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The World Women Face Today

By Countercurrents.org

01 October, 2012

Women around the world are facing a market-reality that makes them commodity. The marketized women-world is everywhere: in the South and in the North, in the advanced capitalist economies, in backward economies and emerging economies, all under the sway of neoliberalism.

There is money to market them, and there is scarcity of money for their library. Market even capitalizes their steadfast, courageous forward journey. Even in advanced societies they are made prey to backward ideas. Recent reports by mainstream media reveal a part of this hostile-reality.

A few days ago, BBC carried a set of photographs on the changing culture in Cambodia. Captions of a few of those photographs were:

“Tyson, Nataly and Jimmy are emblematic of how Cambodian culture is changing. In the past, seeing a foreign man with a Cambodian woman in a short skirt would have led onlookers to wander whether there was a transnational relationship between them, but with the youth adopting more modern styles, it would be unwise to jump to conclusions.”

“Until recently, cultural norms meant that Cambodian women preferred to keep their legs covered. That’s quickly changing. Shorts and cut-offs are even making an appearance at the rollerblading rink […] in Phnom Penh.”

“Ms Na designs hot pants […] The 19-year old says styles are becoming more modern, with influence from around the region […]”

No doubt, this is not the entire culture in Cambodia. No doubt, majority of the women in Cambodia, a backward country now being dictated by neoliberalism, are struggling with poverty and backward culture. However, there emerges a section, modern and liberal, tiny it might be.

On the opposite, from the North, there re-surfaced “old stories” of paparazzi culture, a culture that market has created. Women are haunted by the culture, and societies find them helpless in front of this culture. The “story” by Kira Cochrane, “Creepshots and revenge porn: how paparazzi culture affects women” (The Guardian, September 22, 2012) presents a brief narration:

Young women everywhere – famous and non-famous – are increasingly becoming victims of voyeurism.

On the popular website Reddit, a member of a forum called "creepshots" was advising on the way to photograph women surreptitiously. His advice was attached to photos, posted by hundreds of group members, of women snapped unawares at airports, waiting for trains, packing groceries, standing on escalators. They joined thousands more on creep websites as a whole, a large, thriving online subculture. The point is to catch women unawares, lay claim to something off-limits, then share it around for bragging rights and comment. Some of the pictures appear to have been taken in schools.

The story prompts questions about why there is such a market, and therefore audience, for these pictures.

There is a sense that female bodies are public property, fair game – to be claimed, admired and mocked.

Emma Watson narrated an incident of being photographed on her 18th birthday and said: “I felt completely violated.” At the Leveson inquiry, Sienna Miller said that for years she was “relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily ... spat at, verbally abused ... I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me”.

It’s a culture, Kira says, paparazzi culture, being bred in a certain state of a society created by a certain type of economy.

Kira refers to Julia Gray, co-founder of anti-street harassment group Hollaback London, and Julia says she was horrified when a picture of her ended up in one of these groups.

The report says:

Young women are being coerced into taking suggestive pictures by their male peers. Teenagers today have grown up in an environment filled with both paparazzi pictures and images of ordinary women with their tops off. We live in the land built by gossip and lads' magazines over the past decade. Heat magazine ran its Circle of Shame feature for years, encouraging young women to look at their female peers, deride them for ugliness, and simultaneously police their own appearance. Nuts magazine went into nightclubs and asked women to flash for them. Zoo magazine asked readers, "What kind of tits do you want for YOUR girlfriend?" in a 2005 competition that offered £4,000 worth of surgery in return for pictures of readers' girlfriend's breasts.

Many young people felt they had few friends they really trusted.

Allyson Pereira, an anti-bullying advocate from New Jersey, has had that experience first-hand. Her mother initially said they would have to move, former friends called her disgusting and teachers made jokes about it. Six months later, Pereira felt so lonely that she attempted suicide. Having planned to become a teacher herself, she abandoned the ambition. She didn't go to university, because she felt too vulnerable.

Charlotte Laws first encountered these sites in January this year, after her daughter Kayla, who is in her mid-20s, had her computer hacked. Charlotte, an author and former private investigator, spent 11 days, non-stop, working to get the picture taken down.

She spoke to three teachers, one of whom had lost her job due to the site, and another whose job hung in the balance. One woman was terrified the photos would be used against her in a custody battle. Another had seen her business ruined – even though the nude images the site ran alongside her social media profiles weren't actually of her. There was a woman who had taken pictures for her doctor, of her breasts bandaged after surgery, and those had been hacked from her computer and posted. All the pictures were open to biting discussion of looks and desirability.

Mary Anne Franks, associate professor of law at the University of Miami finds it interesting that the response to these situations is so often to blame the woman involved. She says “people aren’t just outraged and furious about this, but they’re blaming women. We’re perfectly fine with women being sexual, as long as they are objects and they’re passive, and we can turn them on, turn them off, download them, delete them, whatever it is.”

It seems the paparazzi power is powerful than the power of conscience or society has lost conscience or society has failed to create a conscience that can oppose the power that finds joy, and obviously profits, by victimizing women.

There is plenty of money, and there is dearth of money. Plenty of money for driving the paparazzi culture, and education faces dearth of money. From the UK, Caroline Davies reported (“LSE saves Women’s Library from closure”, guardian.co.uk, September 28, 2012):

The Women's Library, the oldest and most extensive collection of women's history in Europe, has been saved after being threatened with closure over funding issues. The London School of Economics and Political Science has successfully bid for custodianship of the collection, whose future was under review after the London Metropolitan University announced it could no longer maintain it.

Founded in 1926 by the leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett, the collection has evolved into Europe’s leading source of documents relating to every aspect of women’s lives, including women’s rights, suffrage, health, education, employment, reproductive rights, the family and the home charting women’s issues over four centuries.

But women, within their reality, are striving to step ahead. A BBC report on India’s female bikers by Rajini Vaidyanathan on September 24, 2012 (“India’s women bikers: Trailblazers in more ways than one”) said:

In India, more women are now starting to ride motorbikes, and a number of female-only clubs have helped kick-start this trend. Aparna Bandodkar, one of them, asks: “If men can ride motorbikes, why can’t women.” In a country where two-wheelers are the vehicle of choice for millions, a female usually takes a backseat while the man drives. “People say girls can’t kick-start bikes or put them on a stand without the help of a man; I just wanted to prove girls can do that too”, she says as she powers up her bike to demonstrate. Sheetal Bidaye, 36, became the first female solo biker to reach the world’s highest motorable pass, Marsimik La, and won a place in India’s Limca book of records for her feat.

Aparna recently started a club in Mumbai for female bike riders – Regals. In Bangalore, Hop on Gurls is another, and there are more and more female only biker meet-ups happening across the country. The Association of Female Bikers in India, Bikerni, is the first India-wide motorcycle club for women. It was co-founded by Firdaus Sheikh, who estimates there are 4,000 women bikers across India. “We started Bikerni to empower women through motorcycling”, she says.

The market is promising. The report says:

India is the second largest motorbike market in the world, after China. Last year, some 13.4 million, two-wheelers were sold in the country, 14% more than in the previous year, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturer.

Experts estimate well above 350 million are riding bikes in India, and one-third of scooter riders are women. Companies are introducing lighter bikes, with lower stands into the Indian market to tap into a growing interest from women. The Italian firm Ducati this year launched a model in India, which weighs far less and is lower to the ground.

For India’s biker women, taking to the roads offer a sense of freedom and independence like no other.

Still the women suffer. A report by Jane Martinson and Jo Adetunji, (“Generation of women hit by ‘toxic combination of ageism and sexism’”, guardian.co.uk, September 29, 2012) from the UK said:

A generation of women who fought for equal pay, improvements in childcare and maternity leave is being caught in a bind between caring for elderly parents and grandchildren while suffering from outdated workplace practices, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has said.

In an interview with the Guardian, Cooper said: “A toxic combination of sexism and ageism is causing problems for this generation.”

At the same time, Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, announced a new commission to tackle the issue of discrimination against women over the age of 50.

Women over 50 are bearing the brunt of the government's economic policies while often trying to cope with the increasing burden of caring for relatives, according to research carried out by the Labour party.

Since the coalition came to power in May 2010, unemployment among women aged 50-64 has seen a huge 31% increase to 142,000, compared with an overall increase in all unemployed people over 16 of 4.2% to 2.6m, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

Women as a whole have lost more jobs than men since 2010 (an estimated 11% increase) but women over 50 in particular have been hit hardest by the big cuts in local authority budgets.

The number of long-term unemployed (those out of work for 12 months or more) has increased by 105,000 to 904,000 since May 2010 and women make up 82,000 of the rise, or 78%, although men are still a majority of the unemployed overall. In contrast, unemployment among men above the age of 50 has barely changed since 2010 despite the overall increase and budget cuts.

As well as suffering from increased unemployment and changes to pension provisions, the over-50s are also dealing with the increasing life expectancy of their parents.

Harman criticized George Entwistle, the BBC’s new director general, for his “woeful” response to criticism that the corporation freezes out older women while keeping older men on its screens. Harman said that women on television feel the clock ticking in a way that it isn’t for older men.

In Tunisia, women are protesting a rape incident. Weeks ago, the Tunisian women marched demanding equal rights.

In Greece, Spain and France, women and men marched together protesting austerity. In Spain and Greece, women are bearing the burden of feeding families in this time of budget cuts, unemployment and hunger. In Spain, women have joined struggle for land.

The reports, only a particle of the reality women the world over are facing, tell a portion of the related economy and society.



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