Sunday, 21 January 2018

Feminism 2018: The state of things so far

We are only 21 days into 2018 but already I have rolled my feminist eyes so hard, I am in danger of being able to see out of my ear holes.

First, let's talk about where the hell the #MeToo movement is headed. It has been a great thing in many respects, getting women to speak out about their very real experiences of sexual assault and harassment, even if we have to constantly let men know that:
1. We are aware that men can be victims too and we are disgusted by attacks on men.
2. Encouraging women to speak out makes it easier for men to speak out. It does not negate horrible experiences men have had or make them any less awful. When women are cut down for speaking out, is it any wonder that men are often reluctant to share their own experiences?
3. The existence of this movement and the ensuing conversations, or the existence of women's shelters or services, are not affronts to men. They are entirely necessary.
4. Men can and should start their own movement, start their own conversations, open their own shelters and start their own services to help male victims of sexual assault, harassment and domestic violence.

Now we have allegations about Aziz Ansari via a woman identified only as "Grace" on the Babe website. Predictably, critics of #MeToo have seized upon this as a sure sign that the #MeToo movement is over, it has jumped the shark, it is now only concerned with the supposedly petty trifles of bad dates. Never mind that when a date turns bad, it can result in rape - that would require the naysayers to quit missing the point.

But here's the thing - our ladybrains are not so tiny that we are incapable of having more than one important conversation.

Just as we can talk about sexual assault and sexual harassment, as exemplified by the horrible Harvey Weinstein stories, we can talk about what happens on dates, when dates go bad, why they go bad, the worst-case scenarios on dates, how men and women behave on dates, understanding consent, reading non-verbal cues, raising women to be comfortable with saying no, raising men to accept no for an answer, the radical notion that both men and women can be horny, and that sex is not merely something that men get and women give.

And let's be honest here - the #MeToo movement really needs to trickle down a hell of a lot more than it is. Don't get me wrong - if I was appearing on the red carpet at the Golden Globes the other week, I would absolutely buy yet another black dress for the occasion - but the impact it is having on Hollywood and in politics needs to be happen for so many more women in so many industries. The #MeToo movement cannot just be the domain of the wealthy, privileged and famous. It needs to change the lives of the women who wait tables, pull pints in pubs, work on factory production lines, ring up groceries in supermarkets and so on and so forth.

Too easily, the working class women are forgotten in popular movements. Hell, many of them are too busy working for a living to be activists, let alone share their experiences in a few pithy tweets. Activism is frequently a luxury denied to those who could really benefit from wholesale social, legal and political change.

See also, the bungled attempt by Richard Branson to ban the Daily Mail from Virgin Trains. I completely agree that the Daily Mail teems with all manner of sexist and bigoted bullshit but the outcry from all quarters was faintly ridiculous. Anyone who gleefully thought this would be the end of people reading the Daily Mail on Virgin Trains didn't seem to grasp that the paper could still be bought at one of thousands of outlets across Britain and read on the train. And anyone who furiously accused Richard Branson of censorship and thought policing also, er, didn't seem to grasp that the paper could still be bought at one of thousands of outlets across Britain and read on the train.

It was never going to be a feminist victory and, on the same token, the critics from the right missed the point that Virgin is a private company and is therefore entitled to stock whatever the hell newspapers it likes. In any case, if anyone cares about Virgin's treatment of women - and indeed people in general - they might like to get outraged at the company suing NHS trusts, and their Hoovering up of NHS contracts, even though they are clearly not always the best candidate for the contract.

Indeed, the death of a woman has happened on Virgin Care's watch - the family of Madhumita Mandal probably don't give a damn what newspapers are available on the East Coast mainline. Mrs Mandal was triaged at Croydon University Hospital by a receptionist instead of a medical professional, a series of delays followed, an ovarian cyst ruptured, and she died of multiple organ failure four days later.

But these are the kind of stories Virgin would rather us forget. Hence the Daily Mail ban was a distracting stunt, albeit one that backfired badly.

That is where we are now - there are plenty of distractions to steer people's minds and anger away from things that really matter. #MeToo runs the very real risk of being a movement that mainly helps the privileged and those in the wealthy, developed world. Meanwhile, the girls and women of the under-reported countries and women in minority groups and poor women in developed countries, continue to suffer.

While actresses are lauded for wearing black dresses, women are getting excited about an ineffective Daily Mail ban, and people are arguing on the internet about whether bright pink pussy hats are racist or discriminatory against trans women, violent rapes are endemic in India, the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl in Pakistan dropped out of our news cycles, a doctor in Kenya is using faux feminism to try and legalise female genital mutilation despite a 2011 ban, women living in poverty in the US are more likely to be denied access to abortion, there is a real crisis in mental healthcare for black women in the UK, in Australia, the first Aborginal woman MP in the state of Victoria is receiving death threats for having the temerity to have an opinion on observing Australia Day, and in South Africa, a lesbian couple has been raped and burnt to death.

In 2018, feminism is as relevant and necessary as it has ever been but it remains to be seen how much will actually be achieved.

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