10 Examples of everyday sexism in the English language

The other day I was talking to an acquaintance about a trip he took abroad and the difficulties he’d faced. However, the conversation left me with a niggly unpleasant feeling. You see, as a woman – despite his best intentions – I’d found the conversation offensive. How? Well, it was with one little phrase: “I was such a girl!”

By attempting to describe himself as impatient, scared and moody whilst abroad , he was equating masculinity and “acting like a man” with strength and women and “femininity” with weakness. For someone to unintentionally perpetuate negative sexist stereotypes through a very common expression, sadly shows just how deeply engrained sexism is in our society. This got me thinking about the many other sexist expressions that we (yes even me!) commonly use.

As both men and women, we need to identify sexist language and call it out for what it is. So, here’s 10 more examples of everyday sexism in English.

1. To man up

Telling someone to “man up” means what you’re actually saying is that “being a man” means being “strong”, fearless and confident. You’re saying that men should not show and feel (perfectly normal) emotions. You’re in fact discouraging a sense of positive masculinity and declaring that women are instead weak, over-emotional, scared and un-daring!

2. To grow a pair (of balls)

Women don’t need male genitalia to be strong – despite what the opposite rather vulgar “female equivalent” of this expression would imply! A person is strong irrespective of their gender/sex. We are all on various journeys and paths of development and there are many kinds of strength (emotional, physical, spiritual) which are also irrelevant to sex/gender.

3. To be a sissy

This horrible expression is both sexist, homophobic and transphobic. By calling a man a “sissy”, you’re referring to him as feminine (female-like), “unmanly”, weak and cowardly, as opposed to an apparently strong, brave, “rugged” male specimen…

4. Man and wife

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Announcing that the woman is the man’s “property” (instead of declaring “husband and wife”), this expression is thankfully nowadays less common than it used to be. In other languages however such as French, the term “femme” meaning “woman” is still commonly used to refer to your wife. So, it’s not just here. Equal partnerships folks!

5. Maiden name

I won’t get into whether a woman should or shouldn’t change her surname when getting married. What I will say is that the term “maiden name” is incredibly patronisingly sexist. A “maiden” is an outdated term referring to a young (teenage-ish), “innocently naïve” unmarried woman (usually a virgin). This old-fashioned term implies women should be married at a young age and that women above a certain age are “past it”. No. Women have the right to get married whenever they like and should not be defined by their marital status.

6. To wear the trousers in the relationship

Trousers are traditionally associated with masculinity as in earlier days they were only worn by men (when women were seen as men’s property). However, many women now choose to wear (or not wear) trousers, men also don’t own women and nor should women seek to dominate men. A couple is (supposed to be) an equal team made of two individuals with their own strengths and flaws, complete with dialogue, consensus and compromise.

7. Man flu

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Does the man flu even exist? I’m sorry fellas but this just wreaks of a sense of self-entitlement. Women and men both get colds and the flu. The flu is completely debilitating – a cold is not. Don’t shoot me here but women often have more household and childcaring responsibilities and I for one know that when I’m run down I get ill. Male or female – deal with your health issue and if it really is the flu then rest but please don’t make everyone else suffer!

8. Sew your wild oats

The age-old double standard of “sew your wild oats” legitimises male promiscuity and objectifies women as sex objects. Women instead who do the same are however called all number of derogatory names. I’m not here to comment on people’s own sexual behaviour but to point out that there is a clear double standard here. “Sewing your oats” is portrayed as some kind of masculine biological-anthropological “natural need” even in the 21st century.

9. Boys will be boys

Parents and relatives may say: “Ah well, boys will be boys” to excuse all manner of things at any given moment (usually during their youth). At the same time, the same would not be said for the girls. Using this expression implies that men can do X, Y Z freely but girls must not. Once again, there’s a clear double standard here.

10. To get your knickers in a twist

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Going back to number six and the stereotype of men as strong, dominant and independent, knickers (a female garment) are instead associated with awkward moodiness, over-sensitivity and irrationality. Men obviously have their own undergarments and as with examples 1 and 2, are portrayed as strong, emotionless, brave specimens in their masculinity in the crudest of terms!

So, there you have it. This language ultimately boils down to a sexist, misogynistic dichotomy of:

Male / man / masculine = strong vs. Female / woman / feminine = weak

Well, let me tell you this: women are strong. We all have emotions and how we feel is certainly not a “weakness”. Every human being is an individual and we should not to be defined by our martial status, age, gender etc. So please, let’s avoid such sexist language and spread a more positive egalitarian message!

By Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Credits and acknowledgements

This article was first published via She Speaks We Hear on 04/02/2018.

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10 More disturbing extremist rantings and how to respond

Following my previous blog on 10 Typical Islamist rantings and how to respond, I’d like to present a very much needed sequel!

We must drown out extremist, outdated, misogynistic narratives. So, here are sadly more disappointing examples of intolerance and extremism that are normalised within many Muslim/scholarly circles. Here’s also how to respond in order to promote a real, healthier message!

1. Kill or disown apostates

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Examples of popular scholars/Islamic websites preaching such narrative can be found here (Zakir Naik) and here (Islam Q+A).

Here’s how to respond:

  • Allah Almighty gave us free will and the chance of redemption.
  • Faith is a personal journey – an individual journey between God and our own soul.

More information can be found here.

2. Women must do all the housework and serve their husbands

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Examples from preachers can be found here (Zakir Naik). Very frustrating and not very egalitarian!

Here’s how to respond:

  • We have choices. A woman’s choice to go to work should not be at the detriment of having two (full-time sole) jobs – one at home and one at work.
  • In many cases, without her own income (a second family income), the family will struggle financially. In fact, financially dependent women remain incredibly vulnerable – imagine their spouse falls ill, dies or turns abusive? Women need a back-up / some sort of financial independence.
  • The Prophet (pbuh) shared the chores at home, so why are such misogynistic attitudes being peddled in the name of Islam?

More information can be found here.

3. Jews are “the enemies of Islam”

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Anti-Semitism is being pedalled by “Islamic scholars” and it’s shocking. In this video, Dr Zakir Naik is quoted as saying:

“America is controlled by the Jews”
“We have to be careful of the Jews”
“Jews are the biggest enemy of Muslims”

Dr Naik’s use of language (“The Jews”) in itself is shocking. Again, back in my previous post on three popular Islamic scholars who promote extremism, Shayk al-Munajjid of the website Islam Q&A has publicly stated that Jews are: “the people of lies, fabrications, treachery, and conspiracies… They are the filthiest of nations…” (Featured on Al-Majd TV, Saudi Arabia – 15/05/2016).

Let’s get this clear please. Here’s how to respond:

  • Judaism and Islam come from the same Abrahamic family. We have A LOT in common and the Jewish community deserve respect.
  • Both communities are increasingly becoming victims of religiously-motivated hate crime and are “in the same boat”.
  • Whatever your beliefs – religious, political etc. – we are all human and deserve honesty and respect.
  • The Jewish community does a lot of interfaith work to promote friendship and peace amongst Jews and Muslims.
  • Lies, harmful stereotypes and polarising of communities is not acceptable.
  • The Israeli-Palestinian issue is vast and does not simply relate to two religious communities and “us vs. them”.
  • Remember, a Muslim man is permitted to marry a Jewish sister!

A great example of Jewish-Muslim sisterhood can be found here:

Check them out and get involved!

4. Secularism is anti-Islamic and wayward

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Ah here we go. Here’s a typical anti-secular narrative:

Secularism is a new philosophy and a corrupt movement which aims to separate religion from the state, and focuses on worldly matters, and worldly desires and pleasures; it makes this world the only goal in life, and forgets and ignores the Hereafter. It pays no attention to deeds pertaining to the Hereafter. The words of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) may be applied to the secularist:

‘Wretched is the slave of the dinar and the slave of the dirham and the slave of the khameesah (a kind of luxurious garment made of wool with patterns). If he is given he is pleased and if he is not given he becomes discontent. May he be wretched and doomed, and if he is pricked with a thorn may it not be pulled out (i.e., may he have no help to remove it).’ Narrated by al-Bukhaari (2887).”

(Islam Q+A)

There seems to be a conflation between secularism and materialism and atheism.

Here’s how to respond:

  • Secularism is not “anti-faith” – it’s actually designed to promote religious freedom of freedom of belief (if also non-religious).
  • Without some degree of separation of politics and religious we ultimately on the far end of the scale end up with a religious theocracy (e.g. as in Iran, Saudi Arabia, ISIS territory) which violates the right to freedom and in many cases turns people away from faith!
  • For example, in the UK we are not officially secular (we are Anglican as a State) but we very much operate in line with secular principles in relation to religious minorities.
  • On the other end of the scale, examples of extreme secularism which remove rights of minorities and religious observants can be found in Turkey and France who follow(ed) a hardline model of laïcité. This model of secularism is more concerned with the removal of religion from the public sphere and does/did not allow certain religious practices in public places (e.g. hijab in school, teaching etc.). This however is not the standard universalised practice/understanding of secularism and is an abuse of personal religious freedoms.
  • Secularism therefore has varying forms, degrees, practices and outlooks.
  • Not everyone in every country is Muslim/of one single religion – even in apparently “Muslim countries” – they may be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, agnostic, atheist etc. Minority rights are essential and must be respected.
  • Worship is for God alone and not for governments.

More information can be found here.

5. Doubting and questioning makes you a kafir

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This is sadly so common (see here) and very, very harmful. This does not empower people and is incredibly damaging to a person’s self-esteem and spiritual growth and wellbeing.

Here’s how to respond:

  • How can you accept something without discovery and reflection?
  • You cannot accept what you do not know or understand.
  • We mature, evolve, change our views on things over time and this is a good thing! It means we are sincerely seeking and seeing new answers, new interpretations and new realities!

More information can be found here.

6. The Qur’an is enough – we don’t need learning, research and discovery

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Similar to point number five, here’s how to respond:

  • The Qur’an teaches us to learn to think but not to stop there!
  • A broad range of knowledge will actually help us better understand the Qur’an and references to the natural world and other faith traditions.
  • The more we advance as a society in terms of philosophy, ethics, politics, medicine etc., the more/better we can understand Allah’s creation, save lives through the advancement of medicine etc., live together peacefully in a multicultural, multifaith state, respect each other’s rights etc.
7. Science is “anti-God”

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Again, similar to the previous two points, we must read and discover the world around us.

Here’s how to respond:

  • The universe belongs to Allah and is “run” according to His will!
  • During “The Golden Era of Islam”, Muslims excelled in the fields of science and mathematics.

Find out more information here:

8. You should not have close non-Muslim friends

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A person who is kind, tolerant and open poses no threat (despite what may be said here).

If you come across this, here’s how to respond:

  • Muslim men marry Christian women and many Muslims have family members of various faiths – so it doesn’t really make sense then does it?
  • As long as a person is not violent and/or stopping you from practising your religion, there is no reason you cannot be friends with them!
  • Let’s be honest, you’d not want to be friends with an Islamophobe and neither would they!
  • In any case, we are encouraged to avoid anger and deal with people kindly (sorry haters!)

More info can be found here:

9. Being gay makes you non-Muslim

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To be a Muslim, you must believe in and recite the shahada (declaration of belief):

Muslim Profession of Faith

The Shahada is the Muslim profession of faith and the first of the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam. The word shahada in Arabic means ‘testimony.’ The shahada is to testify to two things:

(a) Nothing deserves worship except God (Allah).

(b) Muhammad is the Messenger of God (Allah).

A Muslim is simply one who bears witness and testifies that “nothing deserves worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” One becomes a Muslim by making this simple declaration.

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In doing so, they de-facto accept Islamic teachings. We therefore have to bear two things in mind:

  • Interpretations of what is halal and haram differ.
  • Even if you believe something is a sin, sinning doesn’t mean you’re/a person is not a believer.
10. Non-Muslims are “out to get us”

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Firstly, I take extreme issue with the term “kafir” just being flung around (that’s however, another (long) story!).

What I have sensed amongst some young Muslims is a sense of fear, paranoia and concern relating to prior colonialism, surveillance and anti-extremism measures. I’d like to point out that these are not extremists. These are regular people going to work, living their lives. In fact, I reckon it’s quite common.

These “us vs. them” narratives are however exploited by extremists and can ultimately lead to people becoming radicalised if they feel isolated and that they are “under threat” in some sort of religious ideological “battle”.

Here’s how to respond:

  • Colonialism – it’s a terrible thing but that’s the past. My generation, my parent’s generation etc. are/were not responsible.
  • The UK population are also not responsible for Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Politics and religion here are two different things.
  • Muslims are thriving – here in the UK anyway! Take entrepreneur James Cann, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain etc.
  • Yes, there is Islamophobia and we must fight it but let’s not tar everyone with the same brush please!
  • Let’s all work towards an inclusive integrated cohesive society. When we’re all looking out for each other, we’re a safer, stronger society. Ultimately, we all benefit.

So there you have it folks. There’s some very intolerant, outdated, un/misinformed views out there but let’s not attack people. Many people are being taught/exposed to poisonous beliefs (unknowingly!). So, treat people kindly and try and explain how you feel (with evidence plus logic!). Also speak out against hatred when things are clearly not right.

We can all make a difference. Spread some peace 🙂

Salam!

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Ladies: Beware of the fake (male) feminist

Feminism. The word’s got a bit of a bad reputation, hasn’t it? Mention you’re a feminist in a crowd of people and they may think you’re a man-hating “modernist” out to take over the world and crush all menfolk.

Now mention the word equality and you might be onto something. We all want to treat each other fairly and equally, don’t we? Or, so we think…

See, whilst we all know how to spot an out and proud “anti-feminist” and the worst cases of discrimination and furthermore violence against girls and women (FGM, child marriage, eradicating female education and so on), an equally worrying dilemma is that of the fake feminist.

Now, when I say feminist, let me be clear from the word go. The men I’m talking about in particular (like many people in fact) won’t call themselves feminists. “Feminist” is a “Western”, quirky word apparently…. No, definitely not. But they do quite openly believe in women’s equality – despite cultural and traditional pressures both behind the scenes and out in the open. So, how do they do this you might ask?

Well, here are some examples:

  • They encourage their sisters to go to university
  • They openly state that men and women are equal
  • They’re repulsed at and denounce child marriage, FGM and other forms of gender-based violence
  • They believe that women should (if they wish) be active in the workplace and their female relatives often work
  • They claim to be looking for a “partner”, an equal or a love-match – not simply a “wife” (in his words: a submissive maid with whom he’s got nothing in common)

Right, sounds good so far. So, what’s the issue you may ask? Well see, feminism i.e. gender equality isn’t (simply) about women going to work and not being locked up at home. It’s not just about being safe from violence, it’s about equality: financially, sexually, spiritually, socially, culturally and emotionally.

Here’s the definition from the Cambridge dictionary just to clarify:

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See, it’s there in black and white: “the same rights, power, and opportunities as men…”

Now – whilst I’m not trying to tar all men with the same brush – the fake feminist will do all the things I’ve already pointed out but at the same time:

  • He won’t help out with the housework/equally share chores when both partners are working (or even see it as his responsibility)
  • He won’t encourage his wife in her career and community pursuits
  • Equally so, he could also be demeaning to his wife who decides to stay at home and care for her children (a full-time job in itself!) when the family are in no financial hardship
  • He won’t prioritise his wife’s sexual needs

In short, the fake feminist hides behind sexist outdated stereotypes, attitude and norms. In reality, the male fake feminist actually feels intimidated by a successful, independent, confident woman. When challenged as to why one standard exists for men and another for women, he’ll simply say: “Well, my sister is happy doing it” or “It’s just the way it is”.

So, to these men I ask: why do you feel do intimated by women? You know what equality is surely? Or do you…? It’s quite simply (on a basic level) what you have and enjoy! It’s the things you do, the places you go and the dreams you pursue. Yet, such men appear to be so engrained in their socio-cultural bubble, so threatened by the reality of female equality that they struggle with the very concept – just like all openly proud misogynists who’d automatically denounce feminism and female equality in all terms, regardless of semantics.

Yes, the fake male feminists I’m talking about claim to want an independent woman but in reality, what they’re really looking for is often an educated woman that will still do all of the housework, that will still put him first and that will still take full or primary responsibility for the childrearing.

The question I’d therefore propose to these men is: are you ready to handle a woman who demands to be treated as your equal? Are you ready to share the housework? Are you passionate about encouraging your wife to follow her interests? Are you ready to feed the baby and change nappies? Are you ready to put on an apron if you come home early from work and your wife’s still on the way home from the office?

See, a confident, self-assured man who truly believes in female equality doesn’t feel intimated by his wife’s success. Like a jealous, insecure “fake friend”, such behaviour reveals more about such men (not women) than they realise. Remember, if you truly believed in equality of the sexes, what you wish for yourself is what you’d wish for you wife.

So, ladies: watch out for the fake feminist. Put him to the test before you dedicate your life to him. Actions always speak louder than words… And gentlemen: don’t be a fake feminist. Be the man she deserves and encourage her to be the woman she so proudly is

Credits and ackowledgments

Article written by Elizabeth Arif-Fear – first published by She Speaks We Hear (23/10/2017).

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10 Trends which reveal the reality behind gender inequality

You’ve no doubt heard about gender inequality but you may not be aware of the reality that women across the world face. What does “gender inequality” actually mean in real terms? Perhaps you may feel that in your part of the world it’s not an issue. Well, I beg to differ. Statistically speaking, women are more likely to be affected by a range of discrimination and abuse than their male peers due to their gender and the relationship between poverty and prevailing socio-cultural norms. Now, everything has a context and therefore social, cultural and economic factors must be taken into account but by being female – across the so-called “developed” and non-developing world, there are a range of trends that stick and which are unacceptable in the 21st century.

Here’s 10 trends which highlight and exemplify the shocking reality of gender inequality today.

1. Women are the hardest hit by poverty

Women are overall disproportionately affected by poverty. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), out of the 1.3 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty, women account for a disproportionately large amount of this figure. But what about in the “developed world”? What about mainstream society? Well, the UN’s research “The World’s Women” in 2015 concluded that in Europe women and girls were greater affected by poverty than men (53%).

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2. More girls leave school early and become illiterate than their male peers

Without an education, you’re more likely to remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and without a doubt, women and girls are the worst affected. Due to a combination of social, cultural and economic factors such as poverty and child marriage, many girls leave school much earlier than is required leaving them unable to gain a solid education and build their future.

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3. Females are more likely to experience sexual violence

We need to break the myth that sexual violence only affects women and girls. It DOES affect men but to a far lesser degree. Many women (as well as men) will also not report or speak out about sexual violence for fear of retribution of social stigma, but the figures we do have are shocking.

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4. Women are excluded from habitually male-led decision making

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling and it’s real. The lack of females in politics and high management positions is shocking as this ultimately means that women are excluded from decision making, meaning that half of the population remain under-represented in politics, finance etc. – you name it!

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5. Women earn less than their male colleagues for the same job

Not only are women more likely than men to work in undervalued, low-paid or vulnerable jobs but women are also on average paid less than men (ILO, 2012; UN Women, 2017). According to the World Bank, in most countries across the globe, women on average earn only 60-75% of what men do. This is a staggering phenomena in the “Western world” which many find hard to believe.

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6. Being female means you’re more likely to be sold into slavery

Human trafficking is a serious problem across the globe. Most victims of human trafficking are female and the numbers of girls being trafficked is increasing. Human trafficking of women and girls often involves sexual exploitation and is unimaginably detrimental to the psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, social, cultural and economical wellbeing of those affected.

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7. Women are more likely to die from natural hazards

When natural disaster strikes, women are once again at greater risk of harm. Women living in poverty (as usual!) are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts and remain incredibly vulnerable.

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8. Girls are more likely to be affected by HIV and AIDS than their male peers

51% of adults living with HIV are female (UNAIDS, 2015). What’s more, if we break down the figures by age, we find that young girls and women (aged 15 to 24 years old) are particularly vulnerable to infection (UNAIDS 2015; UN Women 2017). New infections amongst young women are higher than that of their male peers and with 45% of teenage girls in certain cases declaring that their first sexual experience was non-consensual, this may not come as a surprise for many people out there (UNAIDS, 2014).

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9. Women spend more time on unpaid housework and less on leisure than men

We may think this is a stereotype but it’s true. Across the world, in pretty much every country, each day men spend more time on leisure activities while women spend more time doing unpaid housework (OECD, 2017). Women take on the major burden of domestic and care work – even when they have a job of their own.

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10. Being born female means you’re more likely to be married as a child

Child marriage predominantly affects girls. Whilst boys can be affected, the numbers show that this is a far less common occurrence. Child marriage results in high numbers of young girls missing out on an education, financial independence and being subject to sexual, emotional and physical abuse. For girls of such a young age, childbirth can even mean death, as their young bodies cannot bear the physical burden.

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So there we are folks. The figures speak for themselves. Please, please – next time you hear someone harping on about “feminism” this and that as though it’s a man-hating phenomena, remind them of these facts. We must keep raising awareness and challenging socio-cultural norms which discriminate against women and perpetuate the marginalisation, exclusion and abuse of so many women – both closer to home and further afield.

Sources, credits and further information

A full list of sources can be downloaded here (PDF)

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Misogyny in North Africa: My experiences as a British Muslimah

In a previous post I talked about sexism in the British workplace and in keeping with the theme of sexism, I’d like to talk about my experiences as a British Muslimah in relation to North African culture. I’m married to a North African man and I’ve travelled to, worked and lived in a variety of North African countries both pre- and post-conversion and before and after getting married. In this post, I’d like to look at the issues I’ve really noticed since converting to Islam and travelling to the region including first, second and third hand experiences of blatant discrimination, sexism, hypocrisy and misogyny that women in the area face. Now, I’m not saying these things happen across the board and I’ve certainly not included examples from very traditional circles but I’d like to talk about some experiences which I’ve found difficult, confusing, frustrating, upsetting and in some cases have made me feel utterly trapped and powerless – all of which are against (moderate) Islamic teachings. For more on the issue of sexism and Islam, see my previous post on gender jihad which has already touched on what is and isn’t Islamic when it comes to women and the unfortunate way some are treated.

Primarily, the overriding problem and any example of misogyny I can think of (mostly) seems to be related to the following overarching concept:

“A woman’s place is in the home”

First of all, not all women in the region are at home every second of the day. However this concept really underpins the problems I’ve encountered. It affects every aspect of women’s lives. There are many many women with jobs – most of the doctors I’ve met are in fact women and many women do hold roles outside the home. What’s more, women and girls can also enjoy being at home relaxing in their free time but the reality is that I’ve faced gossiping, backbiting and criticism for “leaving the house too much” (women sadly do this too folks!). Whilst on holiday, being busy organising and getting married and taking my father out so we could enjoy a holiday, I’ve been subjected to wagging tongues trying to control  my life. The manipulation of Islam to the extent that women are told they need to stay at home in safe places to extreme lengths (for obscene periods of time) is wrong and unhealthy yet it is used to perpetuate a deeply ingrained misogyny.

Inside the home: No need for a man’s input

On a practical level, this means that the home is the woman’s domain and most men don’t lift even a finger at home. The kitchen is out of bounds to male guests who may want to cook as the kitchen is for females – of all ages – and females only. No men allowed! Men generally will not learn to cook but will boil an egg, fry chips or make an omelette if hungry and their wife/sister/mum is not around. In restaurants however, all the waiters and chefs are male. It is generally seen as shameful for women to serve men in public but to serve men in the home is viewed as normal. If a man does cook, this will be kept quiet to save face.

If a husband works full time and his wife is at home with the kids, you’d expect that she would take care of domestic matters but that shouldn’t exclude men from helping out and taking responsibility. For women who work full-time – let’s not forget that we all need a decent standard of living and many many many girls go to university and want a job – she can generally not expect the housework to be divided. I’ve been told that women are apparently “happy” to have a full-time job and do all of the housework (and essentially have two jobs). Of course, if you live with in-laws/parents, there is help but domestic duties – cooking, cleaning etc. – are carried out by women/females only. ONE thing however: men will often do the shopping. Some markets are also off limits to women due to apparently “dodgy behaviour” in such areas fully saturated with men, which are deemed inappropriate for women. To be fair, by the sounds of it I’d not want to go but there’s something ironic there about only men being able to buy food that they’re never going to cook themselves…

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In the home, cooking is seen as a woman’s job – even if she works full time (Photo: Elizabeth Arif-Fear – CC)


Outside the home: Ignoring women’s needs 

What does all of this mean outside of the home? As I’ve already explained, it means being judged based on your movements and being subject to gossip for being “outside the house too much”, even if you’re simply shopping, meeting friends, eating out etc. This concept of a women’s place being the home really does have much wider ramifications. It essentially dictates to society that the public sphere is male – in other words: “leave it to the males” as “things are best run by men”. This translates to needing men’s permission to do anything and women’s issues requiring male validation. Here comes the unfortunate dichotomy of public (male) and private (female) spheres. We’ve heard it all before but it’s true!

On a social level, I found this meant I was often excluded within my own personal circles – even when I was with men. Imagine you’re in a busy tourist agency and as the only female you’re ignored in a three person conversation. Out of respect due to culture/religion? Well…the man in question booking your trip is told you speak French in an attempt to include you in the conversation. You have to butt in and take charge in order to be included in your own activities, obviously feeling very very frustrated. Or, in another scenario: a male stops talking to his wife without a word of warning to hold a conversation with an incoming male. She’s the second class invisible third party…

This also means that facilities prioritise men and that there is a severe lack of public facilities for women. For example, the local coffee shop is the men’s “palace”. Yes, everyone needs a place to chill out with their friends or to get some time on your own but why are there no coffee places for girls? The Gulf for example has plenty of women-only facilities. The response is “girls belong at home” and “girls want to stay at home”. One question comes to mind though: all the time…? In terms of dividing public money, I’ve seen male sports facilities but nothing for girls. If money is an issue, why not scale down the buildings? It would appear that women don’t need and/or deserve a gym and that men come first. This is no trivial matter folks. If the public sphere is dominated with men, then half the population are both under- and misrepresented. If there’s a problem, the women tend to suffer and I have indeed found that it seems to put the women at a disadvantage. Imagine this: “illegal sexual activity” is going on in public toilets. What action is taken? The women’s toilets are closed. So, we have functioning male toilets but nothing for the ladies. Whilst the men have toilet facilities, ladies are left with nothing. Not exactly ideal during that time of the month…

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Local cafés: a men’s world… (Photo: Xuoan Duquesne – CC)

This leads to another point. The lack of female representation also means that the women are not only under-represented in terms of opinions and facilities but that women’s specific needs are not met. Who understands women better than women themselves? For example, going back to the topic of toilets – do not expect there to be a sanitary bin in a public toilet. If you need to dispose of used personal sanitary items you need to take a mini plastic bag and your own pads (no vending machines). This may sound like a small issue to some guys out there but it really shows a complete lack of thought and understanding of women and women’s needs. As a foreigner, when you’re faced with all the frustrating other “norms” and you’re missing simple basic sanitation facilities, it just gets too much!

Whilst there is plenty of room for women in the public sphere to shop and buy shoes, scarves, handbags etc. (no problem with that – I love shopping!), what about recognising their needs and giving them real outlets to have a voice? Even when buying underwear, you should also never expect to a female sales assistant. Lingerie is often sold amongst other generic items of clothing in clothing and accessory shops. I don’t know about you but I’d not want to buy intimate items from male sales personnel with no women around for sizing advice. Women need the care and assistance of other ladies when buying their undergarments. In short, women need to be more visible and taken into greater consideration.

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Don’t expect to find sanitary towel bins in the ladies’ toilets… (Photo: Wrote – CC)


Public and private spheres: Male attitudes dominate

On a more serious note, the above really points to a deeply ingrained patriarchy that goes beyond an inability to go out for a coffee or find a female shop assistant when you want one (they do exist though btw!). No, what it means is that women have to accept the social standards set by men – which are hypocritical and clearly point to a double standard in favour of men. For example, divorced women are “a thing”. The stigma is decreasing from what I’ve heard and whilst divorce should never be taken lightly, neither should a woman be defined/pointed out as “divorced” in a conversation… A woman is actually “left on the shelf” when she’s “past her younger years” but for men this is not a problem. When a slightly older lady does marry, she is seen as a very lucky exception!

Such sexist double standards also translate to the way in which men feel they have the right to regulate women’s clothing, as well as overall general behaviour. Extreme interpretations of Islam have led me to be told I should not even talk on a mini-bus. Yes, women should remain modest but they do not need to (and must not) be silenced. Women in earlier Islamic years were scholars, teachers and architects – and still are! The men often shout and bellow down the phone but a woman cannot sit and talk on a bus. It also makes me so sad and angry to have to say this but some women and girls are forced to cover their hair and bodies. This is totally un-Islamic but happens. Parents and spouses have been known to force their daughters/wives to wear a headscarf (khimar/hijab) and other longer outer garments (jilbab). This is an insult to God, our right to free will and the women who freely choose to cover themselves in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, risking Islamophobic hate crime and discrimination in the workplace, street and even within their families. Yes, sadly it works both ways. Some girls in the Muslim community also face difficulty in wearing a scarf or face veil. Why can’t women just be left to make their own choices? What is in the heart is personal.

If we look at men’s behaviour though, there are clear double standards and hypocrisies. Smoking is haram (forbidden in Islam) but many many men smoke. I’m not here to judge though. My point is this: fathers, husbands and brothers would have a fit if their daughters, sisters and wives started smoking yet they carry on and puff away…

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The home: “a women’s place” (Photo: Groundhopping Murseburg – CC)


Social brainwashing: Male and female perpetrators

So, I’ve given you a few of my experiences and insights. When I’ve expressed some of my frustration and disbelief at these issues, my concerns have been acknowledged. Women themselves have agreed that this is down to culture, not religion. However, women – as well as men – also perpetuate these habits and enjoin in gossiping about women who “go against the grain” in perfectly moral, decent ways. The fact that some women acknowledge that restrictive norms are cultural (not Islamic) but also enjoin in or do not stand up to this this is what makes the reality of such misogyny really truly tragic. Many women have been brainwashed to follow these sexist norms which deem women and girls who are outside of the home more than deemed acceptable etc. as “behaving inappropriately” and the top end could seem them branded as “wh****”. By gossiping and backbiting away about the social activities of other women and girls, such females are “accepting” and keeping alive such outdated misogynistic values which can mean that any girl who does fight back or ignore these rules, risks her reputation and that of their family and ultimately her (and even her family’s) ability to marry and live a happy socially integrated life.

If you don’t believe in the poisonous power of social brainwashing in leading women to accept sexism and misogyny watch this video, showing one Algerian woman’s attitude to domestic violence. As you can see, women – as well as men – in believing in and accepting, rather than standing up and speaking out against these issues, are perpetuating sexist outdated and dangerous gender norms, stereotypes and even violence. From gossiping about women, to the very top end of the scale where some are even “happily accepting” domestic violence, it’s the same problem. On the one hand the report was made by an Algerian TV channel shows that awareness has been raised from the inside but if you watch the video, you’ll see that there is some severe social brainwashing and normalising of immoral sexist practices. Looking at the statistics in the video, domestic violence is a huge issue in itself, accepted by a large section of women.

These women are victims but will live on to victimise future generations of women and girls if things don’t change. Such men and women will be teaching their sons and daughters to carry and accept these practices. Misogyny in North Africa exists on micro and macro levels but remember this: no matter how small the incidents or examples are, do not underestimate the negative impact they can have on the lives of women and girls – it all comes from the same source…

Photo credits:

Babak Fakhamzadeh (feature image) (CC)

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“I only hire beautiful birds” – Sexism in the British workplace

For those of you in the UK, you may remember hearing a few months back in the news about women being forced to wear high heels at work and one lady being told to go home for refusing to do so. The reality is that whilst we should all be smart (depending on your job!) and dressed respectably for work, wearing high heels does not equate professionalism. Such outdated sexist attitudes towards women are unfortunately still alive. The reality is that women face sexual harassment at work, discrimination in being hired due to their right to maternity leave and earn less than men for the same job. In some sectors such as high end City business firms and politics, women find themselves in a male-dominated sphere. This is the 21st century people, yet this is the shocking reality women in Britain today face:

50%

Shocking isn’t it?! More information on the statistics can be found here. However, I’d like to present some real-life testimony. Here’s the story of Steve*…

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Steve* works for an international business solutions company based in London* and has found that his work environment is very patriarchal. The women in the office face daily regular sexual harassment and bullying. Here’s what the women in his office encounter:

When my female colleagues talk in the office, the men say: “Shhh! Shut up! You’re in a business office – don’t be loud!”. But they’re not loud at all. They are treated like second class citizens and sex objects. On one particular occasion, after a work night out where my colleagues were drinking, one young male colleague named Ryan* got very drunk and couldn’t get home. My colleague Jane* offered for him to sleep on her sofa. The next day at work, she was told that she had “raped him” and that everyone “should watch out for her”. For about two weeks after, whenever she walked into the office, everyone would start “egging” Ryan on saying: “Go on Ryan! Go on Ryan!” She clearly did not find this funny and was not comfortable at all but they carried on bullying her anyway.

On a more day-to-day basis, my male colleagues call our female colleagues “birds” and talk about them in sexual scenarios, describing what they’d do to them sexually. They talk in their male groups but another female colleague can hear. Another male colleague called our colleague Caroline* “bitch” to her face as she wears mini-skirts to work. When Caroline walks in the office, my male colleagues make kissing noises. On another occasion, another colleague Bradley* sat within a small group of male colleagues and compared the breasts of his wife (who works in the office) to those of Jenny*. On this occasion, no women were witness to the conversation. Higher up the ladder, a senior figure in the company also informed the male member of the team that he “only hires beautiful birds” as he likes being in the company of “beautiful women”. One of the women he hired is from overseas and twenty years his junior and married with children. At work he intimidates her. One day he showed her pictures of fully naked women, telling her that he would like to have sex with these types of women. My colleague felt so uncomfortable that she took the following day off work. On a regular basis, he tells us male colleagues how he’d like to have sex with her.

Beyond vocal comments and discussions, at Christmas, Gary* (a married man and father) came back to the office drunk and actually forced himself onto Patricia*, kissing her on the mouth. Patricia did not say anything. She appeared to find this normal but for me: this is not normal.

I feel sorry for all of the women who work with us. In a 20th century working environment, no woman should be treated like that. I’m absolutely shocked by these so-called ‘English gentlemen’. The men I work with have showed their dark side and I have lost all respect towards them. Sexism in the workplace is a big problem and many women are constantly bullied. The women in my office are trapped because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Action must be taken against these – to be blunt – chavs.

*Names and location have been changed to protect identity. Testimony co-written/edited by Voice of Salam (narrated). Please note: I have presented the testimony of a male witness due to availability of witness testimony. If any women would like to share their stories, please get in touch!

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So, ladies (and men – in reality anyone affected by discrimination in the workplace of any kind): please call out and report such behaviour!

For information and advice in relation to the UK please visit/speak to:

For those of you outside the UK – please seek help. Don’t put up with it! Call it out and get the emotional and legal support you need, deserve and are entitled to.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks go to “Steve” for his time and assistance in providing his testimony. Best wishes go the ladies affected by the issues discussed.

Images:

Pat (Free Images.com) (featured image), graphics: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

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Why do we never hear so much about International Men’s Day…? Here’s why!

woman-704221.jpgIt’s International Women’s Day on March 8th. “Why do we never really hear about International Men’s Day?!” you and many others may ask. “If women and men are equal and human rights are universal then why do we have two separate days?!” others may profess…Well, you see the reality is this: human rights aren’t just a woman’s issue – they aren’t about men vs. women and are instead about universal rights as a global human issue. However, the truth of the matter is that such days raise awareness about different issues affecting the different sexes and as a whole women remain more vulnerable, more abused and at greater risk of exploitation than menInternational Men’s Day focuses on men’s health whilst International Women’s Day focuses on women’s achievements and calls us to keep on fighting the ongoing battle for equality.

That is the reality – women are not treated equally. The introduction of the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) wasn’t to “prioritise women” – it wasn’t against the universal nature of human rights – it was to address needs specific to women and to fight against further abuses directly affecting women and girls. No one would deny that men are at risk (and in some cases at an increasing risk) of forced labour, sexual exploitation, poverty, abuse etc. but as it stands – women’s rights are a big issue that we still need to keep high on the agenda – and here’s a few reasons why…

Gender based human rights abuses

  • Reproductive rights/maternal healthcare – women need adequate access to contraception, pre- and post-natal care and facilities. According to the UN Population Fund: “[…] 830 women still die every day from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. This is about one woman every two minutes”. Along with the right to life and health, States have to additionally ensure women’s/girl’s access to education and privacy (see here for more information).
  • Literacy rates – a lack of education and poverty go hand in hand and women remain severely disadvantaged due to economic, social and cultural barriers:

774 million adults (15 years and older) still cannot read or write – two-thirds of them (493 million) are women. Among youth, 123 million are illiterate of which 76 million are female. Even though the size of the global illiterate population is shrinking, the female proportion has remained virtually steady at 63% to 64%. (UNESCO)

  • Worker rights – women worldwide face battles with maternity pay, lower wages and access to employment (beyond simply being underrepresented in politics and business) due to discrimination and in some cases may face sexual harassment. The reality is this: “women make up 40% of the global workforce, yet make less than their male counterparts in every country on Earth” (ILRF).

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  • Poverty – many of the inequalities and lack of care women face regarding reproductive health, education and work rights perpetuate further injustice. This isn’t simply having inadequate access to  bras and sanitary protection:

While both men and women suffer in poverty, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. They are likely to be the last to eat, the ones least likely to access healthcare, and routinely trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They have more limited options to work or build businesses. Adequate education may lie out of reach. Some end up forced into sexual exploitation as part of a basic struggle to survive. (UN Women)

  • Sex trafficking – women are most affected by human slavery. This may involve forced labour but is most often forced prostitution. This is increasingly affecting men but women are still the main victims of sex trafficking (see here for more information). Women trapped in poverty may be offered “a way out” through the promise of a job in another country and find themselves trapped and “in debt” –  abroad, raped, beaten,  alone and scared.
  • Forced marriage – women and young girls  (children!)  are forced/sold into marriage.  1 out of every 9 girls under the age of 15 in the developing world is married.
  • Domestic violence – whilst men are also victims of domestic violence and other forms of domestic abuse (emotional, spiritual and financial abuse for example), it’s important to educate others about this. Women are still more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

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  • Rape – rape occurs within marriage (forced or non forced marriage), it can also be date-rape, forced prostitution or violent crime by strangers but it is also a weapon of war used to humiliate, control and physically, psychologically and emotionally abuse women and girls:

In Liberia, which is slowly recovering after a 13-year civil war, a government survey in 10 counties in 2005-2006 showed that 92% of the 1,600 women interviewed had experienced sexual violence, including rape. (UN Office of The High Commissioner (OHCHR))

  • Acid attacks – Acid attacks are a means to control and humiliate women. Perhaps she rejected your proposal, perhaps you don’t think she’s modest enough, perhaps you were jealous… Whatever the reason, wherever the place – they constitute a severe physical and physiological trauma and the worst part is that they aren’t rare . In the UK the number of hospital admissions for cases of acid attacks has almost doubled in the last 10 years.
  • Honour killings – Women aren’t only being abused by their partners sexually, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially but are also being killed by their own families. Every year, 5,000 honour killings are reported worldwide (UN). Brothers, fathers, uncles, even mothers commit murder to maintain the “honour” of the family and thus the female relative’s blood is on their hands and her life is lost (see here for more information).
  • Female genital mutilation – across the women and young girls are having parts of their genitals cut and removed in order to control their sexuality, preserve their honour and thus increase their eligibility for marriage. This practice causes immense psychological and physical trauma and can even result in death. See my article on female genital mutilation for more information.

So, there it is – a brief summary of some of the discrimination and abuse that women face worldwide. In reality, whilst every human is endowed with civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights; women face a greater variety of barriers due to discrimination and differing needs – for example regarding reproductive rights and health care. Many factors go hand in hand. If a girl is married too young due to cultural customs and does not receive adequate health care, if a family is poor and struggling, she will no longer go to school and will stay at home caring for the family. As such she may not only be limited regarding work opportunities but in fact living in a cycle of poverty where she remains vulnerable to sexual exploitation and further physical and psychological harm.

While human rights are universal, putting this into practice in relation to women’s needs and the discrimination they face, requires fighting for women’s equality as a specific issue. Feminism and women’s rights movements are not about advancing women to a status above men but simply to the same position as men – which in itself is a still a position in a world of injustice. International Women’s Day is a day for the world to recognise women’s achievements and to remind us to fight for women’s equality against injustice.  We’re not one single sex but we are one humanity. It’s fundamental that men become more involved in the fight for women’s rights. Men, women, girls and boys must fight against injustice for each and every one of them. Equality is the end goal. Men and women are different. Reproductive rights is just one evidence of this but we are equal; equal in dignity and equal in humanity.

Salam!

Image credits:

Megara Tegal (Flickr) (CC) (feature image), Alexandra Loves (Pixabay) (CC), Carlos Lorenzo (Flickr) (CC), Gregory Kowalski (Flickr) (CC)

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