Inalienable, intersectional, international human rights. Do we ALL have them yet? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. This year, Human Rights Day begins a year-long campaign to mark its 70th anniversary.
We’ve come a long way, but we’ve a way to go yet as injustices on individual, group, and national, scales persist.
“Many leading nations treat it as a pick-n-mix document, usually ignoring the principles against torture or discrimination on grounds of sex or sexuality.” IHRD 2015
70 years – three score and ten (Psalm 90:10), was the life expectancy of some in 1948, six years fewer if you were black. As we approach 2018 many don’t reach 70 in areas stricken by poverty, famine, war, terror, femicide, homicide, mental and physical health issues, and countless other societal obstacles to living out free, equal, healthy lives.
Categorisation, Class & Checkbox
Instead of celebrating equality and diversity we are still categorising and stereotyping each other by those age-old categories of sex, class, colour, race, religion, sexuality and more. Despite the proclamation of the UDHR:
“…inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being — regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” – United Nations
Our focus, to this day, remains bitterly embroiled in judging and discriminating based upon whether a person is male or female (not to mention intersex or trans), white or black, rich or poor, Rohingya or Buddhist (yes there’s such as thing as “ultra-nationalist Buddhists”), Jew or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Tory or Labour, gay or straight, Celtic or Rangers, City or United…and so on.
Instead of seeing the human being before us with their unique experiences, journey, and personality, we immediately box people up and reduce them to a category, a caste, a label, a limiter.
Whilst JFK said that “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one are threatened”, Audre Lorde, echoed with something similar:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde
No two men or women live identical lives, again Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
They are called Human Rights because they are based upon our common humanity, not because of our sex, class, race etc but irrespective of them. Respect is due our humanity – that which unites us, not that which divides us.
Any movement that claims to be a movement of justice and liberation and yet commits oppression of, for example, Rohingya, Palestinians, Yazidi, Kurds, young women and girls, trans and many other minority or disadvantaged groups needs to think about its actions and motivations.
In 2012, Aamna Mohdin of Queen Mary’s College London, Feminist Society described “Transphobia [as] the great shame of modern feminism”. She went on:
“We cannot—as a progressive community—rally around notions of “progression” and, yet, be complicit in the very homophobia, racism and sexism that violently terrorises the lives of so many others. We need to create a movement where interconnectedness and unity is our priority. Intersectionality is not an option…You must commit to being intersectional in your thinking, your actions, all the time.” – Aamna Mohdin
We are not free and equal, until we all are. Doing nothing is not an option either, it allows oppression to persist. Wherever injustice is happening, to whomever it is being done, that is where we must be, if not in person, then on social media, in correspondence to embassies, and in protests and rallies of solidarity.
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” – Elie Wiesel
Intersectionality is not optional, it is essential.
Inaction is not an option. We must act for all.
Every 27 hours a trans person is murdered, over 2,600 the last 10 years – that we know about. A number that is rising annually and particularly affects those in the Americas but also in nearly 70 other countries around the world.
Whilst nobody in the UK was knowingly killed this year, nonetheless, Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall described Britain today as “at an absolute crisis point in how it treats trans people”, in no small part down to media attention.
“Britain is no longer considered a safe part of the world for trans people to live in…It should be considered a national embarrassment that this is where we now are as a nation.” – Ruth Hunt, Stonewall
Trans women of colour are the most likely to be killed of all transgender people. Instead of horrific headlines of transphobic killings it would be great to see more like this one, celebrating the political victory of poet, activist and social historian, Andrea Jenkin, winning a seat on Minneapolis City Council:
Andrea Jenkins makes history as first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in US – The Independent
But today, trans people are in the news for the shocking recurrence of their frequent murders. It seems recently, however, that they’ve been in the news every day. Frequently, there are 2-3 trans questioning or outright transphobic articles in The Times alone, not to mention other papers daily, and continuous TV and Radio programmes to boot.
Trans people’s lives are already under a microscope as part of their transition pathway, but to be so in the media spotlight too puts their private and social lives up for involuntary discussion and invasive dissection.
Lucy Meadows took her own life in 2013 in strong part due to “the toll the press was taking on her mental health”, says her former partner. “The media later claimed, [that] by putting out an “official” letter, the school [where she taught] had “officially” placed Lucy’s transition in the domain of public interest.”
A Day of Statistics, Sadness & Solidarity
Instead of the prurient public interest being in trans ‘sex changes’, former lives, and scaremongering fears of ‘sex pest perverts’, the media should be concerned about the levels of abuse, bullying, murder and suicide that so blight trans lives.
Last year, saw 295 trans and gender-diverse persons added to the list of those killed for being trans. This year that number is 325, up 10%. It went up 9% in 2015-2016 too. Improved news monitoring could account for it but hate and visibility are also on the rise.
“These figures only show the tip of the iceberg of homicides of trans and gender-diverse people on a worldwide scale.”
The majority of the murders occurred in Brazil (171 up 48 or 40% from the previous year), Mexico (56 up from 52), and the United States (25 up from 23), adding up to a total of 2,609 reported cases in 71 countries worldwide between 1st of January 2008 and 30th of September 2017.
5 trans people were killed in Europe (down 50%)
25 in the USA (11x more likely than in Europe)
53 in Mexico (50x more likely)
171 in Brazil (120x more likely)
You are 25x more at risk in the US than in India but 7.5x more at risk in Pakistan than India. For all its talk of being the “land of the free” you are just as likely to be killed (in the street, or your home, etc) for being trans in America as in Saudi Arabia! (More data)
Hate crimes against trans people in America were up 44% in 2016, according to FBI data.
“Since the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, there has been a notable increase in the vitriol and anti-transgender rhetoric — from the top levels of government down through the rest of American society.” – HRC Report
The majority of murders were of trans women (80% in the US)
62% were sex workers (4% were hairdressers & 2% artists)
69% of the reported murder victims in W.Europe were migrants
86% of the victims in the US were people of colour and/or Native American
In many countries, trans and gender non-conforming people live riskier lives, not by choice, but usually as a last resort due to the oppression, rejection and lack of rights within their cultures and societies. Many struggle to find work to survive, let alone to transition, and resort to sex work and/or flee their countries as migrants. Either or both of these paths putting them into the line of fire of greater exploitation and risk.
These numbers do not include suicides, the countless thousands who take their own lives – around 40% try, twice as many consider it. Sometimes it is the result of an attack:
Today I think about my smart, beautiful, open hearted friend Sarah. She was a courageous woman who fought every day for a more equal kind world. After a brutal attack ripped her of her dignity she took her own life, today we light candles but everyday we must love harder #TDOR
These numbers barely scratch the surface of the actual violence trans people experience, as much goes unrecorded, or cause/status unknown. Many countries don’t mention trans status in reports of violent death or in their internal statistics – particularly in anti-LGBT regimes and regions. Again, many may be killed in their acquired gender but the death not be because of it, of their pre-transition life simply not known about.
In addition to violent deaths, 1-in-2 trans people experience domestic abuse and/or sexual violence (DASV). Trans men and women alike often suffer in silence and fear that shelters and services won’t be there for them.
81% of trans people have suffered physical and/or verbal abuse.
Are they not women if people and society perceive them as such and treat them equally badly?
Yes, their social and biological experience when growing up is not that of natal women but many in medicine now recognise a biological rather than purely psychological basis for the origins of gender dysphoria.
“Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.” – The Endocrine Society
How then can some in society – conservative religions, some feminists, right-wing journalists, think that being trans male or female is something that we can fight against?
The personal is political and it’s hard to avoid the political, for murder is as personal as it gets. The irony that this was a rallying cry of late 1960s/70s Second Wave Feminism and yet is also the lived and embodied risk of being trans is not lost on me. Women regularly experience sexism and discrimination because of their sex. Black women even more so, adding racism to the crimes against their person.
The majority of feminists recognise the intersections between sex, sexuality and colour, not to mention class. Again, most modern and particularly young student feminists recognise the further intersection with gender identity. A few do not, and instead regard trans women as a threat to gendered spaces and trans men as traitors erasing butch lesbianism.
The conflation of sex with gender and/or sexuality is an issue needing better education to better understand people’s authentic ‘born this way’ identities.
Don’t scapegoat us as perverts and rapists. Don’t harm us and kill us. Instead, be allies, support us to be ourselves, and let’s bring these murder, abuse, and suicide rates down next year!
What can we do?
We need to:
end discrimination at work, in training and employment opportunities
provide decent healthcare
create healthy environments at school to explore identity and expression
recognise that Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence happen to trans women and men too, at the hands of cisgendered men and women
ensure prejudice is rooted out of criminal justice and police systems
provide legal protections against online and offline hate
end the language of violence* and exclusion between TERFs, as well as other vociferous transphobes, and Trans
develop positive dialogues rather than debate our right to exist
foster greater unity with allies of the wider LGBT+ and feminist communities
[*I denounce all #punchaFemiNazi, #punchaTERF, #punchaTranny memes and tweets, because no form of violence, real or humorous should be being encouraged.]
TDOR remembrance meetups were held around the UK including London, Liverpool, Brighton, and Norwich, as well as around the world including Paris and New York and dozens of other locations.
Norwich, my adopted home city held two TDOR events, one at the UEA attended by over 80 people (Concrete Online report), and another outside the Forum, with 40-50 people including the Lord Mayor and representatives of the CofE clergy. Speakers included me (Katy Jon Went) using the text above, Evie Thomas of UEA, and poetry read by Sarah Corke and Poppy Rose.
I was most impressed by the number of allies that attended, showing that society and Norwich in particularly is openminded and accepting in the main, and supports the rights, lives and wellbeing of trans and gender non-conforming people, despite media articles to the contrary.
It’s a generation since the death of author, feminist, and existentialist, Simone de Beauvoir on 14 April 1986. A lover of Sartre – in both senses of the word, she was a sexually liberated bisexual whose disregard for sexual convention – including age of consent laws, caused her to lose her right to teach in France. Her 1949 defining work on the oppression of women, Le Deuxième Sexe – “The Second Sex“, is widely considered a groundbreaking treatise on sex and gender for 20th-century feminism.
As to her sexual liberation, her “erotic liberty“, and open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, she saw any sexual categorisation as restrictive:
“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.” – Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir Quotes
I recently quoted, knowingly totally out of context, this from de Beauvoir:
“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”
I was quite promptly, and perhaps rightly, accused of ‘quote mining’. Contextomy or the unjustified use of an uprooted, and in this case anachronous, quote, to prove a point it was never intended to address, is a fair criticism.
My use of the quote was because it resonated with the idea that people can be born female, raised a girl, but become a woman. A woman is as much experience, as nature. I’m not jumping in and suggesting, for example, that post-operative trans women are thus women, the same as those who were born with a uterus and raised as girls. Indeed, is anyone any less of a woman after uterine cancer (affecting 8,500 women in the UK a year) and removal of the womb via hysterectomy? Similarly, women can have various difficulties in reproduction due to infertility, or any number of intersex medical differences that may cause an XX or indeed other chromosomal combination such as XXY etc to present a body that defies the defined binary female stereotype. Women should not be defined by their ability to procreate and bear children – that much I am sure de Beauvoir would agree with.
My question is, though, whether de Beauvoir would have condemned or supported the rights of some to pursue a gender trajectory that more matches their inner feelings and psyche than their binary-born bodies. In other words, transgender, non-binary and other forms of gender fluidity or transition.
Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, Femininity, the Other, and maybe a Third Sex
So to add insult to injury, to compound my contextomy crime, here are some further Beauvoirisms that might shed light on what might have been her attitude to “The Third Sex”. A phrase which I use, advisedly, for the main purpose of echoing her “Second Sex”, rather than for the purpose of defining all trans and/or gender non-conforming people as a “Third Sex” even though that is a way which some, especially in Asian and Indian cultures, do define.
Does ‘Woman’ even exist?
Beauvoir existentially questioned whether woman would always exist, suggesting that ‘she’ is an ephemeral concept ,driven by culture and construct as much as conception:
“Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: ‘Even in Russia women still are women’; and other erudite persons – sometimes the very same – say with a sigh: ‘Woman is losing her way, woman is lost.’ One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
One can be female but not a woman
As to femininity, she saw it as something esoteric, and that female ≠ woman ≠ femininity:
“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
If female equals the “female of the species” reproductively, and feminine a cultural construct if not oppression, then woman need not be feminine and feminism a path to throwing off that oppression. But does ‘woman’ need to be female? If one can be female but not a woman, can one be woman but not a female?
What is woman?
If much previous philosophical, and biblical-theological enquiry, stemmed around “What is man?” and the nature of man, then de Beauvoir helpfully examines, what is woman:
If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?
Yet would it not be more helpful to discuss what it means to be human, or are we still stuck seeing woman as something less than a man, and hence neither equal nor fully human since, as in the Bible, Adam stands for man and humankind as the first point of reference?
“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
On BBC Woman’s Hour today, British Army Captain Rosie Hamilton was interviewed about how female recruits are trained, but it was then made all about how many of them made the ‘male’ standard.
Woman as the ‘Other’
Beauvoir rebelled against the patriarchal concept that man is human and woman is defined only in relation to being man’s so-called opposite pole, that she is ‘othered’ in reference to him. Not that we have achieved gender parity yet, but I wonder how she would see trans, non-binary, intersex people now, as perhaps the new (however ancient a group of people they are) ‘other’?
“No subject will readily volunteer to become the object, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed as such by the One in defining himself as the One.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
Trans, Non-Binary and Intersex people are ‘othered’ by the default biologically and socially essentialist binary. In the same way, de Beauvoir saw woman as othered by man. Thus, gender non-conforming people, whether assigned male or female at birth, should have some solidarity with the feminist struggle to assert the equality of women with men, and their common core identity as human beings absolutely, not relatively. Sadly, that is not always the case and some folk do not see a common struggle between feminism and gender identity. As de Beauvoir said:
“Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
Some radical feminists, such as Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffries and others, are well known for exclusionary attitudes to trans people. Indeed, de Beauvoir others intersex people, formerly termed ‘hermaphrodite’, in her seeking to find an independent voice on ‘what is woman?’:
“What we need is an angel – neither man nor woman – but where shall we find one? Still, the angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem. With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)
In a 1976 interview, when asked about excluding men from some aspects of the feminist struggle and female gatherings, she opined that sometimes it was necessary. So she may have argued against the full and unfettered access of some transwomen (e.g., pre-operative) to women-only safe spaces. She did also say, however:
“The battle of the sexes is not implicit in the anatomy of man and woman.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
Similarly, she spoke of some lesbian women, in particular, being male-exclusionary:
“There are other women who have become lesbian out of a sort of political commitment: that is, they feel that it is a political act to be lesbian, the equivalent somewhat within the sex struggle of the black power advocates within the racial struggle. And, true, these women tend to be more dogmatic about the exclusion of men from their struggle.” – interview (1976)
Anyone, who is oppressed has the right to gather in safe spaces – whether other oppressed minorities should have rights of access to the safe spaces of other groups who have been ‘othered’ is another matter. That siad, shared oppression is sometimes more important than shared hormones.
“Woman is determined not by her hormones or by mysterious instincts, but by the manner in which her body and her relation to the world are modified through the action of others than herself.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
It was Audre Lorde that said, whilst “any woman is not free”, then “no woman is”. Being the one oppressed is sadly part of a common humanity, and a common responsibility:
“Each of us is responsible – to every human being.” – Simone de Beauvoir
In some matters, if not most – except the most basic biological differences, “men and women” and anyone that is defined or identified outside that binary need to” unequivocally affirm their brotherhood”, as de Beauvoir concluded in The Second Sex.
So, could every Human be a Woman?
“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.”
Beauvoir speaks of every human being, every human life, less of the categorisation that in a class-distinctive way oppresses all of us, even the men. For, in defining men and not women, as not soft or empathic, or similar stereotypes, we trap them in conventional masculinity, we oppress gay men, drag queens and transvestites who may still identify as male.
“…man, like woman, is flesh, therefore passive, the plaything of his hormones and of the species, the restless prey of his desires.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
We no longer accept feminism as the sole regard of women. True women’s liberation also liberates men from roles and rules of sex and gender.
“…the woman of today is [not] a creation of nature; it must be repeated once more that in human society nothing is natural and that woman, like much else, is a product elaborated by civilisation.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
If a feminist need not be a woman, and a female need not be a ‘woman’, and the ‘feminine’ just as possessable by males, then, perhaps too, a ‘woman’ need not be female, at least not assigned one at birth. In other words, is the very term ‘woman’ as much a social construct as gender itself, and the so-called masculine and feminine ideals?
“No single educator could fashion a female human being today who would be the exact homologue of the male human being; if she is brought up like a boy, the young girl feels she is an oddity and thereby she is given a new kind of sex specification.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)
Only in an androgynous (but not uniform) utopia, where all human beings were raised without class or gender specificity, could true equality perhaps be found.
After two years in the making, the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis‘ publishing of a “landmark papal document“, Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love“, actually says a lot (around 260 pages) but very little that’s new. How could it, when innovation or theological development is anathema to tradition, dogma, and infallibility? The exhortation seeks to be compassionate, merciful and pragmatic, rather than legalistic or judgmental, yet in reality is no less rigidly orthodox in terms of doctrine and offers little prospect or hope of change for LGBT inclusivity or other alternative relationship realities.
Positive vision of Sexuality
The document fails to be the “positive vision of sexuality” that it purports to be and is critical of the so-called “obscure need to
‘find oneself'” (#153). Unless churches acclimate and accelerate, in their acceptance of modern love, their message of love and finding oneself (“in Christ”) will be increasingly left behind and irrelevant.
Theology of the Body
The current Pope reaffirms John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ (1980) teaching that sexual differentiation leads to both reproduction and the “capacity of expressing love” (#151). By continuing to root the expression of love in both reproductive capacity and dimorphic bodies, he rules out same-sex love and families.
Cultural vs Fundamental Truths
It is a shame that the Pope, in relegating some of Paul’s teaching to the cultural matrix and context of patriarchy and female submission (#154-156), does not use the opportunity to recognise the cultural moving on of society on sexuality, despite overtures to feminism and sex equality.
“I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity” (#173)
Although placed in the context of parenthood, he says, attitudes to gender roles remain traditional – men, particularly fathers, should be:
“possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity” (#175)
“the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child…children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems.” (#175-177)
No room for same-sex parenthood or adoption, then. Nor of alternative masculinities – female, transmasculine or effeminate.
In a section on the foetal child he writes that:
“all the somatic traits of the person are written in his or her genetic code already in the embryonic stage.” (#170)
That being the case, why continue to reject people on the basis of their probably mostly genetic sexuality? Why fail to condemn reparative therapy for homosexuality (‘unwanted same-sex attraction’) or gender identity? As if the genesis of our innate coded lives can be rewritten by prayer, healing and therapy, to undo that which seems to go against doctrine, but which, in fact, to do so would be to go against nature. The nature of our selves, rather than a nature seemingly defined by ancient laws.
Respected but Discriminated
On “persons who experience same-sex attraction” Pope Francis described the situation as not easy for either the parents or the children:
“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence…” (#250)
… but not discrimination in sex, love or marriage, then, that would be presumably be justified discrimination. Marriage and intimacy remain strictly heterosexual and for non-divorcees, since divorce remains “evil” and gay relationships “intrinsically disordered”.
“Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.” (#250)
I wonder whether “assistance” includes the psychologically deprecated reparative therapy? It’s certainly not been condemned, whereas most international psychological, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic bodies have banned it.
Same-sex Marriage or Civil Unions
“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” (#251)
Furthermore, the Pope argues that international poverty aid should not be dependent upon countries introducing LGBT equality laws.
Curiously, at (#121) in the Papal document, he cites the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as an example of conjugal loving unity – hardly the best analogy if you want to avoid references to threesomes, same-sex relationships, or children born outside of wedlock!
Furthermore, at (#122), his concept of marriage mirroring the love of Christ for the Church fails in portraying only a narrow heterosexual conjugal union rather than that put forth in St John’s Gospel:
“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16)
The world includes all people, not only married straight people who’ve never divorced.
I still find it incongruous that a celibate and single Pontiff can preach to others about marriage, love and sex.
The idea that faithful marriage for life is a “natural inclination” (#123) also seems to go against scientific and social realities. That statement, from the Pope, is followed up with a barely veiled criticism that broken marriages or relationships outside of “unto death… commitment” are, by their nature, “weak or infirm”, and “ephemeral” (#124).
Modern understandings of psychology and psychotherapy might also have an issue with the idea of complete ” surrender” of “our future entirely to the one we love”, although he is critical of past expressions of patriarchal dominance within marriage.
Sex education in schools
Safe-sex education in schools remains an oxymoron to the RC Church since the only sex that should take place is that within marriage and for the “natural procreative finality of sexuality”. Despite devoting space to the erotic dimension of love, reproduction is still seen as the end goal, not love itself – which would, of course, open up LGBT and non-marital variants.
As a result, contraception and abortion remain absolute wrongs, leaving women not in charge of their own bodies.
“No alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life.” (#83)
This puts the Pope firmly in US Republican Donald Trump’s, Poland’s, and Irish/Northern Ireland Catholic camp on the illegality of abortion at all stages of foetal growth – all places that have recently featured calls to keep or extend anti-abortion laws. Despite Pope Francis saying Donald Trump is ‘not a Christian’.
In summary, however forward thinking the Pope may seem, the language compassionate and merciful, the tone accepting and gracious, the theology remains stuck, rigid, intransigent. The words may change, the attitudes may soften, but the laws remain as seemingly writ on stone as ever before. No good news for LGBT Christians. Read the full text of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love” for yourselves.
The theme for the still necessary International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality“, or more simply, gender parity. An IWD was called for as long ago as 1910 by Clara Zetkin and 100 women from 17 countries at a conference in Denmark. It was celebrated for the first time in 1911 and by 1913 it was recognised in many places, including Russia, the same year it moved to its current date of 8 March. In 1908, 15,000 women demonstrated in New York for equal rights, and in 1909 held the first National Woman’s Day. Yet after more than a century, by some accounts, we are still at least a 100 years away from equality:
Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon argued in a statement on IWD for positivity because of past change:
“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Great, but progress is still slow, hardly “sweeping away”, and those campaigning for change don’t want to wait another 100 years for parity in education, employment, democracy, legal rights, sport, representation in the media etc.
Women in Education
A timeline of women’s history – or rather some choice and interesting examples, as it does little justice to many forgotten women – includes Mexico’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who in 1691 fought for women’s education, saying:
“one can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”
We wouldn’t even accept that comment now, 400 years later, regarding it as sexist to assume that she should be the one to be cooking the supper. Yet education parity hasn’t arrived either with 50% more boys than girls in school in sub-Saharan Africa and the well-publicised situation in NW Pakistan brought to the fore by the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012. Men are twice as likely to be literate as women in Pakistan and there are three times as many schools for boys as those for girls with twice as many male places.
Even Syria, much in the news, has third century Queen Zenobia on a high value note. The Ukrainian 200 Hryvnia note features women’s rights activist Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka (Lesya Ukrainka), a writer and poet who died in 1913. Israel and Turkey also have female figures on current or planned notes, whilst Argentina has Eva Perón.
The UK has its female head of state on the front of every note and on the reverse of others Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, and soon, Jane Austen will be added to their number. The United States will only have a woman on its banknotes in 2020.
Unpaid and Low Paid Working Women
The UN 2015 Human Development Report which monitors the gender-related aspects of empowerment (GEM) and development (GDI) says that whilst 47% of women are in paid employment and 72% of men, they nonetheless contribute 52% of global hours worked to men’s 42%, indicating high rates of unpaid labour. Socio-cultural reasons for this and expectation within marriage and motherhood, explain some of this, but women are still often expected to do more for less.
A UNDP infographic shows how we are approaching parity in education, but that workforce equality and executive jobs are lagging behind, and whilst female representation in parliaments is growing, ministerial positions for women are still rare. The blue polygon represents the aims of parity on 5 axes. The green is where we are at, and the orange where we were two decades ago in 1995. Even in the UK there are more male MPs now than the total number of female MPs ever.
Far from ending sexual violence after more than a century of IWD activism, in some places it seems to be on the rise. In areas controlled by Islamic State (ISIL) and similar groups like Boko Haram or Al Shabaab, sex-based violence is used as part of military control and conquest. Forced marriage, gang rape, mutilations and punishments are all carried out in the name of jihadist terror.
No such thing as a Safe Space for Women?
A far cry from Africa and the Middle East lie the streets of Britain on an average Friday night or even the office workplace, on any given day. Sexism at work, inappropriate banter or touching, still occur – 30% of British men admit to being sexist. The risk of being groped by a stranger in public for a young woman is nearly 1-in-2 with a majority wishing members of the public had intervened to stop it happening. The End Violence Against Women campaign report that 85% of women-under-25 had received unwanted sexualised attention and 45% sexual touching, in public. Nine times out of ten, nobody helps.
Woman in Sport
A Women in Football survey of women working in the sport reported that 2-in-3 women were the butt of sexist jokes and comments, 1-in-4 were bullied and 1-in-6 experienced actual sexual harassment. These figures are a rise on the last survey, 2 years ago. Perhaps, this could be accounted for by improved reporting and confidence to complain, or it could actually be getting worse.
Feminism is for all Women
Women attacking women is not unknown either, whether workplace bullying, school gangs, or policing each other’s feminism. Feminisms, rather, for a great range of feminist labels and ideologies now exist and needlessly attack each other rather than the societal systems that oppress them. Some avoid the term feminist altogether in protest, but when asked what they believe in, the basic principles of feminism are still held up. Namely, equal economic, personal, political, and social rights for women.
Feminism is for Men too
Whether you’re a feminist or an egalitarian, equality is what matters. Indeed, there is also an International Men’s Day, on 19 November during ‘Movember’ month. Joining in bringing disadvantaged women up to the opportunities, levels and ceilings, currently experienced by most men, brings equality and benefit for all. That is why we need International Women’s Day and campaigns against gender disparity in places where the scales of power are tipped in favour of patriarchal and often religious, political and economic establishment privilege. Men’s Day is a time to focus on their health and other disadvantages, but today in Women’s History Month is a day to focus on girls and women.
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – guest editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme
BBC Radio 4 Todayguest editor for a day, senior international lawyer and secret food blogger, Miriam González Durántez took charge of the programme’s direction and interviews. Intelligent and disarmingly charming González discussed politics, women, role models, immigration, extremism, high heels, and food with Jamie Oliver and Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, and interviewed Richard Branson, Theresa May, James Blunt among others, whilst sidestepping Justin Webb’s sexism. Barely minutes after the interview some people were criticising her interviews as “embarrassing“.
Only last week she wrote for the Financial Times on Spain’s recent election impasse, and political and judicial corruption there:
“The message is clear: voters do not want a focus on personalities or parties, they want a focus on cleaning up politics. Whoever becomes prime minister is almost irrelevant since he is likely to have to pack his (no chance of hers, alas) bags before long.” – Miriam González Durántez, Financial Times
González is an inspiring woman who also promotes the Inspiring Women Campaign since 2013 which talks with girls in state schools about future paths.
Love Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. Super bright, funny, hard working, strong defender of human rights & determined to help other women #R4Today
“I’m Spanish we talk about food all the time… at breakfast we talk about what’s for lunch, at lunch what’s for dinner!” (2h48m)
Having lived in Spain for two years and being complete obsessed by food, I must have had a secret Spanish heart transplant.
She mentioned on the programme about her love of British freedom as she’s discussed before in the Guardian:
“The very first five minutes when I came to live here, I felt a freedom that I had never felt before in my life, a freedom to be myself.”
Women and Islamic State Extremism
González challenged Radio 4 to investigate and find out why over 60 British women and teens have travelled to Syria to possibly join Islamic State. Interviews include the Unity of Faiths Foundation which fights radicalisation through football, member of the Youth Parliament and an Ambassador for TUFF FC, Umra Butt, and director at anti-extremism Connect Justice, Laura Zahra McDonald.
“Facing racism and Islamophobic slurs…it’s the only place they feel accepted, it’s about belonging and fitting in…how can we empower people to belong…” (2h33m)
Smart and Beautiful
She used the opportunity as Today programme guest editor to challenge both gender roles, stereotypes and interview male and female role models. She also called on James Blunt to rewrite “You’re Beautiful” as “You are Smart” (1h45m). Blunt apologised for his “ridiculous accent” but not for being seen as sensitive or gay.
“…not very macho…effeminate and gay…not an insult…to call me gay is a compliment, and I’d like to be considered an honorary gay man, I’m totally at ease with myself.” – James Blunt
Ever the diplomat, she chose not to slam much of the inherent everyday sexism of BBC male interviewer Justin Webb who introduced her as Nick Clegg’s wife – a dubious honour not used to introduce anyone else’s marital status or partner. Twitter of course, took him to task:
@BBCr4today did I hear you say “Miriam González Durántez..Nick Clegg’s wife”. Notice you didn’t say “Garry Linker husband of..” Shame on you — Fran Morris (@franmorris19) December 22, 2015
“Who’s in charge in your household?” (2h54m50s) “You’re the wife of Nick Clegg – it is a fact, you don’t rile from that?” (2h56m50s) “You want Theresa May to be in charge of the Tories, you are willing her” (2h59m15s)
On whether Theresa May would lead a BrExit “No Campaign”, May dodges the question, González challenges “That’s not really an answer to my question”, May replies, “I’m a politician, Miriam”, González reiterates “I’m a lawyer, I have to insist”, then deflects with laughter. (2h25m45s)
Despite a debate this morning on whether her interview with May was “embarrassing” González appears genuine, is obviously intelligent yet uses endearing humour – which may appear self and female-patronising at times, but which seems to be a ploy to disarm and choose which “square centimetre” battles to fight. Wanting to see change, she says, means choosing your battles wisely. Not every successful woman needs to be a Theresa May-Margaret Thatcher battleaxe, woman can make it by being themselves, not by being men.
Since the early years of the century before last century nearly 200 years ago, in diverse ways individual countries and eventually the world, at the behest of the United Nations since 1977, have fought for various forms of women’s equality and celebrated women.
Now known as International Women’s Day it is a national holiday in many countries, appropriately just for women, in China. Like Mother’s Day, which falls on a Sunday in the UK, it is not a day off for mothers, working or otherwise!
In 1910, an International Women’s Conference of 100 women from 17 countries was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the conference, Luise Zietz, a German Socialist, suggested establishing an annual International Woman’s Day. The delegates agreed and promoted it as a way to foster equal rights, including suffrage, for women. It was observed far and wide across the Austro-Hungarian empire, even in Russia in 1913. The First World War suspended much advancement but 1918 brought rights for women in England and Germany, but not until 1944 in France or Greece! French Algeria took until 1958 to grant the right to Muslim women.
2015 IWD Themes
The International Woman’s Day theme for 2015 is ‘Make It Happen’ whilst the UN theme is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!“.
Bring Back Our Girls
Whilst Boko Haram this week have seemingly sworn allegiance to IS (Islamic State, ISIS, Daesh) it seems less likely than ever that the 200+ Chibok girls kidnapped in Nigeria a year ago will be returned. Yet, the UN seems to be more worried about declaring the cultural vandalism of destroying ancient Assyrian artefacts in Nimrud and other historic cities of Iraq and Syria, a war crime, than the heinous human rights atrocities of kidnap, torture, forced marriage, stoning of women and more, as crimes against humanity, especially women.
Somali-born feminist and activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, fights against forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour violence. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Ali wrote that:
“The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.”
Last year I attended the awesome Women of the World Festival in London, this year I followed most of it on Twitter and Radio 4, and heard an interview that gave me pause for thought. Was it not “preaching to the converted” the interviewer asked? Perhaps, but it was also encouraging the feminist faithful. Still, more does need to be done.
Selma, Voting and Double Discrimination of Black Women
This week has also seen the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march and demonstration which triggered US voting reform. As one young woman visiting the site this month said, “Voting was never really important to me,” she said. “But I will never not vote again.”
The 1965 activism on 7 March was one of several marches to pressure full enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the legalities of which were being avoided by those finding ways to inhibit black voters. At Selma, one of the leading organisers, Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious by state troopers. Rosa Parks had been present too. Boynton survived and in 1990, she was honoured with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal.
Amelia was born to parents of African-American/Cherokee heritage in 1911 – the very year that International Women’s Day was marked for the first time by a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. As a young girl Amelia had joined the fight for women’s suffrage. As an adult she organised alongside Martin Luther King. While Selma was 50% black, only 1% of the town’s African-American population were registered to vote.
In 1964 Amelia ran for the Congress from Alabama, “the first female African-American ever to do so and the first female of any race to run for the ticket of the Democratic Party in Alabama.”
Triple Discrimination of Women
Imagine being black, female, and bisexual or a lesbian – before race equality, voting reform, gay rights, let alone sex discrimination. Furthermore, don’t imagine but recognise that some of that prejudice came from other women, white heterosexual women. Audre Lorde, was one such black lesbian feminist who realised that not all women fight for “all women”, in reaction she became a staunch advocate of intersectional feminism of the “continuum of women”, of ANY women, of ALL women:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree even when her shackles are very different from my own” – Audre Lorde
In addition, she spoke about the oversimplification of labels and single issue politics:
“there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle. We do not live single-issue lives.”
We are multifaceted human beings, complex creatures, not to be reduced to someone’s label or category and in the process denied our unique identity and individuality.
Yet More Stigma
Add to all of the above prejudices and discrimination that some aspects of mental health disproportionately affect women. For instance trans women and bisexual women have the greatest mental health risks of all groups. 25% of women will suffer from depression, 15% post-natally. Women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders as men and ten times as likely to suffer from anorexia.
As Audre Lorde argued it is time for a coalition of the continuum of women to fight for any woman, until all women are free, from the schoolgirls of Nigeria to the sweatshops of the Far East, and the LGBTI women denied recognition and respect, whether as asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood or as trans teenagers taking their lives and being misgendered in life and death.
Whilst gender may be a construct and sex an accident of birth, how we treat each other is the one choice we have the power to make.
It is how we live, not when we will die, that we should be concerned about. How we argue, more than whether we always have to agree. Both death and disagreement should bring reflection, not regret.
Quality, not quantity of life
“It is the quality of how we live, in whatever circumstances and trials, not the quantity of our life, by which we should be measured. How we have grown, not what we have known. Not our faults and failures but how we learned from them and how many times we got back up again. Not our principles and judgements but how we stopped judging and sought justice. A little more reflection rather than reaction, in this world, would not go amiss. An attitude of gratitude, of making the best of it, not having the most of it. In disputes and discussions, of engaging not enraging, debate not hate, communicate don’t excommunicate, discussion not repercussion, of agreeing to disagree rather than the binary opposition of assuming your being right makes everyone else wrong rather than just being of a different mind.” – http://www.katyquot.es
TERFgate or Freedom of Speech?
This is something which Professor Mary Beard has tweeted about this weekend, in the wake of verbally violent disagreement over free speech and debates between some more radical feminists and aggrieved trans:
at risk of using few more characters, wouldn’t it usually be better to tweet “we disagree about this” than “you’re wrong about this”?
That heated debate, still going on – and which left Beard crying and even Peter Tatchell bruised, has resulted in both trans and feminists disagreeing as much amongst themselves as between opposing beliefs. Although it is hard not to disagree with many of the despicable ‘outing’ actions of Cathy ‘Bug’ Brennan, but even she has recently posted on agreeing to disagree.
Oliver Sacks, on how to live and (not) die
In the New York Times, renowned author and neurologist Oliver Sacks has reflected profoundly on his life and approaching death from terminal cancer:
“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can… I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions…
I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well)… I feel the future is in good hands…
My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
We are indeed unique – only we can live our lives and ours alone, to the full.
Century-old Oxford Street department store Selfridges, second only to Harrods in size, and bought by Sears in 1965, has made history again. In 1911 it was the biggest bookshop in the world. In 2013 ITV dramatised its early story in the TV series “Mr Selfridge”, currently on its third series.
Only now, 106 years after it was founded, Mr Selfridge is becoming Mx Selfridge. Gender neutral, agender and non-binary is the way at least 3 floors of the store are going in 2015 to include 5 unisex brands and other individual agendered clothing items drawn from dozens of other makers. One wonders whether they will additionally introduce unisex toilets?
This will affect not only clothing but beauty products as well. Clothing ranges are also said to be going mannequin free. Selfridges contains the world’s largest shoe department, will it now be sporting size 10 stilettos and size 3 Oxfords and Brogues?
Selfridges was a supporter of universal women’s suffrage and ran adverts in the movement’s magazine “Votes for Women”. The early feminist radicals repaid that patronage by both shopping at Selfridges and sometimes organising from there.
The irony of increased freedom alongside commercial consumerism has not been lost on some, and yet,
“there was a healthy emancipatory element in the empowered shopper’s gift of choice… Because for good or bad choice and freedom are fundamentally connected. The greater choice women gained the more power they also had over how they were able to live their lives… What those early feminists realised was that popular culture could be subversive.” – Network Norwich opinion
In the 1930s Selfridges was ahead of the times, again, with an all-female Gun Club on its roof, something copied by others later in the decade.
In 1966 Selfridges launched Miss Selfridge as a youthful spin-off brand, which was subsequently acquired from Sears by Philip Green and the Arcadia Group in 1999. Initially, their mannequins were modeled on 1960s fashion icon Twiggy. As a result of its independent ownership and brand Miss Selfridge remains gendered.
A Selfridges statement, as reported in The Times, said:
“We want to take our customers on a journey where they can shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes… A space where clothing is no longer imbued with directive gender values, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of ‘self.”’
The phrase “the customer is always right” originated with Selfridges, and gender neutral shopping, where clothes can be clothes, has been requested by many a feminist and/or LGBTI shopper.
I well remember buying a pair of Levi’s in the 1980s from the “wrong” gender display because the ones that fitted were 29″ waisted in a fit for the ‘the other’ gender label – as was politely pointed out to me at the till. Not only that, but they were also £5 cheaper for exactly the same style. To buy the pair meant for my then gender meant paying more and suffering from a baggy waist as they didn’t even begin until a size larger than I actually was.
Gender neutral shopping and clothing will aid many LGBTI, non-binary, and genderqueer, youth explore and express themselves with less fear and embarrassment.
Routine gender is thus being thrown away. Whether this is a cultural or commercial experiment, or both, one hopes it will inspire other stores to become less gendered. That doesn’t mean no more gender, but rather more genders and none, since those happy with his and her are not being replaced but supplemented by hes and hir, xe and ze etc. This is a welcome addition, not a total replacement. I don’t want to see gender disappear like some Star Trek jumpsuit identity, but I do want people to see that identities outside or across the so-called binary do exist, and options for those people, an increasingly visual and vocal section of society, be made.