Tag Archives: Feminism

Why the resurrection myth is a patriarchal cop-out

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There’s a well-worn joke about how Jesus could be Irish: 1. He lived at home until he was in his thirties. 2. His mother thought he was God. 3. He thought his mother was a virgin. It’s a universal joke in fact – many elements of it are transferable to other cultures. I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and the whole Jesus legend being taken as historical fact; the memes that are used stating that he was a radical non-violent revolutionary and considering the myth, the man and how, in an age of rising white Christian supremacy (the irony being, of course, that even Christ himself was not a Christian) he is, some 2,000 years after his death, he is being used to justify oppression. If we look at the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – which are all interconnected, we can see that the deepest connection that they all have in their practical execution, is structural patriarchy. Not to condemn religions outright, as in my experience, as a religionist and non-religionist, patriarchy rather than religion, is the greatest issue facing the world today. And a big part of this issue, as a former Irish Catholic, is the issue of resurrection.

Let me clarify: it is not just the resurrection itself which is the issue. It is the concept of man dying for ‘all the sins of the world’. Now, while that was big of him, and, in a sense, a noble aim (if true), what it inherently implies is an abdication of responsibility on the part of some of the people(s) he was dying for, and too great an assumption of responsibility on the part of others. Having been brought up Catholic in Ireland, how it works in a practical sense is with the whole concept of confession.

‘Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s a week since my last confession. I really coveted and was jealous of my brother’s/sister’s bike etc’

‘Say three Hail Marys and one Holy Father I absolve you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit go and sin no more’.

‘Same time next week…’

Now, on the scale of innocence, what harm, might one say? Well, there’s a side concept of, rather than working through challenging emotions in a positive way, of guilt. Which,   from my observance, is a double-whammy when one is female. There’s a whole society  out there designed to make women feel guilty. Not married yet? What’s wrong with you? Can’t balance work, a family AND housework? What’s wrong with you? Not a perfect size 8/10/12 anymore and therefore not eye-candy for the male gaze? What’s wrong with you? ‘Became’ pregnant out of wedlock/raped/assaulted? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

There are so many contradictions within religions themselves, but the transference of blame onto the vulnerable seems particularly heinous in my view. The concept of someone dying for other people’s sins immediately infantilises everyone else, which is not a danger in and off itself, depending on how far it goes.  And therein lies the rub. I’ve had two situations in the past week happen to me personally which might demonstrate on a microcosmic level how insidious this abdication of responsibility is in an Abrahamic, patriarchal structure. One was when helping a relative to find work and suggesting that he might want to consider toning down his quasi-evangelical views, which have been problematic in other employments in the past. While he was wholly aware of this, he still managed to turn it into my problem: I was a ‘disappointment’ but he ‘forgave’ me. I naturally told him that I didn’t need to be patronised or forgiven for helping him find work and subsequently ended the conversation.

The second situation was while out at the theatre with a man who happened to have a spare ticket. Within 10 minutes he was telling me how unlucky he was in love, and how he always seemed to meet the ‘wrong ones’. Not to mention some other, more physical breaching of boundaries later, but I found it both sad and interesting that there was zero assumption of any kind of shared responsibility for the breakdown of his relationships. And to be fair, he was incredibly polite compared to other men I’ve heard talking about their female exes. ‘She was a psycho’; ‘a bitch’; ‘a slag’. Maybe there is no blame to apportion; however, it does seem to me to be a curiosity and major red-light if there is a pattern involved.

Again, on a microcosmic and personal level, this is relatively innocuous. What deeply concerns me now, however is that we seem to be in an age politically both of infantilism, misogyny aligned with complete abdication of responsibility. The trend is being set by the rise of the political man-baby, who whines and tweets like a bratty pre-schooler ‘IT’S NOT MY FAULT!’

In a so-called Christian country, based on the actual tangibilities of a single mother, a man who broke bread with thieves and lepers and prostitutes, we have the abdication of responsibility of the have-mores in Phariseean mode at the expense of the have-nots. The ridiculous concern about chocolate eggs over austerity cuts (And yes, the PM is a woman – out of some 29% in Parliament). We have a so-called Christian man in John Smith, who refuses to take responsibility for his abuse of young boys terrified by his messianic zeal. We have the all-too-familiar scenario in Ireland where the Church, while quietly paying hush money on the side, refuses to admit liability for widespread abuse of women and children. We have, in religious countries, scenarios where a woman can be raped brutally and the man get off virtually scot-free, as with Brock Turner; where a man can say ‘I fell and penetrated her by accident’ as Ehsan Abdulaziz claimed a little over a year ago; and yet, where women are prevented from having autonomy over their own bodies on religious grounds. Where are the men in this picture? No doubt in some confessional near you, being absolved of rapine and child abuse with a few Hail Marys’ and in the case of the clergy, a move to a new parish.

It is clear to me that religion has its limitations with regards to the development of emotional intelligence.  It has those limitations, in my observance, because of its close connections with, and reliance upon, the structure of patriarchy. It offers, at its best, a moral code and structure which helps some people to reconcile the very many challenges of living as a human being. This, I have no issue with. At its worst, however, it gives the adherent carte blanche to engage in acts of aggressive tribalism, and inhumane acts, be that the incarceration of women as slaves in the Magdalene laundries, racist attacks on people of different colour, gender, religion or sexual persuasion as with the worldwide rise of the KKK and the Knights Templar, the torture and imprisonment of gay men in Chechnya – the list could go on of the crimes perpetrated in the name of religion, washed clean by pious absolution and the transference of the sins of the world onto a single historical figure.

To me, religion is full of metaphors being treated as facts, and therein lies the problem. The very essence of the story of Christ is the acceptance of responsibility, towards ourselves and other people. The idea that one person can make a difference in the world and to those around them. I don’t believe the resurrection to be an actual one – it is the enlightenment that happens when one lives a life of accountability. We have little hard evidence of renewal after this life, but it is possible that we can renew ourselves and our world within this life, by being responsible for our own actions and emotions, good and bad, by being open and vulnerable in our interactions with others, by balancing all of the traits of yin and yang inherent but underused in most people and in our wider societies. After all, as the findings of Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson confirm, Jesus himself knew the importance of the Divine Feminine.

 

 

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Nasty women

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I’m really so sad I couldn’t go to the #WomensMarch today. So I’ve finally bit the bullet and became a fully paid up member of the Women’s Equality Party UK. Essentially, because I believe women’s equality (or more correctly, equity, because equality assumes there is a level playing field according to need, which there is not) to be the key issue underlining a number of other issues worldwide. I’ve always shied away from being part of a group, as I’m not really comfortable in that dynamic. But it just seems with all that’s happened over the last year that I need to do more on a personal level.

Here’s why I think everyone should support female equality (science bit coming up). Women in the UK are 51.7% of the population. Statistics show that there are inequalities across the board in a patriarchal society (which the UK is), in terms of opportunity, career advancement, pay equality etc. When we look at some other minority/oppressed groups across the board in the UK specifically (according to the most recent census, so may veer around this area, but not too much away from it) the figures are as follows:

Black British/African/Carribean: 3%
Immigrants: 13%
LGBTQ: 1.7%
Muslim: 4.5%
Transgender: 0.4%
Disabled: 19%

Now let me pose a question. If patriarchal structures and those who benefit from them have no ideological qualms about oppressing more than half the population who happen to be female – how much less do you think they care about the oppression of groups significantly fewer in percentage and number? Logically, therefore, it is crucial that women’s equity be supported, and come to fruition. Otherwise, we will end up in an endless cycle of Dubya, Dubyer, and Dubyest (we may think there is no worse than Trump at this juncture, but he is making the Dubya years seem moderate by comparison).

Trump is the logical conclusion of centuries of toxic masculinity run amok – time to stop that sh*t now, put it on the eternal naughty step, and aim for a fairer, more representative, more equal, more emotionally intelligent, more sustainable society. As it happens, half of the world’s potential is and has been severely under-utilized. If the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, then patriarchy is the sewage on which the proponents of said madness (currently the white male supremacists) thrive.

Am I saying women could be better? Not necessarily or unnecessarily. Who knows – it’s a theory largely untested. But I do think its time has come and is long overdue.

Even if it is not entirely altruistic, and you’re not entirely comfortable with the idea of female equality (although, to be quite frank, if that is the case, one would do well to question how much patriarchal conditioning forms that stance), if you’re a member of any of the groups above, statistically speaking it is in your best interests to support it. Because once the battle for 51.7% of the population is one, other battles will be harder to ignore. And we are stronger together.

And even if your only motivation is to p*ss off Donald ‘P*ssPOTUS’ Trump, supporting women should do it. You might even want to become a member of The Women’s Equality Party. Check it out. See what you think. Originated in the UK, but I believe this is a party that could potentially, like the Green Party before it, go worldwide and be a force for political change in the world. A march is important, but is just a first step. The key to change is meaningful power. And one thing is certain. Women sure as hell can’t leave all of the responsibility for their bodies, their lives, the earth and its inhabitants up to men. Not while men like Donald Trump have their itchy trigger finger of those tiny wandering hands anywhere near a red button. Be it Twitter,nuclear or a clitoris.

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free. ” – Emma Lazarus (1849-1877)

Hope

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In the winter of 2005, I met the Clintons. All of them: Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. This came about because I was part of Sir Peter Hall’s second production of As You Like It, which, after a successful first run starring his daughter Rebecca as Rosalind, went for a second run with the then-unknown Dan Stevens as Orlando. After a fairly cold and inauspicious start in the yet-to-be-finished Rose Theatre in Kingston, New York welcomed and embraced us with open, warm arms. It seemed at the time like the whole world had come to see us perform over those few weeks. Lou Reed. Martin Scorsese. And then – the ultimate seal of New York approval at that time as we played deep in the heart of Brooklyn – the Clintons.

I heard about their impending visit 24 hours before the rest of the cast as my cast buddy on tour was our wardrobe mistress. (In theatre, Wardrobe is always ahead of the game).  To say I was excited  was an understatement. We tend to forget it now, after over a year of character assassinations by the Trump campaign and their supporters, and after EmailGate – but the Clintons were political royalty. They had that rock-star edge about them, and they were loved in New York, but adored in Brooklyn. Prior to the actual first African-American president, Bill Clinton was seen as the first honorary African American president. Which seems to say more about those times in retrospect – but that was the way it was.

Suffice it to say – their presence was the highlight of that part of the tour. The reception they received was rapturous – there was a 10-minute standing ovation for them. And afterwards we, the cast and crew, got to meet them.

I remember observing them, these smooth political operators, as they glided from person to person, and what struck me is the rarity of people like these. Our Touchstone, Michael Siberry (who later appeared in, among other shows, House of Cards) was costumed with a pair of stripey, colourful socks. Bill Clinton took one at them and said, in that infamous drawl ‘Y’know, if I’d had a pair of them, maybe things would have gone a bit easier for me at the UN sometimes’ – a quick, easy, wonderful, self-deprecating reference to his own position and the verbal acuity of the character. When a fellow cast member pushed me forward to have a photo with him (I’d mentioned I’d love to have it to send to my mum, and said so to Mr. Clinton), he took it graciously. Grace. Ease of character. Whatever his personal peccadilloes and failings, these qualities epitomise his presence.

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But – and this is not with the benefit of hindsight – it was Hillary that impressed me most. She was much softer in person than television had led me to believe. They say you can get a measure of a person by how they treat those who are not as privileged around them. Not only did she seem to know everybody’s name on the staff in the theatre, but she also remembered personal details about them. Even if she’d done a quick spot of revision before coming – what a brain. Encyclopaedic. Astounding.

I remember acutely the first time I voted. It was for the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Despite her obvious superiority as a politician and campaigner than the favourite, Brian Lenihan, she faced an uphill battle till he was forced to drop out of the race due to scandals surrounding his ‘mature recollections’ of certain political actions. There were those, including women, prior to that, who were vehemently opposed to her and yet she went on to become the greatest, and arguably the most memorable nationally and internationally President the Republic of Ireland has ever seen. As a young woman, growing up in the dark days of theocratic Ireland, this was huge. I look around at that generation of women, my friends, and remember what hope we all had for the state of women in the world. Young. Naive as to how our very existence and ambitions were a threat to some of the men around us.

If we were ever in doubt that misogyny exists in the world, and in Western society, once elevated as a beacon of hope for women among that society itself, this past 6 months of politics has exposed that lie. It has painted, easier than the many posts on Facebook and social media that I’ve written to that effect, to howls of incredulity from men, the picture that women face in society. Almost a quarter of a century on from Mary Robinson and my first vote, I’ve faced down enough misogyny in my own life – sexual, personal, workplace – to know that there is much work to be done before female equity (i.e. equality that truly benefits women) is achieved.

In 2008, while I was sceptical of Obama and his basically undefined policies at that time, I was cognisant of what his very presence in the White House, as the first African American, would mean to the African American community and the country at large. It’s been absolutely vital that he was there, and yet his presidency has exposed the deep racism at that had laid unseen by the wider world as long as white people were in charge. It’s been necessary, if horrifying to witness, in broad daylight, the acceptance of white supremacist dialogue, with all that entails, in political life and wider society.

the-clintonsSo, while I have profound political differences with her, my hope is that Hillary Clinton will prevail today. For women and our current place in society, it is absolutely vital that she does. Even if all she is is a figurehead, that figurehead is necessary in today’s political climate of violent, invasive, rape-culture leanings. She has certainly proven herself to be a political warrior of some mettle in debates with an individual who, quite frankly, should never have progressed farther than his playpen. It is on a knife-edge in many states, and there are many of us this side of the pond suffering PBSD (Post Brexit Stress Disorder), as in political events that seemed inconceivable can now actually happen – but today, I have hope. A person who grew up in the countryside of Ireland and yet may have unwittingly met two US Presidents understands that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. To paraphrase Harvey Milk, for today, I ‘gotta give [myself] Hope’.

 

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Is masculinity really in crisis?

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In 2009, I was teaching in a sixth-form college in south-west London. One of my students came to me one day and said “Miss, I’m a feminist”. I was a little taken aback, but pleased at this statement. I also caught myself wondering: Does she know what it means?

Sometimes, I am not sure myself what it means to be a feminist. I know what it means to me: that women have equal rights to men, but according to their individual needs. This last adjunct seems to me to be often overlooked by society. I experienced an example of this on the Overground a few months back. I had met some acquaintances and was deep in conversation with them, until it came to the attention of the carriage that a man was arguing with a pregnant woman, to whom it seemed he had just given his seat. What became clear was that although he had given up his seat, he had done so extremely reluctantly. He was invoking equal rights, and haranguing the pregnant lady, who looked far too ill to really defend herself. So, after listening to him for a while (it was impossible not to) and waiting for someone else to step in, I said “Excuse me”. He turned towards me. I pointed to the sign above the seat and said “Do you see that sign? That is a priority seat, which is reserved for people with children, the elderly, disabled people and women who are pregnant. You are none of those, so if someone fits into those categories, no matter what, you are obliged to vacate your seat.” He then said sneeringly “But what if I were disabled?” I looked at him askance, and he said no more. (Just to set your mind at ease dear reader, he clearly was not. And a few minutes later I gave up my non-priority seat to another pregnant woman. I don’t only talk the talk).

There have been a number of articles this week about masculinity in crisis. To me, this is a non-issue. A very clever one, politically for Diane Abbott and the Labour party to have raised – but a non-issue nonetheless. The real issue here is that men are finally starting to be held accountable for their bad behaviour (as a gender) to the present day – and they don’t like it. It is akin to children throwing their toys out of the pram, because they are asked to share them. What infuriates me, as a feminist, in the absence equality between the sexes as of yet, that this is being raised as an issue at all.

Certainly, men as a gender have to re-assess their position in light of historical patriarchal power. That goes without saying. But in my view – they’ve had the opportunity to do this since the Suffragettes. It should hardly come as a surprise to men living in 2013 that treating women equally in society according to women’s individual needs is the right thing to do. No one would argue (I would hope) in this day and age that treating people of colour equally is the right thing to do. Or the LGBT community. Or disabled people. Or (and this is UK specific) Irish people. So why is there this blind spot when it comes to the treatment of women, who make up at least 50% of the population?

If there is a crisis of masculinity happening in the UK, that crisis would be better spent addressing the patriarchal wrongs the male gender have and continue to inflict on women. As a woman, I could give that crisis more credence if women didn’t still earn 13p less for every £1 a man earns. I could give that crisis more credence if rape and sexual abuse (of which women are the main victims) was not so often failed by the criminal justice system – something like a paltry 1% of rapists are convicted, which adds to the sense of male entitlement. I could give that that crisis credence if we didn’t only have barely 23% women MPs in the UK Parliament and 4% female CEOs in the FTSE 100. In the UK, women are still forced to choose between returning to work and the costs of childcare – in a women-friendly world, employers would be forced to provide childcare. In my profession, I have known performers who have brought their children to rehearsal to make a point – but they were well-recognised enough that they could get away with that. Not every woman has that privilege.

This is also not to say that women’s advancement in society (or lack thereof) is because of men. Women also collude in that lack of advancement by not demanding what is right for their gender as a whole, or having some sense of misplaced guilt. For example, I know many women who are absolutely against quotas. While I respect their right to disagree with me, I believe quotas are temporarily the way forward, and have been proven to work in countries like Norway (incidentally the quota there was introduced by Ansgar Gabrielsen, a male Conservative trade and industry minister). We can also see from countries like the US, where affirmative action was introduced in the 1960s, that it is necessary: although a black president has been voted in twice (and how unthinkable would that have been 50 years ago), racial equality still has a long way to go there – how much longer would things have taken to change somewhat WITHOUT affirmative action is the real question?

I am also not saying that women with equal power and rights would behave any better than men. In fact, I suspect they would not. But that does not mean that they should not be given an equal chance to behave well or badly. Until then, it is hypothetical.

For feminism to make real progress, it needs men to realise that it benefits them as well. Perhaps that would lessen the “crisis” of masculinity somewhat; but it seems to me that men do not recognise the potential positive effects for their gender. With equal rights comes equal responsibility, and that can only be a good thing. And it can work. In my own life, my mother was the main breadwinner, and my father was a house husband, at a time when “latte papas” had not even been conceived as a concept (mainly because “latte” was still a word in Italian meaning “milk”). And it worked, because in spite of their gender, they were temperamentally suited to their roles – and would have been deeply unhappy had the roles been reversed. When we humans stop giving in to the brainwashing that society inflicts on us to keep us in line, and start living our individual lives from our own personal needs: intellectual, emotional, biological and spiritual is when the fight for female equality will be over. Until then, it is incumbent on every person, if they regard themselves as a person of integrity, to insist that the real issue du jour is that in 2013, women are still having to argue the point of feminism.