Friday, 27 September 2013

They Fuck You Up, Your Mum And Dad

They might not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you. The Elwell Press investigates the legacy of poor parenting and asks, are we compelled to forgive a parent that hurts us?

In the past, politicians railed against single mothers, blaming them for the decline of modern society. But which was worse – for one parent to be entirely absent, or for them to be present, permanently or periodically, casting a pall of intimidation and control over the household? You were a child, you reacted based on the developing emotional intelligence you had at your disposal. Maybe you hated them. Then hate turns to contempt, contempt to scorn, and scorn to pity. From there, pity may turn into a total absence of feeling, or it may become forgiveness.

Each had their own reasons for acting the way they did. Whether through mental illness, the scars of their own bad childhood, or countless other reasons, their behaviour was both damaging and incomprehensible to the people around them – maybe not through their own malice, but by the nature of their psychology. Because you’re a decent person, you tried to help as best you could. But you were never going to be able to fix their problems. Only they could do that.

This isn’t an excuse to insult or dismiss people with mental illnesses. Many mentally ill people make wonderful parents in spite of their conditions. But some parents, not deliberately but as a consequence of their illness and their circumstances, unwittingly provided home lives that were unstable, stressful, or frightening for their children. This article isn’t about them. Many people without mental health problems provide harmful environments for their children. This article is about those parents.

This article is about the parents that behaved disgracefully for no apparent reason; violent, controlling, abusive, uninterested, manipulative, neglectful, selfish, or fucked up in their turn, their behaviour was as incomprehensible as it was hurtful. Like many children in this situation, Laura felt she was responsible for her father’s erratic and spiteful behaviour, and felt like adapting her own actions would help heal the deep wounds.

“My father was never really around and when he was it wasn't a pleasant experience. I spent years as a child trying to fix the situation, trying to forgive him for leaving me and treating me so badly. I gave him far too many chances to change, but he never did. I’ll never forgive him for the way he treated my brother and I. I have severed all ties; I couldn’t stand the constant promises of change and the disappointment.”

The absent parent, whether dead or living separately, represents potential. They may be a saint, they may have loved us dearly, every moment could have wounded them like a knife to the heart. The present parent was no such benevolent unknown quantity. Their behaviour, even if erratic, was usually reasonably predictable. Perhaps there was a point when you decided your life was better without them in it. Perhaps they just disappeared one day, and you moved on. Either way, you haven’t seen them in years.

When you explain this to people, they ask you stupid questions. Who do you take your boyfriends to for approval? They’ll come to your graduation though, surely? Who will give you away when you get married? What will happen when you have your first baby? As if you need, or would even want, their presence at the high points of your life. When people say that cessation of contact is their loss, not yours, it’s these days that they’re talking about.

Natasha* hasn’t seen her mother in over fifteen years. “She tries to get in touch every now and then, but I don't ever want that woman in my life. I just can't bring myself to forgive her for how she treated me whilst I was growing up. I've had friends who understand and some who don't; even family pressure to forgive and forget. They tell me that she's changed. Whether she has or not, I can't forgive her - as far as I'm concerned there is no excuse for what she put me through.”

Young women in particular feel unusually pressurised to rebuild the familial bond, to forgive and make peace. Perhaps it’s the idea that women should be family-orientated, or the notion that weddings and births will bring the family together, or the desire of outsiders to see their idea of a happy ending made manifest in your life, even if you tell them that’s not what’s right for you. 
Whatever causes it, even people who know you well can still sometimes wish that you could make peace with the parent that hurt you, for your sake if not the parent’s.

Well, here’s a revolutionary piece of advice that therapists and self-help books won’t necessarily give you: you don’t have to. It’s okay; you don’t have to forgive them, to welcome them back into your life with open arms like nothing ever happened. Maybe you’re not even still angry, although no-one would blame you if you were. You just want nothing to do with them. It’s fair enough that you don’t want them in your life. That’s the really critical point; it’s your life. If you don’t like your job, you leave it. If you don’t like someone new you meet, you don’t see them again. And if someone you happen to be related to treats you like shit, why would you want to be around them?

The only person you really owe any loyalty to is yourself; sometimes, that’s the person we treat worst of all. You don’t have to forgive the person that hurt you, even if they’re your dad. You can walk away, start again, pretend they don’t exist. You can move on, refuse to follow their bad example, and define yourself. You can do better. You can do so much better.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

“It is a crime to be born a woman in India”

For - link to follow

In Hindi and Punjabi, the word for shame is “sharam.” Shame is a powerful concept, used to control and modify behaviour the world over. It’s the root of guilt, both religious and social, and some commentators suggest that it’s a weapon wielded against women particularly. Now the broadcast journalist Anita Anand is turning the shame on Indian society, saying “the Sharam is yours, unless you address the roots of these attitudes. The Sharam is yours, unless you treat women better from the womb to the grave. The Sharam is yours, if you hide away your daughters until the day they are married in response to these awful crimes.”

She speaks with reference to the rape and murder of an unnamed 23-year-old student in Delhi last December. The student was travelling home from the cinema with a male friend when she was set upon, gang-raped, mutilated with an iron bar, and thrown from the bus. Five men and one juvenile male were arrested. Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta were found guilty of both rape and murder and will be sentenced on Friday 13th September.  

Ram Singh, the ringleader who told police that the murder was necessary so their crimes would “not come to light”, was found hanged in his cell in March. The 17-year-old juvenile was sentenced to three years in prison; there was an international outcry over the perceived brevity of the term, but this case is exceptional; in India, it takes between six and eight years on average for a rape case to come to court, and the conviction rate is four per cent. It’s estimated that there are currently 90,000 rape cases pending trial in the Indian court system.

The student’s father condemned the existing culture with the words “It is a crime to be born a woman in India,” and Anita Anand illustrates just how accurate this is: “They are the same words uttered by a woman police officer who was dragged from her car just over two weeks ago, while making her way to her sister's funeral. She was gang raped by men wielding axes in Jharkhand state in eastern India. They are also the words used last week by social activists, after a six-year-old girl, who was locked in a room and repeatedly raped by a 40-year-old man, was forced by a council of elders in Rajasthan to marry the eight-year-old son of her attacker.”

It’s understandable, then, that so many victims grow impatient or mistrustful of the legal system. Shortly before the student’s case came to trial, the Times Of India reported the case of a rapist, Raju Vishvakarma, burned to death by his victim after visiting her home to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. His victim had invited Vishvakarma there after he was released on bail, but when he arrived she and her brothers doused him in kerosene and set him alight. The unnamed rape victim is being charged with his murder, although her actions met with widespread support and approval on Twitter. A series of gang rapes in a disused mill in an affluent area of Mumbai have also provoked public condemnation and anger.

Rape in India is, beyond a doubt, a sensitive and vital subject. It’s also a difficult subject for white, Western feminists to discuss without accusations of privilege and racism. All the good intentions in the world can’t replace dialogue and the voice of experience, and history has shown – and is showing us still – that inflicting one worldview onto another country will never be easy or wise. It’s possible, and it is to be hoped, that this case marks a sea change in women’s rights in India and beyond. Women everywhere deserve better treatment than this, and Western feminists must support Indian feminists in any way they can.

In February 2009, the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women launched the Pink Chaddi campaign – mailing pink underwear in protest to a religious leader who threatened to marry any young couples found together on Valentine’s Day. The Blank Noise project targets street harassment – known as Eve Teasing – in the same way that Every Day Harassment and Reclaim The Night do, and introduced the Safe City Pledge in response to the December 2012 rape case. And most strikingly, Save The Children India has launched Save Our Sisters, an anti-violence campaign featuring images of the goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga bearing cuts and bruises.

Indian feminists know what needs to happen, even though the cultural obstacles may seem almost insurmountable. Women’s rights are changing globally, making huge leaps forward, even in countries where cultural relativism seemed to excuse such inequalities. Saudi Arabian feminists such as Wajeha al-Huwaider called for domestic violence laws, and this August saw the introduction of the nation’s first DV legislation. Change is possible, change is achievable, and change is inevitable. As feminists, it’s our job to lend our support to projects worldwide that endeavour to improve lives of women everywhere.