a walking brand and ambassador who could take women’s football to the masses, but I feel I might be coming to the conclusion that the environment in which she could carry the torch for women does not even exist yet. Perhaps I was being subconsciously sexist myself in demanding a David Beckham. Maybe women’s football needs a Billie Jean King.

 

Feminist Killjoy

Feminist Killjoys, Safe Spaces and Futures

In the first post of our BIG return, we dive straight in and tackle the image of Feminists as ‘killjoys’. Blogger, writer, Feminist, and founder of The Body Narratives, Hana Riaz kicks things off with a discussion about the effects of mainstream representation of women who subscribe to Feminism; misread notions of what Feminism is and who it is for; the significance of Women of Colour within the movement (and on its periphery); and the effects of deviating from ‘the norm’. She shares why ‘safe’ spaces are key for our development as women sure of our own identity, and explores why the killjoy is ultimately at the helm of the social change we seek. 

The feminist in mainstream and popular culture particularly in the West has come to be depicted as the killjoy. In establishing equal rights, they forgot to jump off the bandwagon that reached its final destination maybe sometime in the 80s. This we know because the era of women’s liberation is in full fruition, a time where a few (rich White) women have the privilege of sharing the corporate table with their male counterparts, can willingly become thonged-out video vixens or in Kim Kardashian’s case be the ‘beautiful talent’ that profits from the continued consumption of women as objects. More importantly, we can have it all – jobs, families, plastic surgery to stay forever young (no matter how classed, raced, and imperial this assumption is). Those damned feminists, quite frankly, have nothing real to complain about and spend their lives dampening the mood of those around them, killing the joy and the jokes that keep mild everyday misogyny playful (not harmful). But where anti-feminism is rife and cool, the feminist is whittled down to an inescapable melancholia.

One of the most misrepresented notions of feminism is that it is an ideology. It is not. Feminism – the feminism to which I refer is that of Women of Colour/third world/subaltern feminisms – offer a praxis: a set of tools and resources to critically engage, deconstruct and reimagine the world. These feminisms in particular, have been informed by lived experiences, by the activism that has driven the bid for equality and justice globally. It does not offer up a definitive view or perspective of the world other than the ending of systems of domination. bell hooks in Feminism is for Everybody for example states that feminism “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Instead feminism presents a series of points of departure, questions even that seek to identify how we really challenge systemic inequality and what the world might look like after. The gap between thought, imagination and real life is closed in this space, and no area off limits. Writers such as bell hooks, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Chandra Mohanty, and Gloria Anzaldúa (amongst others) have produced work that accounts for systems of domination such as slavery, immigration, prison-military-industrial complexes, and war to wellbeing, trauma, healing and love. The feminist praxis is a holistic one – our beings, our bodies, our lives irrefutably interconnected with the world around us, the personal always political.

But with this, perhaps, a real sense of melancholia does accompany the decision to break free and break into a decolonised new. When you dedicate yourself to doing this work, exorcising what and how we think we know, the world you so intimately cling to, the foundations you were born into, slip away. It becomes an excavation and in the process you lay to rest the things that may have defined you or those around you. Everything becomes much more stark, indivisible, you make an agency orientated choice to wholeheartedly commit to the possibility of a world free from –isms and in that is a personal price to pay.

The feminist killjoy in the popular imaginary is the bra-burning woman who refuses to shave her legs in order to stick it to the man and is most likely a lesbian. In reality, she is someone in fact who interrupts socially constructed notions of happiness, moments that are otherwise steeped in uncritical acceptance. In calling out oppressions and resisting them, her “failure to be happy is read as sabotaging the happiness of others” (Ahmed, 2010a). Furthermore, it’s not just about ‘feelings’, it is about particular types of bodies that disrupt and subvert, and about which bodies obstruct both literally and symbolically the happiness that others wilfully receive as a consequence of inequality and oppression.

Sara Ahmed in The Promise of Happiness (2010) speaks about the ways in which women, in particular, are punished for their deviation and rewarded for staying in line. In referring to Bend It Like Beckham where Jess is punished by her family for playing football, her individual happiness is secured by conforming to heterosexist nationalist desires through a white man: “the narrative of bending the rules of femininity involves a straightening device… narratives of rebellion can involve deviations from the straight line if they return us to this point” (p145). For the feminist, however, there is no line to return to, it is a full deviation and in exchange she is awarded the punishment of melancholia where “what is lost is withdrawn from consciousness…. The object of loss for melancholics is missing; they do not know what they are missing” (p140).

For a long time I felt this severance and disjunction, a type of strange nostalgia that I could identify but did not necessarily desire. As a queer Woman of Colour and feminist, my world unravelled and I was forced to interrogate and leave age-old, familiar, embodied like things behind. Islam and even my South Asianness fell under the microscope, a dismantling of sorts in order to fully decolonise. The world as I knew it no longer looked the same. Sometimes, it took the form of coming to terms that there would be little to reconcile in certain personal relationships because I could not concede to the demands patriarchy would require to maintain them. It was being deeply hurt when men in the communities I identified as part of would rarely ‘show up’ in the face of the violence (often physical) that Women of Colour or LGBT folk around me faced daily. It was no longer being able to laugh at the jokes I knew were a stone throw away from being real violences. I felt helpless and isolated in the face of attempting to love, of wanting a world where those on the margins are recognised as fully human.

Naturally, I began to retreat from white spaces and heteronormative spaces in search of safe ones. The alternatives did not require me to compromise; some of these organising spaces and others as simple as personal relationships. Last week I ventured out to a Black Queer event on visibility and voice only to find a room in which white privilege (and white male privilege in particular) continued its usual silencing, of speaking over, on behalf of and at Black folk. I left with a migraine. I also was afforded the joys of hearing Angela Davis speak, a woman who needs no introduction, only to witness again the ways in which her presence, voice and work as a Black woman academic had to be legitimated by two rich, white men. Upon leaving the event, after sharing that anger and frustration with the black and brown women around me, a group of young Women of Colour feminists plastered a poster to the wall voicing the same sentiments. There was closeness in that presence of one another.

It’s not that the need for safe spaces is a desire for exclusivity to massage egos and affirm a particular world view, it is a desire to be fully present in entirety, to be in spaces that go beyond the bickering of whether x, y or z exists, that don’t operate on silencing, of being able to do the work that is being done. It is also a desire to be able to love and be loved, to find a community of possibility, of connection based on value, resistance and work. It is making space for new kinds of de-colonial desires that are unable to be fulfilled elsewhere, particularly where desire is reduced to a consumable, individual happiness as opposed to a spectrum of continuity and fulfilment not always directly related to happiness as an object. It has also been learning not to take myself so seriously, to experience joy in frivolousness without surrendering my convictions, to be able to celebrate small mercies and take people as whole and flawed.  It is far from being comfortable, it is constantly being challenged to grow and build as a person that is accountable and responsible. It is living in compassion.

The feminist killjoy need not be apologetic. It is part liberation/part punishment, the melancholy part loss/part hope. I now claim my feminist killjoyness with less guilt or shame, they come at the helm where I make major personal life style changes in order to do the work I wholeheartedly stand by in resistance. I am at my best when I am around people that inspire me to do and be better within and outside of myself. As small as that pool may be, it carries with it depth and weight to carry on, to continue to do meaningful work, to live with full purpose and belonging. The joy experienced there, in and amongst these Others, is something I wouldn’t change for the life of me. There is no going back, only a future I now have the audacity to dream up.