Friday, 28 March 2014

The Heraean Games

This post is very much out of my comfort zone. I have never ventured into the area of Greek History. In fact this is the first time I have done any research into it or honestly learnt anything about it. I gave up History at the first opportunity (aged 14) and we hadn't ever been taught anything from the Ancient Greek times. However one of my lovely friends, @AlexPolisTigers thought it might be great idea for Women's History Month. So here we are!

The first thing that struck me was how little information there was out there about the Heraean Games (or Games of Hera). I know we are talking millenia ago now but the information available about the male equivalent is in far greater quantities and better quality. As a result there is a lot of conjecture around the Heraean Games. It is a fantastic demonstration of the erasure of Women's History. Despite the fact that they ran for centuries alongside the male equivalent they are considerably less well known. Most of the limited information seems to have been taken from Pausanias and his Description of Greece and then extrapolated from there.

The Games appear to have been established by Hippodamia sometime during the Archaic Period (800C - 500C BC). She wanted to offer her gratitude to Hera for her marriage to Pelops. It seems odd to create a predominantly female space in thanks for being given to a man. Maybe she felt the need for more women-centric activities after joining her life with a man! Hera, however was a strong, independent and dignified woman so was a great taliswoman for the games despite what the linked Wikipedia article says. History has consigned her to being the petulant, jealous wife of Zeus. How the narrative is rewritten according to who writes it! In this case it was the patriarchal Christians who assigned Goddesses as lesser than the Gods and introduced a patriarchal view of the women in Ancient Greek times. In the same vein much of the information about Hippodamia is only available in relation to her husband or father, despite the fact she was obviously a capable woman in her own right. This is not to say that Ancient Greece was a bastion of feminism. In all likelihood it wasn't a great period for women and a patriarchy is very much in evidence. But subsequently misrepresenting women only makes matters worse.

Hippodamia assembled the Sixteen Women and together they founded the Heraea. The Sixteen Women are thought to have been peace-makers between Elis and Pisa and are likely to have been married women. There are several interpretations as to how these women were brought together and where they were from. Some think that the group was made up of women from sixteen cities from Elis and Pisa, others that they were all from Elis. They did succeed in peace between the two regions, after which they were given the task of building the Heraean Games and weaving a spiritual robe for Hera. It is possible that these games may have even pre-dated the men as some think that the male Olympiad were established in honour of Pelops' death.The Games were held in the Olympic Stadium that the men used and were held between 3-5 years apart. The time between events seemed to vary throughout their existence although it is thought that for the most part they matched the men's games, every 4 years. They consisted of three foot races, one in each of three different age categories. Again there is very little information about the format of the races or what the age categories were.

Patricia Monaghan believed that the the age groups match the three phases of women's life: maiden, mother and crone. Hera went through those phases as mortal females did even though she was a Goddess. I like the thought of that I must say. Much more inclusive and female-centric. However, most other sources I looked at, including Pausanius, seem to think the age groups were much younger than that and that only maidens competed. It is entirely possible that whatever the actual age of the participants, they may have represented the phases Monaghan mentions. It is difficult to confirm or reject with any certainty, due to the paucity of information.

It is known that the women used a shortened form of the men's course at the Olympic Stadium and that one of the races was a 160 yard dash. The athletes wore a chiton, which was an off the shoulder short dress in which the right shoulder and breast were left bare. This was an adaptation from a garment that men used to wear when doing labour in hot temperatures.

Courtesy of The British Museum 

They won an olive wreath crown and a portion of the ox/cow that had been slaughtered for Hera on behalf of all the contestants. There may also have been inscribed statues created in honour of the winners. One of the known winners was Chloris. Chloris was the daughter of Niobe and Amphion and was spared being killed by Artemis and Apollo. They killed all (except possibly one other) of her siblings in revenge for Niobe insulting their mother with taunts about how many children she had. The misogyny in there is worth a post in its own right, if in fact that was what actually happened. As mentioned earlier we are looking at this through the prism of male, Christian patriarchy. There seems to have been an awful lot of jealousy/rivalry between women to explain male violence. Some may recognise these excuses even today.

There is also evidence that there were other sporting contests in Sparta in which women competed. The girls of Sparta had unprecedented access to education and sports. The reasons behind this seem very patriarchal in that they wanted more healthy warriors. The cynical side of me thinks that it is typical that equality can be given to women when it suits men's ends! Again there is not much known about the women of Sparta for two reasons. Sparta seemed to have deliberately not recorded its history and those observing and recounting the history were overwhelmingly male and it can probably be safe to say had little to no interest in women and maintaining their history. Gymnopaedia seems to have been a sporting event where young women competed. There does seem to have been some links with this and a showcase for marriage potential with young men making up some of the spectators. Like a sporty debutante ball!

So the Heraean Games were created in response to a woman being thankful for being married to a man. Not the most auspicious of starts nor the most feminist. However its establishment could well have been, in part due to the exclusion of women from the male Olympiad. It could have provided both some kind of parity and satisfied their desire to compete. This pattern is still seen today where women are excluded and organise themselves to redress the balance, especially in sporting events. Even the lesser status of these events still holds true.

If the games did indeed predate the male equivalent then it seems that as far back as Ancient Greek times women recognised the importance of organising women-only or predominantly female spaces. Having read only a little about the amount of misogyny and horrible acts perpetrated against women in these times, I can understand why the women would have wanted to praise and celebrate their own sex.


Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 16. 1 - 8

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Why I focus on male violence

As most feminists know, the most common response you get when you specifically point out male violence is hat women do it too. I know. I've been a victim of female violence. So why do I focus on male violence?

The quick answer, of course is that male violence is at the root of our oppression as women. It is the tool that maintains that oppression. As a feminist and a woman I'd quite like it to stop. Men, as a class, are the biggest threat to women. If male violence stops, the patriarchy will quickly dismantle. Female oppression and the supporting structures that criss-cross our society won't ever be eradicated without eradicating or at least severely reducing male violence. However there is more to it than that.

Why not focus on all violence?

By focusing on all violence we aren't addressing the gendered nature of violence. Most violence is perpetrated by men and women are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. This massive skew is significant and needs to be named before it can be addressed. If you can't name the problem you can't address it. But female violence gets discussed proportionally more given the relative incidents of female/male violence. Female behaviour in general gets analysed and criticised far more than male behaviour. Focusing on male behaviour redresses that balance and gets straight to the heart of the problem rather than tinkering around the edges.

But no violence should be ignored surely?

No violence should be ignored. Female violence is an issue, albeit on a much smaller scale than male violence. It can also affect women in different ways to male violence. Portia Smart illustrates this very well in her blog post We Need To Talk About Women. Women can be violent for different reasons to men and have been subjected to different experiences.

These differences could be one reason why it is so important to make a split according to sex. However, male violence is at the root of female violence. Violence exists because men perpetuate it. They perpetuate it in order to continue the hierarchy of violence in their favour. As such there is an underlying assumption and expectation that men have the potential to be violent. Authorities like to remind women at regular intervals that men can and will be violent towards them and it is used to restrict their actions. Male violence is so pervasive and linked to society it almost goes unnoticed. It is certainly unchecked. Just look at the recent examples of violence and threats through social media. No violence should be ignored. Yet here we are and such a quantity of male violence is accepted, unrecognised or disregarded.

Female violence is a reaction to male violence, not only because a significant amount of female perpetrators of violence will have been abused themselves but because they are acting within a framework of a society underpinned by male violence. Women see men being violent, experience it and know they get away with it. That threat is always there. It stands to reason that those without power (and I don't just mean physical power) will learn the tools of their oppressors are a way of gaining power. Add to that when what little power you have is even further removed by direct violence is it any wonder that you try to act in the same manner as your oppressors to get it back.

Ultimately it boils down to this: Women are scared of men. Men are scared of men. Men are not scared of women. If female violence were completely eradicated then male violence would still exist. It is just too prevalent to be any other way. However, if male violence were eradicated then female violence would be illogical and odd. There would be no need for it. It makes sense to target male violence.


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Marion Bartoli - Well Done!

I did think about writing a post about the misogyny that Marion Bartoli faced when she won Wimbledon. After all this is a feminist blog with a side order of sport. I mainly didn't because, as usual, many other eloquent feminists beat me to it! But also because part of the issue with the misogyny she received was that it detracted from her achievement.

Here is a 28 yr old woman who has just won her first Grand Slam in only her second final. From the moment she stepped on the court she owned it and completely outplayed her opponent. She was never going to lose that match. This is an amazing achievement and it should be shouted from the rooftops.

So Marion Bartoli:

Welcome to the top few of your sport

Well done in achieving what only a handful of other women (or men) will achieve

Well done in reaching your goals

Way to go Marion. Enjoy your moment!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A Portrait of a Male Space - Henley Royal Regatta

Most people within the UK have heard of Henley Royal Regatta even if they know nothing about rowing at all. The picture conjured up is probably one of white, male, public school, wealth and privilege and that is incredibly accurate. Let's make no mistake Henley Royal Regatta (HRR), the most prestigious rowing regatta in the world is all about the men, white men at that. Oh yes women attend but overwhelmingly in support roles.

Lets look at some of the stats
Out of 1550 rowers1 who will be competing at HRR 136 (8.8%) will be women.
Out of 301 crews 32 (10.6%) will be female. 
Out of 20 events 4 (20%) are for women. 
Of those 4 events 3 are for International standard crews and one is for juniors (under 18). So no events for women of a reasonable/intermediate standard (there are 8 events of that nature for men). 
Out of 65 Henley Stewards2, 2 are women.
Mind you, we should be grateful. This is a massive improvement. Back in the day (pre 1993) it was an exclusively male event. Then the men at the top woke up one morning, enlightened, realised how sexist they were being and opened the regatta to women, apologising for their privilege in the process. Not really. Years of campaigning, negotiating, begging and justification occurred before they deigned to let women walk the hallowed ground and compete on the same river as men. Crumbs off the table.

But the benefits for men don't stop at the adulation of their sporting prowess and being the main focus of attention. Prizes for the men go beyond the regatta: entry to the most prestigious and elite rowing club in the UK; invitation to become a member of the Stewards Enclosure3; talent spotted for the GB squad; more networking and career advancing opportunities not afforded women (be that rowing or other careers). And this is how male spaces work. The power and money gather and bestow their gifts on the chosen few.

And they don't just work to advance men, they work to exclude women. It's not just that women are woefully under represented in terms of the athletes, there are many other subtler exclusionary tactics.

For a start, there are special enclosures which require special badges to enter. The two main ones are the competitors enclosure and Steward's enclosure. The more exclusive and therefore higher in the networking stakes is the Stewards. Tickets to these are predominantly held by men so who is allowed in and out is governed by men.

Then there are the obligatory uniform, rules and regulations. Entry for women to the Stewards will only be allowed if they are wearing a dress or a skirt with a hemline below the knee. This is in bold on the HRR website, less we forget what modest feminine qualities entail. No trousers, shorts or culottes. In addition, "it is customary for ladies to wear hats". Dear God, what century are we in? Men basically have to wear a suit. Although they aren't allowed to take off their jackets (unless it gets so hot they are passing out. Who said the patriarchy didn't hurt men as well?). Most men have a suit. Do most women have a dress with a hemline below the knee given today's fashions?

Another rule of the Stewards is that no children under 10 are allowed in. Personally I wouldn't take a child younger than a teenager in because there is literally nothing to do other than talk, watch racing, drink and eat. But this exclusion of children will also exclude women as the predominant child-carers. It is really common in male-dominated spaces.

But HRR is so much more than a rowing event. It is a Corporate Hospitality event. And guess who holds most of the tickets to those because Joanna Bloggs off the street can't just wander in and sip champagne with Corporate elite. Yep, men. Plenty of business takes place at Henley. Men again hold the power to regulate who gets to network and do business and who doesn't. The cards are stacked against women.

All these exclusive little areas, rules and regulations are just so patriarchal. They are designed to either directly exclude women, to make it more difficult for women and the women who do attend have to conform to a certain view of women.

We also have the 'banter' that seems to come hand in hand with male dominated spaces. The casual and not so casual sexism can be intimidating and excluding for women. There is implied or direct pressure to accept with a good grace or a laugh. Even though there maybe a lot of women around at HRR men still own the space and like to remind women of this fact.

And then we get on to violence. In the last 10 years or so, not unrelated to an uptrend in attendees and an increase in hospitality tents, violence has been creeping in over the evenings. This is exclusively male on male violence fuelled by alcohol. The local boys butting heads with the Hooray Henrys. I feel sad that this seems to be inevitable. Men are prepared to put up with violence in order to maintain their privilege, be that privilege be over other men or over women.

In order to counteract the whole exclusivity of HRR, a wonderful group of women headed by Rosie Mayglothling in 1987, decided to set up an event that would be the pinnacle of a female rowers year - Henley Women's Regatta (HWR). This was not without its own issues. From the Henley Women's Regatta - a short history it is hugely apparent that even though women were organising their own event men were still pulling the strings. Words like "permission", "allow" and "prevent" are used a lot. Here are a couple of extracts to illustrate:
Naturally, the crux of the matter was the attitude of the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta. Whilst they do not own the water, they do own most of the land each side of the course, as well as all the installations, and their support was vital. The reaction of the Chairman of the Committee of Management to Rosie Mayglothling’s initial approach was such that the idea appeared to be a non-starter; nevertheless, the polite but determined persistence of Rosie and the first Chairman of the proposed event, Christine Aistrop, finally won the day and permission was given for a women’s regatta to be held on the Royal Regatta course in June, 1988.It was made clear from the outset that the ‘Henley Women’s Regatta’ (HWR) could not use the HRR enclosures or boat tents. HWR was to be held three weeks before the Royal and, should bad weather delay the timetable for the regatta installations (as had happened in the past), the course would not be usable by HWR. It was at this point that the project was saved by the enthusiastic help and co-operation of the owner of Remenham Farm, Mr Tom Copas. By offering the use of the farm as the enclosure for HWR, the problems of boating and spectator facilities were largely solved.
Difficulties didn't end there though when the regatta wanted to expand to the whole weekend rather than just the Saturday:
After the increased entry in 1989, the Chairman, Margaret Adams had sounded out the HRR Committee of Management on the possibility of HWR becoming a two-day regatta. This had been rejected on the basis that men’s crews racing at Marlow traditionally rowed up to Henley on the Sunday and they would be prevented from doing so if HWR was extended to two days.
Women couldn't be allowed to prevent men rowing up the river from a regatta in a nearby town for some random tradition. A woman's event couldn't possibly be given priority over a man's event.

However despite this HWR has been a complete success. There are no exclusive areas. There are no dress codes or spectator rules and regulations.  There are no Corporate event tents. The spectators can walk the whole course, right next to the rowers and all the rowers are women. It is a lovely event with a massively positive feel.

Nevertheless the men are still not happy. This event is not about them, obviously, yet they still feel fit to offer their opinions. On rowing forums you can often see derogatory (and misogynistic) remarks about the women and the events. There are subjective opinions on 'standards' under the guise that if only women were just 'better' then they would be able to join in with the men, they would be treated equally and respected (sound abusive anyone?). There are remarks about the inadequacy of course length (which is not within women's power to change) and other things like the size of the event which are again out of women's control. And to a certain extent they are correct HWR is the poor relation to HRR.  But that isn't women's fault. It is men's fault. They are the ones setting these limitations. Women aren't allowed to organise events for themselves and be left alone, they have to be approved by men.

So here we have a male dominated space that even though women are allowed in the opportunities are still predominantly for men. Then a woman's space that is routinely disparaged and prevented from fulfilling its potential by men. This is what structural oppression looks like. This is how it is maintained. It is incredibly different to achieve liberation and equality when we are being kept down from all sides.

Please note: Although I only mentioned it briefly at the start of the piece, there is also racial exclusivity at work too. Rowing is overwhelmingly white and HRR and HWR both represent that.

1 In 1975 female coxes (steering the boats) were allowed. In any particular year there are only a handful of female coxes and without access to all the crew names it is impossible to tell how many are female so coxes in general have been omitted from the statistics.

2 Henley Stewards are the management team of the regatta and make decisions on the major changes for the regatta, alongside the Chairman and his team.

3 The Stewards Enclosure is an enclosure set up by the Stewards which allows members to access the spectator area near the finish.  Members of the Stewards Enclosure number 6500 and are predominantly male. To become a member of the Stewards involves an application form, sponsors and a very long waiting list.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

War on Pregnant Women

It seems that once more what pregnant women do and ingest is public property. The latest gem is from Professor Stephen Pilling and the harm that taking anti-depressants could do to unborn babies (unborn babies, you note, not foetuses). More about that particularly disturbing piece later.

A couple of weeks ago it appeared that pregnant women really just aren't doing enough to keep their foetuses safe from harm. So much so that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists decided to be done with it and just make their advice so vague that it could pretty much cover coming into contact with everything at home or work. OK that may be a teeny exaggeration but take a look for yourself. The list is a little unrealistic to say the least. My particular favourite:
  • avoid buying new furniture, fabrics, non-stick frying pans and cars when pregnant or nursing
              Yes you did read that correctly. When pregnant, don't buy a non-stick frying pan. Not being a chemist I wouldn't like to speculate on the exact reason that is on the list but I am wondering whether the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists had a rare bit of insight. Maybe they realised that pregnant women might become inclined to start chucking the frying pans around in frustration at the lack of life they suddenly find themselves with and the information overload they experience. Who knows who those irrational, hormonal women may hit and what damage they may do with a frying pan in their hand? Best just keep them strapped down, I say. Except of course that's no good for you either. This little gem appeared on my Twitter timeline last month:

              Now, how much exercise is required to achieve this 25% increase isn't clear. Nor is what a 25% increase in neurons actually means. Presumably it is a good thing, probably something to do with IQ that well known measure of intelligence. I'll let him off that though, in this case. After all he only had 140 characters to work with. So pregnant women don't even get to laze around in bed all day being waited on hand and foot. Never mind. Getting up and cleaning the house should give us a good workout. Oh wait...

              A couple of weeks before it was all about iodine (also linked to IQ). That one was really serious. The male-dominated media didn't decry that one. Maybe that was because they weren't in danger of having to take responsibility for cleaning the house in the same way that this latest statement could imply (given that responsible pregnant women will be naturally in current, heterosexual relationships, preferably married and not on benefits). Yes that is truly cynical of me, but to be honest we have reason to be.

              The Daily Mail, not wanting to lose out on women judging gave the Duchess of Cambridge their seal of approval (she must be so relieved) for not being too posh to push. If you don't want to open a Daily Mail link Glosswitch does a great take down without you having to read the article.

              So back to Prof Stephen Pillling and SSRIs. The piece is disturbing on several levels. He frames the discussion as though taking SSRIs were a lifestyle choice like drinking or smoking and in fact directly compares them. No alternative or support is offered and any implications for stopping medication are dismissed. Finally he thinks that all women of child-bearing age should be considering this:
              "It's not just when a woman who's pregnant is sitting in front of you. I think it needs to be thought about with a woman who could get pregnant. And, that's the large majority of women aged between 15 and 45."
              So women are now in a state of pre-pregnancy. And that, as a woman is a very frightening thought. How much of women's freedom could be curtailed by using that argument?

              This is all beginning to look much more like control. We just can't be trusted. Again that may seem cynical but you don't have to look that far back in history to see how pregnancy, childbirth and feeding babies, exclusively female tasks, have been co-opted by medical personnel, law enforcers, religion and anyone else who had an opinion on how women should be doing things.

              But it isn't 'anyone' that has these opinions is it? It is, in the greater part, men. Men wanting to take control of something beyond their control. Breastfeeding being a perfect example. Male doctors decreeing that breast milk just wasn't good enough, backed up by a capitalist society to create formula. Men wanting to punish women when they feel they have transgressed from their advice or move out of their control. It is deliberate and it is part of our oppression.

              This eradication of autonomy and not being allowed to take responsibility for ourselves has had the added bonus of being accompanied by objectification. Whilst running the story on avoiding chemicals when pregnant, Channel 5 showed picture of a pregnant belly - no head or even legs and feet, just a torso. So now we are walking wombs (a popular but apt phrase) or if you prefer, breeders, nicely illustrated by those pictures. The lack of autonomy, the attempts to take control of pregnant women's lives all adds to the general objectification of women in society. We are seen as lesser humans on this planet only to fill particular roles e.g. being objects for men's desires or in this case giving birth to babies. This also has a knock on effect into motherhood. A father's role seems to be able to also encompass his needs and wants. A mother's role is supposed to sacrifice those needs and wants. We are no longer human beings in our own right. Our needs and wants and our children's needs and wants are intertwined in ways a father's is not. And I am not just talking about those early days. A mother's role is to be there for their children, not to be selfish and not to be a burden on anyone, whether that's their partner or the state, especially not the state.

              I don't know whether these roles women are slotted into are as a result of objectification; whether objectification leads to women being put into roles or even whether the two are too intrinsically linked to tell and therefore does it matter? One thing is for certain, both aspects are part of oppression and help maintain it.

              So what's wrong with just giving us the facts and then letting us make up our own minds? Well, in theory, nothing. But the fact that even needs saying shows how far down the road we already are in losing control of our choices and bodies. I also feel that this is too simplistic in the context of the society that we live in and have a couple of issues with it as a concept.

              Firstly not all the information given is accurate, complete and can even be contradictory or offer impossible choices (mental health vs very small risk of damaging the foetus being the perfect example). Plus the sheer volume of information makes it difficult to decide on priorities. Who has time to sift all the information out to see which is important or should be prioritised during their pregnancy? Most women have jobs to do. Some are just trying to survive day by day through their pregnancy.

              The second point is that by instructing women on what they should and shouldn't be doing through their pregnancy, there seems to be a definite shifting responsibility for raising new generations from society to individual woman. Rather than looking at the way society has been shaped, we are looking to individuals to change their lifestyle and overcome their social conditioning to get around the obstacles society has put in front of us. Instead of questioning why we have toxic food and household products that pregnant women can't eat or use we are asked to avoid them. That then conveniently absolves the state out of any responsibility for the damage caused. Then there is the contradiction of advertising cleaning products predominantly to women (fit, young women of child-bearing age, no less) and then instructing them not to use those products when pregnant, which has not gone unnoticed. Will there be adverts directed at male partners of pregnant women to take over the cleaning now? I think not. Just like there aren't campaigns to tell men to avoid alcohol as it may increase their chances of committing abuse and violence and therefore damage their foetus and its mother. Or that SSRIs may damage sperm too. Nor will there be efforts to make these products and foods safer. It is all the woman's responsibility.

              So a juxtaposition is created. On one hand there seems to be a healthy dose of absolution of responsibilities from society on to women. But then they are implying that we just don't trust women with all that responsibility and bearing children so we need to interfere and give them an impossible set of guidelines to adhere to without the proper support.

              It is a lose-lose situation for women that's for sure. It keeps us running round in circles whilst men get on with running the world. Because that is what oppression does to you. Keeps you preoccupied whilst your oppressors are freer and lighter of responsibility and guilt.

              So just to reiterate. Yes, we are fully human, not objects to be used. No, we aren't breeders. Yes, we have wants and needs. Yes, we have rights. Yes, we want the fact that we have a life to be recognised and valued. And yes, be scared of pregnant women brandishing non-stick frying pans.

              Saturday, 20 April 2013

              Sport and Feminism collide....this time in Rugby

              This is not an unusual occurrence. Most organised sport is male dominated both in participants and the decision-makers. They don't tend to have women's best interests at heart although they throw the odd carrot in our direction. So my feminist hackles rise quite regularly. However this latest revelation of nincompoopery* within Rugby really does merit analysis. And although this post is a bit after the fact, it is a really good example of male privilege in action and an unawareness of said privilege.

              I recently started following @WRUWomenSupport on Twitter (Welsh Rugby Union Women's Support). From their tweets it became apparent the the Welsh Rugby Union were about to make a decision to the detriment of their Women's national team. They were proposing to remove the women's team from the six nations tournament along with Scotland and Italy thereby creating a 2-tier event with England, Ireland and France in a "top" division. A divisive proposal in more ways than one. Thankfully they came to their senses and the motion was defeated on the 10th April 2013. But how was this even an option? Can you ever imagine the removal of the Scottish, Welsh or Italian mens' teams from their respective tournament, even if they were continually losing? In fact the Scottish and Italian men regularly end up fighting for the wooden spoon yet no proposal has been ever been made to removing them.

              A brief history of the tournament: The 6 nations competition for women began in 1996 as a 4 nation tournament for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. France and Spain joined in 1999 and 2000 respectively. However in 2007 RBS took over the tournament and substituted Italy for Spain to bring it in line with the men's tournament. Whilst I am sure the increase in sponsorship was very welcome and did a lot of good for the chosen teams, it was more than a little ruthless to discard Spain like that. They were certainly collateral damage. And bringing it in line with the men's tournament does still make men the default.

              Following this year's tournament where Scotland lost two games 76-0, they and the Welsh Rugby Union put forward a proposal to split the tournament. Whilst I appreciate that it must be soul-destroying to lose by that much, regularly and in fact have not won a match since 2010, why is the reaction to this to cut the funding and sponsorship for the team by splitting the tournament? Surely a more logical approach would be to support one of your national teams to greater effect. Unless of course, they were disposable.

              Well from the WRU's annual report from last year it does in fact appear that the Women's national team is indeed disposable. From page 9 of the report:
              1. Elite Rugby includes our funding, staffing and support of the national team, the national age grade teams, the sevens team, the national academy, the regional academies and a £6.2m sum to the four Regions for international player release, in addition to £1.2m to the semi-professional Premiership Clubs.
              I would like to think that the national team refers to the women's team but that would be a folly. In a 104 page document the word "women" is mentioned 11 times; there are two photographs of the women's team, one playing and about 2 1/2 pages including photos devoted to the women's game. Although it is only an Annual Report it is yet another example the eradication of women in daily discourse. In this instance men is really the default. In fact the women's team is always referred to in the report and in media as the Women's National Team. The men's team has no reference to their sex.

              It is laughable really that anyone would actually think that "the national team" refers to the women given the amount of spending on the two national teams. Men's Team: millions; Women's Team:10's of thousands. And of course the amount of media coverage both teams get is pretty much incomparable as is the pay. The Welsh women's team is self-funded and not allowed personal sponsorship. No pay and no leave entitlement. Absolutely disgraceful. They also have no development squad, no U19s or U20s either. This proposal could have decimated women's rugby in Wales. The fact is, that any further support and finances that could be devoted to women's rugby would be seen as a detraction from men's rugby. And let's face it, that's what is important here.

              So how did a proposition to remove the Welsh team from the 6 nations even gain any ground. Well if we look at the Scottish RFU Board and the Welsh RFU Board we can see they are all men. Every one of them. No representation of women at all. Is it unsurprising that women are disposable, their voices eradicated? I did find a woman, Julie Paterson on the Welsh RFU Executive as the Director of Compliance. The irony of that job been given to a woman is not lost**. And there is a woman, Kath Vass on the Scottish RFU Council, representing Women's Rugby. There appears to be no direct representative at all from Women's Rugby on the Welsh boards.

              But surely some reference/collaboration/consultation was made with those who manage and run the women's game or even some recourse made to the players. Apparently not. How divisive is that? Not unsurprisingly the players themselves felt unimportant and dispensable. And despite vocal opposition from players and other teams the proposal was still viable until a couple of days before the meeting, when Roger Lewis, the WRU Chief Executive finally came out and said he would oppose it.

              From a more structural and societal aspect this is another example of men believing that they can tell women what they should be doing and making judgements on women's sport (generally subjective ones). Within sport there seems this constant reference to men's sport and not treating women's sport as an entity in its own right. Constant references to competitiveness, training workloads, skills all in comparison to the default of men. Women's sport is not allowed to grow by itself, is not allowed to be given similar credence, proportional spending or in fact any kind of equality unless men say so. That is not equality, it is benevolence and pretty sexist benevolence at that. As a woman I don't want my equality being decided on the whims of men. I want women to decide it and women to structure it so the world is more suited to women (in this case the world of sport) rather than us having to fit in with the existing world that is structured for men. Men: Hands off our sport!

              *A lovely and fitting term co-opted from TheRealSGM.

              ** That is in no way meant to be derogatory towards Julie Paterson and her work. It is just a reference to the word "compliance" and how women are trained and stereotyped into being compliant from an early age.

              Thursday, 4 April 2013

              Hate Crimes: What about crimes against women?

              Sophie Lancaster tolerance game card

              The tragic and horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster has been in the news again today because the constabulary responsible for investigating the crime (Greater Manchester Police) have added subcultures such as emos, punks and goths to the list of groups affected by hate crimes. This I have no problem with. What I do have an issue with is the list of current hate crimes.

              From the article, Lord MacDonald said "People's racial origins, their religion, their sexual orientation, people's dignity in the face of disability - these have been lines in the sand with the law saying, look, these are crimes that threaten social cohesion as a whole and therefore national life." Again I have no problem with this statement, as it is, and have no doubt of its veracity.

              He then went on to say "I'm a little cautious about watering down this concept." Clearly he is so worried about watering down this concept he hasn't even considered that crimes against your sex would "threaten social cohesion as a whole and therefore national life." That is crimes against over 50% of the population. The implication by omission that crimes against women doesn't threaten social cohesion (whatever that may mean) is a complete denial of what women experience every single day. Just look at sites such as Everyday Sexism or Hollaback! to see how social cohesion is being disrupted on a daily basis for women everywhere.

              So what are the many thousands of rapes reported as? What about the sexual assaults, the domestic abuse/violence, FGM (although no-one has actually been convicted for that in the UK), honour killings, serial killings against women? What are they all counted as? All those crimes are perpetrated against women just because they are women. Why are these crimes not being counted as hate crimes, they surely fit the definition?

              Well the reason probably lies in the results if they were counted as hate crimes. It would bust the myth in cloud cuckoo land that women are being treated equally and would highlight that in fact we are still oppressed. The overwhelming problem of male violence against women would then become massively apparent and something would have to be done about it. In addition patterns which are currently denied would also become apparent. Patterns such as controlling and abusive behaviour and how this manifests itself throughout a range of crimes and behaviours. There is also a reluctance to name male violence for what it is. By not including crimes against women, such as rape, as hate crimes then the perpetrators of hate crimes can be hidden behind vaguer language such as "people", "groups" etc. But hate crimes against women could really only be down to the opposite sex i.e. men.

              This reluctance to name and see male violence as the problem ties in with the truly desperate and awful deaths of the six children, Jade, John, Jack, Jesse, Jayden, and Duwayne, killed by their father Mick Philpott. His previous behaviour seemed to offer no red flags to social workers. No pattern has been identified in the media or in the courts with other family annihilators even though the similarities are there. The Tories would rather put this down to child benefit than male violence. I mean, how much more sleight of hand, misdirection and just basic lies do we have to put up with?


              I don't know if Sophie's death was as a result of being a woman or a goth or a combination of both but really lets call a spade a fucking spade. Sophie, Jade, John, Jack, Jesse, Jayden and Duwayne all died at the hands of men. That is the problem. How many thousands of other victims do there have to be before this is dealt with head-on?