Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Being a Feminist Mama - how did that happen?

Taking Feminism further through Feminist Mothering

This article was originally published by the Red Elephant Foundation which is an initiative that is built on the foundations of story-telling, civilian peacebuilding and activism for sensitisation on all drivers of peace - gender, race, nationality, colour and orientation. The initiative is titled "Red Elephant" to stand out as a vehicle that projects stories that must never be forgotten: stories that show you such courage that you should never forget, and stories that show the world such profound lessons that the world should never forget. In doing so, the initiative aims at creating awareness and opening up channels of communication towards creating societies of tolerance, peacebuilding and equality.

Being a Feminist Mama: How did that happen?
There is a photograph of my daughter when she was aged two, which I took and particularly cherish. She is looking into the camera and there is a touching transparency of total trust and belief in me as her mother. I can pinpoint that moment as being the pivotal one when I became a Feminist Mama. It dawned on me that I had to become an empowered mother if I was going to raise a daughter to realise her potential in a patriarchal society that still trips females up. Feminist Mamas challenge gender stereotyping in every facet of life thereby helping to create a society in which they and their children can thrive. My daughter started a political blog at the age of 10 and is the youngest political blogger in the UK which has attracted some attention. People are constantly amazed at a girl being involved in politics.

What does the term "Feminism" mean to you? One hears of so many different interpretations, and of the war of words that challenge each interpretation...

Feminist mothering does cause some controversy because it challenges the traditional picture of a mother who enjoys staying at home tending to everyone’s needs excepting her own. To me, Feminism is a multidisciplinary approach in pushing forward the female agenda for equality. Feminist Mothering takes the concept of Feminism further - mothers who wish to extend their feminism to child-rearing.  

Bringing up a daughter at any age is possibly not easy - back then, things happened covertly, and now, things still happen covertly - albeit with a little more dialogue and awareness. What do you see as the most significant issues in the process of bringing up your daughter?

Violence against women and the normalisation of the sexualisation of childhood are the two most worrying things for me. Betty Friedan, author of ‘The Feminist Mystique’ published in 1963, wrote about how clothing manufacturers were making adult style underwear for girls and how girls were not prioritising their education because their only expectation for themselves was to conform by getting married soon after leaving school. Have things moved on a lot since then? Yes and no, is my answer. It was not that long ago that girls’ were aspiring to be a footballer’s wife or girlfriend. ‘WAG’ (wives and girlfriends) was the acronym used in the Britain. Many young women are still conditioned by a desire to attract male attention and, more worryingly, feel validated by it. While there are no formal barriers to female education one wonders why more women are not going into politics or the science fields which are still seen as male arenas. I want my daughter to have a strong sense of worth and self-esteem that is shaped by her own actions and decisions and to gain a good education. It is the latter that allows women to have economic independence.

As a feminist, do you hope for your daughter to be one, too? What is your most important piece of advice to her?

My daughter who is now 16 spoke at an international Feminist Mothering hosted conference by the Motherhood Institute for Research and Community Involvement four years ago.  She said that Feminist Mothering had helped her “…reach her potential” and had given her confidence and a sense of security. She also spoke about the positive messages of gendered education (where the mother teachers her children to recognise and overcome boundaries that face girls). My most important advice to her is to always retain her religious Christian faith and Feminist values. The anti-religious feminist movement blames organised religions for the oppression of women and they are right in some ways. However, interpretations of religious texts are often constructed by the patriarchy and it is possible to practice a faith without compromising on one’s gender.

What does being a woman mean to you?
Feminist Mothering in the third wave has to be the most exciting period in feminist mothering history so far. When the feminist mothering scholar Adrienne Rich wrote her book ‘Of Woman Born’ in 1976 women were still trying to figure out ways to push back against the traditional construction of a mother. In fact, Adrienne Rich did not offer a solution in her book and many feminist scholars have since come up with answers. Also, the advancements in social policy, technology and the birth of protest movements have allowed me to develop a progressive maternal identity. I was involved with Occupy London which opened my eyes to the way the capitalist system affects mothers; being a blogger brings me into contact with the feminist online world; and enlightened social policy takes into account the many intersections and dimensions of womanhood e.g., mother, woman of colour, single, married.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

When women are stereotyped due to their job titles

This often happens. I meet someone new, as I did over the weekend at a Halloween Ball, and the question is inevitably asked within minutes of first introductions, "What do you do?". Your answer immediately sets in motion a process whereby you are judged, boxed and shoved into a pigeon hole where other job titles that have been stereotyped languish.

Your job title is enough to invoke sexism.

As an example, I am Private Secretary to the Chief Construction Adviser to the Government but nine times out of ten people assume that I am a secretary in the traditional sense of the word or a PA. My job is vastly different from this and entails ensuring that my boss is adequately prepared for all his public engagements and I often accompany him to meetings and have input at these meetings. Being female and having the word 'secretary' in my job title immediately renders me a victim of female stereotyping.

Don't get me wrong, I think being a secretary in the modern day of a digital office is bloody hard work and their multi-tasking skills are second to none. There is no 'but' to this either. What my gripe is about is the stereotyping of women due to their job titles or their place of work. The inherent misogyny in these assumptions are condescending.

Not all women who work in the medical profession are nurses, some are doctors. Not all women who work in the caring profession are carers, some are managers. Not all women who have 'secretary' in their job titles are secretaries or PAs. Sometimes the stereotyping is misplaced because there are men who are secretaries and carers. But, to prove my point, let's remember that Hilary Clinton was the 'First Secretary of State'. Then there are company secretaries who handle the governance structures of companies.

One's job title and choice of work place can be a minefield of misogyny and I am calling this out as a feminist mother. Do I want my daughter to grow up in such a world where her job choices are presupposed by the rules of misogyny? NO!

What I particularly detest is the look of 'I am having a fantasy right now' that passes over a man's face every so often when I trot out my job title. I feel sorry for nurses and secretaries whose jobs have been objectified by male lust. Whenever I see a nurses outfit for sale as a sex aid it makes me want to scream.

After having fought for equal rights in the work place and for equal pay it seems like the precursor to these feminist fights should have been over recognition of a woman's job title.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

15 US Soldiers Give a First Hand Account of Fighting in Afghanistan

The following question was posed to US Soldiers: "Soldiers who've fought in Afghanistan, what preconceptions did you have that turned out to be completely wrong?" The responses were shocking, revealing, and incredibly insightful. Everyone should read this, there is a lot to learn here.

1. It is hard enough taking the life of an absolute enemy wearing a uniform. Now you need to kill someone who may or may not be a real enemy, or may be one part time, or may be one because some other asshole has a gun to his kid's head. It is a sad cluster-f*** of a mess.
- BoBoZoBo

2. They told us we were going to fight the Taliban. But it turns out, there is no way to know who is Taliban, or what Taliban is, or what they look like.

A guy will be bringing his kid to your clinic one day, then shooting at you the next. You'll make friends with a kid on an airdrop, then see that kid slit another kid's throat on patrol a week later. There is no "enemy" and no goal. The people don't even understand who you are or why you're there. Many of them believed we were invulnerable demons. One elder tested this theory by sending a small child to try and stab me in the back with a knife, which was made by welding a blade onto an old .50 cal casing. Kids dig up mines, bouncing betty's, and old russian munitions and set them off like firecrackers.

The place is a f***ed up maelstrom with no conceivable sense of morality, justice, benevolence, or community. Every single person is just trying to survive.

3. That they had any idea why we were there. We'd ask them if they knew what 9/11 was, and they had no idea. We'd show them pictures of the World Trade Center on fire after the planes hit, and ask them what it was...their response was usually that it was a picture of a building the US bombed in Kabul (their capitol).

Kind of mind blowing that they're being occupied by a foreign military force and have no idea why.
- Xatana

4. That Afghanistan was an actual country. It's only so on a map; the people (in some of the more rural places, at least) have no concept of Afghanistan.

We were in a village in northern Kandahar province, talking to some people who of course had no idea who we were or why we were there. This was in 2004; not only had they not heard about 9/11, they hadn't heard Americans had come over. Talking to them further, they hadn't heard about that one time the Russians were in Afghanistan either.

We then asked if they knew where the city of Kandahar was, which is a rather large and important city some 30 miles to the south. They'd heard of it, but no one had ever been there, and they didn't know when it was.

For them, there was no Afghanistan. The concept just didn't exist.
- gzoont

5. I heard of an Australian Special Forces patrol that went out into the mountains and came across an isolated Afghan village. They thought the newcomers were the Soviets. No idea that one war had ended and another one had started.
- lookseemo

6. About the fighting we did. I had in my mind that it would be these organized ambushes, against a somewhat organized force. It may have been like that for the push (Marjah), but once the initial defense was scattered, the fighting turned into some farmer getting paid a year's salary to go fire an AK47 at our patrol as we walked by. I mean, no wonder there was so much PTSD going doesn't feel okay when you killed some farmer for trying to feed his kids, or save his family from torture that next night. It feels like shit actually.
- Xatana

7. Most afghans are polyglots. Many of the most rural, uneducated, near medieval living people could speak 3 or more different languages.

We were briefed that there were two languages spoken in Afghanistan: Pashto and Dari. In fact there are dozens of unique languages. Each isolated valley and village had their own language. Some sound very persian. Some sounded like archaic greek. There was a village in the north that sounded like a tone language. My team tried to record an many local languages as we could. We had terps ask questions in pashto and had them answer in their local language. Unfortunately cultural mapping was considered intelligence gathering and all our recordings were classified. So somewhere at the NSA there are recordings in soon to be dead languages asking a village Elder to share the oldest story they could remember about his village.
- llvihearsevil

8. I expected everything to be desert and mountains, but I spent as much time in orchards as I did anywhere else while I was there.

Also, a lot of the people didn't want us there any more than they wanted the Taliban there. Ultimately they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives.
- m_k88

9. That we would be fighting the Taliban. The majority of people we managed to detain had been coerced into shooting at us by the "Mujahideen" (which is made up of all sorts of people) who had kidnapped or threatened their family.

The most glaring example of this was when our FOB (Forward Operating Base) was attacked by a massive VBIED (truck bomb) that blew a hole in our wall. Suicide bombers ran into the FOB through the hole and blew themselves up in our bunkers. Every single one of them had their hands tied and remote detonation receivers (so they couldn't back out).
- ciclify

10. Soldiers tend to train for fighting at sub-500 metres. At least I always had. Not being able to see the enemy wasn't completely out of the norm for training, but they were usually within the effective range of our small arms.

Come to Afghanistan and we were getting fired at by invisible enemies on the side of mountains a kilometre + away. We hardly knew we were getting engaged, let alone went into contact drills.
- Tilting_Gambit

11. Their concept of food. In their culture if anyone had food they were to share it with everyone around them. This is even if you only have enough for one person to have a snack. It was almost as if they didn't believe food could be owned by a person. Some of the Afghans I worked with would be offended if I ate anything and didn't offer them some.

I guess also that I would actually be working with some Afghans. I didn't expect that to be a thing.
- turbulence4

12. That it was all arid desert. At one point in my deployment my team had to dig irrigation trenches because our tents were flooded past our ankles. At another point in my deployment I was trudging through what was essentially a jungle.
- Monster-_-

13. That everyone was going to be dirty and poor like in those "help a poor starving child" commercials. I remember being really suprised to see kids running around playing in dirt roads and everyone was clean. No dirt smudges on their face or anything.

Also there were these 2 little girls with the most unbelievably white dresses I have ever seen standing by the side of the road watching our convoy roll by. Very surreal.
- Maikudono

14. That it was really a war. It's just people sustaining other people, with a lot of nothing actually getting done. As someone who was a gunner for most of my tour, we mainly did transportation missions from Kabul to the eastern province. We never saw any action, and to this day I thank God for that. The fact that a lot of my time outside of convoys was spent either sleeping, eating, or gaming surprised me I suppose, but in the end, we're just there to provide presence, and not expected to actually accomplish anything.

The amount of awards given out back in Kabul for people simply hitting a high quota of maintenance repairs threw me off to. There were times when I was looked down upon for not working everyday in a shop and instead being on convoys. The worst part of it all was losing a friend to suicide after returning home safe. That was something I never expected to see happen and it still messes with me to this day.
- windwhiper

15. I was mortuary affairs in 2008 during my first deployment to Afghanistan and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never had to fight, but I was constantly dealing with the remains of 18-22 year old soldiers that had been blown into pieces or burned alive due to HMEs and IEDs.

Seeing your fellow soldiers and countrymen brutally killed in such a way that is easy to see as cowardly turned me into a budding racist pretty quickly. I hated the Islamic religion and the people in Afghanistan and I had an opinion similar to the whole "just nuke em all" mentality.

But one day we were called to the hospital on base to remove a dead civilian local national (which we often did if they died in our hospital or on base) and it turned out to be a 3 year old little girl that was shot with AK-47 fire at a fairly close range. Her father followed us to the morgue as we had to get his permission to take her into our care because we were males and all that, and he didn't seem particularly bothered by his daughters violent murder imo.

It wasn't until we placed her into a hand-made casket and draped the Afghanistan flag onto it that his emotions came out. When we began to load the casket into the back of a truck to transport her off base, he lost it and collapsed onto the casket containing his little girl. We were holding her at the time so we nearly lost it, but were able to set her down as he gripped the flag and the casket and wailed louder than any wailing I would ever seen.

I don't know if you've ever seen a grown man truly cry as if he'd just lost everything, but it's surprising how much it affects you. I realized in that moment how wrong I was about everything.

Doesn't it make you wonder about the merits of war? 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

First It Was The Cricket Test, then British Values and Now It Is Baking

I have lived in this country for 34 years and I am completely exhausted from jumping through hoops and shooting imaginary balls into moving goalposts to prove that I am a worthy ethnic minority. Sometimes it is no fun being an ethnic being. In fact, it takes a terrible toll on us. Witness me writing this blog on a Sunday evening while I leave my curry to burn on the stove.

The rules of engagement in a majority white country requires people like me (ethnic people, in other words) to constantly evaluate ourselves, our likes and dislikes, our loyalties to such an extent that we feel like we are filling in a Japanese HR form. Everyone knows that Japanese corporations extract their pound of flesh by requiring workers to do exercises in the morning at their desks and to sing songs that pledge undying loyalty to the company.
Image result for pictures of multiculturalismPaying one's taxes isn't enough. I have never even claimed benefits eventhough I am a proponent of the welfare system because I was born and brought up in Asia where I saw people live in shanty huts who could have done with a leg up in life if a welfare safety net had existed. On top of all this I am remarkably tolerant of the white majority who appropriate our culture by turning our normal staples of rice and curry ( I only speak for Asians here) into a treat such as a 'Friday night curry take away' or the wearing of a Sari to an Indian friend's wedding because "Saris are so exotic".

Years ago Norman Tebbit, a former Minister in Thatcher's cabinet, proposed the cricket test. This went something along the lines of if you were an Asian watching a cricket match between England and an Asian country whom would you be cheering on? This test proved to be a non-starter when Asians started playing for England and Asian spectators cheered these players on. It left everyone feeling so confused that I am not surprised that Asians didn't give up cricket and play some other game like Badminton.

Then we had the 'British Values' test whereby Asian immigrants had to somehow prove that their values co-existed with the British ones. This hit a solid wall when debate after debate took place about what 'British Values' really are. Answers ranged from people scratching their heads and declaring "Dunno" to high intellectual debate about the meaning of citizenship and the rights of it. Ofsted stepped in in November 2014 and declared that schools had to promote British values. I asked my daughter who takes PSHE very seriously whether she had learnt about British values and her answer was "I have no idea". Seeing that we pay a lot of money for her to attend private school her articulation of the negative brought some relief than a "Dunno" would have.

See where I am heading here? No? and you expect me to know the rules of the game.

Image result for pictures of bad cakes

Lastly, we now have the baking test. I have not watched a single episode of the Great British Bake Off. I only know about the presenters because they are featured in the press so much. My only worthy knowledge of the programme is the fact that Paul Hollywood had an affair. I read it in The Guardian, my daily newspaper. However, as soon as I heard that a Muslim head scarf wearing woman called Nadiya Hussain had won my prediction was that it would be turned into a race centred pivotal point for multiculturalism. Voila! it has. You see Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein and he has been harangued endlessly for being a Muslim even though he is not.

Rather predictably the Daily Mail waded in pronto and has accused the BBC of social engineering. To be fair, white contestants of the programme have been pilloried for not adhering to some British stereotype who bakes lovely cakes.

I will never cut it, personally speaking, and I am not talking about slicing beautiful cakes up either. I don't know how to bake. My daughter has always gone into school on cake days with one bought from a high-street supermarket. I don't understand cricket and don't watch any of it. As for British values, I stand some chance here because I read Law and Ofsted defines 'British Values' as 'democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith' but I thought these were universal moral codes.

I give up. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Paul Krugman on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn

A great piece from the nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman on Jeremy Corbyn and the fortunes of the Labour party. 

Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time leftist dissident, has won a stunning victory in the contest for leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. Political pundits say that this means doom for Labour’s electoral prospects; they could be right, although I’m not the only person wondering why commentators who completely failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon have so much confidence in their analyses of what it means.

But I won’t try to get into that game. What I want to do instead is talk about one crucial piece of background to the Corbyn surge — the implosion of Labour’s moderates. On economic policy, in particular, the striking thing about the leadership contest was that every candidate other than Mr. Corbyn essentially supported the Conservative government’s austerity policies.

Worse, they all implicitly accepted the bogus justification for those policies, in effect pleading guilty to policy crimes that Labour did not, in fact, commit. If you want a U.S. analogy, it’s as if all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 had gone around declaring, “We were weak on national security, and 9/11 was our fault.” Would we have been surprised if Democratic primary voters had turned to a candidate who rejected that canard, whatever other views he or she held?

In the British case, the false accusations against Labour involve fiscal policy, specifically claims that the Labour governments that ruled Britain from 1997 to 2010 spent far beyond their means, creating a deficit and debt crisis that caused the broader economic crisis. The fiscal crisis, in turn, supposedly left no alternative to severe cuts in spending, especially spending that helps the poor.

These claims have, one must admit, been picked up and echoed by almost all British news media. It’s not just that the media have failed to subject Conservative claims to hard scrutiny, they have reported them as facts. It has been an amazing thing to watch — because every piece of this conventional narrative is completely false.

Was the last Labour government fiscally irresponsible? Britain had a modest budget deficit on the eve of the economic crisis of 2008, but as a share of G.D.P. it wasn’t very high – about the same, as it turns out, as the U.S. budget deficit at the same time. British government debt was lower, as a share of G.D.P., than it had been when Labour took office a decade earlier, and was lower than in any other major advanced economy except Canada.

It’s now sometimes claimed that the true fiscal position was much worse than the deficit numbers indicated, because the British economy was inflated by an unsustainable bubble that boosted revenues. But nobody claimed that at the time. On the contrary, independent assessments, for example by the International Monetary Fund, suggested that it might be a good idea to trim the deficit a bit, but saw no sign of a government living wildly beyond its means.

It’s true that British deficits soared after 2008, but that was a result of the crisis, not a cause. Debt is also up, but it’s still well below levels that have prevailed for much of Britain’s modern history. And there has never been any hint that investors, as opposed to politicians, were worried about Britain’s solvency: interest rates on British debt have stayed very low. This means both that the supposed fiscal crisis never created any actual economic problem, and that there was never any need for a sharp turn to austerity.

In short, the whole narrative about Labour’s culpability for the economic crisis and the urgency of austerity is nonsense. But it is nonsense that was consistently reported by British media as fact. And all of Mr. Corbyn’s rivals for Labour leadership bought fully into that conventional nonsense, in effect accepting the Conservative case that their party did a terrible job of managing the economy, which simply isn’t true. So as I said, Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising given the determination of moderate Labour politicians to accept false claims about past malfeasance.

This still leaves the question of why Labour’s moderates have been so hapless. Consider the contrast with the United States, where deficit scolds dominated Beltway discourse in 2010-2011 but never managed to dictate the terms of political debate, and where mainstream Democrats no longer sound like Republicans-lite. Part of the answer is that the U.S. news media haven’t been as committed to fiscal fantasies, although that just pushes the question back a step.

Beyond that, however, Labour’s political establishment seems to lack all conviction, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And this means that the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Yahoo boss and her 'limited maternity' leave

How long was your maternity leave? A year, six months? Well, well, you are obviously never going to be CEO material, much less one fronting a global brand name. Maternity leave, especially anything for longer than two weeks, would probably be considered a 'girl's blouse' in the machofication  world of pregnancy as evidenced by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. She has announced that she will be taking 'limited maternity' leave after she has given birth to her twins who are due in December.

While Mayer hasn't defined 'limited maternity' the yardstick to go by is the two weeks that she took off after having her first child in 2012. The pop-them-out and life as normal brigade must be cheering at having a high profile cheerleader. For me, her announcement represents the tedium of yet another high-profile female boss vowing to take 'limited maternity' leave because life must go on as usual in much in the same way that the business world worships at the altar of BAU (business as usual). In fact, Mayer uses words like 'hard work' and 'thoughtful prioritization' to describe how she will balance life post-birth. Reading her statement reminded me of the HBR (Harvard Business Review) management books that offer similar advice advice for the workplace but applying these to babies?

What annoys me is the reductive messages being sent out about maternal health care. Maternity leave exists for a reason and this is to do with the mother's own health and the care of the baby. Blimey! After two weeks of having my daughter I was still not in a fit state to be able to distinguish between night and day, let alone juggle the work of the deregulation of the telecommunications industry (my job at that time) AND the every 8 seconds demands of a newborn. I don't think I was being a wally either.

Mayer's decision backs up my theory that women in boardrooms/high positions hardly ever break new ground for the rest of ordinary women folk. In fact, by Mayer's own admission, she does not consider herself to be a feminist. Contrast this with Hilary Clinton, who calls herself a feminist, who would leave the office at 5pm to send a signal to her staff that a work/life balance was crucial to their wellbeing. Who would you rather be working for?