While our daughters in the West play at dressing up to look like a bride or a Princess bride young girls in the Global South are being forced to get married. The practice of child brides involves girls as young as 12 being forced by their poverty stricken families to get married. Sometimes an early marriage occurs because rape is a common incident in the village where the girl lives and a raped female carries a stigma which attaches itself to her family too.

One less mouth to feed is most commonly the incentive for these girls to be given away by their parents. These girls have to give up their childhood and often have to move far away from their families and are left to fend for themselves. Their husbands are often much older and view these girls as slaves to the household. The practice generated publicity when a 10 year old girl asked for a divorce in Yemen from her husband who was in his 30s. A book was written about this incident, ‘I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’.

Contrast the notion we have in the West of marriage being a union of choice and happiness with the abject misery these girls have to experience. While our daughters dream of wedding gowns and expensive rings these girls dream of playing with their friends and going to school.

In the last few weeks I have attended the protest against the opening of the Playboy club and joined the Slut Walk in London. The absence of disabled women at the Playboy protest and the small numbers of disabled women on the Slut Walk made me question whether this new wave of feminism is not being inclusive enough.

At the both protests mentioned feminists were disputing the social construct of women which bears the narrative of being submissive, ‘suitably’ attired so as not to attract the wrong type of male attention and, yet, to keep looking attractive at all times. In a patriarchal system disabled women seem to have to fight a double headed prejudice: (a) They have to fight the outrageous prejudices that non disabled women push back against and; (b) perversely, to be recognised as sexual beings who are capable of having autonomy over their sexuality.

The sexuality of the 21st century is epitomised by celebrity culture which aims for body perfection. This has no bearing on real life for ALL women everywhere. The subtext of the new wave of feminism must be inclusive because the issues that matter to disabled women affect non-disabled women too such as domestic violence, parenting, poverty etc. If schisms of women are marginalised or left behind then feminism fails to deliver the core message of empowering ALL women.

The child in the Easter Bunny costume is my 11 year old daughter. We strongly object to the merchandis­e sold to children by the Playboy Empire. It comes as no surprise that Hugh Heffner sees his empire as liberating women given that it has made him billions. Vested interests in any matter always contains a strong element of justificat­ion which goes against those seeking to disprove it.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

This is a feature I wrote and which was selected for publication for the series ‘Behind the Mask of Masculinity’ hosted by Gender Across Borders at http://www.genderacrossborders.com/

The orthodoxy of masculinity was encapsulated by Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher, who wrote of it in his famous political book called ‘Leviathan’. Within his work, he coined the phrase the ‘natural state of man’. According to Hobbes the natural state of man is one of war and strife. By this he means that man is naturally competitive and gives in to a primeval instinct to conquer and rule in a manner that is devoid of consideration for others. Domination, aggression and bullying are the words that come to my mind in interpreting the ‘natural state of man’.

It may seem far too general to define masculinity in these terms because we all know men who don’t fit description. Yet, it describes the contemporary world of boardroom politics, dictatorships and autocratic states which are dominated by men. Viewed in this pervasive context masculinity comes across as being a negative trait.

Hobbes himself alludes to this negativity in his mitigating theory against the ‘natural state of man.’ He says that a ‘covenant’ needs to be established to prevent against man becoming solitary, poor and brutish. The covenant must stop man from falling back into his natural state. Hobbes views this as a social contract, with its central tenet designed to ensure that man takes into consideration the good of others. Hobbes says that the Covenant stops the ‘war of every man against every man’. This is an overt call, as I see it, to withdraw from the natural state.This then begs the question as to whether masculinity has evolved to become a social construction? In present day masculinity has retained the age old trait of physicality but has picked up an emotional dimension too. A man with muscles and a flat board stomach is a visual display of masculinity. A man who writes poetry and cries openly over sad films is seen as being in touch with his feminine side but will be viewed by many as still being masculine. A man who never cries and is always in charge of himself is also seen as being masculine. James Bond as played by Daniel Craig, the ultimate show of masculinity, came close to crying when his beloved drowned herself.

With so many variations on masculinity I think it is logical to assume that it has, indeed, become a subjective social construction. Dictators, ruthless male CEOs and despots like the African rulers aren’t viewed as being masculine anymore. What is missing with these men is an ability to distribute consideration for others – the Hobbes ‘Covenant’.

My theory is that the ‘natural state of man’ has evolved to become more socially acceptable and that those who refuse to buy in to the ‘Covenant’ are the miscreants of our world. The global social ills of rape, wars, drug and alcohol abuse, sport hooliganism, child abuse and domestic violence are mainly perpetrated by men. The fight back against this has come from feminism, the gay movement and the considerations of social justice which demand a need to think of others.

The ‘natural state of man’ is the number one enemy of women. Yet, many women aid and abet this state for example wives of dictators and women who enjoy the wealth created by their ruthless businessman husbands. It may have been an ideology that created a male ideal of masculinity but now it is reviled and rightly so.

Any form of masculinity that rejects women in its power structures is facing a backlash. We see this with the demonstrations in the Arab world where women are leading the way. The women who continue to support the traditional state are vilified. This modern narrative is rewriting the participatory principles of masculinity- ‘if you are not with us women we don’t want you’. Only with a greater amount of cohesion between the genders can a truly acceptable philosophy of masculinity be unmasked.

About the author

Jane Chelliah lives in London, UK where she works for the public sector as a senior policy manager. She read law and philosophy, which serve her on the two national committees she sits on and an Age Diversity Group which she chairs. Her interests include gender politics, social justice issues and blogging on motherhood and feminist issues.

The title is not a question on whether he is guilty of the crimes which he has been charged with. The presumption of innocent until proven guilty and all that. Rather, the title heading is a question on whether DSK is guilty of the age old crime of seeing his gender as justification enough to prey on women.

In other words I am talking about the conducive culture of alpha maleness which contains, as an important tenet, the ‘right’ to let loose one’s sexual predilection towards the weaker sex because , allegedly, men just cannot control themselves. My theory is, sadly, greatly substantiated by the plethora of words that have been written in support of DSK. Not many have spared a thought for the maid, the victim in all this.

Readers, it is still a man’s world and the politics of rape still weigh heavily against the female victim. The process of justice may have moved away from asking rape victims what they were wearing that night but the attitudes of some factions of society (witness the French women who have come out in support of DSK) stand against the victim. In fact, the whole of the woman’s movement has been caught up in the self-denying net of DSK’s supporters. Blame has been thrown at the IMF itself for funding feminism which in turn, apparently, breeds promiscuity.

DSK is French and the French have famously always held themselves up as models of propiety on preserving privacy, especially the privacy of the ruling elite. Note, this notion of privacy is solely attached to the sexual exploits of their rulers and manifests itself by omission – not being reported about in the media. There is another word for this type of selective privacy and it is called silence. Silence is a powerful and dangerous weapon when used to cover up immoral or illegal activity. ‘Silence’ is what is said by perpetrators to the children they are abusing so that the abuser can get away with his/her actions. You see, silence is a blanket of oppression which covers a multitude of sins.

The French establishment has wrongly maintained a silence over DSK’s actions for many years. When the journalist Tristane Banon accused DSK of attacking her she was ignored. She said, ‘We fought on the ground…I kicked him, he opened my bra, tried to open my jeans.’ When she appeared on a talk show the host, Thierry Ardisson, made a reference to 14 other women who had suffered similarly at DSK’s hands. It is reported that even President Nicolas Sarkozy had spoken of DSK’s predatory nature. Yet, the culture of complacency continued at the expense of female safety.

The New York chambermaid victim whose identity we do not know has been accused of baiting DSK. The conspiracy theorists speak of this women being a ‘honey trap’. There are holes in this theory. Honeytraps involve two consenting adults with one having an ulterior motive of espionage. The process of Honeytrapping does not involve violence and illegal wrongdoing as has been alleged against DSK nor a criminal trial that will attract global attention. Honeytrappers are willing women and slip away quietly with whatever evidence they have acquired.

Another conspiracy theory questions whether DSK would have thrown away his career for a moment of sexual gratification. Well, because of the culture which tolerated his behaviour and which, perhaps, even egged him on DSK would not have had cause to think that his behaviour would result in his resignation from the IMF. The French notion of ‘cherchez la femme’ reprimands the woman for complaining.

The victim has also been tarred with the brush which, rightly, tars women who ‘kiss and tell’ for money. The latter brigade are responsible for some of the anti-women tirade which accompanies serious crimes committed against women. Sexual victims of rich, famous and powerful men must not be confused with women who sleep willingly with rich, famous and powerful men for monetary gain. The former need protecting. The latter do not unless they are under age.

For as long as privacy is used as a shield, for as long as women remain the underdog and for as long as bad male behaviour is tolerated purely for gender purposes then the rape debate will weigh against the victim in cases such as this.