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.

 

 

Motherhood and Women’s Liberation: Part 1

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Reading different books, listening to health practitioners and generally going out and about in public, it seems that everyone and their mother have assumptions and expectations on how women who decide to have kids should live their motherhood and how they should parent their kid.

It seems that nothing excites society more than discussing a woman’s right to decide if she wants to have children, how many, the spacing of said children, how she would prefer to give birth, how she would decide to rear said children, feed them and generally participate in their well-being.

Men who choose not to have kids are not seen as denatured, heartless monsters while fathers, for some reason, get a lot less judgement and a lot less heat about their parenting choices. Patriarchy for the win, my friend. So good to be a man in this day and age.

Being a feminist, I was afraid that becoming a mother would make me something of a traitor to the sisterhood. After all, don’t kids suck your freedom dry? The fear is real my friends. However, being a feminist can coexist with being a mother, so we’re saved and out of the woods. The thirst to explore the relationships between women’s liberation and motherhood did not leave me, so embark with me on some ramblings.

What interests me is the intersection between feminism and women’s liberation and social expectations of what motherhood should be. I will therefore start a series on feminism and motherhood and try to unpack all the conflicting thoughts that I struggle with on a daily basis. This should include the choice to stay at home, the case of working mothers, ‘parenting trends’. Dynamics within homoparental households should also be part of these series, although not written by me.

Patriarchal expectations of mothers are well -known and quite straightforward in their claims: women who bear children (and make no mistake, under patriarchal rule, all women SHOULD bear children) should stay home and tend to them, becoming homemakers while men provide financially for their family. These strictly defined gender roles seem to accommodate many women, who clearly state that they prefer being a stay at home mother to being gainfully employed, arguing that there is no greater job that rearing a family. Others decide to stay home for financial reasons: these are often women whose potential earnings would not or would barely cover childcare costs, and who thus decide to stay home to save money. Others have no choice but to stay home as they are unable to access quality childcare in their living area. A new emerging trend is the work at home mother, when a woman decides to start her own business or to work freelance, as a means to both earn money and manage to stay home to rear children. Truth is, there is not one size fits all reason to decide to stay home and raise children, and each woman probably has a wealth of reasons behind her choice (is it really a choice if you’re coerced into it by inequalities created by capitalism and patriarchal beliefs imposed to you?).

While involved dads and stay at home dads are becoming more and more socially accepted in certain circles, we are aiming at discussing here the burden of social expectations on women pertaining to motherhood, so we will not discuss further fathers in this post, except perhaps to say that whenever a dad decides to stay home, he is celebrated as the height of progressiveness, but when women decide to do so they are either judged or barely noticed as this is the bare minimum that is socially expected of them.

But back to mothers who face the choice to stay home. Different feminist currents hold different opinions when it comes to women choosing to stay at home: for some, stay at home mothers only replicate the age old gender stereotype that women are either biologically programmed to rear children or that they are, by essence, better skilled to do so than men, as evidenced by this article on ‘The retro wife’, published in 2013 in New York magazine. In this article, some women claimed that they were feminists who managed to be fulfilled by staying at home. The problem here is the justification they were providing: indeed, upon reading it, one could debate endlessly about their definition of feminism. Case in point, this quote by one of said woman, Kelly Makino:

She (Kelly) believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—­were not being looked after the right way. The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.”

Someone please inform this woman that feminism doesn’t mean replicating and reciting stale gender stereotypes and marketing them as radical ideas. The very idea that ‘girls play with dolls’ needs to be challenged and turned around, not celebrated and used as a justification for women to remain home and take care of children. As for the maternal instinct, Elisabeth Badinter (French feminist who is wrong on many other things, such as on her position on wearing the veil in France) is right when she states in her book (Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère) that it’s a construct patriarchy invented to further essentialize women and reinforce the idea that women are natural born mothers. The idea that every woman possesses some sort of natural instinct that will magically lead her to be a good mother makes me roll my eyes: when a your child is born, you may or may not fall head over heels for them. It might be love at first sight, it might be a process, what is true is that you don’t know what in the name of FUCK you’re doing. And that’s ok, children teach you, the parents (as in, both people involved in this, not only the mother) to become parents.

Others currents make feminism about choice, and letting women decide what is best for themselves. My concern and question is: to which extent are we really free in our choices? When does internalized sexism begins and choices end? I honestly don’t have a definite answer on that. As feminists, our job is to keep questioning gender stereotypes first and foremost in our daily, private lives, and to keep questioning why we do things the way we do them. In all truth, I find myself fulfilling traditional gender roles more than I care to mention, so to some degree I am definitely not immune to internalized sexism. I’m working on it though, by keeping my eyes open and reflecting on my actions, every day (yes, feminism means that you can stop enjoying anything lightly, it’s awesome, you should try it).

At the same time, if we’re ranting about the difference of treatment between mothers and fathers by society and about the absence of judgement enjoyed by men, we should not add on to the already consequent pile of judgement faced by mothers, staying at home or not. The main difference, to me, is how we frame things. If a stay at home mother comes forward saying her true happiness is to stay with her kids and that she is most fulfilled in her role as a mother, without pretending that it’s a god given role or something nature and society expect of her, or that she would be the best at it because she’s a woman, I’d be first in line cheering her on and struggling at her side for her work to be valued, for make no mistake, it is WORK, and for her economic contribution to be recognized at public policy level as well as in the private sphere. This however should not mean that all household chores should be devolved to the woman ‘because she stays at home’. If we really are set on staying at home while challenging accepted gender norms, our actions need to reflect this need for change: that means equal involvement in everything household and child related by the partner. This decision also needs to be reversible, it needs to come from a point of understanding between partners that a woman doesn’t do so because she is programmed, because she is better skilled at it because she’s a woman, or because this is how things need to be done. A stay at home mother should have the possibility to go back to work should she wish to do so, which means several things: access to jobs, access to education, access to quality, affordable, childcare, and the absence of discrimination based on her motherhood status while looking for work. The responsibility to be the primary caretaker of children should also be shared, and flexible: today the mother can stay home, but tomorrow the dad can too. In such a flexible, evolutive framework, choice can be made possible.

This shift in accepted gender roles needs to be coupled with a struggle for social justice. Women are more likely to occupy precarious jobs, to be unemployed, to be hardest hit by economic crises, to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same job and the same qualifications and to face significantly more discrimination in the workplace that men. This gender specific situation is to link to the very nature of capitalism to create inequalities, therefore one can not tackle gender inequality without actively fighting the system allowing them to stay in place, capitalism.

Next post will be on working mothers

How to Live with a Pregnant Comrade Without Losing Your Head (Or Laboring Hers)

 Significant Comrade is pregnant.

 

I, the Rev, am going to become a FATHER! Not that I subscribe to the idiotic, bourgeois, reactionary model of the patriarchal family where the biological male has all the power and the privileges within the family cell and the woman is left as the proletariat of the marriage, as Comrade Engels would say. Because I don’t. Let us be clear about that.

 

If the doctors are to be believed, I’m to ‘have’ a daughter, not that she will ever be my property, not at all, or that she will necessarily identify as a ‘girl’ as portrayed by the heteronormative patriarchal society, gender being a social construct anyway as Comrade Butler explained it. She will be absolutely free to become whatever and whoever she will want to become and I’ll fiercely love her anyway. Although in hindsight, perhaps maybe not if she decides to work for the World Economic Forum or for Morgan Stanley, or if she becomes a right wing militant, or worse, a Stalinist. Imagine that. Sometimes I can’t sleep just thinking about it.

 

Huh. I realise Significant Comrade and myself will have to tread very carefully if we want to transmit our beliefs and values to our child. But then again, is sharing these with her an act of oppression? Will I be crushing her critical thinking and creativity? Have I already started? You know, because I talk to her, and read things to her, things like ‘Marx at the Margins’, the ‘old social classes and the revolutionary movements of Iraq’ and ‘Hezbollah and Hamas: A contemporary study’. I also sing to her sometimes, things like the International in French, English and Arabic, although Significant Comrade’s temper seems to be slightly shorter than usual and I kind of got yelled at. I tried Bella Ciao, thinking it might be better received, but got the Petit Manuel pour En Finir Avec le Capitalisme thrown at my face, by accident I’m sure.

 

I’m kind of getting yelled at, or cried on, quite a bit at the moment. Sometimes, I wish Comrade Trotsky would have been more of a ‘family’ man, instead of running around in Mexico with iconic painters, so he could have written a book in the vein of the Russian Revolution but on how Revolutionaries could better support their comrades during pregnancy and childbirth. Like last time, when I found the Significant Comrade crying her eyes out in front of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which is in itself a very sore subject in our marriage. I hoped she was being tearful because of the stupidity and crass consumerism of it all, but apparently it was because Kourtney was being mean to Kim. Who are these people? Who is Kourtney? Who is Kim? And why are they making my Significant Comrade cry? Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how Comrade Marx managed with Jenny. I mean, she has been pregnant seven times. Seven. Ah but look at Comrade Karl daughters, all socialist activists, translating the works of their daddy! Sometimes I wonder if my daughter shall do the same with me?

 

When I share my concerns with Significant Comrade, it seems to me that she is not quite so keen on discussing these things with me. Something to do about having enough on her own plate and how would I like to weigh a ton and be full of water and having trouble breathing, sleeping and eating? I have to say, that left me speechless. As a revolutionary, I can not speak in lieu of the oppressed, and my Comrade is clearly being oppressed. Also, when I tried and talked to Significant Comrade about the absolute need of trusting our child to make her own experiences in life and not be overly protective of her, Significant Comrade did not seem to share my views either. I believe her exact words were: ‘Listen to me you stupid Rev, are you the one being asked to expel a baby the size of a ginormous turkey from a hole the size of your nostril? HUH? HUH? Nah, I don’t think so, so you shut the fuck up and you leave me to decide when that child will be able to start with her own experiments with life and that is never, or not until she’s 30 anyway, the world is filled with serial killers and sexual predators’. Which I thought was a bit much, in all fairness, but I thought it best not to argue.

Now that I’m about to become a dad, I value my life.

I am nevertheless hoping that the revolution will prevail soon so that patriarchy and neo-liberalism become things of the past and so I’m trying twice as hard to make it happen before she turns 5. Time is running out my Comrades, let us build a whole new world.

 

Sometimes, when I try and lay my plans for the triumph of revolutionary socialism to the Significant Comrade, she just hugs her pregnancy pillow (which she dubbed ‘her new husband, but I am fine with that, as I do not own my Significant Comrade. Also, it’s a pillow) and tells me to shut up and go to sleep. ‘Your child will be a Menchevik anyway’, she said.

 

And here I am, eyes wide open in the dark. What if she is?  

On Angry Feminists, Women’s Bodies, and People’s Sense of Entitlement

When I put myself in front of my computer this morning, I had every intention to work and write the 28th chapter of the Tales of the Phoenix City.

However, it seemed life had other plans for me.

Fate, or maybe it was just random bad luck, put yet another person in front of me who asked me “if that baby was coming”.

I gave an icy cold reply, and that seemed to shut her up.

I never got how people can be so insensitive and feel so entitled to meddle in affairs that have nothing whatsoever to do with them. I always felt that these questions can hurt a person trying to have a baby but not succeeding, or sadden a person who has just miscarried, or anger a person who doesn’t want to have a child, or just plain bore a person into a stupor as they simply really don’t feel like discussing what’s in or what’s not in their uterus with every half wit that crosses her path.

However, this issue is bigger than the issue of having a child. People’s sense of entitlement to ask women personal questions most of the times seems to largely go unquestioned. As women, it seems that people expect us to nod and answer gracefully all the questions that get thrown at us, regardless of what we feel and think. Are you getting married? Yes? No? If Yes, when? If no, why the hell not? Once you’re married, it’s the child issue that raises its head, accompanied with well and not so well-meaning old wives’ tales about how time is running out and if your body gets used to your partner’s sperm you won’t be able to conceive (true story. Someone actually said that to a friend of mine). When you’re pregnant, your womb becomes public property with the same random people rubbing your belly like there’s no tomorrow, as if for good luck. Seriously, can you imagine people’s faces if I went around caressing men’s bellies and making stupid cooing noises? Once you’ve had your first child, when are you going to have the second? And once you’ve had your children, it seems that the world gets filled with self-appointed experts criticizing right left and center the way you’re raising your offspring.

My husband gets asked all the time questions about the progression of his PhD, about how his activities are going. Very few people, save for some members of his close family, ever ask him about when we are planning on having a child. On the other hand, random people seem to have no problem whatsoever asking me about the future occupants of my womb, each and everyone of them giving advice I did not remember asking for, or stressing me out because apparently a pregnancy would not suit my job.

Should you snap at the umpteenth person putting his or her head up your ass, people frown at you as if you were the living embodiment of their version of feminists, I.e, aggressive women always barking at patriarchy and their ‘so-called oppression’. Let me tell you one thing: us feminists are angry, that’s for sure, because the minute we put on our feminist glasses it becomes impossible not to see the gender bias and discrimination we have to live under, it becomes impossible not to notice that women are expected to answer obediently to all the shit that gets thrown at them and nod submissively otherwise they’d be frowned upon if not mocked and degraded, and something inside us just snaps and starts wanting to bite people’s heads off. Feminists are angry because they question what society takes for granted: gender stereotypes, gender injustice, discrimination and society’s sense of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement to ask questions about a woman’s private life stems, at least for me, from the general perception that women’s bodies and lives do not belong to them and them only. Women’s bodies are society’s , their family’s, their community’s, but never their own. This being said, it derives that questions can be asked and comments can be made. It is only when we make the conscious choice to respect every human being body’s integrity that we can truly say we respect healthy boundaries and can have equal relationships.

Don’t give me advice if I don’t ask. Don’t ask me personal questions, especially if I barely know you. Don’t tell me what my child should eat or do.

After all, you’re not seeing me asking your husband how his prostate is doing. Therefore, I’d be grateful if you could leave my uterus alone.

Move Over! We Don’t Need Your Feminism Now!

 Amidst the tension and clashes recently happening in Lebanon, I got to thinking about a million and one things, like, why do I feel so helpless? What is it that I can do? What is it that I’m willing to do?

A thought crossed my mind, among the chaos of these never ending questionings: now is the time when our detractors will enter the scene, soberly telling feminists that “now is not the time to focus on women’s rights when the security of the country is challenged, we have more pressing matters to deal with”.

This claim is not new and regularly comes back about three times a week under normal circumstances, but now that the country is on the brink of something much more sinister than the daily chaos and incompetence of politicians, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a whole lot more of that rhetoric.

Which is precisely why we should be prepared and ready to answer, in a very clear, confident, and powerful way.

I don’t think my thoughts here will be clear or confident or powerful, I’m just trying to organise on paper what won’t seem to settle in my head, and contribute to the ongoing conversation feminists have had and still have to face.

Proponents of the “We don’t have time for human rights in times of militarized strife” only focus on the traditional definition of security, that is, defending the nation-state from external threats: this is why they’re quick to over-simplify what is currently happening in Lebanon and blame it all on the Syrian crisis spillover. What they seem to be missing is that the nature of conflicts has shifted and now happen more within states than between them and that therefore, the concept of security has evolved. Since the ground breaking UNDP report of 1994 broadening and deepening the concept of security, challenging the traditional understanding of the term, there is a trend, and a dire need, to understand security under the realm of “human security”, a concept putting the individual back at the center of concerns, stating that human beings should live under “freedom of fear” and “freedom of want” and covering all aspects of human lives: socio-economic factors, health, environmental conditions, food, political security, community security, stating that: “For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic

world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security, security from crime – these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world.”

The latest events in Lebanon do not only take their roots in the Syrian crisis, as excellently explained by Patrick Galey in his article Don’t Blame Syria – Lebanon Leader’s are fuelling the fighting in Tripoli. Rather, they are the result of a combination of factors having the neglect of human security at their core, and most importantly, they are the result of the perverse effects of the sectarian system and of patriarchal beliefs.

Indeed, sectarian leaders have made it a point not to have any kind of national dialogue with regards to the civil war, creating a country of heavily traumatized and militarized amnesiacs quick to draw out their guns at the smallest excuse. This legacy of violence is coupled with the nepotism and clientelist ties without which the sectarian system could not survive and which hinders the proper development and improvement of the Lebanese population’s socio-economic conditions. The diversion of resources from Human Rights such as education and health towards corrupted real estate projects and vote-catching bribes, mixed with the neo-liberal policies Lebanon has been following for decades, have increased social injustice and disparities, reduced the level and quality of education, and hence created an enabling environment for unemployment, precarious working conditions, and violence, as several studies have shown that low levels of education and important socio-economic gaps have an impact on any given society’s stability.

Patriarchal beliefs and gender stereotypes create societies where male’s privileges and sense of entitlement blossom and thrive and where carrying a gun, swaggering and prancing in the streets of cities in Lebanon sporting a “Shou Bek Wleh?” attitude and getting into fights are seen as signs of virility.

Which brings me back to answering the “we don’t have time for feminism” claim.

Feminism is not only about wanting equal rights for men and women. As a revolutionary movement, feminism aims at shifting gender stereotypes, guaranteeing social justice and high quality, free education and health for all, fighting against oppression of all kinds, and making sure women and men live free from violence.

If that’s not trying to guarantee human security for all for the sake of society and its stability, then I don’t know what is.

Sounds to me that we need feminism now more than ever.

References:

Plastic Capitalist

Today, I was attending a Meeting on women’s leadership: men in suit moderators, outdated data, lack of content. The meeting was supposedly women’s leadership, yet the was not discussed and rather, the whole thing looked more like a company’s team building retreat, with moderators apparently on a mission to complete their template.
When my colleagues and I raised the issues, we were told to, in that order: take things with a pinch of salt, be more positive, that the best people were moderating the sessions, that we were aggressive and that finally we were welcomed to send all our suggestions and evaluation in the little form provided in the little folder.
It was strange to see that apparently there was no woman qualified enough to be part of the moderators, but beyond those specific issues, it was appalling to witness how much the issue of women’s rights has become commodified, treated via companies specialized in “leadership strategies”, within the framework of a conference so formatted the environment for leadership development was far from being provided. The worst part of it all might very well have been that organizers and moderators presented themselves as “feminists”. The same ones who told me to “take things with a pinch of salt”, presenting themselves as feminists.
This situation clearly reminded me how much feminism has been overused, recuperated and distorted, the way you see right wing neocons parading as feminists. Feminism is by definition a revolutionary current aiming at questioning power relations, whether they are economic power relations, gender power relations or political relations. As feminists, we must remain aware of what language is being used, what methods are being used, what images, what attitudes, everything. Remaining vigilant and speaking out against situations that strike us as insensitive gender wise, or oppressive to any social group, not just women , are part of our job, and if that makes us aggressive, then so be it. When we spoke out at that conference, many people blamed us from holding the agenda back, from being too offensive: I however can’t help but notice that our stir caused two women trainers to moderate one session, which was not previously factored in the programme, just like the acts of feminists demonstrators in the 70’s were perceived as aggressive, yet you wouldn’t have seen drastic changes in European laws pertaining to women and gender without them. Feminism, contrary to women’s rights currents, not only asks for gender equality within laws and practice: it aims at shifting societies upside down to challenge traditional conservative concepts of what it means to be a woman or a man, it aims at questioning and changing heteronormative and sexist beliefs and practices.
One of the aspects of the intrusion and recuperation of progressive ideologies by capitalism and neoliberal policies is how the emphasis has shifted from public duties to individual duties. While talking about women’s rights and empowerment, so many people kept pointing fingers at women, stating it was up to them to seize opportunities and not to wait on the state to give them anything. The success of capitalism is that it has managed to make people believe that asking anything from the government is acting as an assisted person. It’s the Nike philosophy, just do it, you can do it, etc, you you you and people who try to do it and fail are stigmatized. Reminder: governments ratify human rights law treaties, therefore, governments should be held accountable for respecting, protecting and implementing them. The State has a duty, in fact many of them, and part of the empowerment process is to remind the state of its obligations and put it back in front of them, and stating that in doing so, a citizen is being nothing short of a big whiny baby is. A. Lie.

On Going on A Micro General Strike

When speaking about feminism and women’s rights, I think I have found myself guilty of going on about laws, international conventions, treaties and regulations, which, while being necessary, somewhat puts the whole issue of sexism at an abstract level made of negotiations, politics, and international and national high level meetings.
While we all have to be aware of what decisions our governments take, it is equally important to talk about daily sexism, the fact that women have to fight sexism and patriarchy every day, the fact that these values and attitudes impact their every days lives.
Whereas hidden in a sarcastic comment or acted upon in a very loud and clear fashion, sexism and patriarchy are still everywhere and have a strong impact on women’s lives.
Still talking in obscure words? Let me just give you a few examples. I
About two weeks ago, I was discussing the awful (at least for me) subject of giving birth with some friends who had already gone through the ordeal ( and please, I don’t want to hear anything about how it was the most beautiful day of anyone’s life. All that blood and pain can’t be good. Giving birth is a necessary step, full stop, don’t try and romanticize it just because your brain wants to forget just how awful it was. There are other women who need the truth here) (ok, it might be the terror talking). Ok, moving on, there we were, sharing horror stories of birth giving and what not, when my friend told me the most awful thing that happened to her on the day of her delivering. Contrary to what I was expecting, it was not the twelve meter long epidural needle, it was not the pain, or the blood, or the fear. It was her husband, actually asking her to iron his white shirt while she was on the phone telling him her water just broke. Let me get this straight, I told her, there you were, paddling in your own water, utterly scared and freaking out, calling your husband so he can help you and drive you to the hospital so you could deliver his child, and he asked you to iron his shirt before going? Yes, she said.
We then looked at each other with eyes like saucers, and I could tell she still couldn’t get her head around it.
What kind of society creates that kind of sense of entitlement so that one of its member can lose all sense of priorities and ask about a FUCKING SHIRT before the health of a woman?
A society riddled with patriarchal values, that’s what.
Social roles women are allocated are very rigid and hard to shake, it takes not only advocacy from social movements for laws to change, but also daily conscious efforts to expose gender discrimination in art, the media, and mainstream discourse.
But let me get back to testimonies: once I knew what I was looking for, stories of women being asked to do things just because they were “the wife” or women kept jumping at me.
Another close friend of mine works full time ( a Lebanese full time, meaning she has two demanding jobs), is always there to support her family and take care of her son. Her husband, even though he works much less, still eats then gets up without even lifting his little finger. When my friend asked him to mind their son so she get in the shower, he told her, brace yourselves again, that he did not have the patience to do it, that he was tired.
Here my brain starts screaming “I’ll give you tired, you useless piece of humanity”. Naturally, this is the all-public, sweetened, version of the much less polite epithets I mentally gave him. The list could honestly go on, as I seem to be a magnet for stories of incapable husbands and boyfriends who always seem too tired to do anything that resembles a house chore.
Challenging these deeply seated beliefs is a fight, there’s no other word for it, but it’s a necessary one. Power is negotiated both in the public and private spheres: deciding who will do the washing up is indeed a power struggle, the one ending up doing nothing actually becoming the winner, not because it’s some kind of game, but because the one cleaning the toilets can’t read Marx and write articles or relax at the same time. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend why I didn’t like the interpretations that put the blame on the women: some people will say it’s the women’s fault for not asserting themselves, something that is in my opinion partly true. To me, women should lead the struggle against patriarchy, but society as a whole should feel concerned, because being asked to do certain things because you’re a woman, or being seen in a certain way because you’re a woman creates a growing sense of resentment from said women, resentment that destroys the love in relationship and creates very unhappy human beings. Truth is, cleaning toilets is no one’s favourite hobby and certainly no woman’s favorite thing to do. There shouldn’t therefore be an expectation on us to do it all the time. Besides, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge other women who might not appear to yell at their partner with blood shot eyes that if said partners didn’t make the bed, he’d die a slow, painful death. Being quiet about it doesn’t mean they don’t realize they’re being expected to do things just because they’re women. I think they’re just uncomplaining because they don’t see how this whole system can be changed because no one challenges it around them. So they resign, and carry on because it’s easier than risking social disapproval and constant fights at home, when it’s not worse like violence. When I arrived to Lebanon and had my first lunch with my aunt and new husband, said husband ate, then got up and cleared the dishes off the table. My aunt seemed to have an aneurysm and screeched at me :”keef 3am betkhalli y9oum! How do you let him get up and clean up???” as if it was my fault he was a perverted soul who helped a bit at home. The fact that she was expecting me to fling myself at my husband, begging him to let me do it so he wouldn’t have to get up was utter madness. Was she out of her mind?
Then I calmly explain to her that he was not a saint really, that he only cleared a table and that was the minimum he could do, that it was completely normal that we would both do stuff at home, and why should I be the one getting up and clearing up? Did I have something in my female DNA that programmed me to do so?
To which my aunt looked at me, then at her husband and said: nyyellik, your uncle eats, then spreads his considerable self on the couch and calls for his tea.
Fighting sexism in our daily lives is the first of all fights, one that, when is won, is won forever.
I’ll leave you with a most inspirational story that my Kenyan supervisor in my previous job shared with me. In order to teach her husband that he should learn how to cook and clean as she was a most busy woman, she just stopped doing anything. “I’m telling you, she would chuckle, I would leave those pans in the sink forever, I would pick up my dinner and eat in my bed while he d be waiting for his, I kept my nerve, and eventually, he started really sharing chores with me”. I called it the micro general strike, and I loved the idea.
Could I do that? If I m honest, No, I’ m way too anal retentive to leave anything in the sink for more than 2 minutes.
No, I can’t do that, but I m still working on becoming the change I want to see, so I keep fighting gender discrimination in my everyday life, starting from home, even if that means the bed won’t be made exactly how I want it to be. At least it ll be made, and by someone who isn’t me.

Lebanon: Land of the Men (and of a Few Courageous Women)

Sit In For Lebanese Women Rights to Grant Nationality to their Family

If you’re in Beirut, join us tomorrow for a sit in in front of the Ministry of Interior at 15:00 on the Sanaye3 Roundabout. More details here:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/292435000793549/  

Lebanese women are acting and advocating for change: they deserve full citizenship rights, and the right to grant their families their nationality is one.

Besides, a draft law is currently being examined by the Parliament to give Lebanese citizenship to Lebanese abroad whose father or grandfather was Lebanese, mothers and grandmothers not being taken into account. This is only furthering the discrimination against women in a country where laws pertaining to women are discriminatory and in violation of the CEDAW convention.

So Join our Struggle towards substantive gender equality!

Blog post will follow the sit in and Tweets under @CafeThawra