Thursday, 27 March 2008

The A Word

I really, really, really hate talking about abortion. Which is fairly unusual for me, usually I thrive on controversy, I've been known to say deliberatly controversial things just to see what people do. Its very bad. But its different with abortion, whenever anyone brings it up (not that that often happens, its not really dinner party small talk), it just makes me feel very, very nervous. Everyone is so sure they're right. My feminist friends are sure that being pro-choice is right and my christian friends are so sure that being pro-life is right. And this makes me nervous because for once in my life I really, genuinly don't know quite what I think. Life is good AND choice is good, why do I have too choose? And what makes me more nervous is that everyone is so convinced that I agree with them, I almost can't bear to say that I don't. And if people know I don't fully agree with them then they're always sure that I'll come around (yes Rebecca, I am talking to you :-) !)

So given how much I hate this conversation, why am I choosing to bring it up? Mostly, because its an important part of my journey. Its one of the very few places where my christian and feminist identity collide, its where the two communities I call home really fight it out in the public sphere. So, as part of my journey of understanding, this has to be something I think about. Even though I don't want to.

And my opinions really are mixed and confused. I remember once in one week, being at an EFN meeting and feeling sad because I couldn't fully agree with the amazing women their about on-demand abortion, then later that week throwing my Christian Medical Fellowship magazine across the room for being so oversimplistic. So this is neither easy nor simple! I can't help but think that when we do make issues like this simple we are somewhat missing the point.

I think life is important, I think its a gift from God, I think that its sacred, I think that all life has the possibility of expressing love for God, and furthering Gods kingdom - our ultimate purpose in life. So, in line with this, I find the idea of aborting potential life (a foetus doesn't have to be living to have potential) difficult. It seems such a waste. And yes, ultimatly, I do not think that God wants women to have abortions. Not because God hates women, but because God is deeply in love with all of humanity, and wants us to live life to the full. I don't see when life begins (whether at conception, inplantation, a certaint stage of neural development) as being the real point, we'll never really be sure about that. The point for me is ultimatly about potential.

However, this is clearly not the full story. When abortion is illegal, women have them anyway. However, its more risky, and women die. Seriously, it happens all the time, a recent Lancet (medical journal) edition about womens health focused a lot on legalising abortion because the authors saw so much of the harm that back-street abortions can do. So, somewhat reluctantly, I believe that abortion should be legal. But is this really a pro-choice perspective? Surely to be pro-choice I would have to come from the perspective that women should have complete bodily autonomy and not just be being pragmatic? And then it gets even more complicated, because I do think bodily autonomy for women is important! But should that autonomy come at the cost of another potential life?

I think that I'm trying to say in this post is that I'm not sure. I don't fall neatly into the 'pro-life' camp or the 'pro-choice' camp, and I'm not sure either of those labels are helpful. Contrary to what you may hear, pro-life people don't all hate women and want to take away their choices, and pro-choice people don't all want to kill babies. Its oversimplistic, and it alientates people like me (and I like to think that I'm in the 'sort of pro-life and pro-choice ish' majority). I really hope that we can begin to have sensible conversations about this, and really be willing to engage with each other. Its complicated, and there probably isn't a right answer, and nothing is ever going to get better if we just shout at each other!

Hopefully more thoughts coming soon on abortion, violence, and what christians have to add to the feminist movement.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Easter Reflections

I love Easter. I love being reminded for a few days exactly what my focus in life is. Christ dying and Christ rising again. There is so much to learn from these few brief days in history, but at the moment, I am particularly struck by one of the stories of Jesus after the ressurection. Its found in the gospel of John Chapter 20, and its where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene.

The disciples have all been to the tomb, seen that its empty, been completly freaked out and confused (as you would be) and then gone away to think some more. That is, all except Mary, who stays beside the tomb crying. And its at this point, that in John's account, Jesus is first seen risen again. In and of itself its a significant moment. In Jewish law at that time, women were not considered to be reliable and so weren't allowed to act as witnesses in a court of law. By entrusting Mary with the news that He is actually alive, Jesus goes against all the logic of his day, and puts trust in a woman. And not just any women, but a woman that any of the 'religious' of his day would have been shocked to have been seen with. I love this about Jesus, He rocked the boat, and showed this amazing unconditional love to everyone, even the most hated. The gospel was first proclaimed by women, the topsy-turvy Kingdom of God which had come when Jesus rose again, did things differently, radical change was on the way.

But, of course, the resurrection is not primarily a political statement for me to use shamelessly to fulfil my own agenda (much as I really believe that Jesus did deliberatly choose a women to be the first to see him). So, the other thing thats on my mind at the moment is 'Do not be afraid'. When the women went to the tomb and found it open with big angels outside, in all the accounts, the first thing the angels say is 'do not be afraid'. Its also what Jesus says the first time he meets the apostles. Now, I will grant you, they probably needed to hear this given that they have just seen big angels/dead people walking etc, and these are, to the logical person, things to be afraid of. However, I can't help but think that there was more to this 'Do not be afraid' than that.

When Jesus rose from the dead something changed, I don't really understand it, but I know that it gives us hope, and means that we do not have to fear.

For those who are lonely and not sure what the future holds.
Do not be afraid.

For the activists who have worked so hard for so long and seen no change
Do not be afraid.

For those in countries at war
Do not be afraid.

For the dying, the bereaved, the broken hearted.
Do not be afraid.

For those in situations of poverty and desperation.
Do not be afraid.

For those who are unsure whether God is real, and for whom hope is lost.
Do not be afraid.

Christ is risen.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Why I am oppressed

So, I really should be writing an essay right now but seeing as I'm clearly not doing that, I thought I might as well do something mildly useful with my time. At a discussion group last night about oppression, someone raised the (perfectly valid) point, that as a woman they had never felt oppressed because of their gender, and asked me why I feel that I am oppressed. I did a very bad job of answering, partly because oppression of women (sometimes including me and sometimes not), is so clear to me every day, but I'm going to try to answer now.

As we discussed last night, oppression is about power, and one group having a lack of power on a systematic basis. So, here are a few examples of things that I experience, or am aware of, as a result of my lack of power in society that contribute to why I feel I'm oppressed:

- when I'm out late at night, I don't feel safe walking home alone, I'm afraid of being attacked, raped or mugged to an extent that men do not feel. Indeed, in the past I have felt the need to ask a man to accompany me (not that one man could help me much in an attack, but you're much safer when someone with power is with you), unaware of course, that I was much more at risk from this man than any stranger in a bush.

- I am aware that one in four women in this country will experience sexual violence in their lives, and so there is a high chance that it will be me. Never mind that, it has happened, happens to women I love and care about, all because of their gender.

- when I graduate and go into the workplace, the chances are that I will be paid less than any men in my life as women in full time work are paid on average 17% less than men ( If I ever become an executive of a business (hightly unlikely!), I will be faced with the fact that 96% of executives are men, the same is true for most high powered jobs. Thats quite a powerful place to be don't you think?

- I feel oppressed because within the church there are many groups that will not allow me to teach or lead (two things that I'm fairly capable at) BECAUSE I am a woman. No other reason. This limits the potential for me and for women who are called into these roles to both fulfill their potential and bring in the kingdom of God.

- I feel oppressed because I, and all the women I know are held to impossible standards of beauty, and suffer from low self esteem because we cannot reach them. I feel oppressed because when I choose not to engage in beauty rituals like make up and hair removal, I am judged and not considered to be attractive. I am oppressed because my self worth comes from my beauty and not what I am capable of achieving.

- I feel oppressed because I am surrounded every day by women being treated as objects, existing only for the pleasure of men. I see it in lads mags (and of course hard core porn, I just don't see that), music vidoes, countless adverts, TV shows films, womens magazines ('do X to please the man in your life') and so much more. It seeps into our conciousness and sends us a message about what our lives are about.

- I feel oppressed because, like every other woman in this country (I think), I have at some point had a man feel able to comment on my breasts/legs/ass/smile/face as I walk past. After all, since women exist to please men its only natural that they should tell us when we are doing well and when we are failing right?

- I feel oppressed, because whether they meant to or not, I have been taught by, and talked with people who are more willing to accept the opinions of the men in the group and not mine.

- I feel oppressed because people often don't believe me when I say I don't really want to have children, as though I am going against what is natural for me.

And all this is just what applies to me. Never mind that female foetuses are aborted every day in Asia (and here though less so) because a girl baby is less desirable, girl children are killed or die from neglect at high rates. Girls are more likely to die from malnutrition related diseases, because if there is a lack of food it will go to the boys, who are worth more. Girls are less likely to get an education globally as it is less useful to them. As we grow up, it doesn't get better, we are at higher risk of sexual and domestic violence, poverty (majority of the worlds poor are women), female genital mutilation, prostitution, honour killing, trafficking, HIV, and so much more.

And why all this risk? Because we are women. The power in our society, lies, for the most part (and this is changing, slowly, very slowly) in the hands of men. The big word is 'patriarchy' and the reality is all I have said from my life, and so much more that I have never known.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Why I don't shave my legs

I has been a cause of much disgust in my life so far that I do not, and haven't for about 2 years, shave my legs. My sisters are disgusted by this (I don't think my little sisters would be seen in public with me if I had shorts on...), and while other people are much less vocal in their horror, it has certainly surprised many people - woman shaving their legs is just such a normal part of our society.

So, I decided to write down, for the record, just why exactly it is that I don't shave (to be accurate, I don't actually remove hair anywhere, though I have been known to pluck hair from the wierd hair sprouting mole on my face. Lovely.) I don't shave because I don't want to. And this really is my primary reason, I just can't be bothered. And fundamentally, I think that when it comes to beauty rituals like this, we have to realise that not wanting to is a perfectly valid reason not to do something. I would much rather waste my time on the internet than waste my time in the bathroom shaving my legs and pits and puttting on lots of make up (another thing I don't do). There is something very releasing and refreshing in realising that you are not required to shave your legs to be a 'real woman' or an 'attractive women'.

Of course, I do have reasons going beyond my perfectly valid lazyness, though that is the primary reason. I started shaving my legs when I was 13, around the time that a boy in my class saw the hair on my legs and told me that it was disgusting, and if I'm going to show my legs, I really should make sure to shave them. He wasn't deliberatly being nasty, but the newly teenage me was totally horrified. I couldn't bear the fact that something about the way I looked disgusted people (and more particularly, disgusted men), so I started shaving. And this is important to remember, I, like most of us, only started shaving in order to make the way I looked more acceptable to those around me. Shaving has no benefit to me, it doesn't make me happy, I don't enjoy it, it was just to make me normal. And now I'm making the adult, educated choice, not to be normal. Its over-rated.

We cannot live our lives just assuming that we do things because everyone else does, and we are required to, we need to start analysing them. Whye is it that women shave legs/pits and men don't have to (some do, but its not a requirement to be attractive). "The Beauty Myth" talks about how ideas of female beauty are used to control women, and limit them, and I think that has some bearing here. Other people have brough up how the desire for hairless women, makes us look pre-pubescent, child-like. Why would I want to stop being a woman and become a girl again?

So, I guess I don't care how much of a social steriotype I am (over weight, hairy feminist), I am embracing my right to look exactly how I choose to, and not to be limited by constraining ideas of what society says is attractive. Frankly, I just don't have time.