Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day 2011: Women and Democracy

Last year on international women's day, I wrote a blog post on what the 8th of March is and what it isn't. I felt that was needed; a surprising amount of people want to congratulate women or bring them gifts or congratulate them for being women. Why this is completely wrong you can read there.

This year I want to focus on something recent, something beautiful, but something still troubling. I wrote a while back on women in Egypt's revolution and how they had been made invisible. Lately, the media has started picking up on the importance of women in the front lines of the revolution, demonstrating side by side with the men, women from different religions, backgrounds, with different stories, but the same goal. Even Naomi Wolf wrote a piece on it for Al Jazeera and it involved no rape apologia (!) even though it was far from original.

As the revolution has spread to Libya and other countries, women are still out there, they are still shouting and they are still fighting for freedom and democracy. These women are very much a part of bringing about a freer and fairer society with the hope of being a part of that as well. I did express my worry in the above blog post on women not being properly included in a reconstruction of an Egyptian society, and I stressed the importance of making sure that they were included in order to guarantee a fully free and equal society. But as it seems, sadly, the women were welcome as long as they were needed to further men's goals and needs, and are today being pushed back to their traditional roles - a pattern that is all too obvious in conflict and upheaval where women are expected to participate or support but later return to their assigned duties when it is all over.

Today, these women are once again braving the streets, in a country where it is estimated that 80% of the women have been sexually harassed and much of it takes place in public places, to demand their rights and recognition for the role that they played in overthrowing the Mubarak regime. As this post is being written, there are reports of harassment and violence targeted against the international women's day protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (I will update with a proper news article when I find one.) What is said to have happened is that men have entered the square, harassing women and using violence to stop them from demanding their rights. In essence, it is an anti-feminist, anti-women's rights counter protest. The women have served their purpose - they helped overthrow the regime - now when the men have reached equality and freedom, we can go back to the status quo and continue harassing and oppressing women.

Women for Women are organising an event today called on the bridge standing in solidarity with all the women around the world whose voices are not heard, calling for peace and an end to violence against women. They are standing with the women from Afghanistan who continue being excluded from reconstruction processes; with women from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is used systematically as a tactic of war and terror; and with all other women trying to make a difference, like the women in Egypt today, and the women in the Ivory Coast, where women have been killed today in a protest.

Today it is international women's day. It is a day when we are supposed to celebrate what we have accomplished in the past in terms of women's civil and political advancement. It is a day to celebrate the present and all the brilliant women and men who work so hard to include women and make their voices heard. And it is a day to try to change the future, to shout to be seen and heard and included. The violence and harassment against women who are simply trying to demand what should be theirs already - respect, autonomy and being heard - is sad.

These events, the violence against women and the violation of their rights of assembly and walking down the streets without being sexually harassed, shows the importance of this day. This day is important, because today, and only today, the spotlight is on the women. Media all over the world are reporting on events, protests and have in depth analysis of women's movements, women's rights and all things women. For years, women in Egypt have not been able to walk the streets safely, as they are not today, but today the world is watching and crying out in sheer horror. These women and their bravery have always been beautiful, but today it is visible too. Today, these kinds of events are allowed to be seen and heard and discussed.

It has been 100 years since international women's day was established. We have done a lot of fantastic things but, as today's events show, where women are not even allowed to protest for their rights, we still have a long way to go. Don't quit just yet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tory MSP: Rape Survivor Has Herself to Blame

I think this will be my first post commenting on Scottish politics, but I thought this very relevant to bring to people's attention as the Scottish election is coming up in May.

The F Word UK reports how Bill Aitken, MSP has implied that a woman who was raped on Renfrew Lane here in Glasgow might have been a hooker because
“Somebody should be asking her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane. Did she go there with somebody? … Now, Renfrew Lane is known as a place where things happen, put it that way.”
This is a completely outrageous statement! What does the woman's line of work have anything to do with rape? Can she not be raped because she allegedly sells sex? If it is true, and the woman is a sex worker, it doesn't matter. Sex workers deserve the same access to rights and protection as people who are teachers or bus drivers or politicians or unemployed or whatever. They are people, and they have rights. The views of people like Bill Aitken are downright dangerous to the well-being of these people and feed into a wider stigmatisation of sex workers where it is seen to be acceptable to rape, abuse and treat them however one likes.

Furthermore, what is really problematic, apart from the obvious victim blaming that the F Word UK have already pointed out, is his view of who can and cannot be raped. Not only is there an implicit assumption that sex workers can't be raped because they voluntarily (although, not always voluntarily as Bill Aitken should know) sell sexual services, is the obvious moral assumptions on the part of Aitken. By stating that the woman a) was in the wrong part of the town at the wrong time of night, she must b) be a sex worker or something like it, he is stating that only certain women can be raped. In his view, it seems, a virtuous woman would not be seen in Renfrew Lane or thereabouts at certain points of the day; thus, this woman must be morally inferior or corrupt in some kind of way. (That sex workers should be morally inferior or corrupt is, to begin with, a stupid assumption). In Bill Aitken's world, good people do not get raped. This, in itself, gives rise to very interesting questions on how he would take it if someone he viewed as "good" actually was raped. Either they must be inherently evil or the rape would not have taken place; or they have not been raped and are either exaggerating some sort of consensual sex or they are lying, which would make them liars instead. This is such a backward way of thinking it does not belong in the 21st century.

What is even more outrageous is that this man sits on the justice committee that helped formulate the policy on rape! This man, who wants to blame the rape survivors for putting themselves at risk of rape, is actually forming policies on the matter. I suspect it shall not be long until he issues another statement saying that the most efficient way to prohibit rape is to put all women (because in Aitken's world, I suspect only women can be raped) in a cage and throw the key away. After all, in that case women cannot walk on the streets where they might get raped. But we have to remember that we cannot put this cage in someone's home, because as Aitken might know (but have forgotten) the majority of rapes happen in the home or by someone already familiar to the survivor. Uh oh, would not this make it even worse for women who are now caged up for the familiar men (in worlds like Aitken's, men are perpetrators and women are victims) to use at their whim?

I suppose, then, that Aitken has come up with the golden middle-way in this scenario. Because women cannot safely be protected, in the case of rape, we shall just blame them. Because we all know that women incite men to sexual violence, and especially sex workers who flaunt their genitalia and their sexuality. Because as we all know also, if you have agreed to sex one time, your consent is indefinite - the person is yours for the taking.

What Bill Aitken is managing to do through his statements is placing the responsibility of rape onto the survivors and every single potential victim. He is also implying that if you are raped, you are a slut, and therefore you provoked the act of rape.

People like these should not be close to power. Other people that should not be close to power are people like Annabel Goldie, leader of Scottish Conservatives, who refused to condemn Aitken for his statements. It is people like these who make the streets less safe because they feed into a culture where the responsibility lies with the victim, and the perpetrator walks free from it. It is not outright encouraging of rape, but it is pretty damn near.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Average Human and Changing the World: What We Can Learn from Egypt

If you have missed what has been happening in Egypt for the past three weeks, you must have had your head buried in the sand. The people of Egypt followed suit from the people of Tunisia and overthrew the man who had been oppressing them for 30 years. It was a revolution organised by the people and made possible by the people who for 17 days refused to give in before the man and his collaborators stepped down and handed over the power to the people.

Similar protests have occurred throughout the Arab world, with the most recent being Yemen and Algeria. Jordan recently had its government fired by the king (see Guardian article on Algeria) and there have been rumours of unrest in Iran. Added to this the Iraqi Prime Minister promising three years before the next election not to run for a third term. This is all because the people of these countries have become fed up with being oppressed, fed up with not having a job to go to, not having enough money and living in fear of having their human rights violated.

This entire process of change and democratisation would not be possible if it weren't for the people. If the people, men, women and third gender people together, adults and children, academics, housewives, manual labourers and unemployed youth, did not come together and shout with one unified voice this would not be possible. It is impressive and it is glorious how these people manage to do that, the resolve they have shown. It is inspiring and it is beautiful.

I think there is definitely a lesson to be learned from this for people living in already democratic societies. In the past few decades, voter turnouts have plummeted and people have started experiencing a political apathy. Democratic participation today is not what it was fifty years ago, and this contributes to a downward spiral. People are disgruntled because the politicians do not do their jobs and therefore do not vote, but politicians cannot do their jobs properly if the public does not clearly state what it wants (usually done through a vote, but arguably more civic republican measures such as citizen panels could be beneficial). It is a vicious circle and it benefits no one, apart from perhaps non-person entities such as corporations, which can creep in in the widening gaps that are growing between citizens and their representatives and insert their policy preferences there. There is little that phase us nowadays, and if one does not have a stated interest in politics, or a certain area of society, then there is usually little patience for politics and the power players.

There has been talk about a decline of political capital, one of the famous authors being Robert Putnam and his book about the decline in the American social capital, Bowling Alone. While I do not agree with some of his theories (let's face it, the man is a little outdated when it comes to his slandering of the internet and its potential), he does have a point in that we are not nearly as good at coming together and discussing politics and the state of society. There is just so much else to occupy our minds: TV, the internet, the million various offers of "fun stuff" that are made available to us every day through advertisements. There is so much amusement out there, and we forget about the politics, we forget about the society and we forget about what part we play in it.

This is why the Arab world can be such an inspiration to us in democratised countries. We got the democracy and many of us became lazy. We expect the world to turn out in a certain way, but we also expect it without clearly stating what we want, how we want it and why we want it. We just expect certain things to exist, and when the flaws show, we complain, which is our right and duty as citizens, but we often do not bother to become involved.

If there is anything the past month in Tunisia and Egypt has shown us it is that we can make a difference. We can become the catalysers for change as long as we organise, we mobilise, and we get the message out there. Things will not happen straight away, and neither did they for the people of Egypt and Tunisia, where discontent had been brewing long before the actual protests took place. It seems strange that, in a democracy where we have so many more channels of expression than non-democracies, we would not make use of these and try to express our thoughts and feelings about politics and society. Some have done it, and some have made headway, such as the feminist online movement through, among others, Sady Doyle at Tigerbeatdown with the campaigns #DearJohn (about the proposed legislation in the US House of Representatives that will effectively stop a lot of aid to women who need abortions) and #MooreandMe (when Michael Moore gave into conspiracy theories and told people to never, ever believe someone who accused someone Moore likes of rape).

We need more of this! We need more of people who want to stick their noses out, who will come out and say "Hey! This is wrong because such and such and such." We need more civic participation and less whinging and whining. Keep on pointing out things you disagree with, but do something about it, even if it is just to invent your own twitter hashtag for it, as in the case of Tigerbeatdown.

These Arab revolutions should inspire us and they should make us want to act. Yes, we have democracy, but no, everything is not great, there are always things to be done to improve things. So look at the videos in this Al Jazeera article and feel inspired. It is never a waste of time standing up for something you believe in.

Books mentioned in this post:

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer

Before I opened this book, I went to Amazon to read the reviews of the book in order to get some kind of inkling what this book was all about and what Germaine Greer, a person I've never read before, could possibly say in it. As I have said, there is no one feminism, but several feminisms and one feminist writer does not represent them all, so I wanted to know what kind of feminism I was going to encounter in this book. The reviews were interesting, it was everything from the types where Greer is claimed to have completely changed someone's world to accusing her of hating all but homosexual women. Both are quite expected when dealing with feminism, but I was happy to see that it was a provocative book as these usually make for interesting reading. I was not disappointed.

The book is structured in four sections called "body," "mind," "love," and "power," each section dealing with topics that, not so surprisingly fall under those headings. I shall structure my thinking according to these sections below in order to get some kind of coherent text instead of loads of brain splatter.


I think my favourite part of the book, and the one that was thought-provocative in a way that I could grasp was this section. In it, Greer discusses everything from body ideals to abortion and female genital mutilation (FGM). Actually, one of the things I had read about this book before I read it was how Greer had been under heavy criticism as it comes of as if she is defending FGM in this book, and I will explain why I disagree with this assessment.

In this section, Greer talks about manmade women, plastic surgery and the strive to look as unnatural and unwomanly as possibly can. From the position where Greer stands, all this shaving, use of make up, obsessive striving to become thinner than is healthy and the consequent widespread use of plastic surgery to look as 'perfect' as possible, is nothing but a result of mainly male thinking that the female is not female enough and so has to be altered in order to fit their imaginings of the female. She rightly argues that a woman is a woman in her natural state. The armpit hair, the leg hair, the often asymmetrical breasts and the body fat is all woman. A woman is never more woman than before she alters her appearance, because that is what the woman is - nothing more, nothing less. No one can be more woman than woman herself in her natural state. It is an interesting thought and one that a lot of feminists have argued, but one that is nevertheless important to be reminded of. Women themselves take part in the reproduction of this culture, Greer argues, but it is imposed by men.

This ties into where people have (perhaps mistakenly) argued that she is a proponent of FGM. In the section talking about plastic surgery as a self-mutilation, Greer mentions FGM. Why is it, she asks, that in our culture we accept that women go through vaginoplasty (plastic surgery on the vagina) to ensure that they look like what they think is culturally appropriate and acceptable, while we do not accept this argument with people in non-Western civilisations? She not only draws parallels to vaginoplasty, but also other forms of plastic surgery like breast augmentation. She invokes the argument of cultural relativism to prove how absurd this entire plastic culture has become and reminds us that we are really morally opposed to it. Of course, Greer fails to acknowledge that plastic surgery is legally supposed to be done to an adult with her consent, but FGM is done by adults to children, which makes a helluva difference. With regards to health risks, distorted body ideals and the danger in trying to fit a narrow description of 'perfect', she is, however, right.

It is also in this section Greer tries to rally up feminists not to accept trans people as female, arguing that at the end of the day, trans people can never be female because they do not have the sex chromosomes for it. This argument really surprised me as generally feminists are very pro trans people out of a very simple explanation - feminists believe that gender is a social construct, that is to say that femininities and masculinities are something that we are taught, something we are socialised into, rather than something that is biologically determined. Therefore gender is fluid, and the key issue is what gender someone identifies as, not what they were born as. If someone who was not born biologically female identifies as a female, this person will be female to most feminists. That Greer, who has been one of the most prominent feminists for a long time, would fail to make this separation between sex and gender is just unbelievable. As the book goes on, however, it is not so shocking anymore, as Greer seems to take a more "back to nature" stance with sex and genders, putting much emphasis on woman as a sex and gender as well as gender as a social construct. To me, the extent to which she focuses on the female sex in the first section somewhat contradicts her thoughts on gender in the social later on. But it does raise an important point even though it perhaps does not explicitly say so - the point of the third gender, or rather the lack thereof everywhere but in Australia.

I will not go through the entire section, because even though it's a non-fiction book, I don't want to recount everything for people that might possibly want to read this book. Suffice to say that the section deals with most things that have to do with the female body and in a very interesting and thought-provoking way.


This is also a section where Greer focuses heavily on the difference between men and women, both biologically and socially. In her chapter on oestrogen, she questions the need for it in menopausal women and also questions why there is only chemical contraception for women and not for men. Greer argues, and I have heard this argument elsewhere as well, that there are ways to create chemical contraception for men, but as this would emasculate them, this is not done.

I also enjoyed the chapter on soldiers and violence as this is what I am currently writing my dissertation on and something I am considering looking further into when I will hopefully study gender further. (Fingers crossed that I will meet my conditions!) I will not go into this as I have written about gendered violence before.


Here Greer writes about women's capacity to love, and women's apparently insatiable need to be loved back. She writes about how women always love but are never loved back, beginning with the relationship between the daughter and the father and continuing on in later life up until death. Greer claims that a woman will never receive the amount of love back that she gives; to a father, to a partner, to her children. Interestingly, she also claims that mothers will always love their children unconditionally but implies over and over again that it is their sons that will receive the attention, not the daughters. If this is because mothers, according to Greer, cannot love their daughters as much as their sons, or if it is due to a girl child's apparent utter disinterest in their mothers, she fails to make clear. In either case, it is a contradiction. Either mothers love their children more than they will ever be loved back, as Greer claims at one point, and this will include their daughters; or they are not capable of the unstoppable, indefinite love that she claims that they are. This is one of many times where I feel Greer is more out after glorifying the female species rather than understanding why things are as they are.

There is nothing wrong in aiming to increase the status and view of women - on the contrary. This is one of the things that I really enjoyed with the Whole Woman; the attempt to view woman as a beautiful being instead of an incurable, screwed up, weak mess that deserves to be stomped on and forgotten. All human beings deserve to be seen and heard and loved, but all human beings are also at the same time flawed in that beautiful way that makes us who we are. We are capable of being both at the same time. Making out one gender to be above the other or worthy of being viewed as 'perfect' is not beneficial to any human being. That is what got is into this whole mess with gender roles and gender hierarchies in the first place.

I really enjoyed how Greer put sex in the "mind" section, pointing to the bond between the mental and the physical that often exists in sexual relations for both men and women. This mental bond does not have to include love, that is not at all what I am saying here, but it does have to include trust and respect for it to be enjoyable for both or all parts. Her critique of the quick jumping to penetrative sex is exquisite. She raises some really good points in that section, but what they are, I shall leave for you to find out.


This brings us to the final section which deals with the structural inequalities in society and Greer continues to be controversial and thought-provoking up until the last page. Here she deals with the somewhat irrational fear of male violence, arguing that society has led us to constantly fear male sexuality, male violence and male aggression when we often do not have to. This disproportional fear gives men more power and control over women. Liz Kelly in Surviving Sexual Violence argues much the same. The disproportionate fear by women of men leads to women not daring to act in certain ways and do certain things in fear of the possible consequences which happen in a minority of cases. This is comparable to the victim blaming that all too often happens after rape, where women are cautioned they should have been more careful, and that next time they should think before they act/dress themselves/speak lest they get hurt again. Women's fear of men is an oppression in itself, and while men are partly responsible for it, not all of them are, and women are actively reproducing these fears as well. At the same time it is quite interesting how Greer at one point in the book makes all men into sexual predators through saying that a father's love for a daughter will inevitably become inappropriate at one point or another (a claim I am not even going to discuss because that's how little I agree with it - don't feed the troll).

As always, I am always happy when masculinities are discussed, and Greer delivers in this area. She talks throughout the book about the gendered pressure on men, like that on women, that exists in society - the pressure to perform sexually, the pressure to act aggressively, to protect, to earn money etc. Once again we are back to gender as a social construct. Although, Greer points out in the very last few pages that her aim is not to order people to be in a certain way, but rather for herself and others to feel comfortable in their own skin, in their natural beauty - both internal an external. She wants to make the Whole Woman. That is an aim I can relate to and that I will support.


These points made above are just a tiny piece of all what is thought-provoking, controversial and wise in Greer's book. It is a book of 425 pages dealing with everything female and women. There is a lot that I disagree with that I haven't brought up, a lot of arguments that I still need time to digest before I can make up my mind on them, and a lot of arguments that I will remember, use and be grateful to Greer that she reminded me of or pointed out to me. It is definitely a book that requires an open mind; there is no point in reading it if you already have your opinions set in stone. If you are, however, curious about feminism, this particular feminist, or are someone already immersed in the gender debate who wants to explore and find out more, I would recommend you read this book! It should be noted, though, that this book is kind of a sequel to the Female Eunuch, Greer's debut book written in the '70s. I have not read this, so I can safely say that you do not need to read it before you read the Whole Woman, but if you want a bit of background on Greer and the arguments she expands in the Whole Woman, I am sure it is interesting reading.

Books mentioned in this post:

This book is registered on BookCrossing.com. Here is the journal for it. As more people read the book, the journal will grow with their thoughts and reactions to this book.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Tea Musings: God, Creation, and the Missing Third Gender

This time brought to you by a special blueberry/grapefruit Earl Grey blend called "Grandpa's Mix," bought as usual at Tehörnan in Umeå

I am absolutely not alone in this, I know, but I have to question, why is there an assumption that God inevitably and unquestionably has to be male? Apart from the references to God in the Bible as a male pronoun, where does the assumption come from?

The Bible is, after all, whether one believes in the message, the literal wording, or just the plain fact that the book exists, a manmade creation. Even the Bible says so. It is written by chosen people who are, in some way, conveying God's message to be spread to the people on Earth. It is easy for people to mix up pronouns. The debate around and the lack of a proper pronoun for the third gender tells us so.

In Genesis, we are told that God made us in his image. It says:
"Let us make man in our image... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

God is the Creator. God is what some people assume created Earth and everything on it. But woman is also Creator. Woman, through her possession of a womb, carries the same ability as God; she can create life. She is what nourishes, carries and sustains a life for (optimally) nine months before that child leaves the safe haven of the womb to face the world. If God is Creator and woman is Creator, then why, if God made us the image of 'him', is God referred to as a 'he'? Would it not make more sense to think of the Creator as a woman, the way she was so beautifully depicted in pagan religions? If God were a man, why did 'he' create the Paradise as a brilliant metaphor for the womb where Adam and Eve were nurtured and loved for a time before they were borne into the world?

Granted, woman needs man to create a life. Or rather, woman needs man's magic seed to create a life, but without the male species it would not be possible to create life (although science is at this very moment challenging those assumptions). Both woman and man are needed to create life. Woman and man together are the Creator. If man cannot create without woman, and woman cannot create without man, why is the Creator referred to as a 'he'? Would it not make more sense to think of God as of both genders, or perhaps genderless?

If God is omnipotent, as God is said to be, and can do everything that man and woman and all people accomplish together, would this not make God both man and woman and neither at the same time?

Religion as an institution has long discriminated against women and LGBTQ people, and even though it is getting better in some countries, it is still not good. It is far from good. The discrimination against everything but the narrow definition of male that Christianity subscribes to has its roots in history and is as such a culturally rooted phenomenon. The supremacy of the male is recorded in the Bible, but the Bible also follows the assumption that God is male, even though there is no evidence but a personal pronoun to prove this. The Bible is also written by human hands, with human minds and so also was exposed to human limits and flaws.

Human minds are limited by the language we use. If the language is not broad enough, there will be no room for interpretation or accurate definitions. Instead we are confined to the language that is at hand at the time of recording any event in history. If we think of the world in terms of two genders, it will be two genders that are present in our historical recordings. If the world today only has one country that has gone so far as to adopt a third gender, the assumption is that the world was hardly thinking in those terms at the creation of the Bible.

If God is both male and female and at the same time neither, is this discrimination against everything but the narrowly defined male a mistake due to the non-existence of the third gender at the times the Bible was written?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Naomi Wolf, Wikileaks and Inconsistency

Naomi Wolf has written a piece on the Huffington Post about the "lost cojones" of America's journalists who refuse to defend Julian Assange against the American government in the Wikileaks leaks issue. This post does not discuss the alleged sexual crimes Julian Assange is said to have committed, so I don't really have much of an issue with this post, in fact, Wolf and I are in agreement when it comes to a lot of this. She rightly points out that he is wanted for very similar things to what journalists often see as their work - exposing secrets of the government, acting as the watch dog against the powerful and the mighty in society, ensuring that they do not abuse their power.

As always, there are people who would be in disagreement with this view of the media's role, but the media can be an effective tool in exposing power abuses. The problem in that is that media in and of itself becomes a power player holding the sole power to expose scandals and shape the opinion of the people. Media, too, can become too powerful. Just take the Murdoch imperium, for instance, which owns a significant amount of the media in the US as well as the UK; media which is quite well known to engage in a lot of right-wing rhetoric and opinion building (Fox Entertainment Group, is one example).

But enough about that. Let's get back to Naomi Wolf.

After arguing about the hypocrisy of all the American journalist (apart from herself, I suppose), she asks the question:
So why do all these American reporters, who know quite well that they get praise and money for doing what Assange has done, stand in a silence that can only be called cowardly, while a fellow publisher faces threats of extradition, banning, prosecution for spying -- which can incur the death penalty -- and calls for his assassination?
A valid and interesting question, but not nearly as interesting as the answer she herself offers immediately after:
One could say that the reason for the silence has to do with the sexual misconduct charges in Sweden. But any serious journalist in America knows perfectly well that the two issues must not be conflated. The First Amendment applies to rogues and scoundrels. You don't lose your First Amendment rights because of a sleazy personality, or even for having committed a crime. Felons in jail are protected by the First Amendment. Indeed the most famous First Amendment cases, the ones that are supposed to showcase America's strength and moral power, involve the protection of speech most decent people hate.
Say what, now?

Once again, the frustrating woman has done what Jessica Valenti has criticised her for earlier: claiming not to read the internet, but somehow still find out all the criticism against her and then utterly fail to engage with it in her next piece but somehow try to correct it anyway. It is just that the woman never faces the criticism. She just ends up arguing against herself, as she is in this case as well.

Naomi Wolf has over and over managed to make Wikileaks and the rape charges against Julian Assange synonymous, which they are not, as I have written about over and over. I will try it one more time. Wikileaks the organisation is not Julian Assange the person, and everyone would do better in understanding this, supporters of Wikileaks just as much as the US government who are seizing the opportunity to bring Julian Assange to trial for completely unrelated accusations.

Back to the point. So Naomi Wolf is now criticising all the journalists in the United States of America for not being vocal enough about the horrific things that the US government might do to him (which they should criticise) because of their incapability to separate the sexual assault accusations against Assange from the organisation Wikileaks, while she has herself not been able to do that throughout the entire debate. I don't know if I should be happy it seems she has taken criticism to heart, or frustrated that she does in no way try to correct the blatant rape apologia she has been spreading. To be honest, I think that this new insight on her part will only last as long as it doesn't suit her purpose to write a provocative article again. As soon as the trial for extradition starts, I am sure she will be back to her rape apologetic self, calling the women jealous, petty and liars again.

What is more, and what is really, really relevant seeing as Naomi Wolf is a self-proclaimed feminist who has been held in quite high regard in feminist circles is her use of cojones in the headline. Cojones is a vulgar Spanish word for testicles denoting courage. While this word is relatively accepted and mainstream when it comes to talking about courage, much like 'balls' is, it is a word that refers to the male genitals meaning that females cannot in any possible way have these, i.e. courage. It is a word that is grounded in male/female gender roles with the male as the courage, active protector of the weak, passive, incapable female. Females cannot have cojones, nor can they have balls in the sense that they are being used synonymously with courage. Cojones and balls are not female, they are male, and exclusively so by biology. Courage is male, by biology, it implies, and it is physically impossible for women to gain it. It does not take a deep level of gender analysis to see this, and that Naomi Wolf has failed to do so is nothing but embarrassing. Granted, the headline could have been set by someone else, as often happens when articles are published, but in that case I really do hope that Wolf engages in a very long and heated lecture on why this particular word is inappropriate to use.

Someone mentioned in relation to her previous pieces and appearances on rape and Wikileaks (both separately and in relation to each other) that she is arguing what she is arguing in an attempt to revive a down-spiralling career. This latest addition seems to say so too. Unfortunately for Naomi Wolf is that if she doesn't engage with the criticism she is receiving, and respond to it appropriately, she is unlikely to gather much support. Judging from her performance on BBC World Have Your Say three weeks ago she is not likely to engage with anyone criticising her soon, but rather keep on patronising and ignoring them. It seems she is digging her own grave.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Tea Musings*: Bodies

Tea of the night: A berry flavoured rooibos called the Queen of the Forest, bought at Tehörnan in Umeå.

Recently I have started reflecting over something. A year or so ago I started losing weight. I found myself not to be happy with my weight or the future implications it could have on my health if I continued in the same way. I was not overweight, but my clothes did not fit as well as before and I started feeling uncomfortable in them, so I took to the gym, I started eating more healthily. I dislike diets and would not call what I did a diet, it was more of a cleaning up of my diet; less processed foods, saturated fats, junk food and snacks; more fruit, vegetables and balanced meals with less carbohydrates and more proteins, unsaturated fats, vitamins and all those other essentials that my body likes.

The change was noticeable, both in mind and in body. Clothes quickly went back to fitting well again, and after a while they were too loose; I had more energy during the day and, above all, slept better at night, which is so valuable if you are, what I call a 'stress sleeper', like me. (For some reason I have a hard time going to sleep and that is usually the time of day when I am the most stressed out, which in its turn makes me even more stressed out - vicious circle.) Other people started noticing the change too, and I got comments on how well I looked.

It is interesting how once someone starts losing weight, people immediately comment on it. It is regarded as a nice thing to do, a recognition of the supposedly hard work that someone has put in to shed those extra kilos, and people mean well while they do it. It has struck me, though, how this seems to be one of the most flattering compliments out there, and you can tell that people always take great care in conveying their noticing your weight loss to you. Don't get me wrong, it is a nice thing to compliment people, regardless on what it is on, but I think this says a lot about society.

People take such great care telling me that I look 'amazing' or something like it, that I cannot help but feel it is a way of validating me in the eyes of society. I know that these compliments are not meant in this way, but the amazement and the pat on the shoulder type comments are a way of implying that I have done well, that I am striving towards the elite of those untouchable modelesque women and men who cover the glossy magazines and enjoy higher status in the spheres of society - that superficial elite that so many people would give a limb to belong to. I have become more valid in the eyes of society, I am on my way towards becoming a person now, not one of those undefinable lumps of flesh that we see everywhere. If I just do a bit more work, put in those extra hours at the gym, I will reach that separated sphere of unrealistically thin and beautiful people and I will be someone who matters.

This whole attitude makes me confused. I am just the same as before, perhaps a bit more energetic, perhaps my mind has become a bit quicker because I feel more alert, but my personality has not changed as far as I am aware. I feel just the same, so why should I not be just the same? Or rather, why should I not be treated just the same? It is interesting, because I don't seem to be alone in this feeling of being treated differently. People who have lost more weight than me also report being treated very differently, see this forum, for instance, or this. People are friendlier, they smile, they see you, and they see you in a good way. Your existence is not nearly as provocative to people as before, or perhaps they are just more likely to notice you.

It is interesting, that. Even if it weren't so that people were provoked by anything above a size medium, what is it that justifies that people who are a medium and below deserve more attention, more smiles, more acceptance? What is it that makes them so much better than the rest of the people? A letter on a label on the inside of their clothes? Their compliance to the incredibly impossible standards of celebrities who do not even manage to look like they are represented so they have to be airbrushed into a 'better version' of themselves added onto all that expensive make up applied by professional make up artists? Whatever standard it is that validates those people is too damn hard for them to reach even for themselves. It is a twisted ideal that focuses on completely the wrong things. What have I, or anyone else, achieved from being thin? Apart from health, that is, but people that are larger than a size medium can be healthy too, and it is certainly not without risks to both mental and physical health to strive for a 'size zero'. Besides, how does any of this, in any kind of way, justify treating people differently? Hint: it doesn't.

I want to point out again that compliments are nice, and most people, including me, appreciate them, even (sometimes in other people's cases especially) when they relate to weight loss. I am not in any kind of way suggesting that people start giving less compliments to others, I am just trying to share what I have noticed. In general I am in favour of much more compliments to be distributed to other people, as long as they are honest, and perhaps relating to more things than weight or other appearance-related things. Surely there must be more things that people are good at than looking good?

* A friend of mine complained a while ago that while there is a lot of feminism in my blog, there is no tea. There is no better way to incorporate this than to show how I keep myself fuelled while writing. This is how my ideas are conceived, baked and carried out - tea is nearly always involved.