April 2008

What is the consequence of giving Woman to Man?

What is the consequence of placing an individual at the head of a closed family, of giving him authority to rule and guide his family, the family that is his?

What is the consequence of giving Woman in submission to Man? Of placing children, his children under his absolute care and control as the head of his household?

What is the consequence of empowering Man and, as a corollary, disempowering his family, his woman, his children? Allowing him to rule and guide through the mechanisms of submission, obedience – control.

Is it, sometime, abuse? Could we, perhaps, expect that abuse will happen almost inevitably as a result of such a family structure?

So should we be surprised if, sometimes, the consequence is that a man in control of his disempowered family can lock up a daughter in a place where nobody can hear her scream or see her bleed? That he can keep her there, utterly dependent on him for survival, a prisoner for twenty-four years, twenty-four years, as he rapes her and rapes her and rapes her. Repeated sexual abuse my arse. He raped and raped and raped his own daughter. Should we be surprised that he could impregnate her repeatedly, and keep her imprisoned, alone through her pregnancies and labours, imprisoning her children with her, the children of his rapes and rapes and rapes – should we be surprised that this happened? Horrified, yes, of course horrified. But can we really be surprised that this happens?

Should we be surprised that a man capable of such systematic, long term abuse, such cleverly designed, coldly planned cruelty can keep his abuse a secret? From neighbours, friends, associates. From his own family, his own wife, the people living in his house, with him and his imprisoned daughter and his imprisoned (grand)children, the fruit of his shocking, incestuous rapes… is it really so surprising that a man who can do this to his daughter and his (grand)children can control his other family members to the extent that they also knew nothing of what he did in the basement.

How he did it we can only speculate. Perhaps he ruled them with terror, perhaps with violence, perhaps with drugs or alcohol, perhaps he wore them away until they lost themselves and didn’t know even so much as the day of the week. We can only guess.

Why he did it is not guessable – we can say no more than that he did it because he could.
Why is it that he could?
See above.

Or, to put it another way: what about the wife, eh? The mother! How could she not have known what was going on in her own house? You can’t keep something like that secret from your wife! She must have known. It just seems so terrible, her own daughter. Mm. Hey, did you see O’Sullivan’s 147 last night?

Such things hollow a person out.


“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.”

Something clicked while I was playing in the bath with Ariel this evening. We were pretending to be at the beach, making sandcastles with my trusty yellow bathjug standing in as a bucket. Ariel could barely even wait for me to lift up the jug-bucket before she was enthusiastically splatting my imaginary sandcastle and yelling with glee – “I broke it down mummy! I splatted it all over the place!”

And I remembered some theory I had read somewhere* about how young children destroy things because, not having the skills to create, they enjoy destruction instead as a way to feel powerful and thereby align themselves with the grownups. The idea is that children (unless they have had a very liberal education and a very sheltered existence) will generally see adults as powerful and themselves as powerless. Because they experience their powerlessness as oppression, they want to become powerful and so they enact power in their games, practising in earnest for the power they crave. An adult builds a tower, a child knocks it down.

If I remember rightly, the author proceeded on the basis that once the child has learned to create – to build wonderful towers of its own – the child will enjoy creating far more, as the more adult (and so more powerful) occupation, and leave off destruction as the mindless splatting of its (powerless) infancy.

Of course, it may not work like that. Maybe the child is encouraged to enjoy destruction and not to reach towards creativity. Maybe destruction is modelled to that child in the home, in the school, in the media, in the world. Maybe the joys of creation are never even seen or approached, let alone taught. Destruction is so easy, there is such a satisfyingly powerful thrill – perhaps it is an addiction – and creativity is a slower, more careful, more patient activity, taking time and skill and effort. A slow pleasure, with pride and joy to be had, but no dramatic climax. The difference between midwifery and Caesarean – or something like it.

And I began to wonder, in the warm water, in a flight of monthly connectedness, whether it is as simple as this: as simple as the possibility that men** have – to borrow from an old, old saw – womb envy. They feel that they cannot create life, they see that women can create life – the ultimate creativity. Lacking the ability to create, they take pleasure instead in destruction… especially in the destruction of the creatrix… because it makes them feel powerful, because by destroying us they are stealing our power for themselves. Maybe the child that is/was mankind feels that it has been always kept out of creation, maybe it has felt that way for thousands of years…?

Obviously it isn’t as simple as this. But suddenly, in the bath, the connectedness of creativity, destructiveness and power come together, in a viscous glob – as the destructive powerlust of those who cannot create. Of those who cannot create – life.

Which all leads to the obvious question: would men be happier if they used compost toilets? What comes from their bodies, nourishes the land, and food grows. Could compost toilets change the world?


*I am pretty sure it was in Bertrand Russell’s “On Education” (1926) but I don’t think I have the book any more so I can’t check the reference.

** Tiresome, I know, but I feel I should point out that I don’t mean “men” etc as meaning all men or any particular men but only as broadly referring to constructed masculinity. Or something.

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Today, I am annoyed by all the talk of how awful it is that protesters are “ruining” the Olympics with all their stunts aimed at disrupting the Grand Olympic Torch Parade (or whatever they call it) and calling attention to oppression and human rights abuses in China, particularly (in light of recent events) in Tibet.

Oh, yes, of course we live in a democratic society and have freedom of speech – of course you have the right to protest… but must you spoil our torch ceremony? must you sour the Olympics for the thousands, nay millions, of complacent sports fans around the world who just want to watch some running and jumping and stuff? must you undermine, like, the whole Olympic movement by these divisive protests? what would happen if we protested every time the Olympic Games were to be held in a country accused of human rights abuses? every country in the world commits human rights abuses! can’t we all just get along?

Demonstrations and protests and strikes are just fine and dandy, they are a fundamental right in any democratic society, our values of freedom are what make Britain Great…

But only as long as they can easily and safely be ignored, only as long as they don’t cause any annoyance or inconvenience to those who don’t share your concerns, only as long as they are meaningless, pointless and ineffective. Heaven help you if you actually have any impact.

In other words – protesting is only OK if you don’t upset anybody.
In other words – mixing sport and politics is only OK if the host nation does it.
In other words – human rights abuses happen everywhere so just STFU about it, OK?

But it’s not just about whether these protesters have a point or not. I am just incoherent with exasperation at the selfish, short-sighted whingers who complain not particularly that the protesters are wrong in their aims, but that they shouldn’t be protesting at all. No matter how worthy their cause, it cannot justify ruining a (frankly, dumb) torch ceremony. What?!

In any case, personally, if I had the choice between cancelling the whole Olympic Games (never mind just the torch waving preliminaries) forever or stopping human rights abuses in China forever, I think it would be a no-brainer. I would make the trade, and then start to look round for a sporting jamboree that I could cancel to stop FGM.

With China, it’s not just about Tibet: it’s about forced abortion and sterilisation, it’s about massive public corruption, it’s about systemic injustice and lack of access to justice, it’s about censorship and fear and oppression, it’s about the death penalty practised both secretly and on a scale unknown in any other country in the world.

It’s not just about Tibet. But even if it were – large-scale human rights abuses? or a couple of weeks of sport? What level of disconnect does it take for a person to criticise those who protest the fact that China has been given, and is using, a huge PR opportunity whilst at the same time sticking two fingers up at the whole “Olympic values” movement of harmony between peoples? Must we promote harmony by ignoring China’s state-sponsored wrongdoing? Turn a blind eye and everyone will be happy? But isn’t that the whole point? Turn a blind eye to the abuses and the abuses will continue, they will escalate. Turning a blind eye, pretending everything is fine, letting China have its glorious Olympics – it may make us feel less uncomfortable, help us to avoid thinking about where we are and why – but that is, as sure as eggs are eggs, not what the Olympics is, or should be, all about.

And if we are still in Iraq in four years’ time – or still in Afghanistan – or mixed up in some fresh war – we can expect more of the same for London 2012. I hope.

Look what we woke up to this morning!

Ariel and I went out to make a snowman and chuck snowballs – I don’t think she’s ever seen or experienced proper snow before, and she was completely delighted. After we built the snowman we knocked it over and jumped up and down on the snow.

It has been very strange weather today. One minute it is warm and sunny, the next minute the sun goes behind a cloud and everyone’s shivering – sun comes out – starts snowing – sun back out again – chillly for a bit – sun – hail shower – snow – sun – and so it went on. Talk about April showers!

This is what we all got up to on the allotment yesterday – although I took the picture *today* during one of the sunny spells (my camera battery had run out yesterday):

We finished clearing, digging and manuring the third bed.

We also dug over both the first two beds, planting potatoes in the far one, and starting off some asparagus in the middle one. There is one row of asparagus, leaving half of that bed free for salad or something this year, with the idea of possibly adding more asparagus in that space next year. We also put a tayberry (nearest camera) and blackcurrant (farthest) in the “bit” left over from where we dug the asparagus bed too big. Everything we planted got covered in straw because the weather forecast was for snow and frost and things so we wanted to keep their feet warm. 🙂

Meanwhile, back at home today I’ve started mangetout, purple sprouting broccoli and pumpkins for the allotment, all from seed – and I’m having a go at some thyme from seed for my own garden, as well. I have a bunch more seeds which I haven’t yet started including “normal” (green) broccoli, dwarf beans, baby carrots, brussels sprouts, and okra (and, again, a variety of herbs for home). I also have calendula – marigold – which I bought on impulse because it is pretty and I had heard somewhere that it is a good one for companion planting because it attracts the nice insects or something. I’m not sure we will have space or energy to do all these for this season, especially as we also plan to do courgettes, normal carrots, sweetcorn, runner beans, peas, leeks, tomatoes and probably some other things I have forgotten.

It’s all so exciting!
Yesterday I was even hyped up while digging the trenches for the potatoes…

Oh, and tonight I made a veggie lasagne and (apart from courgette, tomato, onion, non-stringy celery and aubergine, most of which Ariel pretty much refused to eat) loaded it with home-sprouted mung beans, and garnished it with cress and rocket thinnings, both also home grown – super yummy. Ariel sucked off the sauce from a bean sprout and pronounced that she liked them because the bean end looked like a nipple, and then proceeded to hunt through her dinner saying “oh look mummy I found another nipple” every 15 seconds. She had me doing it after a while, as well, so I think mung bean sprouts might now be renamed nipple sprouts in our house. Oh dear.

What else? I planted my own potatoes at home (and covered them with soggy cardboard as a temporary frost protection). My american land cress, perpetual spinach and spring onions have all germinated, along with some of the mixed salad leaves – although now I think about it, maybe the onions haven’t. The others definitely have though! And I made a raised bed planter for my blueberries and planted them out. I’m experimenting with coriander too – apparently if you just chuck the seeds from your kitchen onto some soil and water them, coriander will grow. I’ve put some in the ericaceous compost in with the blueberries and some in another planter nearby, one I’ve had for ages and never given any TLC (it will become home soon to the herbs I am growing). I suspect that neither of these is especially suitable for coriander but I didn’t have anything else prepared so that’s where it ended up.

I feel – quite literally – full of the joys of spring.

Ariel and I were there for a good six hours today, working at least as hard as we did on the first day, but although I am pretty tired I am not completely shattered in the same way I was then. This is good – I must be getting stronger, or something 🙂 I didn’t intend to stay for so long but we were both having a good time, so we stayed until the food ran out and hunger drove us home for pizza.

Here is the work for today:

Apart from an hour or so contribution to the clearing operation, I didn’t have a lot to do with clearing, digging and manuring the second bed (further side in picture), because I was too busy organising a makeshift compost bin*, laying the remaining cardboard paths and entertaining children… but I’m going to claim credit for the work so far on the third bed (foreground) since I did most of the clearing and all of the digging by myself after everyone but me and Ariel had gone home. 🙂 You would not believe the amount of couch grass I pulled out and although I think I got pretty much all the big roots there are hundreds of little roots remaining. I am a bit stressed about couch grass right now!

[* We spotted an old cheapwood filing cabinet being slung out over the road, so we dragged it over, levered out the drawers, and lay it down. By the end of the day it was completely full.]

Here is a view of the plot after Day 2 – which compares quite satisfyingly with the view after Day 1!

NB the second bed has a path down the middle because we changed our minds about how big it should be after digging it, and moved the path!