I should have learnt my lesson about reading glossy women’s mags, but every so often I give one a try, and then end up really angry about something stupid. But this month, Easy Living magazine really managed to exceed even my worst imaginings. In an article about the dangers of alcohol, they include a brilliant paragraph;
“Women produce far fewer of the key enzymes which break down alcohol, thus protecting vital organs, cells and body tissue. This also leaves them with a heightened vulnerability to assault, rape, unwanted pregnancy, STDs and clinical depression through drink.”
I read that a second time, and yes, this magazine is actually claiming to have discovered an ENZYME that makes us vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.
It seems we need to spell it out even to women’s publications, that surely should be supporting women? There’s not an enzyme that causes rape. Rape isn’t a bad decision that women make when they’ve had too much to drink. Alcohol doesn’t cause rape. RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE. Rapists chose to attack women when they spot a vulnerability. Some rapists may chose a victim who has been drinking. Or a woman who’s walking alone, or a woman who lives alone. Whatever the reason why a rapist chose his victim, the rape was caused by his decision to assault, not his victim’s.
One of the things that makes me most angry is the lack of justification. It’s just dropped in that rape is women’s fault, and then the article moves on. There was no discussion of whether alcohol can make PEOPLE take risks they wouldn’t otherwise take, or make themselves less aware of their surroundings. There’s no mention that men out drinking can become victims of violence. It’s just a casual “oh yes, you might get yourself raped if you drink” and then moving on to the next bad decision you might make if you drink.
We’ve all done or said stupid things after a few drinks that we wouldn’t have done if we’d not been drinking. But being raped is not one of these things. If even women’s magazine’s are repeating this dangerous victim blaming – that women need to moderate their behaviour in order to prevent rape – the Slut Walks earlier this year really did achieve nothing. This victim blaming needs to stop.
The feminist movement is often criticised for being too focused on white, middle class problems. And at the moment, I’m mostly preoccupied with all the stress of having a brand new kitchen fitted, so I realise I can be guilty of focusing on my middle class problems too much.
So for this post, I am going to look back at a trip I made to Uganda a couple of years ago with the charity Send a Cow.
There were so many things I found incredibly inspiring about this trip, but one of the moments that stayed with me was a community workshop I attended. In this workshop, attended by about 30 women, mostly widows from a very rural area, the community support worker asked them to call out “what makes a man” and ” what makes a woman”. The answers were clear and without argument – women have babies, they cook, they have breasts, they look after children and nurse others. Men are responsible for discipline, for knowing the boundaries of their land, for working and providing food for their families.
And then a woman stood up. She said “I am a widow, I don’t have a man. So instead, I do all these things. I work my land and provide food for my family. I make sure my children go to school. When you are a widow, you realise that you can do everything a man can do and even more.” And the other women in the group started nodding in agreement. This group, that ten minutes before had been absolutely clear in where the gender divides were, had suddenly turned around and removed the divides.
Another group who had been working together for much longer then came to this village, and put on a show with drama and music. Men, women and children all gathered together. The drama was about a married couple. They were poor and hungry, and the woman kept shouting at her drunk husband until he started beating her. Then a woman from a group working with Send a Cow came to them, and said “There is another way. You can work together to grow food for your family. You can work as a team and solve your problems together”. The play was funny and captured everyone’s attention, which was a brilliant way to persuade families to work together to improve their lives.
This to me was real feminism in action. It was women working together within their communities to improve their world. And as such, it makes me proud to be a feminist. It’s a really long way from my middle-class feminism, but I think it is related. When he was shadow-development secretary, Andrew Lansley MP praised the Send a Cow model so highly, for involving communities. Working from the ground up is vital for this kind of development aid to work effectively and lastingly, and Send a Cow works solely in this way. And more often than not it is women that join Send a Cow groups – perhaps because as widows they have few choices, but also because as women they realise how close to poverty they are living, and that working collaboratively is the best chance to bring whole communities out of poverty.
As a feminist, I whole-heartedly support this approach. I also admire the determination of women across the Middle East to make sure they are counted in the new waves of democracy. Our government has been vocal in making sure that women are represented in Libya, Tunisia and the other new democracies. But this is where it brings me back to my middle-class feminism. Why should someone believe David Cameron when he says women should be involved in democracy? Look at his version of democracy – how many women do you see in key positions? What percentage of UK MPs are women? How many women have broken through the glass ceiling to head up FTSE100 companies? How does our media treat women?
So perhaps by being angry about my middle-class feminist issues I am changing the world. How can I expect our government to lobby for the involvement of women in developing countries when women are sidelined by this same government?
I’m not saying feminism isn’t perfect, or that we shouldn’t work hard to ensure that our concerns aren’t the preserve of rich white women. But I’m also saying that this is one movement, and actions that help improve equality at one end of the spectrum will have an impact on the rest of the world.
Feminism is worth fighting for, whichever battleground we choose.
PS – while I’m talking a lot about Send a Cow here, I want to stress that these are my views and opinions only, and they have not been read or in any way endorsed by the charity. I do encourage you to find out more about what they think at Send a Cow and on Twitter @TweetaCow