Women and the Feminist Movement
Women’s Liberation began with the Suffragette movement a hundred years ago which culminated, after huge effort and protest, in women being given the vote. It was enormously strengthened by women filling men’s jobs in the factories and on the land during the Second World War. After the war it was further strengthened by contraception which freed women from endless and exhausting pregnancies. I think we’re still living in the backwash of all this. Catholic and Muslim countries, particularly the poorer ones, have not freed women from the burden of having too many children. They still see woman’s main role as child-bearer.
Women, being educated with men but not having access to the kind of work that men have done for millennia – in government, in the law courts, in politics, in academia, science, archaeology and many other professions – wanted to discover their own creative gifts and be accepted as equals to men, paid the same money for the same work. The books of three women, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer, were powerful influences in this attempt to be equal to men. These books turned women against the “subservient” role of being a mother and against men. It is very, very difficult for women to be sure enough of their own value for them not to enter into rivalry with men since there was nothing in the culture which values and appreciates the enormous role women played and still play as mothers and general carers of the old and the young. This was before any kind of state support existed.
For thousands of years, women have carried the role of carer to everyone. For thousands of years, they have been regarded by men as the Second Sex or the Inferior Gender. Naturally, one of the first things the women’s movement did was to turn against the role of motherhood. Government colluded in this, seeing a chance to make more money by getting women into work. The strain of trying to live two very demanding roles, caring for children at home and earning a living in the world, has impacted negatively on women’s health and well being and on their relationships with their partners. The biggest sufferers in all this have been children who now have neither parent in the home. The number of single parents increased hugely as men either couldn’t cope with the “new” woman or women got rid of their partners as soon as they had had children. Men found that they had to take shared responsibility for the care of children and the home instead of leaving these to their wives and partners.
Another negative influence was the Christian Church which, from its inception as the State Religion of the Roman Empire (380 AD), was absolutely saturated with misogyny. (Misogyny did not exist in the earliest Christian and Gnostic groups where women were welcomed as healers, priestesses and teachers). It seems to have developed once the concept of hierarchy was established in the Church. Karen Armstrong’s books explore this in some detail. Chapters 7 & 8 of my book explain how the phobic fear of women was deeply imprinted on the minds of the early Christian Fathers and this fear came right through into the Protestant Reformation where Luther said women belonged in the home. In the early twentieth century, the Anglican Church vigorously combated the Suffragette movement and giving women the vote. So it simply wasn’t possible for women to break free of all this misogyny until the last century when they were given the vote.
This is the historical background to the situation today where women, having been so undervalued for centuries and denied access to higher education and all the professions long accessible to men, are finding their voice and their power to act in a variety of situations. But, having only the male model to copy in their determination to be treated as equal to men and paid the same salary for the same kind of work (cf. the BBC) there is a danger that they become driven by the masculine element of their own nature and reject the value of the feminine qualities of their nature, becoming aggressive and directing that aggression towards men in general. Men, unused to being confronted and challenged by women, are repulsed and even alarmed by their aggression towards the male gender.
Woman’s voice has not been listened to for thousands of years so putting one’s head above the parapet is a challenge. Women like myself need the support of other women and the support of men who are in touch with the feminine aspect of their own nature and are able to give it expression through manifesting it in their work and their relationships. The Feminine is about holding the true soul values (which have not been clearly recognised or articulated in our culture) and the Masculine is about bringing these into manifestation in the world. Ideally, these two archetypal principles need to be balanced in both men and women. At the moment they are not and we are going through a profound upheaval of gender roles as a result. It would be helpful if both men and women were aware that the voice of the Feminine, whether spoken by man or woman, speaks on behalf of all life, not only on behalf of women's rights. What many women now call "The Fierce Feminine" needs to be tempered with wisdom and gentleness so women can work with men to bring about the radical changes they wish to see, not only in the way they are treated but in the way the Earth has been treated by our unconscious civilisation.
Marches against Trump's inauguration as President of the US have taken place in many cities across the world. Huge numbers of women gathered in Washington, more huge numbers in London. These women need now to move forward beyond the Me-too movement (2017) to a more comprehensive focus for their coming together in protest: a protest that will embrace the urgent need to take action on climate change, to prevent fracking, to insist on more funds being devoted to the development of green energy, to get rid of nuclear weapons. They need to march on behalf of the millions of Muslim women who have no voice, on behalf of the Yazidi women who are still the concubines and slaves of the Jihadists, on behalf of the millions who are enduring FGM. They need to march against the obscenity of arms sales and preparations for war (of which Trump is a prime promotor), on behalf of the millions of traumatised children who will never recover from what they have seen and endured from being indoctrinated into the practice of cruelty by ISIS, and in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. There is a colossal agenda for women to address in all these issues and it is here that their voice needs to be heard.
"Woman's own awakening to the realisation of her value is part of the recovery of the Feminine Principle. It is as if a momentous birth is taking place in the collective psyche of woman. This birth may be experienced as something that is deeply perplexing and difficult as well as something exciting and challenging. As woman gives birth to herself, to her unique individuality, to the emerging awareness of her value as woman (not an imitation of man), the Feminine Principle will also emerge in the consciousness of humanity which for so long has suffered from its repression and rejection. Woman, whose essential nature is to respond to suffering and need, is now responding to life's own need and is experiencing herself as the vessel of transformation in which a new consciousness is being born."
"The voice of the Feminine, whether spoken by man or woman, speaks on behalf of life."
extract from an article under the Reflections section of my website: "Woman as Custodian of Life" http://www.annebaring.com/anbar16_reflections01_woman.htm
September 2016: I would like to bring to people's attention the remarkable book by Sue Lloyd-Roberts, recently published by her family after her death from cancer in October 2015. Written from her many years' research into the different aspects of the oppression of women in today's world, and nearly reaching completion in the months before her death, it is called The War on Women.
Read the chapter headings below if you want to grasp the different aspects of women's suffering:
1. The Cruellest Cut: Female Genital Mutilation
2. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo: Women in Argentina's Dirty Wars
3. Ireland's Fallen Women: A Story of Religious Persecution
4. Saudi Arabia: The World's Largest Women's Prison
5. Egypt: What Made Her Go There?
6. From Russia with Love: Sex Traffiking
7. Boys Will Be Boys: Where There Are UN Peacekeepers There Are Traffikers
8. Forced Marriage: From Kashmir to Bradford
9. Honour Killings: Murder to Preserve Honour
10. India: The Worst Place on Earth to Be Born a Woman
11. Rape as a Weapon of War: Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
12. Sex Inequality in the UK: The Pay Gap
I have just read a review about a Somali woman who has published a book about her experience of FGM at 6 years old. She said the horrific pain and horror of it turned her love of her mother to hate. I wonder if the schizoid experience of women in cultures which approve of this mutilation, of feeling love which turns to hate and fear of their mothers isn't responsible for the subservience of women in these cultures. Women who have been cut unthinkingly inflict the same agony on their daughters who have no choice nor any way of protecting their bodies. What do the brothers of these girls think when they see the barbarity and pain inflicted on their sisters and their obvious suffering? Wouldn't they think that women are bad or damaged in some way and have to be punished by their mothers and grandmothers? Wouldn't they fear that part of a woman's body and anything to do with sexuality?
The Courage of Muslim Women
The work of three courageous Muslim women has come to my notice. All have received and are receiving death threats for their work. One is Ayaan Hirsi Ali whose books are now well known in the West. Another is Asra Nomani, a journalist who was formerly a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and whose book "Standing Alone: an American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam" was published in 2005. I heard a remarkable interview she did with a woman in the US and have just read it and was so moved by what she said that I wanted to mention her here. It is the story of her pilgrimage to Mecca and how the inspiration arose out of this to change the position of women in Muslim society, particularly with regard to how they were treated in mosques by the Imams who controlled these, relegating women to an area separated from men. She has posted on the internet an Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in Mosques and another Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom. In the course of her journey of discovery, she was met by ferocious opposition, even in her home town in the US where she had lived almost all her life, where she had been educated and found her first job as a journalist.
The third woman is Deeyah Khan whose recent documentary Jihad: a British Story has been nominated for a Bafta award. The Times says that in it "she interviews former recruiters and radicalisers of young people for the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Bosnia and Chechnya who now deeply regret their actions. The film explodes the macho charade of jihadists and reveals a different narrative: that often they are simply pathetic, inadequate, lost young men, often sexually frustrated, who are torn between two cultures — their parents' and that of their Western friends — and want something to remedy their feelings of emasculation." She has also started a magazine called "Sister-hood" which aims to give a voice to the largely unheard views of Muslim women around the world – the pro-secular, the feminist, the women working against Isis and oppression – and bring them to the attention of the mainstram media. "Muslim women are talked at and spoken about quite a lot but rarely do we get to hear from the women themselves... The reason I am setting up the magazine is to amplify the voices of women who historically and today are pushing back against misogyny and extremism."
FGM and the ongoing child abuse inflicted on Muslim women
It has been suggested by two woman gynaecologists in the US, in an article published in The Journal of Medical Ethics, that 'milder' forms of FGM should be tolerated in order to respect cultural practices. Small "nicks" to female genitals, they write, are no worse than cosmetic procedures that western women pay for or even male circumcision. (reported in The Times 23/2/16) I find this suggestion utterly outrageous.
A letter by Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, Bohumil S. Drasar, published on 26/2/16 in The Times, referring to the article by the two gynaecologists above, says: "In the UK there are more women living with the effects of FGM, about 125,000, than people who are HIV positive, about 110,000. Worldwide, the disparity is even greater. 125 million women living with FGM compared with about 40 million people with HIV/Aids. FGM is not a cultural rite but probably the most common form of child abuse." (italics mine)
FGM is a cruel abuse of the bodies and psyches of young girls. I have posted the notice of it here in order that other women should see it. Female genital mutilation is an undeniable human rights violation. There are no medical benefits whatsoever to the procedure. It is extremely dangerous. Girls can even die because of infection from the unsanitary conditions in which these cuttings take place, and the scars can cause menstruation complications and childbirth difficulties later on. It is widely believed that FGM is a religious practice that increases marriageability and provides a transition to adulthood for women. But certain Muslim leaders have pointed out that this practice is not rooted in religion.
It is a social or tribal practice that goes back thousands of years and may originate in sacrifical practices believed to avert drought or disease or even to ensure the return of the moon. What is so tragic is that it is inflicted by older women on young girls in the belief that this makes them 'acceptable' as future brides for men. Perhaps men have insisted on this practice for generations but it is time now to put an end to it so the suffering of young girls can be eradicated.
France has almost eliminated FGM by the expedient of giving every boy or girl, regardless of their ethnic origin, a medical examination up to the age of six at special mother and baby clinics. After this, teachers and school health visitors are trained to be extra vigilant with girls whose background entails a risk. Parents are warned that if they want to take their children out of school to countries where this practice is acceptable, they will be prosecuted if the children return with any sign of injury or distress. The UK has been disgracefully negligent in putting an end to the practice and checking on the young girls who are taken to Africa 'on holiday'. (Sue Lloyd-Roberts, The War on Women, p. 23)
There are 200 million women and girls in 30 countries across the world that have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). But in Somalia, where an astounding 98% of girls are cut, the Minister for Women is developing a ban right now. Local experts say that a global wave of support for nationwide zero tolerance could help win an outright ban on this cruel practice in weeks!
Huffington Post Article published March 6th, 2015
by Dr. Scilla Elworthy and Anne Baring
International Women's Day may be celebrated every year, but in this year of 2015
we women need to wake up
and start thinking about what - worldwide -
we can do about violence against women.
What do women endure?
The UN calls it a 'pandemic of violence', including:
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children (below 18 years of age). More than one in three - or some 250 million - were married before 15. Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than one in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.
More than 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Beyond extreme physical and psychological trauma, girls who undergo FGM are at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death.
Trafficking ensnares millions of women and girls in modern-day slavery, and they represent 98 per cent of the estimated 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation.
One in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during their lifetime. With the world population at seven billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls.
On top of this there is a new level of terror, torture and killing sweeping across the Middle East, leaving a trail of devastated lives, most particularly, the lives of women and children.
Islamic State has taken control of a huge area of territory in Iraq and north-eastern Syria and is attracting thousands of young men and some young women from Muslim communities all over the world who want to belong to a new caliphate. Its followers hold to the interpretation of the Fundamentalist Sunni Branch of Islam known as Salafism or Wahhabism that prevails in Saudi Arabia as well as parts of Africa (Boko Haram), Pakistan and Afghanistan (Taliban)
and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). All are deeply repressive of women, curtailing their freedom and their education and believing that their role in life should be confined to child-rearing and domestic activities.
Islamic State has instituted a brutal regime that is murdering helpless people like the Kurdish Yazidis as well as any Shia Muslims, Kurds and Christians, offering them the choice between converting to its brand of Islam or being decapitated, crucified or executed by firing squad. The captive Yazidi women have become slaves: raped, used, abused and sold as these men see fit. How can these men rape and enslave the helpless women and children who have fallen into their power without any feeling of empathy, guilt or shame?
For four years, we have watched a similar psychosis in Syria destroying ever more lives and the unbearable suffering of women, children and the aged trying to stay alive in the freezing cold of winter or the searing heat of summer in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and the Kurds, Christians and other citizens of Syria fleeing for their lives.
Where is the voice of women in these black holes of misery? The ruined cities, the terrible suffering of millions of innocent civilians and the destroyed lives of so many maimed and traumatized children cries out for reconciliation, forgiveness and an end to fratricidal strife between Muslims. Otherwise the pattern will be repeated when a new generation finds a target for its hatred and its grief.
There is nobility in the midst of the carnage in Syria. There is now a volunteer Civil Defence force known as the 'White Helmets' that has 2,221 rescue workers operating in 82 teams. They have a single aim: to save life. Since their formation in late 2013 they have rescued 12,521 people from under the rubble. But in Syria's most conservative communities, male volunteers have not been allowed to rescue injured women and girls. So now five teams of women White Helmets have been formed.
They have earned the trust of their people, proving with every rescue that they have the skills, the extraordinary courage, and above all the nobility of spirit required to do this work.
The action of women
We know of many instances where courageous women have spoken out, and acted, in support of their passionate conviction that a peaceful and just society is possible. There are thousands more where women have suffered extreme penalties for their courage, often death by stoning.
It must surely be the case that we women in safe countries, women who can speak out without fear of murder, women who have education, a career and enough to eat - women who are reading the Huffington Post - can put our heads and hearts together and speak out to find an effective way to bring to an end these different forms of violence against women. We could assemble an e-booklet with hundreds of examples of what women have done to prevent, transform, reduce or heal violence and provide inspiration and encouragement to women worldwide.
We who live in safe countries could support and stand behind women opposing violence in life-threatening situations.
Throughout the patriarchal era, the voice of woman has been silenced. It is barely audible now. It is surely time for women of every nation, religion and ethnic group to say: "Enough is enough! There must be an end to this ongoing slaughter, rape and suffering. Together, we can and must end it."
Margaret Atwood, the Canadian novelist, poet and environmental activist has put out this powerful, informative and compelling statement of our planetary situation and the difficulties we have as a species in changing our beliefs, our behaviour and our deeply ingrained and mostly unconscious attitudes and habits:
I have found this video message from Thandie Newton a brilliant statement about the change of consciousness
that is so greatly needed, set in the context of the preparation of One Billion Rising Revolution 2015https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpzFN4y5aCs&feature=youtu.be
The only vital element left out of Pope Francis' wonderful Encyclical was the need for people everywhere – no matter what their religion – to limit the size of their families to no more than two children. In view of the Catholic Church's ongoing repudiation of contraception, it is not surprising that this had to be left out. Yet, if it is not given a prominent place in our efforts to change our habits, nothing else we do will have much effect. The greater the number of people there are to consume and exhaust the earth's resources, the more dire will be the ultimate consequences for our species and all others. One of the primary and most urgent needs is to give women everywhere access to contraception.
In view of the pressure on the planet and all species on it derived from a rising population estimated to reach 10 million by 2050, this initiative (below) is definitely not needed because it goes against women's right to choose the size of their families and to limit them if they feel they have enough children. When will these men wake up?
I have put up the following communication from two women in Syria because I find it
a perfect example of women awakening, and awakening a sleeping world.
"A woman's voice for peace is the simple voice of truth.
It is the voice that says that it is love, and only love, that gives life."
Syria: A Woman's Call
For a long time we have hidden what we truly know in Our being.
For too long we have veiled Our wisdom since it seemed so far away
from the common logic
that reigns in our societies.
We have learnt to believe that there is such a thing as impossible.
We believed that there really was no choice but to hurt, kill, suffer, fear and die.
For so long we have accepted that there is no other option and that our loyalty and
belonging require us to lose hope and turn to paths of cruelty and heartlessness.
Over the generations. we washed the blood out;
We licked Our wounds,
Strove to restore the will to live
and we all went back to the battlefield.
Over what seemed like an eternity.
We were the comforters, the caregivers, those that encouraged and gave reassuring hope.
We've been sending children which are our children, to war
cooking them food to strengthen them,
in what is the largest human paradox.
More and more women know that they cannot anymore.
Cannot accept the explanations
Cannot put up with the lack of option and choice
Cannot participate in thinking that if one does not know what to do
one should stay where she is.
More and more women can no longer believe that war will ever lead to peace and
tranquility and that hatred leads to love.
It just does not happen.
We see what is happening in Syria for the last three years.
We observe the slaughter, the
cruelty, reckless destruction,
the lust of power that knows no God and allows no man or
woman to stand in its way and restore sanity.
We see the various authorities and international influential entities in the world standing
indifferent or helpless, captive to the narrow and arrogant thought of control and power,
and crushed under the pressure of interests and diplomacy in which they believe and even
Giving in to fears and benefit analysis, makes one forget who one is,
and turn one into
a wild beast or an efficient machine of destruction, fear and death.
A woman's voice for peace is the simple voice of truth.
It is the voice that says that it is love, and only love, that gives life.
that to be human unconditionally, reminds man of his spirit and power.
A woman's voice remembers and reminds that being able to move in the darkness
gives a person the knowledge of light, beyond any doubt,
and that every form of life that does not say yes to love and to life's energy
creates cycles of fear and suffering that do not cease.
Women are spiritual beings.
The physiology and psychology of the woman and her femininity
derive from - and reach out
to the spiritual entity that she is.
We are in a journey of elaborate oneness.
Feminine wisdom. The mystery and the primordial yearning women carry,
create a deep
communion with the Divine.
We feel this, remember that in our physical being, carry in ourselves the past, the present
and the future of humanity and long for divinity and oneness on each level of body, mind and soul.
Proposals for Action
The general aim of these lines of action is to echo a call to people to go back to being human, to know that love and faith in the human spirit works miracles and can transform the entire world.
• Issuing a call to Syrian women, inviting them to call the world together with us to act out of faith in the human spirit, acknowledging our ability to transcend the interests in the name of wisdom and beauty, whose time have come. We offer these to Syrian women, knowing that during times of crisis, fundamental transformation becomes possible. This transformation will inspire us all.
Together we will call for the establishment of a constitution that would enhance equality, human rights, environmental protection and restoration, democracy with civil laws and protection from misuse of power. The constitution will embody the government's commitment to the prosperity of all. The revolutionary constitution passed in Tunisia is an inspiration.
To demand the resources and legislation to establish a network of schools for girls, teaching them the new principles and the ways to live them out. Demanding the immediate return of all refugees exiled in the last three years from Syria.
• Identifying those with power who have the ability to influence leaders to stop the destruction and killing and in lieu thereof give up, knowing that certain things are over and will be no more and that to build anew is possible. Taking a clear stand for the transition in paradigms from a tyranny dictatorship to a life giving ru1e.
• Approaching influential women's groups, organizations and communities, inviting them to step up and take part in establishing the principles of the new.
• Formulating a call to world leaders to change the paradigm. This is not a recommendation but an immediate necessity.
• Calling women around the world to start indicating the new principles according to which the world will begin to act and speak out publicly, not condemning, but believing and creating new paths. From this the new will happen.
• Approaching a number of international players calling them to speak, create petitions and initiate a call for the intervention of the UN. The focus is on the transition from control and oppression to deep service, interconnection and oneness.
• Creating a manifesto indicating the principles that enable a new reality – based on Love and faith in the human spirit – to realize itself. Identifying ways to publicise, promulgate and sow this manifesto.
• Realizing that we women have a distinct and irreplaceable role in bringing about the new world. We suggest leading the establishment of a Women International Council. The Council will be responsible for the implementation of the new principles in the different parts of the world.
Ruth Bar-Shalev (Gur)
(I have withheld the email addresses and telephone numbers of these two women in case these could lead them into danger from those who might wish to harm or imprison them and wipe out this brave initiative).
I want to lose hope. And live.
l want to lose forever the hope that war will bring peace
I want to lose all hope that injustice will lead to justice
I want to lose forever the hope that destruction will lead to building
I want to lose forever all hope that one can be cruel and remain good
I want to lose forever all hope that one can kill and not be a murderer
Many of us already know that such hope is unfounded and leads to destruction, fear and
terrible pain. Few of us, if any, say so.
Some of us are silent from fear. Some of us from an apparent lack of an alternative.
That is why we march in cycles of suffering and death for years. We – parents, children and
Many of us already know that only trust creates confidence and only forgiveness leads to
The winning logic tells us it’s a danger to believe someone unconditionally and without limit.
Our concept of justice would often excuse the injustice and suffering incurred by us.
Let us return the people to their homes – the refugees, the mercenary army who fought with
unspeakable viciousness for three years against the civilians it was meant to safeguard.
Let’s say ‘enough’ to mercenaries and rulers lacking compassion.
Let’s stop our self-defense, because we already know that such protection, performed by
the best of people with hearts full of devotion, loyalty and love for country and people, brings
only more war and more blood.
Let’s allow ourselves to finally be defenseless.
Let’s go out this time to the Lebanese people, to the Palestinian people, to the Syrian
people and the Iranian people when we bring with us only uncompromising and
unconditional trust, thus dislocating their souls from war, death, fear and pain, with them
only asking for themselves joy, freedom and love.
Let’s believe they wish for it, as we wish it for ourselves, with all our hearts, all our souls and all our might.
Let’s believe that it is in their hands and ours, in the hands of the people, a man, and another man, and another man.
If necessary we will be disappointed and pained and meet refusal and anger, but we won’t leave.
In the absence of a path, we will invent a path — simple, human; an everyday path which gives life.
We will believe the other – who is one with me, and more than they believe in themselves.
More than we believe in ourselves.
We will tell them that. And recall that for ourselves.
When we do such things miracles happen.
The time has arrived.
Ruth Bar-Shalev (Gur)