Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: feminism

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa Harris-Perry

What means to be a black woman and an American citizen?  This is the question that Melissa Harris-Perry tries to answer in Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.

Sister Citizen is a multi-layered book about the complexities in the lives of African American women.  About what it feels like to be a citizen in America when you are a black woman, in a body that it has been racialized and gendered in a way that
produces shame, fear and distress.

There are some broad ideas in the book, particularly the notion of politics recognition and visibility of the black woman in the American society and politics. ‘Recognition’, says Harris-Perry, ‘is a useful framework because it emphasises the interconnection between individuals and groups. Individuals from disempowered social groups desire recognition for their group but also want recognition of their distinctiveness from the group.’

Taking recognition seriously means understanding the correct relations between the state and its citizens. Citizenship is membership in a community and a nation. Citizenship is bound with recognition. Harris-Perry argues, that black women in America are frequently not recognised for what they really are. Their bodies, their minds, are invisible to many whites who do not see them as individuals with distinctive talents, accomplishments, and burdens. The myth of strong black woman has formed a crooked image and contributed to the misrecognition of black women by denying them their humanity.

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Headscarves and hymens

They hate us because we are at once their temptation and their salvation from that patriarchy, which they must sooner or later realize hurts them, too. They hate us because they know that once we rid ourselves of the alliance of State and Street that works in tandem to control us, we will demand a reckoning.

Imagine you are a woman born in the United Arab Emirates. Your father or brother or husband can beat you and remain fully compliant with the law so long as he leaves no marks. If you are unlucky enough to be born to Egypt there is a 90% chance to have your genitals cut and almost certainly (99.3% ) you will experience sexual harassment at some point in your life.

bookIn Saudi Arabia, you are not allowed to drive and you need the permission of a male legal guardian to travel, marry, work or access education. You have to wear the abaya in public.   Yet,  even though you cover your entire body in black,  86.5%* of the Saudi men think that  “women’s exaggeration in wearing make-up (to clarify  – that means mascara and eyeliner)  is the main cause of the rise in molestation cases in public places.”  Not that is better in Moroco, where 16 years old girls are forced to marry their rapists, so that the rapist to escape conviction.

The Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy is perhaps the most provocative voice in misogyny in the Middle East. Headscarves and hymens is a brassy, provocative and emotional book – a mix of memoir and indictment against the misogyny society who oppress Arab women.

The Arab women, Eltahawy says,

…live in a culture that is fundamentally hostile to us [women], enforced by men’s contempt. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired post 9/11 America cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us.]

They hate us, she writes, because they need us, they fear us, they understand how much control it takes to keep us in line, to keep us good girls with our hymens intact until it’s time for them to fuck us into mothers who raise future generations of misogynists to forever fuel their patriarchy.

They hate us because we are at once their temptation and their salvation from that patriarchy, which they must sooner or later realize hurts them, too. They hate us because they know that once we rid ourselves of the alliance of State and Street that works in tandem to control us, we will demand a reckoning.

To back up her argument, Eltahawy presents horrific statistics and stories about women that survived genital cutting (FGM), child brides who bleed to death when they are raped by their husbands on their wedding nights, young women in Egypt who sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square and forced to have ‘virginity tests’.  Egypt, she writes,  “is an important case study in how state and street work in tandem to push women out of public space”. It demonstrates how regimes, regardless of ideology, have proven unwilling to address what Human Rights Watch has described as “an epidemic of sexual violence.”

In his study on the relationship between “Oil, Islam, and Women,” Michael L. Ross argues that gender inequality in Arab states is influenced by oil rather than Islam. Since there is little economic diversification in the oil produced countries, there is little chance for women to join the non-agricultural workforce. Oil production has resulted in Arab states’ patriarchy. It is a compeling argument, but he underestimates the power of Islam on gender roles and the fact that the influence of Islam on Arab culture predates the discovery of oil by several millennia.

On the other hand, Eltahawy’s generalisation and isolation of the Arab women from a fight that is global is not perhaps the best way to approach gender equality. Not all Arab societies are the same and misogyny do not exist just in the Middle East.  They are many women across the globe who feel like ‘second-class citizens’.  But this is her fight and it is just great that her article and book has reignited a discussion that needs to be at the forefront of the public debate in many societies.

*2014 poll from the King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue

Tέσσερις γυναίκες μιλούν στο Lifo για τη θέση της γυναίκας στη σημερινή Ελλάδα

Τα ατομικά μέλη του κόμματος των Ευρωπαίων Φιλελεύθερων – Δημοκρατών στην Ελλάδα (ALDE Party) στοχεύοντας – ανάμεσα σε άλλα – στην ενδυνάμωση της ισότητας των φύλων στην Ελλάδα, στη στήριξη των γυναικών που θέλουν να ασχοληθούν με τα κοινά και στην υποστήριξη της συμμετοχής περισσότερων γυναικών στη δημόσια σφαίρα, ανακοινώνει τη δημιουργία του Δικτύου για την Ισότητα των Φύλων (ALDE Party Gender Equality Network) και διοργανώνει ανοιχτό διάλογο με ενδιαφερόμενα μέρη και ενεργούς πολίτες.

Καλεσμένοι στη συνάντηση είναι εμπειρογνώμονες από όλα τα επαγγελματικά και κοινωνικά πεδία για να παρουσιάσουν την εμπειρία τους σε θέματα ισότητας, ομαλής ένταξης στην αγορά εργασίας και καθημερινών προβλημάτων που αντιμετωπίζουν οι γυναίκες και οι άνδρες σήμερα.

Με αυτή την αφορμή ζητήσαμε από τέσσερα μέλη του Δικτύου για την Ισότητα των Φύλων να απαντήσουν στις ερωτήσεις μας.

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The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for a Feminist Revolution

In January 1969, a group of radical feminists calling themselves the Redstockings – a play on the word bluestocking (an 18th and 19th century term for a woman who had intellectual or literary interests) adapted to include red, a color long associated with revolution – erupted in the USA. The aim was to develop female class consciousness and to overturn the status of women as an oppressed class. One of the group’s founding members was Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), a Jewish, Canadian-born feminist.

Originally published in 1970, when Shulamith Firestone was just twenty-five years old, ‘The Dialectic of Sex’, one of the most contentious and important books of feminist theory, was the first book of the women’s liberation movement to put forth a feminist theory of politics.

Firestone presents feminism as the key radical ideology, the missing link between Marx and Freud,  uniting their visions  of the political and the personal, Susie Orbach said in a discussion about the book in the Freud Museum in April 2015.

Firestone synthesizes and criticises the works of Freud, Marx, and Engels to create a strong argument for feminist revolution. She does not dismiss them; she says social revolution can’t happen until you go back to the source of original oppression, that of man over woman. “Women are an oppressed class”, she says, exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labour.

"Freudianism subsumed the place of feminism as the lesser of two evils." It [Freudianism] was the perfect foil for feminism, because, though it stuck the same though it stuck the same nerve, it had a safety catch that feminism didn’t - it never questioned the given reality.”

The connection between sex and racism is much deeper that anyone has cared to go, says Firestone.

Racism is a sexual phenomenon. Like sexism in the individual psyche, we can fully understand racism only in terms of the power hierarchies of the family: in the Biblical sense, the races are no more than the various parents and siblings of the Family of Man; and as in the development of sexual classes, the physiological distinction of race become important culturally only due to the unequal distribution of power. Thus, racism is sexism extended.”

Sexually men and women were channelled into “a highly ordered – time, place, procedure, even dialogue – heterosexuality restricted to the genitals, rather than diffused over the entire physical being.”

Firestone submits four demands for an alternative system

1. – The freeing of women from the tyranny of reproduction by every means possible, and the diffusion of the child-rearing role to the society as a whole, men as well as women.

2. – The political autonomy, based on economic independence, of both women and children. (Women and children, Firestone argues, are always mentioned in the same breath; the nature of this special bond is no more than shared oppression). “Under, a cybernetic communism”, she says, “even during the socialist transition, work would be divorced from wages, the ownership of the means of production in the hands of all people, and wealth distributed on the basis of the need, independent of the social value of the individual’s contribution to the society.”

  " ....... while we still had a money economy, people might receive a guaranteed annual income from the state to take care of basic physical needs. These incomes, if distributed equitably to men, women and children, regardless of age, work, prestige, birth, could in themselves equalize in one blow the economic class system."

3. – The complete integration of women and children in the society.  …. “ All institutions that segregate the sexes, or bar children from adult society, must be destroyed (down with school)”

4.- The sexual freedom of all women and children. …. “humanity could finally revert to its natural polymorphous sexuality – all forms of sexuality would be allowed and indulged.”

Shulamith Firestone was written this book more than thirty years ago, but it is just as enlightening today as it was then.

In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun

“In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun
An authentic person
Today, she is the moon
Living through others
Reflecting the brilliance of others.

…….And now the Bluestocking, a journal created for the first time with the brains and hands of today’s Japanese women, raises its voice.
…..Let’s us reveal our hidden sun, our unrecognised genius!
Let it come from behind the cloud!
That is the cry of our faith, or our personality, of our instinct, which is the master of all instincts”.

The manifesto of Seitō, September 1911

So, begins the opening manifesto to the journal Seitō, (Bluestocking) founded in 1911, in Japan,  the last year of the Meiji period by a group of young women interesting in creating a forum for female self-expression.  The author of the manifesto and editor of the journal was Hiratsuka Raichō, born Haru Hiratsuka (1866-1971). She is considered to be the leader of the women’s movement in Japan.

Not content to let women blithely accept their position of subservience, Raichō began to call women to recover their original strength. We are reading, in the introduction of her autobiography “In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun”, Columbia University Press (24 Nov 2006),

Hiratsuka_Raicho,(1886-1971) Image Credit: Wikipedia

…….”The journal [Seitō], immediately attracted attention. Other women’s magazines were already in existence, but they were mainly devoted to practical advice on home and family. Seito was the first to call for women’s spiritual revolution. Among its contributors were Yosano Akiko, Tamura Toshiko, and Okamoto Kanoko, who wrote fiction and poetry, and others who translated Chekhov, Maupassant, and Anatole France.

Within two years of its founding, the journal began to shift from literature to larger issues affecting women, and became identified with candid discussions of female sexuality, chastity, and abortion—topics scrupulously avoided by other women’s journals of the era. Several issues of Seito were censored. The private lives of some of the contributors—their easy involvement in love affairs, their defiance of moral and social convention—also gave the journal notoriety as the “training school” for “New Women” or “made-in-Japan Noras.” In 1914, Raicho herself began to live openly with her younger lover, an artist named Okumura Hiroshi, with whom she had two children out of wedlock in 1915 and 1917. (Their relationship was monogamous, and they married in 1941.)”

Seitō was the first feminist group in Japan. It took its name from the Blue Stocking Society (rather a salon) that was founded by Elizabeth Montagu and other women in the 1750s in England.

References: “Meiji Japan: Political, Economic and Social History 1868-1912“, by Peter Kornicki,
In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun: The Autobiography of a Japanese Feminist” by Hiratsuka Raicho

A woman in the land of Berlusconi

I live in Italy for about a year now. Being a Greek, I thought it would be relatively easy to adapt to local attitudes and culture. But, it seems that my personality, ideas and beliefs, as well as, the fact that I have lived in a north country (UK), where certain behaviours are considered to be suggestive and offensive indeed, made things not so easy, after all. After almost a year, I still find it quite difficult to fit in, to get used and to understand certain things.

One of them is the fanciness and the sympathy that the majority of Italians show towards Silvio Berlusconi. Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi has made headlines around the world, lately. The reason? It is widely known that he is extremely fond to younger women. Few weeks ago, he proposed as candidates for European elections, a number of “show girls”, as his wife, who she is threatening to divorce him, called them.

In other countries this “unceasingly conduct”, with very young women, especially, from a Prime-minister, would have caused shock waves. But, not in Italy! Here, things are different. Newspapers in Italy show that his popularity among the Italian voters has been rocketed, despite the fact that his behaviour has been criticised – mildly though- by the Vatican.

How does his popularity remain intact among the majority of Italians, and especially among the Italian women? I think Berlusconi uses this flirtatious behaviour and the incidents with young women to build up his image as a charmer, an image that may have an effect in many Italians. He also manages very cleverly indeed, to turn everything around him into a joke. Ok! He may have this “foible” toward younger women, he may have and some other… flaws as well, but who hasn’t, after all. He is one of us, one of the people we meet everyday on the street, going to work, he behaves accordingly. He does not belong to this, untouchable, political elite that stands above and away from you and your problems. The only explanation that it comes to me is that a big part of women in Italy are still under the spell of wealth and power he represents. Berlusconi is immensely wealthy; indeed there are several jokes in Italy of Berlusconi, meeting a beautiful woman and ask her to accompany him in a store and buy whatever she wants. That image of sexiness and wealth, of male arrogance, a man that can be smooth and rough the same time, maybe still sends waves of desire and attracts many women.

It is also significant that he controls the majority of the media in Italy. He uses them in a way that he builds further his image as a populist and charming leader. And, his image is everywhere, from the serious newspapers like the “Republica”, to the wide circulated weekly gossip magazine “Chi”, and always in a sympathetic and charming way.

But, what is the big mystery to me, is how such a short, not good looking man, in his seventies, with such offensive behaviour and close relationships with the far right, has managed to have such a popularity among the women. I find this attitude and behaviour tasteless, stupid and deeply offensive but here it is, the Italian women seem to have a different opinion.

All these, made me wonder about the feminist movement in Italy. Where are, and how feminists reacts to this behaviour by their Primeminister? Italy used to have a strong feminist movement, but in the last 10 years or so, things have not been very well. There is some feminist opposition, but these women are struggling to find some space in the media to express their thoughts and opinion.The worst enemy of the feminists, though, is this lightness that exists everywhere in Italy today. It is very common, if a woman tries to express a more serious speech, to be accused of snobbyness, or even that she talks that way because she lacks beauty and grace.
It is not easy to be a woman in the land of Berlusconi.

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