Kathy Stobart and her band in the early 1950s
Jazz can be proud of its anti-racist traditions and of how, from the early twentieth century, black and white musicians defied racism in order to work together to make great music. Jazz played a major role in the US civil rights movement and – long before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson for the 1946 season – helped convince white America that black people were at least their equals, and had an awful lot to contribute to the American Way Of Life, if only given the chance.
Jazz’s record on sexism and women’s rights is less honourable. Until quite recently, women were scarcely tolerated in jazz, and even then only as fans, hangers-on and singers. The few female instrumentalists that there were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s on the US scene tended to be treated with condescension or (as with pianist Mary Lou Williams, whose talent could not be denied), as novelties if not downright freaks.
The situation for British women jazz musicians was just as bad until very recently, which makes it only right and proper that we now remember the tenor sax player Kathy Stobart, who died on 6 July aged 89. Kathy was a pioneer, having started professionally in the 1940s when she ran her own band and worked for top bandleaders like Vic Lewis and Ted Heath. In 1957 she caused a minor sensation when she stepped in for Jimmy Skidmore (who was ill) with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band and recorded a highly-regarded album, Kath Meets Humph.
Humph held Kathy in high regard, describing her sax playing as having “a huge booming sound, imbued with total originality and a commanding presence.” Kathy joined Humph’s band as a regular member between 1969 and 1978, and then re-joined for 12 years from 1992. She set a precedent: after Kathy left, Humph hired two other female sax players, Karen Sharpe and Jo Fooks, both of whom have spoken of Kathy as a major inspiration and role model.
Kathy’s second husband, the trumpeter Bert Courtley, died in 1969, leaving Kathy a single parent, and she took up music teaching to supplement her income. By all accounts she was a “natural” and in 2000 she tutored Judi Dench in the rudiments of sax playing for her role in Alan Plater’s TV play The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.
Kathy, like a lot of the best female jazz players, would frequently be described by critics and fans, as playing “like a man”. The description didn’t please Kathy, who once commented: “It’s supposed to be the ultimate compliment, but I wouldn’t apply it to myself. I’ve got a good pair of lungs on me and I’ve got well matured emotions. I play like me.”
Guardian obit here
In Australia, there is an event called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, with some high-calibre contributors, like Salman Rushdie and Steven Pinker. One of the speakers they invited was one Uthman Badar, of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The title of the speech was Honour Killings are Morally Justified.
Badar says he did not choose the topic himself, but accepted it upon the urgings of the board. The festival’s co-curator Simon Longstaff said he had nominated the topic for six years in a row, because the point of the festival is to push boundaries ”to the point where you become extremely uncomfortable”.
Yet again, misogyny, racism and violence against minoritised women is considered edgy, rather than banal and conservative.
What’s more edgy and dangerous and uncomfortable than suggesting the world is a better place because a Tunisian father burned his 13 year old daughter alive? What’s more edgy and dangerous than saying certain women and girls don’t deserve to live?
For Aya, it was ‘dangerous’ to walk home from school with one of her classmates, and no doubt somewhat more than ‘extremely uncomfortable’ to die of burns a few days later.
It is a wonder that Longstaff didn’t realise that other speakers had balked the topic for six years in a row not because it was “uncomfortable”, but because it was morally repugnant: hate-speech as clickbait, where the names and faces of the victims are erased for the sake of a headline.
Enter Uthman Badar, the only man vainglorious enough to make the attempt. There are, of course, many experts in ‘honour’-based violence, people who have dedicated their careers to exploring its dynamics, conducting research, developing protection measures, supporting victims. Badar is not one of them. According to his Academia.edu page, he’s an economist (although apparently, he is not actually a student of the university that he claims to attend).
Even Badar doesn’t seem to have wanted to defend the murders of girls and women and young men: his preamble suggests he’s not even going to try and justify ‘honour’ killing. Let’s look at what he was going to say:
“Overwhelmingly, those who condemn honour killing are based in the liberal democracies of the West.”
This is untrue:
We in the West know about ‘honour’ killings only because they were brought to our attention by local activists: it was Asma Jahangir‘s decision to exceed her brief as Special Rapporteur into Extrajudicial Executions that brought the subject up; it was Rana Husseini‘s activism against the laws of Jordan that told us how embedded such crimes were in their societies, and it was Fadime Sahindal‘s prediction of her own death that raised the topic as something which occurred in the West.
Perhaps it is true that many of those who commit honour killings may not be based in the liberal democracies of the West but that doesn’t mean that they are accepted within their societies. Of all the Muslim countries surveyed by Pew, only in two did more respondents approve than disapprove of ‘honour’ crimes. Overwhelmingly, the scholars and activists who work against ‘honour’-based violence are people working in their own countries and communities, both within and outside the ‘West’. To ignore this fact demonstrates a strangely Eurocentric world view.
Aya’s father is taken as an exemplar of Tunisia: Aya herself is erased, the 300 Tunisian protesters are erased, Tunisian women’s rights activists are erased, the fact that ‘honour’ killings are vanishingly rare in Tunisia is erased. And this is all done in order that Badar can synechodically present ‘honour’ killers as the true representatives of ‘Eastern’ culture. This smacks of orientalism in itself: the presentation of a diverse culture and people as homogeneously violent, and obsessed with ‘honour’, against reams of evidence to the contrary.
And so, the next sentence:
“The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) Westerner and the accused is the oriental other: the powerful condemn the powerless.”
The person at the actual nadir of powerlessness, the victim, is totally absent from Badar’s analysis. The actual situation — where the accuser and moral judge is the enculturated (brown) Easterner and the accused is the feminine other: where the powerful not only condemn, but slaughter the powerless – is erased. The victim is erased, and the murderer is granted victimhood in her stead.
“By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned, while others are celebrated: in turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything which is wrong with the other culture.”
Let’s ignore this strange position where we are led to believe that some killings are celebrated, which seems to be an attempt at whataboutery and decontextualisation too vague for me to parse. On the other hand, his point that the discourse of ‘honour’ is used to demonise the ‘other’ culture is unavoidably true. However, there are many more people who are far better qualified to argue this than Badar. Aisha Gill and Avtar Brah have done this excellently, and are feminists to boot.
Katherine Pratt Ewing, to give another example, has written an entire book on the topic, and a speech by her on how ‘honour’ crimes are used to stigmatise minorities would be informative, and moreover, informed by research. That is not what Longstaff wanted though: it wouldn’t have have got him in the headlines.
After the cancellation of the speech due to public outcry, Badar produced a petulant statement which attributes the outcry to Islamaphobia, as did Longstaff: ‘Have not the ‘Islamophobes’ already won the day when a person dare not speak on controversial matters because he is Muslim?’, he tweeted, rather pompously.
Let’s consider this charge for a second. Almost all Muslim organisations take pains to distance themselves from ‘honour’ killings. Almost all serious scholars address the issues of culture with caution, and with due attention to the worrying levels of xenophobia in the West. Training materials in use by professionals to help them respond to ‘honour’-related violence in the family stress the importance of not making cultural assumptions.
Just as a thought experiment, consider this: if you really hated Muslims and Islam, what would be the best way of overturning all this good work done in balancing the rights to life and freedom of young people (many, but not all, of whom are Muslim) with respect for the culture of their families? How about promoting a speech called ‘Honour Killings are Morally Justified’, and getting a speaker whose only qualification is being a Muslim to present it? Would that work? I think it would.
H/T: KB Player
In view of the recent denunciations of both Richard Seymour and Laurie Penny for (alleged) offences against so-called so-called “intersectionality” (excellent description and analysis here), and the rise within sections of the left of this kind of vindictive ultra identity politics, this recent article by Michelle Goldberg at The Nation gives some timely background. As always, when we re-blog an article from elsewhere, it should not be assumed that Shiraz agrees with every last dot and comma:
Above: if only it were that simple…
Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars
In the summer of 2012, twenty-one feminist bloggers and online activists gathered at Barnard College for a meeting that would soon become infamous. Convened by activists Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, the women came together to talk about ways to leverage institutional and philanthropic support for online feminism. Afterward, Martin and Valenti used the discussion as the basis for a report, “#Femfuture : Online Revolution,” which called on funders to support the largely unpaid work that feminists do on the Internet. “An unfunded online feminist movement isn’t merely a threat to the livelihood of these hard-working activists, but a threat to the larger feminist movement itself,” they wrote.
#Femfuture was earnest and studiously politically correct. An important reason to put resources into online feminism, Martin and Valenti wrote, was to bolster the voices of writers from marginalized communities. “Women of color and other groups are already overlooked for adequate media attention and already struggle disproportionately in this culture of scarcity,” they noted. The pair discussed the way online activism has highlighted the particular injustices suffered by transgender women of color and celebrated the ability of the Internet to hold white feminists accountable for their unwitting displays of racial privilege. “A lot of feminist dialogue online has focused on recognizing the complex ways that privilege shapes our approach to work and community,” they wrote.
The women involved with #Femfuture knew that many would contest at least some of their conclusions. They weren’t prepared, though, for the wave of coruscating anger and contempt that greeted their work. Online, the Barnard group—nine of whom were women of color—was savaged as a cabal of white opportunists. People were upset that the meeting had excluded those who don’t live in New York (Martin and Valenti had no travel budget). There was fury expressed on behalf of everyone—indigenous women, feminist mothers, veterans—whose concerns were not explicitly addressed. Some were outraged that tweets were quoted without the explicit permission of the tweeters. Others were incensed that a report about online feminism left out women who aren’t online. “Where is the space in all of these #femfuture movements for people who don’t have internet access?” tweeted  Mikki Kendall, a feminist writer who, months later, would come up with the influential hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen .
Martin was floored. She’s long believed that it’s incumbent on feminists to be open to critique—but the response was so vitriolic, so full of bad faith and stubborn misinformation, that it felt like some sort of Maoist hazing. Kendall, for example, compared #Femfuture to Rebecca Latimer Felton, a viciously racist Southern suffragist who supported lynching because she said it protected white women from rape. “It was really hard to engage in processing real critique because so much of it was couched in an absolute disavowal of my intentions and my person,” Martin says.
Beyond bruised feelings, the reaction made it harder to use the paper to garner support for online feminist efforts. The controversy was all most people knew of the project, and it left a lasting taint. “Almost anyone who asks us about it wants to know what happened, including editors that I’ve worked with,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, an activist and freelance writer who was then the editor of Feministing.com. “It’s like you’ve been backed into a corner.”
Though Mukhopadhyay continues to believe in the empowering potential of online feminism, she sees that much of it is becoming dysfunctional, even unhealthy. “Everyone is so scared to speak right now,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
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Above: Kassim Alhimidi (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)
By Unrepentent Jacobin (Reblogged from Jabobinism):
On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky
There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power. The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.
Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores – like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, ‘structural’, endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to ‘check their white privilege’ before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should – no, must – be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.
In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.
Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:
Racism, n: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.
That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn’t change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.
Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.
This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called “a racism of low expectations”. As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):
This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from “normal” standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.
Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a “racism of the anti-racists”. This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within ‘subaltern’ groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.
The alternative to this, now routinely derided as ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism’, is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism – the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.
This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.
The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West. Read the rest of this entry »
As a keen follower of structuralism, post-structuralism and other post-modern banality and pretentiousness, I’ve noted the increasing use of the word “intersectionality” (often accompanied by the exhortation “check your privilege”) throughout 2013. ‘Sarka’, a BTL commenter at That Place, wrote the following (which I found very useful, and reproduce below without permission). As usual, when we reblog a piece, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all of it:
“Intersectionism” is one of those tiresome constructs that are either just cumbersome names for the obvious (even if we confine ourselves to viewing the social order just in terms of positive/negative relative privilege, it is clear that in any complex society more than one criteria is at work, and these “ïntersect” or at least interact…see my old hands of cards dealt to individuals simile) or else if explicitly or implicitly assigned more explanatory content, they are very dubious….
E.g. in the Graun article on “intersectionalism” much was made of the “huge explanatory power”of the thing….WTF? Surely only to people so mentally challenged that it has never struck them before that being e.g. female and gay, or disabled and black and poor, may multiply relative disadvantage Duh – as you Americans so irritatingly say, Go figure! No shit Sherlock! And wouldn’t that be characterisation rather than…er…explanatory power?
But obviously when apparently reasonably intelligent people make totems out of truisms something more is going on than the belated growth of two brain cells to rub together.
Here – to be very crude – the elevation of the truism is cover for a) the activity (well described by you, elsewhere) of establishing and adjusting competition in victimhood hierarchies, or indeed the apparently zero-sum victimhood market, and b) despite the apparently differentiating dynamic of intersectionality (it seems to admit the existence of different forms of oppression), it enables some supposed – usually very very thin – unity of all the variously oppressed against their oppressing oppressors, conceived (by their aggregate privilege!) to be responsible for the whole bang caboodle of oppression..Or alternatively – blacks used to blame whites, feminists used to blame men, the poor used to blame the rich, gays the straights etc etc… but rather than pulling these strands of oppression apart, “ïntersectionality” tangles them all together again….Suggesting that the fault is in the aggregate: it is white, western, straight, male, rich people who are ultimately responsible for every form of oppression, and every form of oppression is – though separate – ultimately traceable to the same source.
Hence it is a faux pas, e.g. to criticise brown people, especially poor ones, for oppressive behaviour to women or gays, for they are not the real source of the trouble…which can only lie with any with a greater aggregate of trump cards in their hands.
This is what [Laurie] Penny laughably thinks of as “structural explanation” – which in another guise presents itself as the (essentially wilfiully paralysed) position that no kind of injustice or oppression can be addressed unless ALL injustice or oppression is addressed…
On the gender segregation issue here’s an interview with Marieme Helie Lucas, an Algerian feminist and sociologist:-
Maryam Namazie: What is the nature of the recent sex segregation scandal at Universities UK where the representative body issued guidance saying side by side sex segregation was permissible? Why does it occur and by whom is it imposed? Also, it’s more than just a question of physical separation isn’t it?
Marieme Helie Lucas: Just like with the niqab, it’s an extreme-Right political organisation working under the cover of religion to promote sex segregation as a pawn in the political landscape and using all possible means to make itself visible and impose its mores and laws. The idea is to permanently demonstrate that the law of god (as interpreted by them) supersedes the law of the people. It is a blatant attack on the very principle of democracy and one woman/man, one vote, particularly relevant in the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death.
So please don’t think that those demanding gender segregation are for harmless religious and/or cultural sensibilities be accommodated. Think of it as a political demand from a particularly repellent ideology- and then you will less squeamish about opposing it.
The whole interview is excellent.
Also from Maryam Namazie, a principal organiser of the campaign against the UUK’s guidelines:-
“Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand to increase power and influence by asserting medieval rules on women and the society at large. The groups lined up to defend UUK’s indefensible position are all hard-core Islamists who hide behind ‘Muslim’ and religion to push forward their regressive and misogynist far-Right politics: Hizb Ut-Tahrir, FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), and Islamic Human Rights Commission…”
Loonwatch wrote an article about the campaign being simple Islamophobia dressed up. The author of it, in the comments, said Maryam Namazie took part in this exchange:-
Commenter:- “Maryam Namazie is an old fashioned whore….
To protest against the niqab, her higher intellect made her take all her clothes off…just brilliant…”
I don’t think we should call Maryam Namazie a “whore.” It distracts us from her revolting ideas. And it’s an insult to whores.”
(My old fashioned ways would be to sternly slap down someone who called a female opponent a whore, however noxious I found them.)
Other women called a whore are Muslim women of a questioning and liberal turn:-
I am the latest in a bunch of women, specifically Muslim women, who have come under attack from a group of misogynist men. Their aim is supposedly to combat Islamophobia yet ironically their appalling behaviour is unIslamic and actually fuels anti-Muslim sentiment.
It’s rather funny how our ‘Muslimness’ is questioned to destroy our credibility. Accuse a Muslim person of drinking alcohol or eating pork and you have instantly ruined their reputation. And if you’re a woman, well, that’s ten times worse. The combination of being an ex-Muslim (which I am not by the way) and a ‘whore’ is lethal.
Update:- Commenters pointed out that I had quoted the “whore” comment in Loonwatch incorrectly and I’d suggested Maryam Namazie is a Muslim. I’ve amended accordingly.
The article that follows (‘Pussy Riot Roars Out of Prison’) appeared in The Daily Beast on 23 December: I can’t improve on it. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
By Anna Nemtsova
Maria Alyokhina showed no mercy for Vladamir Putin when she walked out of jail, saying his performance felt like a”dark art of performance”:
They went behind bars as feminist artists and came out as human rights defenders. Both Pussy Riot performance group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina qualified for amnesty last week but they were only officially told on Monday and freed the same morning. Maria Alyokhina immediately spoke to The Daily Beast about being Vladimir Putin’s pardon, the tactics of the Russian penal system, and more.
Alyokhina said her release from jail felt more like “a secret special operation” than an act of humanism. Monday morning, prison guards told her that she had been pardoned but did not let her walk free on her own. Officials hurried to pack her belongings without letting Alyokhina decide what she wanted to bring with her or what to leave for her friends. A prison convoy led the artist to a black Volga car and drove her away from prison in unknown direction.
With this amnesty, people are given some freedom but not all of it. Last week, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was awoken in the middle of the night and taken away from his prison. Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny commented on Twitter that he could not understand such amnesty accompanied with “idiotic abductions, flags and black Volgas.” Alyokhina had no chance to say a proper goodbye to her friends: the other inmates. Officials brought the artist to the Nizhny Novgorod railway station and left her there. Alyokhina still wore her prison coat with her name written on it. She could not wait to see her little son Fillip and “was dying to take a shower,” she said. Alyokhina also felt worried about the fate of 20 women, fellow inmates who supported her in prison.
Alyokhina said after the “endless humiliations” in prison, what had happened to her this morning seemed like “ a dark art performance.”
In phone interview, Alyokhina said that after all “endless humiliations” she had experienced in prison what had happened to her this morning seemed more like “ a dark art performance.” Looking for a place to go, Alyokhina called her friends at a local human rights center, the Committee Against Torture. One of the activists at the center, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky said that officials “secretly sneaked Masha out of jail” so she would not walk free to meet with her family, friends and reporters.” To Alyokhina, who spent almost two years in jail, the prison’s behavior was no surprise: “This is typical act for our penitentiary system, close and conservative as jail itself—their methods are all about secrecy, no information and zero transparency,” Alyokhina said. Nobody would tell that she had just walked out of prison. Even in her green prison overcoat and uniform skirt Alyokhina looked as any young woman, “except that she is extremely intelligent, brave and stable for a 25-year-old woman, who spent over 1.5 years in jail,” said human-rights activist Igol Kalyapin.
Kalyapin visited Alyokhina in her Ural prison colony last spring. The system applied methods meant to break any man’s courage to Alyokhina, Kalyapin said. “She would call prison guards ‘personnel’ and demanded they respect her rights, at the time, when she knew she could be murdered any night; her life was threatened several times. She was punished by isolation in a single cell but Masha stayed unbreakable; she is a well-mannered, intelligent and very respectable woman, “ Kalyapin said.
Meanwhile, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova called for a boycott of the Olympic games in Sochi as soon as she had a chance to speak to press waiting for her outside the hospital where she had been kept.
My partner and I were once travelling on the eastern side of Turkey. That is noticeably more conservative than the western side, and we followed the Lonely Planet’s advice. He changed his shorts for trousers and I put on a long skirt. On mini-buses if there was a spare seat next to me and a man got on he would not sit next to me, so my partner and I would swap seats If a woman came on, it was vice versa. We were trying our best to be culturally sensitive, and though we found this particular custom absurd, there’s plenty to admire about the people in eastern Turkey.
Note, though, how inconvenient it was. The bloke who got on looked tired, and had probably been working all day in the fields. But a cultural practice prevented him from taking a little ease for half an hour. Also, countries where women are segregated usually mean the women stay at home. These are not just Muslim countries. When a woman friend and I travelled around Greece in about 1979 it looked like a virus had wiped out the female population. The corollary of the local women being kept apart is that we visiting women were harassed constantly. It was a relief to get back to Britain and be treated as a normal human being.
This is working up to segregation at universities which has made big news recently.
Over at Loonwatch, an Islamophobia watch site, they are puzzled that people should get so upset about men and women being segregated at meetings at universities that they, the complainers, are very unlikely to attend. They also think it’s hypocritical, given the amount of gender segregation there is in our society.
Of course our society has a fair amount of informal segregation. Hen parties (which are yukky from other points of view) and stag parties for instance. However, the woman who goes on a girls’ night out or to a women’s networking event would be appalled to be segregated at a public meeting. It was the formal connivance of the UUK to segregation that made everyone so angry.
There are times when a woman is a female body. In a changing room, in a toilet, in a hospital ward, giving birth, flirting at a party wearing a low-cut dress and having sex. But that at a meeting she should be regarded as a female body rather than another citizen, another listener, questioner, point-putter or heckler is insulting to every suffragette and every feminist who fought for women’s equal rights in the public sphere.
Here are some of the arguments set out by Tehmina Kazi, the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. The full piece is here.
Aspects of the gender segregation debate that have annoyed and perplexed me
Denial that gender segregation even exists in universities.
Downplaying of the discrimination and shoddy treatment faced by women who have experienced it, which goes back many years.
Those who are unable to see why it is problematic for a public body like Universities UK to prioritise the whims of external speakers over university public sector equality duties, and THE SPIRIT of equalities law.
No-one has given me a GOOD reason as to WHY gender segregation it is practiced in the first place, in either civic or theological terms. “Because we’ve done it for years…” does NOT count.
. . .
Women who turn around and say, “But I’ve never had a problem with being segregated.” Fair enough, but where is the empathy for people who HAVE suffered as a result?
[An old feminist recognises "I've always got on very well with men. as an argument for anti-feminism.]
The endless comparisons with toilets. Since when did the privacy issues of taking a dump compare to those of engaging one’s brain and listening to a speaker as part of an audience?
The endless comparisons with single-sex educational establishments, which people actively CHOOSE to attend. Even if the choice was made for them by their parents, you’d think they would be able to enjoy such freedom of choice themselves at the age of 18, SHOULD they decide to attend university. What people effectively have NO choice over is attending a public event at a MIXED university – either as a guest or student – where the arrangements inhibit them from sitting or entering alongside the opposite gender.
(As for the single-sex colleges at Cambridge University, they were originally set up to help redress the gender imbalance in higher education. As I understand it, at least one of the Cambridge colleges in question intends to become co-educational when the proportion of women at Cambridge reaches 50%).
Confusion over the distinction between discretionary segregation (where people randomly sit where they wish, perhaps in same-sex clusters) and organised segregation (which is either enforced by the event organisers, or requested by the student societies in question). [See above for my point on the informal and formal.]
Complaints that the issue is receiving disproportionate public attention NOW. Where were these complainants when women’s rights activists were raising these issues within the community for YEARS? Keeping schtum and not upsetting the apple cart, yes?
Complaints that those who raise this issue MUST have an Islamophobic agenda, when many of them are actually Muslims whose concerns have been brushed aside for years. (As an aside, many of these same Muslim activists have ALSO done a lot to challenge GENUINE anti-Muslim sentiment).
Assumptions that those who campaign against gender segregation in university events MUST also automatically oppose it in congregational prayers. This is not about acts of worship, as Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Mark Hammond made clear: “Universities can also provide facilities for religious meetings and associations based on faith, as in the rest of society. Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it. However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the Commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”
This issue will come up again in another guise, and again will have to be slapped down. It is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.
(Jim has already written on this below, but I want to add my piece.)
Well, can you believe it?. An illiberal piece of policy is advanced by a powerful body, against it comes a petition, a demonstration, media shouting and then the policy is withdrawn. Amazing.
To recap, Universities UK, (UUK) (formerly The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom) put out guidelines that allowed speakers at meetings in universities to insist women and men be segregated for “genuinely religious” reasons. Student Rights picked this up. The bloggers you’d expect – Maryam Nazie, Ophelia Benson, James Bloodworth produced angry posts. The mainstream media moved in – Nick Cohen in the Spectator, and Yasmin Alibai-Brown, finely furious, in The Independent.
Imagine the scenario:-
Sheikh Shifty is invited by some ISOC group to speak about Freedom and Justice at the University of Excellence. Sheikh Shifty will only speak if the women sit separate from the men.
Obvious answer – tell the misogynist theocrat to take a hike, in these words,
“I am sorry to inform you that it is against the principles of the University to allow meetings to occur with gender segregation.”
But not in the UUK’s horrible management speak:- .
if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully
There was a petition and a small demonstration which Channel 4 covered at length.
Then the BBC began to thunder. The Today programme (1:35) on 11th December had a long piece which started with the reporter regretting his old LSE, the one in the 1980s where students were raucous but not so ready to be offended, or offended on the behalf of putative others.
The next day the BBC got Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of UUK, into the Today (2:10) studio. Regular Today listeners recognised the tones with which Justin Webb interrogated her. It’s the one which they use on a duplicitous politician who has no moral leg to stand on – who has, say, been fiddling her expenses. It’s the voice of outraged decency against a moral moron and it was music to my ears, an angry liberal telling off a squirming piece of inconsistency and illogic. (For a biting take down of Dandridge’s muddled defence, I would strongly recommend this.)
“If this is all that Dandridge means – that people have the right to sit where the hell they want and some will sit cliquishly by gender or other groupings, there is no role for Universities and no reason why the situation should ever be addressed in policy.
Worse, “If women want to sit where the hell the want”? IF? What is this world in which you live where women routinely have no desires and sit where they are told without a single thought disrupting the gentle currents of air between their ears?
All women always sit where they want unless coerced or forced. The fact that you can’t acknowledge this openly, that women naturally have desires and preferences, that we make conscious choices here-there-and-everywhere, speaks to a profound sexism whose paucity of respect for a woman’s mind truly challenges the ability of words to express. I can only repeat your own phrase:
If women want to sit where the hell they want
and goggle at your idea that you will only impose segregation in times and places where women have no preferences.
The politicians – Chuka Umunna , Jack Straw, Michael Gove, David Cameron spoke out. Under the threads of their statements in the Guardian commenters were saying, Bugger me, the horrible Tory creeps are right this time. I’d normally be spitting that politicians were interfering in University affairs – they really shouldn’t, you know – but I’m cheering them. If the representative body of the Vice Chancellors and Principals are so bloody clueless, and the NUS are so supine, they need to be kicked.
I think a lot of the response has been visceral. The suffragettes weren’t force fed for this, the women who fought a grinding battle to get entry into English universities shouldn’t be pissed on
So now the UUK has withdrawn gender segreation from its guidelines. It looks like the forces of light have won for once.
Congratulations to those who attended protests and wrote copiously. If only every campaign could be so successful. But what a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time and anger-fuelled action.
Flesh is Grass has a sane, thoughtful piece:-
Women always miss out when public spaces are segregated by leaders and organisers – even if voluntary, it’s a small change in culture, in the general view of what is acceptable. Authoritarians always use the values of open, pluralist societies against those societies themselves, and weaken them incrementally. Let’s stop this.
She also pointed out that feminists like Caroline Lucas, MP, Green Party and Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party did not speak out. I read that Caroline Lucas had said it wasn’t a priority. Also there hasn’t been a peep out of that clutch of feminist writers in The Staggers. Polly Toynbee, one of the old-guard Guardian, undid the miserable expectations we now have of her paper, by sticking to her old feminism and atheism. At least they didn’t publish any of their usual apologetics on these matters. The Observer has an editorial and a good piece by Catherine Bennett.
On the other side:-
Well, one is an article which looks like parody in the Huff Po by Camilla Khan, the Head of Communications,(!) Federation of Student Islamic Societies, who tries to wrap this up in a mixture of post-modernism and spirituality. She has managed to use every con-trick word – those words that irritate like berry bugs in a bra cup – “discourse”, “empower”, “nuanced” and “diversity, “
Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression.
The problem is calling segregation, segregation. If you called it something else it would be fine. Telling Molly when she walks into a room that she can’t sit here because she’s a woman, isn’t segregation, just nuanced diverse empowerment.
Tendance Coatesey has a bit of fun with Khan’s linguistic studies – Saussure is old hat, I understand – but she really should read a bit of Orwell, and note that calling mass murder “liqudation of anti-social elements” doesn’t stop it being mass murder. But whoever has influenced her writing style, it wasn’t Orwell.
Her other con-trick is that very old anti-feminist ploy, that women taking a different (and different will mean inferior) place is a path to spirituality. So the anti-suffragists said that women agitating to take part in public life spoiled their purifying influence and their moral specialness. They were meant for a higher destiny.
As with life, Islam acknowledges that we form different groups who occupy various intellectual and social spaces. Diversity is celebrated with spirituality at the forefront, forming a broad frame of reference which is not always easily comprehensible to those outside of it.
No, I can’t comprehend how her spirituality is so much compromised when she takes a bus, goes to the cinema or sits in her cultural studies class. What about the diversity of those women who don’t want to be herded with other women, and men also. Is that celebrated? (Add “celebrate” with abstract nouns to my list of berry bug words). I think the “diversity” is a pretty damned narrow one.
Second is Shohana Khan. Khan is a member of Hitz ut-Tahrir, the fighters for a Caliphate where apostates will be killed.
Her argument boils down to:- Men and women must be separated because otherwise they will get sex on the brain and not be able to do something.
Rather the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships. Therefore Islam promotes ideas such as honouring women which are upheld in society, but alongside such ideas specific rules and laws are implemented to help maintain the atmosphere of healthy interaction between the sexes.
And if the woman breaks these rules, eg by not covering her head she’s fair game is she?
I think it has been observed that public school boys for instance, especially in times past, had a highly unhealthy attitude towards women because they weren’t used to them as normal human beings. So you’re talking garbage – and rather prurient garbage at that. Islamists are as sex obsessed as Hugh Hefner.
Now I won’t say I haven’t been at a public meeting and thought a chap in the audience was rather a dish. In fact, political meetings at universities is where many of us met our soulmates – that person who was highly vocal about the need to oppose nuclear proliferation and had lovely grey eyes. The partnerships of couples who fell in love with the shared ideals and the person can be highly productive. The Pankhursts were one such couple. Jennie Lee and Nye Bevan were another. So I can’t deny there is a sexual element at public meetings, as there is in the offices where we work.
But that it should dominate someone’s mind so much that it screws up their ability to act! What’s wrong with them? Knowing how to behave in public is part of growing up, as is concentrating on the matter at hand. The only people offering distractions who should be segregated are those twerps with buzzing mobile phones.
So a victory this time round. End with Any Questions (:38). Shami Chakrabati took what has been a common attitude – why on earth are we even talking about this?
Johnathan Dimbleby: Is there justification for segregation in an educational setting?
Amjad Bashir (small business spokesman for UKIP, Pakistani immigrant, from Bradford): No. The answer is no. Absolutely not. . . All through my life, and my children, my grand children are all mixing, all sexes, whether it’s primary schools, whether it’s secondary schools. whether it’s universities. There is no room. This is England This is the twenty first century. It’s not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, It’s not Saudi Arabia, where they are not allowed to have bank accounts. This is England. We should allow our youngsters to mix and decide their own future. This is the twenty first century. I am against this segregation.