Monday, 27 August 2012

August Mega-Rant

So I started writing this last week and already I'm finding I've cooled off a bit... My opinions on things change a lot but here are some of my thoughts and, of course, I'm willing to be challenged....

A wee while ago, before the Jubilympics cast a Union-flag-shaped patriotic gloss over this green and pleasant land, I had some – limited – faith in our news broadcasting systems. The format used to go something like this: we would start with some breaking international news, before some diplomatic incident or another, followed by the national political issue of the day, other national news, an and finally... type story and sport before the local news and weather.

More specifically, if thirty-four workers from a British-owned company were shot dead by police somewhere in the world, and a further seventy-odd injured – under very dubious circumstances – unless there’s a major sporting event on, I would have expected that it would get some decent coverage right at the start of a news bulletin. But when the police chief simply states that “this is not time for finger-pointing” (although evidently it was one for trigger-pointing) I was a bit put out to see these events disintegrate so quickly from the headlines.

The Pussy Riot Dolls

Ok, I admit I can often be premature and reactionary. Also, there hasn’t been a shortage of massacre and  maybe there isn’t enough space for more misery; it’s easy to be worn down by endless and seemingly senseless violence. Much to my shame, I’ve lost track of what’s going on in Syria – from what I read and view, there seems to be a continually rising death toll and a mass exodus for those fortunate enough to be able to escape to Turkey without being sent back. But the more bloodshed reported, the more it blurs into one huge killing zone that I feel unable to do very much about.   

All of that taken into consideration, I was saddened to see such a blatant example of the sexier stories winning over. One case that springs to mind is Pussy Riot. Let’s get this clear from the start – I greatly believe in freedom of speech (which includes the freedom to blog, express controversial views, demonstrate, protest and shock or offend people, without it being an explicitly criminal offence) and I think what they did was incredibly brave. In fact, I support anyone who cares enough about what happens to them and freedom of speech in general to protest about the matter (and, in fact, I know people who demonstrated outside the Russian embassy in Edinburgh, and I support them wholeheartedly).

Having made my disclaimer above, there is little too surprising about the story: plenty of people - and many women - over many years have found themselves silenced, in one form or another, in Russia for dissidence. Somehow, the way the news has treated the story and the perverse voyeurism of these women in a glass box, the way I’ve heard them referred to as “girls”, and the opportunism of getting a few popstars to comment about it has made it a juicier story. I can’t help feeling we play with their plight as if they were Russian dolls rather than the latest in an increasingly long line of protesters trying to be heard.

All the above said, it has drawn my attention to what is going on in Russia; it’s also drawn my attention to the way we still refer to women.

Rape: a love story?

Speaking of, there have been several incidents of rape gaffes, but two in particular drew my attention in a really bad way. On both sides of the Atlantic we seem to have out-of-touch men, prone to controversy, discussing the legitimacy and authenticity of rape. I’ve learnt that supposedly intelligent people believe that if a woman has been"legitimately" raped, they won’t get pregnant. And it kind of reminds me of a quote in the Old Testament about how to assess the "legitimacy" of rape; Deuteronomy 22: 23-28 would seem to suggest that women in the country can be legitimately raped, but in the city there are no grounds:

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
It continues:
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

And those verses, of course, remind me of the recent Morrocan case, where 16 year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her attacker. Several commentators went straight on the rampage about Islamic law but this practice is certainly not unique to Islam!  

In my last post, I mentioned that I found it a bit overwhelming to hear three poems about rape in two nights during my trip to New York last month; now I can see how it might be necessary to voice out to the public that it isn’t cool to make these judgements about the men and women who have been raped, not about the “legitimacy” of the rape, the “genuineness” of it, or any other such moral pronouncements that have no legal or scientific grounding.

George Galloway, of course, commented about how he wouldn’t consider Julian Assange to be a rapist, even if the allegations that he had sex with a woman in her sleep without her express consent prove to be true; apparently, the fact that they had had sex before makes it clear that she has consented for eternity. And that kind of reminds me of the fact that before 1991 married women in the UK could not legally prosecute their husbands for rape, and many countries still do not recognise the concept of marital rape. The consent once, consent forever principle seems to apply here.

What both men, in my opinion, have failed to see is that rape does not have to be the violent, bloody, stranger-in-the-park with a knife type of experience that get all the headlines. The law regarding consent is simple enough: all parties involved must be of legal age and able to give consent, e.g. not asleep or too drunk to notice. Of course, up and down the country there are people who have drunken one-night stands on a Friday night followed by hazy-memory Saturday mornings; consent can be a (Shade of...?) grey issue in many cases, but it is up to courts to decide in these matters, and it is only with a touch of sensitivity that we can pass comment.

Naked Harry

And then, something else that ticked me off was all of this Prince Harry stuff. And I was kind of in two minds about the story. The excuses for his behaviour go something along the lines of: he’s a normal, red-blooded (read red-headed? or at least red faced... and has been read the riot act by Prince Charles, supposedly!), single, heterosexual young man; he’s in the army (and you know what it’s like in the army, eh? Bit of harmless fun for a change); he deserves some privacy etc etc.

My reason not to comment was the fact that I already spend too much time talking about the Royal Family for someone who claims to not care about them. But then a friend of mine made this simple comment: what if he’d been a woman? Far from being a “lad”, he would be a "slut". Let’s face it: a female Harry with naked pictures circulating the internet would be seen as an even more complete embarrassment to what he represents: the monarchy, the ruling class, the prim and the proper, an institution that not only rules over Britain and the Church of England, but over the Commonwealth too. They may have changed the succession laws so rights to the throne don't just favour first-born males, but it doesn't mean we'll see the rights to make an idiot of oneself gender-neutral as well.

It’s just another great reminder for me on how far we have to go... 


And then, speaking of how far we have to go, I feel a little disturbed about the way the Paralympics have been advertised. The tagline "forget everything you know about humans; meet the superhumans" was originally used to promote the games, with this video:

There's something slightly sinister for me about fetishising the differently-abled as something other than human. I originally thought the whole point of the Modern Olympics and Modern Olympic philosophy was to inspire a sense of togetherness and brotherhood. Perhaps this is not the same for the Paralympics, but how can I expect to feel any kinship with people who are not human but "superhuman"? 

I'm know I'm being very sensitive on wordplay and it's actually a cool advert, plus they've seemingly dropped the "forget everything you know..." part, so I'm happy to be corrected when I say it still makes me feel uncomfortable. 

Now I've got all of that off my chest and put the world to right, I can sleep happily :)

COMING UP: This month in Poetry...

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