Notes and Comment Blog

Guest post: Only when it is nothing more than a personal choice

Jul 10th, 2015 11:58 am | By

Originally a comment by Saad on An entire way of dressing, behaving and believing.

I wonder how many progressive never-Muslims find this convincing and are tricked into thinking the hijab (and other such Islamic coverings) are some neutral thing that are only bad when the Taliban or ISIL enforces them. This is what my issue with people like Yusuf is. They’re doing a disservice by calling the concept and practice of hijab a way to avoid sexual exploitation or some sort of statement on behalf of women.

Also, let’s be very clear here that advocating for the right of hijabi women to feel safe in non-Muslim societies is not the same as defending the notion of hijab. She does not need to defend the hijab in general in order to defend women wearing hijab.

This is the stupidest thing I’ve read in quite a while:

Last week, I made a video for The Guardian newspaper’s website. In it, I explained how I see the hijab as a feminist statement. As far as I’m concerned this is a straightforward statement; it follows directly from my experience of the world.

This is pure bullshit. It does not follow from experiencing the world. How can a headdress which is required (or very sternly expected) of you by the male-dominated society around you be a feminist statement? And that is what the hijab is for very large parts of the Muslim world. It is a requirement and you face punishment of varying degree for not following it: mistreatment by family, harassment by community, fines by your government, or even corporal punishment.

Second, the issue of what the hijab is is quite simple. It is a disgusting tool used by a very patriarchal system to treat women like objects whose sexuality is used to bring honor or shame to their guardians and their community at large. That is all it is. I’m sorry, but the hijab hasn’t gotten to the point where it can be used by the targets themselves like some racial slurs can be used. Most of the Muslim world isn’t there yet.

An analogy I like to use about this is that there are arranged marriages that work out for the husband and wife. I know of several in my family alone. Just as you can be assigned a random roommate and end up becoming great friends, you can be arrange-married to a stranger and end up being a good match. This says absolutely nothing in defense of the coercive and anti-choice practice of arranged marriage. Just because some women feel that living with the requirement that your head must be wrapped in a cloth even in very hot weather is a good thing for them does not do a damn thing to paint the actual practice of hijab as it exists in large parts of Muslim societies in a good light.

The hijab is antithetical to feminism.

It’s all about choice. The question is: how many Muslim women who wear hijab around the world do it out of 100% personal choice and stand to face absolutely no criticism or violence for removing it whenever and wherever they choose? When the practice of hijab becomes nothing more than a personal choice, only then may it be considered a feminist statement. In other words, when a Muslim woman in a Muslim family and Muslim community can wear a hijab on Monday and then not wear it on a Tuesday (without receiving so much as a mean glance from her family and community), then we’ll talk about the hijab being a neutral or good thing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 10th, 2015 11:40 am | By

A commenter asked why I used the name “Burma” instead of “Myanmar.” The BBC gave a useful explanation in 2007.

The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands were killed in the suppression of a popular uprising. Rangoon also became Yangon.

The change was recognised by the United Nations, and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the UK.

A statement by the Foreign Office says: “Burma’s democracy movement prefers the form ‘Burma’ because they do not accept the legitimacy of the unelected military regime to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised.”

That’s why. I prefer the name that Burma’s democracy movement prefers, rather than the name that the military junta chose.

The two words mean the same thing and one is derived from the other. Burmah, as it was spelt in the 19th Century, is a local corruption of the word Myanmar.

They have both been used within Burma for a long time, says anthropologist Gustaaf Houtman, who has written extensively about Burmese politics.

“There’s a formal term which is Myanmar and the informal, everyday term which is Burma. Myanmar is the literary form, which is ceremonial and official and reeks of government. [The name change] is a form of censorship.”

If Burmese people are writing for publication, they use ‘Myanmar’, but speaking they use ‘Burma’, he says.

This reflects the regime’s attempt to impose the notion that literary language is master, Mr Houtman says, but there is definitely a political background to it.

That’s why.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Holistic starvation

Jul 10th, 2015 11:17 am | By

“Naturopathy” nearly claims another life.


A Sydney naturopath who allegedly told a mother to stop medicating her eight-month-old boy, leaving him close to death, has been arrested.

NSW Police said Marilyn Bodnar, a 59-year-old registered nurse and midwife who also practises naturopathy, had been consulted by the mother of the young boy seeking an alternative health treatment for the baby’s eczema.

Officers allege the naturopath advised the mother to stop the child’s medical and dermatological treatments.

Because eczema is natural and holistic and should be treated with love and sympathy rather than harsh artificial chemicals full of toxic GMO toxins?

The baby was admitted to Westmead Hospital in May suffering from malnourishment and developmental issues.

Police said the boy had lost more than a kilogram and was near death.

Did the registered nurse not notice?

The chair of the Australian Medical Association’s Council of General Practice, Dr Brian Morton, has advised patients to always follow evidence-based treatment.

“It’s very important to continue medical treatment that’s been prescribed and speak to the doctor who’s prescribed that before you make a decision,” he said.

“I think it’s very important that alternative health practitioners know when they’ve made an error.

“Alternative therapy doesn’t have much place in the treatment of dermatological conditions like eczema.”

But that’s looking at it non-holistically, treating the skin – the “derma” in “dermatological” – as a separate entity instead of treating the Whole Body holistically.

Seriously though…it would be nice if people would stop doing things like this.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Climate change? What’s that?

Jul 9th, 2015 5:57 pm | By

Oh well, it’s only the planet.

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.

Well, look at it from their point of view. The climate would be ok for their lifetimes, so why should they pay any attention to climate change when they could make good money flogging oil instead?

From that angle it makes perfect sense.

In the email Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert who spent 30 years at Exxon and Mobil and was a lead author on two of the United Nations’ blockbuster IPCC climate science reports, said climate change first emerged on the company’s radar in 1981, when the company was considering the development of south-east Asia’s biggest gas field, off Indonesia.

That was seven years ahead of other oil companies and the public, according to Bernstein’s account.

Climate change was largely confined to the realm of science until 1988, when the climate scientist James Hansen told Congress that global warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Bernstein’s response, first posted on the institute’s website last October, was released by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday as part of a report on climate disinformation promoted by companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy, called the Climate Deception Dossiers.

That sounds worth reading.

Exxon, unlike other companies and the public at large in the early 1980s, was already aware of climate change – and the prospect of regulations to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to Bernstein’s account.

“In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue,” he wrote.

“Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations,” Bernstein wrote in the email.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who researches the history of climate science, said it was unsurprising Exxon would have factored climate change in its plans in the early 1980s – but she disputed Bernstein’s suggestion that other companies were not. She also took issue with Exxon’s assertion of uncertainty about the science in the 1980s, noting the National Academy of Science describing a consensus on climate change from the 1970s.

The Guardian provides the whole email at the end.

British Columbia is burning to the ground at the moment, but Exxon has its profits.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A collective of senior Buddhist abbots and influential monks

Jul 9th, 2015 5:25 pm | By

Human Rights Watch on Burma’s new “Buddhist women can’t marry out” bill.

Burma’s President Thein Sein should refuse to sign into law the discriminatory interfaith marriage bill passed by parliament on July 7, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill targets Buddhist women who marry – or seek to marry – non-Buddhist men and introduces vaguely defined acts against Buddhism as grounds for divorce, forfeiture of custody and matrimonial property, and potential criminal penalties.

The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law was passed by a vote of 524 to 44, with 8 abstentions, by Burma’s two houses of parliament sitting in a joint session. The final version of the bill has not been made public. The legislation now goes to the president for his signature.

“The Special Marriage Law is a blatant attempt to curb interfaith marriages with absurd claims of helping Buddhist women,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “It’s the latest potential trigger for anti-Muslim violence pushed by religious extremists, and the president shouldn’t sign it.”

Besides being discriminatory, the bill violates internationally protected rights to privacy, religious belief, and equal protection of the law. It “only concerns Myanmar Buddhist women and their non-Buddhist husbands,” and applies to all Burmese Buddhist women age 18 or over. The law permits the township (district level) registrar to publicly display a couple’s application for marriage for 14 days, and permits any objections to the marriage to be taken to local court. The law places further discriminatory restrictions on women under age 20, who are required to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardian to marry a non-Buddhist.

So any bozo could come along and have “objections” to your marriage and take them to a local court!

The law also requires a non-Buddhist husband to respect the free practice of his spouse’s Buddhist religion, including displaying Buddhist imagery and statues, and engaging in Buddhist ceremonies. He must refrain from “committing deliberate and malicious acts, such as writing, or speaking, or behaving or gesturing with intent to outrage feelings of Buddhists.” Violations of these provisions are grounds for divorce, and in such a case the non-Buddhist husband would be forced to give up his share of jointly owned property, owe his wife compensation, and be denied custody of the children.

Talk about micro-managing things that are none of the state’s business…

The Special Marriage Law is part of a package of four so-called Race and Religion Protection Laws urged on Burma’s lawmakers by the increasingly powerful and influential Association of the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. Ma Ba Tha is a nationwide collective of senior Buddhist abbots and influential monks, many of whom frequently denounce Burma’s Muslim minorities, especially stateless Rohingya Muslims. Ma Ba Tha first proposed a draft marriage bill in 2013. The government released a version in late 2014 that was drafted by the Supreme Court, but it had only minor changes from the original Ma Ba Tha draft.

Yes we’re familiar with organizations of male clerics that creep around the landscape policing everything anyone does. They make life hell.

“The parliament and president shouldn’t pander to extremists but rather reject any proposed law that will further divide Burma’s communities,” Robertson said. “As the November 8 national election looms, enacting laws that embolden those who thrive on discrimination and communal violence is a dangerous development.”

It’s a damn nightmare.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Citoyen Raif

Jul 9th, 2015 4:44 pm | By

A nice thing today – the mayor of Sherbrooke made Raif Badawi a citoyen de Sherbrooke.

That of course is Ensaf; this news and these photos are via her.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Burma’s Protection of Race and Religion Laws

Jul 9th, 2015 4:34 pm | By

Burma’s parliament has passed a bill limiting the right of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhists.

The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill passed Tuesday is one of four known as the Protection of Race and Religion Laws, which have been criticized as discriminatory by rights groups. It mandates that Buddhist women register their intent to marry outside their faith and allows them to be stopped if there are objections.

I guess the government of Burma owns all the uteruses.

President Thein Sein has 14 days from when the bill was passed to sign it or return it with suggested changes.

“It’s shocking that Burma’s Parliament has passed yet another incredibly dangerous law, this time legislating clearly discriminatory provisions targeting the rights of religious minority men and Buddhist women to marry who they wish without interference,” said [Phil] Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

The point of religion: hating the out-groups.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A woman is too dirty to be a justice

Jul 9th, 2015 1:50 pm | By

The first woman nominated to Afghanistan’s supreme court has failed to win enough votes in parliament. Anisa Rassouli  got 88 of the 97 votes needed for her nomination to be approved. The Guardian reports:

Wednesday’s vote came after clerics and conservatives lined up to criticise the choice of Rassouli, who has been a judge for 24 years and is the current head of Kabul’s juvenile court. They claimed only men were fit to sit in the highest court in the country.

Last month, one MP made his views clear. Menstruating women were considered unclean in Islam and were not allowed to touch the Qur’an, Qazi Nazeer Hanafi said. As judges put their hands on the holy book every day, and it was unfeasible for a supreme court judge to take a week off every month, ran his logic, Rassouli’s appointment should be opposed.

“It is against Islamic law. I will make a campaign and tell the other brothers to vote against her,” said Hanafi. “It would be a crime if I voted for her.”

Because women menstruate, as part of the process that makes them able to gestate new human beings. Mr Not allowed to touch the Qur’an is basically saying the process that makes new human beings is so filthy that a menstruating woman pollutes everything she touches.

If that’s true, why did Allah arrange things that way? Why did Allah make women and menstrual blood in such a way that the menstrual blood seeps through the woman’s entire body and pollutes everything she touches? Why did Allah make menstrual blood a pollutant? Why didn’t Allah make it a nice clean sweet substance like dew or ginger ale?

Or, to get more basic about it, why did Allah make the men who worship Allah such woman-hating shits?

Rights advocates had hoped the presence of a woman on the supreme court could help overhaul Afghanistan’s inherently sexist legal system. Family and marital law favours men, and a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man. The vast majority of girls and women in Afghanistan’s prisons have been jailed for moral crimes, such as running away from home to escape a violent husband.

That’s a funny way to put it. Leaving a husband isn’t a crime at all. Adults don’t “run away from home”; they leave, if they need to, as is their right. The vast majority of girls and women in Afghanistan’s prisons have been jailed for non-crimes like leaving a violent husband.

Had her nomination been approved, one imminent challenge for Rassouli would have been to build Afghans’ trust in the formal legal system. In rural areas in particular, many people prefer local, informal councils to courts of law, which are often inaccessible and reputed to be slow and corrupt. However, the informal system often grants impunity to male suspects, such as those accused of domestic violence.

“Women who prefer to go to village courts don’t have enough information and are uneducated. If I talk to them face to face, I can explain why the formal system is better,” Rassouli said last month. “The main problem is security. We could bring the courts to the villages if there was better security, and then people wouldn’t use the local councils.”

Rassouli said her presence at the supreme court could potentially help women gain faith in the legal system. “We have a lot of women who come to the supreme court asking about their rights. Women are more comfortable talking to a female judge, so there’s need for me to be there,” she said.

So no wonder they didn’t approve her.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive

Jul 9th, 2015 12:58 pm | By

UCL has released the promised statement. It’s short and to the point.

9 July 2015

UCL Council, the university’s governing body, has today reviewed all of the circumstances of the resignation of Sir Tim Hunt as an Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Life Sciences on 10 June. Having seen the relevant correspondence, including the exchange of emails between Sir Tim and UCL, the Council is satisfied that his resignation was accepted in good faith. Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive to accept the resignation.

The subsequent extent of media interest was unprecedented, and Council recognises the distress caused to Sir Tim and Professor Mary Collins. Council acknowledges that all parties agree that reinstatement would be inappropriate.

Council recognises that there are lessons to be learned around the communication process. Consequently it has requested that the executive undertake a review of its communications strategy.

Note the last sentence of the first paragraph –

Council unanimously supports the decision taken by UCL’s executive to accept the resignation.

That’s important, because Louise Mensch and her footsoldiers have been saying over and over that there’s a rebellion in the Council and that many members wanted to reinstate Hunt to his honorary professorship. It appears that Louise Mensch was wrong about that…at least, wrong that they wanted it badly enough to go to war over it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

An entire way of dressing, behaving and believing

Jul 9th, 2015 12:31 pm | By

Iram Ramzan retorts to Hanna Yusuf’s article expanding on her “yay for the hijab” video.

I’m sorry but I have very little patience with this, oh woe is me attitude, when there are two women in Morocco who are being prosecuted for indecency for wearing summer dresses in a souq. As far as I am aware, no one is arresting Hanna for wearing her hijab nor is she being forced to remove it.

By implying that women who don’t wear the hijab are slaves to glossy magazines and consumer pressures, Hanna makes the same patronising generalisations that she claims others people make about hijabi women.

Even people who are in thrall to glossy magazines and consumer pressures can easily decide not to be. It’s not so easy for people who believe they are required to obey the rules of their religion to decide to disobey those rules. It’s no great wrench to decide that glossy magazines are just glossy magazines, but it’s a pretty big wrench to realize that some of the rules of your religion are bad rules. I suspect that’s why Hanna Yusuf imputes these crass motivations to people who aren’t like her.

“The control hijabi women have over their bodies,” Hannah continues, “Challenges existing structures”.

Where do I begin with this? Firstly, this idea that hijabi women have control over their bodies is not only simplistic but also ludicrous. Women are told to cover so that they do not provoke men’s desires – where is the control in that?

As for this idea that wearing hijab means you’re no longer objectified and no longer focusing on your appearance is nonsense. We’re humans at the end of the day and always concerned with our appearance. Women in headscarves are no exceptions to this.

It is true that the hijab makes women look duller and dowdier than they would without it. That’s the point of it, after all. But does that mean that their appearance just becomes a non-issue? Like Iram, I doubt it.

If it were just about covering the hair then there would be little issue. But the concept of the hijab is much more than just about covering the hair and Hanna knows it. As some Muslims wrote under my initial piece, it is an entire way of dressing, behaving and believing. Hence why she needed to research for three years before she decided to wear it, because once you put it on there is no going back. Women are free to wear one, just not free to remove it. And as soon as you wear the headscarf you are judged more harshly for your actions because of your perceived piety. If women without hijabs are “exploited” and “objectified”, then so too are those with hijabs, being upheld as models of good Muslim women.

I am glad that Hanna can make a free choice, and is able to have her free choice accepted by a tolerant society – despite insisting that is she faced by a wave of hostility. It is a pity that some of the societies where the headscarf is either compulsory or desired are not so tolerant.

The intolerance of those societies is much of the reason for hostility to the hijab, ironically enough.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Even if meant to be taken lightly

Jul 9th, 2015 11:15 am | By

UCL has had its ruling council meeting. It is not going to reinstate Tim Hunt. It would like to draw a line under the issue now (but here’s betting the enraged anti-feminists won’t observe that line).

Hannah Devlin at The Guardian reports:

Last week, the UCL provost, Michael Arthur, said the university would not back down, saying in a statement that reinstating Hunt would send out “entirely the wrong signal”. The remarks “contradict the basic values of UCL – even if meant to be taken lightly”, he added.

Even if meant to be taken lightly – so all the enraged anti-feminists shouting that it was a joke are missing the point. This seems slightly dim of them, since sexist jokes have been well known to be an issue since the renaissance of feminism first drew breath.

Although some of the 20 council members are understood to regret Hunt’s resignation, none are calling for the decision to accept it to be reversed and the council is expected to release a joint statement this evening aimed at drawing the affair to a close.

Hunt attended a conciliatory meeting with Arthur on Monday, at which both parties discussed how they could move on from the controversy, which has dragged on for an entire month. The university said the two men may issue a joint statement following the council meeting, but that there was “no question” of this including an apology to the scientist.

Because UCL doesn’t owe him an apology. He’s not a child and he hasn’t always lived in a cave; he should know perfectly well that his role at a conference is not to make patronizing “jokes” about and to underlings. As many people (including me) have pointed out, hardly anyone would disagree with that if he’d made “jokes” about Asians at that conference. Pretty much everyone would agree that was a terrible gaffe that put UCL in a supremely awkward position. But because it’s just women, we get all this enraged push back. Why does “jokey” or “ironic” contempt for women get so much more forbearance than jokey/ironic national or racial or ethnic contempt?

A source told the Guardian that the issue is getting in the way of dealing with gender bias.

“It’s the story that just kept on running, to the huge detriment of UCL,” the source said. “This touches a particularly raw nerve for UCL. We are particularly concerned to increase the numbers of women at the highest professorial level. We’re already under enormous pressure, and quite rightly so, because the pace of change is so glacial.”

She added that while there was a spectrum of views within the council about Hunt’s comments, members were united in thinking the affair had been handled badly by UCL – “no-one thinks it’s been handled well – there’s a lot of dismay about that”.

Criticisms included that no-one appeared to have established the precise content of Hunt’s speech or its context before coming to a judgement on the matter.

I can guess why it happened that way. My guess is that people were thinking if they delayed, there would be a loud chorus (aka a “witch hunt”) about the failure to act. I’m guessing they acted [too] quickly because they were afraid of acting too slowly. Next time the powers will probably act too slowly, because that’s how these things work – we always correct the last mistake, which generally means getting it wrong the opposite way. I’m glad I don’t administer anything.

Others said that those worst affected by the controversy were scientists – particularly younger women – who had expressed views that were critical of Hunt or his remarks.

One female scientist who commented in the media after the story broke told the Guardian she had received “such a torrent of abuse” on social media and blogs that she could no longer face speaking publicly on the matter. Other female scientists who spoke out had received death threats, she said. “We’ve all been silenced. It’s quite shocking really,” she said. “It’s just not worth the aggro of waking up to calls for me to be sacked on Twitter and hundreds of messages. It was so frustrating to see the perpetrator becoming the victim.”

Louise Mensch is personally responsible for a lot of that. She bullied and harassed people on Twitter herself, and she inspired others to do the same.

The article concludes by quoting Professor Lewis Wolpert and Professor Martin Vessey saying UCL made way too much fuss about a little thing.

Thanks, guys.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Today, 22 years on, the problems remain

Jul 8th, 2015 5:43 pm | By

Taslima writes about women working in factories in Bangladesh for nowhere near enough pay.

It was around 1993 when some women working in Bangladesh’s garment factories used to come visit me. The problems they faced at that time were less wages, long and extra hours of work, no transport back home, no matter how late at night it may be, absence of maternity leave, and to top it all, sexual harassment. Today, 22 years on, the problems remain just as acute. The same poverty, the same abysmal work conditions, the same low wages and the same rampant sexual harassment. Occasionally, we come across news of how there was a fire in some factory and several women succumbed to it.

And all these years later, she goes on, nothing is better.

A majority of workers in these factories are women, and therefore, largely neglected by the nation’s lawmakers. If the country understood the worth of this workforce, it would have created a better working environment for them. But what it has inflicted upon them is a labyrinth of lies and deceit, completely setting aside all international labour laws. MisogyBangladesh has, in fact, honed its skills in keeping its women in the worst possible scenario.

People like to have an underclass it can exploit for cheap labor.

There is no benevolent attitude in offering employment to women, instead, the attitude is that of looking at women as “cheap objectified subjects” rather than as human beings. These women cannot ask for better, more humane conditions of employment, but can be forced to work ungodly hours to suit their masters’ needs. The idea of labour is the means to an end. If there is death along the way, there is always more cheap labour available to fill the space.

Women are an underclass, Taslima points out; that makes them all the more exploitable.

What we first need to do is to get rid of such anti-women myths. If not, these will further fuel the gender bias that has become so predominant in society. To cure any illness, we must first eradicate its cause, else it will always lurk behind the shadows bidding its time.

About half the world’s population consists of women. If such a force is considered to be weak, denied the opportunities they are entitled to, and their contributions go unacknowledged, then it is matter of shame for the entire human race. As I have so often repeated, women are not meant only for household chores and sexual pleasure. They are more than capable of holding their own ground, and it is time to recognise that and demolish these demarcations of society, or suffer at our own peril on its outcome.

Sexism and racism and other ways of othering aren’t just harsh rhetoric, after all – they’re part of the mechanism of exploitation.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

For each other

Jul 8th, 2015 4:53 pm | By

Joan Smith writes about Rafida Bonya Ahmed in the Independent. (Note: Joan Smith reviewed Does God Hate Women? for the Indy. She thought well of it.)

When a slight woman with cropped dark hair walked on to a stage in a London hotel on Thursday evening, she was greeted with an immediate standing ovation. Four months ago, Rafida Bonya Ahmed and her husband, Avijit Roy, were attacked with machetesby Islamic extremists in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. Roy died and Ahmed was seriously injured, receiving deep wounds to her head.

At first glance, it is hard to believe that this lively and engaging woman has gone through such an ordeal. The only visible reminder is her left hand, which is missing a thumb after it was slashed off in the attack.

Ahmed travelled from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, to give the annual Voltaire Lecture, organised by the British Humanist Association – the first time she has spoken in public since the attack. The lecture took place, poignantly, opposite Edgware Road station, where six people died in an Islamist bombing 10 years ago.

A month ago I met Asif Mohiuddin, who also survived a brutal attack by Islamists in Bangladesh. I found it rather overwhelming, meeting him.

Ahmed seemed almost bewildered by the warmth of her reception in London. She is thoughtful and generous, acknowledging the depth of her grief and rage but insisting on the need to have compassion for others. “It is not just ourselves, but each other, every trafficked slave, every murdered writer, every lost and lonely mind, that are important and have value,” she said.

She is still working out how best to continue the work she did with her husband, but it is hard to see such an extraordinary woman as a victim. With her quick mind and infectious laugh, Rafida Bonya Ahmed is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Asif is like that too. I don’t know how they do it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Anything worth doing turned out to be a girl thing

Jul 8th, 2015 4:30 pm | By

From David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day:

None of the therapy students were girls. They were all boys like me who kept movie star scrapbooks and made their own curtains. “You don’t want to be doing that,” the men in our families would say. “That’s a girl thing.” Baking scones and cupcakes for the school janitors, watching Guiding Light with our mothers, collecting rose petals for use in a fragrant potpourri: anything worth doing turned out to be a girl thing. In order to enjoy ourselves, we learned to be duplicitous. Our stacks of Cosmopolitan were topped with an unread issue of Boy’s Life or Sports Illustrated, and our decoupage projects were concealed beneath the sporting equipment we never asked for but always received. When asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, we hid the truth and listed who we wanted to sleep with when we grew up. “A policeman or a fireman or one of those guys who works with high-tension wires.” Symptoms were feigned, and our mothers wrote notes excusing our absences on the day of the intramural softball tournament. Brian had a stomach virus or Ted suffered from that twenty-four-hour bug that seemed to be going around.

“One of these days I’m going to have to hang a sign on that door,” Agent Samson used to say. She was probably thinking along the lines of SPEECH THERAPY LAB, though a more appropriate marker would have read FUTURE HOMOSEXUALS OF AMERICA. We knocked ourselves out trying to fit in but were ultimately betrayed by our tongues. [pp 9-10]

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Voice reform

Jul 8th, 2015 3:39 pm | By

On Fresh Air yesterday:

Is there such a thing as a “gay voice”? For gay filmmaker David Thorpe, the answer to that question is complicated. “There is no such thing as a fundamentally gay voice,” Thorpe tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. But, he adds, “there is a stereotype and there are men, to a greater or lesser extent, who embody that stereotype.”

In his new film, Do I Sound Gay?, Thorpe searches for the origin of that stereotype and documents his own attempts to sound “less gay” by working with speech pathologist Susan Sankin.

By which he doesn’t mean “zero gay,” let alone straight; he seems to mean less like the stereotype while keeping his own style. It was an interesting discussion about where the stereotypes come from, where the voice comes from (Paul Lynde got a mention), what it all means.

Friends of mine have been talking about the fact that there was no mention of a lesbian voice, or whether there is such a stereotype. There doesn’t seem to be, offhand. I wonder why not.

Side note. I watched a few minutes of West Side Story the other evening while channel-surfing – an early scene in which the Jets talk about what they’re going to do to keep the “Porta Rickans” out of their turf, and then sing the “When You’re a Jet” song. While they were talking I suddenly realized…huh, they’re all gay. Obviously. But when I saw that movie as a kid I thought they were macho and scary. I was a rather inattentive child.

Also, there’s a transgender kid in that movie – Anybody’s. She wants to be a Jet and acts as much like one as she can, but they just chase her away (and call her Anybody’s).

A sub-theme in the Fresh Air interview was the stigma of being “effeminate” but it wasn’t discussed as much as I would have liked.

“David was the first person who came to me who was upfront right from the beginning about sounding gay and what he wanted to do,” Sankin tells Gross.

“I’ve always been self-conscious about sounding gay,” Thorpe adds. “I think that that comes from childhood — I was always aware that my voice potentially gave me away to bullies.”

Thorpe describes the gay voice as one characterized by a sibilant S and a high pitch. “When I interview people,” Thorpe says, “they always say that to them the gay voice … is a voice that’s high, that’s melodious, that’s hyper-articulate, that’s perhaps uncertain because it goes up at the end. All of those things kind of add up, essentially, to an effeminate stereotype.”

Kill the going up at the end with fire. The rest of it – sounds good to me.

Thorpe: If I have to speculate about where the so-called gay voice comes from, for me, both the most predominant answers work. One is that as you’re acquiring language you tend to imitate the people you trust and you identify with, and certainly for me that was a lot of women. I always had a lot of female friends growing up and I don’t think that’s atypical for some gay men. At the same time, I totally get that when I came out, I wanted to be recognized as gay; I wanted the world to know I was gay and I wanted to fit into this existing community, so I think my voice really did change after I came out. I think that both the language-acquisition theory and the community-learned way of speaking hold water. It’s kind of impossible to really tangle out a single reason.

Tease out, he meant.

After that segment Terry Gross talked to the speech pathologist on her own, to discuss horrible fads like up-talking and vocal fry. I hate up-talking. The speech pathologist also hates it; she pointed out that it makes women sound uncertain and incompetent, and it’s mostly women who use it. Don’t sound uncertain and incompetent.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Disregard the new evidence

Jul 8th, 2015 12:08 pm | By

But Cosby has his defenders, still…because hey, he hasn’t been convicted of anything, so that means he’s innocent.

The hell it does.

Whoopi Goldberg went off on “The View” Wednesday over backlash she has received for her comments on the rape scandal surrounding Bill Cosby.

“Here’s the deal: This is ‘The View’ and that was my opinion,” Goldberg said. “Not any of you threatening me or telling me you’re coming after me because you don’t like what I said is going to change the fact that no one has convicted him, he has not been arrested, and the bottom line is that’s the law–innocent, until proven guilty.”

No, that’s not the bottom line. It may or may not be evidence one way or the other, but it’s not any bottom line.

“We all have a very important role to play when it comes to abuse and rape,” Goldberg continued. “If it’s true the person has to be taken to nth degree of the world and punished; no one here thinks rape is good, no one here thinks rapists are fun… so don’t come after me like that because I’m sick of this bull.”

She concluded the American court system agrees with her because Cosby hasn’t been taken to jail or even tried: “So back off me!”

Ah no, that’s not true. The fact that Cosby hasn’t been tried doesn’t mean the US court system thinks he didn’t rape anyone. There’s a (very short) statute of limitation for rape in the relevant states, so Cosby can’t be prosecuted. That’s far from equating to prosecutors’ thinking he didn’t rape.

And new evidence keeps coming out, so it’s silly of Whoopi Goldberg to get so furious with people who think she’s wrong.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Senior Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto intervenes

Jul 8th, 2015 11:47 am | By

A better news story, for a change.

A Malawian traditional leader has taken it upon herself to discourage the prevalence of child marriages within her constituency.

Senior Chief Inkosi Kachindamoto annulled over 300 marriages, thereby applying the country’s new laws regarding child marriage. In April, President Peter Mutharika signed into a law a ban on child marriage, setting the minimum age requirement for marriage in the country at 18.

“I have terminated 330 marriages of which 175 were girl-wives and 155 were boy-fathers, I wanted them to go to school and that has worked,” she told Nyasa Times, “I don’t want youthful marriages, they must go to school…no child should be found loitering at home or doing household chores during school time.”

School first, marriage later – it’s a much better way. I could give you a hundred reasons, but maybe all you need is the fact that young girls have small pelvises. Female humans, tragically, go through puberty before their hips are wide enough to allow for birth.

Malawi has one of the highest incidents of child marriage in the world with 1 in 2 girls getting married before the age of 18. The practice is closely linked to poverty where, in the rural areas, girls are married off to improve their families’ financial situations.

But if they stay in school instead, they can ultimately improve their families’ financial situations a lot more.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Markers by the flag to explain the white supremacy

Jul 8th, 2015 11:24 am | By

A Florida county says hell no we’re not getting rid of the pro-slavery flag; it’s our history, dude.

Marion County, Fla. officials took down the Confederate flag that flies at the county government complex last week, temporarily replacing it with a flag bearing the county seal, News 13 reported. The County Commission unanimously approved a move to fly the flag again days later, saying members would meet with historians to discuss placing markers by the flag to “explain its historical significance.”

I can tell you its historical significance. I majored in history at an actual university, so I know. Its historical significance is that it stands for the confederation of southern states that seceded from the US in order to retain the institution of slavery. It’s a pro-slavery flag. It’s a white supremacist flag. That’s its historical significance.

One Confederate flag supporter told the station: “We live in America, and the last time I checked it was a democracy. So, here in Marion County, which has, what, 300,000 people, how can one man decide to take it off a flagpole?”

It’s a constitutional democracy. I say that as a history major, so you can take it to the bank.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Less shooting, more reading

Jul 8th, 2015 11:04 am | By

Malala Yousafzai was at an education summit in Oslo yesterday.

“If the world leaders decide to take one week and a day off from war and weapons, we can put every child in school,” Yousafzai told the Oslo Summit on Education for Development on Tuesday. “Books are a better investment in our future than bullets. Books, not bullets, will pave the path towards peace and prosperity.”

Yousafzai echoed the sentiment in a post on her Malala Fund Blog, urging people to use social media to advance her message of peace and education. “Post a photo of yourself holding up your favorite book now and share why YOU choose #booksnotbullets – and why world leaders should, too,” she wrote.

The activist got the ball rolling on the hashtag with a post on Instagram, featuring a picture of her holding a copy of Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Yousafzai wrote she chose the book “because the book reveals the courage and strength of a young girl living under war and conflict. It inspires me to believe that every child deserves the right to dream, the right to learn and the right to live in peace.”

I don’t have a single favorite book (by which I mean I have many, not that I have zero favorites). I’ll have to think about which one to brandish.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Ozymandias in Orlando

Jul 8th, 2015 9:38 am | By

Oh gosh, it’s almost as bad as having an honorary professorship withdrawn. Disney is removing a statue of Bill Cosby from one of its parks.

Disney will remove a statue of Bill Cosby from its Hollywood Studios theme park, a spokeswoman for the company said Tuesday, following revelations through court documents that support multiple allegations that the veteran comedian drugged multiple women before sexually assaulting them.

The bust of Cosby, located alongside representations of celebrities like Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey in Disney’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, will be taken down after the park shuts at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Are there cries of “witch hunt” and “lynch mob” yet? Are there open letters and petitions beseeching Disney to put it back? Has Richard Dawkins added his name?

Several companies and businesses are now trying to distance themselves from Cosby, following the release of documents showing that he admitted, during a sworn testimony in 2005, to buying Quaalude, a powerful sedative, with the intention of giving it to women before having sex with them.

Before raping them, that is.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)