Sensei Mom

“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”
– Erma Bombeck

There are many reasons for my sporadic posting, (for the six people who do take the time to read), and one of them is that I have produced my very own tiny human in the last two years. Exciting, I know, and much, much harder than a shodan grading. Giving birth puts many things into much-needed perspective. 21 hours of labour will do that.

Anyway, now I juggle two titles: Sensei, and Mom. And like all mothers before me, I am going to offer unsolicited wisdom, as revenge for all the unwanted advice I got from family, friends and complete strangers in the queue at Checkers (because nothing inspires condescending advice from randoms like a baby bump. The same fuckers won’t offer you a chair to sit on, but they will ask about whether you plan to have natural birth or not. Rude.)

First Lesson: I Am A Woman, Not An Island

Learning to accept help has probably been one of the most valuable lessons of the last two and a bit years. Because from the moment everyone knew (especially the dojo), the offers of help began to pour in. From my husband, who took over my teaching load when I was too tired to stand, to the bags of ginger sweets from friends for the 3 months of all-day nausea, to every dojo mom who has bounced Hunter to sleep, to the teens and kids who play with him so that I can teach/grade/event manage. I have learned to accept offers of help, because people really do want to help and its important to let them, and especially when its a chance to let someone learn a valuable skill, like letting a teen handle admin tasks. It is especially great when people volunteer to take Hunter off my hands so that I can focus on teaching, because at the end of the day, I really do love teaching and it matters to me that I can still do it, and do it well, and not sacrifice it entirely on the altar of motherhood.

Second Lesson: Motherhood is Mine to Disrupt
I admit I was warned, but I didn’t really know that so much of parenting would just outright suck and be boring. The waiting, the nappy blowouts, the sleep regressions, the food struggles, the fear when my child is sick and his temperature is spiking. The endless worry about milestones, and the inevitable comparisons, made by both myself and others. “He looks a bit thin”, and “are you sure you’re feeding him enough?” and “shouldn’t he be doing X by now?”

And it is still scandalous to admit all this, because “what about all the people that will be too put off to have children?” Well, good, because they aren’t tough enough for this gig. Also, apparently upon becoming mothers, we are all supposed to turn into these earth goddesses who are also so good at cleaning, and breastfeeding, and sleep training, and cooking and a million other things. (Ali Wong puts it better in her stand-up special Hard Knock Wife.) Voetsek to all that, I say. I truly love teaching karate, and I love my son and my husband, and everything else can fit into that. I refuse to give up teaching, and I am incredibly lucky that I have a husband who more than does his half – he does some of my work too. We try to keep to a routine, but sometimes there are interruptions, and that’s fine. No, I am not a perfect mother, but no one is, and I’m doing my best, and that’s all anyone can ask. And if that’s not good enough, then fight me.

Lesson Three: Stronger than Before

I went through my blog the other day (procrastination) and came across all these godawful, whiny blogposts, and I must have deleted dozens of them, because nothing teaches one strength like parenting. Things that used to knock me on my ass barely register now. People are mean? Whatever. Sleep-deprived and suffering a chest infection? Show must go on.

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws,” said Barbara Kingsolver, and this is why we can still do what we need to do, even when sick, even on two or three hours sleep. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since December 2017, when I was 5 months pregnant and got up two or three times a night, because pregnancy reduces even the best bladders. (Oh, and the incredibly vivid dreams, yes, can’t forget those). The longest I’ve slept is 5 hours. My son’s chronotype is ‘ferret on meth’, and since he doesn’t sleep, neither do I. But somehow, I’ve gotten used to it, and the bags under my eyes match my black belt. (I still don’t like it when people point out how tired I am. Bitch, I know. Offer to take this child for two hours, or something. Bring me a Red Bull, my one vice.)

When I turned 30, I started running out of fucks. Now, I have zero, not even one, left to give. Either help, admire, or get out of my way. Sensei Mom has too much to do.

Lesson four: Empathy (Sorry, Mom) and Gratitude for Days

I am now suddenly and completely retroactively sorry for being the brat I was, and how I put my poor parents through hell. According to my mother, I didn’t sleep either, and I couldn’t understand growing up why she delighted in telling everyone about it. I get it now. I realise that she was just looking for a bit of sympathy, and maybe for someone to offer to take me off her hands for a bit. Luckily, I have a big family, an incredible husband, a dojo family, and a part-time nanny, and I would be completely sunk on my own. I could write an Oscar acceptance speech trying to thank everyone, but I fear I am already running long here. I am consistently in awe of parents who go at it on their own, for any number of reasons, especially as families shrink and/or splinter all over the world.

Entering the sisterhood of motherhood has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Because even though there are judgy moms who have an opinion on everything and everyone (Karens), there are also welcoming moms, who have taught me tricks and commiserated and let me rant and be pathetic every now and then. There have been moms in shopping centres with an extra wet wipe, or complete strangers in a train station in Okinawa who gave us a fan to cool Hunter down. The whatsapps late at night with mom friends, who are also either in the trenches, or enjoying the rare hour when everyone is sleeping and its time for pointless instagram scrolling, or reading, or Netflix bingeing. My relationships with my mom and stepmom have become richer, because I get it now, and they still have something to teach me, even if parenting has changed dramatically in 30 years.

Lesson Five: Everything Has Changed (And You Get Used To It)

The hardest thing, sometimes, is mourning the person I used to be – when I had the luxury of time to run for two or three hours, and then shower and nap afterwards. When I didn’t need an organising committee to make time for a nap. When I could go to every training session, and every gashuku, start to finish. Teaching kata to kids is not the same as real training (because I need to work on Saipai, a kata that is currently not on speaking terms with me, understandably) and it has been hard to swallow my pride and accept that my karate just kinda sucks now. Funakoshi said that karate is like a pot of water, and we need to keep it hot to keep it boiling, and I haven’t been able to keep up that heat.

My san dan journey has been set back a few years, because while I did train while pregnant, and was back in my gi two weeks after giving birth, I have to face the fact that I lost time. I lost lots of time. I have to fight hard to carve out training and running time. Every time I try to train, my son suddenly becomes clingy, and I must step off the mat, because its not fair to disrupt the whole class for the sake of my training. My own health, while important, must take third or fifth or tenth priority, some days. This is how women get worked out of the system, because karate and the patriarchy and generally everyone else doesn’t wait for you, and it is implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) understood that one is like, super grateful to be a mom and will happily surrender her entire journey to motherhood. Karate is for men, isn’t it? Isn’t that why there are only men at the top? We are slowly changing that, but being on this side of motherhood, I can see why so many of us just quit, or slowly disappear. I understand.

But, karate is long, and life is short, and as Hunter gets older and more independent, I am slowly clawing back time to train. A wise Sensei Mom once told me that before I know it, he’ll be big and training alongside me, and I’ll have plenty of time again. And I try to remember that, especially on the days when time feels like it is dragging, and I’ll be wiping butts forever.

Overall, hopefully, importantly, I hope this has all helped me become a better instructor. There aren’t a lot of Sensei Moms, but we are out there, and if we can keep at it, and show the girls coming up behind us that motherhood can be enriching, not limiting, and that they can be tough and soft, and breastfeed while kicking ass, then every Sensei Mom has earned a different kind of black belt.

“Being a mom has made me so tired. And so happy.”
– Tina Fey

My Afropolitan Articles

I love seeing my name in lights, and digital lights are pretty great, but being on paper is still infinitely more rewarding. I like to think the trees would be glad to know they are going to such a fine use (rather than ending up as tabloid fodder, shame). Happily, some of the articles are available online.

Since the writing is property of Afropolitan Magazine, I will only hyperlink here, with short snippets:

book-book-pages-burned-pages.jpg

Transformation on Paper: The South African Literary Debate

During the Franschhoek Literary Festival, Thando Mgqolozana began a discussion on the unnaturalness of the South African literary scene: during one of his panel talks he said to the all-white audience, “look at yourselves, it’s very abnormal”. He spoke about how he was quitting the ‘white literary system’, and then people got upset, but not for the right reasons.

Terrible Flags for Terrible People

As national retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon, Target, eBay and iTunes rush to strip the flag from their shelves, we are finally seeing progress – even if it came at the cost of nine innocent lives.

Initiates walk bare footed as part of tradition in the field outside an initiation school in the Eastern Cape

Initiates walk bare footed as part of tradition in the field outside an initiation school in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, July 19, 2006. Every year thousands of youths leave their parents to spend weeks in the care of traditional leaders at an initiation school where they are circumcised,a rite of passage commonly referred to as “Ukwaluka” or “going to the mountain”. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA)

Mountains of Death: The Cost of Male Circumcision 

Every year, in the name of ritual and manhood, thousands of young boys go into the mountains of the Eastern Cape. Dozens come back dead or deformed. How can we let this happen?

Female Entrepreneurs: Africa’s Pride

As the continent becomes increasingly connected to other parts of the world, and better connected to other African nations, there is an astonishing rise in entrepreneurship. Even better, there has been an increase in woman-owned businesses, increasing employment opportunities and boosting the economy. In South Africa, it is estimated that SMES will contribute 90% to the economy’s growth due to their labour-intensive nature.

African Women’s History: The Dahomey AmazonsDahomey women going to war with king at head

The origins of the Dahomey Amazons (also known as the Mino) are contested, but general consensus is that they arose out of the King’s harem in 1645, turning into a bodyguard and eventually morphing into an elite killing force under King Agadja (1708-1740).

Redefining Womanhood: The Definition of Femininity 

With the incandescent arrival of Caitlin Jenner, ablaze in victory and captured in her moment by Annie Leibowitz, it seems like 2015 is finally the year that the world gets around to accepting transgender people, and we can all go home now. The work is done, and everyone lives happily ever after

A Bunch of White Guys, or The Hugo Awards

It isn’t a surprise to anyone that I am not the biggest fan of that literary ghetto of a genre, science fiction/fantasy. Despite publisher attempts to rescue books from that dreaded pit by re-labeling them speculative fiction, it remains a genre that has become a shorthand for basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing virgins.

The SFWA Magazine cover, Winter 2013

The SFWA Magazine cover, Winter 2013

Not that all readers of SFF are such – I know some lovely people who read it, and no doubt it produces outstanding literature, when it is careful about book jackets and avoiding the cliches that so haunt it as a genre. Some of my favourite books are technically SFF, but only because its such a broadly-defined genre. I didn’t start reading Pratchett for the dragons, but for his cop stories. But I still feel that this is a genre more haunted by outright racism and misogyny than it should be in 2015.

Then this year’s Hugo Awards nominations were released, and I feel like SFF took five steps back.

In summary: the internet’s bored white boys got annoyed that, gosh darn, women and people of colour were winning awards for SFF writing, and by their pointy white masks, this could not stand. So this group, called the Sad Puppies (I fucking kid you not) petitioned their followers to vote with their $40 dollar membership, and influenced the slate enough to make it nearly entirely white straight guys. They say that the Hugos were too leftist, that ‘serious works’ were shortchanging more popular ones.

Are these assholes serious? Apparently.

...are they serious about this design?

…are they serious about this design?

Now I normally wouldn’t care, because literary awards are bullshit and nearly always go to tedious books or tedious people. Just because the Hugo is the oldest, it doesn’t make it the most important or meaningful. And like io9 points out, now the Hugos are entirely political. But the reason I do care is because its a sign of a trend, and I don’t like that trend. I don’t like the trolls of the internet having enough power to hustle an old award into their agenda. Maybe the Booker prize is given to undeserving novels, but at least it doesn’t get awarded based on whose fans have $40 to spend on a vote. To quote the inimitable Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds:

The easy answer is, “Buy a supporting membership and get voting,” but sometimes this is formed as criticism and it’s worth noting that plenty of folks (fans, authors, whoever) may not be comfortable to (or able to) spend forty bucks just to vote on a science-fiction award. Forty bucks is cheap to a lot of people. And expensive to a lot of others. There’s an argument to be made, too, that if SFF is to represent marginalized or under-served voices, then we may also want to recognize that those voices are often in possession of less filthy lucre than more privileged segments. And further, this argument somewhat explicitly turns the Hugo Awards into a capitalist pissing match rather than a popular vote — have your voice be heard and your vote counted is lovely to say as long as you don’t add to it, but it’ll cost you forty bucks, so write a fucking check.

No one should stand for this state of affairs, and I”m glad that authors are withdrawing their nominations. But you’d think that SFF would just grow up already as a genreits readers, its publishers, its authors. I feel like we’re dragging this damn genre as a whole kicking and screaming into the 1950s, never mind 2015. Given the inexplicable success of Game of Tits and Ender’s Game despite its hideous author’s homophobic and racist rants, the endemic sexism in this genre since its inception, and the ongoing racism, I wonder if this year’s Hugo furore wasn’t inevitable.

Still, there’s hope yet – this is just one year’s awards, and maybe 20 years ago no one would have blinked at a slate like this. The resultant Twitter firestorm, while as predictable as a sunset, is still a good sign that maybe that the status is not quo, and that many authors and readers are horrified by what’s happening in their genre. Look at the 50-author strong backlash against the SFWA magazine cover I put up a few paragraphs ago. Even I, someone who probably wouldn’t pick up SFF unless I was tricked into it, give a shit about this state of affairs. I look forward to seeing it swing back to an interesting, diverse pool of authors next year. Perhaps someone should run a parallel set of awards?

Women Warrior Series: The Dahomey Amazons

Not long ago in West Africa, there was a warrior clan so fierce, so hardened and so unbelievably tough that it took the might of an industrialised nation just to slow them down. A cadre of soldiers that scanned the horizons and found not a single fuck to give for over two hundred years.

"Dahomey amazon2" by Unknown - ALPERN, Stanley B. Amazons of Black Sparta : The Women Warriors of Dahomey, London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. 2011. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Dahomey amazon2” by Unknown – ALPERN, Stanley B. Amazons of Black Sparta : The Women Warriors of Dahomey, London: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. 2011. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

The origins of the Dahomey Amazons are contested, but general consensus is that they arose out of the King’s harem in 1645, turning into a bodyguard and eventually morphing into an elite killing force under King Agadja (1708-1740) . Their training would make a SEAL cry – running up barricades made of two-inch acacia thorns, survival training in forests for nine days with just a machete, and insensitivity training: the required slaughter of helpless prisoners of war in front of the community in annual ceremonies. They ran for brutally long distances, did live-fire exercises using prisoners of wars as moving targets and generally trained harder and longer than their male counterparts. Wielding two-handed, double-bladed machetes on staffs, clubs and old muskets, the Dahomey amazons became the frontline of the army, destroying armies twice as large. They crushed the Kingdom of Savi  and the Whydah people in 1727, then publicly executed 4,000 prisoners of war. They crushed the Allada. And for what might considered extra credit now, they captured Okeadon by sneaking over the walls at night and opening the gates, allowing the rest of the Amazons in for plenty of murderous fun.

And it was a good life for these women – not only did they escape the drudgery of household duties, but they had access to tobacco and alcohol, as well as many as 50 slaves. Strangers could not approach them on pain of death. In exchange, they trained and fought in battalions, two of which were called The Elephant Destroyers and The Reapers respectively.

Ref: Frederick E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans

Ref: Frederick E. Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans

After many, many decades of unsurpassed military prowess, the Dahomey Amazons finally met their match. It took seven weeks and twenty-three battles for the French to finally subdue these superbly skilled fighters, who had none of the ordinance but balls bigger than any other nation. They were praised by the French and English for their discipline, their skill and their toughness. This in spite of a Dahomey warrior decapitating a French governor, making his wife wrap his head in the tri-colour flag and bringing it home to the king.

Nearly all of them died in war, but…

Of the 4,000 Dahomey Amazons under King Behanzin’s command, nearly all of them were killed hurling themselves fearlessly into battle. Only 50 women survived, and most of them, awesomely enough, went to the United States and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. – Bad Ass of the Week

Read more:

The Badass of the Week: The Dahomey Amazons

The Smithsonian Magazine

Historical Museum of Abomey

Wiki: The Dahomey Amazons

I Fight Like a Girl

Perhaps it is a bit late in coming, but we are seeing a wonderful new trend in girl-positive advertising, where the women are not the punchline, but the ideal. The Always #LikeAGirl campaign (it hurts me to type out hashtags) is now on 56 million views on Youtube:

With it’s gorgeous and inspiring sequel, Stronger Together:


There is the excellent Everlast campaign: Don’t Call Me a Female Boxer:

And my personal favourite, This Girl Can:

Let us not forget this incredible Beats by Dre ad featuring Serena Williams and her physical prowress:

I may be a lone voice in this, but I really want to bring this rallying cry into the martial arts, and especially in karate. I hate hearing ‘you punch like a girl’ being leveled at boys, that anything feminine is inherently weaker. It is one of the reasons why we see such an attrition of young female budo-ka. There are reasons why they don’t stay, so many reasons, and key amongst them is this bullshit idea that girls kick/punch/fight badly because they are girls, not because they need better training.

I, like many other women, am sometimes vulnerable to crippling period pain. To bloating and headaches and general physical shittiness. Have I EVER missed a class in 9 years because of it? No, of course not. The idea that I am weaker because I have two X chromosomes is as insulting as it is facile. Sure, I can’t do a pull-up, or lift more than 30kgs, but isn’t it a little bit narrow to define strength as a purely physical act? What about grace, and speed, and technique? What about dedication, and kindness, and patience? What about kata that is technical perfection? Like here:

And here:

In our dojos, in our classrooms and homes, stop using ‘like a girl’ as an insult. It is not a statement of weakness. Let it be a statement of elegance and dedication and strength. It will take time to change the perception, but in the martial arts we desperately need to cut out the macho culture and celebrate the girls who do stay, who are brave and fight hard and train hard. Using them as a punchline goes against the spirit of martial arts.

I fight like a girl. I train like a girl, I teach like a girl, and I am proud to bring all of my skills to my dojo like a girl.

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Women Warriors: The Gulabi Gang

Gulabi-Gang-protest-photo-by-Torstein-Grude


The Gulabi Gang

India, despite its respectable number of female goddesses, is not a country known for treating women well. With a spousal abuse rate of two in three married women and the systematic abortion of female foetuses alongside nation-wide corruption,  climbing rape statistics, and the horrifying thousands of dowry murders a year, India is not a safe place for women.  Of course, it was only a matter of time before some women would eventually start meting out sweet, sweet justice.

The Gulabi gang wear the brightest pink saris, carry sticks and liberally dispense justice to wrong-doers – in this case, corrupt officials and abusive spouses. In one case, the Gulabi gang beat up officials who were withholding power from the neighbourhood, demanding special treatment in return for the lights being switched back on. The group is now many thousands strong, with estimates ranging between 270,000 and 400,000  members, lead by resident Bad Ass Samat Pal. Married at the age of 11, she has been the leader of the Gulabi Gang since 1980.

Not very long ago, in a small village in Bundelkhand, where women remain 130813_DX_PinkGangSampat.jpg.CROP.article250-mediumlargely illiterate and downtrodden even today, she beat a policeman when he abused her. Some time later, when more power was being cut than supplied to her village, she locked the electricity department officials concerned in a room till they cried for mercy. When she saw a ticket collector asking for bribes on a train, she made such a fuss that he was forced to back off, red faced. – Read more at The Business Standard

 

And it isn’t only punishing the local wife beater – their reach has extended further and covers a number of social justices:

Al Jazeera reported that the group have an estimated 400,000 members as of 2014; the Hindustan Times put the figure at 270,000. There is no discrimination based on gender because the gang not only focuses on male jurisdiction over women, but also on human rights and male oppression. Community service efforts of the gang include food and grain distribution to villagers in rural areas, pension to widows who do not have the evidence to support their age, and preventing and helping the abuse of women and children. Dowry, dowry beatings, dowry death, rape, child marriages, domestic abuse, desertion, depriving one of an education, child molestation, and sexual harassment are all watched for and punishable by the gang.

Sure, it may seem just outside the bounds of the law, but when the police and government have so comprehensively failed to protect the women of India, is it any surprise that they would take such intensely personal matters into their own hands? They only use the lathi (bamboo stick) when met with force – their main weapon is exposure of the crime in order to shame the abusive man into mending his ways. And any organisation that fights against the hideous practice of child marriage is stellar in my eyes:

Protect the powerless from abuse and fight corruption to ensure basic rights of the poor in rural areas and discourage traditions like child-marriages – Mission of the Gulabi Gang 

I love what they do, and admire them greatly for their bravery and iron will. It is sad that it should come to this, but nonetheless it makes me glad to see the fire of women all around the world.

Review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

It isn’t often that a book comes around and refuses to sit in one neat genre– it just

shining girls limited edisn’t polite. Usually a book can be allocated its genre within a moment of reading the blurb and glancing at the jacket. But then there’s The Shining Girls, which gleefully refuses to pick a genre box to sit in, and decides that it will timeshare in several. The Shining Girls is part crime thriller, part speculative fiction, part sci-fi. It also makes time to touch on a variety of subjects, including baseball, journalism, women’s resistance movements and the Depression, which is a delicious smorgasbord of ideas that also don’t overcrowd each other.

In brief, violent drifter Harper Curtis is a man in trouble, and stumbles into a house that offers the solution to all of his problems. But the house has a secret, and an exacting price. The house can open onto different times, but if Harper wants to stay in the house, then he must hunt down and cut the fire out of the shining girls, women who are special within their own times. And so begins Harper’s killing spree across decades, which comes to him with ease and terrifying glee. But when he fails to kill Kirby, she turns the hunt back on him with unrelenting determination.

the-shining-girls-book-cover-2This is not an easy book to read: it deals with suffering, with absolutely brutal violence and the worst that humans can do to each other. Each shining girl is profound in her potential, and each murder is highlighted for its horrific waste of a life. So often are the female victims in crime books delineated as props, just treated as a way to highlight the cleverness of the murderer. And Harper isn’t clever – he’s a disgusting lowlife who is willing to kill for a nice house to live in. Which is why Kirby is so much more interesting than most female leads in books these days. She’s smart but not savant-smart, she fights with her mom, makes mistakes and is truly brave. She could be any one of us, because those are the same markers of all the shining girls: they’re all women making the very best of what has been given to them regardless of their circumstances.

My only criticism of this book is that I wish it had been longer. When meeting shining girls SABeukes at the launch of The Shining Girls, I could tell that there were vast swathes of research that didn’t make it into the book. Granted, its current incarnation keeps it moving briskly and there isn’t a wasted word. It has been beautifully edited (which is becoming a rarity, sadly) and there’s nothing wrong with its current length. I love all the details – the underground abortion group, the Glow Girl, the McCarthy witch-hunts – I just wish there had been time to explore all of them more. Perhaps another hundred pages could have done the trick. I also loved that this was an unabashedly feminist book. I know feminism has become something of a dirty word in publishing, but it is about time that a book about crime actually dealt with the violence perpetuated against women rather than using it as a lazy plot-point. It is especially sad when female writers treat their female victims as disposable – seeing each victim realised in such heart-breaking detail is as important as it is unusual.

shining girls USOf course, the time travel element adds another delicious layer. Hardcore sci-fi fans will be disappointed that it isn’t more central to the novel, but the time travel allows for an exploration of different decades, in which we see how much (and how little) has changed. While researching the novel, Beukes travelled to Chicago and many of the photos she took while she was there appear on the South African jacket. In fact, the jacket only reveals its secrets as one progresses through the novel, which is a delight in and of itself. Produced by the amazing home-grown Joey Hi-Fi, the jacket’s many elements tie into the shining girls themselves, the time periods the novel crosses and moments that enrich the background of the story.

I say it again: this is sometimes an uncomfortable book to read, as well it should be. Violence should never be passively consumed, nor lightly discussed. The characters, good and evil, leap large from the pages. The settings are consuming, and it is easy to lose yourself in the detail. And if your nightmares reflect your bedtime reading, then keep this for daytime. But you will be hard-pressed to find a book this creative, this interesting and this powerful this year.

Feminism Isn’t a Hobby

Today, people will be wearing black in some kind of attempt to soothe their consciences about the appalling treatment of women in South Africa on a daily basis, made manifest in the tragic rape and death of Anene Booysens. Like with the rhinos and the POI Bill, today people will express their sort-of pissiness with the system by adopting faddy shit that will be forgotten in a month. 

I suppose one could admire it, but really, its slacktivism on a Kony 2012 level. People will wear black once, sign a petition and then go on their merry ways, cracking jokes about how dumb women are (notice there’s never any men in blonde jokes) and listening to Chris Brown, that hooting dickhole. Everyone is quick to make fun of feminism, saying how unnecessary it is, how angry it is, don’t we know that things are awesome for women now? We can, liek, even vote and shit. Yay.

Where have all these well-intentioned but clueless people been? Why is it that you get upset for a week, whereas some of us are upset all the time because each and every day is a mass-perpetuated war on women around the world? How can you not see this as anything except slow genocide? Girl children are exterminated before birth in India qua being a girl. There are groups in America insisting that women who have abortions should be imprisoned. Women who bring claims of abuse at the hands of famous men are ridiculed and shamed. Add to this the mass rapes in refugee camps in Africa, the continued assault on women in South Africa, the extent of which isn’t even fully understood.

And yet people have the audacity to wear black and think this helps anything. There have been organisations working tirelessly for decades, trying to make what difference they can in a violent world that has no respect for women. Jesus, there are infants being raped. How can people trivialise this by wearing a different colour? 

There are ways people can help. People can learn to grow a goddamn spine and not laugh at rape jokes or complain when fuckwit DJs play music by misogynist assholes (or act like misogynist assholes themselves). You can volunteer your money, time and help at any number of women’s shelters, or teaching at a school lacking resources. You can help one woman out of poverty, whether it is through putting a girl child through school or helping her find work through your own connections.If you’re ever fortunate enough to be hiring, try make an effort to give more women a chance, and equal pay. When we see a woman being verbally abused, we can step in. If we think a woman is being abused at home, have the courage and basic decency to offer help. 

Wearing black and signing an Avaaz petition is as insulting as it is pathetic. Making a difference takes the work of everyone, every day. Think about all the times men around you have been crude and disgusting, and every time a woman stands up against it, she is humiliated. Not the poisonous shits who were telling the rape joke in the first place. Feminism is not a hobby – it is the combined efforts of everyone across all class, sexual orientations, gender and race lines to eradicate the hatred for women that is endemic to nearly every society on this planet. Don’t let people get a free pass because they listened to Facebook and wore black. It doesn’t mean anything if you’re only a feminist for a day. 

Organisations that need our help: 

POWA – People Opposing Women Abuse

Rape Crisis Cape Town

Directory of South African Welfare Organisations

Bombani Shelter for Abused Women (Alexandria) 

List of Shelters that the Soul Food Project Supports

Usindiso Ministries Women’s Shelter

AmCare List of Women and Children’s Shelters

The Frieda Hartley Shelter for Women in Distress (Johannesburg)

Review of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

the-twelve-tribes_custom-6a80054024c857973e6515991a8ed02933f28957-s6-c10The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis arrived with a great deal of literary street cred: it had been recommended by Oprah, who can still make or break books with nary a blog post. It came with a stunning recommendation from Marilynne Robinson, Orange Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner. Comparisons are being made to inimitable Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

Does Twelve Tribes of Hattie live up to these extraordinary claims? This book is an easy shoo-in for my top 13 for 2013, and is unlikely to be booted out of that list any time soon. While the Toni Morrison comparisons are not unfounded, I feel this book deserves more than being lumped in the ‘black female writer’ bracket and being treated as a progressive read by lily-white book clubs. This book, while touching on race, also deals with everything from family to gender to psychosis, while stopping by to discuss religion as well as music. There’s even a brush through midwifery and traditional healing. It is, quite surprisingly, more of a collection of short stories than it is a traditional novel. Through the twelve children of Hattie we discover twelve stories of twelve people, beginning with the heartbreaking departure of Philadelphia and Jubilee and the salvation of Sala.

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Eponymous Hattie is triumphantly drawn, though her life is a wide collection of pain and sacrifice. Called The General by her children, she is a hard, tough, strong woman who bears the pain of losing her children in every manner, who has a husband who is “the greatest mistake of her life”, who somehow manages to feed and clothe and raise a veritable horde of children, each of which grows into and inherits their share of trouble. Each chapter is a look through a prism at Hattie, and her impact on the lives of her children. She is never far from the foreground, and even if she doesn’t appear in the action, she appears in every chapter. Mathis has drawn a remarkably complex woman that one struggles to like or hate, though her strength is easy enough to love.

Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis

The novel asks: how do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel? Through Hattie the reader explores the burdens of parenting, of growing up in the shadow of a mother’s pain and how even the very best intentions can go horribly awry. Add to this the difficulties of racial tensions and outright hatred in America between 1925 – 1980, of being black and gay, of being black and ill, and the novel is filled with complicated troubles and unsentimental discussion. This isn’t a misery memoir but it is filled with great sadness, as it is also lightened by moments of happiness and growth.

Pick this up because you will weep for Hattie, and all she endures for so little thanks. For all she loses, and for all that her children suffer, and for the outstanding depth and maturity of this debut author’s prose.

Read more:

Oprah Interviews Ayana Mathis

Sarah Churchill reviews Twelve Tribes for The Guardian

 The Sunday Times: Three Writers to Watch

 The Atlantic: The Russian Poetry that Inspires Ayana Mathis

A Stirring Portrait of Family, Loss, and Endurance: The Everyday E-Book

The New York Times Sunday Review

VIDEO: Ayana Mathis’ 3 Greatest Writing Lessons

Criticism of The Fifty Shades Trilogy: Smackdown Round-up

I refuse to accept that there are better things for me to do with my time than round up all the best criticism of Fifty Shades of Fail. I could be saving kittens from trees, probably. However, if I could I would use this post to raise money for all the women that end up in abusive relationships like the one described in Shades of Black and Blue. There are so many things awkwardly wrong with the Shades of Grey trilogy that it is almost obscenely delicious to kick it in the face, day after day after day. If this were a harmless, unknown book then perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so bad. But this horrendous crud must be outed for the dangerous shit it is, and nothing diminishes power faster than laughter. And GIFs.

Knowing that the fans who love it will never think otherwise, I have instead decided to share the best the internet has to offer the non-believers. Because the Shades trilogy has induced the kind of fanaticism the churches wish they still had, it is deserving of all the shame heaped upon it by the best and smartest of the internet. That this book has been considered uplifting for women is as offensive as it is misguided and therefore I am exonerated from any guilt.

Let’s start with the brilliant minds of Tiger Beatdown, best known for their criticism of the overrated Game of Thrones series. While they have not done an entire post revolving around Shades of Vomit, they do bring up a valid point: everything in Shades of Idiocy is cock-centric. It is not about Ana’s pleasure, or her growth or even learning to earn her orgasm, it is about the grating Grey and his penis enjoying all the fun times.

My issue with Fifty Shades of Grey is not that it is badly written, though. Neither is it that it once was a Twilight fanfiction onto which the author pressed “Control F” and then replaced the vampire and werewolf names with those of the current characters. I could easily overlook all of that if the prose was riveting. My issue with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it belongs to the tired, boring, overused sub genre I like to call “penis centric erotica”. Which is to say, practically the only kind of erotica marketed for cis, straight women.

It is a point that many people have missed. The post is available here, amongst many other gems.

Next stop, Jenny Trout. She has bravely, nobly and wryly undergone the torture of reading and recapping every chapter of the series so that we don’t have to. Her commentary is filled with some of the best one liners ever, but her reason for doing it is truly fantastic:

I was honestly almost too furious to continue reading this book once I got to this chapter. In fact, it was this chapter that led me to want to dissect the book piece by piece in the public eye. Because this shit is dangerous. This is dangerous the way I found Twilight dangerous in the last two books. It’s dangerous because it tells women, possibly young, innocent women who are just like Ana, that it’s okay for a man to treat you like garbage if he really, really loves you, or if you want him to really, really love you, you need to put up with it.

And then, add to that lines like this:

I think that if Ana were a real person, every time she opened her mouth to speak, it would just make a sad trombone noise. Every time.

For lines like this, you need to set aside five hours and read all the recaps.

Possibly the most famous is this gif-laden review on Goodreads by Katrina Passick Lumsden:

About halfway through, I wished I’d been keeping track of the word “crap” because Ana is constantly saying/thinking it. Crap, Holy Crap, Double and Triple Crap, Oh Crap, This Crap, That Crap, any and all Crap. Speaking of crap, if I ever, ever ever have to hear/read the words “inner goddess” again, I’m going to construct a pyre out of tampons and maxi pads, light it, and toss unsuspecting women into it.

From the second book:

It went from all-out rage-inducing (like the first book), to incomprehensible hilarity. I had thought the first line was good, but in comparison, lines like this are pure comedic gold:

“I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.” 

Oh my, it’s my dream man. He’s crazy with a side of fries and he utters the worst romanticisms this side of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And this about the third book:

The temerity of this character is astounding. E.L. James has managed to create one of the most blatantly antagonistic sociopaths I’ve ever seen, yet women everywhere are gobbling it up like he’s the best thing since the vibrator.

Good times with gifs, and a sublime summary of all that is wrong and hilarious.

Here are some quick links for your further amusement:

If you’d like something truly meaty and BA for your repetoire, add to it ‘Anti-Feminist Ideals in Fifty Shades of Grey‘. And to end on a genuinely serious note:

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You can get the original here, and it pretty much sums up how dangerous this shit is.