I saw and listened to Chimamanda in Conversation live last weekend and that’s all I can talk about right now. It was such an empowering and affirming experience.
Empowering because in true “Aunty Chimmy” style, she focussed on the fact that women matter and we matter, equally. Affirming, because in a world that is constantly telling you ‘it really isn’t that deep’ or ‘why are you always so angry’, I always appreciate women who understand the struggle and know that it is actually that deep. As this article progresses, you’ll see that she really affirmed a lot of what I so desperately tried to articulate last week and she articulated my disorganised thoughts so aptly.
The aim of the #mybodymyrules campaign was to sensitise people to the fact that women have full autonomy over their bodies and that consent is therefore non-negotiable. We also really wanted people to appreciate that rape culture is pervasive and we therefore all need to unlearn myths that we have internalised and normalised. I know there are cases of men being sexually assaulted. However, disproportionately, women make up majority of victims and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. Thus, sexual violence is undeniably gender-based violence, hence the focus on women. I am really glad that in addition to the conversation about sexual violence, the campaign sparked a much broader conversation about feminism because ultimately, all the issues we spoke about are intrinsically linked.
Chimamanda in Conversation was mainly about her new book/feminist manifesto, Dear Ijeawele. One of the points that really resonated with me was about how women are socialised to be likeable and how we must unlearn that and teach our daughters differently. It really resonated with me because with the Women’s Project’s #mybodymyrules campaign, I was so glad to see so many amazing women who took to the tl to demand their equality, evidently showing that they are increasingly caring less about being liked. There was this forceful, unapologetic tone that just made my heart smile.
However, as was noted by so many of you, there were so many women who were noticeably silent. The only reason I can think of for that is they probably did not want to be lumped with ‘those feminists’. To paraphrase Chimamanda again, the feminist movement is the reason women are no longer property; the reason you can vote; the reason you can get an education; I really could go on. We really should all be feminists. I know that we are all at different stages of unlearning but there is an urgency to this that cannot be overemphasised. Your survival necessitates being a feminist. Not a lipstick feminist or a feminist who buys into the ‘hollow, appeasing and bankrupt idea’ that is Feminism Lite, but a feminist in all its unlikeable glory. A feminist in all its intersectional glory.
Another point she raised that really resonated with me was about how problematic this idea of ‘boys will be boys’ is. I think the pervasiveness of rape culture could be attributed to this enabling narrative. To elaborate, ‘boys will be
boys’ is very symbolic of how men are held to lower standards and how they are often not held accountable for their actions. Instead, women are often blamed and shamed for inciting or provoking their actions. We rationalise and apologise for their actions. People who talked about not going to a guy’s house if you don’t want to get raped and generally just all the shades of victim blaming I came across exemplified this last week. The onus should never be on the victim to prevent rape. A victim cannot prevent rape. Rapists rape. Blame and shame the perpetrator, not the victim. There is no such thing as asking for it. No brainer, no? I really truly cannot believe we still have to protest this shit.
Speaking of boys, I also noticed attempts to derail the conversation, attempts to trivialise the cause, a reluctance to engage, numbness to our oppression and also pin drop silence. I’ll start with the alarming number of men who were silent. My sister always says ‘silence is violence’ and it couldn’t be truer because if you are silent in situations of injustice you have taken the side of the oppressor. Humanity necessitates being a feminist. A feminist in all its intersectional-speaking-out-against-any-and-all-forms-of injustice-and-oppression-even-when-you-are-not-directly-affected glory.
Numbness to our oppression became crystal clear to me when a woman bravely shared an account of her assault and a guy on my tl passively responded with ‘I heard a similar story last night funny enough’. To begin with, I was struck by his audacity to actually quote her tweet, which would have generated a notification on her phone, then even more alarmed by the fact that that was all he had to say. The minute she shared her experience, numerous women responded with apologies, concern, condemnation of the perpetrator and solidarity. Then the first guy I saw comment on it treated it like gist. The irony of it all.
Now to the gaslighters and mansplainers, we see you, we are not confused and you will not silence us. We will continue to resist your attempts to derail, trivialise and oversimplify our conversations about our experiences. It really is that deep and in response to your ‘why are you always so angry?’ question - it is not our job to teach you or educate you about our oppression. I would say it is crystal clear, but in case it isn’t, there is so much information that is readily available to you, educate yourself. I am always so alarmed and baffled by the level of ignorance I encounter on the internet mainly because of the fact that the internet is home to so much information.
We wrapped up our women's week with a panel discussion, which focussed on the manifestations of rape culture. We were joined by: Lucy Hayton from the Coventry Rape & Sexual Abuse Center; Lisa Thompson, CEO of Rape and Sexual Violence Project, Birmingham; and Chloe Wynne, Warwick Welfare & Campaign Officer. The wealth of professional and personal experiences our speakers had with sexual violence ensured a nuanced and extremely insightful conversation. We tackled questions about practical steps we can take to combat gender-based violence; the inadequacy of laws currently in place; the importance of intersectionality when dealing with sexual violence; and victim support.
To conclude, Chimamanda talked about how she is angrier about sexism than she is about racism because she often feels lonely in her fight against sexism. To elaborate, she talks about how the people who make up her closest circle often acknowledge racism as a system of oppression but are very dismissive of conversations about sexism. As much as this is true for me a lot of the time, last week it felt nice to sort of be the loudest voice, part of the majority. I had so many ‘yasss girl’, ‘louder for the misogynists and mansplainers in the back’ moments last week. I am so thankful to have been in the company of women who are taking active steps to change the things they can no longer accept. We matter and we matter equally.
We are extremely pleased to announce that our Sanitary Products drive and fundraising for Coventry Haven were extremely successful as we surpassed our target. Thank you to everyone who contributed & helped spread the word.