Post 487.

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens’s familiar words are ones with which we can all identify. We see the contradictions in our midst, from the ones that affect us directly, and feel discriminatory and unfair, to the ones that feel far from us, disconnected and almost unreal.

This phrase describes girls’ realities today. More than at any other time in history, they are growing into a world in which a global feminist movement of women and men is advocating for their rights, empowerment, equity and access to justice.

On the other, they are experiencing violence and oppression that should be inconceivable in our time, as a backlash to their increasing freedoms and precisely because they are female.

Anyone aware of this would be hugely sceptical of any narrative of women now having too much power over men or men now being the real victims (of women). It takes serious compartmentalising to see that discourse as a true representation of the world in which girls live, a world still too silent about the harms they face.

With this in mind, I want to end this year with a hard look, not at past months, but at the present, which reminds us of how much of our hearts, sense of justice and voice among millions or billions of others are needed as we step into a new year.

With this in mind, I want to put my heart, sense of justice and voice to express outrage and solidarity with the girls and young women of Afghanistan. What else could be more necessary to say this week?

On December 20, women in Afghanistan were banned from universities. Most Afghan teenage girls had already been banned from secondary school. In some places, they were no longer attending primary school.

Since the Taliban took over in August 2021, they also stopped women from working in public sector jobs and as teachers in schools. They banned them from travelling, entering government buildings, seeing a doctor or taking a taxi without a male relative, and ordered them to cover entirely, ideally with a burqa, once outside of their home. In November, women were stopped from going to parks, funfairs, gyms, mosques and public baths.

It’s been an attack on women’s right to an education, to work, to move around independently and to make their own choices. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was renamed the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which has overwhelmingly targeted women and girls’ dress and behaviour. Islam is the justification, but this is entirely about violent patriarchy.

Afghan women and girls are devastated and angry, and have protested despite the risks of beatings and arrest for defiance against fundamentalist Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

They describe broken hopes and destroyed dreams, numbness and endless tears, a nightmare in daylight which they can see with their eyes open, and loss of control over their future.

These are girls and young women with dreams of being becoming doctors, teachers, pilots and scientists; girls and women who may have no male family to chaperone them outside; girls and women who could be beaten for not wearing socks or showing their face in public, and who may now have no sources of income.

They have become prisoners in their own home and in terror outside. Female suicide rates have exponentially increased. Early marriages of Afghan girls have also increased as education is stopped, as girls and women are made dependent on men, as an economic crisis escalates and as parents seek to avoid forced marriages to Taliban members. Imagine a brilliant 12-year-old, once in school, now in the worst of times.

On the streets, women have been chanting, “rights for everyone or no one,” “education for all” and “bread, work and freedom.”

Male university students have walked out of exams and male university lecturers have resigned from their jobs in protest. Though there have been sanctions, there is hardly enough action or impact. There has been global condemnation of what is being called a crime against humanity, but things are likely to become worse before there’s any chance of them becoming better.

In a world with so much possibility, girls and women are being allowed nearly nothing. As we enter a new year, we must set our minds to challenging these kinds of contradictions even if they feel distant from our own reality. Those of us who have much to celebrate, have much responsibility.

Post 188.

Last Thursday, my Men and Masculinities in the Caribbean students were out on campus learning through engagement with pro-feminist men’s movement-building. These were students who never imagined they would choose to publicly critique homophobia for hurting both gay and straight men. Students who never imagined they would become passionate about raising boys, not to be men, but to be good people, considered to be nurturers just as naturally as women.

Students who never imagined they would commit to the idea that men’s issues are best addressed through men and women’s solidarity to dismantle and transform men’s unequal privilege and power. Older men who never imagined they would play Midnight Robber breaking down patriarchy and younger men who never imagined they would say that this is what a feminist looks like, referring to themselves.

You might think this kind of movement-building is not possible, or too feminist for folks of all religions, races, ages and creeds to connect to. But, it’s amazing how students change once it clicks that patriarchy and the culture of male domination both benefit and hurt boys and men. For, different men occupy different positions of power and status that give them uneven access to resources, rights and respect.

While students saw men’s issues as their higher rates of suicide and alcoholism, high rates of prostate cancer, high risk behaviours, lower investments in schooling, and greater silence about experiences of child sexual abuse, they also understood women’s experiences of male domestic abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment as men’s issues.

Such movement-building creates greater consciousness of the idea that men, not just women, are responsible for advancing women’s rights to equality and equity in politics and the economy, challenging women’s sexual vulnerability to men, and breaking the interlock between femininity, housework and care of children. It sees women’s full freedom to choose whatever happens to their bodies as a question of justice in which men should invest. For, what kind of manhood is proudly invested in injustice?

Such movement-building aims to end notions of manhood based in the beliefs of men’s natural headship of families, religious communities, the economy, the public sphere and the state. It reaches out to male allies willing to end sexism and homophobia, both of which teach that manhood is and should be nothing like womanhood, leading men to seek refuge in a macho, heterosexual ideal, despite the stigma, shame, and fears of harm it creates among men who don’t measure up, regardless of their sexuality.

Recognising men’s feelings of emasculation because of shifting relations between females and males, such movement building engages men in a conversation with women and amongst themselves about the long struggle against sexism in which men need to get involved.

In this conversation, the misleading ‘men’s rights’ myth that men are now marginalized, meaning oppressed by women and excluded from power, is questioned. Girls are not wrongly be blamed for boys’ choices regarding school work, women for earning qualifications to compete with men in the legal job market, mothers and wives for men’s resort to crime and violence, or feminists for “too much equality”. Students know that ending women’s subordination would end the pressure men face to avoid appearing too feminine or too ‘gay’, enabling men to be valued for simply being human beings.

What are men’s issues? What are our most creative, interactive and analytically sound strategies for tackling them without reproducing a battle of the sexes? And, what will a Caribbean men’s movement look like after a thousand students have learned how to explain why pro-feminist movement-building is necessary? In the decade ahead, watch and see.

Post 162.

Feminism is getting hotter. Sparking a global spring, girls and women are taking on the world political-economic order on the ground and through technology. More power to this movement for equality, equity, and transformation of all forms of domination. Welcome to a moment that tireless struggle has again born.

Once the dilemma was about the ‘I’m not feminist, but…’ kind of feminism, the belief in and practice of its politics that nonetheless ran from the backlash stereotypes associated with its identity and community.

However, going more mainstream has attached feminism to wider practices and representations, raising questions about the relationship between feeling powerful and undoing powerful hierarchies, as well as making us look harder at feminisms mix with capitalism, its long-marketed racist and sexist ordering of women, and its containment of the broadest goals of empowerment.

Take bootylicious feminism, also seen in Nicki Minaj’s dancehall queen version. Beyonce’s brand champions women as flawless and sexy, smart and powerful, economically in control and unanswerable to the politics of respectability. It also sells sex as it sells feminism. Indeed, here, sex sells feminism, potentially popularizing a narrower project than dismantling the beauty myths still packaging the meanings of female sexuality. What do hypersexual feminisms do for kinds that are not or refuse to be sexy?

I’ve wondered about this when my friend Nicole was shamed for playing Jouvay topless but for nipple coverings, and in an old shortpants, making explicit just how little pretty mas nakedness has opened a space for women’s non-prettied bodies on the road, on their own terms, even on Carnival days. I’ve thought about this when women face censure for shamelessly breast-feeding their babies. I’ve reflected on this as I envision the postcolonial feminisms I want for my little brown girl.

There’s feminist struggle for sex positivity. Existing double standards shame women in ways that men, even those who are molesters, rapists or adulterers, don’t face, and strippers, sex workers and ‘skettels’’ usually scorned behaviour means they are least protected by the law, unions, immigration officials and health institutions. This must change.

The question isn’t whether women have a right to make the choices they do. Instead our attention should be on the choices available, and the ones still determining women’s greatest rewards, pleasures and value. It’s no coincidence that just as girls have been ‘taking over’ education, media and labour markets, they have been increasingly pressured to still embody specific femininities and stilettoed super-sexiness. What does this mean for feminisms’ trenchant critique of women as objects for consumption, and for black and brown women’s refusal to reproduce reduction to their bodies at the expense of their humanity?

Freedom from sexual and other forms of  violence. Choice regarding marriage, children, and same sex desire. Access to reproductive justice, including safe and legal abortion. Transformation of the colonial gender stereotyping still pervasive in contemporary pop culture, advertising, nationalism and tourism. Value not for how we look nor for the femininities we do, but simply because we are. The kinds of economic rights that mean we neither gain greater wealth nor greater vulnerability from the exploitation of our bodies in public and private life. For me, this is what feminist goals of sexual liberation mean.

All women know there is no pure place for resistance. This is more rather than less reason for thinking critically about diverse instances named feminist. It’s reason for differentiating between the gender consciousness we now have of rights and inequalities, and feminist consciousness that aims at more than women’s individual wealth, choice or leveling of power to a radical re-imagining beyond current terms and boundaries.