How about we talk of male violence, rape, abuse and discrimination, without feeling the need to add that “personally, we do love men!” (You know, how men are allowed to talk about say, the Holocaust, without also feeling the need to declare their undying love for 40’s German architecture... Or those truly well tailored Nazi uniforms...)
Art & words by Fanitsa Petrou
Note: The following, was part of a bigger article ("Trump’s Familiar Brand of Sexism": http://wp.me/p7jQTY-gS ) which was published back in October 2016, just before the US presidential elections. I thought I would share part of it again, as it has - sadly - become even more relevant. Things being what they are. Things taking that many wrong turns for women...
After a tape was made public in which Donald Trump is heard bragging about sexually assaulting women, saying that he is a “star” and therefore can get away with anything, including groping by the genitals any woman who happens to exist in his proximity, and the outrage it caused, he went on to issue a rare apology. Of sorts. He apologized, but at the same time explained that it was only “locker-room banter”, meaning the kind of thing men are “allowed” to say when they are alone, having their masculinity being validated in the presence of other men by their claims of sexually assaulting women…Yet it is interesting to note that despite being heavily censured by Republican leaders after the video was made public, they still support him! And regardless of the fact that his words have caused an outrage in the media, and even if many men - not just women - have publicly expressed their indignation, one wonders: how far off were his comments than what ordinary, everyday men talk about (and do for that matter)? How many of them think that groping women without their consent is in fact their “birth right” and one hell of a way to validate their masculinity? Statistics certainly reveal that they are many. As it was pointed out by Michelle Obama, it is something that most of us have experienced in some form or other. A woman being there, is enough of an invite and an excuse for many men to feel free to publicly violate her body and her dignity.
This brings to mind that famous, allegedly iconic photo depicting “the Kiss”, the shot taken at 1945, at the end of the WWII, on the V-J Day celebration, which shows a sailor tipping over his sweetheart and kissing her on the mouth. Sadly, the photo that we all held to be a symbol of romantic love, was in fact depicting sexual assault! Greta Friedman, the woman in the photo (who incidentally died recently) revealed that not only it wasn’ t the guy in the photo her sweetheart, but he was a complete stranger to her, who just felt free to grope her without her consent and kiss her, just because she was standing next to him.
In her words: "It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!" George Mendosa, the guy in the photo, never considered this to be too much of a deal of course. When he was interviewed in 2012, he said: "The excitement of the war bein' over, plus I had a few drinks, So when I saw the nurse I grabbed her, and I kissed her." Why ask her right? Interestingly enough, he was there with a date, a woman who went on to become his wife, and who was there watching the whole thing herself, which adds an extra creepiness to the whole event…
The open-mouthed kiss the Fiat heir Lapo Elkann planted on the mouth of the unsuspecting and unpleasantly surprised Uma Thurman at a gala at Cannes earlier this year, or the uninvited, and forced kiss Adrien Brody gave to Halle Berry on the mouth at the 2003 Oscars, come from the same place of male entitlement.
The “I had a few drinks” is of course still a very good and popular excuse when men are sexually assaulting or raping women around the world and especially on campuses all over the USA. (Of course women who are victims of rape while being intoxicated are seen as “asking for it”) In the widely publicized case of the student Brock Turner, who assaulted and attempted to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster (before he was interrupted by 2 students who were passing by), his intoxication was used as a good excuse for his behavior. What he learned from the experience was according to what he told the judge, (who by the way, gave him a six-month sentence because he was an athlete) is “not to drink”, and NOT “not to rape”: "I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed. These things force me to never want to put myself in a position where I have to sacrifice everything." Meaning his athletic career. What it meant for the woman to be fount in such a situation is irrelevant to him or the judge. He was of course, released from jail after serving just three months…
Similarly, when a 19-year-old homeless woman was raped by a drunken man in Canada in September 2014, she was told by the judge that it was her responsibility to be more “careful”, and that she should have kept her “knees together” so that her rapist (an aggressive, 240-pound man by the way), would be “prevented” from raping her. When she talked about the physical pain caused by the assault, she was told by this sorry excuse of a judge, that "Sex and pain sometimes go together; that, that’ s not necessarily a bad thing." Sadly these are not rarities. Sexual discrimination by the juridical system is common when it comes to rape victims . It is for example quite common all over the world for judges to not hold rapists accountable for their actions, or often even justify them by shifting the blame on the sexual assault survivors.
Women on campuses all over the USA, the UK and elsewhere, are being drugged, in order to be raped while unconscious. The problem is so widespread, that in 2015, a video titled “Tea and Consent” was released by British police in order to educate men in the apparently, very difficult to grasp concept of sexual consent. It uses animated stick figures, and a cup of tea as an analogy for sex, and attempts to teach guys among other things, that “unconscious people don’ t want tea, can’ t answer the question ‘do you want tea?’ because they are unconscious”… Who knew that it needed to be said? There are a lot of Bill Cosbys out there obviously - whose accusers by the way, are 58 so far!
Women are being told to be careful, to never walk alone at night, to carry rape whistles, to not go out, to dress modestly, to avoid eye contact in public transportation, to keep their head down, to live in fear. Next to nothing is being told to men however about not raping, about it being a crime and a horrible violent act. And when they do commit this hideous crime, they get away with it more often than not.
The American singer CeeLo Green, for example, was accused of doing the same thing: of drugging a woman who woke up hours later naked in bed with him. The DA declined the rape charges and even though the singer denied the allegations, he went on to make these suspicious comments on Twitter: “If someone is passed out they’ re not even WITH you consciously! so WITH Implies consent”. Meaning if she was unconscious (never mind that she was unconscious because HE drugged her in order to rape her) then it was all OK and it wasn’ t really rape. Someone ought to remind him (since he is so into technicalities and all), that if she couldn’ t technically say “No”, she couldn’ t say “Yes” either…) After the outrage his comments have caused, he later (like many celebrities in his place) had apologised (to his fans, NOT to the woman), and deleted his Twitter account…
On average, there are 288,820 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. One out of six women in the USA has been the victim of sexual assault or rape. Like in the case of domestic violence, the statistics of course only include the number of women who come out and talk about these matters openly, and are therefore added to the lists. The unreported rapes, remain unrecorded. The numbers of women who never talk about their experiences, including the women who are raped by their husbands, (given how they are being treated by judges and police officers, not to mention their families) are assumed to be much, much higher. But it’s a global phenomenon. In 2010 alone, 100,000 rapes were recorded in Australia, 200,000 in Egypt, 85000 in Britain, and as many as 500,000 in South Africa!
Things are worse in Third World countries and the Moslem world, like say in Afghanistan, where when a married woman is raped and dares to report the crime, she can be legally prosecuted and charged with adultery (like it was her fault), a crime that is punishable by death! (So she can end up dead too!) If she is single, she may become the victim of an “honor killing”, as in be killed by her own family because she brought “shame” to them (by being a victim of a horrible assault!), or more commonly, will be forced to marry her rapist and by this, give him the “chance” to extinguish his crime!!! (It is interesting to note that the Criminal Code of many countries support - or at least until fairly recently - supported this practise. In Italy for example, this article of law was still in use up until 1981, when it was finally abolished!)
In Bangladesh, Egypt and other places, women who turn to the police for help after they have been raped, are additionally forced to go through the humiliation and added sexual assault of the "two-finger test" by doctors and often plain police officers, which “determines” whether or not a woman is "habituated to sex". If she had had sex before, she is therefore considered to be “guilty” and her rapist seen as innocent and justified…
In the Arab world, just walking in the street while being female, is an open invitation for men. If the women report the assaults, or merely mention them to their families, they are of course accused for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, wearing the wrong thing, and therefore asking for it. Which is what keeps women hidden away, wrapped in their nigabs, and their hijabs, and their veils and their burkas. What Westerners don’ t seem to understand, is that many women cover themselves willingly, not simply out of religious notions, but in order to become invisible, to be left alone. To walk from point A to point B, without being attacked. Their veils are cover ups, are war tactics, are camouflage. (Because they live constantly in a war zone). For most of them, being covered is a matter of survival. They want to blend in, to be unrecognizable. Their beauty, shape and age undetected by gropers and rapers and murderers who consider it their right to assault them daily just because they are walking down the street, for being “arrogant” and “shameless” and “disrespectful” enough to be out of their home/prison, or God forbid, be without a male escort, but mostly for existing in the world! For not being males! (this being their biggest, and most unforgivable of sins!)
What would it take for things to change? For men to somehow reverse hundreds, thousands of years of misogynistic programming, and miraculously evolve so that they see women as human beings, (instead of body parts, and their rightful possessions)? One would think that it would take a revolution! And the Arab Spring was supposed to bring that about, among other things. To change not just the lives of people, but their perceptions, and their attitudes towards women. This is what all those women hoped for, and struggled to achieve, as they left their homes (a bravery in itself) and stood there beside men, shouting for freedom and liberty, in places like the Tahrir Square, in Egypt. But sadly, by the end of the day, it was made painfully obvious to them that things would not change for them. There would be no freedom for them, no liberty, no end to their life-sentence. In the midsts of celebration, the women present were subjected to mob sexual assaults, harassment or gang rapes. Hundreds of men would go after one single lone woman, surrounding her in what have been called by women “circle of hell”, taking their turns. The few who dared to report they have been assaulted, were forced to endure further assault by police officers who needed to personally “check” their virginity, because in that world, only a virgin can be raped of course…
Any large gatherings where women can be fount in the Muslim world, can easily end up with them being in the middle of these “circles of hell”. But Muslim men are not the only ones who would do such things. On December 31 2014, for example, many women in Germany experienced this nightmare, just because they were out, and in the proximity of men. 1,200 women and girls (aged from nine to 79!) were sexually abused in German cities during New Year's Eve celebrations, by 1,000 drunk and aggressive men. It is interesting to note that according to “leaked reports” published by the DailyMail, only about half of the perpetrators, were foreign nationals (see: Arab refugees or immigrants of African descend) In short, let us not be quick to see this as a problem relating to the Islam alone… Western men aren’t above all that, given the opportunity… This is a problem not related to ethnicity or religion but to male violence and male entitlement! And that transcends all cultures....
Besides, isn’t fear the feeling you are most likely to feel if you are a woman of any nationality, found alone, in a large gathering of men of ANY nationality? Who can deny it? Don’t we all, even the strongest and bravest among us, keep that fear always at hand? Haven’ t we all been scared on some night returning home, walking in an empty street, or a park, minding our business working late in an empty office, or walking towards a car in an empty parking lot, being in a deserted beach, entering a Taxi late at night, being in an elevator with a stranger, or travelling alone? Don’ t we leave the lights on when we are alone, keep a friend’ s number on speed dial, or worry a bit (or a LOT!!) when we go on a first date with a guy we just met? (And statistics say that we DO have grounds to worry...) Don’t we all take precautions we hope will keep us safe, and which we have come to consider natural, part of our routines, part of our lives as women? Isn’t that proof that our lives, though indeed in many ways different than the lives of our Muslim sisters, are not as different as we would have liked to believe? We are free to walk in the street, but not completely without danger. We are free to live as we choose, but not quite…
Before we feel dismay mixed with feelings of superiority when we are thinking about the horrible experiences of the women hoping for a revolution and finding abuse on Tahrir Square, we need to be reminded that the same thing happened to American women (and some underage girls) on many of the Occupy Wall Street camps! In fewer numbers yes, but it did happen! Just because some women fount themselves alone among large groups of men. That’s all it takes… And again, if we think street harassment (the “milder” of abuses) characterizes only Arab, Mediterranean or third world countries, we only need to read some to the experiences written by women from many Western countries (25 so far!) in the “Everyday Sexism Project” http://everydaysexism.com that is becoming like a huge data-base of the daily humiliations and public violations that are faced by countess women around the world.
So it is therefore quite understandable that when Donald Trump spews misogynistic aphorisms with uncensored abandon, the many men who support him are still impressed by him! You can easily imagine a collective sign of relief, satisfaction and appreciation coming out of the mouth of countless men who think exactly like him, but thought they were not supposed to reveal it publicly. (Not after the fifties anyway…) And here is this guy who gives the impression that he has been living in a (possibly golden) cave somewhere, and had never heard of political correctness and Women’ s Rights and plain, common decency. Here is this guy who says all the things they were thinking all along! How could he not be popular, I ask you?
Besides, it is EXACTLY the same way of thinking that is expressed in the Rap music culture (some fine examples here: http://elitedaily.com/music/music-news/the-20-most-misogynist-lines-in-rap-history/) and also by most male, Internationally acclaimed stand up comics working in the English speaking world. All the good ones, all the highly intelligent, and exceptionally talented ones (from Eddie Murphy, and Bill Hicks, to Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Bill Burr, Chris Rock, Jim Jefferies, and Kevin Hart, even early Trevor Noah), have bits where they talk obsessively (Oh boy, is it obsessively!!!)about these things: how women are nothing but bodies in their eyes, and the countless ways in which they want to fuck them; how they feel like every woman is a gold digger; how they feel every woman they fancy ought to replicate every single humiliation they have ever watched pornstars endure for a pay check, preferably with the same kind of fake enthusiasm; how they love ejaculating all over their their face (because what is a male orgasm without that added kick of humiliating a woman with the most disgusting of ways?); how they are (just like Trump) constantly rating women in their mind, comparing them, hating them for every imperfection, obsessing about their various body parts, hoping these were not attached to a person, a human being with thoughts and needs and views and self respect. How they hate them when they are “bitches” (say “No” to them); and how they loath them when they are “whores” (say “Yes” to them); how they despise them when they are “ball breakers” (intelligent, well educated, articulate and with opinions of their own); and how they can't stand them when they are feminists (not good sports when it comes to rape jokes...) How they judge all women primarily on account of their weight, age, and the size of their boobs and behinds;how they lust over them regardless if they are underage, or on occasion, their blood relatives. How they feel like they have (or at least ought to have) the right to grope them whenever they feel like it. And of course,how much they really REALLY wish they lived in the time when they could hit them and not get in trouble.This in fact, seems to be a very, VERY strong and common need in most men, if we take into account the comedians’ s perspective. And you feel like they do strike some sensitive chords, some hidden, collective, primal masculine need, as you hear the room pulsating with wild laughter, and you see row after row of men nodding in deep appreciation and inner gratification. The same sort of gratification that a certain – by the looks of it, a big – percentage of men feel when they hear Trump talk about women.
What is even more disappointing, is how many women often react when the news of events relating to sexual harassment or assault reach them. There is, it seems among women, an underlying fear that should they comment negatively about misogyny, they would automatically be branded as “man-hating bitches” or (The horror! The horror!) “feminists”! Whenever the news of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination against women reaches their Facebook news feed for example, or they come upon them anywhere on the Internet, they seem to feel the need to express in comments along with their dismay, their assurance that “not all men are like that”, that “the men in their life are by no means like that”, and “This has never happened to me personally”, and also that “these things happen to men too”. Nobody claimed that these things don't happen to (a very small percentage of) men too (by other men, let us not forget!). And nobody mentioned their husbands, why are THEY bringing them up?
This is an issue that needs to be addressed. We don’ t rush to add whenever we are faced with news about a guy who steals cars, or kills kittens that “hey, not all men steal cars you know!” or “hey, my husband never killed any kittens, all right?” It is assumed, you know what I mean? And therefore it does not need clarification. And we are not branded as “haters” if we call such crimes hideous! And yet whenever sexual crimes against women are being committed, speaking against them, or even about them, often brands women as “man-haters”. It is therefore not surprising that their concern is to be excluded from this category by validating the men in their life. By offering the reassurance that their masculinity is intact, that their own dismay about other men, won’ t affect them personally. Of course, the fact that they feel justified in thinking that, is indicative of the fragility of this type of masculinity and also, of women’ s deep seated insecurities, and secret fears about the true nature of their own relationships with men. It is also indicative that we have a long, LONG way to go…
In any case, whether or not we have experienced the same kind of things is irrelevant. As women, we should make an effort to stop thinking that being a feminist is about hating men or sex, or that it only concerns women who have faced abuse, or have had horrible experiences with men.Not having a terrible marriage, or not being personally a victim of assault, should not stop us from talking about it, wanting to protect the victims, or attempting to stop what has caused them pain, by at least attempting to change perception about women's place in this world! We should live in a bigger world than the one defined wholly and exclusively by our own personal experience. We ought to be concerned about and involved in social change! Become interested and even active in politics, even if our life is pretty secure. We shouldn 't see our own life circumstances as the rule by which all things are measured and judged! If for example, we have been blessed to find an understanding, loving life partner, we shouldn’ t assume that there are no insensitive, abusive, horrible ones out there, for the same reason that just because there is food on our table, it doesn’ t mean there are no people dying of hunger in the world; just because we live in a country where there is no war, it doesn ‘t automatically mean there is World Peace; and just because we were never the victim of a crime, it doesn’ t mean they don’t happen all the time, etc. Let us not diminish any other woman’ s experience, by always comparing it to our own. And let us keep in mind that the women who talk of the injustice and violence, or discrimination experienced by women all over the world, are not necessarily personally victims of violence themselves, and it is not a comment on their own relationships with the men in their life! (Not to mention they should not be made to feel like they ought to clarify that all the time!) How about we face the reality of misogyny, and male entitlement and male violence without being called man-haters or feeling like we need to make excuses for them? How about, we stand beside our sisters who have been mistreated, degraded, violated without feeling like our own partners will be justified in taking offence?!
Let us not forget: even if we were blessed to live a good life, the world is largely still a hostile place for women and girls! How about we stand beside our sisters, the women and under-age girls who have been used, abused, humiliated, raped, tortured and murdered, (often by their loved ones); the women who were branded and sold like pieces of meat; the baby girls who were killed at birth on account of their sex; the toddlers and young girls who were sexually abused or forced into child marriages with grown up men and whose lives is an endless torture; the women who were victims of human trafficking and those who were forced to suffer female amputations and sex slavery… How about we talk about the countless women who are taken from their homes and their families, in times of war all over Africa or now Syria, in order to be passed from soldier to soldier like things, before they are killed because they are rendered “useless” to them as they become fatally sick after years of non stop abuse? How about we talk of the nightmare marriagesof women in the Middle East (and elsewhere), whose husbands (and fathers) are taught from an early age that it is not just their “right”, but their actual religious “duty” to hit them daily? How about we talk about the endless generations of women whose lives were wasted in arranged marriages with men they have not loved, or even met before their wedding day. How about we talk about the many places in the world where women still do not have the right to vote, to be educated, have a job and their own money, have a say in the way they want to live their lives, or be considered actual human beings?! How about we face rape culture, pedophilia and the sexualization of young girls in the media? How about we face the fact that men's perception of women and sex, is in the last 10-15 years heavily influenced bytheir obsessive watching of Internet porn? How about we face the realities of social media and Western pop culture, which view women as bodies and nothing else, and which makes young girls believe it to be true?
And how about we talk about all that, without feeling like we need to always haste to add: “some men are also victims of violence in the hands of women, too”, not just because the numbers of such incidents are staggeringly small, compared to the overwhelming numbers of female victims, or even because when a woman commits a crime against a man it's because she's been more often than not his victim for years, but because such an argument deliberately and slyly diminishes the importance of the fact that being born a female, is for countless women and young girls around the world, literally equated with life-long violence, humiliation and fear. Such an argument – which always aims to sooth the male ego - is an additional insult to the millions of women around the world who are facing daily violent realities.
How about we bravely speak about the violent nature of countless men out there, without the constant fear that we also need to be protecting “traditional” masculinity, which is apparently so fragile, that it needs constant gratification and protection, even when it is not the victim but the perpetrator? How about we talk of male violence, rape and abuse and discrimination, without feeling the need to add that “personally, we do love men!” (You know, how men are allowed to talk about say, the Holocaust, without also feeling the need to declare their undying love for 40’s German architecture... Or those truly well tailored Nazi uniforms...
How about we create a world where women can actually walk in an empty street at night and not be in danger?
How about we talk openly about how bad relationships and sexism are common, without being seen as speaking from a place of bitterness?
And how about we teach our sons not to rape, rather than teach our daughters to always live in fear? How about we teach them that women are not just bodies? How about we teach them, that sex requires the other person’ s consent!
And how about we teach our sons to be accountable for their actions! How about we resist the granted, overwhelming urge to overindulge them, even when they are possibly the only males in our lives who actually think we deserve their respect?
How about we teach them they don’ t always have to prove their masculinity by acts of physical power and violence - or by their lewd comments. Or by anything. (They ARE males. It’ s a done deal. Teach them to relax already. There is no need to continue having to prove it all the time, because the ways they choose to prove it, are always ALWAYS victimizing women, girls and other, less powerful men)
How about we stop praising our sons every time they make lewd, degrading and sexist comment that reduce women into body parts? How about we teach them about empathy and that it is not OK to judge women (or anyone) only by their looks?
How about we teach them that it is OK to be gentle and kind and empathetic, and that being violent is NOT equated with being a man! How about we stop being scared that any display of sensitivity on their behalf is also a display of homosexuality? How about we start being concerned about their violent tendencies, instead of encourage them from an early age, seeing them as signs of being on the “right” track of become “normal” heterosexual males? How about we stop being proud about their violent behavior, which in turn results in a society that is increasingly more and more violent? How about we stop being scared of having a gay son so much, that we eliminate any signs of sensitivity and kindness from his heart? How about we realize that in any case, there are far, FAR worse things in this life than having a gay son (like having an abusing heterosexual son for example!) And how about we realize that being respectful of other people’ s feelings, bodies and space, being empathetic, and having a heart - whether you are man or woman, heterosexual or gay - are only good signs!
And how about we teach our daughters that they are more than bodies with an expiration date? How about we teach them to have the kind of self-respect that stops them from being in constant need of validation by men, even when they are abusive.
How about we teach them to be brave and self-sufficient, instead of teaching them to be scared and in need of a rescuer? How about we teach them to have ambitions and to work hard so that they will always be financially independent and so have options in this life, and not be forced to hope for nothing better, nothing bigger than finding a guy who will take care of them, (and who therefore, will predictably feel entitled to control them)?
How about we teach them that it is OK to look exactly the way they look, and that they are worthy of love (and really mean it!) even if a guy says he doesn’ t think so. How about we teach them to have dreams other than being pretty, thin, not ageing and finding a husband? (And to do it also by our example!)
And how about we teach them that when they will get old, they will still be them, and for a man who actually deserves their respect, they will still be his beloved?
How about we teach them both – the sons and the daughters - about dignity?
(Where would Trump – or anyone of his kind - be then, I ask you?)
Wouldn’ t that be something?
Would that be some world?!
"Man-hating Bitches": Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved. Any unauthorized use – copying, publishing, printing, reselling, etc – will lead to legal implications.