Sunday, 7 December 2014

'I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.' Mary Shelley.

Girl power, female emancipation - hurrah we cry.  Of course women having choices is not a luxury but a given.  Or at least it should be and hopefully will be for all women across the globe in the future.  However, recently there have been a couple of things in the media which have offered an opportunity to refocus ideas on female agency and what it means or could mean or is interpreted to mean in the twenty first century.  I have also just been to see a recording of The Old Vic's The Crucible this week, in itself a magnificent thing for many reasons but it did make me think about women, their roles and representations in a way that  I haven't before.  Of course, this isn't to say that what I was awoken to isn't something that many scholars haven't considered in the past.  I am only me though and as this blog is written by me, I am giving my small brained opinion.  To paraphrase Mark Kermode; other opinions are undoubtedly more erudite and freely available (just google it).

The two news stories, one which has been rumbling around for weeks and another which is new, have provoked what I believe is referred to as 'a storm of debate'.  The first story concerns a professional footballer who has served a prison sentence for rape.  He has been released and was to return to his club but public outcry has led to the club having to change its mind and disallow him from renewing training.  In line with many commentators who have tried to talk about this issue without appearing to play down rape, it goes without saying that rape is a heinous crime for which their can be no apologists.  However, I don't think that the furore about this case is really about rape.  After all, he was found guilty and served his time.  Surely the debate is around our justice system and what we expect from it.  If, as it is widely suggested, the penal system seeks to punish and rehabilitate, then it has done its job.  Surely no good comes of further punishing somebody by preventing their reintegration into a society which requires atonement and the person to go back to being a law-abiding tax-paying society-contributing individual.  Perhaps then this is about the lack of atonement?  Although he has apologised to his family, girfriend and club, it appears that he hasn't said sorry to the woman involved.  As this case is currently being fast tracked to a review, it would appear to have more to it than currently is in the public arena. I suppose the point I am trying to make, which links into the female power thing and is my opinion based on what has been widely reported, is that as a young woman, enjoying freedoms unheard of to many women around the world, choosing to drink so much that you can't remember anything but are sure that you didn't consent to sex with a man whose hotel room you entered of your own free will after a night of excess which left you comatose, appears foolish in the extreme.  We have power, yes, but with that comes a responsibility to not let yourself down and always being aware of what is happening so that you can make good choices. 

The other case concerns a case in court brought by a county council who wished to gain compensation for a seven year old girl in their care who was left severely brain damaged by her birth mother who drank to excess while pregnant.  The council argued that the mother had committed a crime by doing something that she knew would damage her unborn child.  The result was that the court found they could not rule in favour of the child because at the time the 'crime' was committed, the foetus was not a human being.  In other words, it didn't count.  And as a result, the little girl doesn't count either.  Speakers and thinkers on women's rights were quick to point out that you cannot legislate for a particular time in a woman's life and that essentially denying her what other women could expect as the norm - drinking alcohol; would infringe her human rights.  In addition, it would prevent vulnerable women from seeking help.  Crap.  Women know that they shouldn't drink when pregnant.  The baby cannot do anything about it.  She can.  Stopping drinking for nine months is not too much to ask is it?  The vast majority of women know that they are going to be pregnant, know when they are pregnant and know their responsibilities.  You have rights but so does the child.  The power is with you as the mother to be to step up to that responsibility and ensure that the child has all the best chances life affords it.  If you cannot do this, then you should do something about being pregnant in the first place. 

And now seamlessly on to Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  What struck me about this was the way that the women held all the power.  The old woman, Rebecca, was the fount of all knowledge and certainly a voice of common sense.  The instigator of the terror, Abigail, wields her power carefully over her lover and increasingly forcefully and wildly over her friends and stealthily over her lover's wife.  Tituba, a suggested practitioner of the dark arts, finds her knowledge misused by others for their own purposes.  The men are powerless in the face of the extraordinary goings on which defy sense in their rigid society.  The girls are bored, stifled by rules that govern every aspect of their existence.  It is little wonder that when they want to cut loose, it has spectacular consequences.  By the end of the play, it is the men who retake the reins of power; the court decide the fate of those they have come to restore order to.

All of the above made me more aware of the power we strive to have as women and the responsibility we need to be mindful of (both to wourselves and others) when we achieve it.

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