‘Aħjar tiftaħ saqajha flok il-Port il-Kbir’
‘Q*ħba, u għalaqlu naqra sinjorina’
‘If you don’t want to get burnt, don’t play with fire, ħanini’
Did the title of this contribution piece make your blood boil? Great, that’s exactly what it should be doing, exactly as it made mine and many others’ in the last few weeks. The penning of this publication was a hesitant one, but it has gotten to a point where some sort of discussion is needed. Today, we will be talking about taking ourselves too seriously to a point where we have crossed the lines of basic decency.
An extremism most of us are not addressing
You might be familiar with the Salem Witch Trials, or the crime of witchcraft in early modern Scotland. As Laura Bates describes it, accusing a woman of being strange and depriving her of sleep, while also driving her to insanity by constantly poking her, maybe even being accused of witchcraft for simply being too loud or born with a birth mark. While this might come across as draconian and sinister, it also sounds excruciatingly familiar.
Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed a wave of discontent towards opinionated women, from whatever walk of life they may come from. Some are met with glorification, others, and this is probably the most common response, are met with immense disgust and disapproval. Let us explore a little here. In the last week we have seen:
Friday: PN Politician harassed and ridiculed by a Catholic Priest
Sunday: Female Politicians speaking up in a video by a Maltese news portal about harassment they have received. Comments and ‘Haha’ reactions ensued.
It is no secret that in Malta, the subject of abortion is still very much taboo and put in the back-burner time and time again. Disagreeing and taking a different view on such a topic is absolutely normal, and after all, fundamentally necessary in a democratic society, but what is not normal is, harassment and metaphorical pitchforks every time women dare speak about something which concerns them. This, in itself, is an extremism. Am I exaggerating here? Not really, let me give you an example.
When the introduction of the Morning After Pill came into effect in 2016, those at the forefront of the movement were met with harassment and scaremongering that the introduction of a, mind you, emergency contraceptive was a discreet way of introducing an abortifacient in the islands of Malta.
A woman MP chooses to take her child to the House of Representatives, is obviously just doing it as a ploy to fish for votes. A girl feels confident in a dress, we must rush to comment about it and make a spectacle of it. A new and flourishing politician stands out as pro-choice, she is harassed on a group of supposedly mature adults and called to be disbarred from a political party. This all sounds alarmingly shocking, but for many women across Malta, this is not exactly a new thing, and history, as above mentioned, proves to be the case.
Another issue this week which we have all come across was the debate on national television, between a zookeeper and an animal rights activist. In no way do I wish to explain or take sides as to why one argument was better than the other. I myself watched this debate, and the facts are that the zookeeper did not let the animal rights activist finish her points. Every time she opened her mouth to discuss her side of the argument, she was immediately spoken over and rudely interrupted by her counterpart and after the consistent interruption, called a liar and told that she ‘does not know what she is talking about’.
In a casual debate, the chairperson is meant to moderate the discussion and allow both sides to make their arguments clear. Being interrupted and stepped over however, is not something uncommon for women, no matter the sector, it was in fact only a year ago when, now Vice President Kamala Harris was debating former Vice President Mike Pence and in making a point, the former Vice President interrupted her discourse, to which she politely replied ‘Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking” and served a smile to make her point. In this case, Ms. Delia chose to walk out when it was obvious that she was not being given her chance to speak up. Most people will say, and I think many will agree, she did the right thing.
The only difference is, this happened on live television and yet, who knows how often this happens in everyday life.
Abortion is not a popularity contest
At the risk of writing about such a topic, (and staying clear of a position) because as we all know, any expression for, or even on the fence, abortion is met with fire and ready to be burnt at the stake, let’s reflect a little about the current situation we face. In Poland currently, there are national protests going on as we speak, surrounding the death of a pregnant woman which the laws of the country failed to protect. This has been met with rage and the topic of these stringent laws to be discussed once again and for the legislators to wake up and smell the coffee.
But let us also, have a look locally. We have already said that a candidate of the Nationalist Party has been met with a river of hate for simply taking an openly pro-choice stance. While the leader of the party, Hon. Bernard Grech condemned this behaviour, he most recently declared on a radio interview when discussing the topic of abortion that no one from the Nationalist Party will be allowed to represent the party if they are in favour of abortion, and that the resurrection of the topic is a result of fearmongering by the Labour Party.
The first question that comes to mind is, why do we feel so threatened by women, or in that case, anyone taking a position about a certain subject, in a party context? The Nationalist Party has every right to its own beliefs and to hold them close to heart. However, what is flawed, and this fuels the argument put forward in this contribution, is that taking such a stance limits free thinking and a sense of ‘allegiance’. Taking a stance on a subject which is not what the party generally aligns with, should not be put to the side and vilified, if anything it should be brought up for discussion and a compromise should be reached. One does not need to necessarily agree or preach the subject of discussion, but would our politicians actually be living up to their electoral promises if they did not listen to those who wish to speak about this subject, or are they terrified of losing political points or of looking like they’re in the wrong and that would obviously, tarnish their political image?
I think even people who are Switzerland on the topic are logical enough to realise that this is a petty mechanism and condemn this type of behaviour. Putting something scandalous on your counterpart just to look like you are the righteous man, falls short of ingenuity and subconsciously turns into a petty popularity contest, which is in itself, dangerous. Need we another reminder of the 2021 Capitol Riots? I’d like to think not.
Let’s do better.
Laura Bates, the founder of ‘Everyday Sexism’, made a statement that resonates with this context. “To be a feminist, is to be accused of oversensitivity and hysteria”. She then goes on to say that yet, in the face of the abuse the project uncovered, the strength, ingenuity and humour of women has shone like a beacon.
The problem however in the local situation, might not just be with feminists, however, with women in Malta as a general. Most of us are by no means exemplary individuals or model citizens, but it doesn’t take much to be a person with some decency and know where the line stops. Why do we feel threatened by a woman speaking about a subject which she has dedicated her whole life to? And by a new and young politician speaking up on a subject close to their heart? Is this how we perceive women?
In the past two years, we have seen many efforts to try and convince women to run in politics, and to challenge the status quo. Do our politicians and elected representatives want to push women to run for politics? Sure, okay, so address this silent extremism which they face. Judge them by their capabilities and competence, not by their appearance, the same should obviously be done in regard to men.
When you see someone being badgered and faced with arrogance and bile for simply taking a slightly different stance, educate your followers on respect, and swallow your pride and live up to your electoral promises. Be open to their ideas, do not subject them to humiliation. And more importantly, do better.