What Caitlin Moran taught me on International Women’s Day

What Caitlin Moran taught me on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day.
I woke up this morning with a sense of deflation. Today, we are recognising women from around the world – Our collective achievements and the progess of society. Individuals who inspire us and key moments in gender equality history. I have many women in my own life who inspire me everyday. However, I woke up feeling that we still have such a long way to go if we still have a need for IWD. This deflated me. I couldn’t see past this fundamental truth. I did not feel empowered.

When you assess the progress for gender equality across the World, we have had some extremely substantial policy upgrades in the last few decades. From the UK equal pay act in 1970 to the outlawing of FGM in Nigeria, just recently. On the other hand, in India, the law doesn’t recognise or criminalise marital rape, whilst In the US, Planned Parenthood clinics keep closing. These are epic fails in our fight for equality. Even when policy is changing for the good, things aren’t actually improving at the same pace. Women still get paid less. Girls still get cut. Rules change but culture prevails.I find it extremely hard to see any progress at more than face value and this has become exhausting.

However, on International Women’s Day, I was reminded that it simply isn’t acceptable to think this way by none other than kindred feminist Spirit, Caitlin Moran. Caitlin headlined at the Southbank WOW festival in London, and through her reading and discussion of her new book Moranifesto, inspired a room full of Londoners with her witty banter and epic muppet face. 

However it wasn’t her clever puns and naughty humour which changed my thinking today. It was something specific she said at a moment so perfect, it was as if she overheard the voice inside my head, interruped me and directly answered back without a moment of hesitation. 

“I simply cannot afford to be pessimistic,” She said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have the luxury of being able to say ‘oh, things are shit, oh well.’? But as a woman or a person of colour we cannot afford this. We have to be optimistic. We don’t have the option. If we want to see the change then we have to believe it can happen. Being optimistic is a political choice.

Although somewhat paraphrased (as this brain of mine is still buzzing from the last few hours of Morantertainment), this statement really struck a chord with me. How can I be a feminist and pessimistic? How can I feel this and then commit myself to ‘being the change’. The two cannot co-exist. I am a woman and a person of colour. It would be self-defeating to set about to improve the situation for myself and others but then not believe that things can really change. Being optimistic is not just a political choice, it’s my responsibility.

As always, watching Caitlin Moran talk was an emotional rollercoaster. I have regularly had tears in my eyes from laughing and being sad at the exact same time whilst reading her Times Magazine column. Today, I want to thank Caitlin for giving me more than that weekly ride; I want to thank her for reminding me that it is our responsibility to be optimistic in our pursuit of equality. This is how you can ‘Be The Change’.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Over & Out.

P.s the picture is from a previous book signing where I met Caitlin and pretty much fan-girled the whole time. Worth it.

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Shivers from Chivalry?

As a 90’s child, I have been brought up in quite a confusing era. The mix of traditional values mixed with liberal progression has put us all, especially women, in a huge predicament.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about chivalry and ‘Gentlemanly’ behaviour. I’ve spent a lot of time living in different British cities as well as abroad in Boston. I’ve also extensively travelled in the East. The same thoughts always enter my mind when I encounter a situation when a man opens a door for me and even when they don’t. Should a man feel obliged to open a door for me? As a feminist, should I allow them to do it or does this signify a weakness or inferiority? Do I have to offer to open the door for him? I JUST WANT TO GET THROUGH THE BLOODY DOOR!

9_chivalry-lessons-from-legendary-gentleman-flashAlas, this ‘palava’ occurs almost daily, especially as I enter the world of work. Just this morning, a man opened the door and signaled me to enter first. I declined and said ‘oh no, after you!’ but he insisted and I yielded.  Furthermore, my brother would shave his sideburns before allowing me to carry my own suitcase, and believe me, he loves his sideburns…

A few points I have thought about and have read on this issue…

I’ve tried to think objectively when assessing whether there are gender issues at play. Hard, I know, but I have to try. I have began to use Caitlin Moran‘s test for whether something is sexist or not – simply – ‘Are the men doing it?’. If they are not, then something must be wrong in the gender balance that needs to be assessed. In this case, are the men worried about chivalrous women or alternatively, are women extending the same ‘gentle-womanly’ courtesy to men. I would argue that they do and therefore chivalry is not benevolent sexism. In a post-feminist society, where women are (or should be) just as likely to offer to pay the bill or open the door, I think it is more appropriate to assess chivalrous behaviour as just simple politeness.  One person extending a courtesy to another based on their common decency. I might even go as far to say women seem to be expected to do these kind of things whereas men seem to want a gold star for helping a girl with her coat. I fully understand that this is quite a Western concept of manners, however. No one in China will give up a seat for you even if you were pregnant and/or on crutches…

Another, probably more controversial argument for the return of chivalry is to protect women from the fact that, whether we like it or not, we are generally the physically weaker sex. Personally, I do agree with this notion but I understand why many women may object to this statement. I’ve read that the original point of chivalry in the Middle Ages was to ensure the protection of women from men who could do them harm, had they not had the respect and civility that we can chivalry. This social construct was created to prevent violence, domestic abuse and general hostility. We all know that this may not have been wholly successful, but I fully believe that the construct of this ‘kind’ behaviour may have prevented many males from having a hostile nature towards women. We can see, for example,  a current trend  in lack of this social expectation and a dangerous increase in ‘Lad” culture.

A story from the life of Samuel Proctor (d. 1997) comes to mind here, that I read in The Atlantic. Proctor was the  pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. The story goes, he was in the elevator one day when a young woman came in. Proctor tipped his hat at her. She was offended and said, “What is that supposed to mean?”

The pastor’s response: “Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat.”

What a babe.

633768982298016740-chivalryI figured, that as a young women, I needed to establish my position on issues such as these. I choose to view chivalry not as an act of condescension, but as a kindly respect of men for their counterparts. Sometimes I think women need to have a little less pride and men a bit more tact. This isn’t to say I would think badly of a man if he didn’t hold my door open. I would probably start blushing if he tucked in my chair at dinner or opened my car door. But, it does allow me to appreciate the awkwardnesses and limitations of both our sexes within the ever changing society we are growing up in. None of us know what we are doing and we are stuck in etiquette-limbo…

I would absolutely LOVE to hear your views on this, more than anything else i’ve written. I’ve not covered all bases, just a few quick thoughts (or whims!), so comment away!

Over and Out.

If you haven’t already, find out what adoseofpersonalwhim is about in About Sanum Jain

Shiny Happy People… ImageOfTheWeek.

Shiny Happy People... ImageOfTheWeek.

I found this today, on Buzzfeed (click on the pic to read the article): ‘No, Seriously, This Guy Is Holding A “You Deserve Rape” Sign’

For a bit of context: “A University of Arizona student [Dean Saxton] sparked outrage Tuesday by holding up a sign reading, “You Deserve Rape” and preaching that women who dress like “whores” bring rape upon themselves in protest to a sexual assault awareness event being held that night.” – Buzzfeed.com

The awareness event in question was “Reclaim the Night“. In a nutshell, this event is a brilliant movement of Women reclaiming their right to safety on the streets, protesting against the idea that they should feel scared and intimidated to go out at night.

Back to the picture in question… It is quite hard for one to explain how they feel about such an image. The first words that sprung to my mind were ‘angry’, ‘upset’ but also, unfortunately, ‘not surprised’. Many of the arguments about gender equality are pretty self explanatory and obvious in this context, however, I think a few points specific points need to made here.

Firstly, this is a universal attack. Not only is this image/campaign an attack  on Women, but it is also insinuating that Men believe that they have the right to rape based on the actions of the Woman. Furthermore, this is an implicit attack on Male character, assuming that men are unable to control their sexual capacity. In a patriarchal society that dictates how Women should act/dress, surely these are indications of a repression? What is even worse, is that it doesn’t even take into account the real reasons for rape. Most of the time, it isn’t even about Sex, but about assertion of male dominance, a struggle for power and issues that are a whole different “kettle of fish”.

Secondly, after reading one of the passages from Saxton’s blog, it occurred to me that this Christian extremist is mixing up two very different issues – That of Rape and Sexual Violence, and that of Sexual Liberation. He refers to the American Greek-life culture as a “whoredom” where young men and women are committing “sins” however this is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT ISSUE about sexual behaviour, and more specifically, college culture for young people.  This isn’t an issue about men criminally forcing sex onto dis-consenting Women.  Yes, I agree that there can be some overlap in these environments whereby peer pressure and intoxicants can blur the lines of consent, however, this is not Saxton’s arguement. He is insinuating that if a woman engages in pre-marital sex, than it is inevitable that men may want to rape her – this is a disgusting belief and one similar to the justifications made by the Dehli gang-rapists for the crimes against their 19 year-old victim.

Thirdly, I will make a point regarding “issue-overlap”. As with many extreme views, single prejudices against gender, sexuality, race, religion, class do not really exist. These factors are interlocked and have been throughout history. The only difference in the 21st Century, is the increasing voice that minority groups have in the globalised era. Saxton states that “fat lesbians will get raped”, putting them in the same camp as Feminists and whores. Why is it that one’s weight and sexuality determines whether they get raped? Does your own prejudice permit you to believe that those different to you deserve to be subject to the worst forms of violence? Where does this end? Do other religious groups deserve this same fate?

Lastly, I would just like to express how unfortunate it is that these views are being expressed in today’s world, and worse, that free speech protects these views. All types of inequality stem from extremist views such as the ones held by the man who produced this image. More to the point, he is arguing that rape is okay and his university paper saw it fit to publish it. This view has no place in a publication and no place in any society.

Over and Out.