Post 146.

Last week, the Single Father’s Association of T and T (SFATT) stated that physical punishment should remain a legitimate way to discipline children in homes and schools. SFATT was attempting to ally with a mother who uploaded her physical and verbal abuse of her daughter, in an effort to discipline and protect through public humiliation and violence.

It’s important to avoid individual woman blame, and instead turn attention to inadequate coping strategies in families, inadequate provision of social services and inadequate understandings of how adolescence, sexuality, status and vulnerability are being reshaped by the internet, media and popular culture. It’s also necessary to protect children from violence of all kinds.

To take any other public position ignores that the nation is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It disregards decades of advocacy against corporal punishment by Caribbean women, rather than learning from and visibly allying with this politics and history. It undermines other men’s collective efforts to create greater peace in relationships, schools and communities.

I’m thrilled that men have been slowly joining women in trying to transform sexism, homophobia and violence. The Caribbean suffered almost three decades of setback by the myth of male marginalization, that fiction that gender equality meant too much woman power, and that men are the victims whose rights now deserve our greatest attention. Pervasive though baseless, this backlash framed how many men expressed their anxieties in a world requiring new kinds of bravery, rather than bravado. Disappointingly, such response to feminist challenges to power distanced men from much needed collaboration with women and children’s rights struggles.

On Sunday, sitting in the audience at the Bocas Lit Festival and Two Cents Movement’s Verses Poetry Slam, I thought that maybe we were finally past that myth. Brilliant performances by young men called for more nurturing, less homophobic, more responsible and less violent manhood. These young men were not invested in returning to an assured authority they never knew and were not experiencing women’s equality as anything other than everyday. Why should they? They grew up more freed from sexism and homophobia than any other generation of our boys and men, ever. Just maybe, older men’s resistances to changing gender relations don’t as easily resonate. In fact, those performers were critical of the men of past generations, who they were calling on their peers to do better than, to be more politically progressive than and to be less violent than. SFATT could take a cue from such a critical, generational view.

Men are now organizing themselves, often with financial, organizational and intellectual support from women, to not only address men’s needs but also advance women’s rights. I welcome them. I especially welcome young men, who may avoid instead of inherit the anger and loss of their uncles, fathers and grandfathers, and their  fears and stereotypes of feminism.

We need men on the front line with us, but in public and state committee debates on familial violence we need them to be clear. Representatives of contemporary men’s groups should connect to the global child rights’ movement, understand why whipping is a long-debunked learning and parenting strategy, and caucus with the women’s movement before going on air.

Violence and domination are approaches that entirely fail to teach respect, love, discipline, rights, good judgment and emotional safety to those in our care. I deeply hope that young men speaking out about new expressions of masculinity, children’s needs of their family and the dysfunction of violence in our communities can give us the full solidarities and new scripts that our airwaves most need to share.

Post 142.

On Tuesday, print and television news called me for a ‘gender perspective’. Chandresh Sharma story, Sat Maharaj statements, how is this hitting the government, violence against women as an issue.
I declined to comment on Sharma’s mess. I didn’t know all the facts. Men having multiple women is well accepted. It’s practically a male rite of public life. However, if our political parties and country had sexual harassment policies, regardless of how the situation began or ended, it would have been less likely. Men would face more rules regarding mixing sex with politics and leadership.
That’s why if I was Prime Minister, one election promise would be a National Sexual Harassment Policy, particularly to protect young women from men who have more institutional, ideological, economic, political and physical power. We have to challenge older, predatory males’ sexual license in our culture.
Glen Ramadharsingh was out of control and out of order, but I don’t think he planned to sexually assault. Still, a woman felt disrespected and threatened enough to file a complaint. Rightly so, she had to protect herself and her job from a more powerful male.
Beyond the violation of marriage, Sat Maharaj should have sided against any violence against women, domestic or not. I declined to comment because I think his sexist opinions get too much media attention.
I recommended both reporters talk to the Hindu Women’s Organisation. For years, they have been attempting anti-domestic violence work through their temples. Their campaign didn’t resoundingly spread because of pundits’ resistance. The organisation’s strategy may have prevented these kinds of incidents from happening by already shifting the social environment for Indian men’s relations with women. Press can help them.
It’s all hitting Campaign 2015 hard. The PM must be damned vex. Whatever your criticisms of her, she’s not worse than any of those men. She has risen among them, and now they are cutting her down, left, right and centre. Just handling them and their egos, entrenched public sector corruption, and gender and sexual inequality is more than anyone else in our history has ever done. As Sunity Maharaj also says, our systems need transformation or all individual leaders will inevitably fail. Whatever the PM’s shortcomings, I think she’s more competent than people say. Nonetheless, expect mistakes.
At any rate, individual politicians are not news. Dead fish by the thousands is our front page. When they start to die, how long do you think before we start too? Fish resources and ocean health are amongst our best economic resources for the future, and the poorest among us need to most rise up in defense of their descendants. It is the wealthiest who can pause their charity to influence protective legislation.
The struggle of the Highway Re-route Movement is also more important. I was surprised at a newspaper editorial chastising them for being a nuisance. That’s the point. Development is about democracy and transparent decision-making, not just big buildings. The HRM is rightly resisting that unaccountable vision. And without justice, why should there be peace?
On reflection, my one comment should have been support for Sacha Singh whose private photos became revenge-porn on the internet. There’s nothing wrong with sending sexy photos to your man. Women shouldn’t be punished for that. What’s shameful is publicizing them. It’s dutty and a form of mass-mediated sexual violence. On this count, Sacha has my absolute solidarity.
My failures to comment are often misrepresented as feminist silence about ‘Kamla’, a shallow cliché, but it was midnight when I finished work and finalized my thoughts, too late, though now I knew what I’d say.

 

If I was Prime Minister, I would fearlessly challenge sexism and homophobia.

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Ending both would improve life for everyone, regardless of your sex or sexuality. This is because sexism and homophobia ultimately harm both women and men, both gay folks and straight. These are not minority or special interest issues, these are issues of human rights and equality for all. And, either you are for equality for all or you are not for equality at all.

In the Caribbean, where our historical struggle has precisely been about emancipation, a politics committed to this for all should be the first basis for constituency, community and nation building.

Get my full pitch on youtube. Just type my name and PM, yes, for Prime Minister. If you think you are not hurt by sexism and homophobia or even if you just don’t want to be treated unequally, you might be interested in Caribbean advocacy that bring statistics, legislative review, stories, quotes and performance poetry.

The slide background was the logo for the student feminist group, ‘Consciousness Raising’, which was active from 2007-2009 and was the first group to come out of my women’s studies class.  They held campus marches for two years for International Women’s Day and International Day Against Violence for Women. The words in their logo are ‘solidarity’, ‘freedom’, ‘take action’ and ‘change’.

The students I quoted in my talk have also formed groups such as ‘Support for Change’, in 2011, to advocate for the national gender policy. They run Facebook discussion safe spaces like ‘Womantra’. They start campaigns of all kinds such as a Port of Spain and UWI ‘Slutwalk’ action to show that women’s sexuality in no way justifies rape. They are involved in creating safe spaces on the UWI campus for LGBT students, finally. These students are also active in the Institute for Gender and Development Studies-led ‘Break the Silence’ campaign to end child sexual abuse and incest. Rock on, UWI youth!

Viewers will also see my Introduction to Women’s Studies class of 2013. This is the seventh year that my male and female students have done popular actions on women’s rights, in a course first taught in 1982. Students this year were open-minded, thoughtful and courageous about engaging in such movement-building. Those faces are a Caribbean feminist generation nurtured in our own university.

For those in the field of Caribbean feminist academia and activism, there is lively debate about whether to use words like ‘equality’ or ‘equity’, or even ‘transformation’, also whether to use ‘homophobia’, which actually misrepresents the issue but is at least commonly known, or whether to use ‘heterosexism’. Regardless, I hope the message is clear.

For Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet, which has buried the National Gender Policy and passed a discriminatory Children’s Act (2012), it’s a must-see. For the PNM, which remains a deeply homophobic party, clueless to the implications for even heterosexual boys and men, it’s also necessary.

If you have homophobic religious beliefs, or you care about children, the economy and creating safe communities, watch it with an eye to the leadership that I think we need beyond 2015.

There is a lot of talk in the country, not all of it constructive. The TEDx Port of Spain 2013 event featured an inspiring line up of speakers, including Etienne Charles, Attillah Springer, Wayne Kublalsingh, Rondel Benjamin and Keegan Taylor, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Father Clyde Harvey, Erle Rahaman-Noronha, Debrah Lewis and Dominique Le Gendre. All the talks are on youtube. There are also past talks by Sunity Maharaj, Verna St. Rose Greaves, Christopher Laird of Gayelle and others. Google them, sit back and tune in.

(This post was originally posted earlier in the year, but revised for later publication in the Trinidad Guardian on February 13, 2014).

(See also Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Why can’t he just be like everyone else?’ It is important that Africa, India, the Caribbean, Latin America and so on lead this struggle, as we have been doing.)

Post 134.

Born on November 14, 1913, my father’s mother, Taimoon Hosein, daughter of Kapooran and Shah Mohammed Hosein of Balmain, Couva may have been the first one in the world with this name. It was a misrepresentation of Tayammum, the kind of linguistic and historical mangling that clung to many who crossed water and entered the world in new locations across the British empire.

In the year 1946, my grandfather, himself born in 1901 and the son of Sapheeran and Nazar Hosein, went to register the birth of a third daughter. My grandmother wanted to call her Zairee, but my grandfather named her Taimoon, after my grandmother. Disregarding both my grandfather’s ultimate decision and the official certificate, my grandmother called her Zairee anyway and, eventually, so did everyone else in the family.

Such small acts of defiance are the legacy left for young Indian women like me. There were also large acts of insubordination and self-definition in the histories of indentured Indian women who bravely came to Trinidad as independently waged workers, who unapologetically left men who did not satisfy them, who participated in workers’ public resistance, and whose confrontations with inequality led them to be seen as the wrong kind of woman, deserving of shame, punishment and even death.

Indian great-grandmothers had to be pushed hard by the combined forces of Indian men, religious leaders, local planters and British colonial authorities into forgetting decades of increased autonomy so that now we think that they were naturally and always dependent, docile housewives.

I know that narrative is false. So, every time a contemporary mouthpiece of Indian authority, justified by religion, race, a belief in natural gender inequality or some invented history of female obedience, gets upset by Indian women’s choices that they haven’t approved, I’m without fear. We’ve been making decisions about our bodies, our beliefs, our money and our labour for almost 170 years.

Drawing on the history we know and knowing there are stories like my grandmother’s still to be told, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an Indian feminist in our region. It’s a risky location. On the one hand, we are without authorization by religion, the state or men, whether here, India, the diasporas or even Mecca. On the other, we are aware of how Afrocentrism has dominated woman-issues consciousness, mobilizing and writing in the Caribbean. It isn’t that we don’t draw on all of these connections, it’s that daily-Quran-reading, name-I-chose-insisting grandmothers cannot be entirely understood within or determined by them. Neither can I.

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

There have been Muslim, Hindu and Christian Indian great-grandmothers and grandmothers, aunts, mothers and sisters who at one or another time agreed. I hear you all nodding quietly as you read. Being an young Indian feminist in the Caribbean is about continuing such resolute negotiations and deciding what to name our own stories.

Note: CODE RED for gender justice is hosting a Caribbean Blog Carnival. This post is published there and I hope that the Caribbean receives it with love.

Postscript: A reflection on the post’s receipt can be found here.

Post 128.

You are a teenager. Your dad tells you he wants to look at your body. He touches your genitals. After, he says he’s sorry. He doesn’t want you to tell anyone. You do tell, your mother, your aunts and the police. He says you are lying. Your mother believes you. Who will others believe?

You’ve now lost a dad and must mourn a man still walking around town, one who was supposed to protect you but who now casts you as the threat. You have no idea what rules actually matter anymore, given that the ones you thought most mattered have now been violated. Why not self-harm? Why obey anyone when adults have failed to obey the rules that they should?

Maybe you act out because it’s a way to let others know you are going to do whatever you want because, regardless of the support you have, this hell is and will be your own. Maybe you act out because you are angry, maybe to forget, maybe to test those around you to see if they really are on your side, maybe to push back at the boundaries of their love.

Maybe when you know what it means to be vulnerable, you reach in many directions for safety, even directions not right for you. Hurt, betrayal and loss are confusing. You live them emotionally, understanding your rationales and reactions only long after.

You don’t know it yet, but you will deal with this for decades. It may affect your future relationships with others, even with yourself. It may crush your ability to trust. It may lead you to take risks. It may leave you less able to negotiate control over your body and sexuality than you need to be. It may lead you to search out future abusers in one form or another. You don’t wake up one morning and find the whole experience was a dream.  You wake up on mornings carrying the experience, sometimes awake, sometimes sleeping, inside of you.

You also don’t yet know how many other girls this happens to. The women who come to hear about your abuse, who remember their own, also begin to discover how many of them were affected. They revisit their pain. If only there were less silence and less shame. If only women didn’t carry feelings of blame or hadn’t decided to forget, the stories of survivors of child sexual abuse and incest could fill every newspaper page.

These women and their stories can reduce girls’ vulnerability. Maybe, hopefully, women survivors will find a way to heal and protect where others have failed. Maybe, men who have also survived sexual abuse will also come together, not just to support each other, not just to run perpetrators, but to dismantle the kind of masculine power that makes men more likely to be sexually and physically violent to those they love.

National statistics suggest that child sexual abuse happens everyday. This teenager is real. She isn’t me, but that doesn’t matter. She is ours. So are all the others.

There is action to be taken everywhere. Like my sistren, Nadella Oya, you can make a statement on the walls of communities, you can teach children about their rights. NGOs across the country need volunteers and ideas. There is the regional Break the Silence Campaign, started by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, whose blue teddy symbol is becoming more visible. Find out what you can do.

We need to end hushed family conversations, cycles of violence and tolerance of perpetrators. Tomorrow should not add another story.

Post 126

As I lay safely warm and dry on Tuesday’s rainy night, Ziya was falling asleep, safe in my arms. In my head, all I could think about was all the girls and women who are not safe.

Amanda Mootilal’s beaten face on a front page was too much for me, as it should have been for all of us, especially knowing she is not an isolated case.

She’s a teenager who already intimately knows powerlessness, cruelty and fear. She’s also a mother, having conceived her baby at around 15 or 16 years old with an adult man seven years older, and who should have known better, whatever her own adolescent choices.

What about her education, her ability to earn her own income, to find herself before being told who she should be? Who failed to protect her before now?

The state has stepped in, but that is no guarantee of her safety, even if her attacker husband was denied bail. Counseling provides no guarantee that she will heal the wounds to her self-confidence and spirit, though she will, like many victims of violence, figure out how to survive.

I could talk about International Day Against Violence Against Women, November 25th, and what a slap in the face this was, what a wake up call we continue to get, that girls and women do not have the right to live free from fear and harm.

I could point to the need for services that prevent rather than respond at the point of crisis, say that we need state-funded, national anti-violence campaigns that target everyone, especially primary schools, telling girls not to love anyone who is not nice to them and telling boys they have no right to control women.

I could tell my Guardian bosses, the Ansa McAl group of companies to spend less money on sexist billboards that promote women’s bodies as objects to be consumed, and to put some profits to such a national anti-violence campaign. Don’t leave it up to the women’s NGOs, step up as the elite, as men, and put some of their power toward change.

Yes, it’s definitely up to political leadership which has never tackled the perils of a culture of male domination in any serious way. We don’t have quotas for equal representation of women anywhere, and so they are not equally represented in business or in politics. We have less than a handful of women in Cabinet, like us watching men run the deck and sometimes run amok.

Religious leaders continue insist that men should be the head of women, as if that doesn’t create the exact conditions needed for violence. Preachers, imams and pundits do not insist that men’s violence against women is not God’s way, not as much as they need to given the amount that men assault and abuse. Yes, it’s also up to these men of God to insist on what will not be tolerated amongst their own. Where is the IRO’s national campaign?

Violence against women is a men’s issue. Men dominating the Cabinet, men dominating corporate wealth, men dominating the door to God, which one of you is going to step up today to prevent another Darren Mohammed from dominating another Amanda Mootilal?

In a society where women and girls are disappearing, being beaten and being raped, no woman is safe. Warm and dry, listening to the rain, I feel unsettled and I don’t feel safe.

We need a downpour of effort so that there are no more bruised teenagers, that we, the whole society, failed to protect, looking back at us from the front page.

Post 125.

Et tu, Bunji?

There’s been a disturbing trend since 1990s gangsta rap began to globalise ‘the club’, meaning the strip club, as the site par excellence for cultural and sexual expression and exchange.

Caribbean women’s sexuality was taking over the road, but across the hemisphere primarily male performers, producers and video directors were disciplining this disorder with fantasises of brown bodies whose power lay in shaking their ass for men’s money.

Sharlene Boodram went from singing ‘Sweeta Sweeta’ on a beach to singing ‘Ask It’ in the strip club. Bunji Garlin’s new hit, ‘Red Light District’ extends this, big pimpin the Caribbean as a sexual and leisure playground for any men who want to come.

Strippers are a category of workers, and mostly women, whose femininity and sexuality are defined primarily by men: what men want to consume, what bodies they desire, and what performances they will reward.

Strippers are not the same as skettels and sluts, labels assigned to women whose sexual expressiveness and power is defined by their own unruly pleasure.

What Bunji hails as the “feminine gender” are a larger group of persons whose sexuality, including when they wine dong at Jouvay or when they have consensual, safe and pleasurable sex out of marriage, may not be represented by any of these terms. Women are more than strippers, skettels and sluts. Even strippers, skettels and sluts are feminine and sexual in wider, more complex ways than social hypocrisy allows.

Women who express their sexuality, who are sexy, and who give and receive pleasure in one way or another are everyday women, amazing and compelling just because we are.

What is disturbing is when we are reduced to narrow categories, especially those that exist to service male demand and command, often not in empowering conditions of women’s own choosing.

I’m not putting down sex workers, I just think women’s sexuality should have visibility and value in Caribbean pop culture beyond the provocative compliance of exotic dancers and ‘young hos’.

Such hypersexuality retains its vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation. I’ve been to red light districts in Thailand where you can see fully dressed men holding a beer in one hand and the breast of a young women half their age, with none of their economic power and clothed in only a thong, in the other. I’ve watched men sell sex shows where women put balls or needles in their vagina, whatever you will pay for, where they have asked whether you are looking for a ten year old boy or girl.

When you are feting to Bunji’s big tune or pole dancing for exercise, because for empowered women that’s trending and cool, be glad that woman or girl isn’t you.

I’ve been to red light districts in Amsterdam where Surinamese immigrants, our Caribbean women, work under conditions of race, class and gender inequality. Women doing jobs that society looks down on, without legal protection, unions or rights to respect in police stations is what goes on in red light districts in most countries. Not the delusion of girls just having fun.

Wining adults fail to take seriously how the airwaves both represent and produce existing realities. We will, however, blame girls when they upload videos of themselves, play sexy too early or look for status with their bodies, when they get shamed or violated for enacting the very femininities these songs rotate on the radio.

Where’s the girls dem darlin that chanted down rape? Like Bruno Mars with his pole dancer at the VMA Awards, he’s mainstreaming conflicting messages about sexuality as freedom, but not as women’s complete violence-free, economic, legal, moral and reproductive control over such sexuality.

Red Light District could mash up place whole night, but we are more than a pimper’s paradise.

Post 116.

Teaching started at UWI this week.

Students come to class with heartbreaking experiences of everyday violence, neglect, anxiety, pain and disappointment. Adult and young women come having left abusive relationships or still living in them. Both young men and young women sit in front of me having survived child sexual abuse and still in situations where they live with it every day. People come as single parents, having risked illegal abortions, as gays and lesbians fearful of homophobia, and from families with too many harsh words and too little listening or love. A few come without any home. Some are young and sheltered and ready for the world, many walk in with their wounds, fragile but steady.

As I stand looking at them on the first day of class, sometimes I want to abandon the course outline, the grades and the pressure because as we systematically explore power, domination, inequality and silencing, I know it gets too much for some. When I listen to their stories, the pores on my arms raise. Not because of the trauma they carry, but because it hits me how much wise and strong they are, beyond anything I can teach, and I’m humbled by how much I need to make theory useful for further healing their reality.

Once, one wonderful woman in her twenties came to find me. She had been left at an orphanage by her mother and had been raised by an adopted grandmother who recently died.  After that, other family members began to deal drugs from the house, which is not uncommon in Trinidad and Tobago. She moved by an uncle who tried to molest her, saying sometimes there were things she would have to do. She had just experienced her second miscarriage, and been abandoned by the baby’s father. He had been concerned not only about her as a burden, but as a stain to his reputation because they had conceived out of marriage. Now he wanted her to hide her truths. She was staying with friends and had to move. Still managing post-partum depression, she dreamt her lost baby crying on mornings, experienced black-outs and was trying to find her feet on her own.  She was in crisis despite looking young, polished and professional, and starting a new term of school.

When these are your students, what do you do?

As I stand looking at them on the first day of class, sometimes all I want is to push them to get the grades, pressure them to do the work, give them something to focus on and at which to succeed. In giving all to their education, there is a way they learn focus, discipline, acceptance and self-love. They learn to discard some of what has locked down their spirit. They learn that, although it is not easy, change is always possible, for each person differently.

I expect students to earn their degree and I’m prepared to give my all to them. I help them to learn to read critically, write analytically and understand how knowledge can change the world. More specifically, my job is to help them learn to apply and reflect on feminist theory and the lens it provides to their own and others’ lives. I’m focused on course content and assignments and I expect my students to be too. Yet, over the years, I’ve repeatedly discovered that that can just be too much.

It’s like this in schools everywhere in the nation.  I teach the curriculum, but hope that each year my students also gain the power they need for both liberation and transformation.   

Post 115.

Ziya is two, but she’s clear about sex, her body and reproduction. That gives her a language to ask questions, assess knowledge, think about herself, identify her rights and break silences around all too common phenomena such as child sexual abuse.

If you ask her how babies are made, she’ll say that the daddy puts his penis in the mummy’s vagina, that a liquid comes out with sperm, that the sperm go up the vagina to mummy’s tummy where it “makes friends” with mummy’s egg (this part she came up with, not me), and a baby grows before coming out through mummy’s vagina. She’s seen natural births on Youtube. She knows where she came out of from my body, in the driveway no less. She’s got basic information to answer her question of where she came from, and she has gone on with life like it’s no big deal.

She also knows what to say if anyone touches her vagina or bum bum. We tell her to shout ‘No! I will tell my mummy’ and I tell her that if she feels she needs to, scrap it out as much as she can. When she throws a tantrum, she’s all flailing arms and legs, hitting everything in sight, acting like Scoobie Doo’s nephew Scrappy Doo. I tell her to hit and kick just like that if she has too, and we practice so that, if it ever happens, asserting herself won’t be new. Girls, and boys, need to be empowered from early to powerfully defend themselves from abuse.

The other day, she said to me, ‘Mummy, I have a nipple on my vagina’. I said, ‘that’s your clitoris’. She asked, ‘what’s it for?’ I had to laugh. I said, ‘it’s for you to feel good and you will discover how later on’. I’m not going to feed her nonsense about her genitals being only for reproduction and not for pleasure, because whatever hypocritical adults think, she’ll naturally discover that just as all children do.

She’s got to learn to own and love her body completely if she’s going to be the most capable of making it through life in ways that are healthy and chosen. She takes all this in stride, like learning anything else. It makes you wonder why we act like this stuff is taboo.

When we are not open about sex, when children do not learn to name the most vulnerable parts of their bodies, and when we pretend that children are too young for facts about reproduction, we are perpetuating other silences too.

We wouldn’t give children a lack of clarity about geography or history, why do that about sexuality? Don’t we want them to understand themselves better or to tell us when something is happening to them that they don’t agree to? We are also acting as if children are not living in an adult world already, learning more than we realize about it and figuring out how to talk about it through what they overhear or from TV.

Stone likes to tell me that all this is all well and good, but wait until Ziya starts school and other parents who don’t want their kids to know about their bodies or sexuality complain about Ziya’s upfront explanatory honesty.

What can I say? In a world where sexual violence is everywhere, and where children are not safe, this is one girl who is going to all the information she needs to know. Words, truth, self-knowledge, safety and power are her right and I’m going to help her to make it so.

Post 114.

Socialisation of children is a path of continual decision-making about your approach to truth. These decisions are not made in isolation, but involve both parents, and often grandparents and other family. Not everyone always agrees, but children either need to be spared conflicting information or advised about how to deal with different views, which is part of learning about the reality they are growing into.

Ziya’s school is non-denominational, but twice a day they pray, starting with the words, ‘Dear Father’. Of course, because I’ve given little thought to schooling, other than where she will learn through play, never be beaten and feel respected and empowered, the whole question of prayer never occurred to me. I’m atheist, but if I was to pray, it would likely start with the words, ‘Dear Mother’, because I can’t conceive how God, like humans who create life, could have anything other than breasts, womb and a vagina.

As an anthropologist, I think that humans create conceptions of God or gods and goddesses that match their own worldview. In a world that wasn’t founded on male domination or where we considered gender to be more flexible, our gods could also have feminine aspects or goddesses could have male incarnations or God could instead be imagined as a Mother figure to revere, as with many cultures that have existed across place and time whose beliefs are as valid as we consider our own.

As a mother, I teach Ziya to see a walk through a forest as a moment for meditation and those peaceful places where rivers meet seas as sites for kneeling quietly to breathe, listen and feel. Sometimes, we say good night to the trees, birds, animals and the earth because it is these that I think are deities of life and the complex, mysterious abundance of creation.

As a parent, I’m not going to tell her Santa Clause is real, but I’m going to let her encounter the world as it exists and learn to ask questions about why. I’m not going to teach her about God, but no doubt everyone else will and when she asks what I believe, I’ll be truthful because that’s how she will know she has to make up her own mind too. Now that Zi’s in school, I have less control over the ideas she will encounter. That means it’s my job to have new conversations with her.

As a citizen in our multi-religious society, I don’t have a policy of censorship. Ziya’s not going to be harmed by prayer, even to a male God that I don’t believe in, which simply reminds her to be good, kind, grateful and conscientious. She should be exposed to other beliefs, learn what they can offer to her and live harmoniously with others holding different beliefs from her own. I think that when you learn about religion, you are also learning about culture, gender, philosophy and the sacred, just as you can learn about the need to question rather than blindly believe, to seek answers in history, and to reflect on what kinds of ideas and power order the world.

I wish that some days her prayer started, ‘Dear Mother’ just as it does ‘Dear Father’ because, frankly none of us can definitively say it’s one or the other, and because I see male headship and domination in the hidden curriculum greeting her everywhere she turns. In my own and her everyday negotiations with ‘truth’, I’m charting a journey not everyone will agree to. Hopefully, the open-mindedness I would like to bring is what others will also.