I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge. Sx


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The Pervasive Loneliness…

I have drafted a few pieces about the concept of loneliness. It’s definitely an element, an emotion and an entity which society perceives as being that of a persona non grata. Everywhere you look we are prompted to view the ‘win’ in life as that of being coupled up in neat pairs. What society doesn’t tell you however is that often times we feel so pressured to conform to this ideal that we forget about what we want for ourselves as individuals.

I’ve gone through times in my life where I’ve attempted to fill every single second of my time in order to avoid that feeling of loneliness. What I have come to understand over time however is that there is indeed a difference between pervasive loneliness and being alone.

The truth is that we are and will be alone for most points, moments and events in our lives. In fact it’s been in the moments when I have too hastily entered into a relationship or situation for entirely the wrong reasons that I have felt the most alone even though I am surrounded by people.

The past few years of my life have ushered in a series of painful but necessary experiences which have seen me walk the path towards my future by myself. However had this have not happened I am not entirely sure that I would have any idea of the person I am, what I want for my life and what I am infinitely most capable of. I wouldn’t have understood that the power of my voice and the influence for good I have in sharing my weakest points, vulnerabilities and debilitating insecurities has evolved from taking the journey up to this point alone.

Yes, there have been moments in my life where the loneliness has been palpable in its intensity. But when I have dug deeper the feeling at the heart of the emotion is not entirely one of my own volition. In fact it is one that has been for the most part projected upon me in order to avoid the societal fear of being labelled as ‘lonely and alone’.

To be alone is not the shameful thing that the popular discourse would have you believe. It is in fact a necessary part of growth and development. Sure loneliness is inevitable as we are sensitive human beings after all just looking for love and acceptance. But don’t make the mistake of believing that your future is tied to someone else’s presence in your life.

I am a firm believer of what is supposed to be will be. You cannot escape your destiny even if you actively tried to. Be patient, continue to plug away at your goals and remember that your individual power is enough to change this world. So go ahead and be comfortable in your status of being alone. Sit with that nagging loneliness when it surfaces and meet it without the fear that society would have you believe is your only response in that moment.

Success, love and abundance are coming for you. In fact the key to accessing them is to be found within you. You as a sole entity! So have the patience to harness your own energy towards the future you want, no one else can do that for you.

Sx

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#16Days – Justice Now.

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So we’ve come to the end of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. When I made the commitment to my contribution this year it pained me to realise how easy it was to find 16 examples of how gender based violence is constricting the lives of women across the world. Whether it is in terms of street harassment, sexual aggression, verbal harassment or unwanted sexual advances it is evident that we live in a perversely unequal world.

The element of control in which patriarchy rests on has led us to believe that women are creatures devoid of sexual desire, agency, voice and the ability to determine the development of their own lives. The pervasive notions which denote femininity with purity and virginity are putting women’s lives at risk who are unwilling to comply with such sexist and misogynistic norms. The entire ‘she’s asking for it’ tagline rests on the idea that violence against women is utterly fair game if the assailant determines that she doesn’t live up to such bullshit standards.

Apparently we also live in a world in which a man has every right to shout abuse, sexual innuendos, vile harassment and instructions to ‘smile’ at women how they see and please in all public environments. As if as a woman it is our sole purpose to exist to please a man, any man, with our smiling, attractive faces which do not display any complex emotions; because let’s be honest, we are not capable of any such complexity. What I’ve come to understand that in this world which is ruled by male entitlement women are sexual objects to be ogled at, groped, grabbed and robbed of their dignity – all to appease a man’s measurements of his own misconceived machismo.

I’ve also learnt that the easiest way to reign in a ‘troublesome’ woman is to label her a slut, a ho, a hussy, a floozy, a whore and point out that ‘she sleeps around’ in order to ruin her reputation and thus limit her life options. I’ve uncovered that victim blaming is the go-to state after the fall out of a sexual assault by which a woman’s state of dress and her sexual history are put under the microscope first. I mean can you imagine questioning why a man committed sexual violence in the first place as opposed to telling a woman that she was asking for it because she was wearing that skirt?!

The irony of all of this is not lost on me. The prevalence of violence against women is pervasive. Whether it be physical, emotional or sexual in nature it exists by virtue of the fact that we are women living in a ‘man’s world’. We have been attributed with second class citizenry in spite of the equity of our abilities. But the power game is not one which is zero-sum. So FYI – no we are not trying to take over the world. No, us ‘feminazis’ are not looking to castrate all men and subjugate them into nothingness. What we are seeking in our fight is for the ability to not fear for our lives, for our reputations, for our careers due to the aggressiveness and pack mentality of which the predominant form of masculinity currently rests on.

We envision an equal world in which phrases like ‘boys will boys and girls will be sluts’ does not exist. We foresee an existence in which girls are free to express their sexual desires and wield freedom in their sex lives without being labelled a gender biased derogatory term. We view a world which values the contribution of both men and women on equal terms and imagine an existence free of gender based violence, intimate partner and domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape and gang rape. So I ask you, once more as I did at the beginning of the #16Days, is the universal concept of freedom and equality of women too much to ask for?

To my strong, resilient, capable and diverse sisters out there reading these words – please do not lost heart. Remember to resist the misogyny, empower each other, rise to the fight and transform the world around you. The future is female, that I assure you.

End. – Day 16.


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#16Days – Reconstructing Gender Norms.

We often speak of gendered stereotypes and the harm that they do towards the growth, development and lives of women across the world. What we fail to adequately delve into further is the damage that these rigid gender norms tend to have on boys and men as well. It’s easy to see that toxic masculinities are an inherent threat to women, especially through pack mentalities and the exertion of physical dominance, entitlement and patriarchal power leading to violence. What is just as perilous within these inequalities are the ease at which expressions like ‘man up’ and ‘don’t be a pussy’ are uttered. What all of this represents is that notions of aggression and toughness are being force fed to young men over compassion, expression and collaboration. And what is worse is that these ill conceived concepts are being tied up to the ideal of what it is to be a man or display manly, male or masculine traits. I assure it however, that it is not.

I would assume that everyone has heard of the term ‘hegemonic masculinity’. For some a misconception exists in their minds when this notion is uttered. There are people who incorrectly believe that hegemonic masculinity or toxic masculinities represent an accusation against the ‘maleness’ as a whole. If you are thinking this right now, I am sorry to say that you would be wrong. This reference point does not suggest that ‘masculinity’ is the problem per say. In actuality it identifies that the predominant form of masculinity being practiced, one that systematically subordinates women, promotes aggressive behaviour and wields entitlement and homophobia is the form that needs to be redressed.

This type of masculinity is patriarchal, promotes male entitlement and excess and is in fact a threat to men’s health and well-being just as much as it is to women. In order to change this dimension we need to stop telling boys and men to ‘control their emotion’s, to not display ‘emotional weakness’ and to ignore their emotional wants and needs. In flipping the narrative consider how girls are nurtured to maintain their emotional expressiveness and promotion of cultivating their connections with others while boys are told to suppress everything that is associated with ‘feelings’. Taking this one step further the mere act of suppression for boys and men is supposed to be how their manliness in essence is measured upon. I saw a quote the other day which stated something along the lines of that ‘we are short changing our boys and men’ by defining their masculinity in such a narrow way as to constrict the very essence of their humanity which is in fact quite complex.

When speaking of the redressal of masculinity it is important to also address the need to change what it is that femininity is associated with. The entire ideal that measurement of a woman’s worth is wrapped up in judgments of her perceived femininity is damaging to say the least. We have been teaching young girls to value thinness, sexual purity, virginity and a ‘seen but not heard’ mentality. Thus being an idea in which women are passive bystanders in development of their own lives.

The truth is however that masculinity and femininity are social constructs which have been framed in light of the patriarchal world we live in. One in which control and subversion of women’s agency has dictated that young women are taught that their voices have no value and therefore are not to be heard. One in which boys are told they must ignore the feelings within their hearts and instead display a version of aloofness and toughness that is pushing them to the very edge of their own well-being. Surely we can no longer ignore the evidence which shows that men are more susceptible to suicide in this country by which “over the past 10 years, the number of suicide deaths was approximately 3 times higher in males than females”. In addition to this “In 2016, 75.1% of people who died by suicide were male”.

We cannot continue to live in a culture in which we force young men to swallow their feelings. The negative effects on their mental health are difficult to properly assess and describe. We are all human beings, which means that we are complex and messy. We all feel, we all love and we all doubt ourselves. By taking away the ability of men to express themselves and deal with these emotions as they arise we are taking away the ability for them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be. The notion of hegemonic masculinity which is pervasive right now does not have to continue to exist. But in order for this element to be abolished, for gender equality to be achieved men (and women for that matter) need to understand that we need to shift the understanding of what it is to be a man or a woman in this world of ours.

End. – Day 15.

*Statistics drawn from: http://www.mindframe-media.info/for-media/reporting-suicide/facts-and-stats


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#16Days – Disproportionate Violence Against Sex Workers.

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As it’s coming to the end of this year’s ‘16 Days of Activism’ campaign I have deliberately chosen to write some of what might be deemed the more controversial elements of my activism at this stage. Today I choose to focus on an example of gendered violence and sexual violence against those who make up the sex work industry. Violence against sex workers is one of the most common forms of abuse against women which occurs in an entrenched system of bias and entitlement. The saddest element of these incidences however is that due to the stigma and taboo involved with this type of work, we have been socially manipulated into thinking that these women are not attributed to their basic rights. The thinking being sex workers not being deserving of the same protections as all other women is one which has been propagated for eons. However if we are to speak of the elimination of violence against women then that must mean against all women without any exceptions.

Most reports in the media which document violence against sex workers will first draw on a reference to the victim’s identity as a ‘prostitute’. Thus representing a normalised but harmful action which provides a distancing effect in which readers are able to point to a woman’s vocation as a justification of her abuse. This binary effect which allows readers to associate sex workers as women of loose morals, ethics or whatever other bullshit that is promoted allows an element of victim blaming with regards to her ‘behaviour’ giving rise to her assault. Such an element paints those involved in the sex work industry as dirty, sinful, deviant and diseased resulting in a sense of apathy from the general ‘good, pure and demure’ public. This form of stigma is far-reaching, pervasive and arguably does more damage to sex workers than their work itself.

By labelling sex workers in this way as the ‘other’ a level of comfort is retained distancing these women and thus promoting the notion that well actually, ‘she deserved it’. Not only is this type of thinking misinformed and cruel but more dangerously it feeds into a culture which reaffirms violence supporting attitudes about all women. If I hear one more person mindlessly utter the words of ‘well she knew the danger involved’.. I may just self combust.

The truth is that sex workers, especially those who are trans women of colour, experience disproportionately higher rates of sexual violence. According to Huffington post, “globally sex workers have a 45-75% chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers and a 32-55% chance of experiencing sexual violence in a given year”. Within the sex work industry women commonly report being raped by clients and/or being raped by their pimps. One of the most disturbing facts I have read states that 1 in 5 police reports of sexual assault from urban US emergency rooms are filed by sex workers. This group by and large presents as younger, poorer and suffering of a greater number of injuries than other victims requiring medical attention.

When considering the intersecting elements of identity of sex workers themselves, varying studies have found that youth, those who are homeless or have been previously arrested for prostitution or are drug users are especially at risk of violence. This violence being perpetrated both by clients as well as police and justice officials. Trans women face disproportionate profiling as sex workers and police misconduct and sexual assault while in custody. Thus representing a pervasive example of how race, class, and criminalisation of drug use and sex work intersect to make women vulnerable to state violence.

The question I pose to you now is, are all human beings not deserving of the basic right of protection? Does the exchange of money negate the right of freedom from abuse, assault and murder? Our society desperately needs to redress negative attitudes which normalise violence against sex workers and victim blame as a form of pushing violent behaviour into obscurity based on the ‘reputation’ of those being subjected to these incidents.

End. – Day 14.


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#16Days – Violence against Trans Women of Colour.

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I often write about intersectionality especially in the form of its relevance within the feminist movement. Each time I compose another article with this term as the reference point I am asked to clarify in its meaning in actuality. The easiest way I can demonstrate its connotation is by pointing to differing elements of one’s identity which multiply and compound to affect one’s lived experience. Using my own personal circumstance I may experience marginalisation and discrimination due to my gender but also because of my lived identity as a woman of colour. It’s important to understand this point when considering how different women may be subjected to varying incidences of violence based on the intersection of segments of their identity. In the American and Latin American context one of the most pervasive forms of gender based violence focuses on transgender women and more specifically trans women of colour.

The transgender community often represent a segment of the population which is attributed an incredibly marginalised status. When not being openly discriminated against they are provided with an invisible standing in society in which their oppression is deliberately ignored. It’s been identified that trans women of colour are often left out of the conversation in relation to the fight against both transphobia and gender inequality. They remain on the fringes of both movements and yet are subjected to some of the highest forms of intimidation, abuse and violence as a result of the intersection of their sexual orientation, their gender and their race/ethnicity.

According to Human Rights Watch “it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of colour, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them even more vulnerable”. What the evidence indicates is that transgender women experience a greater risk of death by hate-fuelled rhetoric leading to violence than any other group.

In an article composed by Trav Pittman, a writer who also happens to belong to the trans women of colour community, she attempts to get to the source of the motivation behind such targeted violence. Pittman points to the intersection of culture, gender and sexuality in terms of the Latin American context in which the pervasive presence of machismo contributes to staggering numbers of assaults and violations against trans men and women. In this environment anyone perceived to be outside of these narrow and rigid definitions of masculinity are brutalised and subjected to abhorrent levels of violence.

The aspect of predominant machismo leads into the question regarding why men target the trans population in this way. Of course there is the element that manifesting any level of femininity as ‘a male’ is highly stigmatised. However it’s also been suggested that the seemingly competing elements within a trans-woman’s lived gender and aspects of her biology challenge a man’s sense of his own sexuality, his own manhood, and the concept of manhood itself.

Whatever the motivation is the message is simple, it’s completely unacceptable. Furthermore it is the responsibility of the cis-gendered members of the gender equality and feminist movements to stand side by side our trans sisters (again not cis-ters) to end this destructive practice. We cannot continue to silence the voices of the trans community if true and holistic progress is to be made towards a more equal world.

End. – Day 13.


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#16Days – Sorcery Related Violence in India.

One of the most disturbing forms of Gender Based Violence which I have come across during my travels relates to sorcery related violence. This abhorrent practice quite literally sanctions witch hunts targeting women who are accused of practicing ‘witchcraft’ to facilitate the demise of other members of their communities. The cruelty involved here is difficult to describe as women are publicly submitted to extreme levels of violence including beatings, rape and such shaming techniques as being forced to walk naked through the streets of communities. Superstition and a lack of education have been blamed as motivating factors for such instances but researchers in India suggest another contributing element as the catalyst for abuses; this being a play at controlling independent and free thinking women.

To take it back one step it is important to understand what the practice of witch-hunting actually entails. Basically this act begins with a woman in a village being targeted as the reason for a misfortune of another, ie: a crop loss or a sudden death. This woman is usually one who belongs to a lower caste or marginalised in one way or another. In many instances she is single or a widow and thus not proscribing to the perceived rules of how she ‘should be living’ as associated with her gender. According to research conducted in the Eastern state of Jharkhand it isn’t superstition but gender and class discrimination which provides the catalyst for sorcery related violence. Those who have been accused of witchcraft often come from similar backgrounds; they are always female, poor, marginalised and of a low caste.

More often than not accusations of witchcraft are levelled against those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. These are always women who live on the fringes, the elderly, women with disabilities and widows. It seems that the easiest way to deal with a self-sustaining, free thinking and independent woman in these instances is to increase the stigma and taboo that she already faces through her pre-existing marginalisation. By labelling her witch her behaviour henceforth will be modified. Either she will die through a revenge act of some sort or being burnt at the stake after a public trial, or she will be forever ostracised by her community for simply being labelled as a potential witch in the first place.

The true motivation of abuses and killings are veiled under a perceived superstition. As identified in a Washington Post article “often a women is branded a witch so that you can throw her out of the village and grab her land, or to settle scores, family rivalry, or because powerful men want to punish her for spurning their sexual advances”. Such a statement providing more evidence to suggest that the main motivation for labelling a woman as a witch is to punish her for questioning social norms and living outside of rigid and harmful gender stereotypes and norms.

For most of us reading this is might seem bizarre that witch-hunts still occur in modern day industrialised countries. But let me reassure you that they do and it is a particularly dangerous threat for the advancement of women living in these contexts. It’s difficult to even explain the level of violence that these women are subjected to. I’ve heard horrific tales of women being sodomised, sexually violated with foreign objects, gang-raped, having their breasts cut off, their teeth broken and their bodies hacked away at. The spectacle of it all is even more disturbing as after a woman is labelled a witch she is ‘put on trial’ in front of entire communities. I write this within parentheses as a trial would allow her to attempt to defend herself. But in these instances she is just tormented further and subjected to more violence and vile verbal abuse.

As identified by the India Social Institute “by punishing those who are seen as wild, oppressors send a not-so-subtle message to women: docility and domesticity get rewarded; anything else gets punished.”

End. – Day 12.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/21/thousands-of-women-accused-of-sorcery-tortured-and-executed-in-indian-witch-hunts/?utm_term=.7eac6cb53439


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#16Days – Slut-shaming.

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This particular topic has got to be one that infuriates me the most when speaking about gendered inequality. I think the best quote I have ever seen on the hypocrisy involved with measuring men and women against so called ‘promiscuous behaviour’ is that “boys will be boys and girls will be sluts”. Well fuck. If that doesn’t demonstrate the double standard that exists then I’m not sure what does.

Slut shaming in itself is basically the act of judging a woman’s ‘loose’ sexual behaviour and deeming her with a derogatory label forever branding her with the scarlet letter of ‘S’. The inequality here is rife enough without me needing to point out that there is no male equivalent to a slut. Apparently when it comes to men there is no such incidence ever when sexual intent or the pursuit of endless sexual contexts is deemed to be ‘too much’.

For women you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you inhibit too much confidence and agency when it comes to your sex life you are viewed as being overly sexy and therefore a slut. If you fall too far onto the other side and are not sexy enough then you are frigid prude. We cannot win! And god forbid that a woman who has been judged as being ‘too overtly sexual’ is ever the victim of sexual violence…. cause you know that her past history of whoring it out will be pointed to as the reason her assault happened in the first place. Thus being a proverbial #sorrynotsorry from a society intent on judging, shaming and policing women’s behaviour.

As pointed out by many, slut shaming isn’t actually about women’s sexuality. It is grounded in the belief that men get to assert themselves, and women do not. That women and girls are taken to task over their sexuality and men and boys are celebrated and congratulated for exhibiting this same behaviour. It is an engrained double standard which aims to continue to propagate that women are asexual beings whose worth is measured against their purity and wholesome reputation. This ideal purports that a woman is only worth what her sexual virtue suggests and that abstaining from sexual expression is a given.

Systematically tearing down women based on their sexuality is a primordial example of a endemic culture of shaming women. Publicly deriding a woman who openly engages in sexual activity (notably that is ANY sexual activity) which is considered as taboo is wielded as a weapon to guilt or shame a woman into forcibly changing her behaviour.

To be labelled as promiscuous or sexually provocative is something that we as women try to avoid at all costs. Whether it be actively hiding our numbers of sexual partners or intently lowering them to mask our sexuality, this continues to feed into a culture in which a woman’s worth is only as much as her ability to be sexually virtuous. We live in a world today in which freedom and equality are supposed to be paramount and yet when it comes to sexuality a woman is far from equal.

It is about time that we as a society ceased punishing women socially for possessing an identity of sexual freedom. We practice agency in all other elements of our lives and therefore our sexuality should also be one of these. Women are not asexual creatures who embark upon sexual activity only for procreation purposes. The expression of sexual identity and agency should be considered as what it is a choice and one that can be empowering for women to feel comfortable within their own bodies. What men need to realise and recognise is that is that women do things for themselves and not just for them.

Lastly, as women we also have a lesson to take from this. Let’s not be so quick to judge each other on purported ‘looseness’. Let’s not continue to promote the practice of questioning a woman’s character or morals based on her expression of her sexual expression and identity. Let’s take the sting out of words like slut, whore, ho, floozy, slag and whatever other terms exist to shame women. This is a call out to all my sisters (and I mean sisters, not just CISTERS) out there, be free in your sexual expression and your sexual identity because that is a right which has been provided to you universally by simple virtue of the fact that you are human.

End. – Day 11.