Women… Beyond the body parts
With another International Women’s Day gone and done, it is hard not to think about a couple of debates that have taken the social media by storm last week. Debates involving British PM Theresa May and her legs, actress Emma Watson and her boobs, Big Brother Africa contestant TBoss and her genitals.
For those of us who may have missed one or more of these debates, here’s a quick recap.
Samantha Cameron, caused an outrage when she referred to Theresa May’s “fantastic legs”. Successful businesswoman and former PM David Cameron’s wife was speaking to The Sunday Times about her new range when she admitted: “She looks great. Good for her. Well, she’s got fantastic legs. She’s got great legs. She wears it well.” Cue instant indignation. Some elements on social media were irate as they felt Cameron had slighted May by reducing her work to a “fantastic pair of legs”.
Emma Watson caused a furore with her Vanity Fair shoot which saw the actress show a cheeky bit of under-boob and found herself in the firing line of those who questioned if a woman can you bare her breasts and still be a feminist. The U.N. Ambassador said in response she was confused by the reaction, adding, “Feminism is about giving women choice; feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.”
While Emma was busy defending the sight of her breasts infuriating the masses, another woman far far away, TBoss was lying defenceless in the Big Brother house as fellow housemate inappropriately touched her. Despite the footage of the act, there were still many on social media questioning TBoss’s morality, with some going as far as victim-blaming with the familiar phrase, “She was asking for it.”
As the day was nearing its end, I saw images on social media from the Women’s Day march in my native Istanbul, Turkey as thousands of women walked down Istiklal Street demanding equal pay, equal treatment, equal rights. Having grown up in Istanbul, a city where a woman had to think about what she wore, which route she would take home once the night fell, how many hours she would be allowed on a night out before it would no longer be safe to hit the road.
One of the banners, “Did you ask the rapist what he was wearing?” struck a note and took me back to just before Christmas when my cousin and her family had to leave our festive meal out in a rush as they had heard news of a close friend’s sister who was visiting from Germany being in an accident. It was a few days later we found out that there was in fact no accident. The Germany-based 21-year-old who was in Istanbul for her year abroad had not only been thrown off a 12ft wall but been violently raped shortly after she had taken a shortcut just five minutes away from her halls of residence. This incident took place only 15 minutes away from Istiklal Street, the same street women claimed as their own on the night of 8 March.
Oh the irony! For just one night, on the night of International Women’s Day women could walk down at midnight demanding equal rights the streets they would be wary to amble along after dark.
The same irony that makes brands release fancy campaign videos celebrating women’s strength, or men talk of women’s rights and equality, that makes the world stop and take note, only for everything to go back to normal for the rest of the year. The normal? A world where we obsess non-stop over Theresa’s legs, Emma’s boobs and TBoss’s genitals.
In a recent interview with Red magazine, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “I remember a friend of mine in Nigeria saying to me, ‘Nigerians are saying, how can you do this when you’re a feminist?’ The idea that I’m being questioned as a feminist if I’m doing a beauty commercial? There’s something really wrong with that. The idea is that femininity and feminism are mutually exclusive is nonsense.”
This is possibly the best response to both the camp questioning Emma Watson’s feminism at the slightest hint of an underboob and the camp offended on British PM’s behalf that she is more the sum of her “fantastic legs”.
As for TBoss’s case, and many others like her, we will become the society we dream we are every 8th of March the minute we stop questioning the victim of a sex crime and equating the virtue of a woman to what is within the span of her head than what is in between her legs.
We will all be feminists the day we stop dissecting female bodies under the sharp male gaze see them.