The masculinity of violence

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photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/685462005754608020/

I just popped into the bank to put some money into an account, and it ended up being a bit of a weird and uncomfortable experience. I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the hot July streets of Madrid and felt the cool whir of the air-conditioning touch my sweaty little face. I walked up to the machine.

Hey’ an angry voice said a couple of inches from my ear. I looked up in surprise to see a man of about 40 years old staring directly into my face. ‘I was here first.’

‘Oh,’ I said, genuinely surprised. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see you’

He scoffed and elbowed me aside to get the machine.

Hey’ said a less angry and more bewildered voice, also male. It was another customer in the bank. ‘There is another machine right beside her.’

Clearly, I hadn’t pushed in after all. Man 1 mumbled something inaudible with his back to me. I repeated, ‘there’s another machine just there.’ Man 1 looked me up and down and raised his eyebrows, to show me he didn’t give a toss whether or not there was another machine, and he started using the machine he had pushed me away from. I stood there for a couple of minutes in surprise before I walked to the second machine.

Man 2 opened his mouth to say something but I shook my head at him, and smiled to show it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to ‘cause a scene’ as us women are so often accused of doing when a man exerts power over us.

Man 2 and I left the bank at the same time and he looked quite upset. ‘He was just a dickhead.’

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘but I don’t think that would have happened if I wasn’t a girl.’

This is a small example of a man who belittled me and made me feel I had to back down, even though the tension was caused completely by him and was not my fault. He created a problem, and then made me feel that I had to keep quiet in order to keep things running smoothly.

But you know what? Billions of women are biting their tongues and smiling at a billion stupid little things every day, and it really does get quite tedious.

What’s the big deal? Perhaps you might ask. This guy was rude, but has it really got anything to do with gender?

I would argue that yes, it absolutely does. You see, I am reading a book at the moment called ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ by Rebecca Solnit and it is really helping me see the big picture when these small aggressive acts take place.

In her chapter called ‘The longest war’ she explains the masculinity of violence, something which no one really seems to be talking about. For fear of being called a feminazi bra burner? Perhaps. Solnit explains that there are many lovely and kind men who are allies to women. For example, Man 2 could see that something wasn’t right and he spoke up and tried to help me.

However, there is a very clear and serious link between masculinity and violence against women that needs to be addressed. Solnit explains that there is ‘a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked’ and that ‘violence doesn’t have a race, class or religion, but it does have a gender.’

She explains that nearly all the perpetrators of violent crimes are men. That doesn’t mean that all men are violent. Most aren’t and many also suffer violence, though it is generally at the hands of other men. Of course, women also can be violent but the statistics do tell us that in the cases where women are involved in violence, particularly that against men, the consequences are not as grave and it rarely leads to serious injury or death. What’s more the majority of men who are killed by their female spouses are actually done so in self-defence

As Rebecca explains violence is all about exercising control over another person, showing them that you are more powerful than them. So, it is a serious human rights issue that a woman is beaten by her husband every 9 SECONDS, in America alone. Of the 2 million women that are beaten every year, 145,000 require overnight hospitalisation.

Violence is a form of control, and murder is carried out by men a shocking 90% of the time.

Like I explained, not all men are violent. Most men are kind are good and allies to women. However, it cannot be denied that violence is intrinsically linked to masculinity and if we don’t address this head on I don’t see how we can ever make progress towards a safer world for all people.

It does matter that the man in the bank pushed me away from the machine, because he was taking my power away. And, like society has taught me to do, I bit my tongue and smiled to avoid conflict, rather than recognising what he was really doing to me. He wasn’t really being rude in the bank, he was really showing me that he believed he had the right to control me and hold power over me.

Solnit explains how this kind of toxic idea that has been created in our society leads to the same death toll as for 9/11 every 3 years. But the women being murdered by men is a war on terror that we aren’t having. What’s more, this is a trap that not only disempowers women, but also traps men. We cannot really be free until we address this structural power dynamic which is effecting us all.

Thank you so much for reading. I really recommend reading the book ‘Men explains things to me,’ which was very enlightening, accessible and short. You can get it on amazon here

An illegal referendum and police brutality: what’s going on in Barcelona?!

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Credit: news.vice.com

What happened?

Catalan is a wealthy region in North East Spain. It recently had a ‘referendum’ so that people could vote on whether they want to continue to be part of Spain or set up their own nation set apart from Spanish control. They have a very strong culture including their own language.

The Spanish government called this referendum illegal and ‘a mockery of democracy’ (BBC), because they had not agreed to it and do not want Catalan to separate.

Following this, police were brought in to try and stop the referendum happening, which led to 900 people being injured. Police reportedly used unnecessary force.

Protesters think this is a gross violation of freedom of speech. Whether it was legal, the people only wanted to file a piece of paper… so the police response has shocked the world.

Currently, thousands of people are protesting in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, against both the refusal of Spanish government to legalize their referendum, but more importantly to condemn the response of the police.

Why did it happen?

Part of the reason people want independence comes down to history. Spain had a dictator called Franco who oppressed and murdered many people. He strongly believed in centralism (one big state) so people now wanting to separate from Spain could be a part of a reaction to this, particularly older people who remember having family members killed.

The issue of independence is highly political in Spain and is very decisive. Barcelona and Real Madrid football matches have become more and more political, with people associating the games directly with the struggle between Catalonia and the Spanish State.

How is the British media responding?

In terms of social media, it hasn’t been too hot on UK trends. This could be partly due to other horrific acts of violence happening at the same time. Such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas where 59 people were killed and hundreds injured by a lone shooter. Of course, if he was brown there would be an uproar from Trump and his men, but he was white so it was a ‘tragedy’ and not an act of ‘terrorism’ from an American news perspective.

The BBC provides more detailed information about the reasons behind the protests, highlighting the 900 people injured by police, including women being dragged out of polling stations by their hair and rubber bullets being used to prevent people voting.

How is the Spanish media responding?

The Spanish news is less prepared to mention the reasons behind the protests, or to engage about the issue of police brutality.

People are reported by RTVE to be shouting ‘este edificio será una biblioteca’ (this building will be a library) outside government buildings in the area,  highlighting the passion and intensity of the protesters, and the fact they consider government intervention ‘Spanish interference,’ and see themselves (Catalonia) as a different place.

Highlighting this chant could lead readers to empathize  more with the police, as the passion and intensity behind these words suggests that the protesters were a bit of a mob, rather than normal people expressing their desires through an unapproved vote.

As of yet, an apology for the violence being carried out by the police has not been issued by the Spanish government. According to  RTVE , the huge protests now being experienced in Barcelona are linked to ‘the way the police acted’ but the mainstream news company does not highlight the number of people injured, or condemn police or government actions in any way.

What now?

90% of people who voted in Catalonia wanted independence, but turn out was only 40% because so many polling stations were shut down and roads were closed by the police so it’s hard to say how much this reflects the will of the people.

Protesters continue to occupy the streets in thousands but the Spanish president comes across as uncompromising – blaming the Catalonia decision to hold a ‘false referendum’ rather than police response as the reason for violence.

Mansplaining, womansplaining, or just plain rude?

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credit: Kaye Blegvad

‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’

I first heard that quote a couple of weeks ago and it really spoke to me. You see, I am a person who thinks a lot about women’s rights and I am occasionally met with quite hostile responses by some men.

I write about why we need feminism, the structural nature of violence against women, and I ask why only 12% of women think they are attractive (irish times) (and why we are made to believe our ‘beauty’ should even matter!)

I recently read Solnit’s ‘Men explain things to me’ in which she spoke about the concept (that she coined herself) – mansplaining.

Solnit was telling a gentleman about a book she had recently written and he smirked at her smugly ‘did you know a very important book was written on that except same subject recently’

Yes. It had. It was her bloody book you patronising moron.

You know what hurts the most? That Solnit hesitated. An educated, experienced woman who had spent years researching for a book and she didn’t immediately realise this trollop would be talking about her book. She thought ‘oh god how did I miss that a similar book has just come out.’

You see us women are very good at doubting ourselves. In Jess Phillips’ fantastic book called ‘One women’s truth about speaking the truth’ she explained that a woman wouldn’t feel qualified enough to apply for a job even if she met more than 90% of the requirements. Men on the other hand characteristically apply for jobs where they don’t even meet 50% of the criteria.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Confidence is key and there’s no shame in being bold. But there is a reason why women are less likely to put themselves forward, and it comes from the structural ‘shushing’ and underestimation that we receive from a minority of our male peers, which hammers in the ideas that we are ‘frauds’ in the work place and don’t feel we have a right to ask for more, or even want it.

‘Mansplaining’ is a big part of this. Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman”

Mansplaining isn’t the same as being patronising or rude. It is called ‘mansplaining’ because it is specifically gender-related, ‘rooted in a sexist assumption that a man will normally be more knowledgeable than a woman.’

The patronizing manner of mansplaining crushes any further dialogue.

This phenomenon is something that millions upon millions of women can identify with. It is something that women experience daily. We are constantly faced with the decision of biting our tongues to avoid conflict, or to speak up against the routine silencing of women’s knowledge, which is literally going on all the time.

It doesn’t matter about our age, wealth, career, experiences: women get mansplained to all the time. It is about gender and we have experienced it for thousands of years.

Recently, someone commented on one of my blogs, complaining I was tarring all men with an unfair brush and said he experienced ‘womensplaining’ all the time at work. I’m sorry someone has been rude to him, and it really could be linked to gender, but I would argue that the term ‘womensplaining’ is laughable, and insulting to the millions of women going through mansplaining.

A woman can explain things and she can do it patronisingly. A women can be annoying and rude. A woman can be a pain in the arse.

You know what else? A man can be kind. He can be supportive, uplifting and inspirational. The vast majority of men are wonderful people. But the difference is that the small minority of men who do mansplain and underestimate women, are having a huge impact on so many people through their behaviour.

How many women have avoided using their voice because they knew they’d be laughed at and silenced? It chills me to think.

I believe that ‘womansplaining’ is an inappropriate term that goes to console men who don’t like hearing criticism and shoot back a counter word as a protective shield. Ironically, the men who are less able to accept the idea that women are disadvantaged in society, are the exact people that need to understand the reality.

Us women naturally question ourselves and doubt ourselves more than men, because society has taught us to do exactly that. A little boy will be told he’s showing leadership qualities when a little girl acting the same way will be called bossy.

A woman demanding justice in government is more likely to be called hysterical where a man would be called passionate. There is a systematic ‘shushing’ of women’s voices that needs to be addressed. It’s not just about a person being a bit rude, it’s about illegitimating women’s knowledge and structural disempowerment.

According to the Independent, ‘mansplaining’ can lead to men earning more than women and getting more promotions, and that’s something that all reasonable people want to avoid. (Independent)

The gender pay gap continues to thrive and that isn’t ok. This is largely because society has taught men to ‘overestimate their intelligence to a much greater extent than women” (American Psychological Organization)

I’m not blaming modern men, society has developed to silence women over thousands of years and many men are up to fight this just as much as women and LGBT+ people.

I am saying it’s not ok.

High status politicians and business people continue to be majority men, women continue to take on the majority of caring roles at the expense of their career and free time. We need to acknowledge that there is so much progress still to make, and that mansplaining is one of many means used to disempower and undermine women.

If this article has interested you, why not read:

Religion and Sexism: Does Christianity Oppress Women and Girls?

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Whether religions oppress women and uphold the patriarchal system is a long debated and sensitive subject. Until recently, I was certain that Christianity was a sexist religion. I saw how powerful positions in the church are almost exclusively held by men, how the bible presents male protagonists and heroes and frames women as passive objects rather than subjects.

Most importantly, I stayed in Arkansas for a time with my ex-boyfriend who was born and raised in the bible belt, and this is where I had experienced most of my interaction with the Christian faith.

In churches packed to the rafters with ‘god loving people’ who had been up taking drugs until 4am and then crowded into the church a few hours later. Churches where lightening sound effects where played alongside bible readings and where people vehemently loved and respected Donald Trump and God in almost equal abundance.  Staying in a community where men were more highly valued than women, I remember my ex-boyfriend telling me god had a reason for everything. ‘The fact that one in three women are sexually assaulted?’ I asked. ‘What is the reason for that?’

‘Well, I guess it will teach those women not to put themselves in that position again.’

I got up from the table so quickly that glasses went flying. ‘Fuck you.’ I said, with calm rage, left my ex with his mother and friends at the table and locked myself in his pickup truck in protest. In hind’s sight that wasn’t the most mature way to handle my rage but I felt an anger and indignation so strong that in those moments I thought all Christians and all churches a hoax designed to control and abuse women and girls.

The photo featured in this article is of Juan Jose Tamayo, a well-known academic in the world of politics and religion, and my lecturer for a module about conflict and religion. In a recent talk he gave about his latest book: Religion, the Patriarchy and Violence he explained the links between patriarchy and various religions, including Christianity.

He is a good man and engaging speaker who explained that religion systematically disempowers women and girls through the hierarchical structure of the church, which objectifies and oppresses women. He thinks the global patriarchal system has been largely created through the ‘sacredness’ of masculinity presented by the Christian Church. He criticises the religious principles within gender discourse, including patriarchal language and misogynistic organization of religious institutions.

He had some excellent points and I do agree that powerful positions in the church are almost exclusively held by men throughout different Christian denominations. This reflects a structural disempowerment of women within the church, as does the suggestion by the bible that women are the root of evil, through the actions of Eve in the garden of Eden.

I now want to speak to you about Evan. He is my classmate for the politics and religion module I take with Juan and we have had various discussions and debates over a falafel wrap and can of Fanta.

Evan loves God, unreservedly and wholeheartedly. He told me a quote that he thinks sums up the issues of religion and the oppression of women. ‘The worst day in the history of Christianity was when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.’ He thinks that Christianity still hasn’t recovered from being abused and manipulated by the Roman Emporers, though he is a devout Christian and part of the Anglican Church.

Evan believes that the bible is radically feminist. He explained how Christianity comes from ancient Judaism, in which women where undervalued and presented as lesser. But when Jesus is resurrected in the bible, he is found by 2 women. This is radical, he told me, because it comes in a time where the word of women was disregarded and women where not viewed as trustworthy. But the fact that two women saw Jesus come back from the dead, which is the basis for all the Christian denominations, shows that the bible values women far more than previous religions and at the time was a huge step forward for the place of women in society.

Evan also explained to me that he does not masturbate or watch porn, and that he is waiting to marry before having sex. ‘Oh come on’ I said. ‘How can touching yourself be immoral. It’s between you and yourself! It doesn’t hurt anyone and it feels good, so what!’

He smiled and handed me the Fanta. ‘Well, from my point of view when you watch porn or touch yourself it leads you to change the way you look at women. Unintentionally and subconsciously I believe it leads to a sexualisation of women which is degrading and wrong. You go into the street and you see women as objects to be enjoyed, and have a fake expectation of sex and the female body which is harmful and leads to a culture of misogyny and rape.’

I told him about my experiences in Arkansas, where going to church was more about a status symbol than any real connection or love of God, and where I felt like a delicate creature to be protected and controlled rather than an individual with intelligence or personality.

‘Look, I think you have to bear in mind that religion is intrinsically tied up with hypocrisy. That isn’t true Christianity. Christianity isn’t about praying the loudest or the number of times you show up to church. Ever since Christianity became the official religion of Rome it has been wrapped up in power dynamics and hierarchy which of course can disregard women or the LGBT+ community. 300 years before the Roman Church hijacked and changed Christianity, it was always a religion that stood for peace and moral values, today much of what we call ‘religion’ is actually a shadow of those misguided Roman Emperors who used Christianity to meet their own needs and greed, and it gives a bad name to good humble Christians who want to celebrate their love for their Creator’

Evan explained how he thinks Christianity itself is a beautiful and respectful religion, but that modern day institutions have developed over thousands of years to concentrate power and wealth into the hands of a few straight white men, particularly the catholic church. However, this isn’t the fault of God, Christianity or the Bible, but rather more the actions of humans.

I think a true Christian has a relationship between God and himself or herself, and the denomination you belong to shouldn’t matter. The basic principles of Christianity are about love and peace and like Evan explained, they have been warped throughout thousands of years of misinterpretation, power and politics.

My opinion, after speaking to both Juan and Evan is that Christianity itself is not patriarchal nor does it oppress women. However, with countless denominations interpreting the bible in different ways and particularly the hierarchical system found within the Roman Catholic Church, women and girls are inevitably oppressed and silenced in some circumstances, just like they are systematically abused in other religions and non-religious communities. Sexism is a human problem, rather than a Christian one and although some ‘Christian’ communities undoubtedly use their religion as an excuse by which to mistreat women and girls I do believe that this is a disservice to the many kind and humble Christians who value all in society equally.

Christianity doesn’t oppress women, humanity does. Religion is a tool by which some people reinforce the existing patriarchal system, but it is not the system itself.

The war on drugs has failed. Legalise narcotics for a safer and fairer world.

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Before the 1960’s the UK used to focus on treating drug users. In  an attempt to reduce rising drug use amongst young people. we  now lean towards harsh punishments. This strategy has failed.

Drugs are cheaper and more easily available than ever before, and 67% of the UK population support a review on current drug policy. (BBC)

Humans have been getting high since prehistoric times (Huffington post). Associating drug use with ‘bad’, ‘immoral’ or ‘nasty’  people is a new way of looking at things, which is  neither constructive nor realistic

Even if you believe that drug use is fundamentally wrong, the war on drugs is racist, and it is hurting us. Recoil from the truth as much as you like, the legalisation of drugs is a step towards a safer and fairer world.

‘But drugs are bad for you.’

I don’t know one benefit of smoking tobacco, but weed has been shown to reduce pain, help skin conditions such as psoriasis and make life bearable once again for extreme cases of epilepsy. (Cannabis) However, weed users experience a stigma beyond that of smokers and smoking tobacco remains perfectly legal despite being the leading cause of preventable death world wide. (CDC)

Something doesn’t add up.

In fact, a recent UK study showed weed has radically transformed the life of sick people, 80% of which had more benefits from marijuana consumption than any other drug available. (Guardian) It is not a coincidence that weed has been used medicinally for hundreds of thousands of years, nor that it is rejected by society now. Pharmaceutical companies make billions of pounds a year by convincing you that weed smokers are brainless losers.

In countries where marijuana has been legalised, it’s consumption has actually dropped.

In Colorado (a year after the legalisation of marijuana) the government is making more than 60 million dollars a year from weed related taxes, boosting the economy and even returning money directly back to all its citizens. There has been a decline in use and profits have been invested in health programs. (indepedent)

This isn’t Orwell’s 1984, locking people away for having a different philosophy to you is not ok. Just like with the historic prohibition of alcohol, illegalising something does not reduce its use, it just facilitates the growth of a criminal underworld, where the stakes get higher, drugs can’t be monitored and the profits go to a criminal underbelly instead of to the government where it could be reinvested in society and rehabilitation programs.

Sure I’ve focussed on weed thus far, because the science tells us that it isn’t any more harmful than drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco, but I’m really talking about any drug.

Heroin? Legalise it. Cocaine? Bring it on.

The fact that drugs can be harmful to your health does not help me to understand why we associate drug users with immorality and scandal.

You should have seen my mums book club the day that news sources renounced Nigella Lawson for taking cocaine.

Who cares? The woman can cook. How does drug taking dirty someone? Think about it really, I just don’t understand what someone does in their private life makes people flinch away like that.

Is it because it’s illegal? The holocaust was legal, raping your wife was legal until the 70s, the mere fact that something is legal does not tie in with its innate wrongness.

We hear horror stories of bright young students with their whole lives ahead of them taking contaminated drugs on a night out and dying in front of their distraught house mates.

People don’t want to buy drugs from dark back streets knowing it’s probably mixed with rat poison. By making it available from legitimate sources people will access cleaner drugs, and the money can be used to invest in social programmes, not just fund the pockets of drug mafias and cartels. The people selling illegally will be pushed out of jobs and by undercutting the illegal drug trade a whole world of associated violence will fall apart.

Whilst the drug business is run underground we can’t hold people accountable for dirty drugs that harm people, once it’s legalised we can monitor what going on.

In my mind, drug users are not mindless criminals. They are a mixture of stressed out people chilling out, younger generations exploring what life has to offer and the occasional victim of addiction who is struggling to cope with life. Punishment isn’t the answer.

After all, punishment for drug use is racist and classist.. I mean, come on, it isn’t the white upper class coke users in Canary Wharf that get chucked in prison. According to drug policy, people of color are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated. Shockingly,  black people are 10 x more likely to get arrested for drug use than whites.

Sure, locking people up can be useful to the big cats in the US where prisons receive 50 grand per criminal per year and can use the ‘criminals’ to make further money by hiring out their ‘voluntary’ labour to large corporations. We are taking about slavery people

Through legalisation of drugs we can break down an arrangement which systematically brings black people into jail and the social consequences that this perpetuates.

After all, ‘Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system.’ (drug policy)

Current drug policy is racist, it causes unnecessary incarcerations, it’s hypocritical considering smoking and drinking are legal. We have seen that prohibition does not lower use and that in fact drugs can have multiple health benefits, but corruption in the pharmaceutical company means these get hush hushed as much as possible. I’m not saying that you have to agree with drug use itself, but surely you can see that legalisation will provide a safer and fairer world.

Moroccan Culture: What to know before you go.

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Money: currency and barter

Moroccan currency is the dirham, but euros are also widely used. 1 euro equates to around 10 dirhams and you can pay in euros in many restaurants and markets but should expect the change in dirhams. In smaller shops and cafes, you should use dirhams. I would advise bringing euros on your trip and getting them changed in local hotels or exchange shops, it isn’t possible to change euros to dirhams outside of the country.

It is normal to haggle in Morocco. For example, in a jewelry shop in Chefchauen I was told the price of a necklace was 20 euros (200 dirhams) but I purchased it for 5 euros. You should assume that the original price asked for is above what will be expected. Be friendly, smile, and suggest a lower price. The vendor will then come down a little on his first request but you are expected to also raise your offer in small increments until you settle on an agreed price. Remember: they will ask for more than they want and you should suggest paying less than you are prepared to in order to reach a mutually appropriate price.

Things are generally cheaper in Morocco than in mainland Europe, except for alcohol which is expensive because Morocco is a Muslim country so there is little demand for it.

Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking

Very few people in Morocco drink alcohol because it is a Muslim country but smoking hash is seen as normal and common. You will probably be approached in the street and asked if you want some smoke. It is not illegal to smoke weed, but it is illegal to distribute and sell it.

I had heard before I went on my trip that women shouldn’t drink or smoke in public because it can be interpreted as being eager for sex but actually I felt comfortable having a glass of wine with my meal and a couple of my female friends smoked without a problem. Play it by ear, don’t go and get smashed and try and read the situation you are in before deciding if you’d like to drink.

Languages

Morocco is a melting pot of different languages. Many Moroccan people who were unable to go to school can speak 4 or 5 languages because of the mix of different cultures, colonial past and importance of tourism in the economy. Arabic, French, Spanish and English are widely spoken. I speak Spanish and English and had almost no problem communicating, though at some points a bit of gesturing and frantic smiling was a useful aid.

Violence and the Government

Incidence of violence are very low in Morocco due to harsh punishments for wielding weapons. If you are found with a gun you could spend 20 years in prison or even get executed, and if you are caught with a knife you could look at 6 months in jail.

Police presence is high and Morocco is generally a very stable country.

Morocco is a Muslim country and the religion is highly integrated into laws and policy. The government doesn’t provide welfare for the unemployed so you will often see people selling vegetables on the street to try and get by, though in Moroccan culture (and Islamic teachings) taking care of one another is a high priority and people are generous and help each other as best as they can.

Life for women

I had expected women to have a difficult life when I came to Morocco, mostly because it is a Muslim country. I don’t like having these stereotypes in my head but being honest, I was expecting to feel very aware of my femininity.

According to the locals, the current king has done a lot for gender equality. Previously the queen had been hidden away from public sight but the current queen is adored by the people and involved in politics.

Women are able to drive, work in government and are no longer required to wear religious dress. Most women wore a headscarf but not all. I dressed in jeans and a long sleeved tee-shirt but I didn’t wear a headscarf and found no problems with this.

Gender roles are more pronounced than in Europe, but the government has progressive and liberal laws especially in comparison with other northern African countries. Abortion in Morocco is illegal, unless the health of the mother is in danger, but recently the king ordered a revision of the law.

A couple of men cat called me and walked beside me in the street way past their welcome and I could sense a difference in the attitudes of some men towards me than would be normal in England, but no more so than I experience living in Madrid.

There seems to be the misconception amongst westerners that men in morocco can buy women with camels. I don’t know where this rhetoric came from, but I over heard a tourist asking a guide how many camels she’d be ‘worth’. He looked at her with the incredulity I feel such a tactless and misguided question deserves. Can I clarify. Camels are an important part of Moroccan culture and are often included in the dowry – a gift brought to the wife on marriage. You do not simply buy women with camels, don’t be stupid.

Tattoos

According to my guide Youssef, tattoos are considered evil in Morocco culture due to allusions prohibiting them in the Koran. I have a tattoo and I covered it, but my friend Katie has visible tattoos and it wasn’t a big deal. Berbers living in the high Atlas Mountains have used tattoos as a part of their expression of faith for thousands of years.

Morocco has the majority of Berbers, 10.4 million, who have many of their own customs such as dress, language and lifestyle. They live a more nomadic, tribal life and are considered  separate to the majority ethnic groups in Morocco.

Pets

Dogs are considered unclean. Moroccan people believe they need to wash every time a dog’s lips brush against their skin or clothes, and would also need to clean bedding if the dog’s mouth had contact with it. Therefore they are unpractical pets but lots of people have pet cats. According to the locals, cats aren’t considered impure because they breath through the skin more than dogs do.

Tour vs Independent?

I went on this trip with the company CityLife Madrid and I really recommend them. I felt unsure about going by myself, but having had a first glance at the country with the guides provided by Citylife I now feel comfortable to return with a better understanding of the culture.

The staff were helpful and kind, and went above the call of duty by helping me wrestle out of my jeans when they got stuck to my legs. Yes, we ate a lot, but the issue was that I splashed around in the cold sea with all my clothes on and a vacuum formed between my legs and the material. Hope I make you proud Mum.

Tours are a  really good way to explore if you have limited time available because the companies have honed the itinerary to make sure you get as much packed into a short space of time, and it’s a way to meet a lot more people with similar interests. Travelling with large groups can give you a sense of safety and group deals can help you travel cheaply.

On the other hand it can interfere with the authenticity of your experience as moving in one large group means blending in and connecting with local people is more difficult. Plus, if like me you value your personal space, travelling with so many people can overwhelm you sometimes.

For me, it was perfect to make my first visit with a tour group as I felt safe and comfortable and made the most out of the time that I had there. I can now move forward independently when I return in the future.

Hope you’ve found this helpful if you feel I’ve missed anything out drop me a message!

Dakota Access Pipeline. WHAT THE FRACK?!

dakota

What is it?

The Dakota Access Pipeline is being protested by people from all over the world. At Standing Rock, Dakota thousands of protestors have gathered at the construction site which has delayed its progress for many months, particularly The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who have been in protest since 2014, when they found out about the plans

The project is a 1172 mile, pipeline designed to move hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois every day. The development of fracking has led to billions of tonnes of more oil being ‘available’ to the United States Government. This means MONEY. (read about fracking here)

Although the Obama administration temporarily blocked construction in September to review the situation, the federal court intervened and allowed the project to carry on.  (Time)

Positives?

So, before I get mad, here are a couple of points in defense of the Dakota Pipeline. The builders of this project (Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners) claim that the pipeline isn’t ALL bad. It will reduce rail and truck transportation of oil in order to support domestic demand of a vital product. They also insist they will take extreme measures to protect the environment and use advanced technology to ensure ‘safety and responsibility. (DAPL facts)

By producing their own oil, despite fracking being arguably inefficient and socially and environmentally destructive, the US can be more energy dependent. This can be a politically beneficial situation as they do not need to rely on oil from states in conflict e.g. oil rich nations in the middle east.

The pipeline means big money for the US government which could be argued to be beneficial to society as it is reinvested into the economy, though with inequality continually rising in the US it is debateable as to who will see these benefits, certainly not the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Why the protests?

The pipeline will cross sacred Native American Land, in particular a sacred burial ground which is protecting by treaties dating back to American colonisation. The US government continues to oppress and disregard the voices of the first peoples of America which can be seen as a perpetuation of colonial rule and violence. The pipeline was not consulted with the people that it might affect. (Time)

The risks to these people stem from the fact that the pipeline would tun underneath the Missouri river, the drinking source for 10, 000 Sioux people. This could become contaminated, and therefore pose a risk to food sources, human health and the local flora and fauna. #Waterislife

This protest is not just about protecting land, health and the environment. It is a matter of racism and ruthlessness, with profit being priorotised over the lives and voices of a minority people. For example, white protestors occupying a nature reserve this year were heavily armed but FULLY ACQUITTED. Native American protesters have been arrested, attacked and harassed by police and government officals despite the peaceful nature of their protest, which includes prayer circles and forming human barriers. (CNN)

The response to the protest came to a head last Thursday when protestors camped directly in the line of the proposed pipeline. Military police descended with tasers, rubber bullets and violence, arresting 100 people. (Aljazeera)

Protest camps have continued to grow to attempt to block or slow progress of the pipeline, with some people planning to remain through a winter of -17.8 degrees Celsius. These camps will be expensive to run but global support has been astonishing with a crowd funding page aiming to raise $5000 bringing in $1 million which helps pay for yurts, food, medical bills, legal support and paying for bail. (CBS)

One CNN article claimed that not all Sioux are protesting this pipeline, and that local communities wish people who have travelled all over the world would go away and stop causing conflict, criticising protestors for being a burden to local communities. (CNN)

If like me you consider that claim a load of bollocks and want to support the tribe of Standing Rock to protect the environment, their health and their human rights you can check out this page, which has links to pages where you can donate and petitions you can sign to show your solidarity to the protests.