Monday, 31 December 2012

Rape - not a serious crime in India

We’re about to celebrate the beginning of 2013, but I’ve read today that celebrations of the New Year in India are being scaled down. This is because of the horrible events which led to the death of a 23-year-old Delhi medical student.

The woman, whose identity has not been released, was gang raped on a bus with a metal bar. The injuries to her body and brain were so horrific that she died on Saturday, nearly two weeks after the attack. 

Measures to make Delhi safer for women have been announced, such as police night patrols and banning buses with tinted windows. These are not to be sniffed at – they may prevent the same thing happening to other women. But the real problem in India is not protecting women from men, but making, or helping, men to see women as human and equal.

Women in India

According to official figures, a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours, while women across the country say they are frequently subjected to sexual intimidation and violence. And that’s just the official figures. In a country in which women reporting rape or sexual assault are often at best ignored and at worst blamed, the reality is bound to be much worse. 

It is well known that women are valued less highly than men in Indian society. Female foetuses are often aborted, and baby girls killed. This is just another side of that coin.

Political parties in India have put forward 27 candidates for state elections who declared they had been charged with rape (and what about the ones who haven’t declared it), and there are six elected state legislators who have charges of rape against them, according to a report out this month. The implication is that rape really isn’t considered a serious crime in India.

I also read a newspaper article that pointed out that the woman is referred to as the ‘daughter of India’, that women are always wives, daughters and sisters, never independent people in their own right. Until this mindset changes, and women begin to be seen as real people, it is difficult to see how any meaningful reduction in the numbers of rapes and sexual assaults can come about.

This story reminds me of tales of the Holocaust, with the way Nazi guards treated Jewish people in concentration camps, seeing them as inherently inferior, and less human then themselves, and therefore able to inflict all kind of atrocities upon them. 

Extra security might protect women in public, such as in this case, but many of these cases will take place behind closed doors. What it needs is to understand that women have rights as individuals, that violating these is not acceptable, and those who do won’t get away with it, whether they are members of the political elite or the poorest of the poor. 

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Is it OK to enjoy sexist films?

Over Christmas I’ve been watching lots of non-strenuous films, the kind that if you nip out to top up your drink and reheat the Christmas pudding, it won’t be much of a challenge to work out what you missed. It’s a great feeling, when all the present wrapping and turkey cooking is over, with a new collection of still-cellophaned DVDs and a few days of dedicating myself to eating and watching.

Here I go, harking back to a time when men were rugged and go-getting, tracking down criminals and chasing people about in fast cars, and women had little to worry about other than looking good in evening dress. Ah, happy days. Hang on a minute...

How do I reconcile my love of these films, and their devilishly attractive yet hopelessly sexist men, with my feminist principles?

Silly girls

Women in so many films look nice, but are mainly pointless. Think Willie (Kate Capshaw) in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, pictured with the lovely Harrison Ford. She is constantly tripping over things in her inappropriate footwear, needing rescuing from animals and being squeamish. There really are a lot of women like this in films.

How many pre-1990 film actresses does it take to change a lightbulb? Just the one to wiggle her bottom until a man turns up to get the job done.

Scary girls

Another film I watched this Christmas was Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! If you don’t know Meyer, his hallmark is sexploitation with big breasts. I bought my husband a box set for Christmas.

This particular film (which is very badly acted), is both pro and anti-feminist. It features vicious women who get their kicks from fighting and killing. They are free and independent, using men only as sex objects and to prove their own superiority. So far so feminist. But Meyer's women are clearly (and infamously) chosen for their figures, most notably their enormous breasts. What the whole adds up to is a big fighty-feisty-girl-breast-fest. Fun though. 

Bond girls

Then there’s the compulsory Christmas Bond film.

In old-style Bond, the Connery and Moore school, women are usually pretty helpless (pretty and helpless) and invariably end up running about in a bikini, getting themselves and the hero into scrapes, but being forgiven because they're so darn attractive.

The women in new-style Bond, Brosnan and Craig, still spend a lot of time in bikinis but tend to be more useful (think Halle Berry in Die Another Day, although she does still need rescuing at the end, but what's a girl to do when she's trapped in a palace made of ice?).

They may be picked so that they look good in swimwear, but then so is James Bond, so I’m not about to complain about that. In The World is Not Enough they even allow a woman to be really clever (Denise Richards), although they ruin it by calling her Dr Christmas Jones. 

Redressing the balance

I’m glad that films are slowly redressing the balance when it comes to sexism, but that doesn’t help me reconcile my love of sexist flicks featuring men of action with my theoretical dislike of their portrayal of women. The later Bond films have proven that you really don't have to show women being hopeless to show men at their best, but it took a long time for Hollywood to figure that out.

When I ask myself what I would change about the women and men in these films, the answer is nothing. I love them too much as they are. What do you do?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Men don't wear bras

The Guardian has done an anecdotal, tongue-in-cheek survey, to see if it's more expensive going through life as a man or a woman.

The (completely unscientific) piece, 'Is it cheaper to be a woman - or a man?', looks at spending on clothes, underwear, shaving and cosmetics, food and drink, and haircuts. It concludes that being a woman costs roughly 6% more than being a man.

The article cites recent ONS data suggesting that on average women spend £588 a year on their wardrobes, while men spend £322. It seems that this is, as you might expect, a mixture of women's clothes costing more and women buying more things, partly because we need to (men don't wear bras) and partly because we want to.

It's interesting, but not really surprising, that some retailers charge different prices for near identical items, depending on whether you are in the men's or the women's sections. Despite more material being required for the men's version, you guessed it, the women's is more expensive.

I don't think we can really blame the retailers being sexist for this - it's basic economics. The same economics that means you will pay £5 for a white T-shirt in Tesco and £20 for pretty much the same item at Boden or wherever it is you shop. After covering the costs of production (usually) the retailer charges you what they think you will pay. If you are shopping for clothes in Tesco, you're probably expecting to get a bargain, so prices have to be kept low. If you walk into a Jigsaw store on the high street, then you're happy to pay a bit more for the way you look, and the shop charges accordingly. They charge us what we, collectively, are willing to pay, and by and large women are willing to pay more than men.

How women can spend the same as men on clothes

If you really object to spending more on clothes than your boyf, you can:

  1. Dress in men's clothing (although this won't help with the bras)
  2. Get all your clothes from Tesco (very cheap)
  3. Become an extremely thrifty and brave sales shopper (personally, I pay more to avoid the sales scrum)
  4. Embrace the world of charity shops
  5. Become a nudist

'Despite feminism...'

It's all swings and roundabouts really. Men need to eat more calories than women, so it should cost them more to feed themselves, but women use tampons, that type of thing.

The comments, on the Guardian article are hilarious (definitely worth a read), with women boasting about their sartorial decisions that help them save money, and men bemoaning that 'despite feminism, women expect men to pay for at least the big occasions, like Valentines meals, engagement rings'. Well, some women do, some women don't. That's another day, another blog (I love that phrase 'despite feminism' - you always know what's coming).

Whether you're the type of woman who has more lip gloss than Jordan and needs a spare house just to store your jeans, or you're happy with soap, water and one nice outfit for special occasions, don't moan about it. Let's all just strive for equal pay to help us support our spending, whatever it is.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Stereotypes – there must be more to life

I attempted to buy a birthday card for a man this week. This particular man is not all that interested in football, cricket, beer or golf. Men come off very badly in the world of greeting cards. For women, there are more options, although there is a tendency to depict us as either cooking, drinking wine or shopping for shoes.

Why is there this reductionist attitude in the world of greeting cards? Even if we do like the activities assigned to us, the implication is that it is these that define us, and nothing else. In a truly equal world, where we acknowledged and respected the similarities and differences between sexes and individuals, surely the choices we go to make when we want to mark an event in the life of a loved one would not be restricted to such a limited list of hobbies which they may or may not share? 

Congratulations on your new arrival

‘New baby’ cards are even worse. Can it really only be pink or blue? Granted, the new child is only a few days old, so hasn’t yet had an opportunity to decide whether they favour football, golf or shoe-shopping as a leisure activity. The shape of their genitals is really the only defining feature about them at this stage of their life, so it's not unreasonable to focus on this with 'it's a girl/boy'. But as a girl who grew up loathing the colour pink, it just seems sad to colour-code children so early in life. Can’t we stick to expressing joy at their arrival and not assigning pastels to them? 

That’s not to say there should be no greetings cards depicting football, cricket, golf and beer, just an acknowledgement that there are a lot of men out there who aren’t interested in these things, or at least not just these things.

Brave new world

I want to live in a world which accepts that men are more than beer and cricket, that women aren’t just interested in shoes, and that a new baby is born into a world which will let him or her be whatever he or she wants to be, without making assumptions in the first days life.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Abortion in Ireland

Savita Halappanavar died on 28 October in hospital in Galway. She was happily pregnant, until she went to hospital with severe back pain and was told she was miscarrying.

Halappanavar asked for an abortion, but was told she couldn’t have it because Ireland is a Catholic country, despite the fact that doctors told her husband the foetus wouldn’t survive. She was told that while there was a foetal heartbeat they couldn’t abort. Her family say she would still be alive if she had been allowed a termination. Two inquiries are now being conducted into the case.


Whether or not an abortion could have saved Savita Halappanavar is not really the point. Maybe she would have died anyway. But it is scary to think that an otherwise healthy woman could be in her situation, in pain, in hospital where she could have been saved, and she was denied the potentially life-saving treatment because of other people’s religious beliefs. Not her beliefs - she was not a Catholic, she was a Hindu. It makes me thankful that I live in England, not for the first time.

Aren't we all pro-life?

I don’t think any of us really want death, or abortions. It’s OK to not like abortions – they’re not very nice. And you know what – if you are against abortions you never have to have one. That’s your choice. But what shouldn’t be your choice is what the rest of us do, especially when it's based on spurious beliefs about the sacredness of a human life that hasn't yet come into existence (it's called 'being born' for a reason).

Savita Halappanavar’s case is high profile because she died and that makes it desperately sad. But what about the other women? Teenage girls who make mistakes and end up pregnant – we all make mistakes and we all have to deal with the consequences. Maybe one day they will be brilliant mothers, but they know they’ve got a lot to learn before then. Does one misjudged shag really have to mean they lose the life they’d hoped for? And worse, women who are raped. Or just women of any age who for whatever reason become pregnant and know that this isn’t the right thing for them - wrong man, wrong time, etc.

I’m not arguing for abortion as a family planning tool – it’s a serious procedure at any time and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. But the same goes for motherhood. Do we really need more unwanted children – there are quite a lot around already?

Give the women the freedom, with the help of their doctor, to make the decision that is right for them, and if their religion says they shouldn’t do it, then that’s up to them.

New legislation on abortion

The results of a new poll were announced this weekend, suggesting that the majority of people in Ireland want new legislation to prevent what happened to Savita Halappanavar from happening again.

The Sunday Business Post/Red C survey suggests eight out 10 people would support laws which allow abortion where the mother's life is threatened, including by suicide.

The Irish government is considering introducing new legislation and/or regulations on abortion, and it looks as if some kind of decision will be announced before Christmas.

This won’t be a complete reform – more a tinkering of the existing laws to allow very few women, in the most desperate situations to have an abortion, and I suspect that the majority of the 4,000 Irish women who travel to England and Wales every year to have their pregnancies terminated will continue to do so. But it is a step forward, opening up the door just a crack, to give some hope for a future where one person's belief that abortion is evil does not mean that those who need it are denied it – whether because their lives are at risk, or because they made a mistake.