Wednesday, 14 May 2014


I went to visit my family in Spain, and we're all sat in the car at night from the airport to home. In the back of the car are the three most important females in my life. My sister, my baby niece and my mother. My father is driving, we are listening to a mix of female empowerment beats. From Mariah to Whitney and Beyonce, amidst the chatter in the car we have soundbites about being sexy and believing in yourself.

The roads are dark along the coast, curved and beckoning caution. On the left is the sea, and all the developments for rich tourists and ex-pats. The right side is much more rugged, giving way to mountains and no lighting whatsoever. There could be anything happening on those hills, there probably is.

We turn a corner and in a slow-motion instant I look into the eyes of a woman, sitting right by the road in thigh-high heels looking the most miserable I have ever seen a person look. Beside her, another woman stalks a space of gravel, dressed in leopardskin, lips clenched with a fight at the end of them.

Another corner, more women. My mother mentions those poor women, brought over from other countries with the promise of something akin to freedom. I can't get that woman's eyes out of my head, staring right at me through the glass. Me, in my comfort and warmth, with enough money for airline travel and presents and the luxury of having had time to find a job I really want.

I think about Beyonce and her promise of feminism, at how much her new album bothers me. All those body-positive lyrics juxtaposed with lines about diamonds and being smacked around by her husband. I think of all these foundations they set up, about Madonna photoshopped with the glow of the Virgin Mary in Malawi, who then flies back to one of her five mansions.

I wonder if they stand in their walk-in dressing rooms thinking, "do I really need another Louis Vuitton bag? Do I need to spend five million dollars on my wedding? What if I spent four million dollars and then gave one million to someone?".

I think of the reality of the situation, beyond all the advertising and charity singles, there is still a woman sat by a road in Spain waiting for a man to toss her 20 euros and do what he likes with her, again and again for every night. Or worse, for this woman to disappear into the darkness and for nobody to miss her. A comodity, a piece of meat, a walking ghost.

I am frustrated by the line between choice and enslavement. When is Beyonce submitting to patriarchal views on women in order to sell records, and when is she empowered to use her body as a tool to her own advantage? Then there are these women, who don't even have a choice.

What is Beyonce doing for this woman on the road? Then a thought hits me right across the face and I sink into my chair.

What exactly are you doing, Jonathan?

The answer is simple, I am not doing a thing. The harder question follows, what can I do? Right now, I don't have a clue. Yet nothing doesn't seem like an option anymore.

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