Cranky on International Women’s Day

So, the Kony 2012 campaign is trending like nothing else. The campaign has been roundly and thoroughly and rightfully critiqued in various places, so, I have nothing to add to yet another example of “white people save Africans from their own savagery” film and campaign with a touch of cyber-utopianism so dumb I initially thought the beginning of the 30 minute video was an ad.

Thanks for hijacking International Women’s Day, guys, whether through your filling up our Facebook and Twitter timelines or because a lot of people had to take time out to explain why your campaign is questionable.

And I am not the only one who is cranky on International Women’s Day, so is Marie Duru-Bellat, about all the little forms of androcentrism as micro-power and how these penetrate into women’s conscience at all times.

On a more macro side of things, let’s not forget this:

“The ‘feminisation of poverty’ is now an undeniable reality. Worldwide  , women are more likely to be poor, employed in precarious, low-paid labour, and less likely to have access to land, credit and education. Not only do they suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty itself and the human rights denials that accrue  from it, but also from the increasingly heavy-handed way in which poverty is governed across the world.  Being female and poor subjects you to unique forms of stigma and control, as well as forcing you to bear the brunt of supposedly gender-neutral policies.

The gender-specific and demeaning measures of control and containment that are applied to women overwhelmingly focus on their bodies and reproductive capacity. In many countries  in the world, including most of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East abortion remains illegal except in very proscribed circumstances. Prohibition does not deter women from seeking abortions, but forces them submit to more unsafe abortions, putting their health, fertility or even life at risk. Planned Parenthood estimate  that 19 million women and girls worldwide resort to unsafe abortions every year; 70,000 of them will die as a result, more than 96% of them from the world’s poorest countries (in many of which abortion is illegal).  For example, in Argentina, each year  , between 460,000 and 600,000 women have an illegal abortion; abortion complications are the main cause  of maternal death, with an estimated  400 deaths each year.  Clearly, it is poor women, without any hope of access to a private doctor or international travel who are most exposed  to these risks.  Thus such policies, targeted to control female reproductive capacity (as if men were not involved), promote a selective penalisation of the poorest women.


To be female and poor in itself attracts a unique stigma. The 1980s saw the remarkable rise of the ‘welfare queen’  as popular bogey (wo)man of choice in the USA. This was fuelled by Reagan  ’s ideological crusade against an ‘excessive’ ‘soft’ welfare system and driven by racist and sexist  stereotypes of ‘lazy’ African-American women, often single mothers.  Indeed, the single mother is a recurring motif in the rhetoric surrounding welfare and benefits across the Western world.  The idea that single women ‘churn out’ babies in order to generate more income or obtain free housing is commonplace in the UK  and was a core part of the vivid American ‘welfare queen’ stereotype. Attacks on the integrity of single mothers are common; they are portrayed as less capable parents – despite evidence  to the contrary – and are improbably blamed for a host of social ills, including, predictably, the riots  that took place in the UK in the summer of 2011. The prevalent stigma borne by poor females in many societies is viscerally illustrated by British newspaper columnist James Delingpole who described several of the “great scourges” of contemporary Britain: “aggressive all-female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym-slip mums who choose to get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their knickers in the blink of an eye” (The Times newspaper, April 13, 2006 ). Disturbingly, the stigma of female poverty and single motherhood has become embedded in public policy  in many different countries: women are all too often the ‘accidental’ victims of supposedly gender neutral measures, such as budget cuts and welfare reform.”

And then, there is Turkish sociologist Pinar Selek, living in exile in France, wrongfully accused of terrorism, three times acquitted by Turkish courts, verdicts that always get appealed by the prosecutor who want life imprisonment for her (even though the supposed terrorist attack of which she is accused was shown to have been an accident). This is political, of course: her work focuses on the underdogs: homeless people, street children, LGBTs, Kurdish minorities and antimilitarism. The police wanted her to give them her sources and she refused, even after torture. So, she has already spent two and half years in prison. Sociology is a combat sport indeed.

And one more reason to be cranky, this should be trending, not Kony 2012. I just watched it on HBO and it is short but very powerful.

This should be going viral.

I hope this one goes to DVD quickly so I can put my hands on a copy to show my students.

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