Emma Watson and Women Today

 

Having followed the Emma Watson furore, what I would really, really like is to go out on a sisterly date with this amazing young woman who ceaselessly examines and tests the meaning and perils of modern feminism. On the cover of Vanity Fair she wears something that barely covers her boobs. This provoked ridicule and vilification from some female hacks.  Julia Hartley Brewer – someone I know and like and is enviably bosomy herself- was the cruellest of Cruellas in a tweet: ‘feminism, feminism…gender gap…oh why am I not taken seriously…feminism, oh and here are my tits’ Unnecessarily unkind. Watson did respond, with spirit and genuine emotion: ‘Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick to beat women with. It’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it’. She confesses she is stunned by the reactions and confused. As are many other females. Feminism is more complicated and tortuous than they know.

Let’s take the point about feminists beating up women. We should never only praise and revere other women in the name of solidarity. That would mean repressing all criticism of, say Theresa May or Sarah Vine aka Mrs Gove or Cherie Blair or model Naomi Campbell all of whom have been egotistical and morally flexible. On the other hand, we weathered feminists need to stop being self righteous. We are not purist, eternal keepers of sacred tenets. Our younger sisters are more savvy and smart than we ever could be.

Watson is a celeb who depends on millions of adorers. Yet she uses the media not simply to publicise her latest movies or keep her name up in the lights, but to get serious messages across. I know, my daughter is less fearful of the word ‘feminism’ because Watson gives it cachet. Others who grew up on Harry Potter books will be similarly encouraged. Just as impressive are other young activists- Laura Bates, Emily Reynolds, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Kat Banyard, Nesrine Malik, Reni Eddo-Lodge and so many others- have the kind of poise, commitment and deep awareness I never had. ( Look them up if the names are unfamiliar. Never again will you think or say sexism is unbeatable) Moreover, they are unafraid of social media, even when they are confronted by grotesque abuse and threats. ( I still avoid Facebook) Back in the old days, I burnt my lovely black lacy bra on a pyre, read the great feminist texts, went on marches, but really, inside I was a domesticated little wifie who wanted to please men too much. Compare that with the ease, skills and elan of teens, those in their twenties and early thirties.  Heck they even ask for proper equal pay, which I never dared to.  If we weren’t so often disgruntled, we oldies would see the awesome skills of those who have come after us.

But we are wiser when it comes to men and self- preservation. I get it when young women say they claim their sexuality and the right to choose who they want to be.  You should be able to be sexy, pretty, fashionable and still be intellectually serious and a proper feminist. That’s the hope. Maybe a day will come when they can have it all: sex appeal, respect, equality, autonomy and safety. Not yet though. In our ‘liberated’ times females are unsafe in the most advanced democracies, in civilized institutions – big companies, universities, even Parliaments. They can be harassed, blackmailed, abused, molested raped and destroyed. Too many males expect sexual gratification and too many females feel too frightened to resist them. According to the NSPCC over 40% of teenage girls feel pressured to have sex and some have been raped. Boys are influenced by hard porn online and want what they see.

It’s extreme naïvity to think images can be owned and controlled in our culture. How many men will have had horrible, dirty fantasies looking at Ms Watson on the cover of Vanity fair?  Will some of them think she is asking for it?  Yes. They shouldn’t, but they will. Young girls and women to whom she is a role model, may emulate her too. Clothes give messages, both intended and unintended. An intelligent feminist must be be pragmatic and realistic as well as demanding.

Old and young feminists need to understand better what feminism was and now is. Divided we stumble and fall. Together, as we saw on the women’s marches, we can shake up the world. It’s time to talk.

I newspaper 8/3/17

 

The New Sex War

 

A new sex war rages around the world. Men feel they are losing control within homes, communities and nations. They are the unloved, unwanted, sad underclass. None of this is true- except perhaps the sad bit. Countless western males are indeed suffering from internal traumas which remain in-articulated. Tragically, too many become drink or drug addicts or commit suicide. But many more seem to be avenging themselves on females.

Tory Philip Davies MP for Shipley, recently attacked ‘ feminist zealots’ and claimed the courts favoured women at an international conference organised by the hideously sexist Justice for Men and Boys (J4MB) . Evidence seems to contradict his views. He has consistently voted against equalities legislation and wants to repeal the Sex Discrimination Act of 2002. Poor Mr Davies.  He must look back enviously at the Stone Age when real, hairy, hunter-gatherer men  were well served by submissive females and the natural order prevailed..  ( I have tweeted Mr Davies and asked him to have tea with me so I can hear these views from his own sweet mouth).

In the real world meanwhile, trolls relentlessly punish women and girls who are seen and heard in the public space. In the last decade violent crime has fallen, yet violence against women has risen. This, according to professor Sylvia Walby of Lancaster University who analysed and challenged the official figures earlier this year. Women’s organisations warn there is a resurgence of sexism including hard and violent porn, harassment, discrimination, rape, assault  and murder. Up to two women per week in the UK are killed by a partner or ex-partner. These deaths are barely reported. Ava Freebody from Sussex, who stayed with her cruel husband for 27 years before finally escaping, thinks we should calls the abuse ‘domestic terrorism’ which is exactly what it is. Add to this the benefits cuts which disproportionately affect female, and the closure of refuges and women’s centres and you get the grim picture.

It gets grimmer when you turn your gaze on many Asian, African and Arab countries and some minority communities in the west.  In the sixties, leaders of post-colonial nations pushed women’s rights, banned backward practices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation and veiling. They have all returned with a vengeance. Go read a  The War on Women, by BBC reporter Sue Lloyd. And weep. The late Lloyd Roberts, a dear friend, was fearless and morally driven. She wrote the book while in hospital undergoing treatment for cancer.

But hey, we have a female PM don’t we? And so many women in cabinet? And Hillary may become the first president of the USA. In business more women are at the top than ever before. Girls are doing brilliantly in higher education. Aid agencies now focus on mothers and their children and that is leading to societal shifts. But look closely. our cabinet still has a majority of men; Labour has not selected a single women to stand for mayor, Donald Trump is a hero to millions. Successful women endure misogyny every day, from colleagues, constituents, the press and, at times, their own male partners. Five such women I know from the arts, science and business have divorced their husbands because living with them became unbearable. One of them, Sara ( not her real name) described what was happening; ‘ When I was just a small time academic, he loved me. Then I became a professor, had books published, got on to the media. He was also an academic, but was not promoted. He stopped talking to me, badmouthed me to the kids and forced himself on me. The night before I threw him out, he raped me. We were best friends, he was a feminist until words turned to action.’

She encapsulates all the complexities of where we are now. There is no point in denying that globally, women and girls are more confident and ambitious. They are breaking through various barriers. Discrimination continues to block them but is more often overcome. Men of all classes, in contrast, are going through various crises of manhood and relationships and experiencing feelings of disempowerment. (The last is surely premature. They are still in charge, still unfairly advantaged). Millions of them blame feminism for their pain and want to hurt females. One chap used to send me abusive racist and sexist emails every single day. So I met him, to take him on. But he was so pathetic and hopeless that I pitied him. He is maddened by the fear that white men are doomed. Feminists are faced with an unprecedented challenge. This sex war is different from previous ones. While we fight for female rights we must attend to the wounds and rage of the losers. We need a mindful new feminism and creative feminist leadership. Without that neither gender can flourish in this tumultuous age.

Published in International Business Times, 25/8/2016

Gender segregation in British Universities 1&2

Universities and Gender Segregation

The 10th of December, this Tuesday is Human Rights Day. It is my birthday too and insha-allah ( God willing) I plan to mark both by joining a demo outside Woburn House in Tavistock Square, London. These are the offices of Universities UK, ( UUK) an affiliate which describes itself as ‘the voice of UK universities’, being a bit presumptive I think, especially now.

 

In its wisdom, this august body has published guidelines on gender segregation at universities. The issue has been raised over the last few years by lecturers and students who complain that, for certain events, organisers and speakers expect men and woman to sit apart or not attend. Sexist dress codes and other behaviours are being spread and pushed in British universities by retrograde Islamic societies and individuals, most of them men, though there are always willing maidens who say yes, yes, yes to such diktats. UUK okays this Apartheid and offers up nauseating justifications. It’s done  in the name of free speech, yes really. ; ‘Concerns …[for the] beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief systems’. Furthermore, staff should not worry unduly about the rights and wrongs of this small matter.  

 

So as of now, separation in lecture halls and seminar rooms is fine so long as women don’t have to sit behind men (gee thanks!) but can be seated in lecture hall reservations. Separate but equal. Just how Boers ordered society in pre-freedom South Africa. So should gays have to sit apart from heterosexuals? Hindus be kept equal and apart from Muslims? If EDL members want to have meetings and insist blacks can only sit in designated areas, I suppose UUK would not object. Having conceded to the most objectionable demands once, they would absolutely have to again and again.

 

What will they do if a Muslim, female Mandela goes sits with the men? Will they carry her out and throw her down the steps? Some preachers on campus are today telling women to get back into the home, out of public life. Muslim women in jeans or with hair uncovered have been asked to leave lecture rooms by clothes vigilantes. Two Muslim LSE students harangued me for my unholy attire and views just a month back. The guidelines effectively endorse the most offensive prejudices about women: that they are a social and moral peril and if they sit with men, pornographic fantasies or molestations will make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on lectures, say, on Plato or the Life of the Prophet. Think of how grades will tumble, and league table results. One wonders who and what else universities will accommodate to get their hands on £9000 per year.

 

Throngs of students, academics, parents, politicians, and feminists should fill Tavistock Square and shout out loud. Not that they will, what with Christmas shopping and perhaps inchoate fears. Various student unions roll over, again and again before Islamicists and their outrageous demands- backing full veils, speeches by Wahabis- and thus far, there has been no clear condemnation from the NUS of this disgraceful document penned by the deluded UUK. This latest capitulation is a disaster for feminism, for university life, for modernism, for progressive ideals and for Muslims most of all.   

        

 Muslim education achievements are so abysmally low because our educators do not liberate them from dark age interpretations of Islam and instead encourage those. (Perhaps it’s a cunning plot to keep them down and out of mainstream life!) I know of female medical students – three Muslim and one Orthodox Jew- who will not touch male patients, of all male religious professional networks and even worse examples.     

 

I end with a poem by American poet Stephen Dobyns.    

 

A cry was heard among the trees,

not a man’s, something deeper.

The forest extended up one side

the mountain and down the other.

None wanted to ask what had made

the cry. A bird, one wanted to say,

although he knew it wasn’t a bird.

 

… They waited

for it to come a second time. It’s lost,

one said. Each thought of being lost

and all the years that stretched behind.

Where had wrong turns been made?

Soon the cry came again. Closer now.
To me it expresses the unspoken dread felt by millions of us, as reactionary religious practices stealthily enter heads, homes,  citadels and national institutions. How many wrong turns have been made by guardians of nations and other leaders? How many more twisted paths will they take us down? Our noblest sanctuaries have been infiltrated, our faiths corrupted by zealots abetted by western liberals, our so-called friends. Instead of being free and enlightened our universities are now closing off and surrendering to Saudi Arabian obscurantism. God, please, please help the young.  

 The Independent, 10th December 2013

Gender Segregation 2 

RESULT! In one week, we, a small group of stalwarts, Muslims and non-Muslims, who opposed sex apartheid in universities raised slumbering politicians and jolted gutless academics. Universities UK  (UUK) will reconsider its guidelines sanctifying gender apartheid in the name of freedom of speech and equal access. 

My column denouncing this advice appeared last Monday. On Tuesday, Human Rights Day, a bitterly cold night, protestors demonstrated outside the UUK Headquarters in central London. No UUK rep came out to speak to us.  ( Dear readers you should have been out there with us) .That evening, on Channel4 news I took on Omar Ali of the federation of Student Islamic Societies. He said uni segregation was no different from what happens in synagogues and mosques and that a liberal society should accommodate such ‘choices’. I argued that prayer houses were not state funded public spaces and that some choices ought never to be accommodated. The next day, Nicola Dandridge, UUK’s CEO was on the BBC Radio4 Today programme,. Presenter Justin Webb, probing, yet reasonable, put to her the arguments against male-female separatism. She rebutted them all, alight with self righteousness. I threw a glass of water at the radio. Missed the radio, broke the glass, picked up the pieces, almost weeping with rage. Such white liberals from left to right need to grow up. By Friday UUK had shed its earlier overconfidence and seemed to be wavering. I predict the guidance will be binned.

 This Talibanisation of British universities has got to stop. Now I think it might be.

The Independent, 17th December 2013

 

 

 

 

Young Women have Failed Feminism

 

Kate appeared at the Queen’s birthday parade, big with baby, smiling, blooming. She, who wore an ice- cream pink outfit, PINK!, is a perfect icon of today’s womanhood- rich and canny, compliant in public, not fearsomely feminist but sweetly feminine, a princess who, unlike rebellious Diana, may just live happily ever after because she fits in and fits our times. Hundreds of thousands of young, female undergraduates want Kate’s life and luck. Why that should be so is too depressing for me to ponder. But it is so.

Other stories appeared this week about beautiful women having plastic surgery and pretty Kim Sears, girlfriend of tennis champion Andy Murray, who is still waiting for a proposal. We learnt that the next Bridget Jones is being made about that hopeless and dependent woman addicted to dieting and romance. Yes I have watched these films and laughed, but then thought of the grim messages they convey. And the popular confessional journo,  Liz Jones had extracts published from her memoir. Her is a taster:’ [I wish] someone had told me I was normal and acceptable then I wouldn’t  have spent my life trying so hard to be better than I am. Lying. Manipulating. Tanning. Plucking. Jogging. Dieting.’

Shame on those women between twenty and forty who have squandered the hard won achievements of original feminism. And to add insult to self-injury, these younger generations seem proud that they dissed and dumped all we fought for. We expected better and more from those who followed. It is, I know, very fashionable these days for the young to blame baby boomers for being ‘selfish’ and spoiling it all. Well enough of that. I squarely blame the young, who, through foolish apathy and criminal self-indulgence, sometimes uninformed loathing of the women’s movement, have ensured that our social, political and economic environment is less fulfilling, much less safe, less equal and less nurturing than it was even in the 70s and 80s when we old Fems were burning bras and raising hell.  There are exceptions. There are always exceptions but what matters are the common narratives and those, alas, are regressive and anti-women.

Are they proud, the ‘post-feminists’, when their eyes scan the landscape? Cathy Mackinnon, radical feminist campaigner and theorist in the eighties, wrote compellingly of how ‘the eroticization of dominance and submission’ creates social norms for male/female relationships way beyond the bedroom. So what do we get now? The bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey, a God-awful S&M trilogy, mainstreaming the idea of male domination and ‘knowing’ female submission. The almost total pornification of Britain is now used without any embarrassment by males, aided and abetted by females. Internet porn sewage swills around and is defended in the name of ‘freedom’. In one Sunday tabloid I found a full page advert for porn DVDs. You too could have Black and White BabesUni Girls in Sex Heaven, Gang Babes, Teen Group Sex costing a pound each.  Meanwhile most modern girls suffer from body image problems; many find it hard to say no to sex; too many boys associate sex with porn images where females are roughly taken and look like Barbie dolls. Prominent feminists used to say pornography is a metaphor for women’s defeat in the long
war for respect and parity. We are defeated.

A report by the IPPR think tank found that ambitious, middle class, professional women are now more or less equal to their male counterparts, but that those on low wages and with little power are actually doing worse. I went to Ladywood, Birmingham last week, where 70% of children are raised by lone mums with little money. They do their best and most look much older than they really are, both  mums and children. The cuts are hitting women much more savagely than men. Childcare costs price the willing poor out of the legit job market, so many are forced into twilight jobs with slave wages. ( This is happening to men too)  .

Rape and murder of women, horrendous in real life, are now a favourite subjects for slick thrillers, in which lady detectives lead the investigations. Domestic violence remains high and facilities to help the women are closing down. There was a shocking reminder of how vulnerable even the most powerful women can be when pictures were printed in a Sunday newspaper, allegedly showing domestic goddess Nigella Lawson being choked by her husband Charles Saatchi at an outside table of a restaurant. She was in tears.

With such a depressing scenario, it was good to hear that journalist Charlotte Raven, 43, once wild  child of Thatcherism, was to re-launch Spare Rib, the influential feminist mag which started in 1972 and died in 1993. It was going to be engaging, promised Raven, surprising, political and sharp. And then in marched Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott, the two original founders, who threatened to sue Raven if she used their title name. Two such powerful pioneers, both of whom I like and admire, have shown themselves petty, frankly narcissistic and unworthy feminists. Damn pity that. We needed this mag to appear and succeed.

But never mind, soon Kate and William’s baby will be born, and young British women will rejoice and talk about little else. Transformative politics? Not for them. They have cuter things on their little minds.

The Independent 17/6/2013