Thursday, 6 December 2012

Women-only Spaces

Today I went to my first Women's Forum meeting at the University I work at.  Until Tuesday I hadn't even known there was a Women's Forum but by the power of an Internal Communications e-mail here I was.  I arrived quite nervous not knowing what to expect or even how many people would be there.  Well there were about a dozen women of different ages and different professions, some Academic, others Support/Technical Staff.  We even got lunch (which if you know me is a winner all the way!)

The main topic of conversation was an initiative called Athena Swann designed to help redress the inequality of women in science and technology academia.  I had recently read about a study in science that showed up the gender bias as early on as the application process.  I work in technology too so this was immediately of interest and although it was aimed at academic staff the actions put in place would have some reverberation over the whole University.

I plucked up the courage to inarticulately ask a question.  Whilst stumbling over my point, instead of someone talking over me to say it in a better way (and therefore steal the question and answer as his own) there were supportive noises and words coming from the table to help me finish what I wanted to say.  I have been at the University 12 years and that is the first time this has happened to me in any meeting.  It was reassuring, without being patronising and it was great!  I then noticed that throughout the meeting everyone had let everyone else speak.  There had been no talking over each other, no rewording of anyone's points, no ignoring or silencing.  These women were articulate, professional and knowledgeable and most of all they were respected in the room.

Now that could have partly been because these women are focussed on women's issues and are well aware of the studies that show how much men take over group situations and talk over women and be sensitive to letting other women be heard.  It could also be that they are respectful because they don't know each other that well (although I didn't get that impression.  I think a few of them had worked together a lot). But nevertheless it was a breath of fresh air and I will be attending the forum some more.

So while I was feeling the sisterly love and on a bit of a high we started talking about Reverse Mentoring as a tool within Equality and Diversity.  The idea being that LGBT, women, ethnic minorities would mentor those staff less versed in issues these groups of people face.  I do have an issue with the terminology (in the description in the link too) but I thought it was a great idea and again, apart from terminology so did the women in the room.  My thoughts moved on to ways we could apply this in my department both within the Equality and Diversity remit and perhaps with a student/staff mentor scheme.  And there are plenty of opportunities to apply it.  I then thought about how I could engage the men I work with (as I work almost exclusively with men).

And I crashed down off that high and just felt like putting my head in my hands.

And now I just want to go back into that meeting room with those lovely women and remember how discussions could happen and how ideas could take shape and be implemented.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Red Flags

Note: I have deliberately used the language of men being the perpetrators and women the victims of abuse. It is not intended to antagonise. It is intended to highlight the direction of power in the overwhelming majority of abusive heterosexual relationships. It is also part of Naming the Problem. Gay relationships are certainly not immune from abuse and the issues discussed in this post could be equally applied to same sex relationships.

Red flags within a relationship are warning signs that you may be with an abusive partner, the relationship is abusive or the abuse is escalating. They are useful for both the women in the relationship; their friends or family who may be worried about them; counsellors or anyone else seeking to help the abused party. Often it is an accumulation of different signs or a pattern of behaviour that gives the clearest warnings of an abusive relationship.

Abuse comes from attitudes and values rather than feelings. This is why it is so hard for abusers to change.  Ultimately they want and feel they deserve to have ownership of their partners. This may be ownership of their partner's feelings and thoughts or their behaviour or their movements. One thing all abusers have in common is a sense of entitlement and a level of narcissism. They believe that their wants and needs outweigh anybody else's and they are entitled to have their partner (and maybe children) focussed solely on them. To achieve their aims, abusers have to exert some form of control over their partners. Where that control is directed may differ but all are controlling. It is the method by which they perpetuate their abuse.

So Red Flags are born out of a sense of entitlement and are aimed at controlling the partner and focussing on the abusers wants and needs.

Why are the warning signs of an abusive relationship seemingly so hard to spot?

  • Women, generally, are taught by society to ignore them and in some cases positively embrace them.  For example, how many films do you see with over-blown romantic gestures or stalkerish type behaviour?    These are the basis of most rom-coms. Take the films Frankie and Johnny (where Frankie is deprived of sleep and food before succumbing to Johnny's charms) or You've Got Mail for examples of stalkers and abusers being seen as romantic   This isn't just limited to films many songs condone violence to women e.g. Eminem's Kim and a lot of hip-hop and R& B.  Rihanna's songs are quite disturbing.  The Twilight books and 50 Shades of Grey also depict abusive relationships.  If the average person cannot recognise an abusive relationship when it is presented to them in black and white then it is no wonder that a woman in an abusive relationship can't.
  • Until recently Law Enforcement has been complicit in retaining men's ownership of women and allowing domestic abuse to continue unchallenged. It has only been since 1991 that it is illegal for a man to rape his wife. And only since the 1990s that any significant progress has been made in the prosecution of men for domestic violence. As a result emotional/verbal/financial is only just being recognised and is still not illegal.
  • In isolation red flags can appear as just bad behaviour so for example shouting and name-calling during an argument.
  • Sometimes the signs are "revered" e.g. a workaholic providing for his family is ignoring the selfishness required to leave the house and childcare up to their partner.
  • Sometimes, again in isolation, they just seems annoying e.g. sulking for hours/days, doesn't do housework.
  • Abusers are not abusive all the time.  This is known as the Cycle of Abuse. Time between episodes may be long enough for the victim not to notice a pattern initially. They will invariably escalate though and the time between periods of abuse will diminish.

Most people can exhibit an incident of abusive behaviour and red flags at some part in a long-term relationship but what makes a relationship abusive is a pattern of behaviour. And this behaviour will generally escalate.  A man will not hit a woman on a first date because the woman would probably run a mile.  Yet even though a lot of women are shocked by a partner's first violent outburst this is always an escalation of previous abusive behaviour.

Here are some signs prior to a relationship starting. They may not all prove to be abusive traits but could indicate a tendency towards selfish controlling behaviour:

He is disrespectful or has a low opinion of other women - this won't change with you.
He has never lived alone - may expect you to be doing all the domestic chores.
He is a workaholic/successful business man - selfish behaviour. Behavioural traits that makes you successful in business are not necessarily compatible with being a good partner.
He spends a lot of time playing sport/getting fit - again could be a sign of selfish behaviour
He doesn't respect boundaries - he brushes against you; doesn't accept no and always tries to talk you round.
Doesn't respect your opinion.
Is an "Alpha" male.
Drinks too much and/or gets belligerent when drunk.
Becomes aggressive or intimidating to other people in social situations

Common warning signs (Red Flags):

Any physical or sexual violence from a man in a relationship is abusive.

Speaks ill of previous girlfriends/wives
Especially if they were "abusive" or turned their children against him. This is unlikely to be the case and in fact he is likely to have been the one who was abusive and his children recognised that.

He is disrespectful towards you
These could include name-calling; telling you you suffer from a mental illness; ridiculing your beliefs, values, ideas or opinions; disregards your accomplishments or uses them against you; harasses you about things you did in the past e.g. previous boyfriends; breaks dates/cancels plans at short notice; does not acknowledge the work you do or seems to think you don't work hard (especially with regards housework/childcare); humiliates you.

Does favours for you that you asked him not to or didn't want. Is inappropriately generous or loving.
Grandiose public displays of affection; brings you presents you don't want so you feel bad about refusing them; takes you places you don't want to go e.g. expensive restaurants especially after you have asked him not to.

He is controlling
Controls your access to money and what you spend it on; takes away car keys, money or credit cards; isolates you from friends or family; withholds approval, appreciation or affection; likes to tell you what you should be doing during the day or expects you to account for where you have been or what you have done, like he is your boss; tells you what to think, wear, how to behave; interferes with your work or school; sulks - not for half an hour like normal people but hours/days/weeks even.

He is possessive
Is angry if you pay too much attention to someone or something else (children, friends, school, etc.); gets jealous very easily or irrationally; is very concerned about his belongings and not so much about yours; treats you as property rather than a person.

Nothing is ever his fault
Turns arguments around to blame you; doesn't take responsibility for his actions; minimises or denies being abusive. gaslights.

Life revolves around him and his wants/needs
Does not include you in important decisions; expects you to cook his dinner, tidy up after him and generally put him first and becomes angry if this is not done to his liking; you find yourself thinking about him and what he wants all the time, neglecting your own wants.

Substance abuser
Uses drugs or alcohol to excuse their behaviour; An abuser is an abuser without substance abuse. That sense of entitlement will still be there even if he gives up alcohol or drugs.  But the nature of the abuse may change and escalate with substance abuse.

Sexual coercion and manipulation
Does not allow you to sleep; whines or nags about sex regularly (even though you may be having it several times a week); you wake up with him trying to have sex with you; barters chores for sex.

Very intense about the relationship at the start
Telling he loves you early on; putting you on a pedestal, initially, so he can knock you off it later in the relationship; fiery passionate behaviour.

Shouts; talks over you or fires questions at you during an argument; invades your personal space; criticises or threatens to hurt your family or friends; smashes up possessions (more often than not your possessions rather than his); reckless and angry driving; intimidating behaviour towards other people and strangers when angry.

Double Standards
He has affairs. makes contradictory demands; expects you to respect him whilst disrespecting you; comes home at late hours refusing an explanation.

Negative attitudes towards women
Stereotyped beliefs about sex roles for women; thinks women are conniving, manipulative, stupid or inferior; believes women should do domestic duties; addressing other women bitches, slags, sluts, whores;

Different public/private personas
He treats you well in company and calls you names in private; he puts you down in public and treats you better in private.

He appears attracted to vulnerability
Attracted to women who much younger than them or suffered abuse in another relationship or as a child.

Some of the feelings you may encounter whilst in an abusive relationship may include:
  • Feeling afraid of your partner
  • Avoiding certain topics out of fear
  • Feeling you can't do anything right
  • Believing you deserve to be hurt or mistreated
  • Wondering if you are going crazy
  • Feeling numb and helpless
  • Thoughts constantly revolving around him and pleasing him

The above lists are not exhaustive and taken in isolation some of them may not be abusive behaviour. If in any doubt please ring Women's Aid and speak to someone. They are very used to spotting abuse and helping victims.

Resources used:

Lundy Bancroft: Why Does He Do That: Inside the minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Emotional abuse checklist
Signs of abuse and control

Helpful resources for abused women:

Women's Aid
Rights of Women
CRASAC - Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre
Rape Crisis
Domestic Violence - Scotland

16 days of action on violence against women

Monday, 26 November 2012

Misogyny - a taboo word?

Misogyny is a word I have only relatively recently begun to use quite regularly. Before that I felt uncomfortable about it but without really understanding why. I have been prompted to try and articulate why by two recent incidents:
  1. A man online stating <read mansplaining> that rape wasn't always an act of misogyny and those that perpetrate it weren't always misogynists.
  2. While I was reading Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men". As wonderful as the book is I think he has missed a trick when he states that most abusers are not misogynists.
"The notion that abusive men hate women was popularized by Susan Forward's book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them. Dr Forward's description of abusive men are the most accurate ones I have read, but she was mistaken on one point. Most abusers don't hate women. They often have close relationships with their mothers, or sisters, or female friends. A fair number are able to work successfully with a female boss and respect her authority, at least outwardly."
It seems that misogyny/misogynist conjures up images of a man who actively and demonstrably hates all women. After all not even a rapist can be classed as a misogynist, it seems. Dictionaries tend to define misogyny as "hatred of women" which is ambiguous and sounds almost pathological. For me, it is much subtler and more pervasive than this.

Take my first incident. This man (lets call him Bob) went on to say that not only was rape not always misogynistic but the fact that thousands of Russian soldiers raped thousands of German women at the end of the second World War proved it. They couldn't all be misogynists?

Why not? Why couldn't they all be misogynists?

Is it because they had wives and daughters and mothers that they loved? Yet there they were doing a heinous act to someone else's wife/daughter/mother.

Is it because there were so many of them? Surely not all those men could be misogynists? Because that would then open the door for all those men who really do like women but who find themselves "inexplicably" doing hateful acts towards them, suddenly being misogynists. How could that be true?

Is it because it was just a single isolated act? I think this is where both examples start to merge. A man who does one hateful act to one woman can't possibly be a misogynist. A man who treats one woman or only a few women badly can't possibly be a misogynist. Yet in the quote from Bancroft's book he actually gives a clue as to why that probably isn't true. A fair number are able to work successfully with a female boss and respect her authority, at least outwardly.

At least outwardly. So this suggests that beneath a polished surface is a bit of turmoil as to whether he respects his female boss. This is one of the keys. A misogynist has an underlying disrespect for women. He may treat his mother or sister well because they are on that pedestal of "acceptable" women. However the disrespect bubbling beneath the surface "allows" him to commit these seemingly one off acts or abuse only certain women. When Bancroft goes into more detail about abusers it is clear that a lot of them (if not all) have a previous history of abusive relationships; they talk about women in derogatory terms; they want to control their partners. Just because they may be nice/civil/outwardly respectful to some women in their life, does it mean they aren't a misogynist? There is still a pattern of disrespect and disrespect of women is a form of low level misogyny. It isn't the overt hatred that seems to be expected from a misogynist but it perpetuates the subjugation of women.

Bob may have had a point albeit he put it very ineptly in his eagerness to educate us (I am being more than a little generous there). What makes a seemingly ordinary man do such a terrible act as raping a woman? I think that this points to the other half of the definition of misogyny - the fact it is systemic i.e. society allows men to treat women badly and society sees women as less human than men. It gives them permission. This is how so many men abuse the women they are in relationships with. This is how so many soldiers raped so many women. Although the difference was that the soldiers were given explicit permission without repercussion rather than the implied permission abusers take. An important point to also note is that they were given permission to rape specifically because their victims were women. But to actually commit the act of rape they must have thought those women as lesser to themselves. That disrespect must have always been there. It was just brought to the surface.

In Bob's redefinition of rape as a non-misogynistic act he also failed to take into account of the victim's feelings and experience. I am pretty certain that the women being raped thought that the individual soldiers hated them. Coupled with the fact that there was no recourse over their violent acts would make the women feel it was misogynistic. They were raped because they were women. It has always been a special punishment for women. What is more misogynistic than that? How dare this arrogant and privileged man deny these women their experience? To a lesser extent Bancroft is doing the same. He admits society allows men to get away with abusing women yet he fails to make the leap to it being misogyny that allows that. And abusive men, by taking advantage of society become misogynists themselves.

However we are looking at an extreme and unusual act with the mass rape of German women. The average rape is common place and committed by men in pretty average circumstances. Are these men misogynists? Of course they are. The average rapist hasn't just raped one woman for a start. They are using a tool of subjugation against a woman for the purpose of power and control. These men really don't like women. It is quite simple, much more obvious than with an abuser. It is hate. It is misogyny. The clues will be there in their interactions with women.

Overall misogyny is a lot more passive than the traditional view would have you think. Disrespect, viewing women as less than men rather than out and out hatred is what drives it. Society also provides the vessel in which it grows and continues. Without that vessel it would just be individual men doing individual acts of violence and abuse to individual women.

I am not the only person who thinks that the popular definition of misogyny is too simplistic and the actual definition should be much wider than the hatred of all women all the time. Julia Gillard has prompted a rethink by the Macquarie Dictionary and other dictionaries. This is no bad thing. Misogyny is much more widespread than a lone nutcase on a vengeance trip against women. It is time that mainstream society caught up with that.

On a more positive note, not all men have this disrespect and bubbling hatred for women. I am absolutely certain that some of those soldiers refused to rape these women, for example. Just like men refuse to abuse their partners even though society will allow them to get away with it. And it is reversible. We have to believe that. Men are human. They have the capacity to love and admire and respect us too.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Are we really having this same argument again?

So it is Wimbledon fortnight 2012 (yes that is 2012) and five years after women finally received equal pay in grand slam tournaments some people (Gilles Simon) are still arguing the toss about this. “Equal Pay for Unequal Work”, the cry from the detractors, superficially could be, a convincing cry. However, along with that is much misogyny and the definite implication that women are inferior.

First of all it isn’t pay that we are talking about, it is prizes. It is perfectly normal and reasonable for men and women to receive the same prize within sport. Take the Olympic Games for example, all winners (and runners up) receive the same prize, no matter what their sport or their event. But the argument against paying equal prize money centres on the fact that women only play best of 3 sets in Grand Slams and men play best of 5. So women are only doing 3/5th of the work of men so should only get 3/5th of the pay of men.

Well let’s take that logic to its conclusion. Athletics is a good example. A marathon runner therefore should be paid how much more than a 100m runner? 10s compared with 7500secs (2:05 hrs - men’s marathon world record). So marathon runners should receive about 750 times the amount of 100m sprinters? Really? No, because of course that would be ridiculous. They all work hard in their own event, no matter how long it lasts. And that hard work is rewarded with the same prize. The hard work is also recognised as not starting and finishing on the competitive field. The misogyny is in the implication that female tennis players don't work as hard as men.  Well that is an age old argument outside sport as well as within it and worthy of a blog  post by itself.  Suffice to say, its veracity is not held in solid foundations.

Whilst still on the 3 sets vs 5 set argument, within Grand Slams women aren’t allowed to play 5 sets. It isn’t because they can’t or because they won’t, but because they aren’t allowed – like recalcitrant children. They obviously need to prove their worth to the men in charge.  And of course timetables would need to be altered and that is obviously too much of a logistical obstacle. More misogyny. It is of course male privilege that allows men to play 5-sets. If women were considered equal to men then it would be bizarre that men and women didn't have the same competition parameters. Yet here we are and tennis is by no means the only culprit within sport.

Most tennis tournaments for men and women are only best of 3 sets and most tournaments are single-sex. As a result women already get paid a lot less than men on tour because the prize money is related to the revenue the tournaments can get. Women’s tournaments are less supported. More misogyny, under the guise of women’s sport just not being good enough or not interesting enough or too shrieky or whatever is flavour of the day. The whole revenue argument is skewed in favour of men anyway, because men are revered for their sporting talent, women not so much. Men have had a monopoly on sport for so long, women are just breaking into it.

Then, of course there is the quality argument. As we all know women’s tennis just doesn’t compare to men’s tennis. The standard is infinitely lower and there is no strength in depth. In fact, why don’t they all just quit now? Well first of all quality and standards are pretty subjective. Then, who gets to be arbiter of whether women have reached a sufficient standard that they are now equal. If, indeed, that mythical standard could ever be achieved (because after all women just aren’t men). At this point it is important to note that there are many more barriers for women than men in entering sport. There is societal pressure and gender stereotyping, lack of media attention, lack of funding and encouragement and also the legacy of women being banned from certain sports and events (some of which is still in evidence today) which means women are behind the men in terms of numbers and probably strength in depth. However, women’s tennis is probably on a par with men’s tennis say 30 years ago, yet men weren’t being denied their rewards for their labour then. More misogyny.

However, this is constantly comparing women to men which seems pretty pointless as they don’t play against each other. It also sets men as the default, as usual. If tennis was a women-only sport then the emphasis on quality of play would be in comparison to previous years/decades. And if you look back over the decades then there has been huge improvement in women’s tennis.

Even accepting that women's tennis may not be as competitive as men's tennis, why does this matter? The women involved are still doing the training, still putting in the effort to win. In fact, why would a discrepancy in prize money be the best way of increasing the quality and player base?  Maybe giving equal pay, increasing revenue, better coaching, participation initiatives and further encouragement of women within sport might be a better way of going about it. Penalising women financially, isn't going to be an incentive to increasing competitiveness, if that is of course the goal.  If the goal is to put women back in their box then financially penalising them is entirely the right way of going about it.

Male tennis players have not had to forfeit any privilege, power or revenue in order for women to be paid equal amounts (Wimbledon prize money since 1968). So they have given up nothing yet they still argue against it. They really just don’t think women are equal or deserving. And of course they want the final word as to when the female tennis players are worthy. Really, this could on for decades. Any excuse to justify why women should not be paid as much as men. It's all a bit chilling.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Quick Intro

I think I have always been a feminist at heart, I just got a bit lost on the way. Before rediscovering feminism I thought it was all about choice and being more like men to get along in this man's world.  It was becoming a mother for the first time 3 years ago that made me realise that all those "choices" women had were loaded. We are pointed in certain directions by society and it is pretty difficult to not only resist but sometimes to recognise that influence. For example, despite being the higher earner in my partnership, I am still the one working part time.

So a straight talking chat forum soon made me aware that in fact feminism was not only still needed, but vital for a better world for me and my sons.  Many questions were answered and posed.  Many light bulbs went on.

With this newly discovered perspective, I found that a great deal of my interests and life demonstrated that equality still doesn't exist and perhaps more importantly, men don't want to give up their privilege.  This is deeply apparent within the working and sporting worlds I occupy.  It came as a great shock to realise that within the sport I love, women are being discriminated against, dismissed, prevented from realising their potential, disliked and abused or merely tolerated, all because of their sex.  In the workplace I seem to have an expectation that I would be disadvantaged for having children, which is why I waited so long to have them. Why was that expectation there? Why should I be disadvantaged? The answers came down to sexism and a patriarchal society.

The solution is feminism.