To anyone who has ever spent time around Shaheen and I, it is very apparent that we disagree on almost everything. At times, we have to keep reminding ourselves why we like each other. I have always been her biggest critique and I know, she will always be mine. This is why I am dedicating this post to defending her recently published article on CNN. When I first sat down to read it, I was prepared to call her and argue this out with her. I was ready to disagree with her at some point in this article,  but that point never came. All I could feel was a sense of pride (at my uncanny ability to pick amazing best friends) and a sense of liberation. Liberation at the thought that there were others who didn’t react to Michella’s article with the same sympathy and outrage as everyone around us.

The idea that her article comes from a place of patriotism and blind nationalism (the idea that Shaheen felt like she had to somehow defend India at all cost) is unfounded and presumptuous.  Nowhere in the article does she seek to undermine what Michella experienced and/or to disprove the events that took place. In fact, she was deeply apologetic of these experiences (not because she is Indian, but because she is a woman). She acknowledges that sexual harassment (in any community) is a traumatic experience.

Her article does not draw parallels between situations or arrive at any conclusions. Never once does she weigh what she experienced in Paris to what Michella went through in India. Instead, what she does is force us to think a little harder and a little deeper about what sexual harassment really means to women everywhere! It also forces us to think about what it means to be exotic in a foreign land. Yes, women who travel from the west to the east may experience sexual harassment differently to those who travel from the east to the west. But, the fact of the matter is that it’s not because ‘brown men are sexually deprived and white men are sexually hyper’. The pillage of women’s bodies around the world has a far deeper explanation than ‘men are sexually deprived’. It extends to a conversation about power and control, about social learning and subliminal messaging. If rape were a matter of sexual deprivation, it would have been solved a long time ago.

And this is what Shaheen’s article begs us to think about.  It begs us to understand the orientalist attitudes that have governed our thought process for most of the last century! Begs us to defy these attitudes and to think about how ‘coloured’ our notions of sex and sexuality are!

I am a brown woman who grew up in a brown community her whole life. I have experienced things Michella experienced. Those experiences scarred me. And then three years ago I moved to the West and experienced a different kind of sexual harassment; but it was sexual harassment nonetheless. And they have scarred me too! I can never weigh these incidences against each other and talk about which was worse; which was scarier. They were all scary. They were all the same. Because in one way or another, whether you are physically harassing me or mentally harassing me -whether you are masturbating at me or forcefully grinding up against me at a Frat house – that experience will stay with me all the same.

So I would urge everyone to just re-read her article. Think about it a little and then hopefully this conversation can turn into something more productive. Like why aren’t sexual harassment laws stronger ALL OVER THE WORLD? And why aren’t we ALL engaged in a more aggressive fight against it?


Thursday Evening in Elim

Elim market women with bottle store in the background.

Elim market women with bottle store in the background.

When the market women pack their things and fill the taxis, the setting sun begins to beg young girls to go home. Before the taxi rank becomes a maze of groping hands. Men grab our limbs like funeral meat, between would be compliments of “yha baby!” from breath of Zamalek.
“These taxi drivers don’t mind to drink and drive us home,” one woman says.
The driver growls his laugh, and over a screaming radio shouts, “come in and stop wasting our drinking time.”
And I, dodging his eyes, climb inside the taxi that will deliver me to my mother’s house. A big fat woman won’t budge at all so I get to know the window. And the taxi driver speeds off.

Half a blasting song down the road, a crowd is gathered around two small children and a car. I can’t tell you where the silence came from or where the speed went. As we slowly pass by, the women lift themselves from their seats to peep outside the windows even though they were shuddering already. One is dead, one child that is. The other is flailing her arms and screaming something the glass won’t let me hear. The women sit back down and cluck their tongues, their feathers ruffled.
“Eish, the mother” they all say to each other.

I can’t look. I don’t want to do that to my heart. In order to keep it unbroken I force my eyes to stay away from the ground. Next to the car I see a man with his hands over his head and an ocean swelling in his eyes. My heart breaks anyway. Yes, a child has died. But someone else’s child has killed today. All of a sudden the sun has had it with us. For the rest of the way we search each other’s eyes for sense in the darkness. The driver says nothing. When we reach home I hand him a ten Rand note. Tonight he gives my change without grabbing my hand. Instead he looks at me, and I look at him too. Tomorrow we will drive down this road again. And I wonder, will I still be human then?

The term Pro-Life is misleading because it depends on which life you care about

For the woman who told me that feminism was an antiquated movement, unnecessary in the 21st Century, because ‘we’ve moved past that right?’

I am a feminist because a zygote has more rights than a woman in this country

When a ball of cells has more constitutional protection than a human being

I am a feminist.

When I know they can never overturn Roe v Wade, so they force me to look at an ultrasound of my unborn child, make me stare at its heart beat, describe in excruciating detail the partial organs it has already developed

In an attempt to get me to feel a surge of catholic guilt and be overcome by my duty to procreate

I am a feminist.

When they tell me that I am killing, murdering, destroying, sinning, all because I am saving a child from having a mother whose own life will be quartered to give birth to another when this world has so many people it is eating itself up with competition and climbing higher

I am a feminist.

When they restrict my uterus from removing its foetus by refusing to cover an abortion on my health insurance and having a penis by default allows them to pay less for health care

I am a feminist.

When they tell me I’m a whore and I should ask them why the fuck their God would want a whore to be a mother, but instead I believe them and start to hate myself a little more

I am a feminist.

When planned parenthood has to fight the supreme court and the result hangs by one vote in my favour and the death of one judge could make me grow something inside me for 9 months and look after it for 18 years

I am a feminist.

When they take me into a room and lecture me on ethics and morality for 3 hours before I bleed out my baby in a mess of hormones and preliminary placental matter, so that I think of the blood between my legs as the child I could have had

I am a feminist.

When they make me want to throw myself in front of a subway and feel the life rushing out of me because they’ve done so well convincing me that I haven’t a shred of integrity left in me

But really I have just saved a child from a life where its mother is never home because she works 3 jobs to pay the rent, to make sure he isn’t hungry and he can get to sleep safely but she never has the time to know his favourite book or listen to his pleas to get a hamster or a goldfish or maybe even a green iguana with a saggy chin and he hates her for it.

I am a feminist.

Today when I chose to get an abortion, I chose life, I chose my life and the life of my future child because when I become a mother, I want to buy him a cage with a mini jungle inside for the iguana we will name gus, I want to have time to teach him the lyrics to every Beatles song ever written, I want to take two hours every night to make him something warm that will remind him of his childhood, give him memories of me that he can draw pictures of. Today I saved two lives, mine and my child’s and they couldn’t stop me yet.

So when you tell me that “we’ve moved past” let me remind you how close we are to legislation ruling our uteri and God becoming the justification for when we chose to give life, the single most important decision we as women will ever make concerning someone else, I’ll tell you that you need feminism, just as much as I do.

Are Women Human Yet?

Catharine MacKinnon, author, activist and general amazing human being hits the spot in this piece titled “Are women human yet?”. More than half a century after the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights, MacKinnon ask the powerful question of why women still do not meet the pre-requisites for being “human” and how half the world’s population is still left out of the universality of the human rights language.

“If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers into New York’s brothels? Would we have our genitals sliced out to purify us (of what?) and to bid and define our cultures? Would we be used as breeders, made to work without pay our whole lives, burned when our dowry money wasn’t enough or when men tired of us, starved as widows when our husbands died if we survived his funeral pyre, forced to sell ourselves sexually because men won’t value us for anything else? Would we be sold into marriage to priests to atone for our family’s sins or to improve our family’s earthly prospects? Would be we sexually and reproductively enslaved? Would we, when allowed to work for pay, be made to work at the most menial jobs and exploited at barely starvation level? Would we be trafficked for sexual use and entertainment worldwide in whatever form current technology makes possible? Would we be kept from learning to read and write?

If women were human, would we have little to no voice in public deliberations and in government? Would we be hidden behind veils and imprisoned in houses and stoned and shot for refusing? Would we be beaten nearly to death, and to death, by men with whom we are close? Would we be sexually molested in our families? Would we be raped in genocide to terrorize and destroy our ethnic communities, and raped again in that undeclared war that goes on every day in every country in the world in what is called peacetime? If women were human, would our violation be enjoyed by our violators? And, if we were human, when these things happened, would virtually nothing be done about it?”

It takes a lot of imagination — and a determinedly blinkered focus on exceptions at the privileged margins — to envision a real woman in the Universal Declaration’s majestic guarantees of what ‘everyone is entitled to’. After fifty years, just what part of ‘everyone’ doesn’t mean us?
The ringing language in Article 1 encourages us to ‘act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Must we be men before its spirit includes us? Lest this be seen as too literal, if we were all enjoined to ‘act towards one another in a spirit of sisterhood,’ would men know it meant them, too? Article 23 encouragingly provides for just pay to ‘[e]veryone who works.’ It goes on to say that this ensures a life of human dignity for ‘himself and his family.’ Are women nowhere paid for the work we do in our own families because we are not ‘everyone’, or because what we do there is not ‘work’? Don’t women have families, or is what women have not a family without a ‘himself’? If the someone who is not paid at all, far less the ‘just and favorable remuneration’ guaranteed, is also the same someone who in real life is often responsible for her family’s sustenance, when she is deprived of providing for her family ‘an existence worthy of human dignity,’ is she not human? And now that ‘everyone’ has had a right ‘to take part in the government of his country’ for the past fifty years, why are most governments still run by men? Are women silent in the halls of state because we do not have a human voice?

A document that could provide specifically for the formation of trade unions and ‘periodic holiday with pay’ might have mustered the specificity to mention women sometime, other than through ‘motherhood’, which is more bowed to than provided for. If women were human in this document, would domestic violence, sexual violation from birth to death including in prostitution and pornography, and systematic sexual objectification and denigration of women and girls simply be left out of the explicit language?

Granted, sex discrimination is prohibited. But how can it have been prohibited for fifty years, even aspirationally, and the end of these conditions still not be concretely imagined as part of what a human being, as human, is entitled to? Why is women’s entitlement to an end of these conditions still openly debated based on cultural rights, speech rights, religious rights, sexual freedom, free market — as if women are social signifiers, pimps’ speech, sacred or sexual fetishes, natural resources, chattel, everything but human beings?
The omissions in the Universal Declaration are not merely semantic. To be a woman is not yet a name for a way of being human, not even in this most visionary of human rights documents. If we measure the reality of women’s situation in all its variety against the guarantees of the Universal Declaration, not only do women not have the rights it guarantees — most of the world’s men don’t either — it is hard to see, in its vision of humanity, a woman’s face.
The world needs to see women as human. For this, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must see the ways women distinctively are deprived of human rights as a deprivation of humanity. For the glorious dream of the Universal Declaration to come true, for human rights to be universal, both the reality it challenges and the standard it sets need to change.
When will women be human? When?

I Don’t Want to Be Cute!

maya wegerif

I don’t want to be cute!

I am that girl that runs barefoot on the heels of her happily-ever-after
I’m going to be that person that dares to claim the sky with my laughter
I will refuse to be called mistress because I don’t have a master
and fuck it I’ll curse if that gets to the point faster.

I want to be that girl that refuses to wear heals
I want to be known as the poet that reads Braille out loud because she speaks what she feels-and not necessarily what sells
because my expression refuses to be that candy in the flavors he
chooses and picks off the shelf
Fuck it I’d rather be myself.

“No”, he says. “That’s not cute.”

Well I don’t want to be cute if it means reducing myself to bite-sized packets
Conveniently packaged for a man’s consumption
I don’t want to be cute if it means you can belittle me to “baby” and
“shorty” and therefore constantly have me at your mercy
Reserved Reduced Respectful Restricted
But desirable. In the same way a man might desire a car
Obedient to his every instruction
Sits patiently waiting for him to get in and drive
The quieter the better- the ride’s smoother that way

Well, I’m going to be the woman who just doesn’t give a damn
Keep your cute if it means you can call me your girl while I must refer to you as my man

I don’t want to be cute if it means men decide what I wear and how I act
I did not make you my costume designer nor did I make you my director
Because in the movie of my life I’m playing a far bigger role than an mere actor
My existence is my art, my self-worth will play a big part
and my own goals will not be an extra

I am that poet that seeks and seeks until she finds
I for one will not be blind
I want to be accused of having voices in my head b
ecause I speak my mind.

Who said I was trying to be cute?

– Maya Wegerif