The way we treat each other

I don’t like analyses that center on the individual as a means to explain political phenomenon.

As in, if you talk to me about the ecology from an individual responsibility perspective, there’s a great chance I’ll call you an eco-fascist (I’m harsh and in a bad mood a lot. I’m a working Arab mother of two daughters with personalities bigger than mine, come at me). I’ll ask you why you’re trying to guilt-trip struggling workers for not recycling or buying hand-picked local produce that cost half their salary while you remain silent about the states and corporations that consciously destroy the planet. I don’t really believe in mantras that’ll have you ‘heal the world through healing yourself’ or that insist that ‘life is what you make of it’, as if people existed in a vacuum, un-impacted by the realities formed by the material conditions within which they exist.

I have issues with call-out culture, I abhor privilege theory: to me, they do not particularly help securing accountability for harm that has been done and do nothing by way of societal transformation to guarantee non-recurrence. Also more often that not, these analyses fail to meaningfully engage with class exploitation under capitalism, and please, can we really pretend to be talking about dismantling systemics forms of oppression if we’re not addressing the impacts of capitalism and how it needs and sustains and interacts with racism, sexism and other forms of oppression? (Hint and shocker, the answer’s a no).

Any overfocus on the individual level instead of interrogating broader institutionalized patterns of discrimination and systems of oppression is to me synonymous with depoliticization of struggles. Instead of fighting the systems that create and sustain oppression and dismantle power dynamics that enabled said oppression and discrimination to happen in the first place, political struggles get reduced to a set of arbitrarily defined behaviours used as performative tools for activism.

Neo-liberalism loves that by the way: this approach enables it to co-opt messages and remove them from the realm of collective action and political contestation to make individuals responsible instead of the powers that be.

Call me a grumpy communist, call me a feminist kill joy, what can I say, I like changing systems and addressing root causes.

And yet.

And yet there is definitely something to be said for ensuring that our individual behaviours reflect what we fight for collectively, to the extent possible and bearing in mind that our lives are molded by our material conditions and by broader systems within which we exist. Is there truly a point in devoting your life to dismantling systems of oppression if you trample on everyone in doing so?

Within these margins lie our individual responsibility to practice what we preach and our collective responsibility to prevent harmful behaviours, our own and that of others’, from impacting others within our movements.

I find this last point extremely difficult. How do we create accountability mechanisms within our movements to ensure that people who have been harmed get justice from a space that they had considered as safe? How do we politically grow by opening up space for difficult conversations? Not conversations that pertain to political strategies and tactics, but conversations that need to center how we treat each other? How do we discuss problematic behaviours, keeping in mind power dynamics and avoiding policing?

I had started this piece really wanting to once again talk about radical political love, about how to consciously make our activism a labor of love, where we practice solidarity in a very concrete way, showing up for comrades embodying feminist values. And I believe in this like it’s my job, and I try to extend love and care whenever I can, to use my anger to move things forward, to be there for other women and girls, to look at solidarity from up close and unpeel all of its layers until I get to the core of it. Solidarity exists in multitudes, just like us, and there is not a single way of standing in solidarity with groups leading their way through liberation, but a myriad of them.

And sometimes it comes easily to me: after all, it’s easy to materialize and be present for the comrades you love, it’s easy to meet women and lift them up. It’s not work, or at least it doesn’t feel like it, and it feels great because you feel aligned with what your core values are. Embracing and holding space for each other, inside or outside of political and social movements, isn’t the hard part.

Things become tough when you’re confronted with behaviours that contradict these values, whether from within or from others. Suddenly radical love, including radical self-love, becomes difficult to practice: political debates and disagreement are one thing, and they are more than healthy and needed and allow us to grow, both as individuals and movements, but harmful behaviours, personal antipathies and other negative dynamics are something else entirely and don’t always call for accountability mechanisms. What are the implications of these inevitable dynamics on our movements?

People are multilayered, relationships are complex, and once again the success or failure of organizations and movements should not be left up to individual relationships: rather, we need democratic structures and institutions within them that provide a buffer against negative elements that can be nefarious to movements and trans-movement solidarity.

Despite commitments to radical love, we must also admit that we simply can not love everyone, and that rooting our activism in love is different than wanting to love every individual we meet.  One is a political act, the other is simply impossible, and we need to be ok with that.

Be Punk As Fuck

I read an article yesterday that stayed with me all night (my sleeping patterns are erratic at the best of times, which gives me plenty of time to think about light things like what’s my life purpose, is death constantly hovering above us, that kind of things).

This article is entitled ‘My mother was born on this day, and reborn in the Black Panther Party. We are her cubs’ and written by Malkia Devich Cyril. You can read it here.

A beautiful and poignant homage to his mother, the author also highlights what his mother taught him about the meaning of being part of a social justice movement, about the inherent politics of it, and about the ethics of engaging with one. One paragraph particularly struck a chord:

‘Organized social movements can both wound and heal, they often do both at the same time because true change is a turbulent process. Power is never wrestled without a defense or without a demand. To weather the pain of both change and those that would counter it with their own organized violence, we must become as compassionate, as tender, as forgiving, as insightful, as kind, as gentle, as fair, as thoughtful, as respectful and as accountable as we possibly can. From stillness comes action. From suffering, kindness.

It felt as if every sentence captured part of my experiences in engaging with feminist and leftist movements, and I am still processing many of the implications these words entail.

I read this article right after finishing up our weekly radio show ‘Three Feminists Walk Into a Bar’, that I co-host with my sisters and comrades Lina Abou Habib and Maya El Helou on Hammam Radio, where our conversation on gender stereotyping turned into praising the sisterhood we encountered in feminist movements, and into us deciding to do next week’s show on feminist love.

One of Maya’s most powerful quotes (and they are legion), is ‘feminist solidarity saves lives’. And to me, here lies the inherent healing power feminist movements have. Feminist solidarity and feminist love have healed me from a lot of misconceptions about myself and others and from internalized misogyny I had absorbed growing up in a patriarchal society (notes: all societies are). Engaging with feminist movements, at the global, regional or national level, feels like stepping into a crowd that feels like you do, whose wounds looks like yours, whose scars feel like yours. There’s a level of understanding and acceptance you seldom encounter elsewhere. Feminist movements are also places where you realize that love can be a political, conscious choice, that love can be revolutionary, that love can be hard work, can be intense, can exist outside of the traditional framings of what it ought to be, can be platonic, romantic, sexual, and everything in between.

Feminist movements are healing because they make space for emotions and build on emotions: anger moves you into action, love moves you into kindness and compassion, solidarity dismantles power dynamics. Feminist movements force you to see these emotions, make something out of them and accept them and deal with them.

These movements are healing because they show you that building political alternatives is possible, that you’re doing it right there in this space you have created with nothing except brains and hearts and guts. Spaces that you never had and that were designed out of sheer will to carve a place for yourself and for anyone else that might need them. That palpable hope created in the midst of chaos, oppression and discouragement is what keeps you going.

But feminist and leftist movements can also wound you, and the wounds you bear from interacting with them is proportional to the love and commitment you pour into them. Because we believe so hard in them and because we are so heavily invested in them, we sometimes tend to forget that they do not exist in a vacuum, that we are, and they are, a product of societies rife with power dynamics, systems of oppression and patterns of discrimination. Yes, your flat feminist organization that wants to undo hierarchies might lead to an accountability deficit that might ultimately hurt you as an individual and hurt the movement globally. Yes, you might (oh and habibi you will) encounter sexism in leftist movements, where the comrades will do anything from trying to silence you, to undermine your ideas, to sexually harass and abuse you. How do you then heal from sustaining wounds inflicted by and in your healing place? Dealing with this kind of pain and trauma has been and is, for a lot of comrades and for myself, one of the most trying experience we’ve ever had to face. The realization that we’re not immune to oppressive dynamics just because we feel magic whenever we take up public spaces and feel united in our purpose, the disappointment, the injustice, the lack of accountability, the anger (not the kind that propels you forward, but rather, the kind that drags you down), all of these conspire to make you want to leave these movements, never to return. How come we don’t though? And how do we heal?

The response the author offers in his article is probably what resonated the most in me: ‘To weather the pain of both change and those that would counter it with their own organized violence, we must become as compassionate, as tender, as forgiving, as insightful, as kind, as gentle, as fair, as thoughtful, as respectful and as accountable as we possibly can. From stillness comes action. From suffering, kindness.’

Now don’t get me wrong, no one is applying for sainthood here: perpetrators of violations and violence will be held accountable. Voices will be raised against whatever oppression and discrimination that take place in our movements, investigations will be carried, accountability mechanisms will be put in place. There should be no doubt that when we mean the dismantlement of power dynamics, we mean it everywhere.

But this idea of using radical love, including radical self-love, as a political, revolutionary tool one chooses consciously to undo systems of oppression and ultimately reinforce movements is deeply appealing to me. Not because I see it as an opportunity for growth on an individual level (although that can be an interesting by product), but because to deliberately choose love and kindness in societies that demand cynicism, individualism and competition of us, to deliberately choose political love and solidarity in societies that demand of us to only see love as a narrow concept of romantic love in a heterosexual relationship, feels like a powerful antidote to toxic dynamics and behaviours.

Another favourite quote of mine is: In an age of performative cruelty, kindness is punk as fuck. Be punk as fuck.

At this time of year last year I was in Nepal for work. There, I met an incredible group of South Asian feminists that were strategizing together. The sheer energy, the debates, the strategies, the sharing of feelings about the contexts they were active in brought me back to a small, poorly lit room in Ashrafieh where I was doing the same with comrades and sisters that felt the same.

With this comes the realization that home is wherever and whoever wants to make this world more just, more accepting, more equal: these people are my home, and I vow to be home to them.

At the time, my colleague told me: ‘it was really nice to see you interact with the group this way, you seem to be home’.

I remember smiling, sitting beside her for the group photo: ‘Payal, I am home’.

 

Love

My friend Abir seems to be a permanent fixture in my writings. There is so much of her in one of my characters in the Tales of the Phoenix City, she’s been featured in articles I wrote, and here she is again, her name intertwined in my words.

That’s because Abir and I have built and nurtured a feminist friendship that has spanned for over ten years now. A friendship built in the streets of Beirut, around late coffees and meetings at feminist collectives, evenings spent designing infographics on violence against women (she’s good as design I’m good with words we both have a profound contempt for patriarchal violence) a friendship made of love, of understanding, absence of judgement, knowledge that we are there for each other regardless of where we live. A friendship made of honesty, and laughter, and joy (presently mentally adorning these sentences with blue eyes and khamsas to ward off the evil eye, yes I’m superstitious, what can I say, I’m an old woman and unlikely to change).

Lately, Abir’s brain produced the wonderful idea of co-creating Hammam Radio, a participatory feminist radio open to women and girls in all their diversities. If you think Abir’s brain is some next level brilliance, wait till you see her heart. She invited me over to contribute and co-create, along with the multiple wonderfulness that are Rasha, Marwa and Jojo. So far we’ve uploaded a heroic amount of music, have hosted different shows, but mostly had about a ton of fun.

This morning Marwa told us ‘I’ve never heard so many brilliant women in under two weeks’. The brilliant women are everywhere, it’s just that mainstream media is too busy showcasing The Men.

To me, the initiative brought me so much hope and love and joy, scarce feelings in these surreal times. Emotions that I have come to strongly associate with feminist love.

Several disclaimers are needed. From here onward, I’ll be speaking about healthy relationships, bearing in mind that they require constant work and care, and that toxicity can happen in all relationships, romantic or otherwise.

I’ve never been a fan of the (patriarchal, heteronormative) cult around the One and Only Romantic Love Meant to Fulfill All Of Your Needs. First of all, I think it’s incredibly selfish to ask of just the one person to be everything to you all the time. No one can be, nor should be, everything to you all the time always. Secondly, what’s this hierarchy of loves we live in? Society greatly values romantic love, makes a ton of music and movies about it, has special holidays around it, and women and girls especially are raised with the belief that the most important love they’ll ever find is romantic love, and that everything else is just an add-on. Very seldom are we taught that sometimes the ‘home’ you create with a romantic partner can be the most dangerous place for your to be in. Very seldom do we hear the warning that ‘the family’ can be your place of despair, violence and torture.

I fucking hate that.

I believe that there is constellation of forms of love out there, and that they are all equal. That intensity can be felt in relationships that are not necessarily meant to become romantic, that we should tell the people we love that we love them, period, and not just your partners or your family or your dog, but also your friends, especially your friends, and your comrades. I think there should be societal recognition of how crucial and core these relationships are to us, to our mental health and well-being. Kiss your friends more (once we’re out of quarantine), hold on to them, show you trust them and show them that they are not accessories in a play where the main character is your romantic partner.

There are different types of love, the political love you build with comrades (solidarity in struggle is a thing of beauty), the friendships you cherish, the situations you don’t quite have a name for yet (you know the ones, the relationships you can’t and don’t want to categorize), the love you feel for your children, the love you feel for your siblings’ and friends’ children (I’m an auntie, and a proud quasi auntie to many children, and let me tell you, is there anything more delightful than giggling with the offspring of the people you love with very minimal responsibility?), there is an infinity of persons out there that will be tugging at your heart one way or another. Don’t box love to certain types of situations or link it exclusively to certain people. The heart expands to more you let people in.

Among these loves, lies feminist love. The kind of love you build with feminist comrades who become your backbone, like a chain of wonders who prop and hold you up and will break your fall if they need to.  Feminist love makes space for your anger and legitimizes it, but stops you from being consumed by it. Feminist love is fierce, and full, and sincere, and stoked by the logs of struggle, solidarity and recognition. Feminist love has kept my head above water at times where even breathing was painful. Feminist love has taught me how to process grief, it has kept silent so my emotions could roar, it has made noise to drown out the violence and awfulness, it has stood like a wall of steel against the assault of societies that didn’t want us there. Feminist love rejoices in difference, creates invisible indestructible links between the people who form this bond, and above all, feminist love teaches life and courage. The courage to exist as we are, the courage to live our truth, safe in the knowledge that we are surrounded by the love of our chosen family.

To love, and be loved with that kind of deliberate fierceness, is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.

To create a platform where women* raise their voice and share their thoughts and laughter is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.

To retain the ability to love beyond what is socially sanctioned, to make the conscious choice to remain soft in an environment that will do anything to harden you, to choose solidarity and openness and inclusivity, to put one’s trust in the immense power of collective action and struggle, are all gifts and privileges beyond measure, but are also necessities.

Feminist love is needed. I’m happy to extend it to you.

How to Raise the Revolutionary’s Children (And Survive)

I don’t know why, Bassem Chiit, our Comrade from the Socialist Forum in Lebanon who passed away in 2014, has been on my mind a lot lately, and when The Rev told me that Bassem mentioned reading my Rev columns at the end of long days sometimes to unwind, it prompted me to write this one.

So this is for you Bassem, in the hope that you can enjoy it from wherever you are.

The Rev and I have kids. Naturally they take after me and are gorgeous, funny, cheeky and clever.

They also hold a healthy dose of skepticism for men as a social group. The fact that I regularly teach them to say ‘men are trash’ might have a little something to do with it.

Naturally, like Karl Marx loved the gazillion children he had with Jenny (that he left her to care for with no money while he was off trying to make the revolution happen (narrator’s voice: it did not happen)), the Rev dearly loves his children and tells them so repeatedly. He’s prone to outbursts of love and affection, ‘my daughters I love them I would die for them’, hereby demonstrating streaks of dramatic toxic masculinity, as if anyone had asked him to prove his love through war and death.

My daughters however are, at 4 and 2, hardened man-hating feminists who have no time for men and their declaration of undying love.

– ‘Nooooonn Papa’ they say, as he tries to cuddle them, and both proceed to swat his hands away in a gesture of such contempt it fills my heart with pure, man-hating joy. They seem to be convinced that their father, and through him boys and men in general, don’t understand a single thing in life and should be given up on as a bad job. Needless fo say, my pride in them knows no bounds.

Each of them have their own minds and have devised their own tactics to topple the patriarchy.

The eldest favours a subtle form of guerrilla warfare, waking up the patriarchal authority figure in her life very early in the morning simply to let him know that she has found her tiara. To manage to raise the patriarchy from its comfortable slumber just to inform it that you’re still Queen is a stroke of genius I wish I’d thought of. Here I was pitifully getting angry and worked up and demonstrating right left and center while my four year old just taught me that all you needed to do was disrupt sleep then sashay away in your pink glittery tutu, a look of triumph on your face and no pity for the enemy in your heart.

Our youngest has no time to waste and no fucks to give, her tactic is search and destroy. In a couple of years time she’ll be punching nazis in true black bloc fashion, but for now she just punches and scratches her father until he bleeds, and cries for me rather than for him, even in the middle of the night, thrashing on the ground if he tries to touch her, which come to think of it I wish she’d stop doing. After all, I am not the patriarchy and should be allowed to sleep.

The Rev, bless his heart, endures and bears all the abuse, even though he blames me for our kids’ lack of confidence in men. He is, however, mistaken. I have merely fed and watered the feminist seed they already had in them, much like Marx fed and watered the revolutionary seed in Engels (and much like Engels just plainly fed Marx and his family).

– But we’re communists! I am a feminist! I am one of you!

– WE ARE NOT COMMUNISTS, I AM A PRINCESS! Get out of my room, only girls allowed!

I won’t lie, while I am extremely happy that my child understands the need for women-only spaces and sees through comrades thinking they’re allies just because they’re communists, I still have the fear that she’ll turn into a royalist, what with all this talk of princesses.

But the Rev and I’s biggest fear remain that both of them become conservative, anti-choice, neo-liberal right wing militants. We observe. We monitor. So far, they share, they protect each other, they’re kind and feisty.

Not a right wing trait in sight.

But we’ll still monitor the situation, just in case.

The Magnitude Of The Problem

Me too.

Me too.

Me too.

This is what my timeline looks like. This hashtag, used by millions of women (by women, I mean all individuals who identify as such, girls, trans and cis women, femmes and queers) around the world, is meant to make people (men) understand the ‘magnitude of the problem’ of sexual harassment.

Yet it shouldn’t be on us to make men understand that women are people who should not be seen as sexual props designed to please the male gaze. It shouldn’t be on us to think of all the instances our bodies have been violated, our intimacy and privacy invaded, our bodies questioned and discussed as if our consent or absence of it didn’t matter, just to make you understand ‘the magnitude of the problem’.

But then again, the anger I’m feeling at reading all of these ‘me too’ is threatening to froth and boil, fizzle and explode, the raw anger I feel at seeing all of these women, my gorgeous, beautiful, strong army of friends and sisters sharing publicly that they, too, have been assaulted in one way or another.

As many wrote, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t.

As many wrote, we don’t owe you our stories. You know our stories, you’ve been writing them for centuries, years of years of male domination over women and girls, exploitation of women’s bodies and minds (yes, EVEN YOU MY COMRADE so don’t fucking hide behind  Rosa Luxembourg, we fucking see you and each time you brush aside feminist concerns in your grandiloquent speeches you are part of the problem).

You want the magnitude of the problem? I’ll give you the magnitude of the problem.

It is thinking twice about the outfit you wear because if something happens to you, you don’t want to be accused of ‘having asked for it’. It’s being accused of having asked for it even if you were wearing a hair shirt and several layers of clothes and a poster that screamed ‘please don’t harass or rape me I’m only trying to get to work’. It’s carefully monitoring your behavior not to seem to flirty, it’s being perceived as a temptress whom men can’t resist, it’s not their fault it’s yours, all the fucking time. It’s being categorized as a ‘sexual beast’, or as ‘submissive’, depending on your race. It’s being called a whore, a slut, a frigid monster every time you turn down the unwanted attentions of a man. It’s being sexualized as a young girl, it’s being denied the sex education you need while people tell you to remain a virgin, it’s being told be beautiful, a certain idea of what beautiful is, you HAVE TO MAKE YOURSELF BEAUTIFUL so men will like you. It’s checking on your girlfriends to see if they have made it home safely, tell me Brian when was the last time you did this for Brad? It’s being exploited and trafficked because you are a woman and you are poor, it’s being denied a sexuality or being raped because you live with a disability. It’s not being able to do your job properly as men in power hold you back unless you sleep with them. It’s your body being a battlefield in itself in war time, enduring unspeakable torture.

It’s never being listened to.

It’s being always blamed for what happened to you.

It’s never getting justice. Real justice, not traumatic post-rape investigations that leave you wishing you had never pressed charges.

It’s never being granted any type of humanity unless men have sisters and mothers and daughters they can relate to.

It’s men’s uncomfortable silence over their own role in perpetuating rape culture.

It’s being so tired, so so tired of this shit all of the fucking time.

It’s this rant not being the quarter of the magnitude of the problem.

It’s the fact that our voices can grow hoarse trying to make you see and hear us, nothing will change unless patriarchy is overthrown, and you don’t want to lose all of these privileges now do you Brian?

But we will continue to fight. Even if we are super tired of this shit. We will go on strikes, we will yell at you, we will kick and scream our ways through our lives because we are not willing to accept defeat and if this sounds like a war cry then take it as such because it is one.

And we will be inclusive or we will be bullshit. Sorry Susan, but struggles against racism, classism, against transphobia and homophobia and islamophobia will be at the center of our actions and demands because all of these systems enable sexism and because none can be liberated when three quarter of us are downtrodden.

To all the survivors out there: your courage and grace are infinite, you matter, and most most most importantly: it is not your fault. Never has been, never will be.

On Feminist Parenting, Take 2

Parenthood is not easy, people.

Feminist parenthood seems even trickier, as you enter a struggle of Children vs Beliefs.

See, it’s easy to have core beliefs before you have children: you will breastfeed, you will bottle feed, you will or won’t co-sleep, you’ll use a certain form of discipline or none at all. Before you have children you’d be ready to swear on those beliefs hand on heart, thinking all will go as planned.

Nothing (ok, maybe not nothing, but not much anyway) will go as planned. And the worst thing is that you keep making the same assumptions of Universal Knowledge and Core Beliefs as your child grows up: when they’re newborns you think you’ll handle tantrums in their toddler years in a certain way, when they’re toddlers, well when they’re toddlers you don’t really get time to think at all anyway as they’re forever trying to set fire to themselves, to the house, or both, and so on and so forth.

To be honest, I never thought parenting using a feminist lens would be easy, because being a feminist in itself is not easy: beyond the usual mockery and slander we have to endure when using the very word ‘feminist’, it has been my experience that nothing reinforces more sexist stereotypes and traditional gender roles than motherhood. Parenthood becomes the hardest space to enforce feminist ideas and practices and to reverse the stereotypes of the nurturing, ever patient sacrosanct mother vs the breadwinner, only-has-to-be-there-part-time father. It’s a whole job in itself to try and craft equal roles as parents between partners, to disentangle oneself from the web of prejudice and stereotypes we have internalized, to create an environment where the mother is not the only emotional referent to the child (in this, I know for example that my position contradicts the essentialist feminism current that emphasizes certain traits they deem inherent to women and encourage the so-called special bond between mother and child). To me each bond a child creates is ‘special’, be it with their father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or friends, and to sacralise the mother-child bond and to deem it superior to others is yet another way of reinforcing the idea that raising children is first and foremost the duty of the mother. The current maternity leave policies most countries of the world practice is a testament to this belief: of course mothers need time to heal and bond with their child, but partners also need this time, which is not recognized by current practices: as they stand, current laws reinforce the view that mothers need the time off to look after their children, are in no hurry to get back to work and that partners only need to make an appearance at the birth and hand out cigars. The solution is not a US style of absence of paid maternity leave policies that leave parents and families vulnerable to the whims of employers, but to realise a shift from paid maternity leave policies to paid parental leave where both parents can have time off to get to know their child.  The view that the mother-child bond is somehow superior and more important than any other is also exclusive and heteronormative: if we consider that children can only thrive when they form a close bond with their biological mother, we exclude families of adopted children, homoparental and single parent families. Children thrive in all kinds of families, which is apparently a truth too shocking for conservatives.

There is also not one universal way of being a feminist (despite what dominant white feminism would have us believe) so becoming a mother has pushed me even more to try and define what feminism meant to me and what tools I can use and perhaps create to implement it. Even as a feminist activist I’m full of contradictions I have to struggle with on a daily basis: on the one hand, I aim at giving my children an upbringing free from gender stereotypes and to encourage them to love as many people as possible, and on the other hand, I find myself sometimes perpetuating traditional gender roles in our household by for example assuming the majority of domestic chores.

Another area where my feminist beliefs are seriously put to the test is on the subject of discipline.  It seems the majority of child experts agree on one thing: children need boundaries and limits to be able to navigate the world. Not setting these boundaries would amount to neglect on the parents and caregivers’ side. Thing is, what do you do when you’re supposed to give children the means to navigate a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic and transphobic world? A world that is so ill equipped for people with physical disabilities that their wheels keep colliding with sidewalks, buses, stairs, everywhere and so unaccepting of mental differences that children with ASD get labelled as naughty and their parents judged? And how do you reconcile helping them navigate the world with helping them question and ultimately change that world?

Besides, how do you set these limits? What type of discipline should we use?

 

As a feminist parent, I would like to teach my children that their body is worthy of respect, so I aim for a no corporal punishment way of disciplining. I would also like to avoid using shaming language such as ‘bad girl’ and the likes. I’d like to validate their feelings, avoid yelling and keep the lines of communications as open as possible.

 

This is for how I envision it. I’m however unhappy to report that I have made every mistake in the book.Truth is, I hate the disciplining part of parenting (which is super convenient at the toddler stage when they’re testing you and all you do is discipline) because I’m yet to have found a disciplining technique I’m 100% comfortable with. I actually feel physically dirty when I yell or lose my temper at my toddler and agonize overnight over the shaming comment I gave her. I even spanked her on her diaper and felt the agony of guilt forever.

 

The only helpful method I’ve tried to deal with tantrums is ignoring them. I will let her scream and scream and thrash on the floor until she’s had enough. Now she stops quicker and quicker, comes to me for a hug and tt’s forgotten. This way she learns that yelling and crying doesn’t get her what she wants, but it doesn’t send her the message that she’s a bad child for being frustrated with the world (after all, don’t we all?).

 

For every victory I probably had a gazillion losses. I’m still figuring all of this parenting lark out, so please bear with me as I keep making every mistake there can ever be. The feminist way, naturally.

On feminist parenting

I recently read an article about what feminist mothers do differently (I want to read the article about feminist fathers too by the way) and it got me thinking about how hard feminist parenting is. Basically there’s a lot of panicking involved (as with all parenting, or maybe that’s just me) and so I just kind of panic all the time. After all, the thought that you’re laying the ground for your child self-perception and self confidence is a pretty panicking one. One day a relative remarked that I rarely told my child she was beautiful and emphasized other qualities. I do tell her she’s beautiful, but when I do it’s also true that I automatically add: and clever and kind and resourceful, and a badass, because she’s all these things too and i dread that she will only define her worth by her appearance as society tells women to. I try and dress her in all kinds of outfits, not because there is something essentially and inherently wrong with pink or dresses, but because I would like to chip away at the sexist stereotype that girls have to wear pink and dresses in order to be allowed to be identified as girls and boys can only wear trousers and that the world will stop if a boy wants to wear a skirt. It’s also way more practical to create mayhem and explore the world while wearing pants, and I just want her to be comfortable to do so. 
It’s hard to be a feminist parent because you’re battling, as always, capitalism and sexism, not to mention racism that families of colour have to endure (I still remember all the snide remarks I used to get from children and parents alike because my hair and my clothes didn’t match everyone else’s: being the daughter of a Lebanese family in small town France was not always a breeze).

Industries and people sensitivities are extremely gendered when it comes to children: While it might be seen in certain circumstances as permissible, even fashionable, to play around with gender roles and codes as an adult, I have come to discover that it is nothing short of blasphemy when it comes to children, and being a feminist parent will require constant vigilance and a serious spine to defend your choices. And to be honest, my daughter is only two and pretty much doesn’t give a shit what she plays with as long as she can break it or the colour of what she’s wearing as long as she can smear paint, play doh and chocolate on it. I am however dreading the school years, where there seems to be an absolute obligation to be a princess ( If I see one more fucking Frozen item I will set myself on fire) and where being beautiful seems to be the only thing that matters, to the point where the ultimate insult used by school girls is ‘ugly’. How will I cope then? How will I teach her to fight and what would the alternatives be? See, panic. Being the feminist parent of a toddler seems way easier than being the feminist parent of a school aged child, and then of a teenager, where she will have to come to the painful realization that we live in a world where violence against women is the norm, where slut shaming and victim blaming is the very little challenged statu quo and where social inequalities and racism are rife. Hopefully by that time she’d be old enough to fight all of that. 
Constant vigilance, as Mad Eye Moody would say (do you think my child will be screwed by growing up with a Harry Potter nerd?).
When my daughter falls, and if I see that she’s ok, I tell her to get up and get moving, because that’s life and because I want to send her the message that she is perfectly capable of picking herself up and carry on. Building her self confidence also involves respecting the fact that she sometimes doesn’t want to hug or kiss anyone, and that’s her prerogative because that’s her body (consent 101), but I also try to teach her to respect others bodies and individualities. That of course means no hitting or biting, but also understanding that her parents and others, while always available for a hug and a cuddle, are their own persons with their own lives and are not at her constant service, which means I am not a martyr to the motherhood cause and she is not my tyrant. I still try and make my own choices and remain my own person: it’s not because I have children that automatically the whole focus of my life is them and only them. Sometimes I work sometimes I study and sometimes I just want a glass of wine with my friends. I’ve come to realise that as a mother everything I do will be picked and torn apart by so called parenting experts and society, so I might as well make the choices I’m comfortable with and hope I don’t screw my child up too much. Hopefully she won’t take away from that I was an unfit, selfish mother to her but that you can have children and still have your own life that is a Peppa Pig, finger paint-free zone.  

Constant vigilance: you soon realise that while what you do has an impact, the environment you raise your children has an even greater impact. You need to pay attention to what cartoon you let them watch on TV: is the mother’s character always stuck in the kitchen cooking? Is the father depicted as doing his share of the housework? Do cartoons showing all kinds of families, with two fathers, two mothers, one parent, or any other setting even exist? You have to fight the assault of capitalism: when they do watch TV, how do you fight the 2356 ads for (extremely gendered) toys they’re bombarded with? For now the solution has been very limited TV, lots of outside play and activities and an emphasis on creative activities like painting, drawing, coloring, play doh, reading books daily. If only she could stop using the couch as a canvas we’d be very, very happy. I also recognize that I am extremely privileged: I have a flexible job that allows for ‘family friendly’ hours, I have access to a nice daycare, I have a support system, I live somewhere where my child can play outside safely. This is far from being the case for everyone and families that are struggling to make ends meet, have little or no support, have it a million times harder to figure out, and this is why the other part of the solution to raise kids as a feminist is to fight for progressive change in collective and global policies. Because us parents (and particularly mothers) get blamed enough on just about everything that we do, parents are being guilt tripped and pushed into ‘the mommy wars’ (have you seriously heard a more belittling expression? As if we were running at each others with our aprons and knives to tear each others’ hair over parenting choices because of course women are mean to one another and that’s what we do). It’s high time we stop letting capitalism and patriarchy divide us and emphasize our individual roles in raising children: we are not raising them in a vacuum, most of us do what we can given the environment and circumstances we’re given. It starts with universal, comprehensive access to health, and it continues with progressive parental (parental and not exclusively maternal) leave policies, fair wages people can actually live on, creation and implementation of respectful maternal health care and breastfeeding policies, access to free education, availability of good quality, accessible, affordable and acceptable day care options and laws, policies and practices that respect all kinds of families. And one thing is for certain: we’re not going to get them by watching governments cut health and education budgets and spend billions on defense and security.
Critical thinking and teaching children to refuse and oppose unfair situations is also part of feminist parenting, and that’s actually something that might come back to bite you in the ass because one day, YOU will be the evil establishment imposing unfair rules on the masses. It is called The Teenage Years.

I hardly can wait. 

When white feminism, slut-shaming and racism intersect: The curious cases of Lou Doillon and Taylor Swift

A lot is happening in popular culture my dear people.

A lot of things I wouldn’t usually comment on, except that they reflect every day struggles I have with white feminism.

First off, let us start with Lou Doillon’s comments on the supposed vulgarity of artists such as Nicky Minaj or Beyonce. Long story short, French ‘celebrity’ Lou Doillon, has spent a good half of an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais dissing Minaj and Beyoncé, dubbing them ‘vulgar’ and that feminism is not about parading in one’s underpants. After all, Doillon is the ‘first of her generation to be able to kick a man out of her house’ and ‘her grandmother didn’t fight for your right to parade in a G-string’.

First of all, I’m not exactly sure who appointed Ms Doillon Great Decider On All Things Feminist, but apparently when you’re white and over privileged you can self-appoint yourself to almost anything. I personally wouldn’t know, I’m an Arab woman, and thus spend half of my life apologizing about my hair and rebuffing exoticizing comments and looks.

Besides the grand authority with which these comments were delivered (that certain people might actually call arrogance), I’m left to ponder on why exactly did Doillon choose to mention Minaj and Beyoncé, two black women who, regardless of whether you agree or not with their vision of feminism, have done and are still doing quite a lot to question and reverse the usual stereotypes associated with the sexuality of women of colour. It’s interesting to note that Doillon’s comments were not made about Madonna or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, artists who are also dancing in their underpants quite a lot, but chose to call out specifically these two women. It’s also very interesting that she herself chose to pose naked (something she is completely entitled to do, her body her choice) and most importantly enjoy the absence of slut-shaming, a courtesy she didn’t deem necessary to extend to Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.

It might be interesting here to remind Ms Doillon, who is probably totally unaware of that fact, having lived all her life in a privileged white dominant bubble, that women of color, and especially black women, not only have to live with the hypersexualization all women have to bear, but also have to endure pervasive stereotypes that specifically consider their physical traits ‘vulgar’, their bodies inferior and disposable, and their sexuality ‘Jezebel-like’ and depraved.

Had Doillon got off her high self-righteous horse, she would have realized she was doing nothing more that reinforcing these stereotypes with her comments and thus helping to put down women who are already oppressed by racism and sexism, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is not the best look for someone who deems herself feminist.

Besides, Doillon is also deeply wrong on another account: while her grandmother might not have fought for your right to dance in your underpants, other people’s grandmothers, mothers, sisters and their friends did and still are. To be a woman, to be able to enjoy one’s body and to be able to enjoy the sexuality you have chosen free of coercion, discrimination and violence is definitely not a vested right in any place of the world. We are indeed fighting for our right to free body expression, and we are indeed entitled to enjoy that right without any kind of slut shaming coming our way, be it from men, authorities, institutions or other women like Doillon. It would be good to remind Doillon that women’s liberation from the shackles of respectability start with her mother Jane Birkin’s mini skirt and continues with Nicki Minaj’s G-string, dancing and enjoying her life and body. If there is one thing to take from all of this controversy, is that maybe patriarchal beliefs and attitudes, regardless of their source, should stop policing women’s bodies and leave us to enjoy them in peace.

Another pop culture event that happened this week is the so-called feud between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj  (who’s apparently had an extremely busy week on the feminist front) on Twitter. Here, Minaj might have been sore about not being nominated for a VMA, who knows, but she raises an interesting point nevertheless regarding the lack of acknowledgment of the work of black artists, especially black women. It is indeed true that white thin bodies are glorified and erected as the norm all women should aspire to. When confronted by this tweet, Swift’s answer was to automatically make it about herself: ‘Oh but I love you, why are you doing this to me?’ Instead of acknowledging a dominant system she benefits from on a daily basis and position herself as a firm ally by calling this system out and choosing to opt out of these privileges, she chooses to bring the debate to an emotional, personal field where political debate get annihilated.

The take out from this week? Dear white ‘feminist sisters’: you don’t get to decide how women of color enjoy their lives and bodies. You don’t get to police us, you don’t get to shut our demands up by getting sugary and cuddly and telling us you love us.

We don’t want you to love us and carry on benefiting from systems that oppress us on a daily basis.

We want equality, equity and justice, and for this, we have to fight. And we are. And we will.

Motherhood Series 2: Intersectionality

I have already spoken (I feel like adding ‘at great length’) about the most common gender stereotypes associated to parenthood and motherhood. In a patriarchal society (that is to say, pretty much anywhere in the world), these stereotypes classify women as natural-born nurturers, beings who by essence are designed to take care of children and others at large, while men are positioned as providers, who need to fend off the outside world in order to materially and financially support their family. These sets of representations firmly place women and the roles they endorse within the domestic sphere whereas men are essentially defined as public creatures, leaving both sexes pigeon-holed in a rigid web of rules that prevent them from fully realising themselves. However, while patriarchy harms both men and women, it is paramount to highlight that the patriarchal system benefits men by putting resources, power and privileges in their hands, leaving women oppressed and dominated.

Such prejudices pertaining to women help glorify the myth of the sacralised mother, that is to say, the mother who sacrifices everything including herself to raise her children. Such behaviours of self-effacement and sacrifice are valued by society and presented as the ideal model of motherhood, one women the world throughout should uphold and apply. These stereotypes also help divide women and pit them against one another by creating a competition to become the perfect mother: just like patriarchy creates competition amongst women for men’s attention, the ‘motherhood race’ helps distract women from fulfilling their productive and community social roles.

 

While all mothers have to face these stereotypes and discrimination, women are not a unified bloc, and we’re certainly not all equal in the realms of motherhood.

Intersectionality posits that some people endure several simultaneous forms of discrimination and oppression in a given society. Women who belong to upper social classes certainly do not have the same experience of motherhood that women living in precarious socio-economic conditions, as white women do not have the same experiences as women of colour. The same goes for straight mothers who do not face the same hurdles as trans, queer or lesbian mothers. Class, race, sexual orientation, being valid or not: all of these factors impact women’s experiences of motherhood and the societal pressures they have to face, something we tend to forget when we talk about stereotypes associated with motherhood.

 

Indeed, the situation of mothers vary greatly depending on the material means they possess: being at the intersection of womanhood, motherhood and poverty means that not only will you have to face sexism and stereotypes associated to motherhood, but that you might not have the same quality access to reproductive health services, putting you at a heightened risk of maternal mortality and morbidity. Mothers with fewer means at their disposal will also have to face difficulties in accessing child care, thus making it all the more difficult to progress in their job, or to even keep a job. Childcare might not even be a viable option for some, as the cost of daycare might consist of the most part of the salary they receive, thus leading some women to stop working altogether, leaving them dependent on their partner, reducing their opportunities to fully realise themselves, to access better jobs and further their education. The situation becomes all the more dire for single mothers who can not afford to leave their jobs and who might have to resort undeclared child minders for example.

At the other end of the scale, women belonging to upper social classes not only have access to private childcare institutions if the public ones are already at full capacity, but they can also ‘delocalise’ child care to hired nannies, who are, most of the times, migrant women, who in turn leave their own children in the care of relatives back home in order to be able to provide for them. These migrant workers are often at the mercy of their employers, especially if they live in a country that enforces the kafala (sponsorship) system, and thus become victims of human trafficking. It is interesting here to note that, while mentalities are slowly shifting with regards to the role of involvement of fathers in child rearing, the majority of tasks pertaining to child care fall on women, either on the mothers themselves or on women’s workers.

 

Mothers of colour have not only to bear sexism, but are also faced with racism and xenophobia, which translates into discriminatory practices that often affect their ability to fulfil their community roles. One striking example of islamophobia is the Circulaire Chatel in France, a circular from 2011 derived from the law banning religious signs in public schools promulgated in 2004, which advises school principals to prevent Muslim mothers wearing the hijab to accompany children on school outings. Such practices publicly shame and stigmatise mothers for the simple reason of being who they are and of practicing freely their freedom of religion, a fundamental human right consecrated in many binding international conventions. This discrimination however led to the creation of the Mamans Toutes Egales collective, a diverse group of militants who stand in solidarity with Muslim mothers.

 

Trans, queer and lesbian mothers have to face many legal hurdles to become parents, when they’re not out-rightly vilified and persecuted: the latest debate around the adoption for same-sex couples and assisted reproduction in France is a clear illustration of the discrimination women living outside of heteronormativity have to face. Sexism and homophobia and transphobia team up to oppress this group of women.

 

It is noteworthy to underline that discriminations often comes in pack: it is not a rare occurrence that class and race and sexual orientation add up to lead to severe layers of discrimination. This is not to say that each struggle needs to be led on its own. On the contrary, this is to highlight the need to understand that no mother can be free while others are being shackled, be it by the ropes of sexism, capitalism, racism, islamophobia, homophobia or transphobia.

All women who choose to be mothers should be able to make their reproductive choices on an equal footing: these choices should not be constrained by the constructed archetypal model of what a mother should be, or by how much money a woman has, or by structural racism and persecution or by legislative frameworks oppressing a specific group. While we struggle for affordable, good quality, accessible and acceptable child care and access to health services and for paid maternity leave, we also need to struggle for the abrogation of discriminatory laws, for the end of harmful practices and dismantlement of racist, xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic belief systems and institutions.

 

It might sound like a lot of work, but think of the alternative.

 

 

Blame The Mother

Scrolling down your Facebook feed should begin with a trigger warning: cringe worthy comments ahead, enter at your own risk.

Or at least this is what I’ve been feeling lately. Indeed, it seems that not a day can pass without criminal sociopaths deciding that they simply cannot stand to live another single day sharing the same planet as other people and proceeding to kill them.

Which is in itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, kind of an issue. However, I’ve been seeing puzzling captions and comments on social media with regards to  these news: captions wondering what kind of mothers produced offspring like the perpetrators of killings, how can mothers stand to see their sons parading with guns, how mothers should publicly condemn their children’s behaviour, how mothers’ hearts around the world are bleeding for the victims.

Which prompts me to beg the following questions: why is it always the mother’s fault? Why do mothers have to justify and support or reject everything that their children do? Why is it a knee jerk reaction to turn to the mothers and their assumed faults whenever someone turns out to be a maniac? And why would a mother’s heart bleed more strongly over loss and despair? Aren’t we all able to mourn losses, regardless of our maternal status?

Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve been reflecting a lot on a woman’s sense of individuality once she decides to have children: it seems that as soon as that bump is showing, society deems it its business to put you back into your rightful place of child incubator and Sacralised Mother, Keeper of the Home. You’re expected to reign over a realm of domesticity under the motto: I Shall Sacrifice Myself for My Family. Welcome to the motherhood, it’s definitely anther hood, where you’re apparently not your own person any more. Don’t believe me? Then have a little detour in that great place called the internet, where you’ll be pretty sure to stumble upon articles blaming mothers for their children’s behaviour, with so called scientific studies to back them up.

Any desire for yourself, any show of will to accomplish and fulfil yourself is perceived as selfishness, dismissing you as a ‘bad mother’, the kind of parent that makes criminals. Because surely, if these people would have had good mothers, they’d be crocheting scarves for the poor and not going around on killing sprees.

The sheer amount of such reactions I’ve seen on my timeline, posted by mostly youngish people (is 30 still young? Am I still a young person?) reveals that patriarchal beliefs and attitudes are alive and well, feeding into the news to extend further blame on women (are you surprised?).

Newsflash alert: no, it is not their mothers’ behaviour that leads criminals to act the way they do. There, isn’t it simple? You can stop wondering now.

Now that we have liberated space to have some serious discussions, perhaps we could focus on environmental causes, on socio-economic causes, on psychological causes if you must, on actual material causes that explain behaviours. We are all a product of our societal environment. Of course our education and family (a social unit) matter, but it doesn’t follow that everything terrible that happens in this world derives from the time your mom was late to pick you up from school.

So why this constant blame of the mother? Well, the myth of the ‘perfect mother’, as in, the Mother with a capital M, the woman whose identity is only defined through her children, the woman who sacrifices herself for her children (the notion of sacrifice in the patriarchal ideal of the mother is very important), the woman who is willing to suffer sometimes unnecessary suffering for her children is still ever present and pervasive, with constant pressure over women to fulfil that ideal. So alive and well that it teams up with capitalism to create new so-called ‘parenting trends’ that sell millions of books to tell mothers whatever they’re doing they’re doing it wrong, and that there is always a better way to be mothers. Of course, if you don’t follow all these ever changing rules, your child will become a sociopath and people will share articles about them on Facebook, blaming you for everything you’ve done wrong. Needless to say, the father is very rarely mentioned, as of course he did his part inseminating you and showing up from time to time, and of course everyone knows the essence of a woman is to be a mother while the very essence of a man is to go hunting and retreat to his man cave.

It seems women in general can’t win, and so can’t mothers.

You know what I’d love to see next time someone goes bat shit crazy and starts killing everything and everyone in sight? I’d like to see meaningful conversations about gun control policies, about systemic social inequalities disenfranchising people and making them vulnerable to becoming criminals, about unchecked privilege teaming up with rampant impunity and corruption, leading certain people to believe that life doesn’t matter except theirs, about growing militarism, the banalization of violence and lack of accountability from governments. I’d like to see more conversations about the root causes leading to such actions, and less about it all being the mother’s fault. Us women have been carrying the stigma of the original sin for long enough, and are made to feel guilty about everything enough without the whole world blaming us for the actions of our adult children.