This past week was not a good week for women. In the United States, it was reported that a man who allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl was granted joint custody of the resultant eight-year-old boy being raised by his young mother.Earlier in the week, the severed head and legs of Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who disappeared after entering inventor Peter Madsen’s submarine, were discovered near Copenhagen. A hard drive belonging to Madsen, Danish police said, was loaded with videos showing women being decapitated alive.A Swedish model received rape threats for posing in an Adidas advertisement with unshaven legs. The University of Southern California’s dean of medicine was dumped after reports resurfaced that he had sexually harrassed a young medical researcher in 2003. A number of men at liberal publications were revealed to have contacted Milo Yiannopoulos, urging him to attack women – “Please mock this fat feminist,” wrote a senior male staff writer at Vice’s women’s channel, since fired. And, of course, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was described by the New York Times as a serial sexual harasser; his alleged offences, according to a TV journalist, including trapping her in a hallway, where he masturbated until he ejaculated into a potted plant.
Tag Archives: Women Rights
Jasmine ha ventidue anni e due vite. Ha dipinto le pareti della sua stanza di verde e di rosso per ricordarlo: in basso ha disegnato con il pennello una striscia rosso scuro come il suo vestito da sposa. In alto ha dipinto una striscia verde come il giardino della casa dove abita nella sua nuova vita, quella che è cominciata quando è scappata dall’appartamento dove era stata rinchiusa dal marito in una città dell’Italia del nord. Jasmine non è il suo vero nome, ma per ragioni di sicurezza non può rivelare la sua identità.Fa fatica a ricordare i particolari del primo e del secondo tempo della sua storia, ma non dimentica le date: si è sposata due giorni prima del suo diciottesimo compleanno nel 2013. Tre anni dopo – nel 2016 – è entrata per la prima volta a Lucha y siesta, nella periferia est di Roma, un centro antiviolenza e una casa delle donne fuori dai canoni, “un progetto di semiautonomia”, come lo definiscono le operatrici che lo hanno fondato nel 2008. Nel centro sono ospitate una decina di donne italiane e straniere che hanno subìto violenze psicologiche, fisiche o economiche soprattutto dai loro familiari, in particolare dai mariti o dai compagni.Jasmine non conosceva una parola d’italiano quando ha varcato il cancello verde che separa il giardino della casa dalla strada. Poco più di un anno dopo la sua vita è cambiata radicalmente: ha superato la confusione in cui era piombata dopo la fuga da casa, ha imparato l’italiano, ha frequentato un corso professionale e ora lavora in una piccola azienda che prepara sushi per supermercati e ristoranti. Vuole diventare una cuoca: “Mi piace cucinare, ma non sono quasi mai soddisfatta di quello che cucinano gli altri”.
Il corpo martoriato di Noemi Durini, la sedicenne lapidata – è questa la parola giusta, evidentemente presente non solo nel vocabolario del fondamentalismo islamico – dal suo ragazzo diciassettenne in provincia di Lecce, interrompe come un lampo nella notte il delirio di un’opinione pubblica che da settimane si intrattiene sugli stupri, “indigeni” e “stranieri”, come una platea voyeur davanti a un film pornografico. Ci ricorda, quel corpo, che la violenza più violenta, e sovente più definitiva, arriva sulle donne molto più frequentemente da uomini prossimi, per primi quelli che dicono di amarle, che da uomini lontani per razza, religione o cultura. Un fatto, non una fake, che sta scritto in tutte le statistiche, nonché nell’esperienza quotidiana di centinaia di centri antiviolenza sparsi per il paese. Ma si sa che i numeri, nonché l’esperienza, nulla possono sulle psicosi. E dunque il femminicidio di Lecce non placa il delirio dei giornali e degli onniscienti ospiti dei talk che con un occhio piangono sul cadavere di Noemi e con l’altro ridono soddisfatti perché l’archiviazione dello ius soli ci preserverà dall’invasione di interi popoli di stupratori.
Every night as dusk falls in Piazza Gastone in the Noce district of Palermo, a tall, imposing Ghanaian woman dressed in traditional west African robes stands before a small congregation sweating in rows of plastic chairs before her.The Pentecostal Church of Odasani has been converted from an old garage in a backstreet into a place of worship, albeit one unrecognised by any formal faith group. But what many of the congregation – largely young Nigerian women – have come for tonight is more than prayer; it is freedom.“Nigerian women come to me for help, they have bad spirits that have been put inside their bodies by people who want to make money from them,” says the self-proclaimed prophetess, as she prepares to start her service.
It was close to midnight on the coast of Libya, a few miles west of Tripoli. At the water’s edge, armed Libyan smugglers pumped air into thirty-foot rubber dinghies. Some three thousand refugees and migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, silent and barefoot, stood nearby in rows of ten. Oil platforms glowed in the Mediterranean.
The Libyans ordered male migrants to carry the inflated boats into the water, thirty on each side. They waded in and held the boats steady as a smuggler directed other migrants to board, packing them as tightly as possible. People in the center would suffer chemical burns if the fuel leaked and mixed with water. Those straddling the sides could easily fall into the sea. Officially, at least five thousand and ninety-eight migrants died in the Mediterranean last year, but Libya’s coastline is more than a thousand miles long, and nobody knows how many boats sink without ever being seen. Several of the migrants had written phone numbers on their clothes, so that someone could call their families if their bodies washed ashore.
The smugglers knelt in the sand and prayed, then stood up and ordered the migrants to push off. One pointed to the sky. “Look at this star!” he said. “Follow it.” Each boat left with only enough fuel to reach international waters.
In one dinghy, carrying a hundred and fifty people, a Nigerian teen-ager named Blessing started to cry. She had travelled six months to get to this point, and her face was gaunt and her ribs were showing. She wondered if God had visited her mother in dreams and shown her that she was alive. The boat hit swells and people started vomiting. By dawn, Blessing had fainted. The boat was taking on water.
Everyone has mummy issues these days – including climate scientists. A recent study made headlines by suggesting that the number-one thing a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint is to have fewer children. Right on cue, a neo-Malthusian chorus seized on the study as another opportunity to shame women for their reproductive choices. Averting climate catastrophe is a collective responsibility – but it’s far more comfortable to blame your mother, or someone else’s, for every social ill.I’ve just crossed the invisible rubicon between the age when you’re shamed and terrified out of the very idea of breeding and the age when you’re coerced and cajoled into it – if you have a uterus, of course. If you don’t, you can pretty much sit back and wait for some woman to do the donkey work of organising your genetic legacy, safe in the knowledge that you’re unlikely to be judged on your reproductive choices. I’m consistently taken aback by the number of men my age and older who speak offhandedly about their “future children”, without having planned in the slightest for the arrival of these notional sprogs – simply assuming that it’ll happen someday, when they’ve had time to dedicate themselves to their life’s work.
One morning, as I walked on the quiet, mostly wooded King Mountain trail above San Francisco Bay, a dog not much smaller than I and possessed of much sharper teeth made straight for me, growling. I tried to get away; it butted me roughly. When its owner came around the bend with a second dog, I said, the snot from the first still gleaming on my pants, “You need to keep your dogs under control.” “My dogs are under perfect control,” the woman replied with asperity. The point was clear: She could control them but didn’t care to. She didn’t share my belief that a person should have exclusive jurisdiction over her body.
Patriarchy, across the globe, plagues humankind. In some regions female fetuses often are aborted because they are considered less valuable than male fetuses. Girls are sometimes smothered in infancy. Many women and girls are sold to men as rape and breeding slaves. Many endure genital mutilation. Many are trafficked and forced into prostitution. Many are denied abortions and access to birth control. Many, to survive economically, sell their eggs to donors or hire their wombs out to couples who cannot produce babies. In some countries, including Saudi Arabia and parts of India, women are considered the property of male guardians. There are villages in India where women have only one kidney because their husbands have sold their other one. Women are often denied education and, even in industrial countries, are paid less for carrying out the same work as men.How, in an age in which some born with male bodies self-identify as women, can those born female define their unique oppression based on their experience? As laws in Europe, Canada and the United States are rewritten to broaden the definition of what it means to be female or male, how will such change affect the struggle for equality by those born as females?The debate over gender identity pits the trans narrative against radical feminists. It is one of the most bitter and acrimonious battles on the left. Radical feminists are castigated by many on the left as reactionary for their insistence that those born female hold a unique and separate identity as an oppressed group, one that requires them to form protected spaces and organizations.“Freedom of association is especially important to the oppressed,” Alice Lee, a co-founder of Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution, said when I reached her in Vancouver by phone. “It is absolutely necessary for oppressed people to be able to group together. It allows us to dare to identify and vocalize our shared experiences and find ways to effectively strategize to overthrow our oppressors. The formation of such civil rights groups, anti-racism groups, women rape crisis centers and shelters, caucuses, clubs, associations and religious organizations is a hallmark of a democratic civil society. Decisions about group membership must be a process of self-determination. Having the criteria dictated to us by the state, or by those who belong to the oppressor groups, means defeat at the outset.”
There is a simple and surprisingly durable myth about what causes men to rape women. It goes like this: if a man is too horny, from sexual deprivation or from being constitutionally oversexed, he will lose control in the presence of an unguarded woman. Through the early days of psychology as a science, this basic assumption remained the same. When Richard von Krafft-Ebing wrote Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), he assumed that rapists suffered from either ‘priapism and conditions approaching satyriasis’ or a ‘mental weakness’ that allowed lustful urges to escape their control. It was a simple matter of hydraulics. If the pressure was too great, or the vessel too weak, a horrifying crime would burst forth.
In 1915 Charlotte Perkins Gilman published a funny but unsettling story called Herland. As the title hints, it’s a fantasy about a nation of women – and women only – that has existed for two thousand years in some remote, still unexplored part of the globe. A magnificent utopia: clean and tidy, collaborative, peaceful (even the cats have stopped killing the birds), brilliantly organised in everything from its sustainable agriculture and delicious food to its social services and education. And it all depends on one miraculous innovation. At the very beginning of its history, the founding mothers had somehow perfected the technique of parthenogenesis. The practical details are a bit unclear, but the women somehow just gave birth to baby girls, with no intervention from men at all. There was no sex in Herland.
The story is all about the disruption of this world when three American males discover it: Vandyck Jennings, the nice-guy narrator; Jeff Margrave, a man whose gallantry is almost the undoing of him in the face of all these ladies; and the truly appalling Terry Nicholson. When they first arrive, Terry refuses to believe that there aren’t some men around somewhere, pulling the strings – because how, after all, could you imagine women running anything? When eventually he has to accept that this is exactly what they are doing, he decides that what Herland needs is a bit of sex and a bit of male mastery. The story ends with Terry unceremoniously deported after one of his bids for mastery, in the bedroom, goes horribly wrong.
There are all kinds of irony to this tale. One joke that Perkins Gilman plays throughout is that the women simply don’t recognise their own achievements. They have independently created an exemplary state, one to be proud of, but when confronted by their three uninvited male visitors, who lie somewhere on the spectrum between spineless and scumbag, they tend to defer to the men’s competence, knowledge and expertise; and they are slightly in awe of the male world outside. Although they have made a utopia, they think they have messed it all up.