Patriarchy https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/14929/all cached version 14/02/2019 10:20:23 en Gender egalitarianism made us human: patriarchy was too little, too late https://www.opendemocracy.net/camilla-power/gender-egalitarianism-made-us-human-patriarchy-was-too-little-too-late <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The original rule was that against rape, ‘No means NO’, a woman’s body is sacred if she says so. Here is my story about how that rule arose.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Hadza Maitoko jpeg.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Hadza Maitoko jpeg.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="541" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Hadza female coalition on the warpath, hunting down boys during their maitoko ceremony. Chris Knight. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>“It’s not Me Too. It’s not just sexual harassment. It’s an anti-patriarchy movement. Time’s up on 10,000 years of recorded history. This is coming. This is real…You watch. Women are gonna take charge of society.”</em></p> <p>So spoke former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at a Golden Globes dinner last February where actors wore black – a symbol of sexual refusal – to protest sexual abuse. It’s doubtful Bannon had boned up on his anthropology and archaeology in reaching for the 10,000-year date, but he was joining a recent debate on the lifespan and ‘natural history’ of patriarchy.</p> <p>About a month after Bannon’s pronouncements, two lefty University of London professors, <a href="https://www.eurozine.com/change-course-human-history/">David Graeber and David Wengrow</a>, rewrote ‘the narrative of human history’. They attacked the ‘myth’ that humans had once enjoyed equality and freedom in hunter-gatherer bands, until the invention of farming sent us down the road to social inequality (and Bannon-style patriarchy). So while the alt-right-winger appears to be setting a limit to patriarchy as a historic phenomenon, the anarchists seem to believe it extends all the way back to our very origins.</p> <p>Disturbingly, I think Bannon is correct, both on the coming power of anti-patriarchy and in his assessment of male dominance as recent history – not human nature. The anarchist professors, because they are gender-blind in their analysis on the history of equality, have got it wrong. <span class="mag-quote-center">Disturbingly, I think Bannon is correct, both on the coming power of anti-patriarchy and in his assessment of male dominance as recent history – not human nature.</span></p> <p>The main reasons Graeber and Wengrow are disqualified from speaking about human origins are that they give no context of evolution; they don’t deal with sex and gender; and they leave out Africa, the continent on which we evolved as modern humans. </p> <p>Let’s be clear. Bannon/Trump are the enemy, the epitome of patriarchy, the clear and present danger to our planet. I intend to do everything I can to make Bannon’s words come true. This is why it matters that the London professors are undermining our current understanding of how recent patriarchy is in our history, and how little it has contributed to making us the species we are. </p> <p>I want to present evidence that gender egalitarianism was pivotal to the evolution of our language-speaking ancestors. I’ll ask whether it makes a difference if our modern human bodies and minds evolved through a prolonged period of increasing egalitarianism. Would it help us if we were designed by natural and sexual selection to be happy and healthy in egalitarian conditions? &nbsp;If so, then perhaps the positive question that needs asking first is not ‘how did we get to be unequal?’ but ‘how did we first become equal?’ </p> <h2><strong>Egalitarian bodies and minds</strong></h2> <p>Let’s begin with the biology. Perhaps the hallmark of our egalitarian nature is the design of our eyes. We are the only one of well over 200 primate species to have evolved eyes with an elongated shape and a bright white sclera background to a dark iris. Known as <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17140637">‘cooperative eyes’</a>, they invite anyone we interact with to see easily what we are looking at. By contrast, great apes have round, dark eyes, making it very difficult to judge their eye direction. Like mafia dons wearing sunglasses, they watch other animal’s moves intently, but disguise their thoughts from others. This suits a primate world of Machiavellian competition.</p> <p>Our eyes are adapted for mutual mindreading, also called intersubjectivity; our closest relatives block this off. To look into each other’s eyes, asking ‘can you see what I see?’ and ‘are you thinking what I am thinking?’ is completely natural to us, from an early age. Staring into the eyes of other primate species is taken as a threat. This tells us immediately that we evolved along a different path from our closest primate relatives.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674060326&amp;content=reviews"><em>Mothers and Others</em></a>, the most important book on human evolution published this century, the outstanding Darwinian feminist Sarah Hrdy gives a convincing account of how, why and when this happened. She presents a straightforward argument. We do babysitting in all human societies, mothers being happy to hand over their offspring for others to look after temporarily. African hunter-gatherers are the champions of this collective form of childcare, indicating that it was routine in our heritage. In stark contrast, great ape mothers – chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang utans – do not let their babies go. Because of the risks of harm to their infants, they are hyperpossessive and protective, not daring to take the chance. </p> <p>This particularly applies to great apes. Monkeys behave differently, being prepared to leave a baby with a trusted relative. Old World monkey mothers usually live with female relatives: great ape mothers don’t. This means ape mothers have no one nearby whom they can trust sufficiently. This is telling us something significant about the social conditions in which we evolved. Our foremothers must have been living close to trusted female relatives, the most reliable in the first place being a young mother’s own mother. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC18762/">This ‘grandmother hypothesis’</a> has been used to explain our long post-reproductive lifespans – the evolution of menopause.</p> <p>Hrdy explores how multi-parental care shaped the evolution of our species’ unique psychological nature. While cooperative childcare may start with the mother-daughter relationship, bonding with grandchildren quickly leads to the involvement of aunts, sisters, older daughters and other trusted relatives. From the moment when mothers allow others to hold their babies, says Hrdy, selection pressures for new kinds of mind-reading are established. These give rise to novel responses – mutual gazing, babbling, kissfeeding and so forth – which enable this variegated triad of mum, baby and new helper to consolidate bonds while monitoring one another’s intentions. &nbsp;Within a few short hours after birth, a baby in an African hunter-gatherer camp will have been held by numerous relatives and friends, of both sexes. <span class="mag-quote-center">Within a few short hours after birth, a baby in an African hunter-gatherer camp will have been held by numerous relatives and friends, of both sexes. </span></p> <p>The most salient feature of our anatomy distinguishing us from other apes is the extraordinary size of our brains. While a human and chimp mother have a fairly similar body weight, adult humans today have upwards of three times the brain volume of a chimp. Brain tissue is very expensive in terms of energy requirements. Doing the whole job by themselves, great ape mothers are constrained in the amount of energy they can provide to offspring and so apes cannot expand brains above what is known as a <a href="https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/667623">‘gray ceiling’</a> (600 cc). Our ancestors smashed through this ceiling some 1.5-2 million years ago with the emergence of <em>Homo erectus</em>, who had brains more than twice the volume of chimps today. This tells us that cooperative childcare was already part of <em>Homo erectus</em> society, with concomitant features of evolving cooperative eyes and emergent intersubjectivity. </p> <p>We can track the degree of egalitarianism in the societies of descendants of <em>Homo erectus</em>, by measuring brain sizes in these early humans, using the fossil record. From 6-700,000 years ago we begin to see cranial values in the modern human range, three times as large as present day chimps. From half a million years ago, for both African (modern human ancestor) and Eurasian (Neanderthal ancestor) populations, brain size accelerates rapidly. What we find evidenced in the fossil record is materially more energy for females and their offspring. This implies an inevitable gendering of the strategies that enabled this to happen. </p> <p>Any tendency to male dominance and strategic control of females would have obstructed these unprecedented increases of brain size. While there must have been variability in the degree of dominance or egalitarianism among human groups, we can be confident that those populations where male dominance, sexual conflict and infanticide risks remained high were not the ones who became our ancestors. Our forebears were the ones who somehow solved the problem of great ape male dominance, instead harnessing males into routine support of these extraordinarily large-brained offspring. </p> <h2><strong>Machiavellian intelligence</strong></h2> <p>One key question is what drove the increase of brain size. Brains are wonderful to have if you can afford them. But such large increases of brain size are vanishingly rare in evolution because of the expense. What are these large brains for? One major hypothesis is the Social Brain theory. This relates brain size, specifically the size of the neocortex, across primate species, to the degree of social complexity, the network of relationships that any individual needs to deal with.&nbsp; This can be measured by average group sizes for any particular species, or sizes of coalitions and cliques within social groups. One version of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1626378/">the ‘social brain’ focuses on specifically <em>female</em> group sizes</a> as most critical in driving the evolution of intelligence. </p> <p>The original idea behind social brain was called Machiavellian intelligence. This switched the focus of understanding the evolution of intelligence from technology and foraging to social relationships. Machiavellian intelligence is a subtle idea that sees animals in complex social groups competing in evolutionary terms by becoming more adept at cooperation, and more capable of negotiating alliances. So in this theoretical perspective, the significant increases of brain size in the primate order, from monkeys to apes, then from apes to hominins, result from increasing political complexity and the ability to create alliances. </p> <p>Egalitarianism is difficult to explain using Darwinian theory premised on competition. Andrew Whiten, one of the inventors of Machiavellian intelligence theory, and his student David Erdal saw that Machiavellian intelligence could generate the difference between primate-style dominance hierarchies and typical hunter-gatherer egalitarianism.&nbsp; </p> <p>At a certain point, the ability to operate within alliances exceeds the ability of any single individual, no matter how strong, to dominate others. If the dominant tries, he (assuming ‘he’ for the moment) will meet an alliance in resistance who together can deal with him. Once that point is reached, the sensible strategy becomes not to try to dominate others, but to use alliances to resist being dominated oneself. This was termed <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273292486_Egalitarianism_and_Machiavellian_Intelligence_in_Human_Evolution">‘counterdominance’</a> by Erdal and Whiten, and they used it to describe what is found regularly in African hunter-gatherer societies, so-called demand-sharing, an attitude of ‘don’t mess with me’, humour as a levelling device, and the impossibility of coercion since no particular individual is in charge. They saw counterdominance as fundamental to the evolution of human psychology, with competing tendencies for individuals to try to get away with bigger shares where opportunity presents, but, faced with demands from others, to give in and settle for equal shares.</p> <p>Whiten and Erdal focused on food-sharing as the most visible aspect of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism. But how does sex fit into this model? Whiten and Erdal noted the hunter-gatherer tendency for monogamy, or serial monogamy, which contrasts with polygyny among propertied farmers and herders. But again we need to go to our biology to see the underlying features of our reproductive physiology that lead to reproductive egalitarianism – the most significant form of egalitarianism from an evolutionary perspective. <span class="mag-quote-center">Women have evolved a sexual physiology which can be described as levelling and time-wasting…&nbsp; For a dominant male trying to manage a harem of females this is disastrous.</span></p> <p>Women <a href="http://www.paleoanthro.org/media/journal/content/PA20130033.pdf">have evolved a sexual physiology</a> which can be described as levelling and time-wasting. Why? Because if a hominin female really needs extra energy for her hungry offspring, better to give reproductive rewards to males who will hang around and do something useful for those offspring. Our reproductive signals make life hard for males who want to identify fertile females, monopolise the fertile moment and then move on to the next one (a classic strategy for dominant male apes). We have concealed and unpredictable ovulation. A man cannot reliably tell when his partner is ovulating. Also, women are sexually receptive, potentially, for virtually all of their cycle, a much larger proportion than any other primate. The combined effect is to scramble the information for males about exactly when a female is fertile. </p> <p>For a dominant male trying to manage a harem of females this is disastrous. While he is guessing about the possible fertility of one cycling female, he has to stay with her, and is missing other opportunities. Meanwhile, other males will be attending to those other sexually receptive females. Continuous sexual receptivity spreads the reproductive opportunities around many males, hence is <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23117051">levelling from an evolutionary perspective</a>. </p> <p>BaYaka women of the Congo forest have a slogan perfectly expressing their resistance to male philandering: ‘<a href="https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/692905">One woman, one penis!’</a> This serves as their ritual rallying cry against any attempt by a man to form a harem. Basically, hunter-gatherer women demand one man each to support their energy requirements and investment in costly offspring. </p> <p>In farming and herding societies, some men can muster resources, large livestock or land, enabling them to acquire more than one wife, those wives and their children then forming the patriarch’s labour force. This automatically means other men go without reproductive opportunities. But for immediate-return hunter-gatherers, those who consume all they hunt and gather the same day, men cannot accumulate resources and harem-holding is simply not stable. </p> <h2><strong>Symbolism and language depend on egalitarianism</strong></h2> <p>So far, I have claimed that these features of our biology, life history and evolved psychology provide evidence of an egalitarian past during our evolution: our large brain size, cooperative eyes, menopause, intersubjectivity and Machiavellian counterdominance. &nbsp;These are underpinned by women’s evolved sexual physiology increasing equality of reproductive opportunities among men, compared with their great ape cousins.</p> <p>Now I will argue that using symbols and speaking language could only have emerged on the basis of egalitarianism. Over fifty years ago, leading US anthropologist Marshall Sahlins made a revealing comparison of nonhuman primates against human hunter-gatherers. Noting egalitarianism as a key difference, he saw culture as <a href="http://radicalanthropologygroup.org/sites/default/files/pdf/class_text_036.pdf">‘the oldest “equalizer”.</a> Among animals capable of symbolic communication’ he said, ‘the weak can collectively connive to overthrow the strong.’&nbsp; We can reverse the arrow of causality here. Because among Machiavellian and counterdominant humans weaker individuals can connive to overthrow the strong, we are animals capable of symbolic communication. </p> <p>Only in such conditions is language likely to emerge. The strong have no need of words; they have more direct physical means of persuasion. Here, listen to <a href="http://abahlali.org/files/Graeber.pdf">Graeber </a>, discussing the ignorance and lack of imagination of those in power in state administration. His words apply very well to the evolutionary origins of language as the essence of human creativity: </p> <blockquote><p>If you have the power to hit people over the head whenever you want, you don’t have to trouble yourself too much figuring out what they think is going on, and therefore, generally speaking, you don’t. Hence the sure-fire way to simplify social arrangements, to ignore the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings that human life is really made of, is to make a rule and threaten to attack anyone who breaks it.</p></blockquote> <p>Language as the mutual exploration of each other’s minds – ‘the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings’ as Graeber has it – requires nonviolent safe space and time to be able to work. Conversation as a necessarily consensual process expresses the quintessential opposite of the relations of dominance applied by the big stick. It relies on the ultimate in intersubjective ability to look through the eyes of the other. A fundamentally egalitarian matrix is the only possible ground for the evolution of language. </p> <p>With his anarchist instincts, Graeber associates arbitrary rules with the power of the bureaucratic and bullying state which has no interest in what its subjects actually think since it can apply violence with impunity. But the first rules ever invented by human beings surely did not come from the minds of dominant individuals. The powerful need only operate by the maxim of ‘might is right’. <span class="mag-quote-center">The first rules ever invented by human beings surely did not come from the minds of dominant individuals.</span></p> <p>Rules and taboos observed in hunter-gatherer communities where there is no possibility of coercion follow another dynamic. At first glance, they may appear as random collections of weird customs with no particular logic. Take for example the concept of <a href="http://www.chrisknight.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/j2e1467-96552e20082e005022ex.pdf"><em>ekila </em>among the BaYaka</a>. This is an ancient idea found across the Congo basin among diverse groups of forest hunter-gatherers. Untranslatable, it encompasses food taboos, hunting luck, respect for animals, menstrual blood, fertility and the moon. For anthropologist Jerome Lewis, <em>ekila</em> provides a trail of breadcrumbs for any individual as they grow up, teaching them how to ‘do’ their culture. </p> <p>This is thoroughly egalitarian because the authority for these rules does not rest with any single influential person, but with the forest itself. The axiom of <em>ekila</em> is proper sharing, interdependency and respect, between those of a different age or sex, between humans and animals. Then the forest provides. We can tell that this was not dreamed up by some dominant male because for a man to maintain his <em>ekila</em> (roughly, his hunting luck), he should not have sex before a hunt. A woman preserves her potency or <em>ekila</em> when she goes to the moon, that is menstruates. All those in her hut must follow the same observances and taboos. </p> <p><em>Ekila</em> is an ancient, self-organising system of law that may echo the big bang of earliest human culture. It really represents what I claim is the original rule, the rule against rape, ‘No means NO’, a woman’s body is sacred if she says so. And here is my story about how that rule arose in the first place.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Ochre lump jpg.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Ochre lump jpg.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Red ochre from the southern African Middle Stone Age which has been rubbed and striated to produce pigments for body art. Ian Watts. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <h2><strong>In the beginning was the word, and the word was NO!</strong></h2> <p>Women’s bodies evolved over a million years to favour the ‘one woman, one penis’ principle, rewarding males who were willing to share and invest over those who competed for extra females, at the expense of investment. But as we became more Machiavellian in our strategies, so did would-be alpha males. The final steep rise in brain size up to the emergence of modern humans likely reflects an arms race of Machiavellian strategies between the sexes. &nbsp;<span class="mag-quote-center">The final steep rise in brain size up to the emergence of modern humans probably reflects an arms race of Machiavellian strategies between the sexes. </span></p> <p>As brain sizes increased, mothers needed more regular and reliable contributions from male partners. In African hunter-gatherers this has become a fixed pattern known by anthropologists as ‘bride-service’. A man’s sexual access depends on his success in provisioning and surrendering on demand any game or honey he gets to the family of his bride – mainly his mother-in-law who is effectively his boss. Where women are living with their mothers, this makes it almost impossible for a man to dominate by controlling distribution of food. </p> <p>The problem for early modern human females as they came under the maximum stress of increased brain size would be with males who tried to get away with sex without bride-service. To deal with this threat, mothers of costly offspring extended their alliances to include just about everyone against the potential alpha. Men who were relatives of mothers (brothers or mother’s brothers) would support those females. In addition, men who willingly invested in offspring would have interests directly opposed to the would-be alpha, who undermined their reproductive efforts. This pits a whole community as a coalition against a would-be dominant individual. Evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm describes this as ‘reverse-dominance’, a political dynamic that for the first time established a <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674006911&amp;content=reviews">morally regulated community</a>.</p> <p>So the occasion for reverse-dominant, collective – <em>moral</em> – action happens whenever a prospective alpha male tries to abduct a potentially fertile female. Can we describe this in more detail in terms of actual behaviour? </p> <p>The alpha male strategy is to find and mate with a fertile female, before moving on to the next one. But how does a male identify fertile females, considering that in human evolution ovulation became progressively concealed? One cue to the human reproductive cycle could not be so easily hidden: menstruation. With no sign for ovulation, menstruation became a highly salient cue to males that a female was near fertility. </p> <p>For an alpha male, a menstruating female is the obvious target. Guard her and have sex with her until she is pregnant. Then, look for the next one.&nbsp; In nomadic hunter-gatherer camps, women of reproductive age are pregnant or nursing much of the time, making menstruation a relatively rare event. Undermining cooperative childcare, menstruation threatens to trigger male competition for access to an imminently fertile female, and also competition among females, because a pregnant or nursing mother risks losing male support to a cycling female.</p> <p>Mothers have two possible responses to this problem. Following the logic of concealed ovulation, they might try to hide the menstruant’s condition so that males would not know. But because the signal has potential economic value by attracting male attention, females should do the opposite: make a big display advertising imminent fertility. Whenever a coalition member menstruated, the whole coalition joined that female in amplifying her signal to attract males. Females within coalitions would begin to use blood-coloured substances as cosmetics to augment their signals. This is the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_cosmetic_coalitions">Female Cosmetic Coalitions model</a> of the origins of art and symbolic culture. <span class="mag-quote-center">This is the Female Cosmetic Coalitions model of the origins of art and symbolic culture. </span></p> <p>In creating a cosmetic coalition in resistance, females deter alpha males by surrounding a menstrual female and refusing to let anyone near. They are creating the world’s first taboo, on menstrual blood or collectively imagined blood, speaking the world’s first word: NO! </p> <p>But even as a negative, this cosmetic display encourages investor males who are willing to go hunting and bring back supplies to the whole female coalition. Cosmetically decorated females who create a big show of solidarity against alpha males ensure that investor males will get the fitness rewards. It is fully in the interests of investor males to sexually select females belonging to ritual cosmetic coalitions, because they then eliminate competition from the would-be alphas.</p> <p>The Female Cosmetic Coalition (FCC) model shows us the prototype of a moral order, upheld through those puberty rituals, taboos, and prohibitions that <a href="https://libcom.org/history/blood-relations-menstruation-origins-culture">surround menstruation in so many ethnographic accounts</a>. <em>Ekila</em>, discussed above, is a classic example.</p> <p>The FCC strategy is also the prototype symbolic action, with collective agreement that fake or imaginary ‘blood’ stands for real blood. While it is <em>revolutionary</em> at the level of morality, symbolism and economics, the strategy emerges as an <em>evolutionary</em> adaptation, driven by male sexual selection of female ritual participants. On this basis, through reverse gender dominance, the hunter-gatherer institution of bride-service emerges, with roughly equal chances of reproductive success for all hunters.</p> <p>Finally, the FCC model explains what we find as the earliest symbolic material in the archaeological record. When the theory was first advanced in the mid-1990s, it predicted that the world’s first symbolic media would consist of blood-red cosmetics. It predicted where and when we should find them: in Africa, preceding and during our speciation, in relation to the increases of brain size. This points to a pigment record from 6-700,000 years ago and especially with the rapid growth of brains in the last 300,000 years. </p> <p>These theoretical predictions have been strikingly confirmed. Pervading the record of the African Middle Stone Age are blood-red iron oxides, red ochres. These pigments are the first durable materials to be mined, processed, curated and used in design. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29545508">They date back at least 300,000 years in the East</a> and <a href="https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/686484">southern African record</a>, possibly as old as half a million years. From the time of modern humans they are found in every southern African site and rock shelter. They become the hallmark of modern humans as they move out of Africa around the world, found in copious quantities in both the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe, and in Australia from the first entry of modern humans to those continents. </p> <h2><strong>Gender ambiguity at the core of the earliest religious ideas</strong></h2> <p>As we know in the era of&nbsp; #metoo, men find it hard to hear women say NO. With that sexual physiology designed by evolution to keep men interested on a fairly continuous basis, women have to work hard to override their signals of attraction. And if they want men to go away and get on with some hunting, they will have to work very hard indeed. </p> <p>Whispering ‘not right now, darling’ won’t work. They need noise, rude songs, militant dance formations to get men’s attention: ritual. But the clincher is a symbolic overturning of reality. If men are looking for a mate who is female of the right species then change that, collectively act out “We’re actually males, and not even human but animal!’ Signal ‘Wrong sex, Wrong species, wrong time’. Be a red ochre body-painted coalition pantomiming the rutting behaviour of the animals you want men to hunt. </p> <p>Now we can see why hunter-gatherer puberty rituals take the forms they do. The Kalahari Eland bull dance is <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307107960_Reconstructing_a_source_cosmology_for_African_hunter-gatherers">one of the world’s oldest living rituals</a>. Women of the camp flash naked buttocks as they dance in playful imitation of mating antelopes. Men can watch but not approach close to the menstrual girl’s seclusion hut. She is identified as the Eland Bull, with whom the women pantomime mating. </p> <p>In the Hadza <em>maitoko</em> ceremony, girls dress as hunters, acting out the story of the matriarch who hunted zebra and tied their penises onto herself. What first appears inexplicable now makes perfect sense as women’s supernatural construction of taboo – ‘wrong sex, wrong species’. This is showing us what the first religious concepts looked like.</p> <h2><strong>Gender egalitarianism made us human: the untold secret</strong></h2> <p>Even if you don’t believe this particular story and want to work out another explanation for the red ochre and the origin of the supernatural, the biological and psychological evidence that our ancestors went through a prolonged phase of egalitarianism remains. Without that, we would not be here as language-speaking modern humans. We might have evolved into a smaller-brained hominin with rounder-shaped eyes, using primate-style gesture/call systems of communication, and the planet would look like a very different place. </p> <p>Does all this matter? Does it matter that women, organizing as the revolutionary sex, bust through the ‘gray ceiling’ of brain size? That female political strategies created human symbolic culture? That resistance is at the core of being human? Should we be telling our children the story of our Paleolithic heritage of gender equality – the untold secret – and how it gave our African ancestors an extraordinary future? If we want that future stretching ahead of us as far as it stretches back into our hunter-gatherer past, I think it does. </p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Equality Steve Bannon Patriarchy evolutionary psychology Camilla Power Fri, 31 Aug 2018 10:39:31 +0000 Camilla Power 119496 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On beauty: Special K adverts, body dysmorphic disorder, and Lupita Nyong'o https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/georgia-colesriley/on-beauty-special-k-adverts-body-dysmorphic-disorder-and-lupita-ny <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>None of us can escape from the vicious reality of our cultural obsession with 'beauty', but I was lucky to survive my body dysmorphic disorder. Part of Transformation's&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/freeform-tags/politics-of-mental-health" target="_blank">politics of mental health</a> series. Content warning: suicide attempt, self harm.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p lang="en-GB"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley on beauty transformation.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Special K fight fat talk advert "><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley on beauty transformation.jpg" alt="" title="Special K fight fat talk advert " width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A still from Special K's "Fight Fat Talk" ad campaign. Credit: Youtube.</span></span></span></p><p lang="en-GB">I’ve always cried easily. I cried at the end of the film <em>Ice Age. </em>I wept with emotion during the British Royal Wedding, despite my staunch anti-monarchy views.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> And to my embarrassment, I once became hysterical watching a cereal advert.</p><p lang="en-GB">The ad in question was for <em>Special K, </em>a wheat bran and red berry cereal laced with synthetic vitamins. It opened with a shot of three young girls skipping happily through the sea, bathed in a warm nostalgic light. “Remember when you didn’t worry about your body?” the sultry voiceover asked. We then saw the three girls as adults sitting around self-consciously in kaftans, looking longingly towards the ocean.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Then the voiceover said that the women had completed the <em>Special K</em> diet, replacing two of their daily meals with a bowl of cereal. Donned in the brands’ hallmark red swimming costumes, the three women ran merrily through the waves once more.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> My tears began as a guffaw of disbelief, my normal cynical reaction to all television commercials. But its narrative made me realise that I couldn’t remember a time when I did not worry about my body. I gazed with envy and longing at the slender women in their red swimming costumes, at their dazzling, white toothed smiles.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> This advert ‘reminded’ me that happy women were slim women with perfectly symmetrical faces. I desperately longed for happiness and I saw it as only being achievable through physical beauty. This is the idea that countless adverts sell us.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> The global diet foods market is set to <span><a href="http://www.prweb.com/releases/diet_foods_market/low_fat_foods_market/prweb3831044.htm">exceed $200bn</a></span> by 2015, while the cosmetic surgery industry was worth an estimated <span><a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/31/us-cosmetic-surgery-report-idUSBRE90U1FW20130131">$40.1bn</a></span> in 2013. These are industries that capitalise at best on insecurity and at worst on chronic mental illness.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Sufferers of <span><a href="http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/body-dysmorphic-disorder/">Body Dysmorphic Disorder</a></span> - an <span><a href="http://www.patient.co.uk/health/body-dysmorphic-disorder">estimated 1 in 100 people</a></span> - have an excessive preoccupation with a perceived defect of their physical appearance. The condition can be so disabling that nearly half of such patients consider suicide.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Despite its prevalence and gravity as an illness, it is an understudied condition.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> In 2012, I was diagnosed with depression, and put on a course of SSRI antidepressants. For a long time, I had been consumed by self-hatred. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw something that I despised: my ‘fat’ body and ‘ugly’ face were a physical manifestation of all of my failings.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> The health professionals that I came into contact with were initially unhelpful when I complained to them about being ugly. “You’re a good looking girl,” the student counsellor offered. “You are not overweight,” said my doctor. These well-meaning comments validated to me the idea that my looks were important.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> One evening, I took part in a free ‘Find Your Ideal Weight’ test, desperate in the hope that the internet would tell me that my body was a desirable one. Then I would know that my insecurities were in my head, and I could begin to get better.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Instead, the website told me that- in spite of my ‘healthy’ BMI - my ideal weight was <em>one and a half stone </em>lighter.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> That wasn’t just a few inches off my waist. That was every bit of hated flesh that I had ever held in my hands, pulled at and cut at during hours of agonizing in front of the mirror. I paid the £60 joining fee, and spent the last ten pounds in my bank account on an extensive list of tasteless, low calorie foods. I <em>would </em>get better, by getting rid of the ‘excess fat’ that I saw as being a barrier to wider personal achievement.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> One night, after a Dukan Diet Plan® meal of cottage cheese and black pepper, I went to my bedroom, climbed into my bed, and decided that I was going to make an attempt on my life.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Although I had been losing weight under the gruelling regime of the diet, my body felt the same unbearable heaviness. My face, drawn from a lack of sleep and a lack of properly sustaining food, looked uglier to me than ever before. I had had enough.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> I was lucky enough to survive my suicide attempt. I was held in A&amp;E overnight, unable to sleep, and when I was discharged I was left on an armchair in a room full of very old, very frail patients to wait for an appointment with a psychiatrist. Ironically, I even read a fashion magazine to keep myself occupied. I was shivering severely, feeling nauseous and repulsive, and, most of all, utterly alone.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> During that one hour with the psychiatrist I was barely able to touch on the extent of my pain. I was too embarrassed to tell her that I didn’t think life was worth living because I saw myself as unattractive. The mystery surrounding B.D.D. means that it is often left undiagnosed. Sufferers remain untreated, often with tragic consequences.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> I would have been completely lost without the support of my family and friends. They believed the poison in my brain was not simply a chemical imbalance that could be redressed with medication.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Psychiatry professor Katharine A. Phillips is an expert on B.D.D. She argues that societal emphasis on looks is<em> not</em> an important factor of the condition, but <span><a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/9693178/The-ugly-truth-about-body-dysmorphic-disorder.html">told The Telegraph</a></span><em>:</em> “It is possible that the rate of B.D.D. is increasing as women get bombarded with media images of perfection. Lots of studies have shown that the more you see images of perfection around you, and the more you compare yourself with those images, the worse you tend to feel about yourself.”&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> My family and friends felt that my B.D.D. was culturally aggravated. Women (and to a lesser extent men) are evaluated by their appearance; thin is fetishized and photoshopping faces to fit one specific standard is the norm.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> In a recent speech on beauty, Oscar Winning actor Lupita Nyong'o <span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Ss14AyZbg">told the audience</a></span> at Essence Magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood event that screen media and advertising makes women feel inadequate by failing to reflect our diversity.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful,” she said. “I put on the TV and only saw pale skin […] my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned.” </p> <p lang="en-GB"> Styling women of colour so that they appear more white is commonplace: even the most successful black women have been <span><a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2087388/Beyonc-white-skin-row-Controversial-photo-shows-singer-looking-shades-lighter-usual-tone.html">subject to this practice</a></span>. The skin whitening cream industry is worth multiple billions of dollars. Unilever, one of the largest corporations in the world, is behind <span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jul/16/unilever-hypocritical-promoting-skin-lightening">multiple skin whitening ranges</a></span>.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Rather than reflecting a demand for diversity, the beauty industry perpetrates a more homogenous ideal than ever before. Just look at these stills, taken from three fashion commercials. In it, three Oscar Winning actors - with an average age of 46 - are barely distinguishable from each other. The narrower the ideal, the more women there are who feel they are inadequate, and the more women there will be who will spend <span><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/23/beauty-products_n_3975209.html">a significant proportion of their income</a></span> to try and conform.</p><p lang="en-GB"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley on beauty transformation actor still.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Cate Blanchett still "><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley on beauty transformation actor still.jpg" alt="Cate Blanchett still " title="Cate Blanchett still " width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p lang="en-GB"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley Nicole Kidman on beauty transformation.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Nicole Kidman still "><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley Nicole Kidman on beauty transformation.jpg" alt="Nicole Kidman still " title="Nicole Kidman still " width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p lang="en-GB"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley kate winslet on beauty transformation.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Kate winslet still "><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Georgia Coles Riley kate winslet on beauty transformation.jpg" alt="Kate Winslet still " title="Kate winslet still " width="460" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Three Oscar Winning actors - indistinguishable from each other. Credit: Youtube.</span></span></span></p><p lang="en-GB">The particularly pernicious irony of the state of the beauty industry at present is that it claims to embrace ‘natural’ beauty. Beauty companies have even begun to co-opt the terminology of emancipatory politics to pump their products: <span><a href="https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=7&amp;cad=rja&amp;uact=8&amp;ved=0CGMQFjAG&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dove.us%2FSocial-Mission%2Fcampaign-for-real-beauty.aspx&amp;ei=3zRNU9DWH4bTPIipgLgJ&amp;usg=AFQjCNHWfhgmdElWEOZPtl_k3lJs1R4qwQ&amp;sig2=gbswWDpBOa0yhS6htlWEdg">Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty</a></span> and <em>Special K</em>’s FightFatTalk are particularly insidious examples.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> In the <span><a href="https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=8&amp;cad=rja&amp;uact=8&amp;ved=0CGYQtwIwBw&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DWEIFlSBodVM&amp;ei=tTRNU_7eNsOVPKPhgOgB&amp;usg=AFQjCNE5uyHMAHdV8rAfDnxEYJFFkI2oCA&amp;sig2=xZAWBk8awOEU2jO4-Y055w">FightFatTalk ad</a></span>, unsuspecting members of the public come into a shop to browse through its clothing aisles. There are signs dotted about the shop with some rather strange slogans: “Feeling so disgusted with my figure at the moment #cow” and “I have a muffin top”. The women, understandably, react with shock and anger at seeing these slogans.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> When they are told (off camera) that they are part of an experiment set up by <em>Special K</em> to examine ‘women’s self-esteem problem’, they invariably get tears in their eyes, and renounce a lifetime of so called ‘Fat Talk’, smiling to the camera and promising to make a change.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> For people coping with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, ‘Fat Talk’ and its equivalent is a daily, constant reality. The irony of a major diet foods company claiming to be against it is almost too huge.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Itemising our body insecurities is an integral part of female bonding, especially when we are teenagers. When we make jokes at the expense of our bodies to our friends, they are laughed at, not understood for what they are: little pockets of self-hatred that grow with each appreciative giggle.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Blogger <span><a href="http://m.blogher.com/lady-thing-i-wont-talk-about-even-feminists">Gayle Force</a></span> summed it up perfectly when she said that B.D.D. “feels like the disorder of horrendous privilege and anti-feminism.” For sufferers, the temptation to ‘Fat Talk’ in front of your friends is too strong to deny, even when objectively you know how incredibly harming this behaviour is.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> You intellectualize the problem and accept that you wear a clothing size smaller than your friends’, but you still won’t stop going on about horrifically fat you are to her. You spend an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing other women’s bodies and comparing them to your own. I felt as though my illness had meant I had failed in the battle against the patriarchy.</p> <p lang="en-GB"> The only way for me to begin to recover from B.D.D. was to deny that my body existed. I deleted my Facebook, because I was spending hours a day looking through photos of myself and agonizing over how hideous I was. I took out all mirrors from my room. I asked my friends not to talk about my looks, even if I bought them up in conversation. I eventually agreed to go on a course of CBT, and, amazingly, I now have an almost healthy relationship with my body.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-GB"> Yet relapses of my B.D.D. are common and often triggered by something as innocuous as a flick through London newspaper <em>The Evening Standard </em>or sitting through a fashion advert in the cinema.</p> <p lang="en-GB">None of us can escape from the vicious reality of our culture’s obsession with ‘beauty’: even reading supposedly progressive blogs and magazines, we are bombarded with images of ‘ideal’ bodies and high fashion faces. But non normative beauty icons <em>can</em> boost our confidence. Lupita Nyong’o says that she was able to overcome her hatred of her black skin when South Sudanese model Alek Wek became world famous.</p><p lang="en-GB">B.D.D. is not an illness that has been&nbsp;<em>created</em>&nbsp;by industry. Even so, the industries that benefit from B.D.D. must be held to account.&nbsp;Refusing narrow beauty ideals is a good first step, but we can also attempt to deny that attractiveness should be the first standard by which we are judged.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/mental-health-why-were-all-sick-under-neoliberalism">Mental health: why we&#039;re all sick under neoliberalism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/huma/i-wrote-to-recover-from-honour-based-violence">Feminism helped me survive a forced marriage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-richmond/politics-as-therapy-they-want-us-to-be-just-sick-enough-not-to-fight">Politics as therapy: they want us to be just sick enough not to fight back</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/aisha-mirza/to-survive-bipolar-disorder-i-needed-people-who-didnt-love-me">To survive bipolar disorder, I needed people who didn&#039;t love me</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan-shannon-harvey-adam-ramsay-ezekiel-incorrigible/activists-talk-menta">Activists talk mental health</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Patriarchy Bodies Beauty Fascism Body Dysmorphic Disorder Transforming Ourselves Transforming Society Georgia Coles-Riley The politics of mental health Activism Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:43:45 +0000 Georgia Coles-Riley 81966 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Seeing the women in revolutionary Syria https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/razan-ghazzawi/seeing-women-in-revolutionary-syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="p1">The battle for Syrian women's liberation is multi-faceted; and from first-hand experience, we learn just how often the intersectional modes of oppression are themselves used to undermine power.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/996634_10153499807505405_1123923895_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/996634_10153499807505405_1123923895_n.jpg" alt="'Syrian women, revolt against every authority!". Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective." title="" width="400" height="566" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>'Syrian women, revolt against every authority!". Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective.</span></span></span></p><p><em>"They brought us by bus. We were a large group of female and male comrades. I recall that we were shackled, and an increasing sense of fear overwhelmed me about reaching that place, the expected interrogation, from facing Mudar whom I thought was there, and seeing all the comrades. Mixed feelings of fear and anticipation and desire and ... But it all began to disappear en route and as I am approaching the city that I loved and still do, I did not feel the length of the road or the time that had passed by .. Damascus was looming in front of us."</em></p><p><em>&nbsp;</em><span>- Amira Huweija, m</span><span>ember of the Communist Labour Party, from her time in</span><span>&nbsp;Douma prison between 1987-1991.</span></p> <p><span>This account will try to give an overview of the role of grassroots women in the Syrian uprising in an attempt to highlight angles not widely covered by the mainstream media, in Arabic or internationally. Nor is this well represented in the narratives of the Syrian political opposition abroad. In fact in all these narratives, women are rather systematically excluded from any account of political decision-making regarding this country in such a historic phase. Women and youth have very little representation in the ranks of either the local councils or the Syrian National Coalition. So how is it that women in Syria have played an essential role throughout the phases of the uprising, a role that has shifted over time in response to the increased violence and rapid developments on the ground?</span></p><h2><strong>No political rights, no women’s rights</strong></h2> <p>Studying the women's situation in Syria, whether now or before the outbreak of revolution, without taking into consideration the government's political structure, based on its intelligence personnel and tens of hidden security apparatuses, is a dead end if we wish to understand how women's rights are directly affected by the government’s internal policies.</p> <p>As a woman who lived most of her adult life in Syria, I would not dare to launch a women's magazine, for example, in my university, without it being under the supervision of a government institution. The Baath ruling party had a National Students Union (NSU) set up in each university, which not only hijacked any daring independent initiatives coming from students, but also served as an intelligence body that watched and monitored closely any student who tried to lobby or organize any activity on such causes as the war in Iraq or the conflict over Palestine - even though the government boasted that it was the lone defender of Palestinian rights and was constantly attacking the US invasion of Iraq. Yet the regime understood perfectly well, that any improvised initiative, even in support of Palestine or Iraq, might pave the way for a lobbying closer to home and the organizing of active groups.</p> <p>I am reminding the reader that we are talking about a government that owned and occupied the public space of a country, and everything that this entailed, for more than forty years. Citizens were cultured into not initiating, not thinking or even daring to dream about challenging a system that was tightly structured on political, social, military and economic levels. Not forgetting too, that the government had widely disseminated a culture of fear among its citizens with massacres like the Hama massacre of 1982 and several arrest campaigns in later years of intellectuals, leftists and Islamists, of Syrians and Palestinians, which resulted in 20 years in jail for a dissident, with no access to lawyers or visits from family members. So one should be clear, that the major obstacle towards securing and enhancing women's rights in Syria, was simply the absence of democracy. Failing to support the people's attempts at revolution, on the official level or in the decisions of international human rights groups, is in fact a clear statement of support for human rights' abuses as a whole and not just those of women.</p> <h2><strong>The political and the patriarchal</strong></h2> <p>The regime boasts about being the champion of women's rights in Syria whereas several examples rather suggest its hypocrisy. To name a few, Bashar’s rule was strengthened through an alliance with the conservative upper-class, Qubaysiyyat women in Damascus, which according to the <em>Al-Hayat</em> newspaper report, resulted in building 80 schools in Damascus alone, hosting more than 75,000 girls. But the regime failed to reform the personal status laws and insisted on appointing female ministers to insignificant positions. A perfect example, one might add, of how intersectionality can be deployed as the path to address a groups' human rights abuses, is afforded by looking at the government institution, the General Women's Union. The government body, for instance,&nbsp;<span>did not raise “honor-killings" as an urgent national scandal to be addressed, instead calling for punishment of the murderer for a minimum of six months, as stated in article 548 of the penal code - terminology adapted from the French code of 1810. Many young girls were killed in the name of “honor” based in this article. Ironically, it was only after the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions broke out in 2011, that Bashar Al-Assad himself issued the first legislative decree of 2011 to replace this with a maximum punishment for the killer of five years in prison.</span></p> <p>Such a decree was seen by many Syrians around me at the time as a pathetic attempt to appear as the protector and saviour of 'the women's interest', especially on such a fashionable subject for the west as women.</p> <p>Because change in Syria could only happen through the ruling government, specifically through the president himself and the close circles around him, there was absolutely no opportunity for the&nbsp;people to practise their right to self-determination.</p> <h2><strong>The revolution and new spaces</strong></h2> <p><span>It is always important to remind the reader that the first person ever to dare publicly to ask president Bashar Al-Assad to step down was in fact a woman, and from the minority community: the Druze. Muntaha Al-Atrash, daughter of Sultan Atrash, the leader of the so-called “Great Syrian Revolution” of 1925. On April 12, 2011 when out of fear, the protests in Syria were mainly asking for reforms and not for the toppling for the regime, Atrash, in a phone interview with Al-Shark Al-Awsat newspaper, <a href="http://www.aawsat.net/2011/04/article55246843">called Assad to step down</a> in response to peaceful protests.</span></p> <p>In 2011, Razan Zaitounah was among many others, one of the main sources updating people on the &nbsp;protests in Damascus and its suburbs. Women started to take to the streets along with their male comrades and were detained in the process: Doha Hassan who is a Palestinian, Nura Al- Ghamian, Hanadi Zahlout, Rima Flehan, Mai Skaf, Lina Mohammad and <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/story/2014/02/26/8356">many others</a> in Syria I cannot name for their protection. It is important to stress here, that even though men are more targeted than women by the regime in their mass raids and detention, being in detention and prison for women is often harder than it is for men. Although women mostly avoid as tough a treatment as male comrades in jail, jailing women often imposes a social stigma on them, not to mention the issue of sexual abuse.</p> <p>Nevertheless in time, women started organizing themselves in women's groups, like the Syrian Women for the Syrian Intifada – <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Syria.SANAD">SANAD</a> , two members of which I was privileged to meet. The group's main activities are to support the martyrs' families as well as the detainees'. SANAD's activities broadened later on to support grassroots' activists for those who lost their jobs because either they were fired for their political stances, or forced to go into hiding when they learnt that they were wanted by the regime. The regime often arrests people from their workplaces. The group would raise funds from close circles and support activists to continue their work in aid, media or securing medicine.</p> <p><span>Not many groups were as well-formed and structured as the one mentioned above. In fact, SANAD was particularly successful in forming a vision, goals and specific activities, because its members were older and more experienced in organizing. Unlike other groups of enthusiastic younger generation activists, who in time vanished due to their inability to sustain the many activities they tried to maintain under the watchful eye of state intelligence. Nevertheless, the emergence of groups like SANAD would not have been possible without the revolution and the space it provided for citizens who were denied the right to organize - but who did so in secret over the past forty years.</span></p> <p>To give another example, most of the neighbourhoods that revolted against the regime were of the rural and working classes. They usually are conservative and women in these areas usually work with strange men only if they are doctors, nurses or old women. Covered and uncovered female activists who come from different conventional communities, also from the upper classes, worked hand in hand with the male leaders of these working class communities: in organizing protests, in securing banners, printing banners and flags (since they were all handmade) and securing medicine and equipment such as smart phones or internet 3G.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Such social interaction, outside the common clerk-client relationships in government institutions, was a real innovation and resulted in undermining and clearing up some stereotypical images in those communities. Similar interaction occurred heavily between Palestinians and Syrians during the uprising. Yarmouk camp in 2012 was the main host for many internally displaced families and was a vital collection point for securing medicine for other neighbouring cities. I remember vividly the Palestinian mother who was given her early training on first aid in case the camp faced shelling. It was actually the revolution that provided the space for citizens from different nationalities, ethnic, conventional communities, and socioeconomic backgrounds to unite, interact and organize a grassroots movement in the face of one common enemy: the regime.</p> <p>However, such new spaces that came into existence in the first couple of years in the uprising, gradually started to reduce with the increase of regime brutality on its people which resulted in the increased militarization of the revolution. Women revolutionaries, who basically were working on the peaceful and non-violent front, started to face a new reality, war. They had to come up with new techniques fast in order to react to this and to preserve the freedom of voice that had emerged in and because of the uprising.</p> <h2><strong>The militarized front of the revolution and the women’s role</strong></h2> <p>2012 in my view was the peak for women's essential role in the revolution. This was due to the regime's systematic raids and arrests targeting especially male peaceful revolutionaries. As a result, women revolutionaries had to organize themselves in cells to fill in the gap and used to good effect the sexist view of them as a “weaker gender” to pass regime checkpoints in order to smuggle medicine, food, and also first-aid workers into besieged and shelled neighbourhoods. In fact, revolutionary women from minority traditional communities also used the sectarian classification of them by regime checkpoints in order to smuggle in aid into besieged neighborhoods. In time, some regime checkpoints discovered some of these networks and started checking IDs and &nbsp;to this very day, search cars driven by any woman who was not covered and also from a minority community.</p> <p>This peak of the women's active and essential role in sustaining relief, among other activities, in besieged neighbourhoods in Damascus and its suburbs in 2012, started to minimize in 2013 with the regime’s increased brutality, the sheer amount of massacres and the lack of human capital among the revolutionaries capable of responding to the humanitarian crisis. Accordingly, the belief among young men, even among some peaceful revolutionaries, was that the only way to topple the regime was with an increase in arms. This conclusion played a big role in strengthening the militarized front of the uprising. And this development directly affected the women's role in the uprising.</p> <p>Revolutionary women who used to visit other cities to train amateur media workers and to cover untold human stories under shelling, are now facing more obstacles apart from the regime's shelling and checkpoints, in areas - mostly shelled and besieged ones - that are rapidly changing into male-hegemonic spaces. Yet, women, both traditional activists and local women residing in “liberated” areas, are undermining such male spaces by their very existence: women like <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac0fxQjeN-Q">Marcel Shehwaro</a> , a woman blogger&nbsp;in Aleppo, <a href="http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/24444">Razan Zeitounah and Samira Khalil</a> in Douma, and other traditional women activists I cannot name here for the sake of their own security. The very existence of these women and the work they are doing in these areas poses a direct challenge to the growing male hegemony that was developed during the war. </p><p>Such female interference with war dynamics is equally evident amongst local women in liberated areas, such as Om Khaled in Kafranbel and many of her like in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. Om Khaled founded the first women's centre not only in Kafranbel, but the first in Idlib. The centre is called Mazaya and was launched due to the urgent need for women in Kafranbel to meet and discuss their situation in war. The centre gives free workshops in first aid, hairdressing, knitting and also free courses in English. The centre also owns a huge library that lends women books. Again, Om Khaled is a shining example of how local women are reclaiming their voices due to the spaces produced by the popular uprising. Despite the growing militarizing front of the uprising and the growing male-hegemony, women are still able to reclaim their voice and the role that was long-ago stolen by the regime.</p> <h2><strong>Razan Zeitounah: institutionalizing human rights</strong></h2> <p>In the mainstream coverage of Syrian women today, one cannot help but get the impression that women must either have been “raped,” “sexually abused,” or “displaced.” The necessity to document all sort of violations committed against citizens, is unquestionable. The lack of similar effort, however, in portraying women in Syria on the ground as active participants in the revolution as writers, human rights lawyers, doctors, teachers and politicians, when they are heavily engaged in such activities, is indeed perverse, especially when this constructed image of Syrian women hasn't changed one iota over the past three years.</p> <p><span>Razan Zaitounah is a name that has become famous in the past three years. Zaitounah is currently still forcefully disappeared and kidnapped by an unknown armed group in Douma suburbs of Damascus along with her husband, Wael Hammada and two of her colleagues at the <a href="https://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/">Violation Documentation Center (VDC)</a>, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi . Zaitounah is the co-founder of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC), a revolutionary secular news agency that emerged in 2011 to update the world on mass protests across Syria. The group's importance comes first and foremost from being a network of women, and then for being the first revolutionary semi-organization to launch as a somewhat professional, credible and sustainable news agency regularly quoted and cited by international and regional media outlets. Zaitounah is also the co-founder of VDC which is the only platform inside Syria that documents a list of Syrian martyrs, detainees, kidnapped civilians as well as documenting violations coming from all the armed groups alongside the army of the regime.</span></p> <p>As a lawyer, Zaitounah has been defending political prisoners under the Assads, father and son, for more than ten years. I once met her when she was on her way to visit a political prisoner's family in 2010. Not many lawyers dared to follow Zaitounah's path in fear of regime consequences. She used to visit detainees' families, and defend them in court - which many Syrians at the time did not dare to attend. Zeitouna would issue statements to the public informing them about the detainee's situation and the lack of transparency of the Syrian juridical systems. Zaitounah was <a href="http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/c52206a6-99d0-11e1-8fce-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2yBs5prwP">banned from traveling in 2002</a> and received several threats by the security apparatus for her work on human rights long before the uprising started. Ever since the revolution in Syria broke out, Razan worked underground for two years in Damascus, changing homes and places, to then settle in a “liberated area” in Douma, only to be kidnapped with her colleagues by an armed group there, due also to her work in human rights.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Despite living under constant shelling, a survivor of chemical attacks and despite these extraordinary circumstances, Zeitounah faced life underground for two whole years. Her efforts in co-founding and developing <a href="http://syriauntold.com/en/work-group/3666">LCC</a> as a credible news agency, and VDC as a transparent documentation centre of human rights violations as well as other groups inside Douma today to support local women and to secure jobs for citizens there, are determined attempts to institutionalize revolutionary work in Syria, and to secure sustainable and professional results. </p><p>Zeitounah, who is an experienced human rights lawyer due to her work prior to the revolution, understands very well that in order for a country to reach peace-building and transitional justice, human rights advocates should document transparently what is happening. On this basis there is a chance of rebuilding the state in the future. Even though Zeitounah is kidnapped today, the work of both organizations, LCC and VDC, continues still. This is the legacy of her efforts in creating a decentralized institution rather than being centralized under her sole supervision. Such efforts are rare among revolutionary groups today.</p> <h2><strong>Conclusion</strong></h2> <p><span>This must serve as one overview of the women's role in the revolution that takes into consideration the historical and political obstacles faced by women and their male comrades alike. We cannot possibly hope to cover fairly the amount of work women in Syria have done in the past three years. I am one of many women in Syria who have different point of views and takes on this topic. But I sincerely hope that my fellow women comrades are also given the chance to express and document their views on this too.</span></p> <p>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.rotefabrik.ch/_images/admin/zeitung/1394041288_fz_299_web.pdf">'<em>The people want to bring down the regime'</em></a><em> </em>by Rote Fabrik in March 2014</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-4-of-4-3">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 4 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/yassin-al-haj-saleh-nader-hashemi-danny-postel/conscience-of-syria-interview-with-act">The conscience of Syria: An interview with activist and intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia openSecurity Syria middle east AA imperialist feminism debate Patriarchy human rights activism feminism revolution Razan Ghazzawi Through Syrian eyes Revolution Intersectionality Tue, 08 Apr 2014 08:26:58 +0000 Razan Ghazzawi 81070 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 4 of 4) https://www.opendemocracy.net/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-4-of-4-3 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The fronts of the revolution are many and overlapping, from patriarchy to Arab chauvinism. Despite harsh conditions, mass participation in the revolutionary process is still ongoing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/1601322_699833770034916_1536062232_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/1601322_699833770034916_1536062232_n.jpg" alt="'Enemies are many.The revolution is one. It will continue.' Kafranbel, Syria 3/1/14. Courtesy of Placards of Occupied Kafrenbel" title="" width="400" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>'Enemies are many.The revolution is one. It will continue.' Kafranbel, Syria 3/1/14. Courtesy of Placards of Occupied Kafrenbel</span></span></span></p><p><span><strong>Arabs and Kurds are united</strong></span></p><p>In the northeastern part of Syria, populated by a majority of Kurds, recent battles between Islamists and Kurdish militias from the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/22/us-syria-kurdistan-specialreport-idUSBREA0L17320140122">PYD</a> (linked to the PKK) has led to the emergence of many popular initiatives from the activists and the local population.</p><p>Those popular initiatives aimed to show the brotherhood of Kurds and Arabs in this region, and to reaffirm that the popular Syrian revolution is for all, and that it condemns racism and sectarianism.</p><p>During those battles in the Raqqa province, the city of Tell Abyad has seen the creation of the “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wUobxm-pJw">Chirko Ayoubi</a>” brigade, which joined the Kurdish Front brigade on July 22, 2013. This brigade now combines Arabs and Kurds together. They have published a common declaration denouncing the violations committed by Islamist groups and the attempts at dividing the Syrian people in its ethnic and sectarian basis. Unfortunately some other FSA forces have fought on the side of the Islamists.</p><p>In the city of Aleppo, in the Achrafieh neighbourhood – mostly &nbsp;populated by Kurds – a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fY6LFeSm3s">protest </a>was organized on August 1, 2013, gathering many hundreds of people who support brotherhood between Arabs and Kurds, and condemn the acts committed by islamist extremist groups against the Kurdish population, chanting together for the unity of the Syrian people.</p><p>In the city of Tell Abyad, which has suffered from heavy fighting, activists have tried to organize many initiatives aimed at ending armed fighting between the two groups, and stopping the forced expulsion of civilians. They want to put in place a people’s committee to govern and manage the city and to promote collaborative initiatives and actions between Arab and Kurdish populations, to reach a consensus through pacific means. The efforts are ongoing despite the continuous battle between Islamist and Kurdish militias.</p><p>In the city of Amouda, around thirty activists met on August 5, 2013 with Kurdish and Syrian revolutionary flags behind a poster saying “I love you Homs,” to show their solidarity with this city, besieged by the Syrian regime’s army.</p><p>Recently again, in the city of Quamishli – where Arab populations (Muslim and Christian), Kurds and Assyrians live – local activists have organized numerous projects to ensure <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg-2aV05W_Y">coexistence</a> and the administration of certain neighbourhoods by joint committees. In the same city, the branch of the Free Kurdish Student Union has started a small internet campaign calling for freedom, peace and brotherhood, tolerance and equality for the future of Syria.</p><h2><strong>Women and patriarchal values</strong></h2><p>One of the active women in the group in Salamiah said: “We participated in the funeral processions of our martyrs, although generally the entrance of women in cemeteries is not a customary practice in our city. But we wanted to break archaic customs, including this one. Each of us considered the martyr as a son, brother or father. Any martyr is the son of the city and not just of his family”.</p><p>She added: «&nbsp;What distinguishes this group of rebel women is the team spirit with which they work to achieve their objective, which is also the objective of the revolution throughout Syria&nbsp;; that is&nbsp;to overthrow the dictatorial regime based on cliques and clans and the establishment of a civilian democratic state for all the Syrian people, with all its components. “</p><p>While Ahlam, another female revolutionary, says: “We categorically reject all phenomena foreign to our society and want to see removed both foreign agendas and agendas far distant from the aspirations of the Syrian people, acting under different names and in an extremist form that only serves the regime, giving the latter arguments to hit out at the revolution and to terrorize the population.” She continues: ”As a group of women, we believe that the establishment of a free and modern state cannot be achieved without the existence of citizenship. It is our responsibility today to prepare a new phase in the life of Syrian women, so that a woman can expect to enjoy the full rights of citizenship in a new society. Our revolution is not only a revolution against a corrupt regime and archaic and obsolete laws that do not guarantee justice to women. It is also a revolution against all the customs and the lores that have held women back, preventing them from full and effective participation in the construction of the state and society.</p><h2><strong>Popular resistance from below</strong></h2><p>Thus, the popular committees and the organizations play a crucial role in the pursuit of the revolutionary process, because these people are essential actors who enable the people’s movement to resist. It is not about diminishing the role played by the armed resistance; but the latter depend on the popular movements to continue its fight. Without this, we would not stand a chance.</p><p>A banner crafted by the revolutionary city of Kafranbel sums up very well the spirit of the Syrian revolution, “enemies are many … the revolution is one… and continues”. Yes the revolution continues, despite the difficulties and multiple dangers. The Syrian people continues its path towards freedom and dignity, sweeping away all its oppressors.</p><p>We have for example seen the youth in the city of Deir Attyah self-organizing to clean their streets in a campaign called “<a href="http://observers.france24.com/ar/content/20131205-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%B9%D8%B7%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%85%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%86%D8%B8%D9%8A%D9%81-%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%AF">cleaning Deir Attyah to bring it back more beautifull</a>”, and the youth of Daraya launching a campaign a few weeks ago to ask for the end of the siege in their area.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Popular activism in the Syrian revolutionary process is still, as we have shown here, very much alive.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-1-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 1 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-2-of-4">The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 2 of 4)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joseph-daher/roots-and-grassroots-of-syrian-revolution-part-3-of-4"> The roots and grassroots of the Syrian revolution (Part 3 of 4)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Syria middle east Women Kurds Patriarchy protests activism Joseph Daher Revolution Through Syrian eyes Sat, 05 Apr 2014 09:58:04 +0000 Joseph Daher 81069 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We need to talk about the UK media war on women https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sarah-graham/we-need-to-talk-about-uk-media-war-on-women <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>While Dylan Farrow's child abuse allegations against Woody Allen hold the headlines, it is time for journalists to realise that sexual violence is not about evil individuals, Asian grooming gangs, or 1970s BBC culture.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Sarah Graham. Max Clifford. tabloid report.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Sarah Graham. Max Clifford. tabloid report.jpg" alt="Max Clifford sensationalist tabloid reporting " title="" width="460" height="155" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Favoured tabloid details tend to feature sensational details. Credit: Anorak.co.uk.</span></p><p>A number of years ago I heard British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalist Bidisha quote feminist academic Germaine Greer: “The corporation changes the woman before the woman changes the corporation.” These words have weighed heavily on me in the early years of my journalism career.</p> <p>I later found myself at a protest, working with a reporter from a national news outlet. He spent a long time with his camera trained on an attractive blonde woman handing out flyers.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I don't make the rules, I just try not to break them,” he told me.</p> <p>These rules are no more evident than when you look at media reporting on violence against women and girls, which is rare and often dubious. Since January 2012 Karen Ingala Smith has begun the thankless task of logging all the women killed by male violence in the UK. As chief executive of domestic violence charity Nia, she is particularly passionate on the subject.</p> <p>Her Counting Dead Women campaign recorded <a href="http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-ignoring-dead-women">140 women killed in 2013</a> by boyfriends, husbands, sons, grandsons, friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers. That’s one woman every 2.6 days. Almost all of these deaths were reported as one-off incidents, many of them never going further than their local newspaper. At the same time, <a href="http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Statistics2.php">85,000 women are raped</a> in the UK in a year. But many of these incidents are not deemed newsworthy enough for coverage.</p> <p>Favoured cases tend to feature attractive victims, sensational details, false allegations and violence committed by women. Young, conventionally attractive, mostly white victims are invariably granted the most column inches: if it can’t be illustrated with a photo of a pretty, smiling blonde in her school uniform, or the smutty details of some so-called ‘crime of passion’, it’s not worth printing.</p> <p>In coverage of the murder of Meredith Kercher, all mentions of the victim and of the male co-accused were overshadowed by the media wankfest over “Foxy Knoxy”. Just recently I read a headline about Amanda Knox’s “<a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/amanda-knox-retrial-verdict-meredith-3092236#.Uuoxand_sdU">dramatic makeover</a> before Meredith Kercher murder retrial”, as if Knox’s new bob was a newsworthy addition to the story.&nbsp;</p> <p>Even when cases are responsibly reported, many are presented as isolated aberrations, perpetrated by evil individuals. For the women whose abuse frequently remains incidental to the media angle, social change can only happen when individual journalists tear that rulebook up and throw it out of the window.</p> <p>The media industry requires a radical transformation in the way it treats women. It’s no longer enough to blindly continue working to the same sexist formulas that the newspapermen have been using for decades. Journalists instead need to rewrite the rules, exercising their right to hold power to account, starting with their own editors.</p> <p>Feminist campaigns about media imagery and the way women are represented do exist. The campaign to have topless models removed from Page 3 of tabloid paper The Sun has so far exceeded 130,000 signatures. The Lose The Lads Mags campaign successfully saw one supermarket chain demand that soft porn mags be delivered in sealed “modesty bags”. But for me it’s the language that’s really pernicious – and no more so than when it comes to reporting violence.</p> <p>Dylan Farrow this week published an open letter reaffirming allegations (first investigated in 1992) that she was sexually abused by her adoptive father Woody Allen. Dylan's allegations are the latest in a string of child sexual abuse claims made in recent years against male celebrities. Currently in the UK&nbsp;ageing TV and radio personalities Dave Lee Travis, Rolf Harris and William Roache are all facing courts over allegations of historic child sexual abuse, and comedian Freddie Starr has been arrested (for the third time) over further sexual abuse allegations. In the Metro newspaper on my morning commute, I observed an entire page dedicated to rape allegations against male celebrities.</p> <p>The Jimmy Savile revelations, and subsequent arrests of other household names, have had a profoundly transformative effect on the public consciousness. They have forced the UK to acknowledge the scale of sexual abuse so many of our national treasures were allowed to get away with by virtue of their celebrity. The phrase that’s always stuck with me about the Savile case is: "just the women". This quickly became a catchphrase after the producers of the BBC’s flagship news programme, Newsnight, spiked their exposé of Savile’s abuse. When justifying the decision to drop investigation into Savile's abuses, Newsnight editor Peter Rippon sent an email to producer Meirion Jones stating: "Our sources so far are just the women and a second-hand briefing.” He thought the feature wouldn't stand up with "just the women" as evidence.</p> <p>The personal integrity of the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITV_(TV_network)">ITV</a> producers who later <em>did</em> break the story was more than just an embarrassment for Newsnight; it kick-started a sea change in the public consciousness about sexual abuse and empowered many more victims to come forward to report their abuse, with a renewed confidence that their allegations will be listened to and taken seriously. By December 2012, two months after the exposé aired, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20697738">589 victims had come forward</a> with allegations, of whom 82 per cent were female and 80 per cent were children or young people.</p> <p>I had just started a Masters in newspaper journalism at London's City University when ITV broke the story. I learnt a huge amount at City, but the biggest lesson I learnt during that time came from the aftermath of the Savile revelations: in the media, women are always "just the women". As a woman, a feminist and a journalist, I refuse to play by those rules.</p> <p lang="en-US">The real protagonists of this story, it quickly became clear, were Jimmy Savile and the BBC. In a lecture on journalism ethics, Professor Roy Greenslade asked who the real victims of Jimmy Savile were. Some bright spark, who in all likelihood is now a professional journalist working in a newsroom somewhere, said "Newsnight".</p> <p lang="en-US">To him, the women were peripheral to the important story - caught in the line of fire between a dead national icon and a disgraced broadcasting corporation.</p> <p>For Savile's many other victims, the women who bravely told their stories on camera were not incidental at all. Their words were evidence that they were no longer alone in their experiences of abuse. When hundreds more victims stepped forward it exposed a horrifying, ugly truth that the media were unprepared for.&nbsp;</p> <p>The post-Savile cases have been remarkable for forcing journalists to report male abuse as part of a pattern. The sheer number of cases make it impossible to ignore the fact that something bigger is going on.</p> <p>But the analysis remains far too narrow. </p> <p>The accepted angle on how these crimes could have happened is to blame “the culture of the BBC in the 1970s” – a time and place when groping was the norm and DJs couldn’t move for groupies throwing themselves at their feet. The implication is that we should ask: was it really any wonder that the lines between ‘flirtation with adoring fans’ and ‘abuse of children’ were a little blurred? This defence is troubling; it confines male violence to a particular space and time – the isolated acts of sick individuals within a specific and (atypical) culture.</p> <p>Few journalists, for all their analytical skills, have made the connection between “the culture of the BBC in the 1970s” and discussions about the impact of race in the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-18050192">Rochdale grooming case</a>, where nine Asian men were convicted of abusing white girls as young as 13-years-old. </p> <p>What really links the Rochdale abusers with Savile, Hall and the other alleged abusers is not their race, religion, employer, or the decade in which their crimes were committed. It is that they are all men, operating under male-dominated structures, abusing their power over more vulnerable women and children. Those links are there to be made, but they won’t be until feminist and pro-feminist writers force a shift in the media narrative by continuing to <a href="http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/why-ibelieveher-is-so-vital/">shout about it</a>.</p> <p>In order to truly tackle violence against women, people, especially men, need to recognise the pattern of male violence against women and understand the power dynamics behind it. The power men hold in the political sphere and the power they seek to exert through violence in the domestic sphere are not incidental. Under patriarchy we learn that masculinity is power and control, yet, for male journalists in male-dominated newsrooms, there is often no personal incentive to acknowledge those structures. The media, as shapers of public opinion, hold a huge responsibility here; changing attitudes calls for a structural and personal shift in the way we report such violence. That starts with addressing your own complicity in patriarchal power.</p> <p>In the last few months, with my Feminist Times hat on, I’ve had a number of conversations with women working in the domestic violence sector about how we can start enacting that change through our editorial content. The Counting Dead Women list of names reveals a shocking reality. It’s also a powerful piece of journalism, which has had a radical effect on the way I think about my journalistic responsibilities. These incidents should always be reported as part of a pattern of male domination and patriarchal control.</p> <p>Last week Ingala Smith reported that <a href="http://kareningalasmith.com/2014/01/16/more-british-women-were-killed-though-mens-violence-last-year-than-british-troops-killed-in-afghanistan-in-the-last-3-years/">99 members</a> of the British armed forces have been killed during the last three years of conflict in Afghanistan, compared with 264 dead women in the two years that she’s been counting. 15 women in the UK were killed in December 2013 alone. Why isn't there a national outcry?</p> <p>In the United States, the phrase ‘war on women’, is used to refer to conservative anti-choice policies. How radical a shift would it be to talk about a literal war on women, in which women are being raped, abused and killed, in this country, on a daily basis? &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/how-politicians-and-media-made-us-hate-immigrants">How politicians and the media made us hate immigrants </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/simon-hodges/what%E2%80%99s-so-special-about-storytelling-for-social-change">What’s so special about storytelling for social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/janey-stephenson/why-monster-grendel-has-no-place-in-activism-today">Why the monster Grendel has no place in activism today</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/silence-death-sarah-schulman-on-act-up-forgotten-resistance-to-aids-crisis">Silence = death: Sarah Schulman on ACT UP, the forgotten resistance to the AIDS crisis </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/heather-mcrobie/literature-empathy-and-moral-imagination">Literature, empathy and the moral imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/dawn-foster/women-in-journalism-not-trivial-subject">Women in journalism: not a trivial subject</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> England </div> <div class="field-item even"> Scotland </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Northern Ireland </div> <div class="field-item even"> Wales </div> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation United States Wales Northern Ireland Scotland England Civil society Culture Equality Internet Violence Against Women and Girls journalism Woody Allen Patriarchy Sexual Abuse Jimmy Savile Transforming Ourselves Transforming Politics Transforming Society Sarah Graham Tue, 04 Feb 2014 10:11:55 +0000 Sarah Graham 79032 at https://www.opendemocracy.net