JoJo Kirtley is astounded and disappointed that British feminists seem to have been distracted by trivia and have forgotten the fundamental feminist issue: stopping the violence.
It has come to my attention that perhaps we are missing the point when it comes to this whole feminism / women’s rights issue. Instead of worrying about Jordan, Britney and weightwatchers, shouldn’t we be putting our energies into a global movement to stop this horrific violence towards women, which Gloria Steinem talks about in her foreword for The Vagina Monologues?
These last three decades of feminism were also marked by a deep anger as the truth of violence against the female body was revealled, whether it took the form of rape, childhood sexual abuse, anti-lesbian violence, physical abuse of women, sexual harassment, terrorism against reproductive freedom, or the international crime of female genital mutilation.
Steinem, The Vagina Monologues (1998), Virago Foreword
Don’t get me wrong, I do get pissed off at men’s magazines projecting the ‘perfect’ image of women, I cringe when I hear a sexist joke, I’m not too happy with page three, I hate being whistled at in the street, I can’t stand the thought of dieting to ‘please my man’, and I hate the fact that lesbianism is still frowned upon. But compared to a battered wife, a woman who has been raped, or a young girl who has just been forced to have her clitoris chopped off – is it hardly significant in comparison? It astounds me that we as British women have forgotten about these extremely important issues, and if we haven’t then why are we ignoring them?
Thinking of the list of violations women are subjected too all over the world sickens and disgusts me, not just because I am being made aware of the violence but because I, and many women in Britain and Ireland who have the perfect opportunity to do something about it, are just sitting back and letting things happen. We are not even starting to discuss it!!
Rape, domestic violence, sexual slavery, female genital mutilation is to name but a few. As Steinem suggests, the list goes on; and what is more shocking is that some of these violations take place on our very own doorsteps. So are we just going to sit back and let this happen?
Domestic violence, for instance is on the increase. Many women are threatened in their own homes by abusive partners and can’t do anything about it. The Women’s Aid Federation of England (www.womensaid.org.uk) is a national charity which has set up hostels to help these women who have been, physically, psychologically and sexually abused. Last year alone they reported that 54,000 women and children stayed in their hostels. Can you imagine how many more women there were who needed help and support and didn’t receive it? One more shocking figure that seems to crop up when I have read domestic violence reports is that in a lot of cases the violence intensifies when the woman is pregnant. Womens Aid tries to empower women in these horrific situations and give them hope to carry on with their lives. What are we as British feminists doing to support the right of all women to freedom from violence?
Female genital mutilation is an international crime, not just practised by barbaric, unstable countries or fundamentalist tribes. This practise is law in some countries and is ritually practised by other religions including christianity. Every year eight to ten million women and girls in the Middle East and Africa risk undergoing genital cutting. An estimated 2 million girls can expect to have their clitoris cut or sliced off. It is medically proven to be a dangerous and painful practise. What are we as British feminists doing to prevent this?
Sexual slavery is common, all over the world. It happens to powerless women who have no choice and are forced into these harrowing situations. When my mother lived in Dubai I would read about one Sri Lankan woman who jumped out of her window to get away from a group of men who had tied her up and repeatedly raped her. She was their sex slave. What are we as British feminists doing to stop any form of persecution against the female body?
Brutal, cruel, inhumane and disturbing violence happens all over the world. Each year millions of women are raped, sexually harrassed and abused. In England alone women go for abortions on the N.H.S and receive little or no aftercare, and as a lesbian you can’t marry your partner or have children, you can’t even walk the streets safely.
If this mutilation of women and their bodies continues, what will happen to our future, to our daughters and to our herstory?
Women are being isolated and become oppressed in their isolation. We are isolated at work, in the street, in our homes, when we seek reproductive freedom, if we choose to love other women, when we discover we have clitoris, if we dare to answer back and when we say no.
Eve Ensler writes in her introduction to The Vagina Monologues, “When you rape, beat, maim, mutilate, burn, bury, and terrorize women, you destroy the essential life energy on the planet. You force what is meant to be open, trusting, nurturing, creative, and alive to be bent, infertile, and broken.”
Ensler in her launch of 2003 V-Day campaign (www.vday.com) lists a few major violations that women are subjected to. When the violence stops, she says, “girls will be; voting in Kuwait, safe in their beds at home in U.S, Europe and Asia, enjoying having sex and keeping their clitorises…” On February 14th 1998, St Valentines Day, V-Day was born out of Eve Ensler’s efforts to promote the equality of all women and their sexuality. She became the artistic director and founder. In her aims she returns back to the basics, that women’s bodies are sacred and should be celebrated not terrorised. Doesn’t this seem to be something worth fighting for? Shouldn’t we as British feminists return back to Ensler’s politics, instead of worrying about silicone breasts? Yes, of course we should and we need to do this together. We need to do this on a united front. Stop worrying about what race, religion, class or sexuality we all are and concentrate on the fact that we are all women. Stop arguing over the little things, get back to the grass-roots of feminism and start protesting against the violence.
What’s crucial about feminism is that you can make it your own. It can be just reading The Vagina Monologues, or a personal mission to raise money for charities such as V-day and Womens Aid, it can be something huge like this website or a large scale campaign against some form of inequality in your local area or supporting Ammesty international and their, Freedom from violence: Every woman’s human right.
What seems important is that we don’t forget the major issues, we unite together against violence, discrimination and oppression but most of all, that we take action against this oppression together, so that we can make a better future for our, daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters. Once again, the great Eve Ensler puts this in perspective; she writes, “In order for the human race to continue, women must be safe and empowered. It’s an obvious idea, but like a vagina, it needs great attention and love in order to be revealed.”
So, come on women, sisters, girls lets get revealing!
 Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues (1998, Virago), p.xxxii
 Ensler, ibid., p.xxxvi