Saturday, February 24, 2007

A.S Byatt on Contraception

My attention is drawn to the bravery of the challengingly named Enoch Kibunguchy, who apparently wants to take on the wolves on Kenyan women's behalf:
Assistant minister wants Abortion Legalised

A.S Byatt can be hard to read, but her latest on contraception (and by implication abortion) is perfect for Kenya: "... the Church's interference in processes he wanted to believe were human and natural. (That included contraception. Human beings were not animals. They cared for children for perhaps a third of the normal human life. They needed to have the number of children they could decently and responsibly care for. Their sexual desires were unfortunately not periodic in the way of cows and bitches. Women were perpetually on heat unless, as in the case of his wife, the heat had been turned off. It followed that contraception was natural.)" - A.S Byatt, Little Black Book of Stories.

I agreed with this strongly, although I doubt that it will get a rational audience in Kenya. Kenyan men have too great a stake in keeping women cowed about abortion, and I have a theory about why. It relieves them of responsibility, and releases them from the dire threat of natural selection. It means that the most carelessly sown seed has a chance to become a baby, because it will be someone else's burden. As long as the anti-abortion brainwashing goes on, then the pregnant girl will hesitate over it long enough to make it too late; and a man is successfully launched on a career of fatherhood which will include turning up occasionally to beat some money out of their baby mothers, and maybe attending a graduation if one of their offspring gets so far. What easier method of reproduction could there be?

If abortion were an option for most women, men would have to behave a whole lot better if they hoped to reproduce at all.

This is such a misuse of the Church, such a missed opportunity. If ever any act needed a sacrament to support one through it, then that act is the decision to have an abortion. I used to think of it as a bitter joke, the saying that if men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament. But it's true.

It's a such a huge thing someone's asking of you, the chance to be born; the decision to turn them down is so difficult. At very few other points in life is one so in need of moral support, and at every other such point a ceremony is available to reflect the seriousness of your undertaking. Baptism. Death. Marriage. Why the savage trivialisation of Termination? It would be understandable in the aftermath of a holocaust when Earth was desperately trying to rebuild population - but today! When we have the opposite problem! Money and effort is thrown into IVF, which is surely counter to the current needs of the planet, in recognition of the fierce human need for it. We need more women to get more power, so the world must recognise that everyone's needs should be met.

Girls - go out and get rich and powerful.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Keeping His Temper for Him

This a trap, lying in wait for any woman who has spent her growing up years learning that any level of male savagery has to be lived with.

I have caught myself doing it.

I had a meeting of African women at my place in early Feb. Well, I meant to but only 3 turned up. We had a great gossip. That's how people know what they are doing is normal, by discussing what other people are doing. One of the main things we discussed is domestic abuse, because we are at an age now, in our early 30s, when our contemporaries are going through it. Guys we went to school with, sane and normal men we talked and laughed with, are battering their wives. Women we admire and associate with are turning up with bruised kidneys and black eyes. Trophy wives are living with thumping, and coming up smiling tautly at us. "So and so broke off her engagement quoting beating. She went back in time for the wedding, and we don't think it has stopped..."

Why is this happening? Is it political, because Kibaki is a laid back guy who is tolerant of the current extremes of Kenyan male misbehaviour? Is it written somewhere as a condition of marriage? As Julian Rathbone put it in A Very English Agent, 'Nobody wonders at it if a married woman turns up with a black eye, everyone knows how she came by it. A single woman with a black eye, though, is an occasion for comment.'

I was once at a party (in England), where one elderly lady had a black eye. It was obvious from her husband's hangdog, solicitous behaviour how she came by it, though she murmured something about a door. The truly appalling thing was everyone else's behaviour. It was my grandma's house, I took my cue from my elders (Why? Brutality is brutality, why should I condone it? But the woman was so plainly trying hard to make her world normal again, one went along in sympathy) and pretended I saw nothing. After all, if she thought it was so normal she could appear in public with it ...

I was told something vital by a Kenyan guy long ago, and didn't really believe it at the time. He said the woman has total power in the relationship. Any male/female relationship is completely in the woman's control. She conceives it into being and says what goes, what is acceptable behaviour.

It follows that the way to address the domestic violence issue is to tackle the women. Domestic violence is part of a continuum of disrespect that contains, among other things, men in their 40's footling off with ndogo ndogos in bars every evening. Never mind what they say, this is not because the girls are young and beautiful and the wives are not any more. This is because the wives are over thirty. 'By then women have lost their docility, they have awareness, they know too much,' - Nicky Gemmell, in The Bride Stripped Bare. the best book about sexual awakening I have ever read.

Imagine what would happen if you started running How to Have Sex And Enjoy It Immensely classes, for Nairobi women. The most erotic thing is having personal power, and the biggest turn on for a sexual partner is for you see to it that he turns you on. Imagine the stiffening backbones, the brightening eyes of diffident suburban housewives, as husbands began to turn up at home sober, every evening. As men began to concern themselves with what they might need to do to ensure that their wives got to bed not too tired and in a good mood, in the hope that today they might feel risque.

As men began to concern themselves with what behaviour their wives like. I'm getting so side tracked here, but I must just digress to eulogise this potential route to getting great head.

Women have not needed to be placated enough in this world for a culture of giving great head to your woman to develop. This is yet another indicator of the different ways men and women handle their tempers; any sex manual you pick up will have a chapter on 'How to Give your man the Perfect Blowjob/Handjob'. There's never 'Ten Steps to Giving your Woman Great Head'.

Proof positive that personal power increases your erotic capital. The art is so worth studying, and so neglected. Did you know a man can make you come with his tongue even when you're not in the mood? It was such a surprise when I met a guy who could do that; I thought cunnilingus was THE most intimate thing that only works when you're totally in the mood and totally in love. No, it just needs a guy to listen hard when he's learning and do EXACTLY as he's told. I didn't even like him that much, but my, could he get results every time.

Well, to get back to the nitty gritty. Things have been hard around here lately. We work awful funny hours, to facilitate childcare, and Himself hadn't been getting enough sleep. This meant constant war with me, and accusing me of everything under the sun. Why? When I'm out of sorts do I blame Himself for everything? No, I figure out why I'm out of sorts, and I deal with it and/or explain it.

It was reaching ridiculous levels. I was fighting from my back foot all the time. My daughter got to watch me fight a losing battle every time he lost his temper. Raising bewildered defences which somehow always missed the point, against accusations of laziness, of lack of understanding about the difficulties of the racism at his job, of greed for money ... with the constant assumption that it was me, my fault, I was making him angry, I was doing the wrong thing, the selfish thing.

I worked later and later to stay away from home, and then got yelled at for not being there to take the baby so he could get his last hour of sleep. I could feel myself cringing sometimes, flinching, waiting with truly no idea, to see if the next time he came through the door he was going to shout or smile, trying hard to keep the smiles going if they came. They could so suddenly disappear, one moment to the next. I never knew which trigger would hit the shout this hour, and I could never safely risk discussing it in a sunny moment either. This is a bitterly humiliating situation to be in. I got to wondering if I was doing it, if it was something about me that forcibly made a domestic abuser out of any decent man I might end up with.

I stood at the sink one evening trying to plan my next day to cause minimum aggravation, and I thought, why is that my responsibility? Sure as eggs is eggs, Himself isn't planning his day so as not to aggravate me, because if I get aggravated that's my business.

Next time he came downstairs and opened his mouth to shout I said, "You hold onto your temper."


"I keep my own temper. It's the only temper I keep. You look after you own one," and I glared.

He opened his mouth, closed it, turned away into the sitting room ... and next time he started losing it, the conversation suddenly turned, halfway through, as he talked himself into calm just like I would. "I'm really hungry, I don't mean that, let me just go get something to eat first ..." you know the kind of thing. Now, weeks later, he's saying things to try explain to us both why I might be upset when I've lost it. It looks like I finally managed to make the man think by refusing to think for him.

The relief.

The broadening out of my life into having energy to think about other things.

More than that. The continuation in the improvement. Nothing else I've tried has had an effect half so long lived. This one seems to be growing from strength to strength. I tried fear once, a wonderful story that deserves a post to itself, but I highly recommend refusing to keep his temper for him. Maybe it's me the change has happened in. I have refused to take responsibility for things which aren't in my remit.


Subjection Conditioning

Thank you all for your responses to my last post; it's lovely to be understood!

This is only one story about my mother, and many responses have been, well, severe about her. I'm not saying the severity is not called for in this situation, and I'm sure if she ever reads this blog she will still not understand where her critics are coming from. The journey from one viewpoint to another is a very long one, and it's less than 10 years since she left my dad. We find it hard to understand her, but in my father's world she is an anarchist! One of his brothers has forbidden his wife to associate with her at all in case she 'gets ideas'. I owe all my capacity to grow, to her.

But you cannot be abused without participating in it yourself, mainly by finding reasons to acquiesce. The longer you live with the situation the further your appreciation of what's actually happening differs from the truth. The same as any situation you live with daily. Only hindsight sees clearly. You look back across a vista of years and think, Cor, I was miserable in my teens. But at the time you didn't think so, you just survived, one bright spot in life to the next.

In this situation she was putting the blinkered viewpoint of a battered woman, one whose entire sense of the world has been warped by her abusive spouse. When you live in that situation your life is a series of deeper and deeper compromises, of continually persuading yourself that something you are experiencing is normal. This is why abuse persists, generation to generation. She was utterly, beyond words, astonished that a girl child growing up in that world she lived in had the temerity to disapprove of her treatment. It was news to her that such an attitude was even possible.

When she failed to keep her husband sweet, when he roared and rampaged, my mum thought she was the problem, that she was failing to fully enter into her adopted culture. I like to think that Kikuyu women are on the whole quite dangerous, intolerant of male misbehaviour. My Dad had to travel 6813km, to find a suitably brow beatable woman. In that inimitable way in which bullies recognise their victims, by arcane signs known to no one else, he recognised a woman whose Dad and upbringing had suitably primed her for his attentions - perhaps only by leaving her with a shaky sense of self worth and an acculturation to living with misery. At the point in our lives when I told that story, my mum had had over 40 years of subjection conditioning. I'd only had 16.

It makes a difference.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

How to beat Girls and Women

One sunny afternoon in Uthiru, when I was 16 years old, my father sent me indoors to fetch the belt. This was a part of the punishment ritual. It started with a lecture which you listened to in a search of the spots you might massage to prevent an escalation to beating - was he tired? Could you make a long explanation and bore him off? Create a distraction? Be sick? Or was he dead set on his entertainment? You knew the final judgement leaned towards beating when he said 'Fetch the belt.' This might mean walking all across the compound and round the house to the corner of the sitting room; or it might just mean turning round and unhooking it from the nail. But whatever the journey, nobody ever saw you do it. Even if they were sitting right there trying to work out how to melt away into the floor.

When I brought it back he took it and stood weighing it, looking down at me, and said invitingly, "Can you think of any reason why I shouldn't beat you?"

I stared at the ragged grass beneath his feet, on the path under the washing line. I thought of my bullying chemistry teacher turning away abruptly to the board and saying, "Go!" to a girl he had just been about to refuse leave to go the loo, when she said why she needed to go. I said, "Please don't beat me. I'm having my period."

"What??!" he gasped.

"Please don't beat me. I'm having my period," and he turned abruptly away from me, dropping the belt to his side, and marched away to the end of the path to stand staring at the fence for a few dangerous moments. Then he turned and marched back to me and handed me the belt. My heart leapt.

"What you just mentioned to me," his voice had gone low. "Never mention it to me again. Never. That's between you and your mother. Go!"

I was never beaten again. Nor as far as I recall was my little sister. Psychological torture became the punishment of choice, and it is so much more far reaching I don't know that we did any better. But I never lost the edge I had gained by daring to raise my unassailable objection. That wasn't the end of that episode, though.

A few days later I was walking home with my mum, down a steep rutted path, when out of a silence she suddenly asked, "Why did you ask Daddy not to beat you because of your period?"


"The other day, when you asked Daddy not to beat you because of your period. Did you think it would make you bleed more heavily or something? Why did you - ? What did you think would happen?"

I was puzzled. I decided to stick with pure fact.

"I wasn't having my period," I said.

"What? You weren't?"

"No. I wasn't," I waited for her to burst out laughing and congratulate me.

"You mean you lied?" she was shocked.

"Of course!" so was I.

"But why?" she asked. Of all the absurd questions an abused woman has ever asked the world, that has to rank among the strangest. I stole a glance at her. Was she serious? Yes, she really wanted information here.

"So that he wouldn't beat me, of course," I said.

"Seriously?" she gaped at me.

Nine years later, my boyfriend picked me up and threw me at a wall. He then kept me up the whole of the rest of the night with various torments. In the morning he sat heavily down as I dragged myself about getting ready for work (he didn't work) and said, "But you know I would never hurt you!"

That statement, and my mother's question, come from the same league of thinking. What do you mean, you'd never hurt me, you've spent the last 8 hours doing nothing but, and the damage will continue hurting me for days yet. Do you expect me to ignore my bruises and welts, my aching bones, the care with which I have to turn my head, to stand and sit down for days, and believe your words instead? What on earth do you mean, it wouldn't matter if I was beaten during my period? It matters if I'm beaten any time! My nerves don't lie! What twisted scale of values are you suggesting here?

My daughter, who is two, runs a finger down the scar on my upper arm where the belt curled round it and the tip bit into me. I told people for years that the cat scratched me. Only one person ever looked at it doubtfully and said, must've been a very deep scratch. She says, "Mummy hurt." Am I supposed to tell her, "No, not really, women don't feel pain?" No way! I'm not bringing up a woman anyone can beat! "Yes, Mummy hurt," I say, "but I'm all right now."

For your information, being beaten during one's period definitely is extra painful and humiliating. There wasn't time to change my sanitary dressing to a tampon when fetching the belt, and asking to go to the loo first didn't work, as I couldn't bring myself to say why. Anyway I'd've had to go to the bedroom first, for the tampon, though I did frantically reflect that if only I could get to the loo, I could just throw out the pad and roll up some tissue paper to stuff up myself for the emergency.

In those days, pads didn't have huge expanses of glue on the back, they weren't gossamer thin and fitted to the body. They were pinned into my undies with a safety pin, and the beating belt dislodged it, and the blood went everywhere. My legs were sticky with it, and my clothes. Every item I wore had a puddle of blood through. It's very difficult to squat over the loo (we had a long drop toilet, not one with a seat) when your thighs are trembling with pain and your body's shaken with sobs, and try to get clean with one wet flannel that all too swiftly dries. You can't really take along a whole bowl of water without everyone noticing, not unless it's dark. The welts sting when the water touches them, and then the blood dries on you and it's hard to walk, fetching water and boiling it for a bath, waiting in front of everyone when you want to just hide and cry.

But none of this "would really hurt." My ex-boyfriend pursued me for years, eventually accusing me of using that night as 'just an excuse', because I knew that 'really he would never hurt me'. Really he did! I had a responsibility to myself to really listen to my stinging eyes and aching bones! It was a final warning! Yet the making of a woman who would believe him, rather than her nerves, begins in such statements as my mother's, when a woman is told that her pain doesn't count.

It's just a question of mind over matter. It 'doesn't matter' if Daddy beats you, it's important as a good daughter to let him, to swallow the pain, to let yourself down into your seat for days afterwards with a gasp and dismiss that pain as just your womanly due. Because if you don't he will complain later of having been baulked of his rights. I can only imagine that's why he brought himself to bring it up. Was he swapping stories of how his day went? Was he complaining that I brought up a forbidden subject, she hadn't told me never to mention it? Maybe he asked her to reassure me, so as to clear the way for him to beat me in future. Or did he just use it to explain why he was mad?

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