All Photos by Jess McPhee.
All Photos by Jess McPhee.
All Photos by Jess McPhee.
On Wednesday 19th October 2016, hundreds of thousands of women across South America gathered together to protest against feminicidios (femicides) following the abduction, drugging and rape of 16-year-old Lucia Perez as she left her school in Mar de Plata, Argentina. Ultimately, Lucia died shortly after her attackers took her to hospital of her internal injuries and cardiac arrest – prior to that, her abductors had tried to wash away any forensic evidence that would have been used to incriminate them.
This is not the first high profile murder or assault of a young woman in South America. In June 2015, the beaten body of pregnant 14-year-old Chiara Paez was found under a patio in Rufino, Santa Fe, Argentina, having been murdered by her 16-year-old boyfriend, Manuel Mansilla. Similarly to Lucia Perez’s case, another 16-year-old Brazilian girl was filmed being gang raped in Rio de Janeiro and the footage circulated on social media – her boyfriend allegedly arranged this ‘punishment’ for her.
According to el registro de femicidios de Mujeres de la Materia Lationoamerica (las MuMaLá) (the register of femicides of Latin American Women Matter), there have been at least 19 femicidios in Argentina in the month of October alone. The national coordinator for the Latin American Matter campaign, Raquel Vivanco, states that it takes less than 24 hours for a woman to be murdered in Argentina every day. In Brazil, statistics show that a woman is murdered by known perpetrators every 6 hours. Prominent women politicians, including the current President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and former Argentine President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, have taken to social media to show their support for #NiUnaMenos, including Presidente Bachelet calling for “#ChileSinFemicidios” – Chile without femicides.
Seven of the top ten countries with the highest rate of female murder victims are in Latin America; including El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico, and it was only four years ago in 2012 that Argentina passed legislation against hate crime towards women.
In a heartbreaking tribute to his younger sister, Matias Perez Montero writes that he was not allowed to see his sister’s body because her injuries were that horrific. This is unsurprising considering 98% of female murders go unpunished and UN Women regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean Luiza Caravalho warns that violence against women is on the rise.
Many speculate that this is due to machismo (exaggerated masculinity) culture throughout the continent. Women are still largely treated as a man’s property so a common punishment is to rape and murder his wife, sister, mother, daughter and any other ‘vulnerable’ woman in his family, whilst Sabrina Cartabia, one of the organisers of the #NiUnaMenos marches argues that “This violence is trying to teach us a lesson, it wants to put us back in a traditional role into which we don’t fit anymore”.
Cover Photograph: Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images
The commentary of the 2016 Olympics has been a cesspit for sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. Nearly every day since the games started, it feels as though there is another person who has made an offensive comment about the female athletes, proving that institutional sexism is still a dominant force in sport.
During the artistic gymnastics events broadcast on NBC, Simone Biles was routinely compared to male gymnasts, and the most talented US women’s team reduced to comments like “they might as well be standing in the middle of a mall.” The same channel were also responsible for crediting swimmer Katinka Hosszú’s husband for her success after she won a gold medal.
The Chicago Tribune also created a shit storm after they tweeted this headline:
Time and time again women are referred to as only existing through their relationships with men, and not as individuals, and this one of the worst examples ever.
Over on Fox News, two male commentators decided to take it upon themselves to discuss the use of makeup during the women’s gymnastics, as though that’s what’s important and as though their opinions matter anyway.
It’s no surprise that people are getting incredibly tired of this, and it is now getting to the point where a man achieving silver is more important than a woman winning gold AND breaking a world record in the swimming events.
These examples may be from over the pond, and we might like to think that the British media isn’t that bad. But we’d be wrong.
BBC presenter Helen Skelton has been on the receiving end of a lot of sexist abuse; first for wearing a dress that was too short, and then for wearing a dress that showed too much shoulder.
Never mind the fact that she is a grown woman who can dress herself, or that she is simply wearing a dress in a hot country, what’s even more ridiculous is that her co-host, Mark Foster, was showing just as much leg as she was! This blatant objectification should have no place in 2016, and yet a woman wearing a dress in a hot country has been one of the biggest stories to come out of the games.
Sticking with the theme of policing women’s bodies, BBC Africa referred to the Egypt VS Germany volleyball match as “bikini v Burka”. Despite the fact that nobody was wearing a burka, the match, and particularly the image below, caused controversy in the media as to what clothing is and isn’t repressive for women.
How about a vision where men don’t decide what women wear, hey?
The BBC also decided that diving silver medalist, He Zi, got “an even bigger prize” after her boyfriend proposed to her at the games. You know, because the biggest prize for a woman is always marriage.
And finally, perhaps one of the most blatant instances of misogyny so far at the games was when John Inverdale congratulated Andy Murray on being the first person ever to win two gold medals in tennis, seemingly forgetting that Serena and Venus Williams exist and have four gold medals each. Murray did correct him in the interview, and has been lauded with praise for it.
So when Simone Biles iconically declared ‘I am not the next Michael Phelps. I am not the next Usain Bolt. I am the first Simone Biles’, what we should really be considering is why women feel they have to say things like this in the first place. The fact that women are still not being credited for our achievements, on our own terms, with our own names, speaks volumes on how prevalent institutional sexism in sport, and how far we still have to go.
Last weekend, an outspoken Pakistani social media celebrity named Qandeel Baloch was drugged before being strangled to death by her brother, in retaliation for the “kind of pictures she had been posting online”. Her photos, which were often accompanied by politicised messages about women’s rights, included her posing seductively. The murder has been called an “honour killing”.
Today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, has announced that a loophole that permits the family of the victim to legally pardon the killer (of their daughter, sister, or other female family member) will be closed. [x] This is being seen as a huge step forward in women’s rights in Pakistan, as it essentially bans “honour killings”. The government has also chosen to prohibit the family of Baloch from legally forgiving her murderer, her brother Muhammed Waseem.
“Honour killings” in Pakistan, and other forms of violence, are extremely high. Roughly 1,000 honour killings are committed per year, and 9 out of 10 women are victims of domestic violence. In 2014, 232 women had acid thrown at them, and an average of 4 women were raped per day. [x] So why has it taken the murder of Qandeel Baloch for the laws to be changed?
In the conservative country of Pakistan, Quandeel, who was buried Sunday, was seen as controversial. Speaking out for women’s rights, she referred to herself as a “modern day feminist”, and had nearly 750,000 followers on Facebook. In one incident, she made headlines after posting selfies with a senior member of the clergy, Mufti Abdul Qavi. He was later suspended from his post on one of Pakistan’s religious committees due to the photographs. According to Waseem, it was this scandal that caused him to start planning to kill her – and Mufti Abdul Qavi is also being investigated. [x]
But having her name internationally known via social media meant that the whole world knew about her murder. Every news outlet featured the story, and Twitter was quickly ablaze with tweets about her. Feminists let their fury be known through Tumblr, Facebook, and Tumblr. She was famous for her outspoken opinions. She was murdered for her outspoken opinions. And now, that fame means that the discussion of “honour killings” and abuse in Pakistani communities has been brought to the forefront of women’s rights conversations across the world.
Honour-based violence is not just confined to Pakistan. In the UK there are approximately 12 reported “honour killings” per year. According to police records, over 11,000 cases of so-called honour crime were recorded between 2010-2014. That does not include the cases that were not recorded, of which there are many due to the stigma and cultural association. But let’s be blunt about this: there is nothing honourable about so-called “honour” killings or crime. It is, at its core, violence against women and girls.
Female genital mutilation, rape, murder, domestic violence, and forced marriage are among the many forms of violence against women and girls throughout the world. Honour killings and honour-based crime should be seen as just that: violence, caused by misogyny and patriarchal ideals. In 2015, it was reported that there were a record number of convictions and prosecutions for offenses categorised as “violence against women and girls” in the UK, with numbers up by 18% on the previous year. Danny Shaw, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, stated that this appeared to be “a result of more victims having the confidence to come forward”. [x]
In her death, Qandeel Baloch reignited the conversation globally on violence against women and girls, which has spurred the Pakistan government into action. The more widespread the conversation is, the more confident victims will feel about coming forward and reporting their attacks. The more it is discussed, the less stigmatised it will become.
On the morning of her death, Qandeel posted a photograph of herself staring into the camera, with the caption stating that she wanted to inspire women who have been “treated badly and dominated by society”. If you want to honour Qandeel Baloch, continue on with her message, and tell her story. Let it be known that this is something you will not stand for, whether it happens in your city, your country, or on the other side of the world. End the stigma, and support the victims.
“I couldn’t imagine getting catcalled,” said a male friend as I moaned to him about my daily walk to work. First, I walk 15 minutes down a road where the traffic is nearly always stationary; cue: every van driver sees fit to comment on me, or my clothes, or my boobs. Then there are a few building sites – always a red flag. Sometimes I cross and walk the long way to work, other days I don’t bother, but live to regret it. Then, so close but yet so far, I walk through the meat market – and I, and every other woman who dares to go from A to B might as well be the meat. It’s like Pokémon Go, and the men on the streets of London seem determined to catch us all.
“But then I was!” said friend continues. “Some girls shouted at me when I came out from the gym!” And, I asked, what was it like? “I was really taken aback,” he said. “I felt a bit uncomfortable.” No shit, I want to scream. It’s horrible. To have to wake up and adjust your outfit to minimise risk. To cross the road when you see builders. To turn your music up so you can’t hear people shouting out of vans. To wear a double layer of foundation so they can’t see how red your face is going. I’m sure I speak for most women on the planet when I say I am sick to death of being catcalled – and I’m sure I get it a lot less than many.
Of course, worse things have happened at sea, and in the grand scheme of things having a couple of men shouting at you isn’t too bad – it’s not life-threatening, for the most part, and most women learn to brush it off, sadly from a young age. I am also fully aware that people receive much more malicious and terrifying forms of verbal and physical assault in the streets. But sexist comments can be scary, and occasionally violent.
One friend told how, when telling a passerby who commented on her looks to go away, he didn’t take rejection well and pushed her violently up against a shop front. Another friend had just stepped out of her front door when a moped drew up and the driver told her how good she looked. When she said thanks but no-thanks he circled her, told her how ugly she was, and said she was wearing too much make up. A passerby stopped to ask her if she was OK, and the moped drove off – lobbing an empty can of Pringles at her head as he did so.
Once, as I walked down a quiet, but not empty, street, three boys rode up behind me on bikes. One slapped my bum, a hard and deliberate thwack, as he cycled past me. I didn’t see him coming and I barely saw him leave. Instead I just carried on down the street, in tears. They were tears of frustration more than anything else – that this boy, who couldn’t have been more than 16, thought that that was OK to do, and that he would do it to other people, and that I was completely powerless to stop him planting a sexually charged slap on my bum. I could continue with examples, but it’s boring because every female knows what it’s like, and they get it on a daily basis.
So what is the solution? It’s not easy – the mindset that women are there to be looked at and have their appearances commented on is entrenched in people from a very young age. Small steps have been made recently. No More Page 3 succeeded in getting pictures of topless women taken out of The Sun. Lads’ mags got moved to the higher shelves in supermarkets, out of sight of young children. Yet still, people are growing up thinking women are objects, and their parents aren’t helping. Just a few weeks ago I walked to play tennis with a friend. A father, holding the hand of his young son, told my friend how sexy she was. His young son will grow up thinking that’s an acceptable thing to do.
But now, Nottinghamshire Police has broadened its categories of hate crime to include misogynistic incidents, including uninvited sexual advances and unwanted verbal contact with women. This includes catcalling and wolf-whistling. Now, these incidents can be reported to police, and should, in theory, be investigated. It is the first police force in the country to label misogynistic abuse as a hate crime, crime that it defines as “any incident which may or may not be deemed as a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hatred”. Misogyny hate crime is classed as “incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”.
Could recording and investigating incidents of catcalling be the solution? In many ways, it makes a lot of sense. If men know there could potentially be legal repercussions, it is likely that some will rein in their behaviour. It also means women now feel they have a right to report harassment, whereas before, many, myself included, would brush off even physical assault, simply for fear of wasting police time by reporting it. And now, even if no prosecution comes about from reporting such an incident, which is likely in the case of a wolf-whistle, reporting it will help build a bigger picture of just how common and widespread the problem is. This point of view is the one put forward by Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
“In a recent poll we found that 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching, which can amount to sexual assault,” she said, speaking to The Guardian. “This level of harassment is having an enormous impact on women’s freedom to move about in the public space as it makes women feel a lot less safe.”
Krys adds that the simple act of making catcalling an offence challenges the very notion that women in public are “fair game”. While teaching that women and men are equal should start from a very young age, until every man understands that women are not there to be shouted at or touched, perhaps making misogynistic verbal assaults in the street a crime may go some way to cutting it down – and at the very least it will give everyone an idea of just how big a problem it is, and how it stops hundreds of thousands of women going about their lives as they would choose on a daily basis.
Image by blondinrikard via Flikr
“All I ever wanted was a ballerina Barbie…”
So many little girls watching Debbie Jellinsky’s monologue in The Addams Family Values could empathise with her plaintive yet unrepentant reasoning behind torching her parents to death for mistakenly buying her Malibu Barbie, thus catalysing a life’s work of avarice and murder. Described by Eric Clark in his book, The Real Toy Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for Britain’s Youngest Consumers as the“plastic princess of capitalism,” Barbie has been perched at the top of many a young crazed consumer’s Christmas and birthday list. As a small plump brunette, a veritable sponge for neon advertising and pink-themed peer pressure, I had close to 100 new or inherited Barbies in different states of garish glamour or nonchalant undress, arranged in a worrying pageant of loveliness for their bigamous suitor Action Man (although sources from Toy Story 3 say they are back together, Ken was deemed far too weedy as a lover despite his and Barbies fifty year on/off relationship). The dolls struggled through my nascent years of adolescence, either falling prey to my little sisters ruthless decapitations (ragged necks painted bloody with nail polish and strung up in front of the treehouse) whereas I furtively lay them in scandalous yet uninspired variations of the missionary position on the doorstep of my local crush. Her pristine, unerotic, Aryan generic perfection was heralded as the ideal by the fanatical conservative child and a feminist nightmare by any liberal parent fearing for the sanity of their zealously confused progeny.
Since the launch of Barbie in 1959 by creator Ruth Handler and Toy Superpower, Mattel, she has been through a number of gently changeable manifestations with the new drive, confirmed by the toy agent itself, now capitalising on the social conscience of so called “millennial moms” with reference to their new lines in diverse body shapes and ethnicity. Barbie has been no stranger to criticism and controversy. A famous University Central Hospital of Helsinki study revealed that Barbie, without the requisite 17 to 22 % body fat could not menstruate. Her slinky pins would be unable to hold her up; instead she must lie bedazzled until lifted up by her eunuch paramour. One of my favourite backlashes was one organised in 1993 by the notorious Barbie Liberation Party who performed a surgery on 300-500 talking G.I Joes and Barbie dolls, switching the voice boxes and returning them to the shops. It was, however, one of her most recent incarnations has shown up how insanely out of touch the toy agent is. The furore began with the hilarious blog by author Pamela Ribon entitled ‘Barbie F*cks It Up Again.’ After a visit to her friend with young Barbie-loving children, Pamela was shown the book, Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer which shows Barbie haplessly erasing the memory drive on her sister Skipper’s requisite sparkly pink laptop drive (who’s unbelievable sisterly vengeance comes in the form of a friendly pillow fight) in her attempt to design some images of a game about puppies for computer class.
She is of course unable to either fix the laptop or complete her homework task by herself without a male influence- “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a game”- and finally takes credit for the men’s work, showing what an inept, manipulative liar she really is. In frustrated response to the book, Californian computer science engineer Kathleen Tuite set up a ‘Barbie Feminist Hacker’ Tumblr site. The site went viral with memes of a vigilant feminist Barbie getting her own back on the men and showcasing her computer prowess. Finally Mattel have got the gist and developed an awesome new sartorially neutral ‘Game Developer’ doll, complete with a non gender- specific laptop manifesting real code from educational program Alice.
Hackers are an interesting style choice for Barbie. On screen there have been some wonderful female protagonists, their fashion choices very much adhering to the alternative or niche. When Neo in The Matrix followed the ‘White Rabbit’, he came face to face with elegantly assured, aerodynamic, Trinity with a refined wet hair slick, slender figure demurely streamlined in leather, her capacity for knowledge, intelligence and information the initial turn-on for him. A kindred spirit may be found in the brilliant Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fearsomely feral, sexually fluid and thriving on a trash diet of frozen pizza and calculated revenge, her eidetic memory charges the ensuing events, restoring justice to an unjust society. Angelina Jolie, in one of her earliest films Hackers completes the trend of crop-haired, lush-lipped, black- clad hacker-babes, her appearance and apparel defined by a proudly practical uniform. A final shout- out should go to lil’ Lex in Jurassic Park, whose prodigious computer skills arguably save the rest of the team. Much like real life female hackers such as Raven Adler, alias ‘Hacker Fairy,’ who are loathe to allow their gender to overshadow their profession, the fact that they are women is one of the least important aspects of them in a world where intelligence and capability is primary. An environment in which encryption and coding is swathed by anonymity, women can thrive on an equal standing regardless of physicality, beauty or desirability. Courage, anarchy and equality overshadow tired preoccupations with the banal or trivial that are still consistently and needlessly addressed in mainstream women’s magazines.
This is perhaps the most refreshing aspect about Game Developer Barbie. Instead of parroting now infamous phrases like “Math is Hard,” she is now casually able to access a wealth of knowledge and understanding. Little girls will always love Barbie- I still love Barbie- but Mattel have finally understood their responsibility in opening up the possibilities of young women’s futures. Unlike the generic beauty queen wish of “world peace,” Barbie can now aim for world domination. Game Developer Barbie, with her graphic T Shirt, sparkling white trainers and hip oversized glasses makes me want, as now defunct band Aqua sang, to be a “Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World.”
TW: Rape, sexual assault, victim-blaming.
When I first saw the news that a teenage girl had been gang-raped by over 30 men in Brazil, I couldn’t even bring myself to read about it. I purposely don’t click on the links to these kinds of news stories any more. But when it emerged that in light of the attack, protesters scattered hundreds of pairs of red and white (with red stains) pants across Copacabana beach, set amongst huge images of women with red-blood handprints across their mouthes, I had to suck it up and read.
These protests are an act of defiance. The images capture Brazil’s problem with violence against women (VAW) and force you to pay attention. They show abuse as multifaceted by depicting the women up close as hurt as well as resilient, scared, and expressionless. ‘The photos are part of an art project by photographer Marcio Freitas, entitled “I will Never Be Silent”‘, a fitting name as tens of thousands of protesters also took to the streets in major cities across Brazil calling for an end to VAW after the news of this assault emerged.
The attack saw one 16 year old girl violently gang-raped by more than 30 men. She went to her boyfriend’s house, ‘and was briefly alone with him, but remembered nothing afterward until she woke up naked the next day in another building with dozens of men who had guns’. Her Grandma said in an interview that her boyfriend had organised the assault because he thought she was cheating on him.
As though this wasn’t sickening enough, the attackers also took photos of the attacks and of the victim bloodied and semi-conscious, and uploaded them to Twitter.
The images got more 500 “likes” before being taken down by the site.
But it doesn’t end there. After these images surfaced and the victim was identified, she then received a tidal wave of abuse from strangers telling her that she was asking for it, and sent her death threats. Even the police officer in charge of the investigation asked the victim if she had a habit of participating in group sex.
Every part of this story is horrific and unimaginable, as I was researching for this post, reading the details of the attack upset me, as it would anyone. But the part that really got to me was reading that even after the assault, and the images being taken, and them being circulated around social media, she was still blamed for what had happened to her. And I realised that the reason this got me so upset ,that I had to leave the house and have a little cry, was because this happens all. the fucking. time.
This is what rape culture is encapsulated in one deplorable attack, and the fact of the matter is these attacks are happening every single day. The reaction the survivor received from strangers could only be possible in a society that constantly blames victims of sexual assault for their attacks. Rape culture dehumanises women as objects, and men as not in control of their own actions. It is a culture of telling women not to walk home in the dark alone, but brushing off men’s harmful behaviour as “boys will be boys”.
It is a culture that constantly tells women not to get raped, but never tells men not to rape.
Make no mistake, this is not an isolated incident. This is not a small group of rogue individuals who think it is acceptable to treat women this way. It is not a minority of “idiots” and these people certainly do not have “mental issues”. Rapists are not trolls who hide under bridges. They are human beings with jobs, families, and lives.
VAW is a universal epidemic, and rape culture facilitates that. Last week we heard about the Stanford rapist who was given a 6 month jail sentence for raping an unconcious woman. Last month a 15 year old girl in India was gang-raped and died after being set on fire, prior to this, 50,000 rapes had been recorded in Brazil in 2014 alone, and the real figure is thought be 10x that amount. In fact, during the same weekend that this attack took place another teenage victim was drugged and raped by five men in the north of Brazil.
Rather than dismissing these attacks as “just one of those things” or a part of life, we need to have a conversation about violence against women, and commit to some form of action to stop it. It never has been, and never will be sufficient to acknowledge the severity of these crimes and that they need to stop, whilst ignoring the culture that validates perpetrators and puts the victims on trial.
Feminist writer Stephanie Ribeiro spoke out about rape culture after the attack saying:
‘Violence against women in Brazil is so normalized that 30 men not only rape: They take pictures, joke around and post on social networks gloating about their crime. Before you say we don’t have rape culture — think about that. Or before you say my fear of going out on the street is hysteria… This is not a disease, it is not madness: it is the normalization of evil against us women’.
The recent attacks in Brazil may be a constant reminder of the world we live in, but the outrage these incidents have triggered, and the fact that people are no longer standing for it is a sign of hope that one day things will change.
In a TV interview the girl was asked what would she wish on her attackers. She said “a daughter”.
I hope for that too.