The day today: from female genital mutilation to segregated buses

// 21 January 2008

As a journalist, I understand the desire to tell stories, be fair and get access. But I felt sick to my stomach when I happened on this story in the New York Times – accompanied by a totally inappropriate slideshow of photos showing girls in Indonesia undergoing female genital mutilation.

Not that this shouldn’t be covered, but romantically lit photoessays of girls screaming in pain while having their clitoral hood – or possibly clitoris – removed are just not acceptable.

Here’s an exerpt from the equally inappropriate feature:

When a girl is taken — usually by her mother — to a free circumcision event held each spring in Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her genitals. Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds.

Do you remember Israel’s segregated buses? Basically they serve ultra-Orthadox communities. Although they are unmarked, men sit in the front of the bus and women are expected to keep to the back.

Women who refuse to move in the back have been verbally and physically abused.

According to CNS News, the Israeli supreme court is to hear a petition from women who protest this practice.

All to the good, but I do have some qualms about what they are calling for:

The petition requests that bus service on these lines be suspended until a survey determines if they are necessary. If the lines are determined to be necessary, the petition asks that the mehadrin buses be marked; that rules regarding expected behavior be clearly posted; and that provisions be made to protect women from abuse, Ragen said.

Surely they should be pushing for the bus to stay, and for the bus company to make sure that women are free to sit where they like without abuse?

Jezebel uncovers brutal misogyny in the world of celebrity blogs. Drunken Stepfather dedicates a whole post to explaining why actor Rachel Bilson “is just one of those girl you’d see in the club and totally want to slip the date rape drug into her drink”. Warning, don’t click through if you don’t want to read an extended rape fantasy.

He manages to throw some anti-Semitism in there too, just to round it all off:

She made me watch a Zach Braff whiney Jew movie just to see her in one sex scene

In Thailand, flight attendents are protesting a TV show that depicts them spending all their time fighting over men.

I promised some good news, didn’t I? Well, The Telegraph reports that the government is going to take action against sexist careers advice in schools, which directs girls and boys into jobs that fit traditional gender roles:

At present, half of women who take up apprenticeships are training to be care workers, nursery assistants or hair and beauty specialists. Apprentices in sectors such as construction, the motor industry and engineering are mostly male.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said: “I want more young women being encouraged and supported to have a career in engineering and more young men being encouraged to have a career in child care. It won’t suit everyone but it’s important to consider all the options.”

Of course, the Torygraph can’t resist slotting in some comment from a man called Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University:

It is certainly important that boys and girls should not be put off things that they like and are good at for stereotypical reasons. However, it is also important to accept that boys and girls are different and many will choose to live their lives differently.

“If a boy wants to do nursing and a girl wants to do engineering, they should be encouraged to do so but we don’t want to be steering children to fit some picture of an ideal society.

I’m just adding this in to point out that the problem with the current set up is not only that it narrows career-options for both girls and boys, but that jobs associated with women are typically paid much less than those considered a male domain.

As an addendum, the Daily Mail reports that a feminist group called The Sarah Conner Charm School’ is among those protesting the choice of a less-than-buff actor to play the Terminator character in the new TV series.

The role was first made famous by iron-pumping Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Hamilton turned the character into a “butt-kicking inspiration to millions of women,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

But now a critic writing for the paper says: “Some who worship at the altar of Sarah Connor detect heresy in the casting of Headey, who’s healthy-looking and attractive but not exactly Ms Olympia.”

British feminist and novelist Bidisha echoed the group’s concerns.

She said: “I am shocked to find out that the producers are clearly sanctioning a new, weedy silhouette in such an iconic and genuinely groundbreaking role.

“There are two issues here: having a toothpick-thin, feeble-looking Sarah Connor is a crime against the iconography of the character; and presenting a clearly emaciated actress as a heroine is a crime against women.”

While I get the point, and sort-of agree, I really don’t like the way that this yet again focuses on a minute dissection of what a specific actor’s body looks like, and whether it meets the criteria of acceptability.

Incidentally, has launched a specific vlog just to discuss this show. You can see the first episode here

Have Your say

Comments are closed on this post

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds