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The long read: The notorious case of three teenage sisters inspired a campaign for change and a backlash from the patriarchy

At about 3pm on 27 July 2018, the day of his death, Mikhail Khachaturyan scolded his three teenage daughters, Krestina, Angelina and Maria. The apartment they shared in a Soviet-era housing block near the huge ring road that encircles Moscow was a mess, he told them, and they would pay for having left it that way. A large, irascible man in his late 50s with a firm Orthodox faith, Khachaturyan had run his household despotically since he allegedly forced his wife to leave in 2015.

That afternoon, his daughters would later tell investigators, he punished them in his customary sadistic way. Calling them one by one into his bedroom, he cursed and yelled at them, then pepper sprayed each one in the face. The oldest sister, Krestina, 19, began to choke from the effects of the spray. Retreating to the bedroom she shared with her sisters, Krestina collapsed on the bed and lost consciousness. Her sister Maria, then 17, the youngest of the three, would later describe this moment as the final straw.

Krestina woke shortly after 7pm to cries from the other side of the bedroom door. Running into the living room, she saw Angelina and Maria standing over their father, who was in his chair, struggling violently. Apparently believing her sisters were in danger, Krestina snatched the bottle of pepper spray from a nearby table and sprayed it frantically at her father.

But what Krestina had witnessed was not another assault by Khachaturyan on his daughters. While she was recovering in the bedroom, investigators say Maria and Angelina attacked Khachaturyan with a hunting knife and hammer they had retrieved from his car. Disoriented from the pepper spray and rapidly losing blood, Khachaturyan hobbled on to the landing outside the apartment. It was there that Angelina, the 18-year-old middle daughter, caught up with him and, investigators allege, drove the knife into his heart.

Several minutes later, one of the sisters called the police. Identifying herself as Angelina, she explained through tears that her father had attacked her under the influence of a heavy dose of sedatives, and that she had killed him in self-defence. Police found his body on the landing, with multiple stab wounds to the neck, arms and torso. The sisters were arrested for murder and held in a womens remand prison in south-east Moscow.

News of the killing quickly spread across Russia, and in the months that followed, the country was divided over what drove the three teenage sisters to kill their own father. The case was covered obsessively by newspapers, evening news programmes, and TV talkshows. It was all anyone could talk about for months, said Alexey Parshin, Angelinas lawyer.

Some, including Khachaturyans two sisters, claimed the young women were scheming ingrates who killed their father to steal his money. They cited evidence that the daughters had slashed each other in the minutes following the killing with the same knife they allegedly used to murder him, in what investigators would later call a deliberate attempt to mislead them.

Others including their mother, Khachaturyans estranged wife came to the sisters defence, refusing to accept that such an egregious motive could be behind their actions. As lawyers and investigators began piecing together the Khachaturyan family story, it became clear this was not a cold-blooded murder. Over hundreds of pages of court documents and transcripts of witness testimony, a picture emerges, which Mikhail Khachaturyans sisters contest, of a household terrorised by his paranoiac despotism of routine sexual abuse, beatings, humiliation and death threats.

Despite this history of abuse, in June 2019 prosecutors indicted all three daughters on charges of pre-meditated murder. Two months after the killing, they were released from custody following an appeal from their lawyers, and as an investigation into the crime continues, they are staying with relatives, awaiting trial. A psychological assessment shortly after the killing found that Maria was mentally unsound at the time of the crime due to an acute stress disorder caused by her fathers abuse, and recommended her for treatment. But given the severity of the charges, Maria and her sisters face betwen eight and 20 years in prison for what they maintain was a desperate act of self-defence.

Meanwhile, Russia finds itself deep in a national debate over domestic violence. The sisters case has galvanised opposition to the countrys punitive legal system and conservative political culture. At present, Russia has no specific legislation to define, prevent or prosecute domestic violence. Womens rights advocates are campaigning to overturn a controversial 2017 law on battery that has softened punishments and, they say, encouraged perpetrators to act with impunity.

Hundreds have taken to the streets since the indictment was issued to call for the sisters release and picket government buildings in protest against their prosecution. Fundraising concerts and theatre performances have been held to offset their legal fees and call for the passing of a law that would help prevent future attacks. An online petition for their release has gathered more than 370,000 signatures. Its become clear this is a problem of catastrophic proportions which cant be ignored, said Alyona Popova, a womens rights activist who started the petition and helped draft a domestic violence bill now being debated in the Russian parliament. Something has to be done.

But as activists step up their efforts to reform the legal system, they are being countered by a campaign backed by the powerful Orthodox church to promote traditional values and portray the Russian family unit as under threat.

Orthodox priests are appearing on state TV channels excoriating the malign forces of globalisation, while mass vigils are being held across Russia to protest against western progressivism. Hundreds of social media accounts representing conservative movements are promoting an apocalyptic narrative that claims any moves towards regulating family affairs will lead to the disintegration of Russian families and perhaps of Russia itself.

In the years before his death, Mikhail Khachaturyan liked to take regular pilgrimages to Israel, returning with candles from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianitys holiest site, and various icons that he added to a home shrine at which he prayed daily. An account purportedly belonging to him on a Russian social media platform where he lists his name as Michael of Jerusalem contains pictures of him bathing at holy sites, drinking shirtless with friends and posing with prominent Orthodox clerics and public figures.

During a police interrogation the day after his murder, a partial transcript of which was provided to me by one of Angelinas attorneys, Angelina said that her father first sexually assaulted her while the two were on holiday in Israel in November 2014, and that he had subjected her to various forms of sexual harassment ever since. It always took place in his bedroom, she said, with the door closed. Hed regularly tell us that sex outside marriage is a sin, she said of her pious father. But because were his blood and his daughters, he can do with us as he wishes, and we should submit ourselves to it.

In WhatsApp messages that were leaked to the press, Khatchaturyan had often threatened Angelina with sexual violence. In January 2018, while he was on a pilgrimage in Israel, he threatened to rape both his daughter and his estranged wife upon learning that Angelina wasnt home as he had instructed. Three months later, he sent her a series of lewd voice messages. Youll be sucking endlessly, Angelina, he said in one. And if you leave Ill find you. Three minutes later, he warned: Ill beat you for everything, Ill kill you. Leave, leave, dont drive me to sin.

Khachaturyan sexually assaulted his other daughters as well, according to the official investigation into the crime, and had effectively enslaved them. We served him in the home, ironing, cleaning, cooking for him and giving him food when he asked, Maria said in a police interview, according to court documents. If the sisters fell short of his expectations, or he simply lost his temper, he attacked them.

Violence, or the threat of it, was a constant presence in their home. Khachaturyan was highly superstitious, and is said to have banned his family from uttering certain everyday words in his presence, believing them to bring bad luck. He installed a camera on the landing outside their apartment to record his childrens comings and goings. In a search of the property after the killing, police confiscated a hammer, a knife, two airguns, a crossbow, a rubber-bullet handgun, a revolver, a hunting rifle, 16 cartridges and 16 spears. In Khachaturyans car they also found business cards displaying the logo of Russias Federal Security Service, or FSB, and listing the 57-year-old as its employee.

Angelina Khachaturyan arrives at a court hearing in Moscow in June 2019. Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty

Investigators declared the cards fake, but few in the area doubted that Khachaturyan was well connected. A series of events recounted by neighbours indicate that he had friends in the Moscow police and the prosecutors office. He constantly bragged about his connections, said Parshin, Angelinas lawyer, who has written to the authorities requesting that Khachaturyans contacts with law enforcement officials be investigated. The choice for the three sisters, he said, was to do nothing, and hope itll pass, or go to the police and inevitably suffer another beating at the hands of their father, who would have been the first person the police would report to.

In records of her police interrogation, Angelina described the predicament the sisters faced in the run-up to the murder. My sisters and I were tired of such a life, but afraid to turn to anyone for help because he had connections everywhere, she said of her father. After their mother was forced to flee, the sisters were afraid that anyone who tried to help them would get into trouble. Telling our relatives was also not a solution to the problem, because they might have not believed us.

In their statements, Maria and Angelina both recounted an episode from early 2016, when the three sisters were on holiday with their father in Adler, a resort on Russias Black Sea coast. After Krestina ran out of a room where shed been alone with her father, she swallowed a handful of drotaverine pills, an antispasmodic drug, in an apparent suicide attempt, and had to be rushed to hospital.

Krestinas lawyer, Alexey Liptser, told me that it was fear that Krestina would again attempt suicide that had driven her sisters to take matters into their own hands. (Krestina did not take part in the killing, he added.) In a WhatsApp exchange with one of her friends a month before her fathers murder, Krestina said that he had again threatened to rape her and that she might not endure the situation much longer.

I lost consciousness during the night, she wrote. He began to chase me out at one in the morning, because he didnt like the fact that one of his shirts isnt ironed. She continued: I became anxious and started crying and then began suffocating and fell on the ground. The little ones began to sob and resuscitate me, it was fucking crazy. And to top it off he whacked them over the head with his gun He gets worse every day. And its like this every day? the friend responded. Almost, Krestina replied.

Consider the fact they could not be expected to make logical decisions, their inability to find help, the constant violence, the threats to their lives, said Parshin. Put all that together and youll understand what state they were in, and why they took that knife and that hammer.

Mikhail Khachaturyan drove them to that state, Parshin went on. The moment he began to commit crimes against them, he stopped being a father.

In December, I travelled to Moscows northern outskirts to see Aurelia Dunduk, the mother of the three sisters and a key witness in their case. Dunduk met Mikhail Khachaturyan in Moscow in 1996, two years after she had emigrated with her parents from Moldova. She was 17. Khachaturyan, who was 35, was from an ethnic Armenian family that had left the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan in 1988 to escape the sectarian conflict that was engulfing parts of the moribund Soviet empire. The family came to Moscow hoping to eventually emigrate to the US, but their plans never worked out.

The city the two families encountered then, in Russias first post-Soviet decade, was a place descending into lawlessness. Aspiring entrepreneurs, law enforcement officials and petty criminals eager to exploit the collapsing system used any means at their disposal to profit from the chaos. After a stint in the Russian army, Khachaturyan became a local racketeer: merchants opening up stores and small businesses in his part of north Moscow would pay cash for his protection.

Dunduk dated Khachaturyan for several months after they first met, then broke it off. He had become violent, and started threatening her family, she claims, so she moved outside the city to stay with relatives and keep her distance. He ultimately forced her to return through a campaign of threats and coercion, she said, which culminated in him locking Dunduk in his apartment after she attended a new years eve party he hosted.

Krestina, left, and Angelina, at Moscows Basmanny district court. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/TASS

I stayed against my will, Dunduk, now 40, told me at a cafe not far from the apartment where Khachaturyan was murdered. He left none of us any choice, neither me nor my relatives. She is tired of the constant attention from prosecutors, journalists and Khachaturyans defenders that she has faced since the murder, and her shaky cadence was barely audible over the pop music playing from speakers overhead. Her voice is familiar to audiences of the many talkshows she has appeared on since her daughters arrest, in a bid to argue their case. In February, she sat in a TV studio as a screen above her showed two amateur actors re-enacting her alleged rape by Khatchaturyan 20 years earlier. The cameras zoomed in on Dunduks face so viewers could scrutinise her reaction. She lowered her head and looked away.

In June 1997, Dunduk gave birth to a son, Sergey, and two years later to Krestina. By that point, she said, Khachaturyan regularly beat her; the smallest thing could set him off. You just didnt know, she told me. One minute youre talking to him normally, and then suddenly he might begin shouting and cursing. One afternoon in the early 00s she managed to escape the apartment and run to the local police station. Khachaturyan followed her and listened with a grin as she asked to file a complaint against him. She said he then hit her in front of the duty officers, many of whom were his friends, and dragged her home. After that, she said, it was pointless trying to do anything.

Sergey said he was also subjected to regular violence. When he was 16, in 2013, Khachaturyan chased him out of the home. He was forced to sleep rough for weeks before he was taken in by a friend, with whom he has lived ever since. Then, in 2015, Khachaturyan also forced Dunduk out. He lost his temper, put a gun to my temple and told me: Im going to leave now, and if youre still here when Im back, Ill kill you all, she alleges.

Dunduk never returned to live with the family. A friend in Moscow put her up for six weeks, and then she joined her mother in Moldova. After a year, she came back to Moscow to be closer to her children, again staying at friends homes. But she had minimal access to her daughters, who she said feared retribution from Khachaturyan. It was because of this lack of communication, and the fear that drove it, that Dunduk only learnt of Khachaturyans sexual abuse from investigators. When she found out, she said: I wanted to kill him all over again.

After Khachaturyans death, his family began a very public feud. Arsen, Khachaturyans 21-year-old nephew, started touring Moscows TV studios defending the reputation of a man he calls papa. On air, he has branded Dunduk a prostitute and accused her of abetting her daughters in the killing. In September 2018, friends of Arsen assaulted Sergey on the set of a prime-time talkshow. In January, Khachaturyans mother, Lidiya, and sister Naira launched a libel suit against Dunduk for claiming in an interview that Khachaturyan had raped her. A husband cannot rape his wife by definition, they told Russian media.

In many ways, the split in the Khatchaturyan family reflects the bitter divide within Russian society. On the one hand, there are those who wish to preserve a sense of national identity rooted in conservative Orthodox Christian values and a rejection of progressive ideas. On the other, there are those who believe Russias development as a modern society is dependent on its ability to embrace liberal social policies and champion the rights of women and minorities.

Even before the killing, domestic violence had been a topic of public contention in Russia. In 2012, the Russian government conducted a nationwide survey that found one in five women had been physically assaulted by a husband or partner. Four years later, in July 2016, the Russian parliament, with Putins consent, excluded battery against close persons spouses, parents, children and other live-in relatives from a law decriminalising other forms of battery. This meant that for the first time in Russias history, there was effectively a law that applied specifically to domestic violence.

But there was soon a backlash from conservatives. In November 2016, a group of lawmakers led by the head of parliaments committee on the family, Elena Mizulina, introduced a bill to decriminalise instances of domestic violence that happen no more than once per year and cause no lasting physical damage. Mizulina framed her bill as a way of safeguarding Russian families from outside intrusion, citing foreign funding received by NGOs opposed to her initiative.

This time, Putin backed the conservatives, warning in December 2016 that interference in family matters is unacceptable. As lawmakers moved to pass the decriminalisation bill at the end of 2016, Russian state TV launched a propaganda campaign to smooth its passage through parliament. Reports on federal channels suggested men should not be criminally liable if they beat their wives accidentally, out of strong love, or in the interests of upbringing, and peddled the notion that European children are routinely withdrawn from families after bogus domestic violence complaints from strangers. We are balancing out peoples rights, and removing anti-family laws, said Olga Batalina, one of the lawmakers pushing the initiative.

Under the new law, which Putin signed in February 2017, domestic violence that doesnt cause severe injury is punishable by a 30,000-ruble fine (360) comparable to a smoking or parking violation or 15 days in jail. A second offence can lead to three months in prison, but if a year has passed since the first, a modest fine is again imposed. Critics summed up the law as one free beating a year.

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The reasons for Putins about-face on domestic violence are complicated. The conservative movement in Russia is partly fuelled by many of the same anti-globalist fears driving the current populist wave across Europe. But in addition, since the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, Russia has suffered a protracted population decline. Putin has unveiled various financial incentives for first-time mothers and made raising the birth rate a signature policy during his 20 years at Russias helm. But he has largely failed to reverse the trend: the country has one of the worlds highest abortion rates, nearly half of all marriages collapse, and immigration no longer offsets population decline.

To shore up support, Putin has appealed to the nationalist majority that comprises his base through a rhetoric of traditional values and a slew of conservative initiatives. A 2013 law banning promotion of homosexuality in the presence of Russian children led to a violent backlash against LGBT people across the country. Putin has also empowered the Russian Orthodox Church, an institution that rails against globalisation and encroaching western influence and defends traditionalism as a means of protecting Russian identity.

The Russian Orthodox Church is completely merged with the state, said Yulia Gorbunova, a Human Rights Watch researcher and author of a major report last October on the issue of domestic violence in Russia. They echo each other on all the main social issues.

Following the passage of Mizulinas decriminalisation bill in 2017, womens rights activists reported a spike in domestic violence. Many incidents involved repeated abuse and blatant police inaction despite victims appeals. A crisis hotline operated by the Anna Centre, a womens rights organisation that Putins government has labelled a foreign agent, recorded a rise in complaints from 20,000 in 2016 to more than 31,000 in 2018.

After the decriminalisation, all of us saw a barrage of cases, an absolute barrage, said Mari Davtyan, a lawyer involved in the Khachaturyan case and a campaigner for domestic violence legislation. Society read the message. Those who used violence concluded that its now allowed. And what did those who suffer from it conclude? That theres no line of defence left.

Ten months after the law went into effect, in December 2017, Margarita Gracheva, a woman from a town 60 miles south of Moscow, was driven to a nearby forest by her husband where he chopped off her hands with an axe. It was a horrific coda to months of abuse that continued despite Grachevas appeal that November to the police, who refused to press charges. In January 2018, in another Moscow region town, a beauty salon worker named Elena Verba was stabbed 57 times by her husband, who went to work and left the mutilated body for his seven-year-old son to discover. Verba had reported an incident of domestic violence to police six months earlier, but duty officers persuaded her to retract her accusation because her husband worked in law enforcement and risked losing his job. Last September, in Cheboksary, 400 miles east of Moscow, 38-year-old Anna Ovchinnikovas husband strangled her with a rope, placed her body in a suitcase and buried it in a nearby forest. She had filed at least three complaints about domestic violence. All three men were ultimately sentenced to prison terms of between nine and 15 years.

Government figures suggest that only one in 10 Russian women who suffer domestic violence report it to the police roughly in line with the global average, according to the UN and a mere 2% seek legal advice. According to a recent analysis by independent outlet Media Zona of several thousand court verdicts against Russian women jailed on murder charges between 2016 and 2018, 79% had been defending themselves against a partner.

A protester holds a placard with a message reading Domestic violence victims need therapy not prison on Patriarshy Bridge in Moscow. Photograph: Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

Gorbunova of Human Rights Watch said the problem is compounded by the fact that Russian police often refuse to launch investigations. Theyre not taught to treat the situation as potentially lethal, she said. So they either laugh it off, or tell the wife to behave herself and be nice to her husband.

Last July, a court in Oryol, 200 miles south of Moscow, sentenced duty officer Natalya Bashkatova to two years in prison for negligence. In November 2016, Bashkatova received a call from a woman whose boyfriend had threatened to kill her. Do not call again. We will not come to you, she told the woman. What if something happens? the woman asked. If he kills you, well come to examine the body, came Bashkatovas answer. Dont worry. Within 40 minutes of that exchange, which the woman recorded, she had been beaten to death by her boyfriend in the courtyard of her home.

The last resort for some victims is an appeal to the European court of human rights. In July, the ECHR issued its first decision on a domestic violence case in Russia, ruling that police had failed to protect Valeriya Volodina from repeated acts of violence by a former partner who stalked and assaulted her after she left him in 2015. It gave a scathing assessment of the governments tolerance for a climate which was conducive to domestic violence.

In November, Russias justice ministry responded to a series of questions sent by the ECHR in connection with domestic violence cases brought by Russian women. In excerpts cited by Russias Kommersant newspaper, the ministry said the scale of domestic violence in Russia is exaggerated and dismissed the need for separate legislation. A victim has the option to reconcile with their attacker for the sake of preserving personal relations in the family, it said, and Russian women who appeal to the ECHR are trying to sabotage the efforts the government is making to improve the situation.

To get to the office of Oksana Pushkina, a lawmaker in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, you pass through metal detectors and through an exhibition space to a set of lifts that takes you to the ninth floor. On the November afternoon I visited, assault rifles and other Russian-made weapons were on display in glass cases as the legislative body, as well as schools and other state institutions across the country, celebrated 100 years since the birth of Russian arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Pushkina is one of 73 female lawmakers in the 450-seat chamber, where she stands out among a mass of jingoistic officials who rubber-stamp laws approved by the Kremlin. When we met, she had recently returned from a conference at the Council of Europes Strasbourg headquarters on how police should respond to domestic violence. I sat there like some creature from another planet, said Pushkina, a glamorous woman in her 50s. They were discussing whats already in place in their countries. And we dont even have a law.

With help from Davtyan and Parshin, the two lawyers involved in the Khachaturan case, and Alyona Popova, the activist, Pushkina is trying to introduce a new domestic violence bill. It includes banning an abusive partner from access to the victim for at least one month, their possible eviction from a shared family home, and a requirement that they compensate their victims legal fees or alternative accommodation during periods of violence. It proposes a support infrastructure for victims, with counselling services and shelters across Russia. And it defines domestic violence and the kinds of ways physical, psychological, economic it can manifest itself.

For us its important that the violence does not happen again, Davtyan said. The goal is simple: that he stops approaching her.

The opposition to any domestic violence bill is well organised, well funded, and backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. In early December, a month after visiting Pushkina, I attended a roundtable at the Duma that brought representatives of Russias various religious groups together with lawmakers.

Billed as Legislative aspects of the defence of spiritual-moral values as a key factor in the development of civil society, the three-hour session was dominated by high-ranking Orthodox clergy. Pushkinas domestic violence bill featured prominently. The family is a holy creation, declared one priest, and thus cannot be regulated by a secular state.

One threat in particular kept coming up: zapad, the west.

Aurelia Dunduk, estranged wife of Mikhail and the mother of the three Khachaturyan sisters. Photograph: Matthew Luxmoore

Fifty-four units of the CIA are working against us, trying to impose their values, Pavel Pozhigaylo, a member of the Russian culture ministrys board, told the room. We are at war. The audience applauded. The Orthodox activist Andrei Kormukhin told the roundtable that Pushkinas bill is aimed not at preserving the family, but at destroying it. He then gave the floor to his wife, a mother of nine children, who branded the bill anti-Russian and said that if it had passed in the 90s, the happy families we have today would not exist.

A few days later, I sat down with Kormukhin at a cafe in central Moscow. He leads Forty Forties, an ultra-conservative movement that claims to have 40 regional branches and more than 10,000 supporters, including senior Orthodox clergy. The churchs leader, Patriarch Kirill, has met with its members and is a personal friend of Kormukhins, whose WhatsApp avatar shows the men deep in conversation. In its six years of existence, Forty Forties has roped in football hooligans and neo-Nazis and stood accused of various extremist acts in defence of religion. In May 2015, Kormukhin was briefly detained by police for joining in a violent attack on LGBT activists attempting to hold a parade in Moscow.

In recent months, Forty Forties has directed its resources against Pushkinas domestic violence bill, staging protests and mass vigils under the slogan for the family. In October, Kormukhin co-authored an open letter to Putin denouncing the draft law. The 1,700-word text, which included 50 references to family, was co-signed by more than 180 organisations from across Russia including amateur fight clubs, paramilitary groups and civic movements with names like Big Family, Family, Love, Fatherland and Lots of Kids Is Good.

Kormukhin argues that the law is part of a western plot aimed at weakening Russian families and insists that statistics on domestic violence cited by rights activists are wrong. Because the majority of crimes happen when the man is in a state of intoxication, he said, a man needs to be given the benefit of the doubt and be left to sober up.

A good duty officer will know that if the woman returns home then the husband will fall before her knees the next morning, beg for forgiveness and promise it wont happen again. And then the children will stay with their parents and the family unit will be preserved, he said. Why do you want to deprive a family of its breadwinner?

What if he beats her again after three days? I asked.

And what if youre a paedophile? Kormukhin asked, frustrated. It says nothing if a man has beaten his wife once.

For Pushkina, the dirty campaign waged by groups like Forty Forties undermines their stated commitment to religious values. Were talking about prevention [of violence], and they call us extreme feminists and destroyers of a social order that is a de facto patriarchate, Pushkina said. It really has been that way since ancient times. But times are changing.

Maria, Angelina and Krestina Khachaturyan are largely oblivious to the vicious culture war their case has fuelled. Banned from using the internet and from communicating with each other, with witnesses or the press, they are dimly aware at best of their status as torchbearers for Russias feminist movement and targets of its conservative backlash.

For now, Angelina and Krestina are living with relatives, and Maria with her mother. Just before New Years Eve, their night-time curfew was lifted, but the other rules remain in force. They now only see each other in court, under a bailiffs watchful eye, when they gather to hear the judge extend their pre-trial restrictions. They were always together, and when they split them up it was as if one organism was torn into three parts, Parshin told me.

On 3 December, investigators announced they were sending the final version of their indictment to the prosecutors office for trial. Maria, Angelina and Krestina had acted with premeditation, they concluded, driven by a strong personal enmity towards their father caused by his protracted physical and sexual abuse. But two weeks later, the prosecutors office issued a stunning decision: investigators should reassess the case, it said, and consider reclassifying the sisters actions as self-defence exactly what their lawyers had been arguing all along. Killing in self-defence is not a crime, so if the murder charge is dropped, the women will be set free.

But Mikhail Khachaturyans sisters, Naira and Marina who have emerged as his most committed apologists since his death have appealed, alleging that his daughters led a debauched, drug-addled existence and murdered their father for his money. Theyve also pressed additional charges against Dunduk, claiming she lied repeatedly in interviews about extramarital affairs. Yulia Nitchenko, an attorney who represents them, said any rumour that charges will be dropped is fake news; she expects the case to go to trial in the coming weeks and for the three sisters to be convicted within a year. The court will set the whole record straight, she told me. No one will evade justice.

Pushkinas campaign for domestic violence legislation appears to have stalled. In November, parliaments upper house published a version of her bill listing preservation of the family as a primary goal of preventing domestic violence a clear overture to the conservatives. Even in this watered-down version, the bill is unlikely to race through parliament. In the past decade, at least 30 different domestic violence bills have been prepared in Russia, and several introduced in the Duma. None has passed even the first reading. But public opinion appears to be on Pushkinas side, driven in part by the case of the Khachaturyan sisters.

In the past, said Parshin, Angelinas lawyer, the problem was denied outright; it was as if, in societys perception at least, it did not exist. Thats the most noticeable change, he said. People have begun talking about the issue of domestic violence.

In a December 2019 survey by state-backed pollster VTsIOM, 40% of respondents said they know violent families, and 70% said they supported a hypothetical law on domestic violence. In an August 2019 poll by the independent Levada Centre, only 14% of respondents said domestic violence is a family affair that should be kept private.

It used to be treated as a marginal issue. Journalists covered this rarely and reluctantly, and called such cases household squabbles, said Davtyan. But theres now an understanding that this is not just a domestic affair, but a violation of human rights.

Popova was hopeful this shift will pave the way for the laws passage, even if the conservatives succeed in stalling it for now. But she warned that each month brings news of victims who could have been saved.

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Lizzo, who is known for fighting negativity in regards to her appearance, posted a clip accusing TikTok of deleting her videos

Lizzo has accused the social media app TikTok of body shaming after it deleted multiple videos of her in a bathing suit.

TikTok keeps taking down my videos with me in my bathing suits, she wrote in the clip she posted on TikTok. But allows other videos with girls in bathing suits. I wonder why? TikTok … we need to talk. The clip has received over 8m views on TikTok.

A TikTok spokesperson told the Guardian that Lizzos videos were not removed because she was wearing a bathing suit. They cited other violations, including sexual gratification, that lead to a moderator initially banning the videos. The spokesperson specifically cited one video that featured Lizzo lifting up her dress to reveal her undergarments. There was initial confusion over what the garments were. After officials at TikTok spoke to Lizzos team, and the undergarments were confirmed to be Spanx, not underwear, the videos were reinstated exactly as they were originally uploaded. We love Lizzos creativity, the spokesperson said. And the videos were originally removed because of other violations, not a bathing suit.

The Juice singer has worked hard to combat negative comments and attitudes towards her physical appearance. Last year, Lizzo received a flurry of attacks for wearing an ass-less dress and thong to an NBA game. Never ever let somebody stop you or shame you from being yourself, she said in response to the attacks. This is who Ive always been. Now everyones looking at it, and your criticism can just remain your criticism. Your criticism has no effect on me.

Lizzo also shrugged off the controversial comments fitness expert Jillian Michaels made on the body-positivity movement surrounding the singer. (Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? Why arent we celebrating her music? Cause it isnt gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes. Michaels said during a morning news segment.)

TikTok is not the first social media platform Lizzo has taken issue with. Last year, she quit Twitter due to severe bullying and online trolls.

TikTok has come under fire before for its censorship of users content. In November, Washington DC officials held hearings over the app censoring political content. And last year, officials at TikTok admitted to censoring offensive content in an effort to curb bullying towards users who are fat, disabled, LGBTQ+, and/or people of color.

Social media platforms have long faced accusations of unfairly censoring womens bodies, with many womens rights groups calling the decisions sexist. Instagram has come under fire for heavily deleting photos that feature womens nipples. The Free the Nipple movement rages on the app multiple artists and celebrities, including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Chrissy Teigen have challenged the censorship rule with their own buzzed-about, scandalous photos. In 2015, Milk and Honey poet Rupi Kaur gained notoriety for challenging Instagrams ban on period blood by posting her own.

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Since #MeToo, Frances notoriously liberal attitudes to sex and sexual power are under the microscope as never before, says Natasha Lehrer

A few years ago I spent the weekend in a chteau deep in the rural Auvergne region of central France. Even more memorable than the crumbling property with its hectares of forest and decaying outbuildings, were the two elderly men to whom we were introduced when we arrived, who were enjoying an afternoon gin and tonic in the library. One the father of my friend Guillaume was Guillaumes mothers longtime lover until her recent death. The other was his mothers husband and the owner of the chteau where Guillaume grew up. The two men had remained on excellent terms for 40 years.

The setup had all the ingredients of one of those lyrical French films starring Grard Depardieu, replete with lavish interiors and rhapsodic landscapes looping through the changing seasons. It also ticked every box for lascivious British assumptions about the French, among whom infidelity, at least among the rich, powerful and famous, has long been something of a hallmark of a specifically French insouciance.

Franois Mitterrand famously maintained an extra- marital relationship with Anne Pingeot, which began when she was 20 and he was 47 and continued throughout his presidency. They had a daughter, with whom Pingeot lived in a grand apartment paid for by the state. She remained his mistress until his death in 1996. Indeed, during the entire 20th century, apparently only one French president Georges Pompidou was known to have been faithful to his wife. How the other wives felt about this remains undocumented; the stereotype of the Parisian woman is that she is as discreet as she is chic.

Since #MeToo, French attitudes towards consent and power within relationships both personal and professional have come under the microscope as never before. What was acceptable, even admirable, 20 years ago is now considered beyond the pale. The publication in January of Le Consentement, a memoir by Vanessa Springora, detailing her relationship with the prizewinning writer Gabriel Matzneff when she was 14 and he was in his 50s, was like a bomb going off in the country. Gallimard, which published Matzneffs diaries, hastily announced that it was halting sales of his books and he was stripped of the state-funded grant he had been receiving.

The country that has produced some of the most influential feminist thinkers of the 20th century has a legal system that appears to remain in thrall to the male sexual prerogative. Illustration: Michelle Thompson/The Observer

Matzneff had been hiding in plain sight. For decades he has proudly detailed in his published diaries and essays the underage girls and boys he was having sex with when they should have been doing double maths, and openly talked about his sexual predilections on television chat shows. And he didnt come out of a vacuum. French literature features a sizable library of perversity from the Marquis de Sade to Andr Gide, and Robert Desnos to Georges Bataille, not to mention Serge Gainsbourgs hit Lemon Incest, recorded with his 12-year-old daughter Charlotte in 1984 inscribed in which is the notion of the male artistic genius who, like the aristocrat of the Ancien Rgime, remains above the drab moral conventions that govern the lower orders.

Theres a touch of that in the persistent defence by French artists and intellectuals of Roman Polanski, who has lived in France and continued to make films since he fled the US in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. His most recent film, An Officer and a Spy, was one of the biggest critical and box office hits in France in late 2019. In the midst of the Weinstein trial, it has so far failed to find a distributor in the US or the UK.

The Matzneff scandalbrought back to the surface a decades-long debate about consent that, it turns out, remains an unexpectedly controversial subject in France. In 2017, a man, 22, was found not guilty of the rape of an 11-year-old girl by a judge who considered the child to have given her consent. Yet in spite of the nationwide horror at this and other similar cases, the following year the National Assembly voted against bringing statutory rape on to the books (though confusingly it did vote to make it illegal to have sex with a child under 15).

Its a paradox Ive struggled to understand: how is it that a country that has produced some of the most influential feminist thinkers of the 20th century has a legal system that appears to remain in thrall to the male sexual prerogative? I married a Frenchman, have lived here for 15 years, and have French children. In 2018, I became a French citizen. I suppose that makes me feel like I should understand this all a bit better, but it turns out that though I speak French, I dont think in French, and Im going to need some help if I want to begin to decode the myths and realities of the sexy French brand that the puritanical British supposedly admire and even envy.

Im in for the occasional rude surprise. One friend, whose job involves working to increase gender parity in the arts, tells me, in the wake of Matzneff, that she is against the concept of statutory rape. Were turning into a culture thats idiotically prudish. She, in common with a lot of French women Ive spoken to, dislikes the impact of #MeToo for what they consider to be a chilling effect on culture and society. In a recent article in the magazine LObs, historian and psychoanalyst lisabeth Roudinesco accused neo-liberal feminist puritans of seeking to purge French culture of every work of art that might offend public sensibilities.

Disgraced: the former IMF head Dominique Strauss Kahn who attended group sex parties. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Yet surprise, surprise there is a bleak fallout to this culture. A 2018 documentary, Sexe sans Consentement (Sex Without Consent), features women speaking to the camera about an attack by a male friend. The film ventures into an area that is rarely explored in France: the grey zone where sex is forced, without physical violence, threat or surprise (three of the four conditions for rape in French law, the fourth being coercion). All of the women describe an inability to say no or to fight, how they internalised the sense that they were in some way responsible for what was happening to them.

The film also features young men describing their own take on consent: I find it even more motivating even more exciting! when a girl says no, says one with a cheerful grin. The strategy of interweaving these young mens testimonies with those of the women provides a stark illustration of the failure of education to undo the twin ideals of male conquest and female acquiescence.

These ideals are centralto the quintessentially French notion of seduction, dating back to the 17th century and predicated on a dynamic in which the man is the sducteur, and the womans role is to consent. This, in turn, confers some power on the woman to spurn the man, to flaunt his love, or to exact favours or payment in return for her attentions.

Gallantry is another value inherited from the pre- revolutionary aristocracy that I have been told is inherent in French social dynamics. Karine Peyrsaubes, 50, a local councillor in St-Germain-en-Laye, a market town west of Paris, says: I absolutely believe in equality. But I love what we call la galanterie la franaise. Im not a feminist. Men and women arent the same and we dont want to be treated as if we are.

Her words echo the notorious letter opposing #MeToo, published in 2018 and signed by 100 women (including Catherine Deneuve), defending the right of men to harass women in the name of a tradition of phallocentric seduction. Feeling a little tweedy, I ask another woman in her 50s to decipher the notion of gallantry for me. Its a code of behaviour holding doors open, pulling her chair out, kissing her hand. A way of recognising a certain fragility, something delicate about a woman. Nothing more than that. I like it. Its a way of making you feel like a bit of a princess, that you deserve this attention.

Filmmakers hideaway: Roman Polanski has lived in France since fleeing the US in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

I cant help but feel that flattering half the population into feeling like compliant princesses, flattening a womans value into a highly codified physical attractiveness, are potent tools of subjugation. Cultivating that allure has historically been the only way for a woman to stand up to institutional powerlessness still a problem in a country that novelist Lucy Wadham once called one of the last great patriarchies. That vertiginous heel might hobble you, but it can also skewer a man where it hurts.

Its salutary to listen to young women talk about their experiences of gallantry on the streets of Paris. Men hit on me in the street at an absolute minimum once a day, says Anita Farrs, 18, a first-year law student. If you ignore them they immediately begin insulting you, calling you a bitch or a filthy slut. It can be quite frightening. I always carry a little tear gas spray with me when I go out. Its like theres an epidemic of male incivility in France.

Farrs links this to a wider culture that still insists on bringing girls and boys up according to different values. My fathers family is Catholic, really strict. Theres a strong idea that women are supposed to know their place, she says.

Fellow student Lylia Djellal, 19, points to the fact that sex education in school is all about the mechanics of reproduction, nothing on the psychological, emotional aspect. We have lots of lessons about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, all that, but things to do with consent, respect not at all. Farrs adds that theres so much social pressure. If a boy hasnt had sex by a certain age, hes a loser. If a girls done it too young, shes a slut.

Those judgments are just as likely to come from women as from men, in Farrss experience. Theres not enough solidarity between women. Theyre full of judgment, theres a lot of jealousy. Djellal agrees: Maybe we have to learn to be kind and watch out for each other first, before we expect men to be kind to us. Im moved. I can only tell them I agree. I wonder if the jealousy and judgment among women they mention has any link with a history of relaxed attitudes to sexual fidelity, in which notions of loyalty and friendship must be stretched to breaking point. Even when a friendship weathers the tension, as with my friends parents in the Auvergne, I suspect that in reality such relationships owe their existence to an era when many women didnt work and thus could not afford to leave their husbands, and divorce was extremely frowned upon in a country still largely bound by Catholic values.

Age of innocence: Serge Gainsbourg and his daughter Charlotte, with whom he recorded the hit Lemon Incest when she was 12-year-old. Photograph: Everett Collection/Alamy

Anne Karila-Danziger, 53, a Parisian family lawyer, is adamant there is no more acceptance of adultery in France than anywhere else. Theres certainly more tolerance of peoples private lives, but I dont see it as a tolerance of adultery, and I certainly dont have the sense it reflects the way ordinary people live. I deal with divorce, so its true I see a specific demographic, but from what I see, French people are just as unhappy when their spouses cheat on them as people from any other country.

I ask if partouze (group sex) clubs such as the ones disgraced former IMF head Dominique Strauss Kahn was known to frequent are ever cited in the cases she deals with. I think it came up in one dossier I dealt with, and we still talk about it because we thought it was so funny.

While divorce rates have risen over the decades, domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions. Every three days, a woman is killed by her partner in France, one of the highest rates in Europe. Euriel Fierling, 44, a high school philosophy teacher in a working-class suburb east of Paris, grew up with parents who were both far-left activists. That was the world I was brought up in, the radical feminist wave of the 1970s. But 50 years later, the rates of domestic violence, femicide and rape are sky high. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the feminist movement of the 1970s was highly intellectual. It didnt change anything in wider French society. Here we are, in 2020, talking about femicide. We never made it visible enough. How is that possible?

In fact, continues Fierling, I think the May 68 revolution, the sexual liberation of the 1970s, was more about mens right to sexual freedom than that of women. Since #MeToo, it has been all about womens sexual emancipation. Now, as well as violence against women, everyone is talking about female pleasure. I have never heard that before. I mean, from this September, for the first time, school textbooks will have 3D representations of the clitoris.

Explosive memoir: Le Consentement by Vanessa Springora, published in January, details her relationship with the writer Gabriel Matzneff when she was 14 and he was in his 50s. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

Karila-Danziger agrees that #MeToo signalled a radical change in France, though she cites different reasons. I really think theres an incredible liberation for women thats been going on over the past two or three years. Its extremely complicated, were seeing a real change in our understanding of love, respect, relationships. One phenomenon that is very specific to France is the law that grants equal custody of children to both parents after divorce. The fact that the father is now expected to be equally involved in the everyday aspects of bringing up his children is huge progress.

Writer Emilie Notris, 40, who describes herself as a queer text worker, is excited by the emergence of the voices of women and racial and sexual minorities disturbing the institutional fabric. Theres a desire for representation that matches the reality of peoples lived experiences.

Fierling is similarly upbeat, impressed by the recent resurgence of feminism among her students. For the whole time I was teaching, up until #MeToo, my students didnt think feminism concerned them at all. I tried to tell them it was an illusion to think the struggle was over, but until the #MeToo movement they werent receptive. In the past couple of years, its completely changed. Young women are extremely sensitive now, they explode at any sign of sexism. Its become a dominant ideology. Now all my students, boys as well as girls, call themselves feminists.

Last week the entire committee of the Csars (the French Oscars) resigned in the wake of a letter signed by 400 actors, directors and others from the French film industry, condemning the organisation as a structure where the majority of members dont see themselves in the choices made in their name, and which in no way represents the diversity of French cinema. This has been widely understood to be a specific reference to the 12 nominations received by Polanskis An Officer and a Spy every eligible category except best actress and best supporting actress. Feminist groups, furious at Polanskis decades-old get-out-of-jail-free card, have been picketing cinemas showing the film; even President Macrons equality minister, Marlne Sciappa, expressed her dismay at the idea of a man convicted of rape getting a standing ovation at the ceremony. There have been the usual grumbles about puritanical feminists, but overall theres been a surprising consensus. In the words of culture minister Franck Reister, in the post #MeToo era, even in France, genius should be no guarantee of immunity.

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A new study finds women who wear heavy makeup are perceived as less competent. Perhaps its time to make our own rules

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Maybe shes born with it, maybe its the patriarchy

The more makeup you wear, the less human you seem. Thats the rather depressing conclusion of a new study published in the journal Sex Roles, which looked at how cosmetics influence the way we perceive women. Researchers asked 1,000 people (most of whom were from the UK and the US) to evaluate womens faces with and without heavy makeup. They found that both male and female participants rated women wearing a lot of makeup as less human, less warm and less moral. Gotta love that internalized misogyny!

The studys findings are even worse for those who prefer a dramatic smoky eye to a loud lipstick; faces with eye makeup were attributed the least amount of warmth and competence.

It might be that faces with heavy makeup are perceived as possessing less human-like traits because they are visually processed in a way that resembles how most objects are processed, Philippe Bernard, the studys lead author, explained. Bernard, a researcher at the Free University of Brussels further noted that while theres a growing body of research showing how sexualized images prompt the dehumanization of women, less attention has been paid to whether subtler forms of sexualization such as makeup influence objectification. As it turns out, all it takes for a woman to be reduced to an object is a touch too much eyeliner.

Dont chuck out your cosmetics quite yet, however. According to a 2011 study by researchers from Boston University and Harvard Medical School, women who wear a professional amount of makeup in the office are seen as more competent, capable, reliable and amiable than women who sport a bare face. (Its worth noting that the study was funded by Procter & Gamble, which owns cosmetic brands like Olay and SK-II; so take it with a pinch of bath salt.)

While wearing professional levels of makeup may help you at work, you do have to be careful not to look too nice. A 2019 study found attractive businesswomen are judged as being less truthful than less attractive women. Mind you, another study found that attractive people earn more than their plainer peers and that grooming accounts for the entire attractiveness premium for women.

We havent even started on how your hairdo affects how you do in life. There are various studies which suggest women with long hair are seen as being high maintenance and of high reproductive potential. Long hair can also signal decreased forcefulness and can be seen as less professional. (Which might be why Ivanka Trump recently got a bob.) Hair is even more complicated for black women, of course, who are often forced to conform to white beauty standards to be seen as professional.

Being a woman means constantly walking a tightrope between being invisible and being objectified. Youve got to be nice, but not too nice! Youve got to be attractive, but not too attractive! Youve got to wear makeup, but not too much makeup! Perhaps its time to slap on the warpaint and make our own rules.

Self-centered men love high-status cars

Assholes are drawn to expensive German cars, according to science. A new study by researchers from the University of Helsinki found that self-centered men who are argumentative and disagreeable are more likely to own high-status cars such as a BMW or Mercedes. If youve got a Merc it doesnt automatically mean youre a jerk though the researchers also found that conscientious personality types are also driven to high-status vehicles. Heres the interesting bit though: the link between conscientious personalities and a penchant for pricey cars was found among both men and women but the connection between self-centered personalities and high-status cars was only found among men. The researchers arent sure why this is, but it could be because cars are traditionally more of a male status symbol.

The men who take breastmilk from babies

In Uganda, and some parts of Tanzania and Kenya, there is a growing culture of men drinking their partners breast milk. This obviously isnt about taste its about male entitlement. The Guardian notes that the practice is being linked to gender violence and coercive behaviour.

Turkey proposes a marry your rapist bill

The law would allow men who sexually abuse children to avoid punishment if they marry their victim. Gender-based violence is endemic in Turkey; 38% of women have suffered physical or sexual violence from a partner according to the UN.

Game over: should men stop talking sport at work?

According to one HR expert, office conversations about sport make women feel left out. Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, told the BBC that excessive sports talk is a gateway to more laddish behaviour. Theres been a backlash to her comments because shock horror a lot of women like sport.

IBMs first female CEO is stepping down

Virginia Rometty, who has been in the role since 2012, will be replaced by Arvind Krishna.

Hadley Freeman interviews Kelis

The R&B singer talks candidly about being assaulted from a business perspective [and] then being assaulted in the home.

The queer history of plants

All youve ever wanted to know about sapphic violets and the pansy craze you can read here.

Female nurses paid less than their male peers

Even though nursing is predominately female, women earn 17% less than men.

Man disappoints 27,722 women at once

E-commerce billionaire Yusaku Maezawa made headlines recently when he extended an invitation for a special woman to join him on Elon Musks Big Falcon Rocket for a trip around the moon. The romantic moonshot was going to be turned into a reality show because, I mean, who wouldnt want to watch an intergalactic version of Love Island? A total of 27,722 women applied for the position of Maezawas girlfriend alas none of them have been selected because the billionaire has now cancelled the reality show for personal reasons.

Elton John bought a ton of Gwyneth Paltrow vagina candles

Goop recently sold out of their famous vagina candles and apparently John is partly to blame; he bought a ton of them. No, I have no idea why either.

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The actor and activist has backed up Harrys desire to protect his family, while Stormzy has said there is no credible reason to dislike Meghan

Hugh Grant has defended Prince Harrys decision to step back from formal royal duties and seek a self-financed life based partly in Canada.

Speaking on Andy Cohens Radio Andy show on Sirius XM, Grant said: Im rather on Harrys side. The tabloid press effectively murdered his mother, now theyre tearing his wife to pieces.

Grant was reminding listeners of the circumstances surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was in a vehicle being pursued by paparazzi, which then crashed, killing three of the four passengers, in Paris in August 1997.

Grant added: I think as a man, its his job to protect his family, so Im with him.

Grant was promoting his new film, The Gentleman, alongside co-stars Charlie Hunnam and Matthew McConaughey. In the film, Grant plays a seedy and unscrupulous tabloid reporter.

Grant has been a vociferous campaigner against press intrusion for nearly 10 years. His activism stepped up after the revelation that the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked by the News of the World.

In 2018, Grant donated a payout from Mirror Group Newspapers to the Hacked Off anti-hacking campaign. MGN apologised to Grant and others for its morally wrong actions in hacking their phones.

Speaking to Cohen, Grant described his relationship with the tabloids as very poor.

Grants defence of Harry again pits him against longtime antagonist Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror with whom Grant frequently clashes on Twitter. Morgan has called the Duke and Duchess of Sussex the two most spoiled brats in history.

Grant won considerable acclaim for his portrayal of the disgraced Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe in the Stephen Frears miniseries A Very English Scandal, which was broadcast in 2018. The Gentleman has earned more mixed reviews so far.

Speaking on Tuesday, the musician Stormzy also came to the couples defence, saying there was no credible reason for people not to like Meghan.

In the firing line Stormzy. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

In an interview with New York radio station Hot 97, he said: Meghan is a sweet woman, she does her thing and they just hate her.

The rapper referred to a clip of Eamonn Holmes on TalkSport, where the presenter says: I look at her and I think: I dont think Id like you.

Stormzy said that if those expressing such sentiments were made to write down the reasons for their negativity, they would find there was nothing credible to it.

He also discussed the backlash to an interview he recently gave in which he was asked whether he believed Britain was racist, to which he replied Yes, 100%.

The quote was taken out of context by numerous outlets to imply he believed the UK was entirely racist. Its the classic media spin, he said.

They know what theyre doing. Theyre weaponising what I said. A lot of people thought I was trying to incite division but thats what [the media] did, really.

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Reminder: the state of your hymen is not an indicator of whether youve had sex. Yet there are no laws banning exams

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Good news: TI inadvertently inspired change

Heres the good news: California may soon ban virginity testing. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced a bill on Wednesday that would penalize medical practitioners for examining a woman or girls hymen in an attempt to ascertain whether shes ever had vaginal intercourse.

Heres the bad news: it is 2020 and virginity testing is still completely legal across America. There are no federal or state laws outlawing the procedure and no clear guidelines from major US medical bodies on how doctors should respond to requests to perform one. Last year New York lawmakers weighed legislation that would make hymen examinations a felony, but the bill hasnt been passed yet.

Virginity testing is a highly invasive and entirely unscientific practice rooted in a patriarchal obsession with womens purity. The state of your hymen is not an indicator of whether youve had sex or not and virginity isnt a medical fact but a social construct. United Nations agencies have noted that virginity testing has been documented in at least 20 countries around the world and have called for this medically unnecessary, and often times painful, humiliating and traumatic practice to end.

There are a couple of reasons why virginity tests havent been banned in America yet. First, the country is full of misogynistic lawmakers who are hellbent on turning the country into Gilead. Second, there hasnt been a lot of discussion around virginity tests until recently. The issue was only really catapulted into the national consciousness last November, when rapper TI made headlines for boasting that he takes his daughter for an annual virginity test.

We have yearly trips to the gynaecologist to check her hymen, the rapper said on a podcast. Yes, I go with her I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact.

TIs revelation, which he later claimed was sensationalized, provoked widespread disgust and was the direct inspiration for the bills that have been introduced in New York and California. Its probably not the legacy he was expecting to leave, but TI may well go down in the history books for inadvertently helping to outlaw virginity testing in America.

Hungary to provide free IVF treatment

Which would be brilliant if the new policy wasnt born out of rabid racism. Viktor Orbn, the rightwing nationalist prime minister, is obsessed with the great replacement conspiracy theory, and thinks white people are on their way to being wiped out. Hes long been a vocal advocate of procreation, not immigration and has brought a number of fertility clinics under state control.

Racist beauty standards are putting black womens health at risk

Using chemical hair straighteners regularly increases the risk of breast cancer by 31%, according to a new study. Some 74% of black women report using these straighteners, compared with just 3% of white women. Black women straighten their hair to assimilate, one woman told the Guardian. We have to fit in you never see black women with braids working in corporate.

Melania Trump honoured as a Woman of Distinction

Palm Beach Atlantic University, a a Christ-first independent university, is honouring the first lady for her Be Best initiative. Melania is a perfect example of a woman of distinction, a chairwoman behind the event said. Well, her grammar is certainly distinctive.

A rape reported every 15 minutes in India

According to government data released on Thursday, women reported almost 34,000 rapes in 2018; thats an average of one rape every 15 minutes. Only 27% of these resulted in a conviction. While these numbers are shocking as it is, they only tell a fraction of the story. According to one study, 99% of sexual assaults in India go unreported.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is cancer-free

The 86-year-old has resumed an active role on the supreme court. Which is very good news for the health of America.

Michelle Williams champions womens rights at the Golden Globes

I wouldnt have been able to do this without employing a womans right to choose, the 39-year-old actor said while picking up an award for her role in Fosse/Verdon. To choose when to have my children, and with whom. Williams went on to encourage women to vote in your own self-interest Its what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them.

Gay Jesus resurrected in Brazil

Two million Brazilians with nothing better to do with their lives recently signed a petition calling for a Netflix film, The First Temptation of Christ, to be pulled from the streaming service. The problem? It featured a gay Jesus bringing his boyfriend, Orlando, home to meet the parents. On Wednesday a judge ordered Netflix to take the film down but this decision was later overturned by the countrys supreme court.

The week in parrot-archy

New research has found that African grey parrots help each other out without expecting any reward. Its the first study to find birds displaying what is apparently selfless behaviour. If only we could all be a little more like parrots, eh?

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The film Richard Jewell promotes the trope that women sleep their way to the top. Its sexist, insulting and nonsensical

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Scoops for sex

Want to make a name for yourself in journalism? Its easy really: just get your kit off and sleep with a source. Female reporters do it all the time in order to get exclusive stories, according to the sentient jar of hair wax otherwise known as Fox News host Jesse Watters.

Watters made this disgusting, and completely ludicrous, claim on Wednesday while discussing the backlash to Clint Eastwoods new movie Richard Jewell. The film is based on the real-life story of an eponymous security guard wrongfully accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Olympic Games and portrays a female journalist sleeping with an FBI agent in order to land an exclusive story.

Heres the thing though: there appears to be absolutely no evidence that the journalist in question, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reporter Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), slept with her FBI source in order to break the story that Jewell was a suspect in the incident.

Lets just recap that shall we? Warner Brothers made a movie about a man whose reputation was unfairly ruined by a careless FBI and a media ecosystem more interested in rushing out a good story than establishing the truth. And, in order to spice things up, they casually besmirched the reputation of a female reporter. Because, as we all know, women arent three-dimensional human beings in the same way men are. Their reputations dont matter. Their stories dont matter.

What makes all this even more infuriating is that Scruggs isnt even around to stick up for herself; she died in 2001. The AJC, however, has staunchly defended her and asked Warner Brothers to add a disclaimer to the film acknowledging the whole sex-for-information thing was a fictionalization. Warner Brothers has refused to do this, issuing a statement saying it was based on a wide range of highly credible source material.

Im highly skeptical that there is any credible evidence that Scruggs slept with her sources. If there was, then I reckon it would already be in the public domain. After all, theres nothing the world loves more than slut-shaming women. Just look at Katie Hill. Just look at Monica Lewinsky. Just look at Janet Jackson, whose career suffered for years after the world caught a glimpse of her nipple at the Superbowl.

The conversation around Richard Jewell, and Watters sweepingly sexist comments, serve as yet another reminder that women are damned if they do and theyre damned if they dont. They dont get excused for their sexual transgressions in the same way men do; they get branded for life. Whats more, women dont even have to sleep with anyone to get labelled a slut or accused of using their sexuality to get ahead. As the editor of the AJC has noted, the idea that women sleep their way to the top is the worst kind of trope. And not only is it sexist and insulting, its nonsensical. After all, if women everywhere are cynically sleeping their way to the top, wouldnt there be rather more women at the top?

Megan Rapinoe calls fucking bullshit on that

The soccer star, who was recently named Sports Illustrated sportsperson of the year, is not impressed by a study that shows #MeToo has made men scared to hire women. Well, women are afraid to be raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, kept out of jobs, fired from jobs, moved laterally their entire career, Rapinoe said. Honestly, I call fucking bullshit on that.

Harvey Weinstein reaches $25m settlement with over 30 women

The New York Times reports that the settlement, which would bring multiple civil lawsuits to an end, would be paid by insurance companies. Weinstein himself wouldnt have to pay a single penny out of his pocket or admit wrongdoing. But this doesnt mean he gets to dodge accountability: his criminal trial will start early next year.

Finlands Sanna Marin becomes worlds youngest serving prime minister

Marin, 34, is Finlands third female prime minister. She was raised by two mums and was the first person in her family to go to university. Theyre clearly doing something right in Finland: Marin heads a coalition containing four other parties all of which are led by women.

Finnish finance minister runs dodgy Instagram poll

Theyre not doing everything right in Finland. Finance minister Katri Kulmuni recently thought it would be appropriate to run an Instagram poll on whether Finland should repatriate just children or children and mothers from Isis camps in Syria. Andrew Stroehlein, European media director at Human Rights Watch tweeted: A state should respect the rights of its citizens in all cases, not put life-and-death decisions about those citizens to a public referendum on social media. Whats next, public hangings based on the volume of stadium cheers?

Chilean anti-rape anthem becomes international phenomenon

In case you missed it, do watch this incredible Chilean protest song.

Women are majority of US medical students for first time ever

Which is a big deal because studies show that women do better when they are treated by women. Theyre more likely to survive a heart attack and theyre less likely to have to return to the hospital for more treatment.

Brazilian man pretends to be his mother to take driving test

After Heitor Mrcio Schiaves mother failed her driving test for the third time, he had a brilliant idea. The 43-year-old would dress up as his elderly mother and take the test on her behalf. Alas, he was found out. And, to add insult injury, the driving instructor says he failed the test anyway.

Thousands of penis fish wash up on California beach

Somehow this feels like a really fitting end to 2019.

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Transforming everything from cities to the climate, the car is perhaps the most important designed object of the 20th century. Our critic travels to the Detroit plant where it all began

A whoop of exhilaration surges through the audience as a pick-up truck rises on to the stage through a trapdoor, its gleaming streamlined body emerging through swirling clouds of dry ice. There are laser beams and pounding rock music as a pair of robotic arms mime the balletic movements of welding and spraying its bodywork. A blast of air comes from a hidden bank of fans and a dramatic rumble shakes our seats. This, a thunderous voice tells us, is the Ford F-150 pick-up, officially the best-selling vehicle in US history.

I am watching this spectacle in the 4D cinema of Fords River Rouge factory in Detroit, where the whooping audience taking the tour of the plant is being treated to a story that, unlikely as it sounds, has all the drama of a Hollywood movie. This factory changed not only mechanised production, but the world as we know it. Boasting its own docks, an electricity plant, a steel mill and a whopping 100 miles of railroad track, River Rouge was the biggest factory in the world when it opened in 1928. It even had its own fire stations, a police force and a fully staffed hospital. During the depths of the great depression, it still managed to employ 100,000 people.

Sightseeing motorists pass the Ford River Rouge Plant in Detroit in 1941 to look at strikers picket lines. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

But today, River Rouge is a shadow of its former self. Half of the 1,200-acre site has been sold off to other companies. The Ford plant now mostly comprises a single shed, its roof is planted with sedum flimsy eco-camouflage, given all the gas-guzzling trucks trundling off the production line within. Ford has decided to abandon sales of its smaller cars in North America, concentrating instead on SUVs and trucks at a time when such vehicles have been found to be the second biggest contributor to the rise in CO2 levels. Recent analysis found that if SUV drivers were a nation, they would rank seventh in the world for carbon emissions.

This astonishing rise and fall is reflected in the city beyond the gates. Detroits population once topped 1.8m, scattered across a freeway-threaded sprawl that could comfortably fit San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan within its boundaries. That same area now accounts for a third of that number, along with scores of abandoned homes. The very invention that made Detroit and changed everything from urban planning to fashion design and the climate has also lumbered the city, and the world, with an intractable legacy.

The history of the car is a history of unintended consequences, says Brendan Cormier, who made several visits to Detroit as research for a show thats about to open at the V&A in London. Cars: Accelerating the Modern World represents the first time in the institutions 167-year history that it has tackled the automobile, a surprising omission for what curator Cormier calls the single most important designed object of the 20th century.

The lapse is partly because cars have always been seen to be more about science, technology and surface styling, making them an uncomfortable fit for the illustrious museum of craft. This exhibition, says Cormier, aims to examine their broader social and historical context, shining a full beam on the astonishing impact cars have had on everything from the formation of labour unions to toasters. (One, called the Toastalator, looks like something Jack Kerouac would have driven.) And Detroit is the best place to see all this first-hand.

Mob rule Walter Specks mural commemorates the Battle of the Overpass. Photograph: E Clemens/Walter P Reuther Library, Wayne State University

Driving across town from the plant, past blocks of overgrown lots, we arrive at the Walter P Reuther Library, whose reading room displays an imposing 1930s mural. Two muscular workers, one male and one female, hold hands in front of an industrial scene in which autoworkers confront scowling managers. In one corner, a group of mobster-like heavies can be seen beating a stooped figure on a bridge, while another is pushed down the stairs.

This is The Battle of the Overpass, a clash between union leaders and Ford management that took place in 1937. It became one of the most important events in labour history. Among the beaten was Walter P Reuther, leader of the United Automobile Workers union (UAW), who had organised a Unionism, Not Fordism campaign, demanding fair wages and a shorter working day.

Fords henchmen were lead by Harry Bennett, a caricature of a thug who kept lions in his fortified estate. When Bennett unleashed his muscle, newspaper photographers were waiting and their images, splashed across front pages the following day, caused public sentiment to turn against the company. A sit-down strike, also depicted in the mural, had an even greater impact, leading to the full unionisation of the US auto industry. The UAW provided a model for other organisations and became the largest union in North America.

Nothing to boast about a 1962 ad for Humble Oil.

The UAW played a major role in developing the American middle class, says Cormier, who has negotiated loans from the unions archive, including graphic posters from the 1950s and 60s. One, depicting a robot pushing workers off a building, has the slogan: Fight automation fallout. The same battles continue today, as workers face plant closures across the US as a result of stiff competition from Asia and a global decline in car ownership.

At this critical point for the car, the show will reveal how some of our current challenges arent as modern as we like to think. At the General Motors Heritage Center, a great hangar full of gleaming vintage specimens on the outskirts of Detroit, we find the Firebird, a 1950s concept car that looks like a missile on wheels, with a bubble-topped cockpit bulging from its curving fuselage. The car which will appear in the exhibition wasnt just an exercise in going faster. It embodied the embryonic idea of driverless driving, boasting an electronic guide system that can rush it over an automatic highway while the driver relaxes. Its not hard to see why it didnt take off: these futuristic vehicles were to be guided via radio by men in watchtowers a few hundred metres apart, mapping the best route from their birds eye view.

A little further down an eight-lane highway, we arrive at the GM Tech Center, designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1960s as a modernist corporate campus, complete with an enigmatic silver dome where new designs are still inspected in secret. Just as Versailles was designed to be seen from a horse-drawn carriage, this place was designed to be viewed from your moving car, says GM archivist Christo Datini, as we glide around the vast ornamental lake in his gargantuan Chevrolet Suburban. The comparison isnt so far-fetched: the centre houses treasures that have proved just as influential as a gilded Louis XIV chaise.

Feminine touch Harley Earl with General Motors Damsels of Design. Photograph: General Motors LLC

In the archive are reams of original design drawings from GMs glory days under Harley Earl. As the first director of the companys Art and Colour Section, Earl is widely regarded as the godfather of modern car design. In an industry that had only ever been guided by the functional necessities of engineering, Earl introduced the concept of styling bodies and interiors.

First he hired dazzle camouflage artists, who had painted ships in the second world war, to make bodies look more sculpted. Then he went on to develop such purely aesthetic features as tail fins and pointed chrome bumpers, both inspired by fighter jets. He also ushered in the strategy of the annual model update, which GM liked to call dynamic obsolescence. This was a way of using design to encourage drivers to upgrade their cars more frequently a tactic that quickly spread to practically every other product in the world.

Earl looms large in the section about making the modern consumer. He is pictured with his Damsels of Design, another marketing ruse that emphasised the role of his (small) team of female designers, as a way of appealing to women buyers. As he put it in a 1958 press release: The skilled feminine hands helping to shape our cars of tomorrow are worthy representatives of American women, who today cast the final vote in the purchase of three out of four automobiles. Less loudly trumpeted was the fact that their role was limited to seats and fabrics.

The damsels may have been used as a cynical promotional tool, but elsewhere the exhibition will show how cars have been a means of empowerment, with such racing drivers as Kay Petre and Jill Scott Thomas becoming powerful symbols of the suffrage movement. Subcultures are also explored, in the form of wildly customised lowriders and souped-up muscle cars, while the future of environmentally conscious mobility, and the eventual demise of personal car ownership, will be thrown into sharp relief by attitudes from the 1960s. A shocking advert for the Humble Oil Company from 1962 proudly boasts: Each day Humble produces enough energy to melt seven million tons of glacier!

Museums, you could almost say, are where cars now belong.

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is at the V&A, London, from 23 November until 19 April.

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Complete with quills, country dancing and rag curls, a country hotel is wooing dedicated Janeites to visit their favourite fictional world

Jane Austen fans are a devoted bunch. True Janeites tend to travel widely to celebrate their favourite author, most often to Bath for the Jane Austen festival. But on the other side of the world sits Governors House, a picturesque, yellow Georgian-style mansion in Hyde Park, Vermont. The house, along with its owner Suzanne Boden, draws Janeites from all over the globe who come not only to celebrate their favourite author, but to live as a character in her world.

Boden had the idea to start hosting Austen weekends at her home 11 years ago. I was outside hanging tablecloths on the clothesline, she says, against the backdrop of Governors House, and I was listening to some music through the window, which happened to be Mozart. From the back of the house, you cant see anything thats modern because of the trees. And I thought: I could be Jane Austen! And someone else might want to come and be Austen, too.

Others did. For more than a decade, Boden, who also offers the occasional Downton Abbey experience, has been hosting in-character weekends where attendees who range in age from seven to 80 get the pleasure of living life through the eyes and words of Austen.

Its an escape, says Boden, who encourages guests to eschew modern technology and leave their phones behind. Its about going back in time. Its a chance to dress up. Most of all, its a chance to be with, and interact with, other Austen fans, who always have a lot to say. Its unusual if someone goes home without a long list of book recommendations or film recommendations from new friends. People come for all sorts of reasons: One woman clearly thought it was going to be like the movie Austenland and shed meet her husband here.

Although guests dont typically find partners at the rate Austens characters do, they do gain new skills: learning to write with a quill pen and fold paper the way the author did, before envelopes existed. They get English country dancing lessons and indulge in afternoon tea. No lunch is served, because, as Boden points out, lunch wasnt invented in Austens time (neither was afternoon tea, but an exception is made). Other weekend activities include sewing reticules (a small purse-like bag used in Austens time to carry gloves, a fan, and perhaps even love notes), horse-drawn carriage rides and archery.

A recent weekend dedicated to Emma at Governors House drew Janeites from as far away as Texas. On a Friday night, attendees nibbled lemon squares and sipped tea as they watched a short lecture titled Bared Bosoms and Padded Calves (on the fashions of Regency England).

Two women in Regency costume walking dogs through Bath during the citys annual Jane Austen festival. Photograph: Alamy

There are 79 regional groups in the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) across the US and Canada. When asked why so many Americans love Austen, Boden is incredulous. Everybody loves Jane Austen! She gets right to the heart of things, she says. On the surface, it looks like a little romance, but there are so many layers in her works, which have been translated into well, how many languages are there in the world? Although its very British, she doesnt mention anything going on politically so it could be set anywhere.

Over a breakfast of tea, blueberry muffins and baked eggs, guests discuss favourite books, adaptations, characters and their shared love for spotting inaccuracies in period films (I heard theres a shocking lack of hairpins in the new Little Women!). Everyone agrees that Henry from Mansfield Park was one of her best male creations, for being sweet, competent and witty. But he was never witty in a mean way, or at someone elses expense, says Lena Ruth Yasutake, a 36-year-old teacher from Connecticut. She runs a Regency clothing business called Cassandras Closet (a subtle nod to Austen) with her sister-in-law Anna, who has also joined the party: she had her hair in rag curlers yesterday night and has an Austenesque hairstyle ready for breakfast. Lenas her devotion to Austen has been hard-won: I pushed through my dyslexia to finish Emma because I loved the story so much. It was my gateway drug into Austen.

Everybody loves Jane Austen! … Women take a turn through the grounds of Governors House

The women here tend to come in groups: Vermont bookstore owner Kim Crady-Smith has brought her sister, her niece and a friend, who sit alongside three childhood friends from Dallas, all in their 70s. Ann, who urged her friends Charlene and Mary to join her, has attended other Austen weekends before, and, as a result, ended up joining the Dallas chapter of JASNA. The Dallas meetings arent as much fun as Bodens weekends, Ann says: After experiencing this, its hard to settle for less!

Janeites delight in Austens words and stories, but what most bonds the Americans is a bit more complex. Anglophilia is strong throughout the US; its presence is reflected in Americans appetite for British television and film, football, music and more. The enthusiasm for Austen reflects a wider desire to journey into a world that feels foreign and familiar all at once.

At the end of Bodens weekends, she gives guests a quiz over Sunday brunch. Throughout the weekend, she drops hints and breadcrumbs of information that are answers to Sundays quiz. What happens if you fail the quiz? Boden doesnt miss a beat: If you flunk, you get the greatest prize of all: you get to reread the novel.

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When Shakira lost her voice she was so desperate she went to Lourdes. Now its back and after re-evaluating her life shes got her sights set on a J Lo-assisted Super Bowl show

There was a time, in late 2017, when Shakira thought she might never sing again. After suffering a haemorrhage in her vocal cords, she could barely speak. I always thought there were going to be things in my life that would go away, like beauty, youth, all of that stuff, she says. But I never thought that my voice would leave me, because its so inherent to my nature. It was my identity. So when I couldnt sing, that was unbearable. There were times I couldnt even get out of bed I was so depressed.

Theres something almost fairytale-like about this: a cautionary fable about the danger of taking happiness for granted, starring the Colombian singer who sold a reported 75m records and became one of the richest women in pop. To give her voice the best chance to recover, there were periods when Shakira wouldnt speak at all. I had to communicate through signs and nobody could understand me.

Her children then two and four couldnt read, so writing didnt help. She says she never fought with her partner, the Barcelona defender Gerard Piqu, so much as when she couldnt speak. He jokes that you would think you would want your wife to shut up but when I had to remain quiet, he felt like one of those ex-convicts who are given their freedom and dont know what to do with it. How did she stay positive? I was not positive. I was so pessimistic. I was a bitter person to be around. She laughs. Gerard saw the worst of me.

Doctors told her she needed surgery, but she wasnt convinced it would work. Instead she tried hypnosis and meditation, even going to Lourdes to get holy water. Either I needed surgery or divine intervention. When her voice eventually returned, without an operation, it felt like I was having some kind of religious experience. On her El Dorado tour, which shed been forced to postpone, every night on stage was a gift.

A film of the tour is about to be released, which is why were meeting in a hotel suite in Barcelona, by the window in the late afternoon, a darkening sky outside. Shakira sits cross-legged and tiny in a giant armchair, eating gummy sweets. A publicist is somewhere across the room in the shadows.

Watch a trailer for Shakiras El Dorado tour film

There is a palpable joy to Shakiras concert performances, filmed mostly at her Los Angeles show in August last year. She dances in sparkly fishnet leggings, her voice filling the stadium as she sings such Spanish-language favourites as Chantaje and her English-language crossover hits, including Whenever, Wherever and She Wolf. She thinks the experience has made her a better singer. You go out in search of affirmation that youre good, that people like you. But this time it was different I was out there because I wanted to feel the pleasure of singing.

In February, Shakira will perform with Jennifer Lopez at the Super Bowl half-time show, viewed as a career high for many artists. At least it was until 2016 and the NFLs treatment of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had started kneeling during the national anthem in protest at racial inequality and police brutality. Many artists, in solidarity with Kaepernick, reportedly turned down the chance to perform at half-time. Did his protest have any impact on her decision to take to the stage? She looks down. Well, you know, I think its the right thing to do for the Latino community because weve also been through so much in Trumps America, with walls being built and She doesnt finish the sentence. Its an opportunity to celebrate our culture, you know?

Why has Latin pop become so big? Well, it was about time, says Shakira. Now 42, she wrote her first songs at just eight and recorded her first album, Magia, at 13. When I started, Colombia had a nonexistent pop scene. I had to overcome so many obstacles to become an international pop singer. Later on, even when I crossed over to the Anglo-American market, I had to fight my own record company to put out music like Hips Dont Lie. My music always had some kind of fusion Colombian and Middle Eastern influences, so it made my path even harder.

She lives in Barcelona with Piqu and their two sons. This tour is her first as a mother. I had no idea how this was going to feel, she says. At some points, I thought it was going to be impossible. My kids were so little, running around amok. She tried to arrange the dates so they would coincide with school holidays and they could be with her, but other times they stayed at home with Piqu. Those separation periods were hard.

Keeping the balance Shakira and Gerard Piqu, with their sons Milan, left, and Sasha at a New York basketball game in 2017. Photograph: James Devaney/Getty Images

Being a mother, she says, is the hardest job Ive ever done. Im never sure if Im doing it right. Im always second-guessing myself. I love being a mother but its challenging to keep the balance to not let motherhood prevent you from reading a good book, going out with your boyfriend-slash-husband, having an adult conversation. Has it affected her creativity? It could if you dont protect and defend that space.

Her children attended her show for the first time and saw their mother perform to tens of thousands of emotional fans. In the film, there is footage of her sons with their father, watching Shakira and looking a little bewildered. It must have blown their little minds. Yeah, I think a little too much. Im trying to give them some normalcy and thats one of the hardest things, because were not normal. At least, we are normal people but our lives are very unnatural in a way. We try to hide all the unnatural things and pretend were a regular family.

Its a work in progress, she says. I dont want to overload them with every single detail of my career, or every victory. Im more interested in them learning about the obstacles, my difficulties and their dads. They werent born when I was back in Colombia and every single door was shut in my face. Those are the stories I want to tell them because life isnt always easy. Not everything happens as you planned.

Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll grew up in Barranquilla, on the coast of northern Colombia. Her father, who is Lebanese but grew up in Colombia, ran a successful jewellery business until he went bankrupt when Shakira was a child. She and her mother went to stay in the US for a while and, when they returned, her father had sold everything, including their furniture, to pay debts. Though largely insulated from the countrys decades-long armed conflict, she was still very aware of it. When youre born in a country where there is huge social strife, and a few people have a lot and a lot of people have nothing, you grow up intolerant to that inequality.

Every Friday, her Catholic school would send its students into poor neighbourhoods to teach other children how to read and write. It was almost an impossible task. They were barefoot, shirtless in the sun. There were no proper resources or infrastructure. It was so unfair that some kids were able to go school and university, but for others that wasnt an option. I had to succeed, make money, become someone relevant in society, because I felt that only that way could I do something.

When her third album Pies Descalzos (Barefoot) was a hit, Shakira taught herself English, released the crossover album Laundry Service and became an international star. She also started the Pies Descalzos Foundation, which opens and funds schools in Colombia. She has since campaigned for education on the global stage, advised committees and presidents and formed an unlikely friendship with the former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

Her reputation as an activist and philanthropist took a hit this summer when she appeared in court in Spain answering allegations that she had avoided 14.5m in taxes. A statement released at the time said the singer had paid all tax due, and the issue was about when she had become resident in Spain (previously, she had been resident in the Bahamas; in 2017, she was also named in the Paradise Papers, the investigation into offshore finances). But she wont talk about any of this, says her PR, because of the legal issues involved.

Palpable joy Shakira in concert. Photograph: Xavi Menos

The film portrays her as fiercely determined, with laser-focused knowledge of what she wants. I am very structured and I make the rules, she says at one point, sitting on a private jet, travelling between shows, and I dont allow myself to fail. That sounds exhausting, I say, and she laughs. I dont remember saying that, but maybe I say so many things. Actually, with time Ive learned that you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. I guess we all have a little fear of failure we were trained that way but its true, its an exhausting way of living. Does she still have a fear of failure? Of course. But I fear other things a lot more. I fear for my familys health, their wellbeing. There are things that are much more important than personal and professional success.

That doesnt mean shes ready to take her foot off the gas. I want to continue growing and continue being an interesting lady. There are so many other things that I still want to achieve. Such as? Like one day waking up on a farm and being able to just mow the lawn, and milk some cows. One day I want to have a farm life. I dont think I could ever be bored of being in nature. Eat all I want. Sometimes I think theres going to be more to life than my actual life.

She smiles, not entirely serious. I dont believe her anyway. There is a shot of her at the end of her concert, a tiny tornado, all wild hair and pink leopard-print, performing an inhuman leap. She looks as if she couldnt be anywhere else.

Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour is in cinemas worldwide on 13 November via Trafalgar Releasing. Find your local cinema at

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