DEGOUGERIE 8 Posted on: Wednesday 27th Jun 2018
Olympe de Gouges in Berlin
This DeGougerie is a little different. It will focus on a trip I made to Berlin this month to visit the Hello World exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum. My interest was piqued when I was contacted by the museum; the director and curator Udo Kittelmann wished to use my translation of the words de Gouges gave Zamore in his speech from Act 1, scene 1, of Zamore and Mirza. Displayed directly on the wall they provide some historical context within the exhibition's opening room:
MIRZA - You have taught me all that I know but, tell me, Zamore, why do the Europeans and the Planters have such an advantage over us, poor Slaves? They are, after all, just like you and me. Why are they so superior to us? We are human beings like them. Eh! Why then such a difference between their kind and ours?
ZAMORE - This difference is a very insignificant thing; it exists only in colour, but the advantages that they have over us are immense. Skill put them above nature: instruction made Gods of them and we are mere mortals. They use us in these climes as they use animals in theirs. They came here, seized our land, our wealth, and enslaved us in recompense for the riches that they stole from us. The fields they reap are our very own, and the harvest is actually watered with our sweat and our tears. Most of these barbarous masters treat us with a cruelty that would make nature tremble; our too unhappy kind has become used to these chastisements. They carefully guard against instructing us; if our eyes were to open we would be horrified by the state to which they have reduced us and we could shake off a yoke that is as cruel as it is shameful. But is it in our power to alter our destiny? A man debased by slavery loses all his energy; the most crushed among us are the least unhappy. I always showed such zeal to my Master and I was careful never to let my friends know what I was thinking.
The former railway station's massive entrance hall represents (in this exhibition) an 'agora' where artworks juxtapose with written texts introducing visitors to the main theme of the exhibition – an analysis of the museum's collection from a transcultural viewpoint – by noting how appropriation and transformation occur when cultural exchanges take place.
The pamphlet accompanying the exhibition describes the agora's purpose: 'What happens to a society if it lacks central meeting places? How do global inequalities and conflicts affect the organization of existing public spaces? These questions are addressed not only by the artworks, but also in quoted texts from a wide range of philosophical and literary sources arranged on the walls of the exhibition space. The analytical, critical and occasionally belligerent tone of the texts by the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin or the early revolutionary Olympe de Gouges offer a wealth of parallels to the works of art and open up diverse perspectives and spaces for reflection on the conditions of society and its relationship to the world.' It was wonderful to see de Gouges's words displayed in such a way. So often marginalised, her text deserved its place alongside those of better known individuals.
Expecting to find her words reproduced on the wall, it was a surprise to find her physically placed alongside others in an artwork by Goshka Macuga from 2016, Pavilion for International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation. The piece was made up of a very large open rectangular concrete structure, lying on its side. The space created both a frame and a support for several life sized heads. De Gouges's, made of resin and rubber, was placed alongside those of Giordano Bruno, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Rabindranath Tagore and one representing Pussy Riot. Fresh freesias burst from a vase form in the top of her head. Their glorious energy reminded me of the criticism from one of her contemporaries who mocked that if she hadn't had rockets coming out of her head, she might have been blessed with some good ideas. How tremendous that those derided soaring ideas should have found their way to the Hamburger Bahnhoff where they grace the walls in such illustrious company. It was delightful to see so many people giving them the full attention that they deserve in this thought provoking exhibition.
Below are the other texts that Udo Kittelmann chose to illustrate the exhibition's aims:
'The International intellectual co-operation has laboured and must not cease to labour to diffuse the idea of permanent international collaboration between scholars artists, writers, teachers, students and school children in all countries. […] But above all, it has been able, as an official international institution, embracing the whole field of intellectual life, to demonstrate for the first time in history the intellectual unity of nations, and to rally many well-intentioned agencies in all continents to its programme.
From: The International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation, Publication by the IIIC informing the public about the activities of the Institute and the Committee, 1930, p.11.
International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation (1925-1946)
The idea for an international institute of Intellectual Cooperation […] was first proposed in 1924. The Institute was closed between 1940 and 1944, but reopened in February 1945, continuing its work until the end of 1946 when UNESCO took over part of its responsibility.
Source: UNESCO Archives.
Of this English upper-middle class speech we may note (a) that it is not localised in any one place, (b) that though the people who use this speech are not all acquainted with one another, they can easily recognise each other's status by this index alone, (c) that this elite speech form tends to be imitated by those who are not of the elite, so that other dialect forms are gradually eliminated, (d) that the elite, recognising this situation, is constantly creating new linguistic elaborations to mark itself off from the common herd.
Source: International Art English, by Alix Rule & David Levine quoted from: E. R. Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure, 1954. Oceanis Vol. 25, No. 4 (Jun., 1955), Wiley on behalf of Oceania Publications, University of Sydney
1.The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.
1.12 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.
1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.
1.2 The world divides into facts.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, 1922, translated by Charles Kay Ogden
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 Vienna, Austria – 1951 Cambridge, GB)
In a big, old city there once lived a merchant. His house was in the oldest part of town, in a narrow filthy lane. And in this lane of ancient houses so old they could no longer stand on their own, each one leaning up against the other, the merchant's house was the oldest. It was also the biggest. With its mighty vaulted doorway and its high, arched windows with purblind bull's-eye panes, with its steep roof boasting an array of narrow little windows it looked rather odd – the merchant's house, the last house on Mariengasse. The town was a pious one, and many of the houses had exquisite carvings of the Blessed Virgin or other saints above the doorways or on the eaves. On Mariengasse, too, every house had its saint. Only the merchant's house stood bare and gray, completely unadorned. […] The merchant was no ordinary shopkeeper, selling clothes and spices to people – no! He had no dealings whatsoever with the poor and simple inhabitants of the lane. Day in, day out he sat in his large audit-office with its high cabinets and long shelves, doing the books and adding sums. For his trade extended far across the seas, to distant and remote lands.
Walter Benjamin, Novella fragment, in: Lorenz Jäger, Water Benjamin, An Unfinished Life, translated by David Burnett, Berlin 2017, ©Litrix.de
Walter Benjamin (1892 Berlin, Germany – 1940 Portbou, Spain, fleeing from the National Socialist regime)
In any case, the withdrawal of the state is clearly happening. As the welfare state scales back in Europe and elsewhere, it is important to understand why societies with a broken relationship between residents and the state resist self-organization and how they can eventually self-organize, as I saw first hand in very different communities in Serbia and South Africa. My experience in such projects has shown me that the kind of self-organization that leads to the participation of citizens in the governance of their city, to a new social agreement, and eventually to a new citizenship and a new relationship with the state is strongly tied to a physical space […]
We are not liberated from space. Even in an age when we inhabit digital space and speak in abstractions about private and public space, we are nevertheless dependent on physical space. As sociologists have pointed out, any group that strives for recognition requires a physical space. Placemaking is the creation of such a space. This is where the social reality is constructed – in a place.
Marjetica Potr??, Self-Organization Where the State Has Withdrawn, 2015
From:The Neighbourhood as Global Arena/Reader, The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Israel; Vol. 3, Infrastructures and Methodologies, 2015, pp. 1-11.
Marjetica Potr?? (*1953 Ljubljana, Slovenia, lives in Ljubljana and Berlin)
DEGOUGERIE 7 Posted on: Tuesday 1st May 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them
At the beginning of the month Malala Yousafzai returned to her home in Pakistan's Swat valley for the first time since she was shot by the Taliban six years ago. Then aged 14 she was already an outspoken supporter of girls' education. In 2014, aged 17, she won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work and is, not surprisingly, its youngest recipient. Sadly, her desire to spend time on the roof of her family's house, as she had as a child, was deemed too dangerous. Another attack on her life was feared. There are people locally who feel that she has received too much attention for, unlike them, she did not personally fight off the Taliban. It would seem that the Malala Fund which '...is working for a world where every girl can learn and lead without fear' has plenty of work left to do.
Images of two men holding hands spread around the world. President Macron of France visited President Trump in Washington on a State Visit. The hand holding, body clasping, kissing or air-kissing antics of these two men added levity to what was in fact an act of political brinkmanship. Would Macron outsmart his host and persuade the world that his own vision of strong, sophisticated and intelligent leadership was a cut above Mr Trump's world of tweets. The jury is out for in a world where images have a more lasting impact than words, Trump's quasi-paternalistic action of brushing non-existent dandruff off his guest's shoulder may prove to be the visit's most lasting killer image. Important though it was the French/US get-together with its echoes of Lafayette and Franklin was nothing in comparison to the hand-shake that took place in East Asia. In a remarkable moment of shared optimism the leaders of North and South Korea (Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-in) held hands and symbolically stepped over the Military Demarcation Line that has divided Korea since 1953; then, still holding hands rather like two small boys in a playground, they stepped over it again. From North to South, and South to North, and maybe North to South again. That such an insignificant strip of concrete a few inches high and a few inches wide could represent a gulf between nations seemed surreal. Because the Korean Demilitarization Zone has been uninhabited for so many years – filled as it is with lethal landmines – it has become one of the world's richest habitats, full of species that are threatened elsewhere. Plans to turn it into a peace park, wildlife park and/or biosphere reserve have been put forward over the years. Perhaps, soon, they will come to fruition and remain as a symbol that people from divided nations can cohabit peacefully if their leaders are brave enough to take the first step.
Sunday 22 April was Earth Day. The focus was on ending the scourge of plastic pollution, particularly visible in our oceans. President Macron, in his speech to the American Congress, mentioned his hope that the U.S. would rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change mitigation. Though he rightly pointed out that mankind's activities are having a very negative impact on the natural world he did not specify any means to remedy the situation. This year, through civic participation and political action, the Earth Day Network (set up in 1970) hopes to educate millions of us to better understand the problems caused by the misuse of plastic. Nonchalantly thrown away it is unsightly and dangerous; eventually broken down it enters the food chain, wreaking havoc on ecosystems large and small. Their message for 2018 is 'reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle and remove plastics'. The advent of the internet and social media, not a tool available to Earth Day Network in their infancy, has made their mission fittingly global. However, like in fairy tales, one must be careful to wish for the right thing. Should natural rubber be taken up again in vast quantities to plug a gap left by the removal of synthetic plastic, monocultural plantations would increase (currently only 30% of rubber is derived from trees) and yet more indigenous forests would be destroyed.
Earth Day led me to TreeSisters who describe themselves thus: 'a global network of women who donate monthly to fund the restoration of our tropical forests as a collective expression of planetary care. As a feminine leadership and tropical reforestation organisation, we exist to call forth the brilliance and generosity of women everywhere and channel it towards the trees. Our goal is to make it as normal for everyone to give back to nature as it currently is to take nature for granted.' It was started by Claire Dubois who became obsessed with the loss of clouds (being English this was indeed the stuff of nightmares). She felt it was a premonition of climate change. In her address (see vimeo link below) to the Women's International Networking conference in 2017 she describes how she came to found Treesisters. I was struck by how many of her words could have been spoken by Olympe de Gouges. She feels that she, and other passionate outspoken women, have to 'go through hell' to make their voices heard. Although she encourages men to join the movement she feels strongly that it is women who are collaborative and caring, who understand the cycles of life and are more in tune with Mother Nature: women and nature carrying a similar history of being contained and controlled, their wild side being constricted to the point of abuse. Like de Gouges she has overcome any fear of failure in the face of what she believes is the catastrophic damage being inflicted on our planet and its peoples. Claire Dubois finds strength in viewing her approach as an experimental one, where failure is acceptable. Women, by responding to their deep feminine feelings, can intuit how to approach these global problems and then seek to resolve them in humility. This is the only way to heal a system that needs us to switch from being a 'consumer species' to a 'restorer species.' I am sure that Olympe de Gouges would have embraced trees and their sisters had she been confronted with the reality of climate change.
Another woman who is involved in saving indigenous forests for future generations is Elizabeth II. Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms she has encouraged the creation of the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy among the 53 member countries to ensure future generations of trees sustain the peoples who will live among them. The hope is that those involved will exchange knowledge of best practice, create new collaborative initiatives and prove a long lasting legacy of Elizabeth II's reign.
There is a Utopian echo in these tree-planting projects that makes me think of Rousseau and his influence on de Gouges. Unlike Rousseau she believed in women's ability to transcend the limits society had placed upon them. She instinctively believed in a feminine energy that could offer a different approach from the masculine. 230 plus years after de Gouges presented herself as a double gendered entity, capable of encompassing the emotional and intellectual attributes of both sexes, Claire Dubois speaks of us all using our feminine sensibility to inform our masculine actions. A gender fluid world is more discussed than ever before but social media use also tells us that stereotypical behaviour is as prevalent as ever. Young people are freer to express themselves than their forebears: some adopt gender fluidity, others stick to the age old behaviour so berated by de Gouges of young women posing as pretty airheads for the benefit of the male gaze.
DeGougerie 6 Posted on: Wednesday 28th Mar 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them.
Alive today Olympe de Gouges would have rejoiced in the internet’s capacity to spread her words far and wide. Impassioned, gregarious and politically aware, social media would have seemed a dream come true. France in the 1790s was awash with progressive politics, regressive politics and any amount of skullduggery. Late eighteenth century bribery and corruption spread its tentacles as far as it could. The debacle facing democracy now, thanks to Facebook, GSR and Cambridge Analytica among others, is more of the same writ larger due to improved technology. Like most of us de Gouges would have been mortified by recent events but not necessarily surprised. Data collection and naivety have never been reasonable bedfellows.
This month UNICEF celebrated the global decline of child marriages. India, which sees by far the largest numbers of under 18 year old girls married, is in great part responsible for the improved figures given that in 10 years there has been 20% drop in such practices from 47 to 27%. This still leaves about 1.5 million girls prey to illegal unions. However those in the field suggest that the data is confused given that it has been gathered from local government census reports and relies on those questioned telling the truth. In many rural areas, for cultural, religious and economic reasons it is still considered important to marry a girl, sometimes before puberty, despite this being against the law. Families have become adept at disguising the ceremony to avoid discovery. De Gouges suffered from being forced into an unwanted marriage by her family and for the rest of her days believed that official unions were the tomb of love and trust. She would have appreciated the work of an Indian NGO Breakthrough who believes that: ‘An early marriage denies a girl access to education, health and other opportunities. It is a violation of human rights and violence against young women, the consequences of which, follows them well into adulthood…many of these bleak statistics can be overcome when a girl marries after the age of 18. Not only does she have better access to educational and economic opportunities and increased sexual and reproductive rights, her decision-making powers also improve, giving her the ability to negotiate a gender-equitable position within her own family and potentially within her marital home as well.’ Their programme ‘…reaches out to adolescents, through a school based curriculum that helps boys and girls understand and respect one another. It provides them with a shared, safe space where gender norms can be challenged and redefined...Breakthrough recognizes that the problem can only be countered if cultural norms which perpetuate early marriage for girls are challenged. The goal is not just for girls to get married post 18 years of age, rather for them to enjoy the right to pursue their own dreams and aspirations.’
In the second week of March 7000 books arrived in Mosul to replenish the university library destroyed by ISIS in 2015. As long as the written word has existed burning texts has always been thought an effective way to control and close minds. Sent by Book Aid International, who state that Mosul has been their most challenging destination to date, the shipment included works for children to support those affected by war. Books are tangible companions that hold more than just words between their covers. That so many should take such pains to effect a delivery of this kind is testament to the enduring power and joy of physical texts at a time when, energy and internet supply willing, most of them can be accessed electronically.
I overheard someone on French radio this month, when talking about the remarkable Louise Weiss claim that: ‘France has great trouble positioning women in her history, in her memory. We have a passion for men in politics, strong men. Louise Weiss was a woman ahead of her time. She was an uncomfortable presence.’
While many agonised over the misuse of electronic data collection others celebrated the beneficial power of social media. Its potential to impact on one of the most intractable problems of war was rewarded when WWoW (We are Not Weapons of War) won an award on March 20 for their transformation of digital tools for ethical purposes. Founded by the international lawyer and specialist in war crimes Céline Bardet WWoW aims to eliminate the use of sexual aggression as a weapon of war. Women and men are both vulnerable as the NGO discovered when working in Libya and Syria where men, as well as women, were raped in order to victimise them and make them compliant through fear and shame. It is a political act which by diminishing individuals, seeks to deny them their rightful place in society. Céline Bardet states: ‘It is essential not to reduce these people to their status of victim but rather to highlight their strength, their will to fight and their determination.’ By using social media the NGO helps people share their experiences of assault in safety in order to collect and secure the relevant data. WWoW seeks to provide emotional support to those in need, and legal advice to those able to prosecute their attackers.
A few years ago I was approached by Tarik Günersel to see if we could work together to bring the play I co-wrote, Olympe de Gouges porteuse d'espoir, to his home city of Istanbul. Sadly events transpired to halt proceedings before they really began but I count it a great blessing to have been in touch with this special person. I celebrated him on 21 March, World Poetry Day, which he did so much to inaugurate through PEN International in 1997. His literary talents are wide ranging – poet, aphorist, playwright, short story writer and librettist – so it seems fitting to end this month's DeGougerie with one of his poems written in 1993 and published in
based on the life of the 17th century ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV-
I could accept being anybody.
I could accept being anything.
I shouldered the state for years.
I’ve borne the past.
I’ve borne the future.
I cannot bear myself.
If fate exists,
why is there conscience?
I wish I could dissolve
in your infinity!
Only in your infinity could mine dissolve.
is this solititude!
Go! Leave me alone!
Take all victories! I simply don’t care!
Take all gifts, treasures, and thrones!
Take fame and glory! Take all history!
Take the whole world! The stars and heaven!
Just give me my hawk!
Give me my father’s arms, my son’s first steps!
Oh God, here are so many I don’t want
and nobody that I do.
you’ve been serving me for two years.
You are the only soul I see;
you cannot hear or speak to me.
And there’s no pen or paper here.
Nor can you read the things I write in the air.
Which land are you from?
What’s your name?
Yet it’s as if you hear and understand all I say.
Even my silences.
My son’s fourteen today.
I miss him
just as I miss my father
on the thirtieth anniversary of his murder.
And like everybody
my son, too, is far from me. Sultan,
he’s a prisoner in his palace
as I am here.
They say I know a lot.
I do. True. Without understanding
I want to go hunting! I want to go hunting! How many
doors are there? How many locks? Guards? Guns?
How many obstacles must I overcome? Huh?
I wish they would kill me! I want to go hunting!
Is nature still there outside?
Are there still trees, birds, insects, deer?
Does my composer Itri still write songs?
Or has all this ceased to exist? Huh?
Are there only the throne, the treasure and the wars left?
I want to go hunting!
Come on, be of some use, woman: Strangle me!
This bow has no string, haven’t you any?
Are your hands too small for my throat?
Come on, take me out hunting!
I don’t care how many doors, locks or guards there are!
Free me from the limits of my body! Take me out for a hunt!
Let my hawk take me there where dead birds go!
Strangle me -as they strangled my father
when I was seven
with my consent!
Be my hawk!
DEGOUGERIE 5 Posted on: Monday 5th Mar 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them.
An Afghan Aid appeal on the BBC mentions the plight of a family whose father would not allow the mother to leave their home. He got sick; they lost any income they had; their daughter died. Afghan Aid came to the village and taught the woman to grow vegetables. The husband agreed because his wife was taught by women and could grow the food within their plot. Now she funds their existence, the remaining children can go to school and the husband is grateful and repentant. I find it incomprehensible that such patriarchal attitudes could still hold good in the 21st century. How much longer do women's voices have to go unheeded? https://www.afghanaid.org.uk
'Me Too', starting in show business, spreads inexorably through other domains. No surprise there. If men hold more positions of power than women, and particular men are predatory by nature, then the chances are they will abuse that power. And, as other cases prove viz. Kevin Spacey, sexual orientation has no bearing on the matter. What has shocked is the highlighting of abuse by the charitable sector. The bodies of vulnerable adults and children, at their lowest ebb in many cases, are being used for sex in return for food, or other life saving aid, to the extent that some women are refusing help in order not to be accused of prostitution. The Charity Commission stated that over 1000 cases have been reported in the last year. The 'shock horror' media cover belies the fact that widespread abuse was reported in 2002 and that a review was published in 2010: 'The review included personnel from the United Nations, nongovernmental organisations, the International Organisation for Migration and the International Federation of the Red Cross, as well as peacekeeping and development partners. An external review facilitator worked with 14 agencies to help them conduct self-assessments of their own policies and guidelines and the direction and support being provided to their field offices. Field research was conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal, and desk research was carried out for five additional countries. The results of the review indicated that much more needed to be done to protect affected populations from sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian actors.' Hopefully the new furore will help to change behaviour in the sector. The work performed by so many NGOs and smaller charities is vital to those in need. Rogue elements must not be allowed to destroy it; the sector has to show the public that it is still worthy of its support by openly confronting these problems. https://odihpn.org/magazine/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-by-un-ngo-and-ingo-personnel-a-self-assessment/
On Sunday 25 February the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem shut its doors indefinitely in response to the Israeli government's proposed changes in taxation on church property. The row centres on property (majorly belonging to the Greek Orthodox church) that was leased to householders in the 1950s with the understanding that the leases would be renewed when these expired. However, to pay it debts, the church sold some of the property to developers. It is these transactions that the city council seeks to tax to repay a significant shortfall owed by the church, stating that only places of worship are exempt from imposition. The Christian authorities are protesting and stating that the Israelis are persecuting them to de-Christianise Jerusalem, and claiming this echoes laws of a similar nature enacted in what they term the dark periods in Europe. The fail to mention the identical treatment meted out to the Catholic church by the anti-clerical but still nominally Catholic French government in the early 1790s when church property was expropriated and sold to fill the state's coffers. That would doubtlessly pack a weaker emotional punch.
The Winter Olympics were held in South Korea with the participation of North Korean athletes who marched in to the opening ceremony under the Korean Unification flag. This emblematic moment has led to further rapprochement between the two countries. A South Korean envoy will visit the North shortly and talks of denuclearizing the peninsula may ensue. Despite President Trump's bullish assertiveness before the Olympic Games, military drills ceased during the Games and the atmosphere between all parties was distinctly less aggressive than before the sporting activities began. Unfortunately sabre rattling has returned between the northern state and the U.S. but South Korea seems to be asserting itself in the hopes of furthering peace seeking discourse.
The Syrian conflict has reached new heights of barbarity with its continued bombing of civilians around Damascus despite frequent promises of a ceasefire. Women and children have suffered more than ever with the worst casualties recorded since 2015. As de Gouges stated it is all too easy to stir up hatred, but so hard to control its consequences.
On St Valentine’s day a disgruntled ex-pupil returned to his school in Parkland, Florida, and shot dead seventeen pupils and staff. A week later a breakaway group of the Unification Church, the Sanctuary Church, held a service in Philadelphia blessing the marriages of over two hundred couples. The photographs of robed celebrants clasping assault style rifles, some gilded, and wearing crowns made of bullets were surreal. Sadly the church's leader, the son of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, was not indulging in attention seeking fancy dress but confirming that guns should be used to protect the righteous. He backs President Trump's call for teachers to be armed in schools. Fire, they believe, will put out fire.
Hindus across the globe celebrated Holi, the festival of colour that marks the arrival of Spring, while Europe was gripped by a Siberian freeze that returned vast swathes of the continent to deepest Winter. Strangely in France it was the warmer South, de Gouges's homeland, that was hit the hardest with snow covering Mediterranean beaches and paddle boarders putting on skis to explore the new terrain.
This is the season when the film industry in the West gives itself awards. De Gouges would have been astounded that the hot topic this year was inclusivity. She fought for equal rights in theatrical circles over two hundred years ago, the advent of celluloid entertainment did nothing to improve the situation. The same groups are still marginalised and still fighting; the creative side of the business appears to be shifting positively towards inclusivity: the financiers within the industry must follow suit.
DeGougerie 4 Posted on: Friday 2nd Feb 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
As January ends Iranian authorities have freed Vida Mohaved from prison, having arrested her for publicly removing her hijab in Tehran last December. The image of her holding her white veil aloft on a stick, standing on a utility box in the city centre, spread across the world via social media. The numbers of women joining the White Wednesday protest is growing; a silent act of defiance that is not going unnoticed nor at times unpunished. Men who are drawn to support the movement hold white flags in solidarity. The protest is not seeking to ban the wearing of the veil but to make it a question of choice not enforcement. In 2014 the journalist Masih Alinejad started and online movement called My Stealthy Freedom encouraging Iranian women to share images of themselves not wearing the hijab. White Wednesday has grown out of this community of like-minded women and men fighting for equality and the freedom to choose how to live their lives in Iran.
Carrie Grace resigned as BBC China editor this month having worked for the corporation for more than 30 years. Her resignation was a protest against the broadcaster’s employment structure that she believes pays male presenters more than their female equivalents. Many women employed in similar circumstances at the BBC agreed with Grace: it was pointed out that the Equal Pay act was passed in 1970 yet forty-eight years later the problem is far from being resolved. Olympe de Gouges, unable to earn money as a female author, longed for a time when women would be remunerated according to their talents. Today's lack of parity inevitably reflects a societal judgement that still appears to favour male employees over their female counterparts.
'Balance ton porc' the French 'me too' campaign has left the French sisterhood in disarray. Fearing that puritanism might constrain relations between the sexes a hundred women, including Catherine Deneuve, wrote an open letter to le Monde stating that 'balance ton porc' was in danger of making sexual freedom a thing of the past. They worry that people will no longer feel free to behave in an importuning way, that adults will be denied the liberty to be openly flirtatious. They claim to represent women's hard won freedom; the response from a number of their sisters is uncompromising outrage accusing Deneuve and others of supporting sexual predation. Both sides appropriate the same territory i.e. protection of women's rights and freedom of expression but hold diametrically opposed views. Catherine Deneuve felt obliged to respond to the accusations. She stated that her intention was to highlight the dangers an un-nuanced approach to the problem. The use of social media to condemn individuals publicly without due process was no solution to the abuse of power by a sexual predator, something she abhors. She was at pains to stress that the education of boys and girls might be a better solution rather than a generalised and puritanical condemnation of male behaviour. Brigitte Bardot also criticised those who complained of sexually inappropriate behaviour in the cinema industry, suggesting that most of it is led by actors who flirt with producers to gain a foothold in the industry. French responses to sexual advances do seem to be divided along generational lines with older women defending a type of behaviour that their younger counterparts no longer appreciate. The debate continues to divide opinion given the possibility of sexual harassment being made illegal on the streets of France. Everyone admits to finding life complicated these days.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a climate change activist and poet from the Marshall Islands. In these words from her website I find an echo of Olympe de Gouges:
"..I fell asleep
were a current
to greet you"
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner's poem Monster from 2017 was written in response to an invitation from the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. She continues to use her voice to campaign for a fairer peaceful world. The poem was performed at Hiroshima and can be viewed on her website https://www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com
Sometimes I wonder if Marshallese women are the chosen ones.
I wonder if someone selected us from a stack. Drew us out slow. Methodical. Then, issued the order:
Give birth to nightmares. Show the world what happens. When the sun explodes inside you.
How many stories of nuclear war are hidden in our bodies?
574 – the number of stillbirths and miscarriages after the bombs of 1951. Before the bombs? 52.
Bella Compoj told the UN she could no longer have children. That she saw her friends give birth to ugly things.
Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like the intestines 
She told this to a committee of men who washed their hands of this sin – these women who bore unholy things – created from exploding spit and ugly things.
And how these women buried their nightmares. Beneath a coconut tree. Pretended it never happened. Sinister. Hideous. Monster. More jellyfish than child.
And yet. They could see the chest inhale. Exhale. Could it be
Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like intestines.
In our legends lives a monster. Mejenkwaad. Woman demons – unhinged jaws swallowing canoes, men, babies. Whole. Shark teeth in the backs of their head. Necks that stretch around an entire island, bloodthirsty. Hungry for babies and pregnant women. Monsters.
My three-year-old likes to hunt for monsters in our closet. We use the light of my cell phone. A blue glow in the dark. We whisper to each other – did you hear that?
Did I hear what?
The silence of my dreams is severed by her screaming nightmares. And I am a mewling mess turned monster huddled in the corner wide-eyed, wild haired, unable to touch, unable to care, unable to bear the exhaustion, anxiety clawing away at my chest. Am I even
human? Post-partum – easier to diagnose after the fact. Two years later those memories haunt me. When I became the bump in the night. When I realized I needed to protect her. From me.
Did you hear that?
Nerik gave birth to something resembling the eggs of a sea turtle and Flora gave birth to something like intestines.
In our legends lives a monster. Woman demons, unhinged jaws. Swallowing their own babies. Driven mad. Turned flesh rotten. Blood through their eyes their teeth their nose.
Were the women who gave birth to nightmares considered monsters? Were they driven mad by these unholy things that came from their bodies? Were they sick with the feeling of horror that perhaps there was something
wrong. With them.
My three-year-old sleeps next to me. I have lost my fangs and ugly dreams. I watch her chest inhale. Exhale. Know that she is real, she is mine. I try to write forgiveness and healing into our story. Into myself.
In legends lives a woman. Turned monster from loneliness. Turned monster from agony and suns exploding in her chest. She gives birth to a child that is not so much a child but too much a jellyfish. The child is struggling for breath. Struggling in pain. She wants to bring the child peace. Bring her home. Her first home. Inside her body.
It is an embrace. It is only. An embrace. She kneels next to the body.
DeGougerie 3 Posted on: Saturday 6th Jan 2018
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries
At this time of year it is customary to review the last twelve months. Most commentators have found it hard to be positive about 2017. I ended the year at a concert in London given by the great American singer, Joyce DiDonato; she began her encore by telling us that politics in the U. S. had given her cause for optimism. This was met with bemused silence. She explained how challenging and rewarding she found it to be forced to consider events in greater depth and develop clarity in her response to political events back home. Such positivity in the face of what the official Chinese news agency (www.xinhuanet.com) calls ‘the social ills of Western countries’ caused by a ‘deeply ingrained violence culture’ fuelled by rampant gun ownership and ‘the intensification of class division’ was cheering.
The Nobel Peace prize committee rewarded a remarkably positive achievement in 2017. Founded in Australia in 2007 the winner, ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in one hundred countries) has worked 'to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons' and through its campaigning was instrumental in the success of a legally binding global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons supported by 122 of the 193 UN member states. The treaty prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons. Immediately following its adoption, the United States, the United Kingdom and France issued a joint press statement saying that they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.” The official British response was: 'It will not improve the international security environment or increase trust and transparency. The unpredictable international security environment we face today demands the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future.' The treaty, though ratified by only three signatories and needing another forty-seven ratifications to enter into force, is significant in that it marks a concerted strengthening of opinion against the use of nuclear arms in any form. Something the pacifist Olympe de Gouges would have applauded for she always believed in jaw-jaw not war-war.
A seemingly negative move – President Trump pulling his country out of the Paris agreement on climate change in June – was received by the agreement's chief architect, Christiana Figueres, with gratitude. The U.S. President's retrograde step encouraged others who might have wavered to become actively progressive; even states within his own country stated that they would sign up to the agreement, opposing their leader's direction. Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat who has dedicated many years to combating anthropogenic climate change, is on record as stating that injecting optimism into the debate was her primary tool for achieving this global accord on protecting our planet. In her TED talk of 2016 she states that there can be ‘no victory without optimism’ and has spent the last six years relentlessly feeding it into the system. Humanity has more to gain from collaboration in the face of severe threats to its survival than from division. https://www.ted.com/talks/christiana_figueres_the_inside_story_of_the_paris_climate_agreement
In October the UN Security Council debated the role of women in achieving peace and security. Noting the importance of gender equality and security of women as reliable indicators for peace, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) said ’The chorus of voices that are appalled by the persistent political marginalization of women in decision-making is speaking louder’. Working on a similar project the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) concluded that '[women’s] participation is essential in resolving conflict and in helping to build sustainable peace, and yet they are often not included or consulted in programming directed towards them and rarely are key partners in implementation.' It is frustrating that over 220 years since Olympe de Gouges asked why women could mount the scaffold but not the tribune the role of women in policy making is still relatively marginal. Cheri Blair, on the BBC, pleaded for 2018 to be the year when women were fully accepted as equal partners in all endeavours across the world. To sideline such a creative and numerous resource for reasons of gender alone is an anachronism that needs defeating. It is now well known that many of the ills that face our societies are lessened if girls are well-educated and women participate in decision making as equals to their male fellow citizens. There seems no reason to wilfully ignore these facts
According to an article that appeared in Nature in June,(https://www.nature.com/news/the-rise-of-political-apathy-in-two-charts-1.22106) the biggest voting block across Europe, since the 1990s, is made up of citizens who are entitled to vote and choose not to. This sad fact has major implications on election results and would have appalled Olympe de Gouges and others who fought so hard for universal suffrage. Collating information covering a century of voting patterns has shown that voter turnout is at its lowest since World War II with only approximately 65% of eligible citizens going to the polls today. Cynicism among younger generations is assumed to be the reason, potentially reducing the voting population to the pre-emancipation models of the past. Ironically this trend appears to be strongest in the newly created democracies of Eastern Europe who most recently wrested their freedom to vote from Communist dictatorships. Along with non-voters the only other group to grow in popularity in Europe is that of the far right (in Germany the Alternative fuer Deutschland came third in the September elections and is the first right wing populist party to enter the Bundestag since 1945). The malevolent manipulation of information through social media attracted particular attention towards the end of 2017 with suggestions that the UK Brexit result and President Trump's win in the U.S., among others, may have been skewed by outside forces. Perhaps younger citizens, devoted to the use of social media, can use their knowledge to counter these forces and find a way to reimagine and reengage with the politics of their time.
When shopping in Waterstones in London I passed a large pile of the classicist Mary Beard's book Women and Power, a Manifesto (London: Profile Books, 2017). I planned to purchase a copy online but grabbed an armful of them when I overheard a passer-by say to her male companion, “Oh, that's the woman who's always having a bad hair day.” Thanks to a grumpy 'sister' my Christmas shopping was done. Olympe de Gouges was also ridiculed for her appearance when she resisted the fashion for elaborate headpieces atop of huge wigs. She preferred a loose type of mob cap which the actor Fleury said made her look as though she had shaving cream on her head. As Beard argues in her foreword, 'When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.'; ridiculing us to limit our authority is a habit that is alive and well. Beard points out it's not so much what we say that offends, more the fact that we're saying it. In 1793 Olympe de Gouges was guillotined by the state for publicly speaking out, today's victims are more likely to be sanctioned by the populace using the anonymity of social media.
Like so many theatre goers today, Olympe de Gouges would have done anything to get a ticket to the phenomenon that is Hamilton. The ground-breaking musical which has just transferred from New York to London is the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda who not only performed the central role to great acclaim, but also wrote the music and lyrics. Born of a Puerto Rican father he has chosen to highlight the racial divisions in his native U.S. by using non-white performers to play the roles of America's white founding fathers. At the show's original auditions there was some controversy suggesting that specifying a need for non-white performers to play historically white characters was as racist as preventing black performers from playing roles traditionally played by white actors. These debates, and the eventual casting of Hamilton, would have fascinated de Gouges whose play on slavery was denounced because its central role depicted a black man as a fully rounded individual capable of heroism and autonomy. French 18th century actors being white, she insisted that those playing black roles attempt some form of realism: 'I have only one bit of advice to give to the actors of the Comédie Française, and it is the only favour that I will ask of them in my life: they must adopt both the colour and the dress of the Negro. Never was there a more favourable time and I hope that the Performance of this Drama will produce the effect that one can expect in favour of these victims of ambition.' (from Reflections Concerning Black Men appended to de Gouges's play Zamore et Mizra on www.olympedegouges.eu). This request horrified the thespians who refused to do something they considered so demeaning: they did not share the author's aim to persuade an audience that all peoples are equal in nature if not yet in law. Miranda's didactic use of history to highlight current situations would have appealed to de Gouges who used both past and present personalities to comment on the actualities of her time.
Happy New Year and may 2018 bring us all the space and time to reflect on our shared humanity, our shared environment and act accordingly.
DeGougerie 2 Posted on: Friday 1st Dec 2017
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
As stated on the UN's website violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today. This year's UN campaign was headlined 'Leave no one behind: end violence against women and girls.' 'Orange the world' and symbolize a brighter future without violence. From 25 November to 10 December (Human Rights day) the world is invited to use this vibrant colour to draw attention to the five goals that underpin UNiTE's mission: adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; increase public awareness and social mobilization; address sexual violence in conflict.
In South Africa, which according to UN figures has the worst record in the world for gender-based violence, the Joe Slovo Foundation has initiated a
Red Card against Women Abuse campaign to make such violence culturally unacceptable. They are also rolling out a mobile phone app Free SOS Rescue Alarm Service for girls, women and children which when activated sends urgent multiple alarm messages alerting the local community, family and friends and gives the victim's location enabling a speedy response.
The sexually predatory behaviour of the all powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein has created what Oprah Winfrey calls 'a watershed moment'. Weinstein is being investigated by police in New York, Los Angeles and London following an overwhelming number of accusations against him by women in the film industry of non-consensual sexual acts. Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian newspaper, makes the point that 'the female body remains a source of social risk and cultural shame' which in part explains the culture of secrecy that allows such behaviour to remain unchallenged. This is echoed by Karishma Upadhyay writing for Firstpost.com the Indian news and media website: 'It takes a lot for a woman to come forward and publicly acknowledge that she was sexually mistreated. The stigma, alone, is enough to keep women silent....There is a very real possibility that the victims in Bollywood might never name and shame their predators. But, if they do, now is the time. And it is our responsibility to not dismiss or diminish their stories.'
On the 25 November French President Emmanuel Macron, during a speech at the Elysée presidential palace, which he began with a minute of silence for the 123 women killed by a partner or ex in the last year, stated that 'it is time for shame to change camps.' adding 'Our entire society is sick with sexism,' as he unveiled plans to put gender equity at the heart of his presidency. The Twitter campaign #Balancetonporc [ratonyourpig] launched by the French journalist Sandra Muller immediately received thousands of accounts relating predatory behaviour in a country where 1 in 5 women will be sexually harassed in the workplace. However Elisabeth Lévy, a founder of Causer magazine, warns against confounding criminality and unsavoury behaviour and fears that social media movements pass judgement outside legal frameworks, destroying reputations and careers without the need for corroborating evidence. Her queasy statement that “Even chivalry has become criminalized,” undermines her more sensible opinions. De Gouges frequently referred to chivalry as a long lost ideal: I am convinced that she was neither evoking nor condoning sexual violence against women, but rather longing for a time when respect and courtesy would influence all forms of exchange. I imagine she would have agreed with Anne Berger (professor of French literature and gender studies at the University of Paris 8 and Cornell University) who finds #Balancetonporc hypocritical. “It’s possessive and symbolically reduces men to pigs. They’re essentially doing to men what they’ve done to women, which doesn’t help the transformation of relations.” Certainly #MeToo is a more nuanced expression for a movement that includes all victims of sexual abuse, not just women.
The domino effect of Harvey Weinstein's unmasking is that women and men in many industries are now speaking out against the routine sexual harassment they have received from those more powerful than themselves. Too often we assume we know where vulnerability lies, but these accusations make clear that very few are exempt from such attacks. Zoe Williams suggests we should treat these actions as we might a possible gas leak. Report it. If there is no leak, what a relief; if there is a leak then dealing with the source will save the edifice from implosion.
Olympe de Gouges fought against slavery. She would have been horrified to find that money is still to be made selling human beings. Smugglers are abusing vulnerable refugees and migrants on an industrial scale. Trading in people, still prevalent in our times despite two centuries worth of anti-slavery movements, was highlighted in Libya by CNN this month; it showed the strongest young men being sold off as farm hands to local farmers. UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency providing relief for those reaching official detention centres, says that pregnant women and new born babies also suffer at the hands of these abusers. France has offered to take 25 – 40 refugees detained in Libya, a compassionate drop in the ocean considering the numbers involved.
One of the great women of state, Angela Merkel, is fighting to stay in position having suffered a poor result in Germany's latest election, due in part to her generous, and pragmatic, offer of sanctuary to Syrian refugees. Ironically, at the same time the nonagenarian Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe whose reputation is in tatters, tried to cling on to power. Like so many revolutionary leaders, his good intentions had declined as his need for power and possession overcame the man who sought to fight for his country's advancement. Plus ça change....
On a more cheerful note, the 22 of November was St Cecilia's day. This year Help Musicians UK celebrated the patron saint of music with a 5 year strategy to include more women in music making in Great Britain. Sally Beamish, composer and musician launching the campaign, spoke of lacking female role models when she was young. Having composed and conducted at her all girls school, she abandoned both at university because these roles appeared to be exclusively male. Moving to Scotland, where the rich tradition of folk music attracts and encourages participation from all members of the community, made her realise the need for greater inclusion elsewhere.
A vending machine for the homeless dispensing food, water, socks, sanitary products etc. is being set up in Nottingham by Action Hunger and will be the first of its kind. If successful the charity hopes to place others in cities in the UK but also further afield in Europe, and the US. The charity will register those who need to use the vending machines, prioritising rough sleepers who will be issued with traceable key cards that will allow three retrievals from the machines per day, to avoid fraudulent use. The scheme is the brainchild of Nottingham resident Huzaifah Khaled; he hopes the scheme will spread across the world and help eradicate the scourge of homelessness.
Black Friday, November 24 this year, began life in America and is traditionally the Friday after Thanksgiving, which is always the fourth Thursday in November. This ghastly day has spread globally as companies vie with each other, often at their expense, to slash prices and encourage inordinate consumption. The day has now morphed into a week or more which can undermine the viability of some businesses that cannot sustain such levels of price reduction. Shoppers can descend to unimaginable levels of unpleasantness and aggression in order to get their hands on the best bargains. Thankfully some organisations suggest alternatives: #BrightFriday encourages the recycling of clothes, raising awareness of the waste within the clothing and fashion industry; #SaturdaySanctuary encourages people to explore books and to enjoy 'bibliotherapy' for the day; Buy Nothing New Day urged shoppers to purchase goods from secondhand shops to support the charities that run them, their volunteers, their clients and to help recycle goods that are in perfectly good condition; or best of all, have a Buy Nothing Day, ignore Black Friday, heave a sigh of relief, and feel good about doing nothing with your wallet.
As Olympe de Gouges stated: destruction is easy, construction is difficult. Fereshteh Forough uses the same words to describe Afghanistan today. She was born in Iran, an Afghan refugee, experienced prejudice but learnt that great things can start with empty hands. 'You learn to get the most out of the least, the value of adaptation and to appreciate even small opportunities.' Her parents fought for their children to be adequately educated and after returning to their home country, Fereshteh Forough earned a degree in computer studies and studied successfully in Berlin for a masters degree in IT. Her mantra – 'I won’t let my gender and ethnic background set me back.' Returning to Herat she found girls constrained by the lack of a safe and secure learning environment, travel and social restrictions, a patriarchal society, and verbal and sexual harassment in the workplace. For these reasons she established Code to Inspire and opened the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan which aims to educate Afghan women with in-demand programming skills, empower them to add unique value to their communities, and inspire them to strive for financial and social independence....Women don’t need sympathy; women need the genuine understanding of what they have been through and how the community can stand with them and treat them equally to men. 'Our students are bold, courageous and inspiring. They are agents of change, in a country where women have been deprived for decades. progress is being made in Afghanistan...we have a lot of work left to do, but I am hopeful of a peaceful, bright future for Afghanistan.'
DeGougerie 1 Posted on: Tuesday 31st Oct 2017
A monthly collectanea of news or discoveries.
Welcome to DeGougerie, a monthly collectanea of news or discoveries that caught my de Gouges inspired eye: things that she might have responded to had she come across them.
The fact that the women of Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive was prime news for a few days following their kingdom's announcement that a woman can now apply for a driving licence without reference to her male guardian, and can legally drive a vehicle in public. There is now no country left where women are banned from driving. However, Madawi al-Rasheed, writing in the Guardian newspaper, warns against jubilation. She reminds readers that this is a relatively 'cosmetic reform', dictators often seeking to distance western criticism by promoting women in such ways. Recently Saudi women were allowed for the first time to attend sporting events held in public stadia. Western critics too often accept such gestures as genuine milestones in the democratic process when in reality dictators cynically use women rights to reduce opprobrium. Hope lies in women themselves: they were first allowed to bicycle in public in 2013 but only in authorised places, supervised by men. In response Baraah Luhaidan founded Spokes Hub in 2016; as the name implies it is a centre where women who cycle can meet, share news and buy or repair their bicycles. To fulfil legal requirements the business had to be seen to be run by a man, for men and the 'centre' for women operates from a van. Female peddle power is not straightforward: visit their surreal website spokeshub.co for confirmation. Our century sees cultures elide at the press of a keypad, yet the patriarchal judgements that beset Olympe de Gouges continue to determine the lives of so many women and men, unable to live freely in their world.
On the first day of October a man beset by who knows what demons or delusions, and bereft of the most basic sympathy for others, armed himself to the teeth with the weaponry so freely available in the U.S. and randomly killed and injured vast numbers of his fellow citizens in Las Vegas. They were of all ages, all backgrounds, all races; they shared a common humanity seemingly unavailable to their attacker. Stephen Paddock, aged 64, had no apparent motive; his state of mind will remain a mystery as he killed himself in the aftermath of the attack. Another mystery is the U.S.'s inability or unwillingness to curb firearm sales to private individuals. Violence, as de Gouges attested, is easily aroused but once unleashed, is nigh impossible to contain.
A Muslim feminist, Seyran Ates, imam at the Ibn Rushid-Goethe mosque in Berlin believes we should adhere more sincerely to 'liberty, equality and fraternity' in order to combat the terrorists who attack in the name of ISIS. Curtailing our laws on human rights and civic liberty legislation will destroy the very fabric of the societies we are trying to protect. For her outspoken liberal views Seyran Ates has been attacked, forced into hiding and is unable to travel freely. Enlightenment values ended feudalism in France in the 1790s but liberty, equality and fraternity were, and still are, too often in short supply. In certain circles it is as hard for liberal women to speak out as it was in 1793. To read more about Seyran Ates visit www.stopextremism.eu.
A. C. Grayling writing in the New European (September 7 – 13) argues for voting to be compulsory because '…not voting at all, not being bothered to give the matter some thought and to go out to a polling station, is frankly to be condemned, given it took centuries and much bloodshed to get, and is therefore no trifling possession. Disenfranchising oneself is a sin that should be a crime.’ Many years ago I mentioned, in the presence of an older woman, that I wasn't going to vote. Like a gorgon she rose up: her mother's best friend had died so that I could vote, how dare I be so disrespectful of this precious right. It was a profound and never to be forgotten lesson. De Gouges wanted women in government: women in France had to wait until the end of WW2 before they were entitled to vote; in 1945 thirty-three women were elected as deputies for the first time.
In Bradford, Yorkshire, an exhibition was held to celebrate Musine Kokalari, an Albanian writer imprisoned and brutalised for 16 years for supporting free speech. She was exiled and died in 1983 from a cancer that the state refused to treat. I was grateful to discover this brave and intelligent woman: http:musinekokalari.org.
Two men of big egos and small minds are bestriding their countries, shouting expletives at each other across the globe. They have the power to destroy much that most people hold dear. They both have nuclear arms in their arsenals. Weapons develop: may mankind's intelligence keep pace.
Catalonian independence: and expression of liberty, equality and fraternity? The first is the right, challenged by the Spanish government, of the Catalans to vote on their desire to secede from Spain; the second is their sense of inequality vis-a-vis the rest of the kingdom; the third is the impact on fraternity when nations fragment into ever smaller independent regions. Excessive regionalism can close minds and exclude others, it is not often a nuanced approach to life.
In Myanmar an iconic female leader, viewed as progressive and a winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is unable (or unwilling?) to protect her Muslim Rohingya people from the grossest persecution at the hands of their mainly Buddhist fellow citizens. Apparently the latter believe the former to be barely human. Does our disappointment come from loading Aung San Suu Kyi with too may of our own expectations? In our need for a hero have we disregarded the complexities of her situation and the ramifications of Burmese culture? A peace laureate accused of ethnic cleansing is an uncomfortable reminder that persecution of 'the other' remains one of humanities unresolved problem.
I feel that de Gouges would view with some irony the fact that the Catholic church canonised 35 new saints this month, 33 of whom lived in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Time to reconnect Posted on: Tuesday 21st Mar 2017
A few days ago Mohsin Hamid discussed his latest novel Exit West on BBC Radio 4. When asked how he maintained a sense of optimism in the work despite its bleak descriptions of migration he urgently replied that it was his political duty to be optimistic. Demagogues, he said, exert more power and influence when we feel pessimistic. In a world increasingly ruled by demagogues, at a time when people are being encouraged to unite in ever narrower groups, when issues such as global warming are a fearsome reality, I thank him for the challenge of finding optimism to control my rising dismay.
Olympe de Gouges, like us all, referenced the past to illuminate her present. Now we use her to shed a light on ours. The play I co-wrote, Olympe de Gouges porteuse d'espoir, is still attracting audiences, five seasons after it's first performance. This is entirely due to her voice. French theatre-goers, despite the tragedy of her death, leave the show uplifted by her strength and dogged energy, her optimism if you will. Their resolve is strengthened by her words.
Next Saturday I will March through London to express my sorrow at separating from the EU and to exort the British government to be collaborative rather than combative when it seeks to negotiate its exit. Pessimism nearly kept me at home, why bother when the decision is taken, but optimism and Olympe's spirit have got the upper hand. Go, she says. When did sullen silence ever win the day?
Good News Posted on: Tuesday 15th Dec 2015
City of Joy
The City of Joy in the Congo is a ground-breaking community that heals women survivors of violent trauma. Despair and damage are tranformed into hope and strength. The community has 10 guiding principles
1. TELL THE TRUTH
2. STOP WAITING TO BE RESCUED; TAKE INITIATIVE
3. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
4. RAISE YOUR VOICE
5. SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED
6. GIVE WHAT YOU WANT THE MOST
7. FEEL AND TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH
8. USE IT TO FUEL A REVOLUTION
9. PRACTICE KINDNESS
10. TREAT YOUR SISTERS’ LIFE AS IF IT WERE YOUR OWN
If there was an Olympe de Gouges prize for inspirational women then this community would be a winner.
To share in their joy go to drc.vday.org/about-city-of-joy
Friday 13th November 2015 Posted on: Friday 20th Nov 2015
Violence cannot kill peace, only disturb it for a time.
'Dans les siècles de l'ignorance les hommes se sont fait la guerre; dans le siècle le plus éclairé, ils veulent se détruire. Quelle est enfin la science, le régime, l'époque, l'âge où les hommes vivront en paix?'
'Throughout the centuries of ignorance men have declared war on each other; in the most enlightened century they want to destroy themselves. Where is the science, the regime, the epoch or the age that will allow men to live in peace?
These words were written by Olympe de Gouges in 1792 - tragically they are still relevant today. She lived through violent times but never gave up hope that peaceful cooperation and fairness could create a better world than bayonets and bombs. She died too soon to see Paris flourish again. The guillotine silenced her in November 1793, yet we can still hear her voice. Let us have the heart to listen and face our challenges with equal humanity.
No Honour for Olympe Posted on: Sunday 2nd Mar 2014
Can her ideas really upset people today?
Olympe de Gouges was not one of the women immortalised in the Panthéon in Paris last week; M. Hollande uncontroversially chose two remarkably courageous women resistance fighters Geneviève de Gaulle and Germaine Tillion. I wonder if de Gouges would have had much truck with a system that confers enduring fame on a few while excluding the many of equal merit. Nonetheless the debate that has raged around her 'panthéonization' has increased her reknown. This has led to some unfortunate repercussions. France is currently in an electoral phase (municipals) and feelings are running high: vocal groups are marching in favour of 'family values' and in fear of homosexuality; gender equality is again on the agenda. In some parts de Gouges's outspoken support for divorce and dislike of marriage (in an 18th century context) are deemed sufficient to consider her opinions, polemical in their time no doubt, polemical today. A festival in her honour has been cancelled along with a series of performances about her due to be played to a student audience. When I discovered the work of this extraordinary woman, a few years ago, such a thing would not have seemed possible.
Research in Paris Posted on: Saturday 1st Feb 2014
another play online soon
A week in Paris reading de Gouges's texts in the city of their creation sustained by delicious pastries and cheese is, despite the endless rain and rather arcane library rules, a very privileged form of work. Many of her texts are available online thanks to Gallica but some remain tucked away including a manuscript version of La Nécessité du Divorce, bound together with other plays and wrongly attributed to a Monsieur Prévost. I had the good fortune this week to meet Professor Verdier, from Milwaukee, who discovered the manuscript several years ago. I hope to have its translation online in a few weeks.
Debate rages in France regarding Olympe de Gouges and the possibility of placing her in the Panthéon, a mausoleum to the great and the good men of France. Marie Curie is alone in representing female achievement within its hallowed walls and while no one denies that women are under-represented, de Gouges is far from being universally approved. On the one hand she discomfits those who still see in her views ideas that are, even now, considered to endanger familiy values, on the other she upsets the notion that all revolutionary trials and subsequent executions were fair and legal. The decision will probably be taken in March; heated debates have raged on the blogosphere.
Forthcoming texts. Posted on: Tuesday 10th Dec 2013
Zamore et Mirza/Black Slavery/The Fortunate Shipwreck
Having decided to translate L'Esclavage des Noirs I realised that it would be interesting to do both the 1788 and the 1792 versions in order to make clear the progression of de Gouges's ideas, both political and theatrical. The later version also highlights the changes that had taken place in France, and her colonies, during this period. I have since come across a version of the play (L'Harmattan, 2007) based on the original prompt copy used in 1789. This is a wonderful edition; it clearly marks all the changes to the text that took place during performance, as well as subsequent publishing. The complexities of translating even more alterations defeated me for now, though I may feel less fainthearted later on. The texts should be availabe online in a couple of weeks.
Olympe de Gouges was the first playwright to put slaves on stage as fully rounded individuals with voices that deserved to be heard; her aim was to highlight the horrific nature of the slave trade in order to stimulate an argument against it. The powerful men behind this trade effectively silenced her play.
Slavery is still very active today despite its global ilegality; www.walkfreefoundation.org and its global slavery index make it only too clear that the fight is not remotely over.