Monday, 30 December 2013

Rant about Racist Christmas

It would be mildly put to say that we have “moved on” since my childhood on some of the most overt issues regarding racism.  I don’t know if you have similar examples from your countries, but at least in Finland we kids happily played a card game in which the loser was the one with “Black Pete” (Musta Pekka) in his hand when all the other (white) characters had been united in their families.  Black Pete had no family.  While we played this game we may have been munching on a weird sticky biscuit/candy concoction called “nigger kiss” (neekerinsuukko).  My favourite was the strawberry nigger kiss.

While I cringe writing down these examples, the crowning moment is thinking about the little snot-nosed me standing in the middle of the school yard and shouting “WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BLACK MAN?” while all the other kids run away from me (the black man) screaming.  Because that is of course what kids should do when they see a black man.

Honestly.  This all happened.  Not that long ago.

But at least kids in Finland no longer play “Black Pete” or “who’s afraid of the black man” or eat nigger kisses.

Which is why I was so unprepared to find to my embarrassment and horror that a Finnish Christmas tradition that in my mind clearly belongs in the same camp as the examples above was still going strong last year at least.  It is a little play and it is called “Tiernapojat” (a version of Star boys’ singing procession).  It features four boys (it is played by children of course) who act out the scene in which King Herod is told about the birth of Jesus.  One of the characters is called “Murjaanien Kuningas” (King of the Moors).  Not only does this character not do much else except kneel before King Herod (don’t ask me what this has to do with the birth of Baby Jesus, I have no idea), but he is played by a white kid with his face painted black.  Yeah, that’s right.  A white kid in blackface kneeling before another white kid.  This is how we celebrate Christmas in Finland.

Last year I saw on TV this play being put on at a school somewhere in Finland and I hit the roof.  I hit the roof so hard I immediately started ranting at my mum and dad who were in the room.  In addition, I was so agitated, and so unprepared for my parents’ reaction (=they thought this was a totally innocent Finnish Christmas tradition) that I can’t pretend to having made a particularly coherent argument.  I mostly just screamed at my parents, although they obviously had done nothing wrong.  After a while they got annoyed and started screaming back at me.  So it was all very merry at our little Christmas party!

I still can’t get over it, though.  Earlier this month I was obsessively scanning the Finnish media for signs of awakening to how racist this whole thing is.  Nothing.  Not a peep.  Instead, the main newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported recently on the Dutch beginning to consider the racist implications of their Zwarte Piet tradition – and at no point did it cotton on to the reporter that maybe there were some parallels to be drawn with our own blackface tradition.  Oh, the irony.  At least the Dutch version brings presents as opposed to KNEELING before a little white dude!

Please somebody tell me that we’re not alone in this, that other countries have similarly embarrassing remnants of some racist crap from decades ago to which everyone continues to be blind...?!?

On a more positive note, I thankfully heard nothing about Tiernapojat around this Christmas, so ours was a lot more peaceful than last year.  I hope yours was too!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Hints to Santa

For logistical reasons we celebrated St. Nikolaus as a sort of “pre-Christmas” with the German side of the family this year and exchanged presents already then.  I got from my in-laws a piece of paper, rolled and tied with a very nice ribbon.  Inside it told me that they had made a donation to the MSF Syria fund.

This pressie was one of the best I have ever received.  It made me incredibly happy.  It still does.  Many charities now provide the option of giving an “alternative” kind of present, namely buying cows, trees, chicken, school books etc., mostly in developing countries.  I have received some of these in the past and they have never been a bad gift, it’s always better to give something like that as opposed to something material which I probably don’t need.  But they’ve not been like this one.

The reason is that this was personal.  This was not just a generic “do something good” gift.  It was specifically for me.  It was something I care passionately about.  

Having had such a strong reaction to it, I decided to throw the idea out there more generally.  When pondering what to get various family members and friends, how about expanding your search to not just gadgets, food or books that they might enjoy and think about issues or causes that they care about?  An example: F feels very strongly about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and has devoted large amounts of his time to helping them both in Germany and here in Switzerland.  Recently he has been dropping hints that HEKS/EPER offers some gifts tailored at assisting these very people. 

Not that I’m referring to anything specific, nobody can guess what Santa might bring in his sack...  If anything at all for that matter.  It all depends on whether you have been naughty or nice.  (The Santa's-little-helper-jury is still out on you, F.)

Merry Christmas everybody.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Rant about Domestic Gods

Feminism makes some people – both men and women – a bit queasy.  There is this inherent fear of “man-hating” behind this reaction, that promoting WOMEN must mean pushing down MEN, as if it is some kind of a zero-sum game.
The latest craze in feminism seems to be about allaying these fears by reminding everyone that feminism isn’t only about women’s rights, it’s about men’s rights too.  Men don’t really need to have their rights promoted (by women) in the corridors of power, so the troops are marching to battle to promote men’s rights in the one sphere where women still dominate: the home.
The most notable thing about this movement is that it is driven by women.  I see the cunning in the argument:  Anne-Marie Slaughter’s widely publicised views on the structural blocks to (American) women combining work and family become less threatening, and she appears smarter and her views more acceptable, when she follows them up with an impassioned plea for the rights of men to have a say in the home.  It’s OK, she is not a man-hater after all.  Similarly Riikka Venäläinen, the Editor-in-Chief of the biggest Finnish newspaper, decides to celebrate Father’s Day with an editorial about the need to treat fathers as equal parents with equal rights (and presumably equal duties, although she is less clear on that).  She is a woman in a man’s job, I understand that she must get the boys on her side, and some of her earlier writings, hinting at feminist views, must have caused a stir.  This piece was a good counterweight.  
I’m sure you’ve all seen other examples of similar writings in recent months, as they have proliferated in the media.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these ideas – most of them are in fact very good.  But what I don’t get is why it all has to come at the expense of blaming women.  Here’s Ms Slaughter:
You know, women are hypocrites this way, because we would go crazy if men treated us in the workforce the way we typically treat them at home – if a guy in the workforce assumed he was more competent than you are, and told you what to do – but that's the way most women treat men in the household.
While men sometimes have specific gripes about their own spouses (which is all entirely normal, at the end of the day it is for each family to decide how they handle their own domestic arrangements), they do not seem to be getting up in arms and blaming the womenfolk in general for keeping them down and preventing them collectively from having a say in domestic decisions.  So why do women do it?  As if most women don’t carry around enough guilt about trying to be perfect employees, bosses, mothers, wives and a thousand other things as it is.  They clearly need the extra guilt, heaped on their heads by other women, that they are preventing men from blossoming into domestic gods.
Come on ladies.  We can do better than this.  Just like feminism is not about hating men, let’s not make it about hating (other) women either.  Let’s remember who the real enemy is.*  The enemy is the patriarchy, the structures that prevent equality from being achieved in any and all spheres of life. 
*For those who recognised the quote: yes, I’m ridiculously excited about the new Hunger Games movie.  Almost as excited as I was about Two Towers back in 2002.  The trailer already passed the Bechdel test!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rant about Gypsies

Here are three recent stories from real life:

Story A: Two colleagues are watching a newscast.  The newsreader is talking about the plans of the Italian government to evict (mostly Romanian) Roma from their illegal settlements.  The younger one wonders out loud how this can happen.  The older colleague mentions casually that it is the only way to do policing in Europe.  He knows because his wife works in law enforcement.  “Gypsies” are sought out and targeted, because they just are much more likely to be criminals.

Story B: A mixed bunch of hockey players, from young teens to 42-year olds, are getting off their bus outside a rink.  The coach tells them not to leave anything valuable on the bus.  When one player asks “why not”, the answer, given with a smirk, is “because there is a Roma convention taking place in the building next door”.  A few players giggle a little, and all file out of the bus and head for the rink to prepare for their match.

Story C: A team of football players is out on the town after a victorious tournament.  Loud, boisterous behaviour and drunken antics are accompanied by approving laughter and backslapping.  At one point the teasing is directed at one player, M, and a well known football chant which translates as something along the lines of “M is a gypsy” gets on the way.

This sort of casual racism against the Roma (or Romani*) happens all the time, everywhere, on our presumably modern, civilised continent.  While we mostly understand and abstain from overt racism or other forms of crass discrimination against other minorities, the same rules don’t seem to apply when it comes to the Roma.  I was channel surfing the other day and was pretty shocked to come across a reality TV show on English TV that was called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”.  Apart from the fact that the TV company had thought it OK to use the derogatory term “gypsy” in an attempt to draw a humorous parallel with the hit play and later movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, the content continued with the racist theme.  I watched it for about 20 minutes out of some kind of morbid fascination to discover that the bride-to-be looked and acted like a pretty standard English “bridezilla” who has lost a few marbles in the planning of the impending nuptials, but somehow this was all made to sound like it was due to the fact that she was Roma.  And this was all happening on national TV!  The mind boggles.

Casual racism is not rocket science, so if we wanted to stop it, we would.  There is a very simple test to find out whether a stereotype about the Roma is acceptable or not:  Just replace the word “Roma” or “gypsy” with “jewish” or “black”.  If this makes you squirm with discomfort, well then what is being said is racist, whether it is intended as such or not.

But the problem is not just that we casually make such remarks.  It is made much worse because we tolerate them.

Which one is the odd one out of my three stories above?  Story C. 

Stories A and B happened to me.  I was listening to the racist remark in A and the racist joke in B, and said nothing.  In story A I should have told my boss that finding out that this sort of racial profiling is conducted openly by the Swiss police sends shivers down my spine, and not least because it is against the European Convention on Human Rights.  In story B I should have told my coach that I find making racist jokes, especially in front of impressionable teenagers as young as 13, entirely inappropriate.  Instead I shut up.

Story C happened to my other half F.  He challenged his loudmouth drunken football buddies, telling them that this sort of casual racism was just not ok.  Some protestations ensued, a few players defending their actions by saying that it was harmless football banter.  F was having none of it, telling them that racism was never harmless and football should move away from using such chants.  To their credit his buddies listened and took note.  Several constructive conversations about casual racism directed at the Roma have taken place among the team members since.

I just hope that when these situations occur in the future, and they will occur, since the Roma will continue to be the most discriminated minority in Europe for a long time, I will have the courage to act more like F and less like me.  I can’t stop the Italian (or Finnish, for that matter,) police from evicting the Roma from their makeshift camps, nor can I ensure that Romania (or other countries) do not discriminate against Roma children in isolating them from “normal” children and giving them substandard teaching in separate classes.  But what I can do is point out these small, casual, acts of racism, and make these very smart and nice people see what they’re doing, and thus make them perhaps think twice next time.  I will report back on the first occasion I manage to put my own advice into action.

*Romani is the more technically accurate term, since Roma are a sub-group of Romani, but I've stuck with Roma, as it is widely used to denote all of the Romani.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Rant about the 2 million

My guess is that you’re bored of hearing of Syria.  Pictures and stories about the chemical weapons, the Islamists that are taking over the democratic revolution, the bulging refugee camps and the frustrating diplomatic wranglings feature in the media every day, but we’re bored and have kinda stopped caring.  Same old, same old ... lots of cruelty and misery, we know.  Moving on.

And that is the real tragedy.  I was just a little bit too young to really grasp the context, history and development of the Rwandan genocide, which has given me the presumed moral superiority of being able to shake my head at the humanity of my youth and just wonder “how on earth did the previous generation let Rwanda happen” with the obvious implication that we’re better people now and if MY generation had been old enough to understand, the genocide would never have happened.

I don’t have that luxury now.  I’m old enough to get what’s happening, and I’m watching it happen.  When my future kids ask me 25 years from now in their moral righteousness how the hell could my generation let Syria happen I will have very little to say.

If you’ve not gotten too bored, but have at least read this far, let me assure you that I’m not talking about bombing.  I may have opinions on what should or should not be done on the diplomatic or military level, but neither my writing about that nor you reading my ranting is going to change anything.  What I want to focus on is what you or I can actually do, and that has to do with the human tragedy that is unfolding on a mind-boggling scale.

There’s more to this war than guns and tanks and sarin and fighters of all creeds and unimaginable acts of cruelty.  There’s the lack of hospitals to treat the wounded or ill and there are the squalid and overflowing refugee camps with 2 million – let me repeat that number – TWO MILLION people who are getting bored and frustrated when not being bought or abused.  When we want to act to help those that are suffering, we can and do.  Donations for the survivors and rebuilding after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami reached US$ 10 billion.  I wonder how much that money would do in the camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.  The refugees could not only have food and shelter, but schools and hospitals and small businesses to start getting people back on their feet and earning their keep.  This would not just alleviate immediate suffering, but increase the chances that the people will be mentally and physically fit to return to rebuild their country once the atrocious war is finally over.

There are plenty of organisations that have not been waiting for the US and Russia to be done with their diplomatic posturing and chest pumping to DO SOMETHING about the humanitarian crisis.  Medecins sans Frontières for example runs clandestine hospitals inside the country.  Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations is a collective of Syrian (and Syrian origin) medical organisations and professionals providing and co-ordinating medical aid.  Lots of the big, traditional guys such as UNICEF and Red Cross/Crescent work inside the country as well as in the camps.  The UNHCR obviously tries to run most of the show in the camps, and is chronically underfunded.  Smaller organisations, such as Kirkon Ulkomaanapu in Finland or Caritas in Switzerland, also do their bit.  If you don’t want to part with your cash, Amnesty International in the UK, for example, is running a campaign to pressure the government to do more to help the refugee crisis.

Please let’s not get jaded and callous about this, but do whatever small thing we, as individuals, can.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rant about Brains in Hollywood

I love movies.  I mean, who doesn’t?  While I have some friends that go for the “artsy” types shown in little independent movie theatres, I’m an unapologetic Hollywood girl.  My favourite movie is the Lord of the Rings.  Next in the list are the Usual Suspects, Shawshank Redemption and Madagascar.  A powerful Kiwi movie called Once Were Warriors probably makes it to the Top 5, but that’s about it, as far as non-blockbusters are concerned.

The problem with movies is that if you go to see them for “pure” entertainment and diversion, you must be able to switch your brain off.  I’ve recently been struggling with that, and the biggest culprit is a comic artist called Alison Bechdel.  In her 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For she introduced a test to see whether a movie had THE BARE MINIMUM in terms of women’s presence and storyline.  The test, which has become colloquially known as the “Bechdel test” is composed of three very simple criteria.  The movie must:

(1) have at least two named women in it, 
(2) who talk to each other,
(3)  about something besides a man.

Knowing how often in real life women talk to other women (err... all the time) and how often those conversations don’t concern men (err... all the time), you’d think the test would be a walk in the park for most movies, right?


Trying the test out in action, here are the movies that I’ve seen in the past couple of months:
  1. Monsters University;
  2. Now I see You;
  3. Hair;
  4. Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest;
  5. Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark;
  6. Iron Man;
  7. Silver Linings Playbook; and
  8. Viva Riva.

Guess how many passed the Bechdel test?  Three.  Guess how many of those three were Hollywood?  One.  Silver Linings Playbook scrapes by with a single dinner conversation between the sisters played by Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Stiles.  Ironically enough,* along with the one Swedish movie on my list, passing the test with flying colours, the other one that does is the Congolese one.  And before anyone gets to say anything like “obviously action movies like Indiana Jones and Iron Man will not pass it, chicks don’t do action”, I can inform you that Viva Riva is a violent crime thriller.  But what do you know, apparently in Congo women can get a piece of the action too, and might even have a conversation or two with each other while they’re at it!

The problem with the Bechdel test is not just that it irks the feminist in me.  It is that once I became aware of it, and started applying it to the movies I saw, and liked, I began being also aware of the numerous other failings in them.  Apparently there is an ethnic diversity version of the Bechdel test as well: 

(1) Are there at least two named non-white characters in the movie,
(2)    who talk to each other,
(3)    about something besides a white character?

Most Hollywood movies fail again...

Is it really that only the stories of white heterosexual men are interesting enough to be told?  Why do other characters in movies only exist in relation to the storyline of the main white dude, as if they have no interesting stories of their own?

So basically the Bechdel test has ruined movies for me.  Because once I have it in my head, I can’t help but notice how shallow and stereotypical all Hollywood movies are.  My top 5 of all times listed at the top?  Yeah, you guessed it, they all fail, apart from the Kiwi one.  Thanks a bunch, Alison Bechdel.

PS. Going back to the feminist in me that gets irked, I will give a big thumbs up to the first person to think of a movie that would fail a “reverse Bechdel” test.  I doubt it has been made.

*I say “ironically enough” because we in the North have this tendency of thinking that we’re the most progressive people on the planet.  On everything.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Quickie about Pushbacks

Hi everybody,

Departing from my usual practice of posting only what I hope to be at least mildly thought-through pieces, I'm doing a short post just to promote a campaign Amnesty is doing on refugees and their "pushback" in the Aegean sea.  I'm a typical liberal leftie in many senses (and I don't apologise for any of it), not least because I believe that we here in the comfort of rich Europe should do our bit to help those less fortunate elsewhere.  Sending help to remote corners of the world is one thing, but booting out desperate individuals from our own doorstep is something else and puts all of the EU in shame.  SHAME, I say!

A more thorough piece on Syria and the refugee situation there will be posted in the next weeks, but for now, please at least see what Amnesty is saying and decide whether this is something you want to support.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Rant for Less Science and More Marketing

I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same phenomenon, but every time I read an article online that in any way touches upon global warming, the comments section gets immediately inundated with the “climate sceptics” regurgitating their mantra, which is never limited to “I don’t believe that climate change is happening”, but inevitably includes some data and/or references to scientific “evidence”, in order to make it appear more convincing.*  The comments remind me of the scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo that you can sometimes read in alternative media telling you, for example, that sun doesn't give you cancer, sunscreen does.
It makes me wonder whether this is what comments sections of internet articles on the health effects of smoking cigarettes would have looked like in the 1970s if internet had existed at the time.  We now know that all the data that denied the harmful effects of smoking was pathetic in scientific terms and financed by the tobacco industry, but as a case study of how scientific discourse can be distorted by vested interests we seem to have learnt nothing from it.
I have not heard about the “scientific” “facts” about the non-existence of climate change only on internet noticeboards, but also in real life - and sometimes from pretty smart people. 
I will not enter into a discussion about the scientific evidence of climate change, because I’m not a climate scientist.  What do I do instead?  I take the word of the experts, i.e. the climate scientists, as I do with just about every scientific question.  Here’s the non-news-flash: They all say it’s happening.  We rarely get such consensus on a contemporary scientific phenomenon as we do on climate change, thanks to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with 195 member states, uniting THOUSANDS of experts from all around the globe.  When climate sceptics try to get me into a discussion about the science of climate change, I always ask whether they have read all the IPCC’s reports and why they disagree with the evidence and conclusions in them.  The conversation ends there, because inevitably they have not read the reports.
Despite the impressive amount of evidence, the persons screaming the loudest, getting their opinions not only heard, but accepted by a mind-bogglingly large part of the population, are these non- or pseudo-scientific climate changes sceptics – in other words the people who are not interested in the evidence itself.  How can this be?  The evidence is all there!  Why is it being ignored and dismissed in this era of easy access to information? 
The problem is clearly not one of facts, but presentation.  Science journalists, for example, are not (collectively) doing their job as they are not writing engaging and easily comprehensible articles on the scientific data and new evidence as it emerges and is analysed.  The organisations that employ the scientists themselves are doing no better.  The IPCC, the UN Environment Programme and national meteorological organisations should hire less scientists and more PR and marketing professionals.  The story is compelling, but it apparently needs to be written on glossy paper with tabloidesque headlines and colour pictures for it to be of interest.** 
If that is what it takes, then do it.  The message is too important to be lost because of shoddy and boring presentation by uncharismatic and (probably also) self-satisfied scientists.

*Those of you that read Finnish can find a good example of both: a good, readable article debunking the recent efforts of climate sceptics and the comments that follow here.
**It can already sometimes be found in fairly user-friendly format, such as on Skeptical Science, but I should not have to go look for it myself, as I currently do.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Rant about a Particularly Hot Piece of Ass

My cousins A and P told me that they were watching the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest held a few months ago in Malmö, Sweden. (Hooray to great cultural traditions!)  Apparently in the Finnish broadcast one could send text messages to the production company and these would scroll along the bottom of the screen as the finalists were performing.  A and P noted that many of the comments were lewd and openly sexual, saying nothing about the songs, but focusing solely on the physical attributes of the artists.  Once they noticed this, they began following the comments and discovered that they related solely to the men – without exception.  Nobody made comments about the looks of the female artists (or at least none were published), many of whom were trying just as hard as the men (if not harder) to look sexy.

This is of course what I did at the end of my last post on football.  I made a very thinly veiled crass remark about the looks of professional male football players.  Had I been a man, and making a similar kind of a comment about, say, a female swimmer or gymnast, it would probably have come across as stupid and more than a little sexist.  But I will hazard a guess that that is not how it came across when I made it about men.

Why is that?  Is it not a double standard?  Why do women feel the need to make sexist remarks about men’s bodies, and why are these tolerated?

I gave this idea some thought, and while I don’t have any definite answers, my guess is that it is some kind of a reclaiming exercise.  “Reclaiming” is what black people have done in appropriating the previously used derogatory term “nigger” for their own use, just like women have done with “bitch”, handicapped people with “cripple” and gay men with “fruit” or “queen” – just to give a few obvious examples.  So what I think has happened with the whole objectification thing is that women have taken a practice formerly reserved for men and appropriated it for their own use.  While men are no longer permitted to do that with impunity (remember what recently happened to BBC’s John Inverdale and his blooper about Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli?), women are cheekily turning the tables and giving men a taste of their own medicine.  What we are in effect saying is “I don’t give a damn whether you have talent / brains / sense of humour – I just see you as a hot piece of ass and it is my right to objectify you in this way”.  

The fad will undoubtedly die down, but for now, I may just take advantage of it a few times before it is gone.  So all overpaid famous men beware: I couldn't care less about you, your skills, opinions or personality.  What I want to know is whether I am getting some eye candy or not.  

I'm sure all Wayne Rooneys of this world are quietly crying into their beers having learnt this harsh truth about my wishes and intentions. 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Rant about FIFA Law 12

As a light summer rant, I want to talk about football.

My own interest has mostly revolved around other sports, but football is relatively hard to avoid, especially when living in England, like I was from the late 1990s onwards.  So I tried to fit in.  I went to the pub to watch Premier League games, I read up on it, I picked a team I pretended to support (Liverpool, in case anyone’s interested).

Then came the 2002 World Cup.  I remember the game very well, although I can’t even recall who England was playing, which says something about how interesting it was.  But as I was confessing to my housemate that the action looked a bit boring and I couldn’t understand why they kept insisting bringing the ball up the left side every time, the commentator mentioned casually that it was a very hot day and the left side of the field was the only one in the shade. 

That was it for me. 

You see, I could just about put up with the fact that it was all fundamentally dull and not much was ever happening.  I could also put up with the annoying filming where these supposedly tough athletes went down screaming like a bunch of babies in situations where you could see they were hardly touched.*  I could even put up with the inevitable penalty shootouts where the goalie always went in the opposite direction to the shot and the only way not to get it in was to be so incompetent as to actually miss the 7.3m x 2.4m goal.  But I couldn’t put up with the fact that in the most important tournament in the world the English players’ primary interest was to stay in the shade.  Nope, couldn’t put up with that, even if it was a REALLY HOT DAY.

So for a long time I gave up on football.  Then I moved to France, and the French know how to watch sports, so I ended up being swept away by the exciting 2006 World Cup.  I haven’t looked back since.  The sport had taken a turn for the better and the Spanish domination that has installed itself in the last few years has been nothing but good.  The game nowadays is fast, the passes short and skilled, there are goals and penalties, fast runs and hard tackles.  There is still some cry-babying, but much less so, presumably because modern TV technology will swiftly reveal you for the idiot that you are if you do that. 

So it is all for the better.

Well ... ALMOST all.

What I would like to know is this:  Who on earth got the idea to ban the players from ripping off their shirt when they scored a goal???  There are so many more goals being scored now than there were 10-15 years ago.  This would mean so many more opportunities to see all that ... toned, ... ripped, ... jubilation.  *sigh* They were SO CLOSE to creating a truly crowd-friendly sport.

Being a true believer in democracy I suggest starting a petition on for reversing the 2004 amendment to FIFA Law 12.  Who’s with me?

*I dare anyone to try THAT in an ice hockey game ...

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Rant about Perversions

The United States Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, in two welcome boosts for the equal rights of homosexuals.  Hooray, champagne bottle corks poppin!  While some of us still have to hang our national heads in shame (hello there, fellow Finns, as well as my Swiss and German friends) as being more backward than we would like to think ourselves when it comes to marriage equality, I prefer being forward looking.  It is just a matter of time, at least as far as Finland is concerned.  Probably also for Switzerland, although we know from experience that the “time” might just be a few decades longer than in surrounding Europe.*

Since gay rights are, or will be, pretty much in the bag, I want to look at the future, and what are the next battlefields in the sphere of sexual equality.  I will again be guided by the United States Supreme Court, and draw my inspiration from the great liberal thinker that is Justice Antonin Scalia** who stated in his dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas 123 S.Ct. 2472 (2003), a case that found the criminalisation of homosexuality to be unconstitutional, that anti-gay laws were like legal bans on “bigamy, ... adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication [and] bestiality”.

I had to study the judgment as part of my comparative human rights course at university and our excellent, provocative professor paused on this passage and asked us whether Scalia had a point:  Was homosexuality really that different from bigamy, adult incest or bestiality?

I loved the exercise, and put my natural distaste for issues such as incest aside to ask myself the genuine question: What sexual behaviour can be regulated by the state, and what should be left for the bedroom?  I don’t think the issue should be determined on the basis of our personal feelings about the sexual practice itself, but on some principled ground. 

For me, I decided that the principled ground is this:  As long as the practice involves consenting adults, it is not for the state to concern itself with it.  And when it comes to corollaries of sexual behaviour, such as the institution of marriage, the state should really provide the same rights to everybody, as long as the practice itself is permitted.

Applying this principle to the list, I find that the line is drawn at bestiality.  Animals are not capable of consenting to sex with humans in any meaningful way, so sex with animals, like sex with children, can be illegal.  But bigamy, adult incest, prostitution, “fornication” (ie sex outside marriage) and adultery are all OK.  (I won’t stoop to even comment on masturbation). 

You may initially be shocked, as I was.  For example, the idea of sex with a close relative is repulsive to most of us.  But it might not be to everyone, and frankly, if someone wants to have sex with their father or sister, it is none of our business.  Many have heard about the case of Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski, a perfect example of where the anti-incest laws led to a real injustice.

Similarly, why would we restrict the right to marry to just two people?  What is the justification to deny bigamy, or polygamy in general, between consenting adults?  None, except that we are instinctively drawn to the purity of the biblical idea of a monogamous heterosexual marriage as the “proper” state of affairs.  We might also look at some cultural practises and fear that polygamy will lead to abuse, unhealthy relationships and misery.  Well, many monogamous heterosexual relationships lead to such things and we don’t deny the institution as a result.  As polyamorous people are becoming more open about their lifestyle choice (see e.g. here or here for info), I’m predicting that polygamy is the next issue on the sexual equality agenda, and you know now whose banner I will be marching under.

*Fun fact:  Appenzell was the last Swiss Canton to admit women’s suffrage (=right to vote) in 1990, and only because the Federal Supreme Court (Tribunal Fédéral) forced them to.

** That was sarcasm.  Scalia is an arch-conservative douchebag.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Rant about Scarves and Shoes

I have always been uncomfortable with my relationship with shoes.  More particularly shoes with high heels.  Most of you know that while I do not spend ridiculous amounts of money on them, I am unreservedly a fan of a nice pair of heels.  More than that, those that have come across me in a work setting know that my professional persona is clad almost exclusively in trouser suits coupled with a fairly high pair.  All day, every day.

I know all the feminist arguments against heels.  They’re uncomfortable.  They’re not healthy for feet or for posture.  They make it harder to run away from an attacker, thereby weakening women’s independence and agency.

But they look so much nicer than flat shoes!  And they permit me to look down at most men, at least physically if not figuratively, in a profession where the vast majority of the movers and shakers are still men.*  There is also something to be said about the power portrayed by high heels.  Stilettos are not a self-evident part of the dominatrix wardrobe for nothing...

OK, you weren’t entirely convinced.  Neither am I.  But I will still continue wearing my heels.

The topic of today’s rant is actually Muslims.  What is the connection between Muslims and high heels, you ask.  Here’s what: The headscarf of an intelligent feminist Muslim woman is like my pair of heels.  A personal choice that may not seem to coincide perfectly with our feminist ideals, but will not make us any less feminist in the grand scheme of things.  I can’t really dismiss the feminist arguments against high heels, but I will continue to wear them nonetheless.  Similarly, I can probably win the argument against a Muslim woman about the cultural significance of the scarf as a tool of women’s oppression, but it is unlikely to make her take it off.

And that is just fine.

I have for a long time felt annoyed at the “scarf debate”, both in France and here in Switzerland, because it has taken an extremely patronising attitude towards the women who are most concerned by it, assuming that the choice to wear a scarf CAN’T be theirs, they must have been forced by a man to do it.  I have an idea: If you want to know why Muslim women are wearing scarves, ask them, dammit, don’t assume you know better than they do! 

I was thus really pleased to read the comparison between headscarves and high heels in an interview with Isla Lehtinen, a Finnish Muslim feminist.  I liked it immediately.  It may not make men understand why a Muslim may want to wear a scarf, but it might resonate with women.  The majority of us feminists are not scarf-wearing Muslims, but many of us wear heels at least sometimes. The desire to wear less-than-perfectly-feminist shoes will hopefully make us more understanding and tolerant towards the less-than-perfectly-feminist clothing choices of others without questioning the agency and free will of the persons themselves. 

 * Even though my employer is much better than most in that regard.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Rant about Shopping for Sex

Last week I wrote that the public debate about issues that concern women’s physical agency such as abortion, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence could benefit from women actually speaking out more about their personal experiences – to remove the shame and permit us to understand the issues better.
There is an additional issue that belongs in the same category, but where I would actually like to encourage MEN to come forward and tell their stories.
This issue is prostitution.
I know some feminists are vehemently against prostitution, but I am first and foremost a liberal, so I think everyone has in principle the right to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others.  That means that if somebody wants to sell her (or his) body for sexual services, then that is a choice for her, not me, to make. 
Prostitutes and their clients suffer from the same kind of stigma as women that have had abortions or been sexually assaulted.  Also, just like rape and abortion, prostitution is incredibly common – it is all around us.  While I may not know many prostitutes, I’m sure I know some of their clients.  I just don’t know they are clients of prostitutes, because it is not something they will admit to.  But why not?  There must be dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons to buy sex and most of them are probably not condemnable.  Why would a single man, or someone in an open relationship, not be allowed to buy sex if he wants to?  Even more understandably for some people, for example those suffering from certain types of physical disabilities or developmental or psychological problems, buying sex might be the only way to get any (for more details, see here for a dispassionate account or here for a more scandalised take on the issue).
So come on gentlemen: admit boldly if you’ve used the services of a prostitute and please explain why.  I won’t judge.  I would just like to understand.