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A new lens

Author:
Kabul. Afghanistan. 2012
A meeting of Mirman Baheer, the Ladies’ Literary Society, in Kabul.  The group has roughly one hundred members in Kabul, where they meet openly on most Saturdays. The city of Kabul is, in many ways, a bubble. Its security allows women to gather openly, a near impossibility across most of the country. Outside Kabul, there are as many as three hundred members in the outlying provinces of Khost, Paktia, Wardak, Mazar, Kunduz, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Farah. Exact numbers of members are impossible to come by, since the society operates in secret by necessity.

By Kaylen Forsyth

For a poet language is land on the water, is water on the land. The poem becomes necessary to existence, a way of transforming the physical world into something that can’t die. Like with many other art forms, its greatest assets are its humanness and intimacy. “I composed my first poems in the dark“, says Philip Levine in My Lost Poets. This is a small window into the understanding that happens between a writer and the words they either chose or don’t.

“I dream of lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can”, laments Jack Gilbert, as though deprived of self-expression his entire life.

This brings him to a shared affinity with so many women across the globe, today and always, who may be able to fathom even more thoroughly than him exactly what it’s like to be stifled. To have so much pent-up rage and passion that there is no way to coordinate any coherence. This is why poetry plays such a vital role in the lives of many women in Afghanistan.

Recently, it has become clearer than ever just how essential it is for women to have a platform that cannot be deterred by men. Such deterrence is now symptomatic of a growing rather than declining patriarchy. This struggle for a stage is a problem that the women of Afghanistan have faced so much they’ve now formed their own kind of barracks, built out of language. Amidst a country that has seen vast amounts of violence and duplicity, a number of incredibly courageous women are voicing their political and emotional concern through the power of poetry. It takes the form of a “landay”.

The simple structure of the “landay poem” features couplets with nine syllables in the first line and thirteen in the second. This frame is used by many Afghan women who constantly search for new ways to articulate in a society wishing for their silence. Women write and share their poetry any way possible. Sometimes they share via phone calls with other women who are unable to leave their homes. Or other times, they meet up secretly to discuss their creations and merge them. Distribution always takes precedence over attribution.

Western representation of Afghan women would like to ignore this. Instead, it attempts a powerless portrayal. There is such an ethnocentric trend in Western media. It wants us to view other cultures as inherently alien in their differences. This leads to mass polarisation. Some begin to view those who live differently as outlandish. Evidently, this eliminates empathy and the ability to see with human perspective. It is the cause of an inaccurate depiction of Afghan women.

Journalists, specifically the tabloid sensationalists, would love us to view these women as voiceless victims, completely unable to have an opinion that hasn’t been indoctrinated by a patriarch. It’s inaccurate, and reading their “landays” emphasise this massively. Most suggest raw and often bursting passions of lust and love. There are hints of fury over the Taliban and the U.S., and foreign occupation.

My lover is fair as an American soldier can be. / To him I looked dark as a Talib, so he martyred me.
Landay lines like these cut deep and reveal strength, the strength that we all must see. Too prevalently, there is a manipulated view of Muslim women as direct results of oppression. Obviously, the consequence of this is their immediate dehumanisation. They are then seen through a lens that fails to attribute any agency or depth. Even their initiative is brushed aside.

Since the recent inauguration of Trump, women across the globe have risen up in a unified voice against his despicable policies. It’s fantastic! It’s inspiring to see that his government’s blatant misogyny and bigotry is not going unchallenged. People can address the politics of the women marching in the US and Europe, their agency, their intelligence. Yet, there still remains a struggle to identify these qualities in women from Islamic countries. Their acts of revolution and activism are either ignored, dismissed or played down. It’s easy to look at a middle-class American woman and call her a political revolutionary but people don’t want to call an Afghan woman anything of the sort.

In the West there is an erroneous thought that women from Islamic backgrounds are in need of salvation. This has been helpful to politicians in the past, allowing them to justify certain invasions. But to look at these “landays” is to understand that perhaps, these Afghanistan poets are the revolutionaries we should be taking examples from, rather than forcing our examples onto them.

The Grey Area of 50 Shades of Grey

Author:

By Issy McConville

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So, the day before Valentine’s Day I did what a lot of people have done recently, I went to go and see ’50 Shades of Grey’. Due to some confusion with the Dutch cinema website I almost booked to go and watch it the day before my friends, which would have been a disaster because I needed emotional support to get through what I can only describe as a TERRIBLE film. (more…)

50 Shades of Abuse

Author:

By Jess Hayden

Trigger Warning

Before I start on why exactly it is that Fifty Shades of Grey is a sexualisation of an abusive relationship, I need to clarify something: I shouldn’t have to. The examples of abuse are abundantly clear, and I am continually dismayed by the sheer amount of people who see the trilogy, or the film, as sexy. I also find it offensive that the film was premiered on Valentine’s Day. This film has nothing to do with love, or healthy sex. It’s about a manipulative control freak who stalks a woman, then makes her sign a contract which gives him complete control over her life. I genuinely fear for the people who have missed all these signs, because it demonstrates how easy it is to miss obvious signs of an abusive relationship.

The story begins with Christian stalking Ana, travelling three hours from where he lives, to see her at work. He admits to having stalked her to find out where she works (sorry for the spoiler, it’s in the second book), then asks her out. When on their first date, Christian informs Ana that she can only call him “Mr. Grey” or “Sir” whereas he can call her “Ana”. Alarm bells should be ringing. Firstly, that’s an incredibly creepy thing to do on a first date, and secondly, he’s clearly trying to intimidate her and ensure he holds power over their relationship. He proceeds to tell her Ana that she “should find him intimidating”. This guy is not sexy, he’s creepy.

Sometime after this first date, Ana is out celebrating finishing college with her friends, something she is completely entitled to do. She pocket dials Christian by accident, and in classic Christian Grey style, he demands to know where she is and what she is doing. This is alarming, bearing in mind they had only been on one date at this point. Illegally, he traces her phone calls to find out where she is and goes to collect her. This is not romantic. She specifically told him not to, and hung up the phone because he was pestering her. Instead of taking her back to somewhere she would feel safe such as her house or a friend’s house, he takes her back to his hotel room, after she’s only met him twice. This relationship is not necessarily abusive yet, but the controlling behaviour of Christian forebodes the control he will force Ana later in the story.

The next morning, she awakes confused and asks if they slept together, having no recollection of how she got there. Christian tells her they didn’t sleep together, but also says “If you were mine, you wouldn’t have been able to sit down for weeks after the stunt you pulled last night”. By “stunt”Christian is referring to Ana going out with her friends and celebrating her success. I for one did not realise that drunken pocket dialling people was illegal or deserved punishment. What is illegal though is tracing someone’s calls and stalking them. It should also be clarified that at this point in the book, no mention of BDSM has been made, so this dialogue cannot be interpreted as anything but an open threat. By now, alarm bells should definitely be ringing.

Christian demands an unhealthy level of control over Ana. In chapter 10, Ana’s friend Jose calls, which Christian interprets as Ana cheating on him, telling her he “doesn’t like to share”. She’s not a possession, nor does she belong to anyone. Ana just so happened to be talking to a human who just so happened to have a penis. No person in a healthy relationship should demand that control. It’s all downhill from here.

Subsequently, Christian asks Ana to sign a contract to “stop all this”. When Ana asks what Christians means to stop by this contract, he replies “you defying me”. Forget his money or his looks for a moment and see what is actually happening here: A man is asking a woman to sign a contract which restricts all her freedom and makes her completely submissive to him. If you need any proof of this, in the contract, Ana is referred to as “the Submissive” and Christian, “the Dominant”. No loving, healthy relationship has one partner asking the other to sign a contract giving away complete control to the other. Nor is this BDSM. BDSM refers to control or dominant/submissive power roles exclusively in the bedroom and does not go further than their sex lives. This is not about BDSM, this is about control and abuse. One of the clauses in the contract which particularly infuriates me is Clause 9:

“…the Submissive is to serve and obey the Dominant in all things. Subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above she shall without query or hesitation offer the Dominant such pleasure as he may require and she shall accept without query or hesitation his training, guidance and discipline in whatever form it may take.”

Ana is being asked to sign a contract to establish herself as subservient to Christian, having to endure all sorts of abuse from him. Yes, she signs the contract having read it, but I think this is coerced consent. She says herself “He’s dangerous to my health, because I know I’m going to say yes. And a part of me doesn’t want to”. Fair enough, at this point she hasn’t said no to him directly. But also remember the controlling, intimidating tactics he’s used on her so far and consider whether she really had a choice. Later in the story, when Ana threatens to leave and go to Alaska, Christian tells her “Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone – remember?”. I don’t believe that Ana has any freedom to say no, and this unfortunately leads to Christian taking ultimate control of her body and raping her.

Christian turns up at Ana’s house unannounced and aggressively tries to seduce Ana. Ana clearly tells him that she doesn’t want sex, “’No, I protest, kicking him off”. However, Christian, having no respect for Ana’s wishes, replies “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet, too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.” He then continues to have sex with her despite Ana clearly saying “no”. Despite the contractual agreement of consent, Ana says no, and Christian proceeding to have sex with her is indisputably rape. However, as Ana enjoys the sex, the reader and audience is supposed to ignore the fact that it is rape. E.L James seems to think that portraying a woman experience sexual gratification whilst playing a subservient role to a man is some kind of feminist empowering message.

All of this having been understood, I appreciate that this is a fictional story and I am not necessarily condemning the author or the production team for producing such a disgusting story line. However, I am appalled by the ridiculous response to it. Perhaps it’s a consequence of such a pornified and shallow culture, that we see a man abusing a woman, but are too distracted by his abdominal muscles to realise this is happening. Without the sex scenes which draw so many readers in, this is a story of an abusive man controlling and dominating a virginal, vulnerable woman.

50shades

Chasing Rupert Murdoch (and bumping into Boris)!

Author:

Guest Post by Eva O’Flynn

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Today I felt powerful. Strategically placed between The Shard and Sun HQ, we, three teenage girls, sat and ate chocolate biscuits. Intimidating, I know. At least, The Sun’s security seemed to think so! They scowled, pointed and, when the shifts changed, warned each other of the threat that we were clearly posing. To make matters more hilarious, we are a relatively short group (see photo.) You couldn’t even see our t-shirts for all the jumpers we were wearing (until Stephanie ambled over, her tee quite literally glowing. Brilliant.)

At that point, the two police officers who were manning the area joined us. They arrived beaming and, as soon as they heard that we intended to be peaceful, our friendship was confirmed. We chatted about everything, from why they supported the campaign to the worst arrests they’d made and they even dispelled some of the more interesting rumours that we’d heard. They were brilliant, brilliant people. Even one of the security guards was friendly!

From our biscuit-filled perch, we caught sight of a shade of glowing blonde combined with the ridiculous amble that could only belong to Boris Johnson. He was walking away and we were about to lose what we saw as a brilliant opportunity for a comment. So we ran, capturing some brilliant selfies on the way. We were so exhilarated at the prospect of capturing the mayor in a shot with our NMP3 tees that, in the photos, we are beaming. Oh how I regret my facial expression and wish my disgust were visible.

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“What do you think of Page 3?” we probed, “Page 3 of the Daily Telegraph?” he responded pompously. “No actually, I read the Guardian. But come on, what do you think of Page 3?” At this point, his assistant began irritatingly babbling in the background, attempting to be clever. I somehow found myself telling our (buffoon of a) mayor in a tone dripping with irony my opinion of the Daily Telegraph’s Page 3. “I think it’s a pretty important page, you know? It’s the first thing you see when you open the paper, it’s right there in front of you, really sets the tone, don’t you think? Do you think that The Sun should potentially change theirs? Maybe, just maybe, boobs shouldn’t be the first thing you see?” Pathetically and unsurprisingly, he didn’t respond. We left him galumphing away to do whatever Tories do.

The big moment arrived. Murdoch was coming. Our two police officers fulfilled their duty, laughing, and the ridiculous number of body guards, less amusingly, attempted to hold us back. We shouted to Murdoch, showed him our tees, but the doors of the car soon shut. Before I could even gather my thoughts, Yas was in front of the car (quite literally in front) and they were rolling slowly towards her. She moved to the side with Stephanie and began to run, Rosa and I sprinting after as the car picked up speed. We were soon surrounding them, forcing the car to stop. We, four smiley, innocent women, stopped Rupert Murdoch’s car.

Today, although it may have been small, I felt like I made a difference. Today, four peaceful women disrupted The Sun. Today, I can say that I personally pissed off some powerful people. It feels amazing.

Read Eva’s original post, and more of her writing, here.

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