Stand Up For Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

September 30, 2011

Words by Lucy Arora

This year marks the tenth anniversary of both the 9/11 attacks and the US and UK-led inva- sion of Afghanistan, leading to much reflection as to how the world has been transformed in the last ten years. An often neglected story however, is that of Afghan women who have suffered through three decades of conflict and seen realisation of their rights fluctuate each time power changed hands. As the interna- tional community begins to discuss transition out of Afghanistan, women’s hard won gains and still fragile rights must not become a bar- gaining chip, to be traded away in the name of peace.

In the past ten years, progress has been made, especially in the areas of women’s edu- cation and political participation, the right to work, and freedom of movement outside the home. The right to girls’ education was included in the constitution after intensive lob- bying by the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN). At the moment 2.7 million girls are registered for school and 37% of 12-16 year old girls can read. Currently, there are 69 female MPs and a 25% female quota is enforced across national, provincial and local political institu- tions. As Fauzia Kufi MP says, women “want to move forward…they want to participate. They want to be involved.

On 5th December, a conference will be held in Germany to make plans for Afghanistan’s future. Delegations from 90 countries and organisations will attend but it is uncertain how many, if any, Afghan women will attend. Women have been sidelined from peace talks at community, national and international levels. Currently, Afghanistan’s High Peace Council contains only 9 women out of 70 indi- viduals. On each of the new provincial peace councils set up by the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme, there are no more than three female participants.

Conditions for involvement in peace nego- tiations are renunciation of violence and rejection of Al Qaeda ties, but there are no spe- cific requirements that participating parties must commit to the realisation of women’s rights. Groups like the Taliban still target girls’ schools and intervene to discourage women from seeking employment.

There are fears the international commu- nity gives lessened importance to the rights of Afghan women in its hurry to reach a political deal. In July 2011, an anonymous senior official at the US Agency for International Development was quoted as saying “gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. There’s no way we can be suc- cessful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our ruck- sack were taking us down.” Women’s rights are not ‘pet rocks.’ They are human rights. Any process on the future of Afghanistan must be driven by the needs of all Afghans, including women.

Stand up in solidarity with Afghan women:

•   After 7 October, wear a green scarf and post a picture onto the photo wall at Channel 16: No women, no peace. will be using green scarves as a symbol of solidarity.

•   Organise or take part in a candlelit vigil on 31st October. Send through pictures of vigils and other events to: nowomennopeace@gaps-, @nowomennopeace) or upload them to our Facebook page. 31st October is the anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325, which accepted that conflict has different impacts on women and men and the impor- tance of involving them in peace processes.

For more information, please visit:


Why Snobby Feminism Should Stop

September 30, 2011

Words by Sian Mcgee

In August the New Statesman ran an article written by writer and feminist cam- paigner, Julie Blindel, entitled ‘Why “Fun Feminism” should be consigned to the rubbish bin’. Blindel rampages against ‘fun feminists’ and their hindrance of the goals of feminism, generalises about men, heterosexual women and recent popular feminist movements.

As a young feminist I was angered by the article and in general about the snobbery found within and between feminist move- ments. I often hear people say that as women we can be our own worst enemy and, sadly, I think this problem is increasing. I don’t believe that the problem lies with the abundance of different Women’s liberation groups but from the response of one to the other. Feminism is not one homogonous way of thinking and on key issues – such as porn, prostitution and the inclusion of men – groups of feminists differ in opinions. But ultimately our goal is the same; the emancipation of women from patri- archy and to be treated as people, not objects. We shouldn’t be attacking each other but rather the powers that relegate us as second class citizens.

The recent ‘Slutwalk’ marches and Caitlin Moran’s book display new ways of thinking and ways to attract people to the movement. Blindel is outdated. Men aren’t the problem, patriarchy is, and not including men in Femi- nist movements can only be detrimental. “If men like a particular brand of feminism, it means it is not working,” writes Blindel. Apparently only if Julie Blindel likes a partic- ular brand of Feminism is it working.

Blindel says ‘Slutwalks’ promote individual rather than collective emancipation. Sparked by one rogue Canadian policeman who expressed a, sadly, well entrenched view, the Slutwalk movement united women and men all around the world to take to the streets with the firm belief that a dress does not mean a yes. The view that by dressing as ‘sluts’ women are asking to be sex- ually harassed and raped places the blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator of rape, as seen in the recent Strauss-Kahn case. Victims past demeanours can be used as a way to justify the crime, and juries still take into account what the victim was wearing at the time of the attack. The message should always be ‘don’t rape’ not ‘don’t get raped’. Currently it is estimated that only 15% of people who are sexually assaulted go to the police and the con- viction rates for rapists remain shockingly low. The ‘fun feminists’ who took to the streets on Slutwalks forced this issue back into the open. Their protests were neither flimsy nor arbitrary as the labelling ‘fun’ may suggest.

I doubt Ms Blindel was at any one of the marches that took place all over the world but from my experience in London I can inform Ms Blindel that at that moment I felt part of some- thing big, something important, I felt nothing individual that day, only a collective response to sexism and patriarchy. Julie Blindel con- tributes so much to Feminism and all voices should be heard, but our enemy is not fellow women and feminists. This snobbery needs to stop if we are to collectively reach our goals.

Liberating the Body: Why I Hate ‘Plus-Size’ Models

September 30, 2011

Words by Samantha Langsdale

I frequent the popular feminist website, Their tag line, ‘Celebrity, sex, and fashion… without the airbrushing’, hints to pop-culture content through a critically astute lens. Articles are readable, humorous, and aware of current trends yet offer commentary informed by a critical analysis of identity poli- tics. I don’t agree with every article, but I enjoy their efforts, appreciating that someone is actually saying something real.

I suppose this is precisely why I was shocked to find an entry on 3/8/11 concerning Vogue Australia and their latest ‘Plus-Size’ model, Robyn Lawley. Despite reader com- ments being snarky, Jezebel staff writer – Jenna Sauers – had nothing of her own to say, save a few words naming the publication and the model. Surely, there’s been a mistake, I thought, hitting the reload button. Nope, nothing more appeared. I clicked through the photos of the Vogue spread and became increasingly incredulous of Sauers’ decision to say nothing.

Taking matters into my own hands, I pub- lished the entry onto my Facebook page with the comment, ‘[she’s] PLUS size?!?!’. Women of different ages, backgrounds, geographical locations, and even one rock-star young man (no, really, he’s a budding rock-star and I was his History teacher!) chimed in, echoing disbe- lief that a term like ‘plus-size’ was being used in reference to this model. One comment read, ‘[and] they wonder why young girls develop eating disorders…sad’. Though not upset with this sentiment in particular, I responded with the following comment: “It’s pretty detrimen- tal to adults, in all honesty. Using terms like ‘plus-size’ reinforces size zero models as the norm for women’s bodies, which is LUDI- CROUS because we come in all shapes and sizes! As gorgeous as this woman is, and as amazing as it is that she is getting increased publicity, calling her plus-size perpetuates the belief that there is such a thing as the RIGHT size. Rubbish!”PICTURED: roByn LawLey in vogue magazine

Six people liked this comment and more comments concerning the web page followed through the day. What developed was a rather encouraging rallying. And then…

A moron I went to school with felt it appropriate to add this comment: ‘maybe not “plus sized”, but i think she’s overweight… but I live in Southern California so my perception of reality is warped’ [sic]. My editors have encouraged me to write as I would speak, but there are not enough expletives in the English language to depict my disgust and rage. Not knowing this woman’s height, weight or lifestyle, this man felt it completely reasonable to suggest that she is ‘overweight’.

Despite my brain’s immediate lurch towards ‘who is he to say, he’s just a dumbshit anyway’ type of thinking, I decided to take a little mental step back. Taking a hard line on who can speak about, and for bodies is a slip- pery slope that often has silencing results that perpetuate the already marked problem.

I realised that I am not prepared to suggest that only certain people can speak about bodies. Further, his ‘contribution’ to the FB discussion affirmed my belief that our primary problem when it comes to bodies is not the need for more restrictions–i.e., only positive com- ments –but rather the need to be liberated from discursive ‘norms’ and ideals altogether.

In her book, Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler asserts that although the materiality of bodies is stable – bodies have skin, guts, they grow, feel pain and pleasure – their materiali- sation (i.e., the process by which they become an ‘I’), is an effect of power, an ongoing process of construction. In Gender Trouble, she out- lines: when a baby is born, there is no denying the materiality of the infant body. But it is not until someone declares, ‘it’s a girl’ that the body materialises into an intelligible subject. We begin to understand this body as a subject, and consequently, we begin to understand where that subject will be positioned in culture, because someone (with authority) has declared ‘girl’ and societal norms have taught us what that means.

This new girl continues to materialise through a process of repetition: she wears pink, likes kittens, plays with dolls, etc. Butler says that bodies come to matter – become recognisable – through this process, but also the ways in which they materialise determine how they matter. We assign values to bodies based on how much, or how little they deviate from the norm and those that exist outside of what is intelligible, outside of what we under- stand subjects to be, do not matter both in their failure to form according to discourse, but also in the value they are denied. If we go back to the Robyn Lawley example, I think it will make more sense.

If one were to view photos of Ms. Lawley without context (no headlines, nor descrip- tions), any number of things might go through one’s mind. Many might think ‘wow!’, ‘that’s an amazing dress’, ‘great hair’, etc. But then we are told by the media powers-that-be, she is plus-size’, a series of things begin to unfold. Lawley becomes plus-size, her body materi- alises as one of extra, additional, plus whatever is normal. Now that she is plus-size, we also understand that a body which is not plus – which is ‘size’, as it were – is not this one; we are given a definition of the centre by having a picture of what is at the margin. Here value is assigned: how Robyn matters is effected by ‘plus-size’, and words like ‘overweight’ which are indisputably poisonous in our society, are attached to her body. The photos of Lawley change their value: instead of ‘wow!’, they become ‘wow… for plus-size’.

The problem is not necessarily adjectives; curvy, big-boned, boyish are not violent, but the values with which we assign them may be. Once that happens, not only are the men and women who materialise under these circum- stances relegated to a less central position, to a less liveable life, ‘norms’ which simultaneously re-materialise are reinforced. Calling Lawley ‘plus-size’ pushes her to the margins, and rein- forces her size-0 counterparts as the ideal, the norm. Again, I am not suggesting that we work towards an environment where we ignore bodies for the sake of avoiding dangerous effects of power. We’ve been there done that and the effects are no less disastrous. Nor am I suggesting that we all lapse into somatic hedo- nism, treating our bodies in absolutely whatever way we please with a reckless disre- gard for health measures. Rather, our reliance upon the idea there is such a thing as The Body desperately needs to be revised and expanded.

No one body is identical to another, nor do our bodies exist statically throughout our lives. Butler says when one actually begins to think seriously about how bodies come into being, one realises the impossibility of confining bodies to a single, neat definition. Bodies defy fixed understanding and perhaps, in the sim- plest terms, what I’m saying is that’s OK! It’s more than OK! It’s our reality and the more rapidly we can embrace it, the more thoroughly we can begin to understand bodies as diverse, dynamic, and evolving, the wider the plain of living becomes for all human beings. I don’t see a problem with identifying beautiful bodies, short bodies, chubby bodies, skeletal bodies, or ambiguous bodies, but using those designa- tions in order to issue licenses to live, as full subjects, is both illogical and indefensible.

The Jezebel article on Robyn Lawley is an example, but the liberation of bodies is not only necessary in the fashion industry. All across the world, human beings are denied rights because of the ways in which they are embodied. In my country, gay men and women are denied the right to marry, to protect their children, and to accompany their partners in medical emergencies. The government attacks accessible healthcare for women because they believe women’s bodies are battlegrounds for national politicians to enact their ideological wars. It is undeniable that the ways in which we value bodies fuels the ferocity of these inequities. Learning to recognise and appre- ciate the multiplicity of bodies is not a catchall solution, but if we are to ever make progress in alleviating human injustice, it is surely a crucial and integral strategy

Sex and Commerce in Hip Hop

September 30, 2011

Words by Samuel Murray

Today hip hop is often accused of being a misogynistic art form that promotes the degra- dation of women, in music videos and in lyrics. The number of female emcees on the scene is tiny compared to the number of male emcees. Women are more likely to frequent music videos shaking thay bootay and dancing around the artist in only underwear and bling. Check out Jay-Z’s video for Big Pimpin’; pre- Beyonce.

These videos may suggest that the entire musical genre stands for the oppression of women, but women were involved in the hip hop music and cultural scene from its incep- tion. Artist such as Mercedes Ladies, MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot were huge in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s within the newly emerging hip hop landscape and their influence is still credited today. Joan Morgan, author of My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist says, ‘we thought of hip hop as ours; there was no “this is a male field and we’re trying to break in” ’. So what has changed since the good old days?

As mainstream popular music began to embrace the genre, hip hop gained massive commercial value. Simultaneously, the number of female artists on the scene declined rapidly. Women were required for their bodies rather than their voices. They were seen but not heard. Established female artists began to feel pressure to show more flesh in their videos and photo-shoots as the focus of their hip hop product moved away from the lyrics.

Why? A quick answer is that sex sells, that the capitalist marketplace caters for the needs of the (straight) male, and that within an androcentric system money turns the female body into a commodity to be sold. This is only half the story because it fails to explain why the process wasn’t happening to women anywhere else in the music industry. Rock artists like Flo- rence Welch express themselves whilst fully clothed so why can’t rap artists?

The fact is that music industry executives’ biggest target audience for both rap and rock are reasonably well-off, young, white people. Florence Welch ticks all of these boxes and, as music in any way she likes. Hip hop, however, was formed by poor, black people who were expressing what life was like in the ghetto, a context unknown to the well-off and white. In order for industry execs to package hip hop into a marketable product that appealed to their paying audience, they must take control of the music. Commercial hip-hoppas cannot represent themselves because what they express does not translate to the mainstream. Check out Lupe Fiasco’s Word’s I Never Said.

Highly commercial hip hop sells white people’s representations of black people back to themselves and this is what drives its misogyny. Capitalism notoriously takes advan- tage of the worst aspects of humanity, and in this instance, racist notions about black people being ‘primitive’ become the raw material to make money quickly and easily. So it makes perfect sense that women in commercial hip hop are silenced, denied agency, rendered a mere supplement of the male artist.

Within commercial hip hop the black female body has become the canvas onto which such fantasies about women and race can be painted so that the hegemony of the white male can be maintained. This is possibly because the white male has the big money and the black community (male and female) don’t. Women can only have certain roles and can only be rep- resented in an overtly misogynist way within commercial hip hop because racist stereotypes about black people make for cheap fuel to keep the fires of commercialism burning.

So, how can hip hop’s women become lib- erated? Women have lost the freedom to represent themselves through the creative agency of hip hop. Essentially, it is commerce that stands between the female hip hop artist and her audience, when ideally it should be the mechanism that brings the two together. Industry executives should realise that music lovers aren’t looking for the same formulated template that has been endlessly repackaged under a new name. Music lovers crave the nuance and art that is expressed in the voices of those who are left to speak for themselves. The thousands of hiphoppas – including many women – who have represented their lives are the true voice of hip hop and are the ones who deserve to be on the radio.

Was There Any Liberation in the London Riots?

September 30, 2011

Words by Eavan Mckay

One dictionary definition of Liberation is: ‘to be free of rigid social conventions.’ Femi- nists concern this as freedom from accepted social roles, but it can be applied to anything. Another definition describes ‘release from limits on freedom of thought or behavior’ and another is ‘to be set free from a situation in which a person’s liberty is severely restricted.’ Is it useful–in any way–to view the recent riots as a struggle for liberation? I say yes.

This summer Britain was struck by what the press labeled as some of the worst rioting in current memory. People were angry, hurt and scared. Those interviewed were generally the unfortunate people who had lost their homes and businesses at the hands of people who they could not understand; people who were seemingly cruel and selfish. ‘Mindless’ was the word adopted in the press.

The BBC, amongst other news channels, asked ridiculous questions to provoke kneejerk and emotional reactions like: how do you feel when you look at your demolished livelihood? What do you think of the rioters? A boutique baby clothes shop owner in Ealing says the youths are ‘feral’ and David Cameron says ‘let’s be clear’ it is ‘plain and simple’ criminality and vandalism.

As days and weeks passed the rhetoric about the riots being ‘mindless’ is challenged, reinterpreted and reinstated. Those who speak out and say it is not that simple are accused of making excuses for the horrendous acts. Those who say the riots are purely a case of ‘mindless violence’ emphasise this by saying they were not political. The concept of liberation is intrinsically linked to politics and so if they were not political then they cannot have been about liberation. Right? Two issues arise here for me. The first is how do we judge some- thing to be mindless, and the second how do we judge something to be political?

So to deal with the first issue, I don’t think the BBC was trying to suggest those who rioted did not possess minds, but rather their use of the word ‘mindless’ implies the rioters stopped using their minds. This is bizarre. Yes people can get caught up in the moment, in crowds, with the blood pumping and the heart racing, they can act in ways that seem mad, but it is not as if their bodies walk off and leave minds behind. Those men women and children still have a consciousness. For many it is a case of isolation, of alienation, joblessness and hope- lessness. Now I am not saying the rioters form a homogenous group but the fact remains that in the worst affected areas there are huge divides in communities. Some people feel a part of this melting pot that we call society and others feel outside it, secluded and worst of all, forgotten.

My brother lives next to the Pembury Estate in Hackney, an estate that suffered severe rioting. It is one of the most deprived and dangerous estates in the borough and worlds away from my brother’s life in a terraced house that he shares with other young professionals. Just down the road is trendy London Fields and Broadway market where there are heaps of places to find a flat white coffee and you can scarcely find a man who doesn’t possess a moustache and a fixie bike. For many people who live in Pembury and estates like it, opportunities for finding afford- able housing are slim. It’s a struggle for young people to stay in education because of EMA being cut, but they struggle to find work because they don’t have the qualifications.

The second issue relates to how we can judge what is political. Rioters in August were not organised through political parties or one united revolutionary movement. However this doesn’t mean they were non-political. In areas such as Hackney and Tottenham many of the ‘youths’ were young, black, jobless men. Lots will have been stopped and searched countless times by white policemen who had the power to choose them based on their appearance. Rioters explicitly say that the feeling of looting while the police stood by and did nothing was one of overwhelming power. Power is always political. I object to the idea that it is only a united ideology that can politically unite people. Research shows ideology is one of the last incentives to drive soldiers fighting in wars; rather people are pulled together in a fight through ideas of mutual obligation and peer pressure as well as the sense of being part of a team and a bigger purpose.

Reports that stated the rioters were ‘opportunists’ are interesting. Many rioters were, but this fact should not mean we just lock as many up as possible, throw away the keys and not bother to rub two brain cells together to try and understand why this happened. The riots showed us we live in a society that tells us the measure of success is one of possessions and for a great number of people the best ‘opportunity’ on offer is one of rioting.

Porn: A Tool For Liberation?

September 30, 2011

Words by Felcia Dahlquist

based on an essay by Nomili Svensson

The mainstream porn industry is worth billions of dollars and has often been explicitly linked to violence and exploitation. So how can porn be a tool for liberation? Queer porn web- sites like NoFauxxx and producers such as Pink and White Production are dedicated to making queer porn, and this year the 6th Fem- inist Porn Awards took place.

Defining queer porn is difficult, as the 11 concept of being queer is a fluid one in itself. Queer is used as an umbrella term for trans- gender, homo- and bi-sexual people, or anyone who rejects the idea of labelling their sexuality. The queer movement questions the hetero- sexual norm, which makes clear distinctions between the way men and women look, behave and desire. Queer Porn portrays sex, lust and desire without labels. NoFauxxx describes queer porn as “a space to explore sex beyond straight, gay, lesbian, and gender binaries.”

It cannot be emphasised enough how much queer porn differs from mainstream porn. The mainstream porn industry makes money from movies with labels such as ‘Inter- racial’ and can turn things like race, weight and age into fetishes. Producers of queer porn, on the other hand, take pride in creating movies with a diversity of people yet avoid stigmatising labels. Shine Louise Housten, director of Pink and White productions claims that it is empowering for a queer woman of colour to create her own pictures, in a way that is not exploitative.

The main purpose of queer porn is of course arousal, but there is an undeniable political impact. Mainstream porn, media and pop culture creates objectifying images of women and ideas of what sex is meant to be like. In queer porn however, the main purpose is showing liberating images of sex where people are taking control over their own bodies. These are images of people exploring their sexuality and being free from labels, rules and norms.

Queer porn becomes political because it shows queer sexuality with pride, which is often considered somewhat taboo. Although LGBT people are generally accepted in society, that acceptance comes with the condition to not flaunt one’s sexuality. Heterosexual norms are present everywhere, whether we like it or not. We are fed images of sex and lust on TV and radio and in pop culture generally.

As queer people create images of their own sexuality, free from stereotypes of the hetero- sexual norm, queer porn becomes both political and liberating. One might say that through queer porn, queer people are finally defining their own sexuality instead of being defined.

Review: How to be a Woman

September 30, 2011

Words by Anna Malzy

Hailed as The Female Eunuch rewritten from a barstool, How To Be A Woman (Ebury Press, 2011) – the latest book from Times columnist Caitlin Moran – is feminism for the 21st century. Hitherto unknown to me (a com- mitted Guardian reader) the first time I stumbled across her was in an Observer article entitled ‘Let’s All Be Feminists And Go To The Pub.’ As a feminist and frequent pub-goer I was intrigued. Moran leapt off the page – not least because the accompanying photograph depicted her sporting mad yellow boots and swinging on a tyre swing apparently screaming ‘WAAHEEEEYYYY!!’ What I discovered was one of the most frank, down to earth, and just bloody funny versions of feminism I have ever come across. Freshly reeling from a few terms worth of Judith Butler, feminist rallies and essays on feminist approaches to just about everything, I was in need of some serious belly laughter and Moran was more than happy to oblige.

With as much exclaimation and capitalisa- tion as you could wish for, Moran holds a 313 page consciousness-raising session with us, discussing pornography, strip clubs, birth, marriage, miscarriage, designer handbags, plastic surgery, pants and abortion, to name but a few. She describes herself as a feminist– nay, a Strident Feminist–and believes that all women should do likewise. For those who are unsure about whether or not to call themselves feminists she gives this simple solution: Put your hand in your pants: a) Do you have a vagina? b) Do you want control of it? If your answer to both of these questions is ‘yes’ then congrats, you’re a feminist. Simple as.

As students, we are constantly being asked to perform mental feats worthy of some schol- arly version of the Olympics, to include such tests as ‘How Far Can You Throw Kant’s Cri- tique Of Pure Reason?’, ‘How Many Copies of Frazer’s The Golden Bough Can You Balance On Your Nose’ and ‘Describe Derridean Deconstruction In One Minute Without Hesi- tation, Deviation Or Repetition’ – our collective idea of hell I’m sure. The academic tomes and reams of articles that we read are, I feel, absolutely vital to an understanding of feminism and to learning how we can continue to affect change in this world. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. However, when holed up in a stuffy library trying to write 4000 words before 4pm surrounded by only theory and Red Bull, we can lose sight of the fact that real human beings, here and now, are strug- gling in the face of patriarchy.

Moran says we should counter the ‘awk- wardness, disconnect and bullshit of being a modern woman…by simply pointing at it, and going “HA!”’ She writes that all of us on earth are basically just ‘The Guys’ trying to muddle our way through life, advocating that she is neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’ but is rather ‘thumbs up for the 6 billion.’ What she is saying is that life is tough, a lot of shit is flung in our direction and that as the main ‘losers’ throughout history, most of that shit is flung in the way of women. So, what is the best way to get along, disarm patriarchy, hegemony and the people trying to get one over on us? First, where possible, to have a sense of humour about it, and second to BE POLITE and demand that others do likewise. Nothing kicks the legs out from under The Patriarchy quite like a charge of simply being rude. Even the most rampant bigot on earth has no defence against that, says Moran – and I am inclined to agree.

Because the struggle for liberation and equality is exactly that – a struggle – we are all fighting what can feel like an uphill battle at times. Take a look at the latest rape conviction rates in the UK, or the gender pay gap. Women have supposedly been equal to men since uni- versal enfranchisement kicked in 1928 but the tide has not yet fully turned. While feminism is often seen as ‘Women’ pitching themselves against ‘Men’ I feel that Moran’s writing is part of a new feeling amongst feminists that this is not the way we want things to be. We’re tired of pitching ourselves one sex verses the other, partly because we realise that this black and white view of the world doesn’t really work any more. The theme for this issue is ‘Liberation’ and if liberation means anything then it’s understanding that we live in a world of plural- ities and that there is a dynamism that has never been so potent before. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still categorise ourselves – and others – along the lines of sex or race or sexu- ality, but we are coming to see that such tropes can be fluid, and it is understanding that which before was thought to be ‘other’ to ourselves and seeing ourselves through the ‘other’s’ eyes that will allow us to be liberated and free. Having a laugh at the insanity of it all and demanding good manners from all we encounter seems to me to be as good a place to start as any.

Gender Awareness: Questions to Ask Yourself at University

September 30, 2011

Words by Felicia Dahlquist

Starting university is the perfect opportunity to raise your awareness of gender norms and structures. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself in your everyday life, in order to become more gender aware. Scrutinize your surroundings: at lectures, in tutorials, in the student union and with school associations.

Tutorials and Seminar Groups

  • What role do I take in my tutorial discussions? Does my role have to do with personality traits, or am I personifying gender stereotypes?
  • If I took on an opposite role in discussions, what kind of response would I get from male and female students or tutors?
  • How do male and female students around me relate differently to male and female lecturers and tutors?
  • How do I treat male and female classmates differently? How do I treat male and female professors and tutors differently?

Private Studying/Reading

  • How does the gender of an author affect arguments and positions in written works?
  • If the writer had been of the opposite sex, would the book or article lose or gain some- thing? Would it change the significance, perception and validation of the writing?
  • Are there any arguments in the text relating to gender? What might a gender critique of the text be? Would you consider the text to have a gender bias?
  • Did a male or female lecturer or tutor assign you the text?

Associations and The Student Union

  • What is the gender dynamic in the student union or any school association?
  • What roles are males and females taking on in different societies?
  • Am I being prevented from doing tasks and getting involved in different associations due to my gender?

The Pioneers: Ghada Samman

September 30, 2011

Words by Faith Cowling

A pioneering and prolific author, Ghada Samman (or al-Samman), a Syrian writer, has published over 40 books including poetry, novels and short stories. Many have been met with controversy at home and in the wider Arab world. Next year, Samman celebrates her 70th birthday. In the essay ‘Arab Women Writers’, the academic Miriam Cooke describes Samman as ‘the writer who has continued to attract the most consistent attention in the Arab world’. So who is she? And why has her writing held the attention of the Arabic speaking world for over 50 years?

Samman has been translated into thirteen languages and her poetry and novels have been subject to many critical works published in the Arabic literary field. However, in spite of her importance in the Arab Literary world, few in the English speaking world have heard or her or had the opportunity to read her – relatively few of Samman’s works are available in English.

Ghada Samman was born in Damascus in 1942. She was brought up primarily by her father, a dean at the University of Damascus, as her mother died when Samman was very young. She said of these formative years “I cannot recall the day when I didn’t know how to read and write. I know that I learned French first, and then Arabic and the Qur’an”. However, it was in Arabic that she eventually chose to write. Rebelling against her father’s wish for her to become a doctor, she studied for a BA in English Literature at the University of Damascus. She then completed a Masters at the American University of Beirut and later went to the University of London to start a PhD, which she never completed.

In 1966, while she was abroad, her father died. She was sentenced to three years impris- onment by the Syrian government for leaving Syria without official permission and she lost her job as a journalist for a Lebanese news- paper. In this formative period Samman was alone without the protection of family or money. She is quoted in Ghalia Shukri’s book “Ghada al-Samman Bila Ajniha” (“Ghada Samman without wings”) as saying: “The hardest lesson I learned was my final discovery of the superficiality of the bourgeois Dama- scene society that used to consider me during those years as good as dead – ‘a fallen woman’ – whereas I was in reality a woman starting to live her life and an artist gaining in awareness [of life around her].”

Samman’s writing was much influenced by her experiences as a woman during this time. Her first publication in 1962 “Your Eyes are my Destiny”, was immediately grouped with other ‘feminine’ romantic female writings. However, her literary canon grew and she began to encompass more themes. Her trilogy of novels, ‘Beirut 75’, ‘Beirut Nightmares’ and ‘The Night of the First Billion’ centered on her experiences in the Lebanese Civil War. Her writing focuses particularly on women, questioning under- standings of women’s sexuality in the Arab world at that time. As Rim Zahra, translator of Samman’s poetry collection ‘Arab Women in Love and War’ declares: “Samman’s poetry offers a culturally and socially specific view of the erotic, which calls for rebuilding the social and political structures of society. It calls for uprooting misogynistic practices on the social, political and individual levels where the freedom for self-expression, creativity, love, passion and civic rights become possible once more.”

“The liberated woman is a person who believes she is as human as a man”

Her writing defies genre; at times surre- alist, at times conforming to magical realism and at times using stark verisimilitude. At its core is an abiding theme: liberty of the indi- vidual. In an article in the Gulf-based ‘Al-Ittihad’ newspaper, she wrote “As to the critic who finds it difficult to pinpoint my writing in one area, I will make things easy for him. He can write on the drawer in which he files my work ‘A cry for freedom!’”

For Samman this quest for individual freedom is inextricably tied up with the ques- tion of women’s freedom. She speaks of this to Shukri in ‘Ghada al-Samman Bila Ajniha’: “sexual revolution…cannot be separated from the revolt of the individual Arab against all that restricts his freedoms…There is no way but through struggle against all reactionary thought, which includes our understanding of sex, and against the overall bourgeois view of freedom.”

Her ideas on equality are outlined in her first essay entitled ‘Our Constitution – We the Liberated Women’ written when she was just nineteen. “The liberated woman is a person who believes she is as human as a man. At the time she acknowledges that she is female and he is male and the difference between them is how not how much. Since they are equally human, they must have equal human rights.”

Throughout her work Samman’s charac- ters are strong, willful and flawed; the writing allegorical and surrealist. In both her creative work and her journalistic writing she has tackled themes that are considered taboo, exposing all that she considers hypocritical in society. She has contributed invaluably to Arabic Literature and to the women’s literary canon. In recent years, Samman has gained more and more recognition in the English- speaking world. We can only hope that more translations are to come.

Three Poems By Ghada Samman

A Rebellious Owl

Why do I write? Perhaps because my alphabet Avenges itself against the appressors Who try to shine their shoes with my inkwell And this blue wine that spilled upon my paper Seems to me the alphabet’s blood

So take it … drink it … For ink is sobriety’s wine.

An Owl Whose Heart is in Beirut

I still love you, In spite of it all For, at your shores I learned How to drink moonlight from a seashell.

A Revived Owl

Every time you embrace me I become a virgin again, I feel it is my wedding night!

Letter From the Editors

September 18, 2011

Hello we are For’em magazine. Our aim is  to provide a forum for discussion on social and political issues that relate to us as students.

As Editors our aim is create a space where a diveristy of opinions can be expressed.

Each issue will have a theme.
The theme for this first issue is liberation, and all of our writers have interpreted the word in their own way. They have written articles on a variety of different topics ranging from the representation of women in hip hop, to the situation in Western Sahara, queer porn and the London riots.

We hope you enjoy it and we welcome your response!

Felicia Dahlquist, Eavan Mckay, Anna Malzy, Sian Mcgee.