Archive for February, 2015

Free Speech

Friday, February 27th, 2015

A blogger (Avijit Roy) was hacked to death in Bangladesh. He had received death threats. He and his wife were attacked in public as they left a book fair.

I had never heard of him until now. I have not read anything that he has written and I have no idea whether I would have agreed or disagreed with any of it. But this doesn’t matter.

It makes no difference whatsoever what he wrote or how he wrote it. It makes no difference if he was American, Bangladeshi, or anything else. It makes no difference whether he was an atheist or religious. It makes no difference whether he was critical of Islam or anyone or anything else. It makes no difference whether he had brown eyes or blue, black hair or blonde, whether he was male or female, old or young, rich or poor.

Absolutely nothing justifies this horrendous act. All violence is wrong. All killing is wrong. All persecution and creation of climates of fear is wrong. Free speech, regardless of what it is, is absolutely vital. It is crucial that we all have the right to freely say whatever we want to say. It is also important that we use this right wisely and with care for others. I deliberately censor the writing that appears on this blog for very many reasons. But that is due to discretion and not fear.

Very few people read my blog. And I don’t imagine that anyone really cares much about what I say. Not to the point that anyone would think it worth threatening me to stop me saying what I want to say. But stories like this make me want to shout from the rooftops!!!

There are things that I say that might upset people. Some of my writing is critical of religion. Some of my writing is critical of different aspects of different cultures. Some of my writing is controversial.

There are things that other people say that I disagree with. There are things that other people say that offend me. There are things that other people say that I simply don’t care about at all. But I will defend their right to say it. The only way we can move forward and solve the myriad problems that plague our planet is through education, discourse, patience, tolerance, understanding.

So today I stand with all bloggers, speakers, writers, opinion-holders, commentators, journalists, educators, thinkers. We all should be able to say/write/think whatever we like without fear for our lives and our safety.

Why we need V-Day

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

V-Day is February the 14th. It is a day to raise awareness of violence against women and to support survivors of violence.

I’ve posted on my blog and on Facebook about violence against women and about women’s rights. And I usually get quite a bit of support about the issue from most of the men and women I know. Which doesn’t surprise me. Most of the men and women I know are intelligent, lovely, good-hearted, wonderful people who fundamentally care about equality, peace, justice, dignity, human rights.

But sometimes I get challenged regarding the focus on gender. And challenge is always welcome. I get challenged about the focus on “women’s rights” rather than a focus on “rights”. I get challenged on “violence against women” rather than “violence”. I get questioned on whether it is useful to disaggregate by gender since that exacerbates the segregation and just highlights differences. I get asked whether violence is in fact a gender issue at all. And these are valid points to raise – though I disagree with them. And I don’t think any of them negate the requirement for a focus on issues relating to violence against women and women’s rights.

V-Day is about violence against women. It doesn’t preclude any other focus on violence against men. And yes, violence against men is an issue. However, in most cases the violence against men isn’t because they are men, while in most cases the violence against women is because they are women. More men die in war, more men commit suicide, more men die violently than women do. All of this is true. None of this negates the fact that violence against women (because they are women) exists and is systemic and is culturally accepted (and in some cases encouraged) and is widespread and must stop.

Violence against women includes domestic abuse, rape, female genital mutilation, battery, murder. It includes dowry murders, honour killings, stonings (e.g. as punishment for adultery), forced marriage, child marriage. It is committed by boyfriends, husbands, brothers, uncles, sons, fathers, other family members and strangers. In rare cases, it is committed by women.

UK statistics that explore the gender differences of domestic violence show that domestic violence against women is more likely to recur. It is more violent. It has more severe psychological consequences. It is more likely to be associated with a culture of fear. Domestic violence is the major cause of miscarriage and stillbirth. 40% of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner whereas only 4% of male homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. Women in the UK are affected by female genital mutilation, forced marriage and domestic violence. Violence against women in other parts of the world is much, much worse.

So we need V-Day because there are very many women around the world in fear for their lives. One billion women will be beaten or raped in their lifetimes. We need V-Day because in many cultures women do not have the same rights as men and that makes them vulnerable to violence.

But we need V-Day because there are men in the UK who don’t think that violence is a gender issue. They think that because men suffer that this means that violence affects everyone (which is does, but not in the same way). They think that women in other countries suffer but that this is not the case in the UK. So V-Day is a day when we can offer support to the women who have survived violence. And V-Day is a day when we can educate people (men and women alike) that violence is a gender issue (even in the UK, even in 2015).

And V-Day is a chance for all of us to celebrate the freedom, the security, the safety that we do have.

Learning to Lead

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Ballroom dancing is done in couples. And in the couple there are clearly defined roles. One person leads and the other follows. In the case of choreographed routines it doesn’t really matter since both know what they are doing beforehand anyway. But when freestyling it is important that one person is directing the movement – the leader.

The steps in the dances are different between leader and follower. The leader is often showing off the follower and the follower is the one who usually does most of the turns, dips, etc.

In the vast majority of cases the couple is made up of a man and a woman. The man leads, the woman follows. In most international competitions, same sex couples are not allowed and it is not allowed for the woman to lead.

In the Arthur Murray context women are very strongly discouraged from leading and men from following. If a group class consists of 10 women, no men and one teacher then the teacher will dance with each woman in turn and the nine other women will practice the steps by themselves. The teachers all know the leader’s and follower’s steps and will swap between two with ease. In fact, we don’t usually say “leader’s steps” and “follower’s steps” we say “man’s steps” and “lady’s steps”.

The gender distinction between men and women is very clear and almost never challenged. Jokes about masculinity and femininity are often made when the teachers swap between leading and following. Male teachers will often pretend to be quite ‘girly’ when they do the lady’s steps, and female teachers sometimes act ‘macho’ when doing the man’s steps. Male teachers have done performances as followers, but wearing dresses. The interesting thing about this was that while it was done for comedy effect, one of the male teachers is so elegant and graceful that he was absolutely beautiful when he danced (and not comedic at all). He wasn’t feminine or girly or silly. He was simply a wonderful dancer.

While dancing, it is certainly traditional that the man is taller than the woman and stronger than the woman. The woman wears a dress (long and flowing in ballroom and skimpy and tassley in latin). But these things are not required. Sometimes a shorter male teacher will dance very successfully with a taller female student. And they look amazing.

Having said all of this, while dancing, we don’t actually use our reproductive organs. So it should make no difference physically whether the leader is male or female. The differences seem to me to be quite clearly social, cultural and traditional.

And I’m not a big fan of gender differences based on society, culture and tradition. They don’t sit well with me.

So I’m doing my bit to change it.

I’ve asked my teacher to teach me to lead. And after a small amount of persuasion he agreed. And I was really rather nervous for the first lesson. But completely without foundation. The lesson was fabulous. Leading is hard (I knew it would be). It uses muscles that I don’t use when I dance as a follower, but that isn’t surprising either. But I’m enjoying it! And since the lesson I’ve done some practice with some of the other students. And it’s great fun!

I love the different challenge that leading entails. Knowing about leading helps me to be a better follower. Knowing about following helps me to be a better leader. Leading is a different approach to dancing and that is fascinating. It is a physical and intellectual challenge. And one that I enjoy very much! Leading is not harder or easier than following. They are different. Some people are probably more suited to one than the other. The same can be said for the difference between ballroom dances and latin dances, one set aren’t easier than the other, but some people are certainly more suited to one than the other. But working on both does help to make a better dancer.

So it’s only a small step. But I am doing my little bit for challenging gender roles! (And having a lot of fun in the process.)