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Helen has been writing at the Cast Iron Balcony since 2003. She has been a proud contributor to the Australian Group blogs Road to Surfdom, Larvatus Prodeo and Progressive Dinner Party. She's a blogger, she's a grinner, she's a mother, she's a sinner. She plays her music in the sun.

25 Responses

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  1. Stene
    Stene at |

    Living here in India during this time (as I am) it’s very interesting to see how local feminism has public ‘erupted’, for want of a better word, after the horrifically brutal rape of Jyoti.

    There was a bit of discussion in the expat community here (where I live in the lower Himalaya) about whether or not we should join in the protests that were going on around the country. Some preferred to bury their heads in the sand for fear of losing their visas… Others, like myself, preferred not to do that. I attended a local rally and was surprised/shocked/impressed that the majority of protestors were male. Men calling for women to be safe in their daily lives. (That being said, I’m fully aware of the culural constraints that probably meant their wives and daughters were not allowed to attend, but who knows really.)

    It seems that across India, Jyoti’s rape has really cracked something wide open. People (men and women both) are certainly very fed up with the lax, corrupt police and court system. There were massive riots in Delhi after her rape (despite their being banned) and vigils after her death. THe discussion went viral. Al Jazeera produced a number of excellent stories (if I can find them I will post up the links later) interviewing local New Delhi students (female and male) who were active in promoting women’s rights and putting a stop to the rape culture of India. Al Jazeera was the most comprehensive coverage of what was going on. So yes, the Western media was largely silent on what was/is going on here in India.

    The trouble is, women are raped and brutalised so often in India (every day, even every half an hour some stats say) that how do you really even begin to address it? Rape is even used as a form of punishment by families in some areas here, when women ‘go astray’. But we must do something.

    My thinking is education is the main way. Keep talking about the issues/events, educate sons and daughters from a young age. As westerners we can keep boosting the women here, supporting them, teaching them techniques for self-defence, like we were taught. We can’t leave them to just work it out themselves, what a waste of a resource! We have a lot of experience and we can use that to SUPPORT their work. On a political/government level, to punish rapists and abusers appropriately would be a big step in the right direction. (If only there was a campaign to finally rid India of corruption! *dreams*) And, of course, stop victim blaming.

    I talk with a lot of local women where I live, many of them Tibetan, and they are really pissed off about how women are treated. One woman told me how she refuses to allow this behaviour and has resorted to shaming and beating a couple of men who tried to touch her up on the street. At least she’s not afraid to stand her ground, that’s a great start. And she’s empowering her daughter in the same way. She’s not ashamed of herself when this happens (as so many are) she makes the male feel the shame of his actions.

    But it’s such a long road… Where I live, there is a guy who raped a tourist last year, who still roams the streets. The police know who he is (many locals know too) but from the last story I heard, it was the woman who was blamed (again!) for being out in the ‘wrong area’.

    As to Ms Wilde-Blavatsky, she is widely known in my area and does not have a great reputation. She likes to create scandal, in all quarters, which is a real shame and not at all useful.

  2. Deborah
    Deborah at |

    Well…. Germaine Greer has defended FGM.

    Other than that, I can’t think of any.

  3. Eden
    Eden at |

    I know some cultural relativists (ick) who are also feminists who think FGM is okay. But they aren’t feminist leaders or intellectuals, so???

  4. Emily
    Emily at |

    I am a feminist who is very opposed to FGM and similar things. However, I do not necessarily support other Western feminists when they condemn it. There are two reasons – because those complaints can easily slip into racist stereotyping and because I am fearful that loud condemnation from the West will make grass-roots anti-FGM work more difficult.

    On the other hand, I don’t know what I can do to support grass-roots anti-FGM work so I am uncomfortably aware I am taking the easy route out by not doing anything.

  5. Orlando
    Orlando at | *

    @Emily, I have two suggestions for helping with anti-FGM work. The Orchid Project, which is UK-based administratively, but deals with the issue in a highly region-specific way, and in conjunction with the UN, looks like something we can all give our support to. I also donate to Partners in Health, which I know at times has had a system set up for your money to go specifically to anti-FGM projects, although I couldn’t find that when I checked their website today. Their model is exclusively to work in partnership with the health practitioners of the local community.

    @Helen, re. Greer, I hate to tell you, but I read The Whole Woman when it first came out and was sent reeling by the, frankly, naive analysis of FGM, whereby she suggested that because it is usually done by women to their daughters, and because hip New York performance artists sometimes modify their genitals, we are all being too hasty in our judgement. It was awful.

  6. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    I trepidatiously venture one particular point: there is an immense difference between various forms of FGC vs FGM.

    I personally have almost no objection to some of the traditions which involve simply nicking/notching the outer labia as a rite of passage – how different is that fundamentally to the piercing of earlobes? Once it gets beyond that, into excision of inner labia and/or clitoridectomry and/or infibulation, which are procedures which prevent women from feeling sexual pleasure and which gratuitously complicate the delivery of pregnancies and often result in incontinence consequences which lead to these women being shunned as unclean, then I strenuously object.

    However I still conclude that donating to charities on the ground, which provide reeducation against FGM for communities and, more crucially, alternate/better sources of income to the women who have traditionally performed these procedures on their community’s daughters, is the most pragmatic way forward for eradication of these toxic traditions.

  7. paul walter
    paul walter at |

    I don’t think any normal person reacts with anything but with shock and horror to what happens to women in the world.
    I think when people raise the issue of cultural sensibilities they are not condoning barbaric practices, just pointing to a belief factor operating in a particular culture or subculture that would make what seems to us rational and humane reform, much more difficult to propose.
    If many of the people of offshore cultures genuinely believe something offends decencies, you will find resistance to it, the same as you would have forcing western women not to wear knickers on a windy day.
    I also believe that economics, poverty and war are playing a part, because social breakdown, to me, reinforces a very basic reactionary Hobbesian patriarchal conservatism. Western governments like failed states with dead-end ideologies, when they do regime change.

  8. Feminist Avatar
    Feminist Avatar at |

    Perhaps because my news is still quite UK-focused, I noticed quite a number of articles (particularly in the Guardian) and often by women who were of South-Asian descent discussing/ condemning these rapes. And, quite a few British feminist blogs pointed to the case (and the one that occurred shortly after) and particularly the on the ground reaction – although perhaps not with any nuanced commentary. But, what nuanced commentary can you give to something so horrendous?

    And then there were a couple of articles that rightly pointed the finger back at us and said ‘where is the outrage over rapes in our own country’? Especially as there was a gang rape going through the courts in the UK at that time (also involving men of South-Asian descent and which had caused quite a lot of racist commentary). And, I genuinely think for a lot of feminists, that we feel a bit like we can’t even solve the problems in our own backyard, so what right do we have to take some sort of stand on how other cultures behave? It’s not like we have some sort of solution that we can take up and hand out – and moreover, we acknowledge that our imperialist attempts to do just that in the past have created a whole lot of pain. This is not the same as saying that it’s not our problem or that violence against women is acceptable if it’s ‘part of culture’- it’s about recognising that we don’t have the answer and that we don’t have the right to march right in over the top of other people and impose our non-existant “solutions”.

    I also slightly worry about such demands for us in the west to help that come from other westerners and not from people on the ground – it’s like being nagged into imperialism.

  9. manthatcooks
    manthatcooks at |

    I think a lot of the dynamic is this:

    A —> B

    A —> X

    If we say A is ‘sati’
    and B is ‘that’s why we need a British presence in India’
    and X is ‘that’s why we need equality for women everywhere’

    People conflate opposition to A —> B as support for A

  10. paul walter
    paul walter at |

    It was interesting going back to Kim. The thread starter was actually quite prophetic in predicting the damage done by Bone, Albrechtsen, etc on this Cronulla Day anniversary.
    These people were less concerned for atrocities done women here or offshore than in the peddling of alibis for Western interventionism in the Middle East, employing Jones-style cultural reinforcement. A similar event took place with Fairfax re the long term preparations for the Intervention;the appeal of faux horror at “dirty” indigenous people, males in particular, the interests of some thing Howard and co had been cooking up since Mabo and wik, for the miners and graziers.
    It is another case of superstructure mistaken for base and a Barthes like assessment that behind the shopfront, the facade, are slithery attempts derived of false consciousness, attempting to divide the left on the most heartfelt of issues and obscure the detailing and remedying of issues both of social reproduction here and parallel to it, the maintaining of the mess that is the post-colonial world in the delusion-infected interests of the cocooned zombies of Wall St, Zurich, City of London and so forth- the one percent.
    There is no doubt that the simulacra of a society that is much of Africa (or ours?) includes the gfm component, or at best matters little to those who could do most to change things.
    Personally, it’s hard not to get past the sense that our system is predicated on the suffering you’d expect a child to suffer undergoing gfm (yes, have seen the docos from the boondoggles where they are performing it of screaming kids, out in the dust, using tin can lids and broken bottles).
    And I suspect that the people running things would not change things if they felt there was even the faintest chance of jeopardy to their own comfortable positions, this is now the dominant ideology.

  11. Aqua of the Questioners
    Aqua of the Questioners at |

    I haven’t talked about this much publicly, but I’ve developed a position, not on FGM, but on sex-selective abortion, which could easily look like “all fine because Culture”.

    The reading and research I’ve done on sex-selective abortion in India is that it isn’t sex-selective abortion that is the problem, it’s a much larger and messy social issue involving dowries, the way that wives become part of their husbands’ families, the need for (adult) children to do elder care, etc.

    Girls are a net cost to the parents who raise them, because they will need a dowry, and then those adult women will be benefitting their in-laws, in particular caring for their elderly in-laws, not their own parents.

    Nevertheless, there is surprisingly little sign of sex-selective abortion for first children – Indians are generally happy to take the luck of the draw. It’s particularly once a family consists of two daughters and no sons, that a third daughter becomes a real problem – not least to her older sisters, because it will become harder for them to get a good marriage with less dowry, and the family won’t be getting income from a son.

    It’s a horribly sexist system in so many ways, and seriously, at the end of the day, a sex-selective abortion when a family is faced with a third daughter and no sons, is quite probably the least harmful option – the mother will not need to go through who knows how many pregnancies and births until a son turns up, the existing daughters (and mother and father) will experience less family stress and hardship, the unwanted girl child will not exist rather than be subjected to all kinds of abuse up to and including exposure and other infanticide.

    I am certainly not in a position to fix the entrenched sexism of the Indian social system, and in the meantime, I totally understand why a pregnant woman may chose an abortion purely based on the fetus’ gender, and it’s not a matter of (overt) family pressure or “hating women” but the best choice given her own knowledge of her circumstances.

    (I was also struck by the similarity to the Western abortion debate, where it’s often ignored that the majority of abortions are performed on women who are already mothers.)

  12. Helen
    Helen at |

    Yes you’re looking at the kyriarchy behind the curtain which is moving it all, Aqua.
    Sex selective abortion – it’s the family inheritance and other patriarchal structures which need to go.
    FGM – It’s the concept that a girl will be unmarriageable without it which makes it so “necessary” to the people who enforce it.
    Gang rape – the whole concept of men being 1) entitled to sex and 2) unable to control their bestial urges, and the rest of rape culture, which I don’t think is really essentially different worldwide.

    There are things behind these phenomena which if not addressed, mean that any legal or police/military “solution” keeps failing.

  13. Swati Parashar
    Swati Parashar at |

    I have a lot to say since the author has brought my earlier piece in the write-up. The point is clearly against cultural relativism when it comes to VAW. Women are now facing extreme forms of sexual violence in Egypt, are we going to stand with them or say, its not our business. I have repeatedly said diversity and differnce is imp. in feminist scholarship but increasingly I see self censorship, silence or open criticism of anyone taking a tough stance against cultural relativism. Mona Ehtawy’s piece was disrespectfully criticised by many feminists, Wilde-Blavatsky’s piece on the burqa was ecnsored by the feminist wire after a written petition signed by academics and abusive messages posted against her for not understanding cultures…etc. i have other such examples. As a feminist from the global south myself I see western feminism struggling more with identity politics and cultural relativism…and to be honest, I do think its a war on women everywhere and transnational feminist networks need to work together and not engage merely in the politics of diversity and difference…The author has clearly misunderstood my point..I wasn’t targetting Australian feminism in particular…But tough questions need to be asked…..anyways, here’s my latest piece that captures some of the issues I have raised. best wishes. Swati

  14. Swati Parashar
    Swati Parashar at |

    and one more minor point. The woman who died in the gang rape is referred to as Amanat or Nirbhaya in the Indian media who are strictly protecting her identity. Her name was published by a newspaper in UK without her family’s explicit permission. They denied that they consented to her name being used. They only wanted her name in the anti-rape legislation in India. In anycase, that name is inaccurate. It is out of feminist solidarity and empathy for the family that we should refrain from using the name. Thanks.

  15. Mindy
    Mindy at |

    Thanks for the link Swati.

  16. Helen
    Helen at |

    The woman who died in the gang rape is referred to as Amanat or Nirbhaya in the Indian media who are strictly protecting her identity. Her name was published by a newspaper in UK without her family’s explicit permission. They denied that they consented to her name being used. They only wanted her name in the anti-rape legislation in India. In anycase, that name is inaccurate. It is out of feminist solidarity and empathy for the family that we should refrain from using the name. Thanks.

    See, this is exactly the kind of reason why I wasn’t going to wade in with my big boots on immediately following the Delhi gang rape and was more inclined to listen to what people “on the ground” and their countrypeople in Australia wanted to say about it. Now I have published the name on the basis that the media reported it. It’s precisely that kind of mistake that characterises the white-saviour, loud-denunciation approach to VAW in other countries. That’s why my initial instinct was to shut up and listen, and it appears I would have been right. (The name has been redacted now.)

    Work pressures prevent me from reading your link Swati or responding to the rest of your post, but hopefully I will find time soon. I have to say, though, that concrete examples of women who are approving violence against women in the global South on the grounds of cultural relativism are thin on the ground so far, as you have seen on this thread. Some actual cut and pastes with links would be great…

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