Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid – male entitlement in literature and laundry

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid by Rufi Thorpe is beautiful, heart-breaking and enraging on how mothering impacts women’s abilities to become a published author recognising the selfish and narcissistic behaviour of male writers is rewarded whilst women are held to impossible standards. Yet, buried within this incredible piece of writing are the following two paragraphs:

“I have never worried that the mundane world would muddy my celestial paws; I’ve always been perfectly able to lick my stamps myself. In fact, I have been far, far too able. The older I get, the more I recognize the leveraging power of ineptitude. My husband can’t cook well; I do the cooking. My husband accidentally shrinks a few sweaters; I do the laundry. My husband can’t lactate; the baby comes to New York. In his inability to do things, he is excused from labor. In my rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother, I have done nothing but ensure my labor will be lengthy and unpaid.” …

There are other ways too in which I am invisible. I often feel that the work I do around the house is the work of an invisible person. How else could my husband consistently leave his underwear tucked behind the bathroom door? His wet towel on the bed? Surely, he does not imagine me, swearing, swooping to pick up his damp, crumpled briefs with a child on one hip as I listen to a podcast and ponder going gluten free. He is not making a statement with his actions, saying, “Here, wife, pick up after me.” Instead, I think that on some level he believes that he lives in an enchanted castle where the broom comes to life and sweeps, and the teapot pours itself.

Women are expected to do all the unpaid caring work. That Thorpe recognises this but gives her husband a pass on being lazy, thoughtless and inconsiderate is just too distressing.

It would be nice if we all lived in a house where a cooked from scratch, nutritious meal was served three times a day. But this isn’t the Victorian era and servants aren’t a mandatory statement of social acceptability. You don’t need to be a great cook to make dinner for a family – pasta and soup aren’t hard to do (and I say this as someone with dyspraxia where following instructions and accurate measuring aren’t actual skills, as my children can attest).

Men do not believe they live in ‘enchanted castles’. They believe that other people (read wife or mother) are going to do the shit work. Men who consistently leave dirty underwear lying around are making a point about who actually matters in the relationship.  It takes 30 seconds to put your pants in the laundry basket. It takes 30 seconds to turn the washing machine on and 15 minutes (max) to put away clean laundry. Working long hours is not an excuse for being unable to pick up your own dirty underwear – unless you think childcare and housework are not real work.  A man who can operate a smart phone can read the instructions on the label of clothes and the manual for a washing machine.

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid isn’t heart-breaking simply because it evidences the extreme inequality between women and men, but because Thorpe sees this as inevitable in her own relationship. Thorpe thanks her mother for sacrificing so much, including never writing her own book, in order for Thorpe to succeed. That her husband is unwilling to put his own dirty underwear in the laundry basket to help support Thorpe is male entitlement writ large.

#womenwrites – a collation of essential writing by women

A collation of brilliant writing by women

The murder of Jo Cox

UnknownJo Cox, the Laboour MP for Batley and Spen, is the 57th woman to be murdered in the UK in 2016 by a male perpetrator.

Whilst the police have yet to confirm the name of the perpetrator, named as Thomas Mair by the media, or eyewitness accounts of Mair shouting ‘Britain First’, what we do know is that the police are investigating the possibility of white supremacist political motivations. We also know that another man had been arrested in March under the malicious communications act. The Times claims that the police were considering changes to Cox’s security due to the three months of harassment leading up to the arrest in March but that there was no link between the harassment and Cox’s murder.

The media are already using terms that minimise Mair’s responsibility such as ‘loner’, and ‘mentally ill’. Sky New has tweeted this headline based on a quote from Mair’s brother Scott who claims Mair was ‘non-violent’ without a hint of irony.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 13.31.39

Because shooting a woman three times, repeatedly stabbing her, kicking her and pulling her by her hair are not somehow multiple acts of violence? Our experience researching media representations of domestic and sexual violence and abuse across multiple media platforms in 4 countries suggests that this refers only to public forms of violence – those committed in the home against intimate partners or other female family members is rarely recognised as forms of violence. Soraya Chemaly’s coverage of the massacre in Orlando evidences just how far the media will go to erase a perpetrator’s history of domestic violence.

The Guardian and BBC are quoting neighbours using the term ‘quiet’ as though not knowing your neighbour socially mitigates personal responsibility for criminal acts of violence.  The Daily Mail summed up much of the current media coverage in this one sentence:

 “There is unconfirmed evidence Mair supported far-Right causes and claims he had mental health problems and had been released recently from psychiatric care.”

The conflation of mental illness with violence is simply not tenable. People who live with mental illnesses are statistically far more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Yet, white men who commit crimes of violence are frequently labelled ‘mentally ill’ by the media despite very little evidence to support the label. People who support white supremacist organisations, including paramilitaries, do not suffer from mental illness either. The media linkage of Mair’s history of mental illness as a precursor to femicide is irresponsible; as is ‘humanising’ Mair by writing about his love of gardening.

What we do know is that the vast majority of violence in the UK is committed by men; not because they are ‘mentally ill’ but because we have a culture of hyper-masculinity and male entitlement that not only condones but actively encourages violent behaviour in young boys and men.

Whether or not we learn if this murder was politically motivated act of racist terror or a targeted personal attack, we can contextualise this murder within the framework of violence against woman and girls. The murder of Jo Cox is not an ‘isolated incident’; not when Cox is the 57th woman to have been murdered by a man already this year. It is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls which includes the harassment of Cox and other female MPs who have also received rape and death threats, the 85 000 women will be raped by a male perpetrator in England and Wales, the hundreds of thousands of women who are living with domestic violence, teenage girls who are sexually harassed on the streets by adult men, sexual harassment in schools and workplaces, and the women currently detained in Yarls Wood fleeing sexualised violence in their countries of birth only to be sexually assaulted again whilst supposedly ‘safe’ in detention centres.

Statistically, it is far more likely that the murder of Jo Cox was an act of political terrorism by a man who supports white supremacist organisations and who will have a history of misogyny. As Chimene Suleyman writes for Media Diversified:

In all likeliness this was not symbolic brutality against the system — not an act of a random nature against any old representative of the political class — but a fundamentalist attack on a woman whose ideals, both in her charity work and as MP, placed human rights for disenfranchised Syrians, oppressed Palestinians and immigration at the core of her narrative. What an appallingly upsetting shame then that she should die, not because of her stance on human rights but instead killed within a British climate that has confused social sociopathy for economic debate and scaremongering immigration laws.

Jo Cox was murdered by a man who made a choice to kill – a man who also has a documented history of ties to white supremacist organisations during a political campaign that has seen racism and xenophobia replace debate, whilst we congratulate ourselves on not having a misogynistic and racist candidate like Donald Trump running for political office.

Whilst we mourn the loss of Jo Cox, some reflection on why people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones is required. Men like Thomas Mair are not aberrations. Racism and misogyny are not ‘isolated incidents’. They are British culture and we need to fix this.

An African-American girl has a rope wrapped around her neck – school suggests its just ‘an accident’

The family of a 6th grade* girl living in Texas have filed a $3 million dollar lawsuit against Live Oak Classical School in Waco, an expensive private school that the child attended through scholarships, accusing them of “negligence, gross negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress”.

The lawsuit lists a history of bullying behaviour by other children leading up to the final assault on the child known as KP. The lawsuit alleges that one incident of bullying, in which another boy repeatedly kicked and pushed KP whilst in a play rehearsal, was dismissed by the school’s principal Allison Buras with the following statements:

“It sounds like he may have pushed on the back of her leg to make her leg buckle, which is something the kids sometimes do,” Buras wrote. “Rarely is that done out of meanness but more out of a desire for sport.”**

This minimisation of inappropriate behaviour is, in and of itself, deeply concerning. Suggesting that children deliberately push a child into making their legs buckle, which inevitably results in falling over, as ‘sport’ fails to recognise that this is frequently undertaken by children to humiliate others. It can be used between groups of close friends, particularly boys, playing because we socialise boys to believe that physical actions that can result in harm to other children is ‘normal’; that is part of being a ‘boy’. It is done out of ‘meanness’ because we socialise boys to believe that cruelty to one another is funny.

We need schools to challenge the idea that pushing, shoving and kicking other children is ‘sport’. And, we need schools to step up when children (or their parents) report such behaviour as part of a pattern of bullying.

This is how the Daily Beast has reported the most serious assault:

But the main complaint against the school comes from an April field trip to Germer Ranch in Blanco County, Texas. KP and several other children were said to have come across a swing with long rope was attached so children could pull it, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states KP was standing to the side of the swing when three white males, including one who allegedly bullied her in the past, pulled the rope back and wrapped it around her neck. The boys then violently jerked KP to the ground, the family claims, leaving abrasions on her neck.

The lawsuit alleges that the school failed to access appropriate healthcare for KP and did not inform the parents, at any point, of the assault and injury. As this happened during a school residential trip, the parents did not find out about the injury until the following day. They immediately took KP to the hospital and it was the hospital who informed the police due to the severity of the injury. The police investigation is ongoing. This a huge failing of child protection.

The school itself claims that the incident was an accident.

Make no mistake, this is an assault. Children of 11-12 years of age know perfectly well the consequences of wrapping any material around the neck of themselves or another child. Their cavalier attitude to the safety of another child does not reflect well on their parents or the school demonstrating a failure of safe-guarding. It also speaks to a culture of bullying being excused by the school.

This is without addressing the issue of racism.

Even without the history of lynching in the US, children who wrap a rope around the neck of another classmate and then pull should be sending huge red flags about their propensity to violence. That the victim was an African-American child attending a prestigious and mostly white private school and the perpetrators white boys only reinforces the schools failure to deal with this incident appropriately and to recognise the role of racism in the assault and in how the school dealt with it.

Whilst the erasure of African-American history in schools is well-documented, these children were sixth graders. They will have seen films, television and video games in which the lynching of African-American people is used as entertainment. Criminalising children is not appropriate as it does address the real issues at play: racism, hyper-masculinity and white, male privilege. But we cannot pretend that these boys did not understand the potential consequences of wrapping a rope around the neck of any child or that they were not aware of the specific history of lynching in the US.

 

What this story demonstrates is the failure of schools to deal appropriately with violence committed by boys and an unwillingness to recognise the role of racism in bullying and in the failure of child protection.

 

*The average age of a sixth grader in the US is 11-12 years old.

** Raw Story claims this comment was made in relation to the assault involving the rope swing, whilst Daily Beast and New York Mag suggests it was made in response to a previous incident. I am assuming that the Daily Beast’s version is correct insofar as I can not believe anyone would suggest that wrapping a rope around the neck of a child could be construed as ‘sport’.

#womenwrites – an archive of essential writing by women

Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music & the transing of history

UnknownI love Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music: a fictionalised account of the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet in San Francisco in 1876. Donoghue’s strength as a writer is both the quality of her historical research and her ability to centre women within history. You can see this in her anthology Astray, Slammerkin, and The Sealed Letter.

Frog Music‘s heroine is Blanche Beunon – a former circus performer from France who became a ‘soiled dove’ in San Francisco working as a stripper and a prostitute.  Beunon is both the archetype capitalist in search of the American Dream and a mother of questionable ability (or desire). She only discovers the tension between these two competing ideologies due to a chance encounter with Jenny Bonnet – a woman who wore men’s clothing and tried to live outside the expected social constructions of working class women. We only see Bonnet through the eyes of Blanche, who is not the most aware character caught in an abusive relationship.

Frog Music is about women’s friendships, motherhood, male violence, women’s sexuality and survival. Donoghue ends Frog Music with this:

There is one myth I would like to put to rest. Jenny Bonnet shows up all over the Internet these days as a proto-trans outlaw: presenting as male, persuading women to give up the sex trade and forming them into a thieves’ gang. Attractive though this image is, it seems to derive from one highly colorful article that was not published until three years after [her] murder (“Jeanne Bonnett”, Morning Call, October 19, 1879) and an equally unsubstantiated popular history from 1933 (Ashbury’s The Barbary Coast), and I have found no evidence to substantiate it.

Frog Music is a powerful testament to the history of women’s gender non-conforming behaviour. There should be no need for these types of statements since there is no evidence for Jenny Bonnet (or Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I)  being ‘proto-trans’ because they predate the trans movement. This ‘transing’ of women’s history is ahistorical nonsense forcing a anti-feminist political agenda on the bodies of women who simply would not recognise queer theory or, indeed, see themselves as “men born in the wrong body”.

Queering history and literature can be quite fun – just take a look at the brilliant Lucy Allen’s breakdown of the new Anne of Green Gables films – but you can’t rewrite history in order to push a postmodern narrative of transgenderism onto women who have fought the gender straitjacket throughout history. Women have been gender non-conforming – at great personal risk – for centuries. And, we should be celebrating their accomplishments. Not erasing their activism or their bodies. After all, the Suffragettes learned JuJitsu not because they believed they were men – since fighting and self-defence was viewed as a male pursuit – but to protect themselves from male violence – sexual and physical.

The history of women’s gender non-conforming is an essential part of women’s history. Erasing women to claim them as ‘trans’ is misogyny. It is no different than the constant erasure of women from history by male historians.

 

 

Feminism is not a popularity contest & other exciting truths

As bell hooks says, feminists are made, not born. None of us are perfect and every single day is a challenged to address the internalised misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and disablism that we are taught from birth within a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy . We all make mistakes and we all fuck up.

The problem is not in the mistakes we make. It’s in the refusal to reflect on the mistakes when someone raises the issue. Clearly, there is a real issue within online feminist communities on how issues are raised – abuse and bullying are not all that uncommon. But, someone pointing out your comment might be racist or classist or lesbophobic isn’t abusive behaviour. Nor is people disagreeing with you abuse.

Self-reflection is essential to feminism – both in theory and praxis. The following are all true:

You can support more than one campaign at once.

Refusing to support a campaign because you dislike the person who started it is childish and anti-feminist.

Refusing to support a campaign because the person who started was an ass to your mate once is also asinine.

Dismissing campaigns or petitions because you don’t like the way they are written is infantile – and usually involves elements of classism, racism and disablism.

It is perfectly possible to support a campaign even if the person who started it is an abusive bully.

Feminism is a political movement to liberate all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. We don’t have to be friends. Hell, we can actively loathe one another as individuals without compromising our feminism or the goal of liberation.

We need to stop thinking of feminism as a popularity contest and start focusing on the issues of male violence, male entitlement, VAWG and a political and economic system predicated on the unpaid labour of women. This does not involve making decisions based on who is friends with who but on the individual campaigns themselves.

 

WE WILL NOT STAND BY WHEN UN SOLDIERS ABUSE, RAPE AND MURDER

#Womenwrites: Essential writing by women

Justin Trudeau is not a feminist superhero.

Justinjustin-trudeau-yoga_650x400_71459338988 Trudeau is a feminist. We all know this since he says it every single time he’s interviewed. The media is obsessed with this narrative and Trudeau is regularly accused of ‘trolling the internet’ for posting pictures which revel in hyper-masculinity.

2D99BB9E00000578-3280490-image-a-4_1445427671470

Much of Trudeau’s appeal is that he is a conventionally attractive white male who does yoga, charity boxing and loves kids. Almost as much as Barack Obama does. This is not ‘trolling the internet’. It is part of a deliberate campaign of image management – just like every other politician on the planet. David Cameron taking up yoga would not make him a better prime minister – nothing can compensate for the destructive and deeply misogynistic and racist policies that the Tory party has developed. Likewise, an attractive prime minister who enjoys a photo opportunities with babies – of the human and panda varieties – does not automatically guarantee good policies or even a commitment to feminism.

uelr52pektkn58wla6dk

It is a failing of our culture and lack if critical consumption of media that we are infatuated with a prime minister who is under the age of 60 and has all his hair. We’ve learned nothing from the debacle of Tony Blair and ‘Blair’s Babes’.

 

justin-trudeau-sophie-children-family-pool

Trudeau grew up in the public eye. He knows the value of a carefully cultivated media construction, which is both serious and playful. It’s clear he is willing to be silly in the public eye but posing in a pool with his family isn’t a policy document. Before he gets acclaimed as the greatest prime minister ever, it’s best to have a passing acquaintance with his policies before we repeat the embarrassment of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize for promising nuclear non-proliferation only 9 months after being inaugurated – what with Obama’s record of military intervention in the following years not being exactly on the side of ensuring World Peace. At the rate the media is going with it’s coverage of Trudeau: Feminist Superhero, he’ll win Women of the Year 2016, which is only slightly less embarrassing than Glamour voting Caitlyn Jenner despite the fact that Jenner is a republican who does not support a single right of women, including reproductive justice,  and the feting of Kellie Maloney erasing pesky issues like homophobia, racism and domestic violence (it’s worth noting here that attempted strangulation is a huge risk factor for fatal intimate partner violence).

The fact that a Trudeau has gone on record claiming to be a feminist is a good thing. It is essential that world leaders understand that women are oppressed as a class, but saying the words ‘I’m a feminist’ aren’t enough. They have to be followed through with actions and Justin Trudeau has simply not done enough for women for him to celebrated yet. A commitment to access to abortion for all women should be a basic requirement in a politician – not a cause for celebration. I have yet to read any statements from Trudeau on reproductive justice – something Aboriginal women are consistently denied.

His tax breaks are currently aimed at middle class families with a commitment to increasing contributions from the wealthy 1% and not those living in poverty, which isn’t exactly a Brave New World in political promises. The 2014 Liberal conference pledged to research a basic minimum income for all residents with the promise of Ontario trialling it. There are also promises around prescription charges, which are incredibly expensive particularly if you have disabilities or a long-term illness and no health insurance. This is all under discussion with some of Trudeau’s tax reforms conflicting with the research proposals on a universal basic income. A universal basic income is an inherently feminist policy. If Trudeau’s government follows through with these recommendations it will have an immediate impact on poverty, which disproportionately impacts women and all Aboriginal Peoples (First Nation, Inuit, and Metis).

Aboriginal communities across Canada experience systemic poverty and the consequences of Colonial practises which continue to this day, with the final residential school not closing until 1996. Access to healthcare, education, employment, and support services are sub-standard in many communities. Aboriginal women experience domestic and sexual violence and abuse at much higher rates than other Canadian women – including that perpetrated by white men. Aboriginal women are more likely to have their children taken into foster care if they exhibit trauma-symptoms caused by male violence. They are less likely to be given access to support services and are far more likely to be blamed for their experiences of violence.

Substance use is common in Aboriginal communities and is directly linked to trauma and poverty.  Many communities have taken extreme measures to support young people, particularly alcohol consumption and huffing. It’s not unusual to hear of RCMP officers stationed in remote communities dealing in illegal substances, including alcohol in those where it is banned. Racist and misogynistic violence against Aboriginal peoples by police is common at the national, provincial and local levels. “Starlight tours”, the practise of dumping Aboriginal peoples outside of the city limits by Saskatoon police was common in the 1990s – there is little documented evidence of it happening at other times but even the chief of police in Saskatoon believes it happened(s). These “starlight tours” resulted in the deaths by hypothermia of a number of people including Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Wegner and Neil Stonechild. I’ve yet to have heard any policies from Trudeau which will deal with these issues.

One promise Trudeau has already instituted is holding an inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Estimates suggest more than 4000 women disappeared during the last 30 years – the police, of course, have a lower number of 1200. The police of Canada aren’t exactly trustworthy when it comes to recording crimes against Aboriginal people – and aren’t exactly free of perpetrators either. This inquiry is absolutely essential to address Canada’s current racist and misogynist polices which have resulted in the abuse, trauma, disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women. However, this is not Trudeau’s policy but the consequence of decades of activism by Aboriginal women and their families culminating in a very distressing report written by Human Rights Watch on the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women along highway 16, or Highway of Tears, in British Columbia.

If this inquiry is undertaken appropriately, and avoids the incompetence and possibilities of corruption seen in the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry into the war in Iraq, it will fundamentally change the way we understand Canada both historically and currently. However, Trudeau announcing that an inquiry will take place is not a sign of his commitment to feminism. His commitment will be demonstrated by ensuring that the voices of Aboriginal peoples are given priority during it and when any recommendations are put into place.

The inquiry will also need to address the disproportionate number of Aboriginal women forced into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation due to poverty, misogyny and racism. Trudeau supports the decriminalisation of the ‘sex industry’. This is not just the women, children and men forced into selling their bodies but includes decriminalising those who profit from the sexual exploitation of women.  There is nothing feminist about decriminalising pimps and there is nothing feminist about ignoring the fact that many of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women were vulnerable because they had no options other than prostitution. A decriminalisation policy which ignores systemic racism and misogyny within Canada is not feminist.

Before lauding Trudeau a feminist superhero, we need to see the following:

  • immediate investment in education and healthcare
  • a real commitment to reproductive justice ensuring that abortion and birth control are easily available across Canada, as well as recognition that poverty and racism impact on how women access reproductive justice. This requires an overhaul of the welfare system, foster care, and access to free prescriptions, dental, eyesore etc for all who need it.
  • Universal basic income
  • Federal control over child maintenance so that it is not a lottery sweepstakes for mothers
  • Fundamental overhaul of child contact to recognise the ways in which abusive fathers harm their children and former partners through contact starting with recognising that a man who abuses his partner is committing child abuse.
  • massive investment in women’s services including refuges, homeless accommodation, and rape crisis centres
  • Exiting services
  • massive investment in housing, particularly on reservations some of which still do not have access to appropriate clean water and energy.
  • Ensuring that his commitment to action on climate change recognises how it disproportionately impacts Aboriginal communities and that support for the Keystone XL pipeline does not address this.

As it stands, Trudeau has the potential to be a transformative prime minister dedicated to instituting feminist policies, but he isn’t there yet and the obsession with his looks is simply demeaning to us all.

 

 

Further reading:

 “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” – Human Rights Watch

Red River Women – BBC

No more Stolen Sisters – Amnesty Canada

Missing and Murder Aboriginal Girls and Women – Native Women’s Association of Canada

Canada’s Missing: Thousands of Murdered or Missing Women – Al Jazeera

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Images:

Image 1: Justin Trudeau – twitter

Image 2: Bespoke Films/ Daily Mail

Image 3:  Rachel J./Twitter

Image 4: Maude Chauvin

#WomenWrites: Essential Writing from March