Second class citizens (please don’t hurt me internet)
I tend not to divulge my opinions on feminism. When I broach the subject in the vicinity of other online feminists, I feel like I’m tiptoeing through razor wire, scared to make a false move lest I nick some vein of vitriol pulsing through the internet. People are quick to attack others with conflicting opinions to theirs, and for the record I think this is seriously counter-productive for the cause. You’ll read all about that shortly, but I ask you approach the following with an open mind, rather than with hackles up should I state opinions contradictory to your own, or should my opinions be misinterpreted.
Recently a Scottish journalist wrote an article entitled ‘Scotland’s an enlightened country – unless you’re female.’ The article was well-intentioned, as I know many that stride bravely into the feminism fray often are, but was also flawed. It said that Scotland ‘view(s) women as second-class citizens and as the object merely of men’s sexual gratification’ and described a ‘medieval approach to how we view women.’ It insinuated that our government at local and national levels was apathetic to women’s rights, and also that Scottish women ourselves were indifferent to campaign for our own rights – having not shown up to protest outside The Shimmy Club over the two-way toilet mirror debacle.
I won’t argue that Scotland is free from the shackles of patriarchy, or that misogyny is dead, or that we are pioneers in women’s liberation – mainly because I can’t without it being a lie. However, this isn’t India. Women aren’t forced to marry their rapists. It’s not the Maldives, where a 15-year-old girl can face punishment by flogging for the abuse inflicted upon her by her stepfather. In China, Pakistan and across South Asia baby girls are aborted as foetuses or suffocated, strangled and abandoned after birth in a mass gendercide that leaves 200 million girls unaccounted for worldwide. If Scotland is medieval, there are no words for what depraved period of humanity the gender politics in other countries belong to. The devastating fact is, it’s not medieval – these atrocities are happening all over the world as.you.read.this.text.
Of course, comparing a developed and civilised society like our own to that of other cultures with more deeply ingrained anti-women attitudes does little but provide us with perspective, and hopefully with aspirations to help our fellow females in different countries. We should and could be better, and it is always good that people highlight our failings so that we may persevere towards achieving equal rights. It is my opinion that many people in Scotland work tirelessly to achieve those rights, but we’ll come to that shortly.
The article quotes Scotland’s rape statistics, which are inarguably and inescapably revolting.
‘1,372 rapes were committed in Scotland in the last 12 months, a figure that equates to almost four each day. Overall, there were almost 8,000 sex offences in the same period, a rise of 5% on the previous year.’
Disgustingly high. No one would claim they were happy with those statistics – it’s certainly not a tagline you’d see written in a VisitScotland brochure or in an ad grinning from airport arrivals. However, these are reported rapes, the increase in numbers is an increase in reports. There is no doubt in my mind there will be hundreds more annually, including hundreds of grey area ‘I probably drank too much and lead him on…if I don’t do it he might break up with me’ events that punctuate the teenage and adult lives of many women.
The figure in the police reports are likely nowhere near the real amount. The rise in reports – to me – does not necessarily signal a spike in sexual crimes (I believe these are of extremely high frequency, having been victim of several minor offences myself) but perhaps evidence of greater awareness raised and better provisions to deal with these occurrences. Are women reporting more often because they feel able to, because attitudes are changing, or because rape really is on the rise? Turns out, Rape Crisis also hover the same question mark over these shocking, recently released stats.
The article also refers to the government’s attitude towards these issues as ‘lamentable’, but at a local government level, Glasgow City Council and its various alliances have been perpetually waging war against gender violence, prostitution and pornography for years. To suggest they are indifferent to the rape statistics presented would be to undermine their efforts considerably. They have been active in rolling out anti-prostitution campaigns (which GCC view as violence) across Scotland and have recently pledged to become a White Ribbon City to help re-educate men, break stereotypes and raise awareness about gender violence. They mark the 16 Days annually with a series of events. They haven’t eradicated the problem, for sure, but I believe any endeavour to champion women’s rights and wipe out gender violence should be acknowledged rather than dismissed. Again, a great chasm exist between where we are and where we should be, as with many nations, but the work of initiatives such as the Women’s Support Group and Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership should not be disregarded.
The next thing to be scrutinised and underplayed is our own (Scottish, female) activism. Discussing The Shimmy Club, the writer says ‘Yet there were no demonstrations by women’s groups outside’ and later refers to ‘our complacency’ (Scottish? Female?)
If Scottish females are anything, it’s not complacent. Although I myself don’t protest, I have attended protests in a journalistic capacity. Those are not complacent women.I’ve watched a 200-strong march around Glasgow University Union demonstrating against its apparent culture of misogyny, young students making impassioned speeches through megaphones about times they’ve been sexually assaulted or degraded because of their gender, crowds chanting anti-rape messages and raising their fists in solidarity. Every November, Glaswegians Reclaim The Night and march through the city demanding rights for women and the safety of the streets. Even the city’s sex workers – who are dismissed by many feminists as being oppositional to the cause (razor wire) – are not complacent and active in their protests, having held the first Sex Workers Open University in Glasgow in 2013. Hell – some keen wee journalism students even made a film for International Women’s Day about women’s rights in Scotland that’s now used as a classroom resource across the UK….
There are other kinds of activism also. There may not have been placards and megaphones outside the licensing board meeting, or indeed The Shimmy club as its future was debated, but online the eagle-eyed feminists were poised to swoop. They keep on top of feminist issues in the city and beyond it. They lobby. They discuss the best methods of approach. They for the most part – give or take some razor wire moments – agree on how to tackle situations such as The Shimmy, what course of action should be taken etc. Sometimes the keyboard is mightier than the megaphone, especially in the digital age. The storm caused by ‘Everyday Sexism at the GUU’, started after the Ancients Debate scandal, was arguably more effective than the rally.
So much is still to be done. It remains an endless fight to achieve equal rights, to eradicate gender violence, to keep our country’s women safe from rape. However, to suggest that we are viewed ‘second class citizens’ and insinuate we have accepted this reality without argument is upsetting. As said previously, I try not to become offended or angered by articles which I genuinely believe came from a good place in someone’s heart. Writing about feminism is difficult to do without running into bother, which is why I shy away from it, and I know that even the best intentions can become destructive given the wrong readings or audience. With the article I believe we, as women, feminists and Scots were accidentally undermined in the pursuit of making a statement that things should be better. As we are all in agreement on that, we can work towards it positively without being vicious about the work.
I am of the opinion that education is our greatest tool (not weapon) for change. I know that’s hardly a ground-breaking statement, but I mean in lieu of anger and attack. Obviously, great work and campaigning has been borne from anger throughout the ages, but I think in this society there’s a better approach for future generations. I think we can educate them to work towards collective goals without tearing each other down to get there. We need to learn to read from a similar script – or appreciate that the scripts of others may go off on tangents different to our own, but that (hopefully) the ending is one we share.
I feel some feminists spend such a great amount of time bickering and degrading other feminists, that the point of the cause is lost. I read hate-fuelled rants on the internet and think ‘This woman claims to love women? To care for their rights?‘ It’s sometimes difficult to decipher that from the plethora of blog posts, forum comments and Facebook threads that see them denigrate other women – often for extremely minor offences against their preferred version of feminism.
To me, feminism is not about Who Can Be The Purest Feminist or who is the better foot soldier in the anti-patriarchy army, or who burned their Beyonce records because she named her world tour after her husband, or who thinks traffic light parties and pencil skirts are signs of oppression. It’s not about who has studied the most gender theory texts or who has shouted loudest through a megaphone. To me it doesn’t matter whether you were born with a vagina, have heterosexual appreciation for them, have had no connection with one since you popped out of one into the world or have had gender-reassigment surgery to get you in the vagina club. Feminism should be about caring for women and fighting for their opportunities to be equal – listening to each other’s opinions, however different to our own, considering them and providing a balanced response. We should not be adversarial, we should be allies. To me that’s the whole point. It confuses me when I see people fighting with one another over ‘problems’ when we could be supporting each other towards solutions. Even as I write this I’m afraid at what, if any, reaction there might be. What does that say? Why am I afraid of other women when I know that my intentions are good and that I want the same thing as them – to be happy and to be equal?
I’m not a great philosopher or gender theorist, but feminist ethics does appeal to me for its focus on care, interdependence and community. These are things I believe we must foster. Networks. Webs. Families if you will. I’m not going to bash on about sisterhoods and things like that – you don’t have to think of me as a sister. Think about your own sisters and think about the world you want your daughters to live in and their daughters after that. Then ask if it’s worth slating someone on the internet for not being a strict enough feminist, for bowing to the wills of patriarchy etc etc. I don’t want to yell at them, OR WRITE IN CAPS LOCK or reference the pure hunners of books I’ve read on the subject. I want to briefly outline my views, appreciate that they have a right to theirs (because that’s what this is all about, isn’t it – rights?) rather than attack them. Focus on what it is you agree on – the things that unite you, rather than divide you.
For example, some people think transgendered people don’t have a right to be feminists – I disagree. I think anyone who has fought their whole lives to be female deserves to fight for women’s rights. I know lots of people don’t share that opinion – but I’m willing to bet they share my approach to domestic violence, rape, the glass ceiling and many other feminist view points. Arguing brutally in online tirades about Taylor Swift disassociating with the word feminist I would imagine does as much to make young girls disassociate from the word feminist as Taylor’s PR team puppetry whispering in her ear. I know if I was a young, impressionable Taylor Swift fan (and let’s face it, she seems like an impressionable kitten herself) I would wonder ‘Who are all these yelly people on the internet? Why are they Taylor haters? Feminists must be Taylor haters, no wonder she doesn’t want to be one.’
Again, these are my humble and hesitantly delivered opinions. I would now loved to have posted the final scene of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in which she tells us we’re all slayers, but there are so many shitty poorly edited fandom videos I couldn’t be bothered raking through it. It has consoled me that there actually are people geekier than me out there though, with more time on their hands. yussssss.