In the UK there have been a spate of arrests, court cases etc involving the sexual abuse of women and girls. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable to read the news. This morning was no exception.
The excellent journalist Grace Dent writing for The Independent had a piece on the Oxfordshire sexual abuse scandal (read it here). If you read it you’ll see she highlights the issue of people being fearful of challenging certain practices in case they are accused of not respecting other people’s cultures. This was certainly a feature in the Oxfordshire case where young girls (sometimes as young as 11) were first groomed, then raped by paedophiles and used and abused by gangs of men for very long periods of time.
Coincidentally I was talking about this ‘cultural issue’ a few days ago to a group of women I was working with. I shared with them that as a young girl growing up in an area where there were a lot of Asian men I had regularly been verbally abused at in the street because I was wearing a mini skirt and deemed to be a shameless hussy (I’m imagining that’s what they were saying to me). I hated it. My best friend at the time was from an Asian family; at 15 she was married off and forbidden by her new, much older, husband to see me or any of her old friends again. Not just her surname changed but her first name too. I never did see her again.
After University I went on to train as a social worker and struggled womanfully with the notion that these differing attitudes to women were cultural and under no circumstances should I voice my concerns out loud if I wanted to pass my course. It would be considered racist to do so. It’s probably worth pointing out that at that time (early 1980s) the UK as a whole wasn’t quite so hot on the treating women with respect thing either.
So what do you think? Is it racist to be appalled at the way women are treated? Is it a cultural issue where we should fear to tread? Is it because we are frightened of being accused of racism that some of these appalling acts can go on for so long unchallenged or discretely ignored? Or is it that women and girls are still seen by a large proportion of society as second class citizens, easy prey, and that the inherent sexism and class snobbery in our society allows this to happen?
What do you think?
No picture today, seemed a bit inappropriate…