period meme

I remember in Year 5, everyone’s parents got a letter in the post. It was something along the lines of:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Girlwiththafro,

As part of the St Jude the Fields personal development lessons, we will be screening a short video on sexual health and reproduction called “The Facts of Life”. Please return the slip attached to the letter below to indicate whether or not you are happy for your child to attend….”.

My Mum being who she is had already given me her own version of “The Facts of Life” at least a year earlier and so I sat smugly through the video, content in my 10 year old mind that I was EXTREMELY mature and aware. The video to my recollection was a fairly benign animation and I don’t remember much, apart from that I was completely unprepared for the ensuing carnage that puberty would bring.

Things they don’t tell you about periods:

1)It’s more blood than you think.

So we know the average woman doesn’t actually lose that much blood, it’s actually really the lining of your uterus shedding. Who cares? It’s red. We’ve all had that awful feeling of standing up after a lecture, date or dinner party and feeling the sudden gush between your legs as your period  has suddenly decided it’s had a nice break, but now it’s time to get back to work. If you’re lucky, you’re prepared and you’ve got a pad, a tampon, or a mooncup to catch the evidence of the slaughter. If you’re unlucky, you’ve just ruined a pair of Boux Avenue polyester knickers. Again.

2) It can smell.

No, it’s not the back of a meat market, just Anna at the other end of the office isn’t changing her pad as frequently as she should. There’s a distinctive and rather gross smell that can associated with period-ing, especially if you use pads (MOONCUPS GUYS, MOONCUPS). The worst bit about the smell is that really, most of us don’t want everyone to know we’re bleeding. Again. Period smell is like a Honda Civic blaring old school garage music through Lewisham High Street at midday. You can’t miss it.

3) The pain is comparable to childbirth.

I’ve never, and may never give birth, but no one can convince me that the period pain I had in 2008 wasn’t as bad a childbirth. I was literally on the verge of taking a kitchen knife, carving my own uterus out, and then just lying there as I bled to death. It would have been a perfectly reasonable response. No one tells you that there are actual women, women all around us who have eventually had to have their wombs removed because their periods were so heavy and the pain is so bad. Nope, they just say “Isn’t it wonderful, you’re becoming a woman!!!”

4) Your hormones can literally ruin life.

I know women who just before their period, practically sink into depression. I’m not joking – lack of motivation, suicidal ideation, unable to perform normal day to day tasks. Some women go on oral contraception just so that their month isn’t at the mercy of their fluctuating hormones. I used to scoff at women who kept claiming that their PMS was the cause of their once monthly erratic behaviour – but now I’m more sympathetic. Recently I found myself sitting on my bed, eating popcorn, crying hysterically, then as it dawned on me that my period was starting in two days, laughing hysterically. Madness I tell you, madness.

5) You’re expected to just get on with it.

If you think everyone will be sympathetic to the fact that your womb is playing squash in your pelvis, and disintegrating through your vagina, think again. Your new boyfriend will be sympathetic for the first 4 months and then after that, he’ll disinterestedly bring you an Ibuprofen and a hot water bottle and go back to watching the football. Your colleagues at work might well be more caring, but it’s really just luck of the draw. Even if your period pain is worse than Mike Tyson repeatedly biting at your ear, no one is going to take kindly to you taking a day off every.single.month.

6) You can have great periods.

So I’ve spent a few hundred words trashing them, but for some lucky women, it’s possible to actually have great periods. I’ve started trying to be more grateful when my period comes. If you have regular, relatively pain free periods, be thankful! Many women don’t get that chance and it’s probably a sign that you’re healthy and your body is working exactly how it should. In fact, for some women changing their eating habits, losing weight and getting better sleep can actually transform their entire menstrual cycle. So if, you’re having bad periods, don’t give up, see your doctor, do your research, and see if there are things you can do to have a happier period. Every month you’re reminded (not so gently?) of the fact that you can bring new life into the world! Isn’t that kind of amazing? No? Ok.

Have I left anything out? What do they not tell you about periods when you’re younger?

 

obama mic

As Obama enters the final hours of his 2 terms as president of the United States, social media, news outlets and  facebook feeds are buzzing. Many are heartbroken – they beleieve their country has traded in an articulate, outwardly progressive, intelligent man for someone who embodies an entirely opposing and distasteful set of values. They are fearful for the future.

People generally fall into two main camps with Obama. They love him or they hate him. A few fall into a more nuanced approach . Various marginalised communities measure his Presidency on what his policies specifically did for their community. In the African-American community, several community ‘leaders’ have been outspoken about the fact that Barack did not specifically target the black community with his policies or create any tangible change for them. Indeed, it’s arguable that black people in America and across the world are equally if not more disenfranchised, downtrodden and disrespected post Obama’s presidency as they were before it.

I speak as somewhat of an outsider being Jamaican-British and I acknowledge that it’s a lot easier for me to have an admittedly more impartial, but potentially less accurate analysis as someone who is largely  affected indirectly by American politics.  I will  hesistantly say though,  that I believe anyone who expected Obama to create any real change for the black community was somewhat delusional. Obama, despite the historicity, despite the tears and moments of pride, despite the cute family pictures and swaggalicious YouTube videos, is a politician. Western politicians, especially at senior levels of government, rarely get there by being completely radical and challenging privilege and power. They get there by acquiescing to it. They might appear, like Trump, to say radical things, but they will almost always either be part of or have to acquiesce to a capitalist white supremacist power structure. It doesn’t matter if they fist bump their constituents or tell them they’re building a massive wall to keep out the rapey Mexicans. At some point they will have to make a choice to play the game.

Obama, as the countries first black president had to be even more careful than any of his predecessors that he was playing the game correctly. He was bound by processes of power that meant that half of his congress had values that despite their protestations were  at least partially rooted in maintaining inequality and upholding white male privilege. He had the burden of not only failing himself, but failing the community. There was a burden of collective blackness that whether or not Barack Obama acknowledged, history would force him to carry. Most importantly, he did not win the election on a mandate of black power – the main groups who voted for him were liberal whites. Undoubtedly, black man and women galvanised around him, but the harsh reality is that a community with very  little economic power has very little political power.

I’m not excusing Obama.  He arguably did more for the LGBTQ community than he did directly for the black community. I agree with every analysis that suggests that he didn’t do enough about police brutality or reverse America’s legacy of destructive foreign policy or dismantle a cruel prison industrial compex. He wasn’t enough. I don’t know that America’s first black president was ever really going to be able to play the game and win if he was publicly seen to be considering the needs of his community as paramount in a country where a significant proportion of the population are deeply prejudiced. Simply put, it was never gonna happen.

Real change has rarely come from the top down, but from the bottom up. It’s the people at the bottom who don’t have enough power and privilege  to be  constrained by the courts and the congresses that can push till the top is forced to look down at them for fear of toppling over. It’s the people who have less to lose that often risk everything to try to change their existence. Desperation is often the fuel that changes societies, not comfort. We, black, white, poor, female , other were never going to find a saviour in Obama because had he had been the radical change you were looking for, he wouldn’t have made it that far.

I remember when Obama got elected for the second time. I watched my Dad, a jamaican man who had come to this country in the 1960’s, walked through the streets of Wolverhampton and had rubbish thrown at his head, stand in the corner of my living room and watch as Obama and his family walked out to a crowd of cheering peooe. I saw the emotion on his face. I saw my Mum’s smile when Michelle Obama spoke. And despite being my usual cynical self, I couldn’t deny the messure of pride and relief when I saw the first family. Entirely black, entirely seemingly in love with each other. Secretly, I wanted my own Obama – or at least what he respresented.

The enduring image from his presidency that I will remember is one of a little black boy touching the President’s head as he bent over in the Oval office. He just wanted to know that the President had the same hair he did. We will never know the countless number of black children across the world who were too young to understand the effects of foreign and domestic policy, but old enough to remember that yes, they can. They can be President. And despite the morality or immoralities of the Obama Presidency, that is in itself significant and enduring.

That’s what Obama’s Presidency meant to me. Not a  departure from neo-liberal values, not a politician that I put my faith and trust in, and certainly not someone who was going to usher in a new dawn of equality or progress.

The Bible says ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God, the things that are God’s. There are some things that belong to the power  structures of this world. Absolute truth, equity , justice, and complete freedom are not those things.Once we recognise that, we can accept Obama for what he was as well as what he wasn’t.

 

 

 

noy into you

Yesterday, I was watching a conversation online about Christian dating, and one of the men mentioned that feminism and the rise of feminism has made it increasingly difficult for men to be leaders in their homes. While I agreed with him to an extent, it got me thinking about how the word ‘feminist’ gets used in Christian culture, particularly in more conservative circles.

I’ve stated before that I don’t choose to identify as feminist but despite this, I’ve been called a feminist several times. The word is often lobbied jokingly by Christian men at me in any discussion about sexism but the undertone is always the same. It’s an undertone of dismissal and disapproval.

Essentially, calling a woman a feminist in any conversation about how Christian culture, church organisation  or congregations participate and encourage unhealthy and derogatory attitudes or behaviours towards women is an easy way to shut down conversation and encourage others to label the person as a ‘liberal’ or ‘heathen’. It’s an easy way to prevent someone from bringing any concerns to the table. It’s an easy (and often sexist and patronising) way to suggest that a woman has been ‘brainwashed’ by popular culture and is clearly spending more time reading Germaine Greer than her Bible.

Instead of being committed to the truth as taught in the Bible, a lot of Christian men are committed to wordly power structures that give them license to exercise the leadership that Jesus calls them to with little of the servanthood he embodies.

This is why a substantial amount of white  Christian men could find themselves voting and supporting a man who boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and has had several sexual assault claims against him. This is why pastors in positions of power within our church can take advantage sexually of female members and are excused by the majority male leadership of our churches. This is why the rate of spousal abuse and domestic violence are pretty much the same in evangelical circles as outside.

There appears to be a concerted effort in some Christian circles to abjectly deny that there IS a problem in Christian circles with gender bias and sexism. It’s a lot easier to write off any attempts to address these issues as ‘feminism creeping into the church’ than it is to actually interrogate how the church as well secular society have strayed from the Biblical ideal of male-female relationships.

Yes, the Biblical view of men and women is distinct and often at odds with what modern liberal media espouse in many aspects and I don’t expect some feminists reading this to be entirely happy with what I believe, but that doesn’t mean that our own practices have been perfect. Why do we find it hard to believe that Christian culture, which historically has subjugated and demeaned people for centuries on the basis of race, would still have a perfect practise when it comes to gender? Why would we even for a minute, in arrogance think that it is impossible for us to have also gone wrong when it comes to our treatment of women? The civil rights movement of the 60’s not only changed the world, but changed the church. We acknowledge that the impact of this could only have been positive in the ways that it caused the church to take a look at racial injustice within its ranks. We still have a long way to go with addressing racism within the church. Is it not then possible, that the feminist movement although imperfect in many ways, could allow us to examine the injustices of sexism within the church?

But it’s not about feminism.

Tenuous claims of protecting the faith against feminism is just your excuse for continuing and excusing behaviour that has no grounding in the principles of your faith, but rather the sexism you’ve been taught-  which unfortunately extends across religion and culture. I’m not talking about gender roles and whether the man should be the head of his household. I’m talking about you sleeping with 10 women but viewing a woman in church who has slept with 10 men as ‘loose’. I’m talking about women who have been taken advantage of sexually by pastors who command power in congregations where a significant proportion of women are single and lonely being labelled as ‘Jezebels’ who have ’caused God’s anointed to stray’. I’m talking about women getting disfellowshipped for pregnancies out of wedlock but Pastors who sleep with congregants simply getting moved to another district. I’m talking about women paying the majority of the churches tithe but being underrepresented in decision making processes. None of these things can be excused by any Bible text.

I’ve heard people say that as a church we should be committed to spreading the good news of Jesus rather than tackling minor issues like sexism within the church. While I agree that as Christian individuals and a community that the gospel is our priority,  the idea that other ‘minor’ issues will just sort themselves out without any concerted effort is extremely naive. We have had centuries of preaching the gospel without any real attempts to address these issues. The results of this has been that we’ve had people become Christians and then worship at segregated churches. We’ve had people become Christians and also suffer sexual abuse at the hands of a church deacon. We only have to look back at the history of 1000 years of preaching the gospel to understand that sometimes, specific problems need to be specifically addressed. Most importantly because these problems actually are a specific hindrance in our attempts to reflect Christ to the world.

So next time you start to use the word ‘feminist’ to shut down conversation, chuck that word out of your vocabulary. Instead, ask what you have been told to ask. Which is – is it Biblical, is it true, is it good, does it reflect Jesus? And whether it’s feminist or not, if the answer is ‘Yes’, then it deserves to be listened to.

 

 

fried chicken

 

I have to commend myself on my progress in my continuing quest towards enlightenment. 3 years ago at the tender age of 23  when I first started writing this blog,  I would have had a very different initial response to a viral video of a young black man taste testing fried chicken from various KFC imitation outlets.It would have been something along the lines of..“*rolls eyes* Yet again mainstream media picking up on every negative stereotype about black people, why has this idiot decided to go cavorting around London sampling wings and Fanta – can’t he find himself some kind of gainful employment and stop embarrassing us?

3 years later, my response is somewhat different.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, Elijah Quashie is rumored to be 23 (he will neither confirm or deny his age, perhaps he’s worried that taste testing Sam’s in air max’s  will be seen as juvenile?) and has  in the space of a week morphed into an internet sensation with his witty take on the quality of chicken, chips  and burgers in London’s many fast food shops. His youtube series the Pengest Munch shows Quashie, presumably filmed by one of his friends (man dem) sampling chicken from a different shop in each episode and rating their food offerings out of 5.

He is obviously charming, funny (‘burger sauce was a myth’)  and rather charismatic, not to mention innovative – he states that he was inspired by the ‘bald guy from Masterchef’, questioning why Greg Wallace’s opinion on food held any more gravitas than anyone elses, which inspired him to start his own series.

I’ve heard a bit of murmuring on the interwebs about the series promoting the same old tired stereotype about black people liking fried chicken and also a negative portrayal of young black men as lacking aspiration. Additionally, in a recent interview with ITV the chicken connoisseur perhaps performed the ultimate  negative stereotype – the interview ended with him pulling  gun fingers. In the past I would have probably agreed that not only was it embarrassing, but irresponsible on his part.

I’m not so sure anymore.

In fact,  I think that he said something particularly profound during the interview which was that he made the web series for people who eat like him, talk like him and live in his area. This wasn’t made for white mainstream consumption. Unlike some members of the black middle class who are forever obsessed with how they are perceived by the white mainstream and how the actions of inner city or working class (not necessarily mutually exclusive) black people reflect negatively on the race as a whole, Quashie’s  (initial) attitude completely ignored the white gaze. His initial audience was never the mainstream. He was making content for ‘his’ people. And ‘his’ people, are inner city, mainly black,  young people.

While I agree that mainstream media is a lot quicker to broadcast and give a platform for media that conforms to the same repetitive stereotypes of blackness, I would also argue that ‘educated’ black people often place the burden on black people of other backgrounds to carry the weight of how the race is perceived and in turn burden themselves by being embarrassed when in their eyes, the portrayal isn’t positive enough. Unfortunately, positive often means holding middle class white culture as aspirational,.Part of being black in a white supremacist society is that we  will all  be viewed via the lens of negative stereotypes – it’s inescapable. Part of living freely though,  has to be trying to live as unburdened as possible by these stereotypes. It’s exhausting to pretend to not like things you do like just for the sake of not conforming to stereotypes. A lot of young black people in inner city London do seem to like fried chicken. Weirdly enough, so do the white and Asian kids. I’m probably more concerned about what the quantity of deep fried wings is doing to Elijah’s arteries than I am to what it’s doing to reaffirm the stereotype about us and chicken.

A more important conversation that needs to be had is why inner city areas seem to be flooded with these cheap chicken shops and why healthy food is so overpriced and often scarce in these areas. It’s not true that young black people don’t care about their health.  A lot of young black people go to the gym, work out and aspire to look like an ‘Instagram baddie’ complete with flat abs and a rear end created by a million squats. They aren’t completely immune to the clean eating, soaked quinoa, fitness trend just because they live in Peckham. (I’m not even sure if Peckham counts as a black area anymore). When Caribbeans and Africans first came to this country, there weren’t an abundance of chicken shops and we definitely don’t own or start up most of them. The demand for this food isn’t really organic, the market has been created. I would love to see more conversation being generated about public health and health education and what we can do to create a more positive behaviours towards food in inner city areas.

In essence, there is room for more than one type of blackness and we need to let go of the idea that all aspects of inner city culture that other people might look down on are ’embarrassing’. The truth is, that like any culture, there are aspects that are negative and appropriately draw criticism. The truth is  that aspects of these inner city cultures are often co-opted, reworked and marketed to the mainstream without credit being given to the originators. The truth is that white people rarely feel embarrassed by what another totally unrelated white person does and we shouldn’t either. The truth is that Elijah Quashie is probably just living his truth. Which is that he likes fried chicken, and has eaten enough to be considered an expert. The truth is that as a vegetarian and health advocate, I’d rather he ate a lentil burger with a side of kale, but in all honesty, they probably don’t taste as…..well, peng.

sperm donor

Copyright: Creative Commons

A lot has happened since I last blogged. Well, one major thing has happened. Trump. Singular, but the magnitude of it means that a lot has happened.  I’m not writing about Trump though. There are a possibly a million think pieces already and I have plenty of thoughts but not any that I feel would shed any new light on the alternate universe we’ve found ourself in in which someone who only feels they need to be briefed on intelligence once a week because they think they’re ‘smart’, can be a viable candidate to run a superpower. I digress.

On Twitter (which  generates meaningful conversation more often than you’d think), I saw a back and forth about fatherhood. It started off as a series of tweets by a man about masculinity and black men needing to responsibility in order to build stronger families. Another man quickly responded, asking what the definition of family was,  suggesting that it was possible to have a family without a man, and that him not having a father didn’t prevent him from achieving in life and therefore “the broken family narrative is invalid”.

I could have ignored this as a one off – one young man with possibly unresolved emotions from having an absent father or who perhaps had a great family life despite his absence seeking to make sense of his situation by framing his father as an optional extra in his life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this idea that men aren’t ‘nececssary’ for a family.

Now, it’s quite obvious that there are many families that operate and possibly even thrive outside of the traditional Mum, dad. 2.4 kids template. As far back in humanity’s existence as you can imagine, families have been far more complex than the template. Whether it be children growing up with Grandparents, an Aunty,  5 cousins or a family friend-become-guardian. While this has always been the case, what’s new is the push from certain sectors of society for a radical shift in how we think about what contsitutes necessary or perhaps optimal family structure.

I listened to a podcast last year and I was slightly shocked when one of the women angrily stated that “she didn’t need a black man to have a family anyway”. She claimed that she had other options including adoption and sperm donation that meant that having to deal with black men (and I gathered, in her mind – any accompanying misogyny) was uncessary. I emphasise being only slightly shocked because some strands of feminism in particular, seem to be extremely comfortable with promoting this idea. Now granted, men can be stressful, generally ashy and a complete waste of breath. There have been times post-argument or rejection, where the idea of reproducing asexually has sounded infinitely more appealing than wading through the circle of fire that is the male ego. Despite this, in the cold light of day I’m under no illusion that a present and active male figure is anything less than optimal if I want to have a thriving and happy family.

Not only  is the idea that men are optional to a family structure  insulting to men, it’s harmful to women,  indeed, perhaps even to feminism and goes against all the evidence we have so far – both academic and anecdotal.

In a world where we’re increasingly being told by various factions that gender is a wholly social construct with no clear biological markers as well as scientific advances in artifical insemination, it’s unsurprising that people can lead themselves to believe or want to believe that men aren’t necessary for families.

Whiel I agree that we have made some essential progress in not treating women who are single parents like social pariahs or failures, on the other hand, in response to societies negativity towards single mothers particularly black single mothers, we have almost begun to regress into a ridculous narrative where we not only have accepted it as the new normal but seem to be promoting it?

There is a need to continually pushback against the idea that a household in which there is no male figure is a perfectly normal and acepptable state for over 60% of our children to grow up in. This isn’t societal progress, it is (and I mean it as dramatically as it sounds) a state of emergency. Research into outcomes for children from single parent families  is complex and the evidence as to the vastness of the difference in outcomes varies, but one thing is fairly undeniable – your chances of having poor outcomes increases. Very often we argue that boys need men, but just as importantly, girls need men. I needed my Dad, and i still do. My Dad even by sheer virtue of joining his income with my Mum as well as the myriad otehr inputs, enabled me to fulfilll all the feminist ideals of being an interdependent (catch that?), educated woman with a a confidence that lies in my abilities regardless of my gender.

Someone will ask, “would you rather have children grow up in dysfunctional, violent or abusive two parent households?”. Clearly, the answer to this is no. I would much rather a child grow up in a loving single parent household and not be exposed to constant arguing or potential domestic violence. I salute the single mothers that are doing the best they can. I acknowledge that just because parents aren’t together, does not mean that the father isn’t active in the childs life. As I get older I’ve come to terms with the fact that I myself may not necessarily get married but I still definitely would consider adopting a child. However, no matter how active a father or  a mother is individually  a functioning two parent household will always be the ideal. That isn’t what we need to question.

The question we do  need to ask ourselves is what are we NOT teaching our young people about relationships, about masculinity, about femininity that is allowing a situation to occure where so many relationships are unable to last the distance? What ideas about what it means to be a man are we teaching boys that means they can’t have successful relationships with women and vice versa?

Instead of acquiescing to a tide of broken homes, we can start having these conversations amongst ourselves. In our friendship circles, families, churches and mosques we can do the work. We can do the work of seeing  a counsellor to sift through our individual or relationship issues (I know being able to suggest that comes froma place of relative financial privilege), we can dig into the resources we have of the wisdom of older generations, asking them what worked and what didn’t. We can choose to reject media that constantly portrays and glorifies dysfunctional relationships for cheap entertainment.

What we can’t do, is allow our children to accept this new normal. It’s not normal.