TiaTalk











{Tue 20 July 2010}   On banning face veils
Thoughts on banning face veils

After reading about the French ban, I was interested to see in Ha’aretz yesterday that Syria has banned face veils at universities in order to protect the secular nature of the state. The article also reports that hundreds of niqab-wearing primary school teachers were transferred to administrative jobs.

I agree with the banning of face veils, for practical reasons related to identification and communication, yes, but also because I believe that face veils are shaming of women and womanhood in general.

In the UK we tend to believe that tolerance involves tolerating everything, especially the behaviour of the weak and disadvantaged, so as not to add to their burdens by shaming them. But, paradoxically, this attitude can entrench that weakness, allowing an extreme intolerance to grow amongst us that threatens the very society that tolerates it. Damian Green says that Britain is unlikely to follow France’s example because banning the burka would be “unBritish”. I agree with him, but not because I believe that being “British” in this particular respect is a Good Thing: The French approach is an attempt to engage with the problem. In Britain, “tolerance” is often shorthand for ignoring both issues and people and disengaging from them.

I believe that a woman who wears a face veil is participating in a declaration that womanhood should be effaced from public life… its message to me is that women are dangerous, require restraint and should not be allowed to participate equally in the world with men. It is an intolerant, insulting and disrespectful message which challenges all the gains women have made in the slow and still-incomplete battle for freedom that has cost many their lives over centuries. It is also aggressive, or, at the very least, insensitive, as it creates fear and discomfort in non-wearers who feel threatened and weakened by what it represents—women at the mercy of men.

The veil also insults and weakens men. It assumes that men cannot control their sexual urges in the presence of a woman. It reduces men to the level of instinctive beasts and removes from them any responsibility for learning to respond appropriately.

In Western societies, even the wearing of just a headscarf (rather than a niqab or a burka), when it is clear that the purpose is total covering of the body and hair, conveys similar messages.

While I say this, I am aware that millions of women have no choice but to wear the veil—they face ostracism or death if they do not. These women are damned (by the West) if they do and damned (by their cultures) if they do not. Their plight is terrible and I have deep compassion for them. They are being used as human shields to draw the fire of negative responses to extremism in the same way that some terrorists use their own civilians as human shields. While extreme displays reveal extreme distress, the causes of which should be investigated, understood and addressed, this does not mean that terrorism should be tolerated.

I actually think the terms of the French ban recognise the problem very well – the fine is only €150 for the woman wearing the veil but €30,000 or a year in jail for the man who forces her to do so. This recognises that the woman does not deserve further shaming and attempts to go to the source.

Of course, the man too may suffer shaming and ostracism by his culture (although likely not death) if “his” woman is not covered, so truly “going to the source” requires a much deeper and wider educative approach where men and women are encouraged to find ways of affirming their identity and their honour without shaming or degrading each other.

P.S. After writing the above post, I found this wonderful article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown which eloquently and fervently expresses some of the same thoughts and many more… I so admire her stance as a Muslim woman and I urge anyone who is interested in the implications of the veil to read her too: “Stand up against the burka” (The Guardian, 17 May 2010).

P.P.S. 04 April 2011. The wonderful Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has again written a great piece on the dangers of the veil. She says that banning is too extreme a response, but urges society to consider sixteen reasons why Muslims themselves should oppose it: Sixteen Reasons why I object to this dangerous cover-up.



2010: The Abuse and Insult Continue

How about this latest instance of the “good news” and the “loving” message of Jesus Christ from the Catholic Church:

The Guardian today reports that “Revised Catholic rules put female ordination in same category of crime under church law as clerical sex abuse of minors”: Vatican makes attempted ordination of women a grave crime

Why not legislate that Catholic women should wear burqas too? That should really make the position quite clear. And before you cry that there is no similarity, I ask you to consider this more deeply:

  • They are both rules made by men in power
  • To ensure that women never have power
  • On the basis that a masculine god-construct said so
  • And that men are supposedly better rulers of themselves and of others
  • And that women are supposedly mentally and emotionally weaker than men
  • And that women exercising power are more dangerous than men exercising power
  • Despite the negative examples of enormous bad done by powerful men
  • And the positive examples of enormous good done by powerful women

One’s gender does not define one’s morality or one’s capacity, even physically. For every strong man there is one who is weaker than a woman. For every weak woman there is one who is stronger than a man. And in all issues of conscience and character, any person has the potential to grow stronger or weaker. We are what we choose to be, not what religion or any man says we must be.

The gospel that the church claims it was commissioned to preach is the gospel of love. Why can we never feel or hear or experience that love amongst the welter of prohibitions and condemnations that exercise religious minds? Do any of them actually believe that Jesus came to set the world free? Or is love just so hard that no one is actually capable of it? It is so much easier just to legislate and condemn and blame anyone other than oneself for sin … man has been doing it since Adam and it looks like the Catholic Church has learned nothing since then. Didn’t Jesus say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone…”?



{Thu 9 July 2009}   Smooth Red Woman
Smooth Red Woman

Piled under an Italian sky, red marble gleams at me:
“Rosso Ammonico di Verona”, “Rosso Levanto”,
“Rosso Francia”, “Rosso Laguna”, “Rosso Lepanto” …
Seduced, I let the rosy names roll richly off my tongue.
My husband moves on with the guide, but I am enthralled by a red marble woman:

Shining in the sensuous sun, her whole body is deep tongue-texture,
Poised for creamy pleasures.
I cannot pass without caressing her; without sending forth probes
To scan the galaxy of textures just below my reach.
I must stroke her; explore her cool warmth with my fingertips,
Marvel at the harsh practice that produces smooth perfection.
Her delicacy suggests a gentle touch,
But soon I want to lick her, kiss her deeply.
Did she respond to the artisan’s hand as he chipped and chiselled and polished?
Did blood roil in her seething veins?
Did she strive with him to produce this beauty?

My medium’s not marble or any other deserving stone
That earns its right to care by its beautiful existence.
No, my chisel hits flesh, and draws blood, each time.
Its lumpen labour breaks surfaces; bruises.
It’s always amateur art, always a work-in-progress.
I search to expose the beautiful woman,
But each blow chips so little away.

What do I earn by being? By being what I am,
What my mounds, my cracks, my crevasses dictate I must be?
The right to be tossed aside, dismissed, like inferior stone,
Or to be reshaped (misshaped) into something unrecognisable.
My capillaries and crannies are not lovingly polished to reveal their textures.
No, smooth is different for warm-fleshed bodies.
In the world below the marble mountain, there is no real red.
I have spent much life on the effort to be equal:
I could not fashion a man’s sword for myself,
But, with assiduous application of all man’s expertise,
I do not age, have no cramps, show no blood.
My tampon fits discreetly in the palm of my hand.
I am a smoothed-out person, with a smoothed-out life.
No wo(e)-, just -man.

But, inside me, blood breathes and surges.
When the moon is full, it calls and urges.

Why do I fear that place where the Goddess waits?
“I am a woman,” I cry, “See my wedding ring, the pink coat,
The love of roses, the plucking of eyebrows, the Brazilian!”
I don’t want to go to No Man’s Land, where the Goddess waits;
That place where, she says, my name is Woman.

But I hear her calling, “Come, give me your hand.
Let’s wander down the river of blood.”



{Wed 19 March 2008}   Sex as it is and as it could be
This article in The Guardian, I was seen as an object, not a person, by a former lap-dancer about the reality of her experience in that industry provides a counter voice to the one mentioned in my previous post which suggests that there is (or could be) a normality to the sex industry if the parties involved are all consenting. The writer quotes various statistics suggesting that the presence of lapdancing clubs leads to an increase in sexual violence in the areas concerned.

I’ve never had any similar experience, but I can well imagine myself feeling exactly as she says she did, given the context that she describes. I am conscious as I read it, though, that we are still talking of a country where the official line is that paying for sex is bad and that lap-dancing is only allowed because it’s “not really sex”, which doesn’t fool anyone. This attitude inevitably means that the people currently engaging in the activity (clients as well providers) are those who tend to trangress socially acceptable norms of behaviour more easily (although it appears that there are so many of these that it is a norm in itself, a factor which must be considered). They are therefore likely to be more cavalier about abuse and violence too.

Making the entire industry illegal means that the society does not provide any rules or sanctions for conduct within the industry and also does not allow the development of non-official social guidelines of the non-snigger variety that could guide people and provide social pressure for appropriate behaviour. Every accepted non-sexual industry has evidenced exploitation. Governments have instituted rules and policing to curb unacceptable behaviour within these “respectable” industries, rather than shutting them down altogether because of abuses. If abuse and exploitation, rather than the industry as a whole, were strictly and severely policed, couldn’t sex become normal too? Is it possible that people who can’t contemplate this are the ones who believe that sex itself is evil, dangerous and dirty (although they use words like “private” and “sacrosanct” as euphemisms for these terms) and who would actually prefer that everyone has as little of it as possible, even within the “legal” area of marriage?

What if paying for sex were more mainstream, and sexual facilities were available for both sexes, and industry standards were high and policed? Could this mean that everyone could take care of their sexual health as they do of their physical fitness (going to the gym, doing sport, etc.)? Is it possible that then people would not have to feel anxious, guilty, dirty, threatened or unsafe for their interest and engagement in sex? Is it possible that people could have more fulfilling marriages and lives where they can focus on intellectual and emotional companionship and interesting, productive work, without having to deal with the constant distraction of sexual incompatibilities and dissatisfactions? Is it possible that then people could get on with the businesses of educating, creating, working, governing, resolving conflicts, home-making, etc. without paying too much attention to what people wear or who they’ve slept with? Could sexual activity just become acknowledged as something that everyone does in some form or another and that there’s nothing too remarkable about it? Could this defuse the high sexual tension that arises from the constant frustration experienced by most people and which leads to our media being clogged with material about perceived sexual misconduct and our governments grinding to a halt every time a leader is found to be doing what a very high percentage of people do or want to do anyway? In this regard, the recent NYT article In Most Species, Faithfulness is a Fantasy, is relevant.

The sci-fi show Firefly has a powerful, attractive, courtesan character, a “Companion” who is highly respected in a highly regulated industry and is an accomplished and intelligent woman. Of course, this is far away in the galaxy and in time, but could it be a healthy ideal?



Global warming? Terrorism? Fundamentalisms? Racism? Sexism? International crime? Water? GM crops? Sometimes (most times, maybe) most of us just want to switch to the entertainment channel and forget all about it. It might be because we don’t care, but quite often it’s because we just can’t see what “little ol’ me” could do about it.

The article Global Population: From explosion to implosion? by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director General of Unesco, in yesterday’s Mail&Guardian, addresses the population explosion and asks whether it might turn into an “implosion” due to the demographics of age and childbearing and their different impacts in the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres. It’s important to read, and not too long or too hard (because statistics always have a slightly numbing and distancing effect, I think, as opposed to personal stories that engage one’s empathy but are therefore sometimes very draining).

The best part about it, for me, is the conclusion, which clearly shows a way forward by focusing on priorities for action. Essentially, it’s one priority — education to develop “knowledge societies” that have the expertise and knowhow to solve their problems, but within that, the first priority is basic education for women and the second the development of a culture of life-long learning for all:

Basic education is first and foremost — especially the education of girls, the best contraceptive of all. According to one study, there are regions where girls are excluded from secondary schooling and the women have an average of seven children each. Where girls’ school enrolment is just 40%, this mean figure falls to three.

Life-long education for all ought to be recognised as an essential priority as well, for this is the answer to ageing populations and rising life expectancy. As knowledge and skills become outdated more rapidly, and people face the need to keep up by retraining or changing occupation, the demand for education is increasingly going to become a life-long matter. At bottom, this is good news: the world population will become older, admittedly, but individual humans will spend more of their lives in what counts as “youth” — for they will never stop learning.

What’s great about this for me is that it’s reinforced my thoughts about where best to spend money that I’ve earmarked for charity (and probably also some that I hadn’t, as I reflect on just how important this is). Education, education, education. Particularly for women. Particularly for those women where knowledge and competence will make the greatest difference in their and their families’ lives. Educating the most disadvantaged girls and women could have a profound effect on the population balance and also enable increasingly more people to look after themselves. It’s in everyone’s interest, even that of those who still don’t care.



{Wed 15 August 2007}   Are you for or against democracy?

There is a heartfelt, rousing cry for people everywhere to choose sides in the battle between democracy and theocracy in the article Time to Attack by Avraham Burg in Haaretz today. I agree 99%, I have to say.

The 1%: I’m not sure I agree that physical death and “democratic and moral death” are exactly the same, because while there is physical life there is hope for change and rehabilitation. So although I do think that all the different theocratic fundamentalist leaders are dangerous, I think that those who advocate physical killing are more dangerous, because there is no possibility at all of undoing that act. I am aware that for many this is a very theoretical distinction, though, because for those trapped inside very closed “heart and mind” belief systems, there is no realistic prospect of change or rehabilitation unless some kind of trauma or crisis ruptures and challenges their structures. However, these challenges do sometimes occur and opportunities arise for thinking differently, and in the mean time people can grow and develop and obtain some satisfactions from the many positive elements of their traditions. This clearly cannot happen at all if the person is dead. Therefore, I do see those religious people who declare their territory to be hearts and minds only and who leave physical death to God as marginally more advanced than those who believe they have a right to take physical life in the name of their religion. This does not mean I think we should leave any of them to continue teaching poison without challenge.

Although I would love to live in a world where nobody ever killed anybody, I accept that this would only be possible if a critical mass were mature, loving and responsible at all times, were able to prevent violence against everybody always, and were able to offer adequate material and emotional support to all disadvantaged people always, and this is not likely. I don’t think we should ever kill as punishment, but we are likely to have to kill for reasons of self-defense or protection of others sometimes and to make hard choices between possible deaths sometimes. But those choices should be governed by the evidence and the individual circumstances in each case, not by the idea that some religious Authority who cannot be proven to exist says that it’s OK to kill anybody who doesn’t believe as you do.

I think it comes down to differentiating between respect for the person and respect for the person’s beliefs. I respect people. I respect their right to choose their beliefs. I do not necessarily respect the beliefs themselves. I expect people to accept the civil consequences of and limitations on the beliefs they choose. I expect to be free to challenge their beliefs. I welcome their challenge of my beliefs. Beliefs that are valid to hold until good information requires them to change are those that concern issues that cannot be examined or proven scientifically. Where it can be proven scientifically that a particular belief is wrong (the earth is flat; all black people are stupid; all women are inferior; all women are better at housework than men; all men are better at providing for and protecting a family than women; all women are natural mothers; all homosexuality is a matter of choice; all humans are either male or female; all men are better leaders than women; covering women prevents sexual infidelity by men or women; AIDS is best cured by noshing on beetroot and garlic…), the belief should be robustly challenged by the institutions of government, not “respected” in a misguided attempt to celebrate diversity. And don’t start on that rubbish that “science is just another form of belief”! Just because some scientists are as misguided and misleading as some fundamentalist leaders and create mythologies to fill in the gaps between things that can actually be proven, this doesn’t invalidate the scientific approach.

I don’t think that democracy is “perfect” or without risks, or that all Western laws are right, moral or ethical, or that existing non-religious civil structures should be accepted without question or challenge, but I see more potential in this route for the evolution of mankind than in closed theocratic systems. I’m for democracy.



On Monday, 13 August 2007, in an article titled “Amnesty to defy Catholic church over rape victims’ abortion rights”, The Independent newspaper reported some very good news. Amnesty International had declared that the human rights of women should include access to abortion if they have been raped or if their lives are in danger.

Inevitably, many in the anti-abortion lobby were unable to appreciate the careful consideration given to supporting the rights of women without taking a moral position on abortion. Some asserted that Amnesty had now abandoned its support for human rights, apparently implying that the unborn are human, while women are not.

This assumption also underlies the selective inference of the “Pro-life” label that the unborn have a right to life no matter how much this compromises the life of the mother. The unborn, of course, might be male, whereas the mother’s femaleness is incontrovertible, so there is a further implication that men are human, while women are not. This illogical thinking is similar in nature to the theological assumptions underlying anti-abortion positions.

Amnesty’s deputy general secretary, Kate Gilmore, denied the organisation had become “pro-abortion”, insisting the organisation took as its guide legal, not theological, imperatives. “Amnesty International’s position is not for abortion as a right but for women’s human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations,” she said.

“Amnesty International stands alongside the victims and survivors of human rights violations. Our policy reflects our obligation of solidarity as a human rights movement with, for example, the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community. Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies. Our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God.”

The organisation is to be applauded for distancing itself from theology and focusing on human rights. However, the theological position that, because the child has been conceived, God intends for it to live at all costs, is illogical. It suggests that God intended the rape. This position allows people to continue to downplay society’s responsibility to protect women, because if God sanctions violence against them, there is no reason for society to do any better.

The woman must then “live” (for many it is a living death) with the physical, psychological and emotional trauma of having been raped, with the physical discomfort and risks of a pregnancy when she is in this weakened state, with the rejection of her partner and the ostracism of her society both of whom illogically blame her for the dishonour she had no power to prevent, with the burden of responsibility for a child she does not want and whose presence reminds her every day of the violation she experienced, with the need to find alternative sources of income and sustenance for herself and the child now that her normal sources are denied her and the likely worsening of her health and material circumstances as a result, and with the further punishments of an unforgiving society if she is not a good enough mother to this unwanted child. Her human rights, her right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or to “liberty, fraternity and equality” are effectively annihilated, in an instant, at the whim of a man. The child of such a mother is also similarly disadvantaged.

The conception of a child is no longer a “mystery”. We know that it occurs when a suitable sperm meets a suitable egg in a conducive physical environment. We also know that this meeting occurs after intercourse, i.e. after a man penetrates a woman. While this action does not always result in a child, we know that without it a child cannot be conceived. When it is conceived, it is not a “miracle”. It is a function of calculable odds. Our feeling that each new life is a miracle proceeds from either our ignorance of, or our inability to hold in mind, all the factors involved, due to their complexity, but they are in fact identifiable and quantifiable. A child is a possible consequence of man exercising his free will, and, as the mainstream interpretation of the Eden story suggests, these consequences are not always desirable.

Quite frankly, God has nothing to do with it. Whether one defines God as a personal being who created the universe or simply as the force that holds the universe together, God’s provision of the materials does not constitute a sanction for every use that humans make of those materials. Otherwise, one is left with the logical conclusion that God intends and approves every evil action as much as every good action that occurs in the universe. This mocks any conception of free will and therefore any concept of wrong action, effectively making it impossible for anyone to do wrong (or, in theological terms, to sin).

Until the world sanctions the compulsory sterilisation of men (which it is already possible to do, and which is not an illogical option as it is simple, inexpensive, and reversible), there is a strong argument for allowing abortion when men force themselves on women. This would not yet put women on an equal footing with men, because the rape and the abortion would still be traumatic in ways that men can never begin to imagine or experience, but it would prevent much of the consequential abuse that women and their unwanted children suffer.



Still on the topics of gender discrimination and of hypocrisy, the following articles in the Mail&Guardian today caught my eye:

Sex Bias and Hypocrisy by Lucy Ward begins with the following paragraph:

Teenage girls and young women in the United Kingdom overwhelmingly believe they face a future of discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, with half worrying that their careers will suffer if they have children, according to a survey by the Girl Guides.

It goes on to say that while the majority of them believe that women can do anything they want to do, and that 94% expect to go back to work after having children, most of them also believe that they already and in the future face discrimination issues due to their gender.

In the same section, I came across an article by Sarah Churchwell (whose surname is doubtless considered ironic by members of the church, given her views) titled Who needs kids anyway? I think the title is slightly misleading, because it gives the impression that she thinks of kids as a burden and wouldn’t want any herself, whereas the article reveals that she is open to the possibility but is making the point that motherhood is a possible role, not the entire definition of a woman. The article starts like this:

Last week brought yet another report in the United Kingdom yelping about women “waiting too long” to have babies. I enjoyed this one, particularly as it was about graduate women born in 1970, of whom 40% have had children. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m one of the other 60%. The report had a clear message: get impregnated now or you shall rue the day. Oh, please. Can we get a few things straight?

She goes on to make four points with which I heartily agree:

  1. Raising children in the wrong partnership is painful and destructive for all concerned and when a suitable partnership isn’t available during the childbearing years then remaining childfree is far preferable.
  2. “… wanting children is not a foregone conclusion just because I am a woman.”
  3. “… not having children is not necessarily a selfish decision.”
  4. “… having children is not necessarily a selfless decision.”

For me, the most compelling reason is the last one. I am really irked by the hypocrisy of those who have had children for a huge complex of psychological reasons including the desire to live out an improved version of their own lives through their children, the need to feel empowered by controlling beings less powerful than themselves, the desire to achieve status in communities that value the number and/or achievements of one’s children, the need not to be considered inadequate by communities who believe that a woman is not fulfilled unless she is a mother, the hope that children will provide some kind of insurance against loneliness and poverty in old age, or even simply because it never occurred to them not to have children, and who then in retrospect justify the difficulties that they’ve faced in childbearing and childrearing by saying that they did it for love, or because they are “unselfish” in comparison with those who have chosen not to have children.

Of course, I understand the need to create meaning and a sense of purpose in order to sustain oneself through the struggles that having children entails, and I do believe that some people who start out selfish may become less so through the experience of having children, but it’s simply not true that the majority of women start out with the altruistic thought, “What can I give to the world? Oh, I know, I’ll have a baby.” Most people do it for themselves, or due to cultural pressure (which, in a way, is still for themselves).

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that this isn’t a good reason for doing it, as it’s perfectly human. Just be honest. It’s no more or less selfish than the choice not to do so. And both choices may or may not have positive consequences for the world. One could be the mother of a serial killer. The other might be Mother Theresa.



The article Discrimination against girls ‘still deeply entrenched’ by Terri Judd and Harriet Griffey in today’s Independent quotes statistics from the Plan International report “Because I am a Girl” which show me very clearly that the issue of gender status is not yet a curiosity for the history books:

    Almost 100 million girls “disappear” each year, killed in the womb or as babies…
    … two million girls a year still suffer genital mutilation
    … half a million die during pregnancy – the leading killer among 15 to 19-year-olds – every 12 months
    … an estimated 7.3 million are living with HIV/Aids compared with 4.5 million young men.
    Almost a million girls fall victim to child traffickers each year compared with a quarter that number of boys
    …. Of the 1.5 billion people living on less than 50p a day, 70 per cent are female
    … 96 million young women aged 15 to 24 (are) unable to read or write – almost double the number for males.
    62 million girls are not even receiving primary school education
    … an estimated 450 million have stunted growth because of childhood malnutrition.

The article goes on to say that while many of the worst figures apply to developing countries, there is still clear statistical evidence of sexual discrimination in the north, and gives specific examples in the UK.

As I write about this, I’m obviously challenged to think what exactly I’m doing about it. I might be making a very tiny contribution by blogging about the status and perception of women (amongst the other things I’m interested in) and by contributing to Amnesty International who run several campaigns specifically on behalf of women, and by creating a website (sheTIME) which is intended to offer a place for women to exchange experiences, tips and information about the feminine cycle in order to change their perception of this definitive female experience from negative to positive. sheTIME has been held up a little while the two of us who’ve created it clarify our vision for its future, but I do hope that it will eventually be released for public view. But all of this seems so little a contribution from someone who comes from a place of relative comfort, rank and power when compared to the women the statistics above describe. I know there is more I can do, and in the next few months I will look for appropriate channels. My instinct is to go for educational programmes that target women, because education empowers in the long-term, but I know there are so many other urgent issues as well, like stopping the rape in Darfur.

This morning while musing and browsing, I came across this site that has a huge number of stories about successful programmes in India: http://www.empowerpoor.com/programmereport.asp When the enormity of the problem threatens to overwhelm one, it’s good to be inspired by such a long list of creative solutions that have made and are making a difference.

Here’s another good one to consider: http://www.plan-uk.org/becauseiamagirl/trafficking/



Yesterday we hosted one of our regular Shakespeare readings at home. The company was jolly and the food delicious, if very simple (crudites with organic hummus to start, then homemade veggie soup with homemade crusty bread at the halfway point, and strawberries and Lindt Lindor Extra Dark choccy balls for the final act!). With the help of some French organic cider and a very good Pinot Noir, the group launched into Measure for Measure with great energy, scrambling bravely over the rocky bits (French velvet and English kersey) and breaking out every so often for a spot of outrage or insight as we are wont to do. We were delighted by the variety of temperaments our readers captured in both large and small parts, with a menacingly sepulchral Angelo, Lucio as a canny, sassy, irreverent ne’er-sit-down whose wordplay gleamed like swordplay, Francisca sporting an Irish accent, a self-righteous Elbow, a truculent Barnardine, the passionate virgin Isabella, and all the other characters whose hilarious and shocking contrasts only fully emerge when embodied.

The play was, as always, very timely. We yielded willingly to the Bard’s genius in creating characters, situations and wordplay that make us laugh uproariously while reflecting on themes of moral hypocrisy, the unequal values placed on the testimonies of women and men, the power-relationships of relative rank, money, reputation, class and gender, over-legislation and interference by the state, and the obsession with sex as a focus for legislation and judgement due to supposed “public interest”, with repression the chosen tool despite the evidence of history that it is neither possible nor desirable to “geld and splay all the youth of the city” (Pompey to Escalus, MforM Act II Sc i).

These topics are so ubiquitous and familiar still from our own everyday politics that it’s hard to blame anyone who takes up an attitude as cynical as Lucio’s, determining simply to follow whichever path (and suck up to whichever power source) is likely to lead to the greatest personal licence right now. However, in Shakespeare’s time one had a lot less choice about one’s position and advancement in society (at least relative to those who live in more or less democratic cultures now — I know that the majority of the world still lacks this privilege). Why don’t those of us who can in the 21st century require our leaders and opinion-formers in church and state and media to concentrate on education, health, gender equality and poverty relief or any of the other things where their intervention could actually be useful, rather than spending our time and our money on the prosecution of people whose service exists because of society’s need and desire to use it?

I say this in connection with “The madam, her girls and a city in fear” in the Mail&Guardian. How much has changed since Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure? Well, I smiled as I thought that it seems clear that the primal needs and the political motivations of the players haven’t altered at all, but at least there is a possibility that Mistress Overdone may get more airtime. That, at least, brings a bit of balance to the exploitation equation.

Overall, the play’s a peachy preach on a theme that’s too little heard these days:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

And I love the open question at the end… did Isabella say yes to Vincentio?



et cetera