2011 in feminist rage

Friday, 30 December 2011

After enjoying recapping 2010 in humourless feminism at the end of last year, I thought it would be great to make it an annual thing. 2011 has had more than its fair share of outrage, drama, facepalm moments and frustration. Here's a rundown of some of the issues that have made the most headlines - and why they've been causing so much trouble.

1) The Dominique Strauss-Kahn case

In May, when former IMF head Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a maid at a New York hotel, politicians and commentators in his native France rushed to defend him, painting the alleged incident as mere "philandering" by a "great seducer", insulting his accuser and even claiming that the disgraced politician was the victim of a conspiracy. In time, the maid - Nafissatou Diallo, had other aspects of her life picked over by the media (including one accusation of operating as a "hooker") and in August, the charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped thanks to a "concerns about the victim's credibility", and a supposed lack of conclusive physical evidence - despite earlier reports that proof against him was "substantial".

In the meantime, another woman had come forward to say that he had assaulted her some years ago. And since, Strauss-Kahn has admitted his behaviour with Diallo was "inappropriate" - although he maintains no force was involved. Whether an attempted rape happened or not, the whole affair raised significant concerns about the treatment of domestic workers and women of colour by privileged white men, and the stigmas associated with being the "wrong" race or class, especially when reporting a crime committed by someone more powerful and influential.

2) Conservative assaults on women's health and reproductive choice continue

Earlier this week Amanda Marcotte dubbed 2011 the year of "The War on Contraception". She goes into more detail about each individual attack on a woman's choice to use birth control in this article for RH Reality Check and it's when you say it laid out like this that you realise just how extreme things have become. Earlier in the year we saw Planned Parenthood and thousands of its supporters fighting back against proposed legislation which would have prevented its centres from providing services to women through federal health programs. With the drama level ramped up to 'verge of government shutdown', the Republicans finally gave up on their plans. But as the Department of Health and Human services announced plans to give women birth control without copays, anti-choice activists went on the attack again. 

2011 has also introduced the nightmare of what constitutes 'personhood', with Mississippi trying and failing to define fertilised eggs as 'persons' and Ohio attempting to ban abortions once an embryo's heart has started beating.

3) Misogynist abuse online hits mainstream media

Bloggers and those who frequent the comment sections of websites have been complaining about it for years, but it's only recently that the global media seems to have woken up to the fact that women actually get treated pretty appallingly online, simply for being women, in a way that men will never experience. Several high profile women, from politicians to journalists, "came out" in the press to talk about the abuse they've received, ranging from being patronised and silenced to being threatened with rape and stalked. In the following days, the issue received coverage like never before in a variety of countries. It was interesting to see so many people - male and female - shocked to see what women are put through all for having opinions, and I know it changed the way a lot of people see online interaction.

Some newspapers asked what could be done to combat the problem, and although I'm not sure how much of an effect any efforts will have (especially with increasingly stalkerish behaviour from men's rights groups happening), it feels like many have woken up to the reality of what women put up with from the internet.

4) Sports Personality of the Year forgets about women At the end of November, the BBC unveiled its shortlist of nominations for Sports Personality of the Year - and we were all dismayed to see that it featured no women. A supposedly "expert" panel of sports editors chose the shortlist, but while men who have had less than spectacular records this year made the grade, women who have been crowned European and world champions missed out.

While no-one wants women to be nominated purely for being women, the incident has highlighted the ridiculous lack of coverage, lack of recognition and dismissive attitudes that women in sport have to put up with. The only "exposure" they seem to get is when they pose in lingerie for men's magazines or "saucy" calendars, which I can guarantee is the only reason some of the GB Olympic team's women have been making headlines this week. The plus side of all this? Various sites and newspapers have been running features on the sportswomen they feel deserve more coverage. Will it force a change in the way the media treats women in sport?

5) What next for the women of the 'Arab Spring'?

The wave of revolutionary demonstrations and actions across the Arab world has provided some of 2011's most explosive news stories. The fight for human rights has been a central feature of the protests but in many countries, the women who took part have struggled for recognition and equal treatment - and there's concern that things will get worse as political systems are rebuilt, despite this year being hailed as the "Year of the Arab Woman". Today's women of the revolution want representation in government and a say in decision-making but worry that anti-Western feeling might create a backlash against women's rights and make things worse for them.

Take Egypt - thousands of women played a part in the revolution there, yet the country's new cabinet has been criticised for including just one woman. And in recent weeks, the news has been full of shocking reports of violence and sexual assault against women by police attempting to clamp down on protesters. This week, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Bachelet of UN Women have spoken out about such incidents and although the Egyptian military has made an apology, Clinton has also been accused of "interfering" in their business. It looks as if 2012 will be a crucial year for the women continuing to fight for their rights.

Honourable mentions:

- The ongoing coverage surrounding the rape charges against Julian Assange
- The global media interest and engaging of a new generation of feminists (with mixed results) achieved by the Slutwalk movement
- Everyone's least favourite MP, Nadine Dorries, (somewhat poorly) attempting to make "pro-life" and "abstinence" the newest buzzwords in UK politics

This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz. Image via The Opinioness of the World.

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