Cause of death: male violence

Emma Kelty. Woman. Sister, daughter, friend, undoubtedly beloved to many. Former head teacher. Adventurer and explorer. Inspiration. Intrepid and brave. Murdered while she camped in the Amazon rainforest.

Emma Kelty was already known to us for completing a 51 day, 700 mile, solo expedition (unassisted) to the South Pole and being only the 6th woman in world history to do so. The coldest and driest place on earth, this is a terrain that offers little to support human life. The average temperature for January (the month Emma undertook her challenge) reaches only -20 degrees although it plummets to -100 degrees in mid winter. Some of the hazards faced by Emma were dehydration, hypothermia, snow blindness, frostbite, starvation, altitude sickness and exhaustion. Indeed, the previous year an explorer died of exhaustion and dehydration just a few miles short of his goal.

Emma overcame all of these obstacles and claimed her place in Antarctic history.

Her next challenge was something equally dangerous and, for most of us, equally unfathomable. She planned to solo kayak 4000 miles down the Amazon river, a trip expected to take six months. Emma undertook a punishing training schedule to prepare her for the trials ahead. She did advanced whitewater rafting courses and learned all she could about the hazards she would meet – the wildlife, the poisonous plants, the insects.

But she could not prepare for the appearance of men with sawn-off shotguns as she rested in her tent after a day of hard rowing. None of her training and experience prepared her for what would in fact end her journey, and her life (at 43), only 42 days into her adventure.

Emma was not unaware of the risks posed by ‘pirate’ gangs in the area. She blogged and tweeted about it and also wrote of the warnings she received from many friends, some of whom begged her not to go. I imagine she assumed that she had already risked her life at the South Pole and so made the informed decision to follow her dreams and go anyway. And now she is dead.

At the time of writing, Emma’s body hasn’t yet been found. That powerful and strong body, which survived such extremes and challenges, was dumped in the river like rubbish.

Her death has upset me because, yes, yet another woman is dead at the hands of a man. But it is something more. Emma’s story shows us that no matter how brave, how fit, how intrepid, how prepared, how well trained, how knowledgeable, how determined, how adventurous, how ambitious a woman is she can be killed by a man in a moment. Just like the other 2+ British women murdered by men every week. And that all the natural hazards faced and overcome by Emma in her epic solo adventures counted for nothing against men who wanted her dead. Because going off alone into the Amazon is no more and no less dangerous than sharing a house with an abuser, or getting into a taxi with a serial killer, or telling a violent man you are leaving him. My point is that we curtail our movements (we are taught to do that from babyhood) because of the risks posed to us by men but limiting our ambitions and our lives will not save us. Emma knew she was facing the very real threat of rape and death but she made a choice to pursue her dreams. She made the decision to live her life as she wanted it. She chose freedom and believed beyond all hope that a woman should be able to roam on this planet without coming to harm from men. We can’t be limited and silenced. Like Emma, we have to, in our own way, seize our place in this world and fight for the right to be free and safe. For us and for our daughters.

Emma’s murder is an atrocity. Male violence is a plague.

RIP Emma Kelty, you fabulous warrior-woman, you dreamer and star-gazer. I won’t forget you.

“Ultimately I know, that this could be the last of my big adventures for a while but I have no regrets at all and will make every effort to continue this life that I am currently leading that I hope (and have been told) has made impact on other peoples lives too. The world is huge and so much more to explore, I wish that others would join me on this way of life.”

 

On the death of a sister

For Zof

I found out today that a sister has died. A woman who I have never met, never seen and whose real name I don’t know died in May. Yet I shed tears of genuine loss because we have lost a woman who spent her entire adult life working for the good of women and women’s organisations. I also weep for the sadness and loneliness of her death from cancer.

I don’t know much about her but what I do know is that she was a CND activist and a member of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common in the 80s. She went to Africa and India with Save the Children to work as a midwife in very deprived areas, setting up health clinics for women and their babies. After getting back to the UK she volunteered with a women’s refuge for several years and then most recently as a volunteer with Rape Crisis, providing therapeutic counselling and psychotherapy for women and girls who have been raped or sexually abused.

By anyone’s standards that is an incredible tally of feminist action and she will have made such a positive contribution to the lives of so many women. Even in the midst of her own terminal illness she was touching the lives of women within our online Twitter community with her wisdom and kindness. No medals, no gongs…but in her own quiet way a heroine.

I know that she was deeply affected by the love of her online friends and that in her final months she took great comfort from those friendships.

Farewell, Zof and thank you, and while I write this I think too of all the countless other women who make our own lives better in a thousand different ways and I promise to be a better sister.

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A walk in the dark

The last full moon was beautiful. The sky was crystal clear and was full of stars. Although cold, it was a still and very lovely winter’s evening. I live in a part of the country known for its stunning landscape and a river runs only minutes from my house. I looked wistfully out of the window and thought how lovely it would be to go for a river walk in the brilliant light of the moon.

But I didn’t go because I was afraid and the reason for my fear goes a long way to explaining why I’m a radical feminist.

It wasn’t fear of tornadoes or floods that stopped me. Or a fear of thunderbolts and fire. Nor was I afraid of lightning strikes or meteors. I wasn’t kept indoors by fear of packs of wild dogs or swooping birds of prey. I wasn’t afraid of women or children either.

What stopped me was fear of men. Of some random man (or men) harming me in some way. Even if I hadn’t already experienced rape, sexual assault and male violence I would have been afraid because female children are warned from a very early age of the risks posed by men. We are warned for a reason. The risk is very real, as the personal testimonies of tens of thousands of women bear out.

Radical feminists know that all men are potential rapists. Obviously, not all men will rape but as we women are in no position to know who is and who is not a rapist, we must treat all men with caution.

The other evening I was walking down my street when I heard footsteps behind me. I looked around in mild panic and a very jolly neighbour laughed and said: “You looked round as if a madman was after you”. Yeah, I thought, but it isn’t mad men we are afraid of,  just men. And that fear controls our movements, curtails our freedom and keeps us indoors.

I looked wistfully out at the glorious full moon and closed the curtains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back, looking forward

Just over a year ago, after years of planning, I left my partner of 20 years and the father of my child and moved back to my home county. It has been a hard journey in many ways; the practicalities of moving, of sorting out finances, of finding a new home for my son and all while in the throes of a mental collapse and chronic anxiety and depression. Mostly, ensuring my son is happy and settled in his new school, environment and re-shaped family.

And re-shaped is what it is. I have striven to make the split as easy as possible for my child. I have put my own fears, grief and anger to one side in order to maintain a feeling of family for him. This means chatting amicably with his father at drop-off times, being very positive about him to my son and even spending occasional days out together, the three of us. It has largely worked and my son has adapted well to his new life. Me less well but therapy is helping.

There has also been a year of navigating milestones; Christmas, birthdays, other family occasions. This has at times been tremendously stressful and painful but we have worked out a way of being together and I have even managed to let go of a lot of the pain and anger I felt. Or so I thought.

I found out yesterday that my ex partner is now in a new relationship. Of course, I anticipated it would happen and I had even considered how I might react to the inevitable news. I imagined I would be entirely laissez faire about it and, mature and magnanimous to the end, would give him my blessing.

I was wrong.

I have spent the time since I found out carrying around a strange pain in my abdomen. Actually, more of an ache. Or perhaps a knot of sadness. A little death. This is how it feels, like a little death.

I am not suffering because I want him back or in any way regret my decision to leave him. I absolutely don’t. Nor do I begrudge him happiness or resent the new woman in his (and possibly my son’s) life.

What I think is happening is this.

I was in my early 30s when I met him. I was fresh out of university with my MA in art history.  (I had worked for ten years and then paid my own way through two degrees as a mature student). I was vibrant, intelligent, articulate and with a love of art, film and architecture. I was an avid reader of fiction and of anything that I found intellectually stimulating. I was waiting to begin my PhD in cultural representations of women and madness (oh the irony). In short, I was, to an intelligent, cultured man like him, a bit of a catch.

The 20 odd years since have been hard. The positive times have not abated the tremendous damage that this relationship has wreaked on my mental health, my confidence, my sense of place in the world. I went into the relationship full of life and envisaging a future in academia, full of writing and art and intellectual challenges. I have come out of it broken. I am not able to work. I pull out my hair. I am afraid to answer the phone. I think about death more than is normal for a woman of my age.

I feel angry. I feel angry that I came to him a treasure trove of possibilities and he took that and destroyed it. He was not violent (although a single punch to the head when I was pregnant demonstrates what was under the surface) but he was incredibly cruel. He punished any perceived wrongdoing on my part by, firstly, emotional withdrawal but later by making me feel I was quite unstable. He told me that mutual friends hated me. He told me that I was stupid. He told me that I was mad.

I have been listening to the radio drama The Archers on BBC Radio 4 and the unfolding horror of Helen’s abusive relationship with Rob. It has unnerved me because I see before me the full extent of the damage. I see it in what Rob is doing to Helen and what my ex partner did to me. I am not who I was. I don’t know if I can ever get that version of me back. I don’t know what is going to happen with Rob. We listeners are all hoping for some sort of vindication for Helen and a suitably punishing retribution for Rob’s gaslighting and abuse. But real life isn’t like that. My ex partner has adapted to my exiting from his life and is now with another woman. There is no melodramatic justice for me and my shattered sense of self.

That knot in my stomach I mentioned earlier… I think it is grief. Grief for the younger me who has long gone now and for the love I gave to someone so unworthy, but most of all, grief for the cynicism that has replaced love.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I hardly dare think of it at times. I do know that any future happiness does not lie in the gaze of another man and my self-worth will not be found in his opinion of me. I have learned that much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#NoBrainDay

Today on twitter we have yet another trending hashtag that encourages women to reveal their bodies online. I noticed this, was very disturbed by it for a whole raft of reasons (mostly to do with pervy men) and that was it. A little later I found out that #NoBraDay was ostensibly in support of raising awareness of breast cancer and then I couldn’t leave it.

Let’s put aside the convenience of a campaign that gets young women to show off their tits (how the men love that kind of campaign and are, as we speak, typing with one hand). Let’s also leave aside the bullshit that says you cannot criticise this without being labelled a prude (from feminists, no less). What really, really annoyed me was the disgusting insensitivity shown to the very people this ‘campaign’ is supposed to be for: women who are battling or have survived breast cancer.

I have never had breast cancer. I have never had a visible part of my anatomy removed. That doesn’t prevent me from understanding how devastating that must be and how thousands of women baring their beautiful cancer-free breasts can’t possibly help those women feel better about themselves. Especially the ones who have had breast tissue removed.

My aunt died of breast cancer at the age of 49. She had refused to have her breasts removed because she feared that without breasts her husband would leave her. She died when she had a chance to live. Part of what informed her decision is the way society fetishises breasts and makes women feel incomplete, unwomanly and undesirable without them. What this hashtag does is reinforce this toxic idea.

For many breast cancer survivors, wearing a bra is necessary for maintaining a pre-cancer shape and maintaining their former shape is very important to many survivors and for complex reasons. In this light, the trite idea of casting off your bra is deeply insensitive.

Clearly, no one has consulted with either breast cancer survivors or breast cancer charities because if they had, this hashtag would never have happened.

By all means, get your tits out online if that is your thing…but don’t pretend this has anything to do with breast cancer awareness.

Badly done, twitter. Badly done.

I give the last word to Hazel, a survivor…

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Real men. Really?

Lately, I have seen quite a few references to ‘real men’ as in ‘real men don’t rape’, ‘real men don’t beat women’ and so on. This has been making me rather angry and for some quite complex reasons.

To start with, what is a real man? Well, biologically speaking, a real man is a genuine adult human male. That is, a human being with the anatomy to rape. Now I know that this isn’t what is being meant when people (usually men) say ‘real men don’t rape’ so I want to explore the cultural significance of this saying and also what it infers.

My own reading of ‘real men’ is that it relates to a specific type of masculinity, one we can trace way back to the Dark Ages: chivalry. Chivalry is a proscribed code of conduct and laws originating from the medieval institution of knighthood. Knighthood was about honour, piety, loyalty and brotherhood. It was also about violence and using violence to express and enshrine those codes. The chivalry of the knights became part of what a fiercely patriarchal society expected of its males and it affected how men related to women.  Women, of course, were ascribed (by the men in control, in particular the Christian church) our own specific set of permissible behaviours that placed us very clearly in a position of subjection to men.

(Whilst I am discussing European culture here, we see elements of what became known as ‘chivalrous’ behaviour in all cultures, usually proscribed by the dominant religion.)

So, men were raised to aspire to be masculine as it was enshrined in the code of chivalry – to be prepared to live and die for their beliefs and to take a patriarchal role in the community. In reality, it meant idolising violence and oppressing women (specifically) but also men from outside of the ‘brotherhood’.

The Victorians, who looked back to the Middle Ages with longing, took chivalry to extremes, in particular where it determined the way the sexes related to one another. Men took on a paternal, protective role while ensuring women had no autonomy or political presence.

Compliance and obedience became virtues for women while for men, who took charge of all aspects of life, both within and outside of the home, masculinity itself was the virtue. As the status of women was so low, there was nothing as bad as being considered feminine or to display what were considered feminine characteristics, such as tenderness and empathy.

Chivalry is still with us in various forms; centuries later we still have knights. We no longer refer to chivalrous behaviour as knightly, or even as chivalrous but we see it often in its modern form, The Real Man, and we see it in the demarcation of specific behaviour and virtues applied to women and men.

Chivalry, or being a ‘real man’ is part of a narrative of masculinity that depends largely on the suppression and control of women for its validity. For example, holding doors open for women while many of the doors of political and cultural agency remain firmly shut.

As an aside, I can remember feminists getting a lot of flak years ago by suggesting that holding open doors for women was sexist, in the sense of it being part of the same sexist system that determines the number of women in positions of power. Hold open doors by all means, but because you are being polite not chivalrous.

What does all of this have to do with rapists?

The phrase ‘real men don’t rape’ serves two functions, neither of which benefit women.

The first is that it relies on the tradition of chivalry for meaning, and as I have tried to explain, that tradition is one of violence and oppression and a total disregard for the autonomy of women. Incidentally, I’m sure that even knights raped.

Secondly, it implies that rapists are some sort of ‘other’, a type of man that is outside of masculine culture. Yet we know that however monstrous the crime of rape is, rapists are not ‘monsters’. They are men from all parts of society; fathers, husbands, priests, servicemen (ironic, given that soldiery is the modern incarnation of knighthood), teachers, politicians. Even a man lacking in every recognisable attribute of power can exert his power over a woman by raping her.

By ‘othering’ rapists, it allows men to shirk collective and personal responsibility for rape. By defining rapists as not ‘real’ men, it allows men to conveniently place the blame for rape and violent male behaviour as something apart from them. By describing rapists as not ‘real’ men, men needn’t look at the systemic culture of rape and violence against women and how it defines our existence.

Never mind ‘real men’, we would all be safer if men aspired to be more like women.

My feminism :: an interview with @askcatbat

Inspired by a conversation on twitter, I am running a series of interviews with women about their feminism. I’m hoping that other women will find our various paths to feminism interesting and we might also take strength from and pride in our stories. If you would like to take part please leave a message here or send a direct message to @sueveneer on twitter.

Thanks to Katherine for sharing her story.

1. At what point in your life did you start to understand that you were a feminist?

  I was born a feminist. Being that I was born on a mountain in Honduras and lived in a Chosa I was away from the pressures of society. It wasn’t until I moved to city area that I started to feel a resistance for an unknown force. The point that I always mark as the blossoming feminist in me was when I was five. I was living with my aunt and her husband. He was arriving from work one evening and sat down on the coach. She ordered me to get down on my knees, take off his shoes, and put on his slippers. As I was undoing the first shoe a burning heat buildup inside me. Until I got up to go to his lap so I could face him and slap him across the face. I didn’t know why it felt right but I was punished for it afterwards. I knew about feminism since I was in third grade. It was around the same time I was looking into philosophy and aliens. I was a weird kid. Something about the movement really fit me. It was one of those words that when I saw it I could identify myself with it. And I knew I had found a piece of me.

2. What is the focus of your feminism and how has this shifted over time?

It’s hard to focus on one. As someone who is a curvy Hispanic female I grew up with a constant pressure to fit a norm that didn’t look like me. Several of my focuses include racism, body image/eating disorders, and sexuality. Over the years my brand of feminism has evolved significantly. I went through a phase where I despised men for being oppressors. Then I went through another phase where I despised women for allowing it to happen, for playing along to the stereotypes, and competing for attentions and favors of men. Then I hated myself for allowing myself to be pulled in to the myths and lies that exist in western culture about women. Coming to the truth about who I was is hard in a country where I’m not equally represented, or worst – invisible. If there is one thing I learned here it’s that some lives matter more than others, and some voices are heard while others aren’t. Because of this I’m more vocal because I have to be. I have to put my voice out there or risk not being part of the conversation.

There is another transformation I have gone through this year. I used to be pro-porn when I was quiet about my beliefs and opinions. Both of these things have changed about me. I knew about sex trafficking at a very young age. But I didn’t make the connection between what some privileged women in porn and stripping were doing by choice and how it drove up demand for further exploitation for others in sex slavery and rape culture. I got into a fight with a famous porn star online and I was never so disgusted in my life. I thought surely she must understand some of the negative effects this has. I came away realizing that some women in the industry don’t care about anyone but themselves. They didn’t care that most women, and children, around the world didn’t have a choice. They wanted to ignore these issues and pretend they didn’t exist – pretend I didn’t exist. All so they could maintain their image for their clients. The industry was all a veneer.

Everywhere I look I’m faced with lies from the media that want to convince people that this is “empowering”. I find that when I want to have an honest conversation about it most people think I’m being biased when I expose the overwhelming number of people that it hurts. How is what I discuss bias but listening to woman who live in a rich country and had a choice to join the sex industry not bias? I realize most people would rather talk to the few women who managed to climb to the top of the industry and portray the happy picture of the sex industry. People haven’t connected the dots in the porn industry and how it relates to the slave industry, pedophilia, and the general justification of hatred and apathy for human life.  People should be free to make choices but not if takes away other people’s right a life. If it’s not bias to claim that tanning and smoking is bad for you, why should the sex industry be any different? If most of what they contribute to is world suffering and what they produce is ultimately unnecessary to human sexuality? What other conclusion could someone come to?

3. How has feminism affected your life/relationships/career etc?

Feminism has given me power in a society that actively works to take away my humanity. It is what made me ignore the statistics that Hispanic women had the lowest test scores and many people concluded we must be inferior. People add and substrate things to statistics, they use them to come to crazy conclusions. Feminism has allowed me to ignore everyone who tries to define me, or tries to limit me, silence me, or stand in my way.

4. What are your hopes and fears for feminism?

I was afraid of the back lash feminism seems to be getting, but after speaking to people who are strongly against feminism I no longer fear. For some reason feminism is getting a bad name but no matter.  It reminds me of what Mark Twain said: Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

I think people are afraid of change, or afraid of losing any perceived power. But it’s so silly. We would all benefit if we were more equal. My hope is that we can focus on our goals and achieve more equality for women! Forget what all the haters say, we’re moving toward process, and this movement is bigger than us.

5. Who inspires your feminism?

It’s really hard to narrow it down. I admire a lot of women, and my list always changes. Right now I’m loving Meghan Murphy, Gail Dines, Anita Sarkeesian, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Leanne Ratcliffe (Freelee). I’m in inspired by anyone who makes me think.

6. If you could recommend one book or film to a young woman what would it be and why?

I recommend Persepolis –   it’s one of my favorite films. This movie really spoke to me. It’s set in 1970s Iran and is about a young girl named Marji who watched Iran being ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. Marji refused to stay silent about her daily oppression and her parents, fearing for her safety, send her abroad to Vienna to study. I really love how it captures war, cultural shock, and oppression.

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