Saudi Arabia Isn’t Having a Feminist Revolution
When it comes to women’s rights, Saudi Arabia takes baby steps to a whole new level of infancy. (In utero steps? Spermy steps?) Sure, the King Khalid Charitable Foundation launched the country’s first ever anti-domestic-violence ad last month, but women are still unable to defend themselves against those same domestic-violence cases in court. In 2013.
One other huge breakthrough that I’m sure would have Susan B. Anthony setting off streamers in her grave is new legislation that allows women to ride bicycles. Granted, they still have to be supervised by men—but bicycles! Think of the endless freedoms that come with finally being able to cycle around Riyadh, a city not built with cyclists in mind whatsoever!
Oh, also, girls in private schools are now allowed to play sports, but girls in state schools still can’t. So, much like in other parts of the world, the amount of rights a person gets depends entirely on their wealth.
Despite these forward-thinking changes, Saudi Arabia was still ranked 131 out of 134 countries for gender parity in the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. So recent, optimistic reports of Saudi Arabia going through a “feminist revolution” seem a little off the mark.
I spoke to Nouf Alhimiary, a 20-year-old photographer from Jeddah, about the challenges she faced when trying to put on an art exhibition about Saudi women in a country where basically every minutely inflammatory art piece gets banned from public display.
VICE: Hey, Nouf. How come you were only allowed to display half of your exhibition?
Nouf Alhimiary:You know that thing where you take a picture of your outfit every day and post it on Instagram or Twitter? I thought it was interesting that a lot my Saudi friends do that when they’re out of the country, but can’t do it here because they have to wear the exact same thing every day: the abaya. I wanted to create a parody of that by photographing women wearing the same thing in different places. I wanted to call it What She Wore/ What She Wore Underneath. The plan was to take pictures of all these women in the abaya, take pictures of whatever they were wearing underneath, and then display both pictures together.
But you weren’t allowed to do that?
The curator for the Mostly Visible show told me I couldn’t do it because the government would have rejected it. In Saudi Arabia, the government has to look at every art project that’s going to be exhibited to decide whether or not it can be displayed. The curator told me that if I included pictures of women outside their houses not wearing the abaya, they wouldn’t display it.
So what did you do?
I settled for What She Wore, which I actually like because it makes you ask, “Why do all these women look like they’re wearing a uniform?” But even though I only displayed pictures of women in the abaya, a lot of people at the exhibition came up to me and asked, “Why are you trying to change women?”
Gay Men and Their Not-So-Cute Misogyny Problem
What’s up with all the misogyny, gay dudes? Seriously. I’m not saying you have to be deep-throating a copy of Feminine Mystique while blasting Julie Ruin, but could some of you (emphasis on SOME) not have such thinly-veiled contempt for women?
Maybe you don’t even realize it. You probably don’t. You probably think you’re just being cute when you belittle your best girlfriend’s appearance or call her (jokingly!) a whore, but no, it doesn’t work that way.
As glorious as a friendship between a gay man and a straight girl can be, it also has the tendency to get a little dark. For example, we are all aware of the whole “OMG, GAY BEST FRIEND” epidemic where women fetishize their friendships with homos and treat them like a Pez dispenser of fabulousness rather than, you know, a nuanced human being. What I don’t hear getting talked about as much, though, is when the gay guy treats the girl like shit. When his seemingly harmless taunts turn into something that resembles verbal abuse.
Last year, I was in San Francisco with one of my best girlfriends and her gay friend, whom I had only met once or twice before. We were drinking at some house party, having an A-OK time, when all of a sudden her gay friend starts shouting to her, “You’re a fucking slut. Look at you, you slut whore!”
This, I guess, was supposed to be “sassy” and “cute” but really it just made everyone in the room profoundly uncomfortable. He was drunk, too drunk, and his words felt like daggers. My girlfriend had no idea what to do so she just laughed it off and prayed it would stop.
Apparently Women Love This 13-Year-Old Skateboarder Named Baby Scumbag
Steven Fernandez, aka Baby Scumbag, is just a normal 13-year-old skater from a bad neighborhood in LA. A normal 13-year-old skater who’s sponsored by a bunch of companies, has 38,000 subscribers onFacebook and 140,000 followers onInstagram, and gets photographed with guns and sexy (adult) women. He’s been skating since he was nine (here’s a video of him at 11), but unlike other absurdly talented kids likeRene Serrano and Evan Doherty, he’s developed a whole persona that revolves around trying to get girls and eating junk food (again: typical 13-year-old). It’s hard to tell how much of that is him putting on an act and how much of that is real, but either way, young Stephen knows more about what people on the internet like than all the “social media gurus” two and three times his age put together. I called him to ask what he wants to be when he grows up.
VICE: Hey, Steven how’s it going? I didn’t force you to miss school, right?
Baby Scumbag: Hey, VICE lady. Just chillin’. Just got home from school. Got out a little early.
You like school, or what?
Yeah, school is cool, but it’s kind of tough out here in poverty. You see a lot bad stuff around here, like gang-related stuff, drugs. I live in Compton, California. The border of South Central.
So, you’re super popular at school, right?
Nah, I’m just a normal kid going to school. An average teenager.
How did you get start getting sponsored?
Well it all started when I had posted a video of skateboarding, and people actually enjoyed watching the video. As I started making more videos, I started getting more sponsors as well.
What’s a typical day in the life of Baby Scumbag?
Hang out at school, homework, skateboarding, maybe even go film. And a little masturbation.
Meet the Ladies of the Free Syrian Army – They Have Guns, Dead Families, and Nothing to Lose
An all-female FSA brigade gathers inside Auntie Mahmoud’s house in Atmeh, Syria. Photos by Andreas Stahl.
Just a few hundred meters from the Turkey-Syria border lies Atmeh, a once quiet farm town that, in recent months, has become a safe haven for the Free Syrian Army. Fifteen thousand Syrians roam freely, displaced by the civil war, along with various brigades and Islamic militants. There’s also Auntie Mahmoud’s house—a meeting place for a local all-female unit of FSA fighters.
Auntie Mahmoud is a tough old broad who’s happy to shake your hand, even while other Syrian women in town naturally shy away. She lives in a small house across the street from a FSA base and makes it her business to know everything that goes on around her. Her living room is carpeted with thin mattresses, and when we visited her recently, we found eight women, draped in black hijabs and seated with Kalashnikovs resting on their laps. These brave women are members of the FSA who are ready to plunge into intense urban firefights alongside their male counterparts, if needed. Though they originally hail from cities like Aleppo, Hama, and Idlib, many of them now live in the camp near Atmeh and share strikingly similar backgrounds: each of their husbands was killed or imprisoned while fighting Assad’s regime, their homes were leveled by shelling and other attacks, and over the course of two years of Syria’s civil war, they all grew tired of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for a favorable outcome to the conflict.
Am Ar’ou, a 37-year-old former law student from Aleppo, is the leader of the brigade. Wearing a military vest and with her face completely veiled in niqab, she stroked her rifle as she recounted how her husband was arrested only because he had a beard and prayed five times a day. She worked closely with the FSA when the war began, storing weapons and supplies in her home until the cache was discovered, shelled, and destroyed. After the attack, she spent three months in the hospital with jaw, hand, and back injuries. Once discharged, she had no home to return to and became a refugee in her own country. She traveled to the camp in Atmeh and soon found other women who also had nothing but one another, sad stories, and some guns.
Safa, who has been involved with the revolution against Assad from the beginning, walks through the streets of Atmeh.
The women in Am’s brigade have declared jihad against President Assad in the name of freedom, democracy, and women’s rights in an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. But they’re also wary of some of their allies because Atmeh is a hotbed of rebel activity and home to hard-line Salafist Islamic groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra (one of the best-known Islamic groups fighting in Syria today, who were recently added to the US’s list of terrorist organizations), the al-Farouq Brigade, al Qaeda, and various other foreign mujahideen fighters. This has made Am and her comrades’ mission particularly difficult to execute. Jabhat al-Nusra, for example, support the women in theory but refuse to fight alongside them or allow them to carry their weapons openly. Even though they’re all opposed to Assad, the Islamic rebel groups are determined to create an Islamic state in Syria, while most Syrians are opposed to this idea. Am and her brigade are devout Muslims, too, but they don’t want an Islamic state; they want a democracy.
Corpse Brides, Forced Abortions, Infanticide, and Child Trafficking: The Modern-Day Consequences of China’s One-Child Policy
Above: Nie Lina arrested for being pregnant (Image: All Girls Allowed)
In China, women are the runt of society’s litter. You probably already know about the one-child policy that has had families actively sidelining the fairer sex for years—a millennias-old preference for sons in Chinese society means that, if couples can only afford one child given the financial penalties for multiple kids, they tend to go for boys rather than girls. Predictions state that there will be between 30 to 40 million fewer women than men in China by 2020, which sounds like it’ll be a pretty lonely year for many in the People’s Republic.
The terrible male-to-female ratio in China has caused people to resort to desperate measures. There has been a rise in child-bride trafficking from both within and outside the country. Other parents have been so intent on their sons getting married that they have resorted to fixing up “ghost marriages,” where female corpses are dug up and reburied next to deceased bachelors so they can have a bride in the afterlife. Which I guess is a consequence you don’t normally have to consider when you’re drawing up social policy.
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the organization in charge of the one-child policy—the National Population and National Family Commission—will be merged with the Ministry of Health. This could prompt positive changes to the system, since corrupt family-planning officials will no longer be administering the punishments that have seen families charged up to six times their annual income for spawning multiple offspring. However, there are potential dangers too, most obviously in the fact that officials will be stationed in hospitals and health wards, which could deter women without birth permits (yep, birth permits) from seeking care and proper labor assistance.
Ma Jihong as her family found her, lying in an empty hospital (Image: Ma’s family).
This invasive method of population control—the answer to the legacy of overpopulation left behind by Mao Zedong—has created a long list of horrors that, besides child trafficking, includes infanticide, gendercide, infant abandonment, and forced abortions, all used by families desperate to meet the set child quotas. In 2009 it was reported that Chinese women account for 56 percent of all female suicides in the world. While it’s never easy or even advisable to attempt to pinpoint the cause of suicide, you’ve got to feel like a government that limits women’s access to motherhood and a society that treats them as second-class citizens may have something to do with how high that number is.
In June 2012, a Chinese woman named Feng Jianmei was seven months pregnant. Feng and her husband—both rural farmers—were unable to afford the $6,300 fine for having a second child, so she was carried into a van by policy officials and taken to a hospital. Her eyes were covered while they forced her to sign documents. Five men stood in the room as she was injected with a chemical agent that causes abortions. Feng’s story is not uncommon. The only rarity is that it was widely reported in the international news because a photograph of her and the stillborn baby lying in a hospital bed started flying around the internet (NSFW photo). While the world reacted with outrage, within her county, Feng and her husband Deng Jiyuan were scorned. In their hometown, protesters were led through the streets by the government and hung banners on a bridge that read, “Beat the traitors, drive them from the town.”
Obseshes - Feminist Fatigue
Oooooh la la, you guys, it’s Nike Sky High City Pack “Tokyo” Dunks release month! I put it on my iCal. How are you? How is your heart? Can I hold your teacup face in my hands, just for a second, or a second too long? Let’s make this all about feelings, OK? Or mostly, anyway. I’m Pre-Monster-Screaming or whatever that’s called.
I mean, aaaaaahhhh. This girl! I like when she hops around in her sports bra in that movie I haven’t seen yet. Except, as my fashion-professional bestie pointed out, she was wearing an actual wedding dress to the Oscars which is, at first pass, “Whoah/gross” but one beat later is maaaaaybe who-gives-a-shit-ish and cool? I am still waiting for a Juliette Lewis/Bjork/Amanda de Cadenet-and-Courtney Love-in-1995 figure to arrive on the red carpet (now actually a more TV-appropriate, “carbohydrate, sequined-jumpsuit, young-girls-in-white-cotton-panties, waking-up-in-a-pool-of-your-own-vomit, bloated-purple-dead-on-a-toilet phase”-purple-red-carpet) with a fashion-commentary-stakes-defying dress and some baditude, but in the meantime, I’m down with this girl. OK, so this isn’t about feelings. (Also, that’s from Wayne’s World, of course.)
Turns out I was right about necks, at least according to my recent shoppings. See you soon, transition toward wide and densely fabricated necklines! This isn’t about feelings either.
GIRL NEWS: FEMINIST FATIGUE
This is, though. To square away an important through-line of current feminist discussion, which is a strawberry-sweet way of saying “internet dry-heaving”: feminist fatigue, the kind of philosophical sleepiness that sweeps through me/you/everyone when there is too much to say no to (covered by Lindy West at Jezebel andJessica Valenti at the Nation and by other women in other places that I didn’t see/can’t care about because ZzzQuil) is something I feel, have felt, for years and years, in waves. Not nice warm ocean waves like in Florida but, like, The French Lieutenant’s Woman waves.
How to Have an Orgasm with Your Vagina
It has come to my attention that a lot of grown-ass women out there have yet to experience an orgasm, which makes me want to jump off a cliff onto a bed of sharpened dildos. Orgasms are important, and you need to be able to make yourself cum. I know it can be frustrating, but you have to keep trying because the entire world runs on orgasms.
I remember masturbating like it was my homework as a young teen because I knew that eventually I’d get the hang of it, and it would put me on par with the rest of the orgasm-experiencing world. That world, of course, includes 100 percent of adult males, which make up nearly 100 percent of presidents and the majority of CEOs and police officers and professors. I’m not really sure why that part’s important, except for the fact that it would make me really mad if everyone telling me what to do could magically blast cum out of their genitals and I couldn’t. My point is it was a conscious, effortful process for me but I persevered and succeeded.
I noticed that a lot of the “instructions” on how to masturbate were purely physical, but that’s clearly not the only ingredient in an orgasm casserole. As we all know (or should know) girls are mental basket cases, just like their mothers, and their mothers’ mothers, and centuries of some anthropological bullshit that I don’t understand, and sometimes that stuff can really get in the way of everything fun. Therefore, I am going to approach this orgasm problem from a meditative standpoint.
One day as I was driving down a busy street during rush hour, I suddenly realized that I was about to have an orgasm, because I was masturbating. That realization was amazing to me, since I could remember feeling uncomfortable about touching myself in my own bedroom, simply because it was inside my parents’ home. Women’s magazines will probably recommend that you find an isolated spot where you can feel comfortable being alone—like in the shower with the door locked, for instance. But I think you just have to confront what it is that makes you feel so shameful about masturbating.
I used to get worried that someone would see my fingers and notice cervical mucus residue, or see that my face was all flushed and post-orgasm-like. Then I realized: Fuck it. I am a disgusting, gross piece of shit, just like everybody else, and if I don’t have an orgasm today I’m going to end up killing someone.
No one will notice that you were masturbating. No one cares. Join the party.
The Holy War on Irish Wombs
It’s a freezing Saturday afternoon in Dublin and, on the corner of O’Connell Street, a nervous young man called Dennis wants me to sign a petition with a picture of a dead baby on it. Dennis is 21 years old and doesn’t like abortion one bit. Especially not now that there’s a chance, for the first time in a generation, of liberalizing the law just a little to allow women at risk of actual death to terminate their pregnancies.
“I’m trying to keep abortion away from Ireland,” repeats Dennis, churning out the slogan being yelled by stern older men behind him. “If [a woman] doesn’t want a child, there’s obvious steps she can take to not have a child.” Like what? “Well, for example, abstinence,” he says, looking down at me uncomfortably. “Purity before marriage.” What about sexual equality? Dennis is blushing, despite the cold. “Well, I’m here against abortion. I wouldn’t have anything to say to that.”
It’s illegal for a woman to have an abortion under almost any circumstances in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if she might die in the delivery room. Every year, thousands of women with crisis pregnancies scrape together the money to travel overseas to have abortions—and that’s if they’re lucky. If they’re unlucky—immigrants, shift-workers… anyone who is too poor to afford a red-eye Ryanair flight to London—the only options are to take black-market abortion pills or be forced to give birth. Right now, members of the Irish parliament are trying to push through legislation that would allow women to have abortions if they’re at risk of suicide, but the Catholic hard-right are fighting back.
Since 1967, when Britain made abortion legal, over 150,000 Irish women have gone to England to end their pregnancies. They go in secret and, since that figure only covers those who list Irish addresses, the true number is probably much higher. It’s a situation that has been tacitly accepted in Irish society for years: abortion is sinful, but we’ll put up with it as long as it happens far away and the women involved are shamed into silence. “It’s an Irish solution to an Irish problem,” says Sinead Ahern, an activist with Choice Ireland. Now all that might be about to change.
Kate Carraway’s Obseshes
In the hierarchy of meat, chicken dekes in and out of position in this counterintuitive and culturally unresolved way. Like, everyone wants to give you chicken in everything all the time; it is the basis for every dumb meal at a restaurant; it is what you are supposed to know how to make, I guess, but chicken is also the grossest and full of gristly knobs and the skin and what I think of as pinkish diseaseyness. How is it that on the road from queasy vegetarian to blood, chicken is so close to the beginning? I feel like a rare steak is easier to make sense of than a fucking leg of something.
SELF-CARE / SELF-CRUELTY:
I wrote a thing about “self-care” for a magazine and then started doing it all the time. (My version is refusing to listen to my friends talk about their crushes unless they are in a relationship or life context that supports having crushes, and also I now refuse to come within 20 feet of boys who are hunkered down at Fort Asshole even if it’s fun there.) It felt amazing when I was doing self-care “at” people, removing myself, creating boundaries, and thinking of a less corny way to be like “I’m creating boundaries,” and stuff like that.
Unfortunately, a lot of the doing of self-care “at” yourself can bend backward like a summer-time backyard gymnastics performance and turn into the most vicious kind of self-hatred, which, in action, I’m calling “self-cruelty.” An example: My problem with self-care is feeling as though I don’t, in a macro sense, actually deserve it, because my profession and workday is already devoted to thinking about myself and my ideas and my feelings, and the closest I come to having any limitations on my workday freedom is, like, too many text messages, or planning my coffee schedule poorly, or how starfish formation feels better than sitting up, even though in a micro work sense I experience a lot of total fucking bullshit. So being all “Unnnnngh” about work and being like “Now I will ‘self-care’ and think about sunsets” becomes this straight, dirt road lined with mean witches that leads to exponential, counterproductive self-cruelty. Working at home makes you so weird.
Why do guys make plans within two texts and a couple of hours and girls make plans with 30 emails and several weeks and two cancellations? Boys are like this, and girls are like this. Boys are dogs, and girls are cats.
The War Against Street Harassment
Despite the insistence that cat calling is a form of flattery, it’s actually sexual harassment and most women wish it would stop. Emily May is the Executive Director of Hollaback!, an organization working to fight street harassment. Hollaback! educates the public about street harassment and collects data to present to legislators, encouraging them to take action against the constant bombardment of lewd comments many women endure every day. They work with local activists all over the world — 62 cities in 25 countries and counting — and want to create a world where everyone can walk down the street without the fear of being leered at, harassed, or assaulted. In addition to on-the-ground activism, Hollaback! uses digital storytelling on their website to help victims of harassment share their stories and find a supportive community.
VICE: How did Hollaback! come into being?
We heard this story of a young woman who was riding the New York City subway [in 2005] and she saw a guy publicly masturbating across from her, and she took his picture with her cell phone camera. She took it to the police, the police didn’t care, she put it on Flickr, it went viral, made it to the front cover of the Daily News and ignited this city-wide conversation about public masturbation. And here was this girl, she was in her early 20s, and she was just able to take out her cell phone camera, turn the lens off of her, put it onto him, and in doing that ignite this huge conversation. It resonated with so many people because so many people had had that same thing happen to them. And we were like: that is so awesome. Why don’t we start a little blog where everyone can submit their stories and we’ll see how it goes, and it just exploded.
I think part of it was that we were using technology in a way that was interesting to people, but most of it was just the fact that this was an issue that everyone was sick and tired of, everyone was at a loss for a solution, and all of a sudden we had cell phone cameras and blogs and people were like ‘awesome, game on. There is a glimmer of a hope of a solution in here somewhere, let’s do it.’
What do you mean when you say ‘street harassment?’ How is it different from a man respectfully approaching a woman on the street, and is there a way to do that?
I think street harassment kind of ruins it for the good guys in the world. I would love to live in a world where dudes said, “Good morning, you look awesome,” and it was totally nice and pleasant and that was that. But the reality is that with street harassment, as soon as you respond to a comment like, “Good morning, you look awesome,” or even just “Good morning,” you run the risk of it escalating into something worse.
We just heard this story that happened in San Francisco last week where the woman just ignored this guy. The guy turned around and slashed her in the face and stabbed her in the arm. I mean that’s an extreme example, but in my own life I’ve seen “Good morning” escalate into “I wanna fuck the shit out of you” really quickly, which is not only unpleasant, but actually really scary because I don’t know where it goes from there.