Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The treatment of women

A woman who bears a female child is considered to be twice as filthy as one who gives birth to a male – Leviticus. So she is filthy even giving birth to a male? Doesn’t add up. Doesn’t make sense. The only way not to be filthy then is not to give birth at all. Wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would save women a lot of pain and reduce the world population. Two billion will be added in the next thirty years and we are being urged to eat insects in order to make the available food go further. There’s nothing new in that. Some people have been feasting on locusts for centuries and I remember the indigenous folk of Natal found flying ants rather succulent. I was never tempted to try one. Do they really eat witchery grubs in Australia? What exactly is a witchery grub?
Anyway, what got me thinking seriously (I do sometimes – sometimes too much for my own good) is why is it that women always, or nearly always, draw the short straw?
I am grateful and thank my lucky stars (superstition) that I was born male but thinking seriously about the sexes I can only come to the conclusion that when it comes to the female of the species most males are shits of the very first order. The holy books really put women in their place and their place is not where I would like to be. Did it all start off with Adam and Eve; the myth of creation? With all the controversy about same sex marriage some fundamentalist has posted on Facebook ‘It’s Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.’ But I wonder how different the world would have been if the Abrahamic god was a goddess, that Eve came first and Adam followed and many of the scriptural precepts were applied to men instead of women; and why not? The Greeks, the Egyptians, The Romans, the Hindus and others were quite happy to have goddesses, what is it about Judaism, Christianity, Islam that it is so completely male dominated? What started this musing, apart from the quotation from Leviticus, was reading that women are not allowed to stand for the presidency in Iran and reading two reviews in a Sunday Times Culture section. The first, “The Loves and Wars of Lina Prokofiev’ by Simon Morrison, is a heroic private tragedy, the second from which comes the quotation about men demanding more anal sex from their wives is “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate life in a changing Arab World.” This is by Shereen El Feki, a Welsh-Egyptian Muslim brought up in Canada, and what must be an extremely fascinating book. Describing sex in the modern Arab world is a bit too complicated to do it justice in a short Blog though to mention in passing she tells of a book, “The Encyclopaedia of Pleasure” that covers every aspect of sex from gay to animal sex to advising on jealousy, oral sex, romance. In fact, “sex is God’s gift to mankind and we are meant to enjoy it. The author was a Muslim, Ali Ibn Nasr who lived in Baghdad in the late 10th or early 11th century.
So I will move on to the Simon Morrison book. The story of Lina Prokofiev is worthy of a Russian novel. What is it about men of genius that they are so flawed as human beings especially when it comes to the way they treat their womenfolk? Think of the way Tolstoy treated his wife who remained loyal to him right until the end, and Prokofiev was no better. It would appear that Prokofiev, a truly great Soviet composer was interested in only two things – Prokofiev and Prokofiev’s music; at least one is more than glad for the latter. I’ve always loved his music. Lina, born in Madrid of musical parents, grew up in Brooklyn and they met in Chicago. Lina fell in love and for a while Prokofiev was happy to use her as bed-mate and unofficial secretary. Lina wanted to get married. Prokofiev wasn’t interested being wholly committed to his music. At least that was his excuse. They did marry though when she became pregnant with the first of their two sons. Prokofiev proved to be just as bad a father as he was a husband travelling the world while she was left in Paris to bring them up. He had left Russia in 1918 and had no intention of ever returning but in 1927 the Soviet government invited him to give a concert tour and he accepted. Audiences greeted him with rapture and for a while it was best hotels, best restaurants and champagne bars. He evidently also had a thing about fast cars and designer clothes and it has to be said Lina wasn’t exactly backwards in coming forward to bask in reflected glory. Despite the disappearance of friends and acquaintances into the Gulags they seem to have no difficulty with what was a horrendous regime but then that could possibly be put down to self-preservation and why make waves when the going was so good? In 1936 they settled permanently in Russia. Despite the fact that they knew their phone was being tapped and that they were followed everywhere Prokofiev evidently felt the authorities valued him as an artistic genius and he was invulnerable. But in 1938 Stalin’s secret police declared the pair ineligible for foreign travel.
He now found a new love, a member of The Communist Youth League named Mira Mendelson and when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, leaving Lina and the boys in Moscow, he took Mira to safety in the Caucasus. Lina did her bit in the defence of Moscow and at the war’s end Prokofiev returned but declined to see her or his sons. Instead he attempted to divorce her but it wasn’t necessary.  Because they married abroad the union was deemed to have no legal basis in the Soviet Union and he was free to marry Mira.
Lina knew that fraternising with foreigners was a crime but she visited the French British and American embassies in a bid to make contacts that would get her and the boys out of Russia, but in 1948 she was arrested, interrogated for days under torture and forced to sign an admission that she was an American agent. She was condemned to twenty years in a slave labour camp. This is a whole other story but even then in her letters to her sons she always asked after papa and sent him a hug.
Prokofiev and Stalin died on the same day and when she heard the news she wept. She eventually obtained an exit permit and left Russia in 1974. She died in London in 1989, aged 91.
I hope someone in the film world takes up her remarkable story but, in the meantime, both these books must be definitely on the list of what to read.

PS: Talking of books I read in a newspaper cutting someone sent me that Pippa Middleton was paid an advance of £400000 for her book on etiquette. To quote a song, “It must be true, for I read it in the papers didn’t you?” And if it is there is no justice in this world.

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