Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: feminism (Page 1 of 2)

Women and Power by Mary Beard

Mary Beard has written a powerful and beautiful book. A book that you can carry in your bag, read it and then re-read it, and read it once more (I have already read it twice).

We live in an era that women, around the world, have more power than ever before.  But women are less represented in the sectors and positions with the most power – men still dominate decision-making and our cultural and mental template for a powerful person remains absolutely male.

If we close our eyes and try to conjure up the image of a president or – to move into the knowledge economy – a professor, what most of us see is not a woman. And that is just as true even if you are a woman professor.: the cultural stereotype is so strong that, at the level of those close-your-eyes fantasies, it is still hard for me to imagine me, or someone like me, in my role.

Mary Beard

Mary Beard’s subject is the ways women get silenced in public discourse. From Ancient Greece to Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton. From Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey, 3000 year ago, when Telemachus effectively told her to “shut up” to Senator Elizabeth Warren which, on February 2017, was silenced for reading at the Senate, a 30-year-old letter written by Coretta Scott King criticizing attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.[1]  But Senate Republicans notably didn’t object when Sanders and three other male senators[2] —— later read portions of the same letter on the Senate floor.

But the book is not only about women in the highest echelons of power in international politics. It is about all of us, all women that work and participate in public life. Women that are often subject to sexism and prejudice. Yes, there is misogyny, and misogyny is a good place to start in understanding the general phenomenon, but what is going on today is a bit more complicated.  It has to do with authority, male authority to be precise.

Women pay a very high price for being heard. Many women, including Mary Beard, have been the targets of misogynistic abuse via social media. Such hateful and hostile reactions are frequently directed at women who challenge men’s power and authority and they are liable to be written off as nasty, greedy, selfish and domineering.  Misogyny and abuse are corrosive of women’s participation in public life, but this is something entirely different, it is about demeaning, trivialising, even threatening, it is an enforced silencing of women.

But the more I have looked at the threats and insults that women have received, the more they seem to fit into the old patterns that I have talking about. For a start it doesn’t matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is not what you say that prompts it, it is simply the fact that you are saying it.

Mary Beard

Medusa has been used for centuries to criticize powerful women. In Western culture, strong women have historically been imagined as threats that need to be controlled and, for centuries, Medusa, a symbol of seduction and power, feminist and castration threat, has been used to criticise and demonize female authority. It is no surprise then, that Medusa has cropped up repeatedly to depict influential female figures as the mythological snake-haired monster.  A few minutes on google search shows that it is a trend, to photoshop women in power as Medusas. Nancy Pelosi, Angela Merkel, Teresa May, Hillary Clinton, all are presented with snaky hair.

At the end of the 19th Susan B. Anthony identified the lack of women on newspapers,

“If the men own the paper- that is, if the men control the management of the paper- then the women who write for these papers must echo the sentiment of these men. And if they do not do that, their heads are cut off.”

Susan B. Anthony

But this is the 21st century. We have been silenced for too long. Not anymore.


[1] In it, King had argued that as a federal prosecutor, Sessions had used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” McConnell stood by his accusation that Warren had violated Rule 19, a rarely evoked chamber regulation that prohibits senators from insulting each other on the Senate floor. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” #ShePersisted immediately a battle cry and a hashtag used by liberals and feminists to support Elizabeth Warren.

[2] New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley

Mugabe, Eve and the snake

Reading, in the past few days, about Robert Mugabe’s downfall and the role of his wife Grace, I can’t stop thinking the old, Christian story of Adam and Eve, where a manipulative woman seduces a man in order to do things for which he eventually pays a heavy price.

This is an extremely problematic and sexist line of reasoning. Ι am not saying that Grace Mugabe has no responsibility  and she is not to blame,  but that kind of thinking intends to clear Mugabe or any other man in a similar position, regardless of colour, race, economic and political status, of any responsibility and accountability for his own actions.

To present a man, as a simple, good and unfortunate creature, a puppet on a string, easily manipulated by a skilful and ambitious woman, is just foolish chauvinistic view.

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.

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