I am, as I may have mentioned before, of extremely mixed heritage. Some of that heritage, through my maternal grandfather, is Anglo-Indian (a distinct group made up of the children of European fathers and Indian mothers, back when India was up for grabs, based on the cunning use of flags).
My mother and I went to see my grandfather today, as he is in a respite care home for a couple of weeks – he has Alzheimer’s and my grandmother, his primary carer, is going to Ireland to visit her family for a break. And, to liven up the day a little, Mum found some magazines specifically aimed at Anglo-Indians…. like you do!
Anyway, this evening, after we’d got back, she wandered in to my room, magazine in hand….
Mum: Congratulations! You’re an Anglo-Indian!
Me: Oh good. Why?
Mum: You’re the child of an Anglo-Indian.
Me: Cool. So my kids can be Anglos too then..
Mum: Yes. Now, do you want to marry a nice Anglo boy?
Mum: Because I could put an advert in this magazine.
Mum: Here, listen to this one — “Alliance invited for 30-year old spinster, B.Sc, 5’3″, 75kgs. Interested Roman Catholic/ Protestant bachelors from India may reply with personal details/ family background” — [laughs] — see, you thought our family was weird – we’re really on the normal end of the scale…
As though my early-morning commute isn’t frustating enough as it is, I found myself this morning confronted with a scene designed to fry the brain of any feminist. Especially this feminist, who had not yet had her tea.
Remember the not-quite-there advertising campaign by Coca Cola for their genius scheme, Coke Zero? The way that even though there didn’t seem to be much hype, suddenly it was there and everybody knew they were meant to call it “Bloke Coke”. Because real men wouldn’t be seen dead holding a bottle of diet coke (which is for girls, because only girls would diet!), but nevertheless need a brand of coke that has no calories. For body-building purposes, naturally.
Well, this morning the not-quite-there advertising suddenly turned in-your-face.
A big cool-bin full of bottles of Coke Zero. A big, burly, masculine black man in promotional uniform. And….
A young, tall, slim, big-breasted blonde woman wearing a tight, form-fitting promotional T-shirt, tight black hotpants and, as the icing on the cake, knee high white socks.
What. The. Fuck?
At quarter to eight in the fucking morning? I don’t want to have to think about all the ways in which that kind of advertising is wrong, not before eight in the morning and especially not before I’ve had my breakfast!
I’m guessing the not-so-subtle message behind it is that, by drinking Bloke Coke, you too could become a big, burly, masculine black man, with a hot blonde woman as your sidekick. Not that there’s a whole heap of pornographic stereotypes about “blacks on blondes” or anything. Not that there’s that lovely racial stereotype about black men having huge cocks. No, I bet the good people at Coca-Cola never had those thoughts cross their minds, as they sent out that particular team.
Oh, and the thought about how a hot, big-breasted blonde woman in hotpants would look as she bent over a conveniently sized bin to get more free samples…. yeah, I bet that never crossed their minds either.
It must’ve just been my filthy mind that leapt to those kinds of conclusions.
And don’t even get me started on the way she was offering all the men the coke by shifting her posture to look up at them, calling them all “sir” whilst in knee-highs….
Yep, sex sells. Especially thin, female, big-breasted, blonde, submissive sex.
That woman? I don’t know how she felt about what she was doing, and I’m not going to speculate. I could see that she was making the effort, though. Making an impression. Fair enough; it’s a job, it must pay. There’s always the satisfaction of doing a job well.
I just wish it wasn’t this way. Wish that it wasn’t all about Teh Sex. And worse, that it’s so…. male-orientated. That sounds daft, but what I mean is – that Coke Zero was being linked inextricably to sex. The kind of sex that’s advertised as good sex – for men. Really good sex. But only for men.
And it’s always that way.
If food is advertised for men, it’s packaged in a way that links it to good, male-dominant, heterosexual sex. Socially approved hunger, both for food and sex. All tied up in a fizzy drink, or a beer, or whatever.
Whereas, if food is advertised for women, it’s packaged in a way that links it to the fall of Eve*. It’s always, always about the sin of it all. Chocolate. Sweets. Naughtiness. Knowing you shouldn’t. Knowing you will. It’s about submitting. About surrendering control. About not being able to help yourself.
It’s no wonder we’ve got so many hang-ups about food. And sex. The two just link. All the time. And that’s not what I wanted to think about before I’d even started my day.
Of course, I wasn’t the demographic that Coke was targetting. So I was safe from being accosted, and walked past, unnoticed, and bought a chocolate croissant instead. And I didn’t link it to sex, not even a little bit. The crumbs would get everywhere.
*Also, I object to the phrase “the fall”. I rather think she jumped.
Seemingly disconnected from the title of the post, I now get a 15 minute breakfast break at work. This is my reward for turning up at 8 rather than 8:30 (I successfully argued that I couldn’t physically function if I had to eat at 6:30 and then wait over 7 hours before eating again).
What this means, however, is that I end up watching Sky News, which is projected onto the wall of the staff restaurant.
And what this means is that I have a whole new source of irritation to disturb my day. And sometimes some real news.
So, in the news today? Something about the precarious state of the stock market – apparently it’s the fault of the Americans, who have such a big country they can afford to bring down their interest rate by 1%, whereas we on our tiny little island have no such option. Or something. It seemed strangely linked to virility and manliness and, you know, size, but maybe that’s just me being a cock-obsessed slutwhore. You never know.
Anyway, that story obviously doesn’t link to God. Unless God is secretly also cock-obsessed. But let’s assume that that would be a bit silly, and then I can talk about what I actually wanted to.
The story that irritated me was the startling news that political-extremist types “recruit” at universities.
No! You think?!
As my mother once said, “at the University of East Anglia there was nothing to do, except become radical.”
Of course politics becomes big at uni. Lots of young people are away from home, sometimes for the first time, trying to work out who they are and who they want to be, and you think politics isn’t going to make an appearance?! For goodness’ sake, it’s people of university age who’ve just got the vote!
But this wasn’t the most irritating bit. The really, really irritating bit was the sadly innevitable mention of Teh Muslim Extremists. You’d think they held a monopoly on extremism, if you believed the media. But that can’t be right, because before that, the extreme group was Teh Communists (also known, amusingly, as “The Reds Under The Bed”). And I saw the Socialist Workers’ Party just the other day. So they do all still exist. That must be quite irritating for them, actually. The communists, I mean. Because now nobody talks about them.
Presumably, atheism isn’t as bad as believing in the ‘wrong’ God.
Basically, the soundbites were saying that “Muslim extremists” were “luring” or “recruiting” “young Muslim women”. That the “extremists” were saying that the society of the West was a bit shite, really, and that Islam would be better for them.
And I did what I’ve been doing quite a lot recently, and thinking that actually I sympathised with the people who were being demonised.
Western society is a bit shite, really. There are a lot of problems with it. And when you look at the model that Islam wants to provide:
“Islam instead maintains that both types of roles are equally deserving of pursuit and respect and that when accompanied by the equity demanded by the religion, a division of labor along sex lines is generally beneficial to all members of the society.
This might be regarded by the feminist as opening the door to discrimination, but as Muslims we regard Islamic traditions as standing clearly and unequivocally for the support of male-female equity. In the Quran, no difference whatever is made between the sexes in relation to God. “For men who submit [to God] and for women who submit [to God], for believing men and believing women, for devout men and devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for steadfast men and steadfast women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable men and charitable women, for men who fast and women who fast, for men
who guard their chastity and women who guard, for men who remember God much and for women who remember – for them God has prepared forgiveness and a mighty reward” (33:35). “Whoever performs good deeds, whether male or female and is a believer, We shall surely make him live a good life and We will certainly reward them for the best of what they did” (16:97).“
Well, doesn’t it make you wonder what a society like that would be like? It doesn’t sound too bad, to me. I mean, from the religious point of view, can you imagine the Bible saying anything so rooted in equality? I can’t.
So, I might have a quibble with the way work should be divided along gender lines – I can’t think of many jobs that can be performed well by only one gender – but I think they have a point when they say that “both types of roles [typically male vs. typically female] are equally deserving of pursuit and respect”.
Strangely enough, it reminds me of something Bitchy Jones once wrote:
“Way back in the past when they invented misogyny they decided that women were lower status and thus had the low status role in sex. He had the mighty phallus – she had the dirty needy hole. You can see how femdom later thought, hey, lets flip this shit. Let’s make the guy be called slut for wanting and be filled. But those things aren’t really submissive. Having something pushed into your body that feels amazing is only submissive because someone decided that the female role in sex was a submissive one.”
For once, let’s ignore the sex. Yes, I know it’s hard. Er, difficult. But seriously, the point I’m getting at is that things associated with women – traditional roles, be it in the bedroom or in the workplace – only seem “less good” for the reason that Bitchy says so well – “when they invented misogyny they decided that women were lower status”. [emphasis mine].
Damn, I just made a link between Islam and Femdom. That’s got to be a first, surely.
So, and back to Islam, isn’t it great that it’s saying both roles are equally deserving of respect?
Because they are. They are just as good as each other. And this is something that Western society has failed in teaching us, rather drastically.
So, to be honest, it’s not such a silly – or radical! – idea, to say that Islam can offer young women something that Western society can’t. Whether it actually lives up to this idea, I don’t know.
Anyway, so the whole ‘news’ story irritated me.
And it infuriated me that a middle-aged male professor could be talking so confidently about the perils of Teh Extremists to young Muslim women, without justifying it. Either without thinking about the points I put forward above, or simply without mentioning them.
I suspect he simply hasn’t thought about it. Like many of the men I know in real life wouldn’t think about it.
And it felt like, once again, Muslims were being tarred with the “heathen unbeliever” brush. You know, the one that says, “oh, well, it’s jolly good to go to Church, dontcherknow, and even just staying at home on a Sunday, that’s not so bad, eh… but praying to Allah – well, it’s just not done, dear boy! Not, er, not British, old chap, what!”
It would seem that for all my relief that at least the British public don’t let their politicians get too devout, or claim that God tells them to go on crusades, they are still easily swayed by religion.
The God Squad, you see, is still insiduously there. Because it still seems terribly bad form to think that a religion involving the “wrong” deity could be a reasonable religion.
In the Guardian today is a short interview of a woman called Remi Nicole, a new ‘singer-songwriter’. I’m sad to say I know nothing about her music, but damn, do I love her attitude! A couple of choice quotes….
- on her new single, Rock’n’roll: “it was written out of frustration at people… saying that because I’m black I’ve got to listen to black music. What they don’t realise is that everything stems from rock’n’roll.”
- on race: “I’d like to see a mixed race crowd at my gigs, but I don’t care who listens to my music. I’m not making music for races, I’m making music for myself and for anyone who can and wants to relate to it.”
- on gender: “There are 100,000 boy bands out there and no one has a problem with it but you get pure grief if you’re a girl.”
And, my personal favourite…..
- on being compared to Lily Allen: “The only similarity is that we both have ovaries and breasts.”
I loved that quote, which made me laugh out loud on a crowded train and, not surprisingly, earned me some baffled looks from fellow commuters.
But any woman who is confident, and sarcastic, and funny enough to say something like that to a national newspaper (especially when that woman comes from a “minority” ethnic group, often underrepresented or misrepresented in the media) gets my respect.
As I understand it, she is part of the Indie music scene – which, while not quite to my taste (dedicated Metal girl that I am!), I can tolerate better than most other genres – and for that reason she is something of an anomaly in the celebrity world.
The photograph says it all. She’s perched on a pavement, looking straight at the camera, not smiling, just being – and she’s fully clothed. She’s wearing the skinny jeans that mark her out as Indie, rather than the lack of clothes that every other genre seems to aspire to, she’s not wearing that come-fuck-me smile that would mark her as ‘just another sexy woman in the media’.
After so many women like Beyonce, blithely singing songs about “independent women” whilst strutting about in their underwear, or tiny frilly skirts, Remi Nicole sounds like a welcome change.
Now, let’s see what her music’s like…….!
The other day, I was sitting with my brother (who is 6), helping him with a jigsaw puzzle.
It was a cartoon scene of about five little boys in various positions of playing football, all copied and pasted so that there must have been a good forty children in the picture altogether.
He was grumbling because the fact that there were only five different faces meant that the puzzle was a lot harder. So, not really thinking about it, just making conversation, I asked him what he’d change, to make them different.
“Well…. I could make some of their tops different colours….”
“Or their shoes….”
“I’d put some black boys in,” he said earnestly. “And some brown boys. And some tanned ones.”
I sat and stared. I had honestly not expected him to say that – he could have changed their socks, or their shorts, or their hair, or…. well, anyway, he still had some clothes to go, is my point.
“Yeah…” I said, thoughtfully, “because your school’s not like this picture, is it?”
“No,” he replied casually, “there are girls as well.”
I don’t normally do personal things here. Not really. It doesn’t feel appropriate. But this is different.
You see, I never set out to post about race. In this, as in other issues, like the LGBTQ scene, I often don’t feel “other” enough. I am occaisionally attracted to girls, but not enough to feel that I could identify as anything other than straight. Certainly not enough to post with any confidence about LGBTQ issues, other than where I feel that what I think might be of interest to people who identify as being part of that community.
Because I am so often mistaken for a white English girl, it seems reasonable to assume that at those times I have the white privelege that comes with it. So, often, it feels hypocritical to be mentioning race at the same time as taking that privelege. But I am not white. And that privelege comes and goes.
So this is to remind myself – and others – that while I may sometimes look like a white English girl, that’s not who I am. This is who I am, and it is likely to be the nearest anybody online will ever get to knowing what I look like. The man is my grandfather, and I love him dearly. He is the reason I feel so strongly that I am not English – because I do love him dearly, and it would feel disrespectful to ignore his part of my heritage.
I’m sitting in the kitchen with Mum. I’m in Year 5, which makes me nine or ten years old. And we’re having “The Conversation”.
Except it’s not about sex, because I’ve got a book for that, and both my sister and I were told years ago that while it was fine to play with our own bodies as much as we liked, it was a pasttime best kept in the privacy of our own bedrooms.
It’s about racism. I don’t know to this day why Mum chose that time to talk to me about it. Maybe she’d had a bad day of it. Maybe she’d had a bad day a couple of days beforehand, and wanted to talk to me about it as soon as she could deal with having that conversation. Maybe I’d told her something about school that she’d identified as racism. Maybe she just thought that I was old enough to hear it. For whatever reason, she told me.
She tells me that some people have strange ideas about other people. She tells me that sometimes people use words that they shouldn’t. She tells me that sometimes they would use those words because they didn’t know any better, and sometimes they would use them because they wanted to upset me. She tells me that it was important to be able to recognise it.
Mum had great timing. Later that week, a boy in my class called me “Paki” as a term of abuse. It was the first time I’d ever had it directed at me. It was the first time I recognised it as racism. And it stayed with me. I’d heard of some forms of racism, of course. My headmaster was a wonderful man, who routinely did assemblies based on stories like that of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. As well as the Titanic and various Greek legends. But they were stories. I knew they’d happened, but Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks lived years and years ago in America – which was practically the moon as far as I was concerned. And they were fighting against slavery and segregation and White people being racist to Black people, which wasn’t the same thing as what had happened to me, not even a little bit. The boy that called me “Paki” that day was a black boy.
Since then, many other people of many different colours and races have used that word against me, or in my hearing. I’m lucky, in a way. If only one group of people had ever done that to me, perhaps I too would have become racist, shunning every person from that group. As it is, I would have to shun everybody who didn’t hail from my ethnic background. Since my ethnicity is a confusing thing, which encompasses Anglo-Indian (Indian, Portuguese, Dutch etc.), English and Irish, it would be something of a Herculean task to find anybody remotely similar. Except my siblings, of course!
This incident, the first that sticks in my mind, goes a long way to explaining why I am the way I am, in certain situations. That boy was probably acting on something he’d heard his parents say. He said it, very likely, because nobody had taught him that he couldn’t. And so I don’t feel I have the luxury of letting comments slide. Because a society that doesn’t act on comments like that, even throwaway comments, is a society that condones them. And a society that condones them is not a society that I wish to be a part of.
People need to speak out about these things. Because if you don’t say anything, you’re just like that kid at school, that watched the bully put someone down, without doing anything to help.
And it could be a remark as simple as
“I’m off to get my dinner from the Chinky”, or
“that Paki guy in the corner shop said…” or
“that’s gay” [to mean "stupid"] or
“don’t be such a girl” [to mean "weak, feeble, silly"] or
“urgh, you spaz/ retard” [to mean "idiot, silly person"]
but whatever it is, it’s still wrong. Somewhere, somehow, it will affect somebody, and they will be offended, hurt, upset, fucking furious.
To quote my father: “It’s not big, and it’s not clever.”