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.

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)

Quick Fix: A Writing Submission Gone Horribly Wrong

Pictured: manliness, circa 1900

Pictured: manliness, circa 1900

Far be it from me to piss on the writing parade of someone who likes to scribble cowboy fiction. After all, I suppose it has its place, much like bric-a-brac in the glorious, universe-spanning world of literature. While undoubtedly a genre that pretty much reinforces every heterosexual norm you can think of (the manly man that provides manly protection for his lone bride wasting away on the farm and too lady-like to fight the bison etc), it bakes someone’s cake. And I suppose there is the chance that it can be an intellectual, egalitarian, tasteful discussion of body politics, cattle and sex. A tiny chance, but a chance nonetheless.

Gaze upon the entry conditions for this cowboy anthology, and when you’re done, come back here and laugh with me.

And cry a little.

You see, I find these kind of anthologies more than just mildly offensive. Look at this clause:

Material that includes the following will be summarily rejected:

Necrophilia (sex with dead bodies—vampires don’t count)

Bestiality (sex with non-sentient animals)

Rape intended to arouse (though we will consider forced seduction or dubious consent if it is respectfully handled)

What does that even mean, ‘forced seduction’? Is this just another way of writing non-con? I don’t think its possible to tastefully handle ‘dubious consent’, that euphemism for rape. Rape is inherently distasteful, and to try write it as ‘they actually are really into each other, she just doesn’t know it, the bint’ is as offensive as it is misguided. And how do vampires not count? They’re undead, is anyone fooled by this? (And why are there vampires in a cowboy story? Isn’t that the worst combination of genres ever?) And sentient animals are somehow not animals, so it’s fine to hump them? (Stephenie Meyer, I blame you for this shit.) My cats are pretty sentient, able to make decisions and unlock doors and manipulate humans. I guess that means it’s okay to sex them up.

And add to it this shamefully sexist tripe:

Their rugged masculinity make us feel attractive, protected, womanly and pursued. They are the perfect antidote to the glut of androgynous and metrosexual men the media is saturated with. Sun-bronzed skin stretched taught over work-hardened muscles, and the soft sound of a deep Texan drawl, is enough to quieten the wildest of women.

‘Quieten the wildest of women’. I see. I wasn’t aware that we were meant to offended by men who have better things to do than beat up animals, bench-press and belch. A man who dresses well, takes the time to groom himself and who doesn’t want to go camping is definitely an upgrade on the ultra-boring Camel Man as described above (and so perfect for a smoking ad! Don Draper would be proud.) But maybe I’m just a crazy person. Millions of Shades-reading women can’t be wrong (oh but I think they are.)

My point is (and I always have one) is that this is an anthology for women written by women, and it encourages the same kind of tedious, negative crap that we should have grown out of reading round about the 1930s. We shouldn’t be encouraging anything that allows for tasteful descriptions of rape, or reinforces outdated norms of sexuality. This is 2013, a grand new millennium that is looking away from this kind of backwards thinking and towards a world with (hopefully) better literature. If we’re ever going to have anything tasteful to read, there has to be some kind of backlash against this kind of unmitigated drivel. If I am that lone person, fine, I can deal with that. Someone has to stand against the tanks of shitty literature.

Seperate Bathrooms: an unnecessary divide?

Setting aside the usual serious issues of feminism that range from genital mutilation to sex trafficking to career glass ceilings, let’s look at the concept of separated bathrooms and their relevance in the 21st century. I started thinking about the topic when friend Dylan was complaining (and rightfully so) about there only being two toilets at his work for men while there are 4 for women. Considering that his workplace teaches up to a hundred construction workers at a time, the majority of which are male, this seems a little ridiculous.

The idea of separate bathrooms seems to be one that suggests that each sex must be spared the sight of the other performing that most taboo and deeply necessary act: voiding their bowls. While I am still a bit traumatized by the occasional woman who feels the need to leave the door open when she sits upon the porcelain throne, this is a rare occurrence and not enough of a reason to keep the bathrooms separate. Are we so scared of willies and vaginas that we have this bathroom apartheid? Or is it to create a ‘gurlz-only’ space? Its not a thought that occurs to everyone often, but there is an entire mythos around the women’s bathroom as a place of comfort, preparation and refuge. It has developed because there is this one space where men are excluded and most of them are fine with that.

The problem is that we are spitting in the face of equality a little bit by having these separate, gendered spaces. Women’s bathrooms are nearly always pink and smell like cheap lavender. (And contrary to popular belief, are often quite disgusting.) My admittedly limited experience with men’s bathrooms has led me to believe that they are generally quite dire places in need of some light and flowers. By combining them into one space perhaps we can start getting rid of the ridiculous constructs. After all, why can’t condoms, tampons, headache pills and KY jelly be dispensed from the same machine? (Maybe even beer and juice?)

I dream of a world where we are not scared of each other’s genitals, where women and men can share an intimate space and not be ashamed of a little fart here and there. Trendy restaurants in Joburg are starting to scrap separate bathrooms and I have yet to encounter problems with sharing them. Are we implying that every man ever is a sexual deviant who will sit outside your cubicle and wank while you pee, so they can’t share bathrooms with women? Or are women weak, fragile flowers that will faint at the sight of a strange penis? Come on. It’s just a penis. Just a vagina. We seek them so actively in pornography, but accidentally glimpsing one in a shared public bathroom is somehow a million times worse. I also don’t think men run about with willies displayed after the age of eight (at least, not sober) so I imagine it would be quite discreetly handled. And even then flashes of either set of genitals would be quite rare. I just felt that topic needed to be handled (sexily, even).

Men and women might be biologically different, but as long as that remains the basis of reasons to further divide the genders into separate rooms, separate hospital wards, we will continue to generate further reasons to be physically neurotic and mysterious. Both genders pee. Isn’t this enough common ground to quit this splitting of bathrooms? Especially amongst adults?

Besides, who knows what conversations we might strike up when we begin to share this intimate and yet utterly banal space? I know some people feel vulnerable in the bathroom as it is, but we’re vulnerable everywhere. I am particularly jittery in car parking lots myself. Friend Liza suggested that perhaps South Africa is not the kind of place where bathrooms should be shared, considering our unacceptable rape statistics. This is definitely a valid point. South Africa is quite often a scary place, but I don’t think rape is something that is going to be encouraged or discouraged by shared or separate bathrooms. It happens in them regardless of seperation, but I admit this might be more of a problem in clubs and pubs when alcohol starts becoming a problem and then ugly fingers get pointed because “she was drunk and there and asking for it,” as Liza suggested.

I am not advocating that we remove toilet stalls and have merry rows of open toilets where we can swap Pokemon cards or recipes or Playboy editions. Cubicles have their place, if only to safeguard us against those who do enjoy the occasional masturbation while at work. (This has happened to a female colleague of mine, who was using the bathroom and someone else was having, as she said, ‘happy fun times’.) I can understand that maybe kids should have separate bathrooms if only because children generally need supervision and can’t be supervised in the bathrooms all the time. But when we become adults, surely we can handle sharing a bathroom? We share cars, body fluids, coffee mugs, boardrooms, strip clubs and lip balms. Surely it is time we learned to share that one guaranteed space we all have to be in at least three times a day?