Laurie Penny has a robust notion of feminism – and she’s not shy about what wrong with compromising.
“Feminism” is the one F-word that really will make eyes widen in polite company. Saying it implies you might have demands that can’t be met by waiting politely for some man in charge to make the world a little bit fairer. It’s a word that suggests dissatisfaction, even anger – and if there’s one thing that a nice girl isn’t supposed to be, it’s angry.
Often, fear of the word “feminism” comes from women ourselves. In many years of activism, I’ve frequently heard it suggested that feminism simply needs to “rebrand”; to find a better, more soothing way of asking that women and girls should be treated like human beings rather than drudges or brainless sex toys. It’s a typical solution for the age of PR and the politics of the focus group: just put a fluffy spin on feminism and you’ll be able to sell it to the sceptics. It turns out, however, that while a watered-down vision of women’s empowerment can be used to flog shoes, chocolate and dull jobs in the service sector, real-life feminist politics – which involves giving women and girls control over our lives and bodies – is much tougher to sell.
Whatever you choose to call it, practical equal rights for women will always be a terrifying prospect for those worried about the loss of male privilege. It’s no wonder that “feminism” is still stereotyped as an aggressive movement, full of madwomen dedicated to the destruction of the male sex and who will not rest until they can breakfast on roasted testicles. It should be obvious that, as the feminist writer bell hooks puts it, “Most people learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.” As a result, most people remain confused about what the fight for gender liberation ultimately means.
Why am I a feminist, not an equalist? First, because any woman who seeks only equality with men is lacking in imagination. I have no interest in equality with men within a system of class and power that slowly squeezes the spirit out of most people unfortunate enough not to be born into wealth. I have no interest in settling for a few more places for women on the boards of big banks. I believe the world would be better served if we had no women in those boardrooms – and no men, either; not if they intend to continue to foist the debts run up by their recklessness on to the backs of poor women across the world. If that seems unrealistic, it is no less so than the idea that we will achieve gender equality within the present system in our lifetime.
Second, I’m a feminist because, in Britain, gender equality is receding faster than a bigot backing out of a single mothers’ meeting. Last month, the Sex and Power report by Counting Women In (pdf) showed that women’s representation at the top levels of politics, the media, business and the arts has dropped significantly over the past few years. The report concludes that a child born this year will be drawing her pension by the time she first sees equal representation for women in government, if she sees it at all. That’s too long to wait. If we really care about fairness between men and women, it’s not enough for us to sit back and wait for the system of power to become a little more equal. Gradual trends can always go backwards as well as forwards. Now, more than ever, it’s not enough for us to be “equalists”.
Women will need to turn around, to combat another trend that has been resurgent – the many ways sexual assault continues to morph into new insidious forms every generation. Just today I read three stories about assault in quick succession.
- Judge releases Somali journalist jailed for interviewing alleged rape victim
- Five men admit to raping Swiss tourist, say Indian police
- Two Steubenville football players found guilty of raping teenage girl at party
- Tampa man held in rape of woman in abandoned building
OK, it’s all The Guardian, but thank you for the coverage. The geographical spread is noteworthy, as well as the nasty twisted aspects of these incidents. Gang-raping, assault by acquaintances, imprisonment for a journalist trying to investigate allegations of rape – men are responding to women’s empowerment in some ugly ways. Women do assault men, too, but even more than male-on-male assault, female-on-male assault is relegated to tabloid fare.
A commercial sex worker, who gave her name simply as Joy, told our correspondent that the semen found with some of her colleagues were secretly taken away after they had sex bouts with their patrons. In an attempt to extract the semen from unsuspecting male “clients,” she said, commercial sex workers exhibit extraordinary care and sex appeal, attributes which, she further claimed, caused many men to lose their guard. As soon as the man gives in fully to the pleasure of the illicit affair, she slleged, the prostitute moans and screams wildly in fake ecstasy thereby setting the stage to carry out her mischief.
But where the male “client” refuses to succumb to the trappings of the fake expression of passion, she said, the girl would rub fetish powder on her nipples and offer them to the man to suck. After sucking the breasts, the man loses consciousness and the sex worker would steal all his valuables and collect his semen.
She further alleged that some of her colleagues also use drugs to knock out some of their patrons and entice them into having sex in a semi-conscious state. She said: “After pulling the condom, the girl would go into the bathroom and flush the tissue she used in cleaning the man while tying the neck of the condom.”
Then in Ghana, sex workers in parts of Accra (Ghana’s capital city) who demand their patrons to wear condoms before any intercourse have now found a more commercial use for the sperms that collect in the rubber sheath. They sell a condom of sperms for a fixed amount of GH¢ 25,000 (about US$14,000) to desperate ‘Sakawa boys’ who use the sperms for money rituals. In Ghana, Sakawa refers to occult acts people engage in, such as sleeping in coffins and signing “pacts” with spirits for money, commonly called “blood money”.
A sex worker in her mid-twenties, who gave her name as Fatima, spilled the beans to NEWS-ONE last Saturday and said that the development had now become a common practice from which some sex workers made their money. She, however, declined ever being involved in the practice which she described as “wicked and satanic”, citing a personal experience she had with her 32-year-old cousin.
“Not long ago, my cousin got very sick. He was always writhing in pain, vomiting and defecating, and so in no time he grew very pale and so skinny he couldn’t be recognised. We realised he had also lost his manhood and everything showed that he might die. So my uncles took him to see a powerful spiritualist in our hometown in the north. It was there that the spiritualist performed some rituals and revealed that somebody had used my cousin’s sperm for money rituals,” she narrated.
Fatima, who plies her trade at nights at Sahara in Accra, added that even though the spiritualist was eventually able to heal her cousin, he occasionally complained of pains in his manhood.
“I am not a prostitute as you think of me. I’m only doing this because I just completed apprenticeship in hairdressing and I want to buy equipment to start my own hairdressing business,” she said after this reporter had given her GH¢5 (about US$2,81).
“I don’t want to take the GH¢25,000 (about US$14,000) and give somebody’s sperms to ‘Sakawa boys’ for their money rituals because I know the pain and travails that my cousin went through. More so, it is sheer wickedness and satanic to mortgage somebody’s manhood,” she added.
Fatima advised that if anyone patronised the services of a sex worker in Accra, that person “must be careful and insist on taking his used condom home. You never know who will sell it to Sakawa boys.”
After having gathered this information, it then became clear that in one way or the other, female rapists in Zimbabwe are travelling to Ghana or Nigeria where they will sell these sperms for anything close to US$14,000 per condom (full of sperms). This means, if they drug their ‘prey’ before having sex, and he fills 5 condoms, then in Ghana they will be paid US$70,000. This figure is too high for some women to ignore, which is the reason why female rapists in Zimbabwe have astonishly multiplied over the past few years.
There’s more than a few loathsome characterizations in this tabloid article, “lost his manhood” and “plied her trade”. When men assault, it’s an honorable calling to combat, and all else that follows from war is permissible; women “suck” money and status from their victims. James Turnbull reminds, too, of the convoluted ways various societies define assault.
Males commit assault for the most ephemeral of violent reasons. Encouraging non-violent means to change society in ways that just so happen to redefine gender, pardon the pun, “kills two birds with one stone”. In that sense emotional reactions to the “f-word” seem like a rehearsal for the violent consummation of a real assault – this time on the pocketbook and on the body.