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?

              Saturday, 30 March 2013

              Retribution or Justice?

              Part of my feminist discovery journey has been to question my previous steadfastly held beliefs and look at them through a feminist lens in the context that we live in a patriarchy. One of these closely held beliefs is the abolition of the death penalty. All the usual reasons apply:

              I couldn't kill someone, why should I expect others to do it for me?
              It could be a mistake.
              Two wrongs don't make a right.
              Civilised society shouldn't be killing people.
              The distastefulness of an eye for an eye type mentality i.e. lowering ourselves to the criminal's level.
              The inhumanity and torture of keeping someone locked up only until it is time to kill them (and them knowing that).
              In my lofty, privileged position I also felt that I had to make this decision for myself before anything awful happened to my family or someone I loved as obviously raw emotions would kick in then and death to the perpetrators may look very appealing. And that would be seen as revenge, which, of course is very wrong. We are also told that raw emotions are never a good foundation on which to base a decision.

              And then we come to the horrific rape and murder of Jyoti in Delhi, India. The perpetrators of this crime are facing the death penalty if found guilty. Immediately I felt my conditioning kick in. My first thought was who are we to execute these men, no matter what they did?

              This thread on Mumsnet, however, prompted me to have a rethink about where these beliefs are coming from. On the thread, a couple of people were quite vociferous in stating that we couldn't be feminists if we didn't think these men should have the death penalty. Now there are only a handful of reasons why I think a person can't be a feminist and opposing the death penalty isn't one of them. But it did get me thinking as to why I almost unthinkingly accept that the death penalty is wrong in all circumstances and whether that was a feminist stance or an anti-feminist stance in the wake of extreme violence against women.

              I did realise quite early on in reading the thread that I just don't care what happens to these men. Not at all. Which was uncomfortable. I would prefer it if they could just slink away and die without me having to think about it emotionally or critically, but that won't happen, so here we are. How real are my convictions about capital punishment and how much is social construction? Well I'll probably never know the answer to that. But I do wonder whether the resistance to capital punishment is gendered. Women are socially constructed to be less violent so it would make sense that we would oppose other forms of violence more than men. Which then led to the thought that is this a trick of the patriarchy to keep us submissive. Engender in us this hatred of violence so that we won't use it against men. Could violence against men in particular circumstances be exactly what is required to gain freedom from oppression? If women were to start killing their rapists and abusers would that actually stem and even stop male violence? And if it did then capital punishment would seem to be more like justice, not revenge.

              Then I think, am I being hypocritical rethinking this subject in light of the monstrous attack on Jyoti? Is it the nature of the attack that makes me have less care about the fate of the perpetrators? I mean it was so brutal and as a fellow woman I am frightened to the core by how much pain and suffering this woman went through. Would I feel this way about a brutal murder of a man? Possibly not, although I was highly disturbed when the BBC aired the depiction of the murder of a man in very similar circumstances. But the investigation into a similar crime on a man would not be scattered with victim-blaming and man-hating (instead of the misogyny seen in this case).

              I know I would feel the same about a similar crime committed against children though. So, are crimes against women & children special? Yes, I think they are. Children for obvious reasons - their size, age, vulnerability and general innocence. Women because we are still oppressed and it is male violence keeping us oppressed. The oppression keeps happening and people, more specifically men, seem unwilling to do anything about it. And not only that we get blamed for the crimes against us. That feeling of impotence is rage inducing.

              Would my feelings be different if violence against women were actually dealt with properly on any level? Very probably. If I felt justice was being served to women who were being raped and murdered; if I felt that we were winning the war against male violence then yes I would care about being humane towards the perpetrators of this terrible crime. But justice isn't being served and we aren't winning the war at the moment. These men thought that Jyoti didn't matter, that nobody would make them be responsible for their actions because they see women being treated appallingly everywhere and nobody does anything about it. That is why they felt it was OK to do this, in plain view. They thought they would get away with it. Surely justice in this case would be to send out a message to deter other men from casually raping and murdering women. Draw the line in the sand. Except of course it isn't a line in the sand. Because there are so many fronts to fight on. And is capital punishment even a deterrent?

              I really don't know what my conclusions are on this. I know you can still be a feminist and not believe in the death penalty even for crimes against women. In fact I find that whole argument quite bizarre. And it certainly isn't my place to say who is or isn't a feminist (unless they are actively anti-feminist and then I reserve judgment!). Somehow, I would feel happier if Jyoti had survived, tracked her torturers down and killed them single-handedly. That would seem much more like justice and probably send out a much stronger signal. But it isn't about whether I feel happier and of course Jyoti can't do that. Part of me, a significant part, just doesn't think that the way to handle violence is with state-condoned violence, especially when that state is a patriarchy. It is just more patriarchal, bullshit violence. Whether that is the conditioning kicking in or something else does it even matter? Part of me, though, a small part, would like those men who did this to her and all those other men who torture and kill women and children to die. I can live with being a hypocrite on this.

              I started writing this ages ago but it seems appropriate to publish it today in honour of International Women's Day and for the Million Women Rise march, today in London. So this is for all the women fighting the fight against male violence in a peaceful manner.

              Friday, 29 March 2013

              Separating art from the artist: Why should we?

              Recently there have been two high profile cases of men who have been celebrated and allowed to continue working having committed serious violent crimes against women. In both cases it has been deemed that their work is more important than their crime. Their crimes have either been ignored or not deemed serious enough to interrupt their career.

              The BFI had a "two-month retrospective" of Roman Polanski over January and February. Oh joys. On 10 March 1977 Roman Polanski was charged with the rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse but never faced sentencing as he did a runner, to put it bluntly. The BFI didn't even acknowledge the crime in their "retrospective". Conservative with the truth, let's say.

              Now, admittedly, I am not an avid "Art" fan. I like some of it, I enjoy watching films, love reading books but I will never be completely immersed in it. Maybe this is why I can't see beyond a man's crimes to appreciate his art, or maybe it is because I am a human being. However, you can see evidence of Polanski's misogyny in his films and his inappropriate fixation on young girls. Chinatown and Tess are particularly problematic in this area, not mention Polanski's relationship with Nastassja Kinski when she was only 15. The attitude and sense of entitlement it takes to rape someone doesn't just appear in isolation. It permeates throughout their life including their work.

              I may not be an arts fan but I am a sports fan. On 14th February 2013 Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by shooting her 4 times. This is not in doubt. Following this killing there was a lot of disbelief and misplaced adulation and barely a mention of his victim. This eradication of Reeva and what happened to her has continued now in that Pistorius has been granted leave to compete abroad whilst waiting on bail for his trial (set to be in June). So the judge in South Africa saw fit to prioritise his career above the crime he has been charged with. Again there is a separation of the crime from the work of the man as if the two are not related.

              Pistorius showed a glimpse of his sense of entitlement at the London 2012 Paralympics when losing the 200m to Alan Fonteles. Elite sportsmen often have an arrogance and selfishness which gets them to the top. This selfishness is only one step away from feeling entitlement. When all around you tell you how good you are and how you deserve to win, it will have an impact on your mindset. Allowing him to compete whilst waiting for trial is another incident emphasising that he is allowed special and preferential treatment. It does require a sense of entitlement to shoot your girlfriend through a bathroom door, four times.

              You can't separate a man and his work. His work is part of him as is his crime. They don't sit in separate compartments. They overlap. Compartmentalising it is very convenient for the men who commit these crimes and for all other men who commit violence, especially against women. Seeing a crime in isolation from the man denies the connection and the pattern that these men follow. It encourages only focussing on the individual and not only the overall problem of male violence. It perpetuates the rape culture we live in, allows male violence to continue and keeps women oppressed. Ignoring men's behaviour when they commit crimes against women and promoting their work really only sends out one message: women and their lives do not matter.

              Not only do we we need to name the problem of male violence but punish it and remember what these men did.

              Monday, 18 March 2013

              Steubenville and CNN: Perpetuating Rape Culture

              I don't normally write about topical things because I am just not that quick off the mark (or at the zoo) and by the time I get round to it several hundred other wonderful feminists have articulated it far better than I could, with my O'Level in English Language. However, this whole incident/issue has just given me the rage. I am an angry feminist. And the more angry feminists that speak out against this shit the better. It is a travesty that there are probably only hundreds of people speaking out about this. It should be millions. Steubenville should not be allowed to happen.

              And that is the problem. This is what happens when you live in a rape culture despite those that deny its existence. <warning don't click on that link if you believe men should actually be responsible for their behaviour or you have the critical faculties required to join the dots together>

              Rape culture not just men raping women although there is enough of that about. It is the low conviction rate. It is women changing their behaviour to try and avoid rape. It is victim-blaming and shaming. It is idolising perpetrators. It is covering up for perpetrators. It is wanting anonymity for perpetrators. It is the reporting of rape as 'sex scandals'. It is the public regulation of what women wear. It is expecting women's behaviour to be different or of a higher standard than men's. It is the culture that expects a woman to say no otherwise consent is implied. It is where men shouting obscenities, making sexual advances or groping women is seen as something women just have to put up with. It is prioritising a tiny amount of false accusations over the thousands of rapes that occur every year in the UK. It is the pornographic images seen all over the web. It is the culture where men buying women for sex is acceptable. I could carry on ... and on but I am sure you are managing to join the dots by now. The coverage of this rape (and the backlash against the convictions) has ticked so many of those boxes. To be honest the coverage of most rapes normally does.

              But CNN have truly managed to surpass themselves with their reporting of the sentencing of the Steubenville rape. The language used about the boys - "promising futures"; "still sound like 16 year old boys"; "difficult to watch [their sentencing]"; "their life fell apart"; "[the boys] lives are destroyed" - was sympathesing with the perpetrators of a crime whilst completely eradicating the victim's experience. It was as if they felt justice hadn't been done. I suspect that we have that in common, although for completely different reasons. How the media report crimes like this is incredibly important. The regretful language used to describe the fact that the boys are now on the sex offenders register gives the impression that they have been hard done by. Their upset at being caught and found guilty (because this wasn't remorse as shown by Mays statement about how the photographs and video should never have been taken - no mention of the rape) has been validated by this coverage. This is like a green light for abusers - validation for their feelings, sympathy for their punishment even sympathy for what they had done like it was all a big mistake. Everything they believe has just been reinforced.

              I have two young sons. I have already started teaching them not to rape through respecting their boundaries and their bodies and getting them to respect each other's. This is such a good letter to sons. Yet the society we live in will be fighting back against those teachings all the time. Everywhere they look will be "evidence" that women are there to be raped; their boundaries can be crossed; there is no consequences for rape and if you were unlucky enough to get caught and convicted then you will still get sympathy and understanding.

              Shame on you CNN. I hope you are forced to apologise.
              Shame on you Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond. I wish your sentence was harsher, it is what you deserve.

              Monday, 4 March 2013

              Lucretia Grindle: A little bit of feminism with your mysteries

              I've read two Lucretia Grindle novels The Lost Daughter and The Villa Triste and enjoyed both immensely. Both books are modern day crime mysteries, set in Italy with the roots of the mystery in the past. In the case of The Lost Daughter the story centres around events of the 1970s and especially the murder of the politician Aldo Moro and the Red Brigades. In modern day a young woman goes missing while studying in Italy. Her father and stepmother have just arrived to celebrate her birthday and prove to be the link back to a 1970s conspiracy. The Villa Triste begins in 1943 and the Italian partisans. In the modern day a partisan hero has been killed in highly specific circumstances possibly related to his time as or because he was a partisan. Both have been well developed mysteries with decent female characters.

              The two main investigating police officers in both books are in fact male but the stories and mysteries are most definitely female-centric. In fact the focus doesn't really stray from the female lead roles even when the story switches to the investigation that is taking place.

              She is a woman who clearly likes other women and has an understanding of why, even not so likeable women behave the way they do. She doesn't follow the stereotypes, which is refreshing. The female characters all have faults and positives. There is no dwelling on how the female characters look, in fact their appearances are only mentioned to set an initial impression and if relevant. They are also all doing something. They aren't just companions to men or facilitating men doing things. They are the stars of their own story.

              Grindle shows a real awareness of abusive relationships in The Lost Daughter. She seems to understand how and why abuse begins and why women get caught up in it. In fact the two main female characters, stepmother and daughter are groomed when they are young. However, in addition to that the police officers also recognise the dynamics at play. There are no excuses made or minimising of the abuse.

              In The Villa Triste Grindle writes about two sister's experiences during WWII. Apart from being really interesting, punctuated with factual information and statistics, it is an account of the war through women's eyes. As most of history has been written seen through men's eyes I really enjoyed reading about the emotions and fears of the two women, even though it was a fictional account. But it was more than that. Grindle seems to have an awareness that women's history has been largely eradicated and makes an effort to highlight that and fill in some gaps. For example, did you know that out of approximately 200,000 partisans, 55,000 were women and 35,000 of them fought in armed engagements. So much for women not fighting on the frontline. So much for women not being as capable or too weak or too high a risk. This is emphasised perfectly in this quote and also sums up quite nicely why I have enjoyed her books:
              'That even in that day and age,' he said, 'in any day and age, that people always insist on believing their heroes are men.'

              Tuesday, 22 January 2013

              Pro-choice - what other choice is there?

              Let's make this absolutely clear because it seems that those of us who would like ALL women to have free access to abortions, have to say this:

              I am not pro-abortion.

              I am a pro-choice. Not only that I believe in choice right up to birth.

              So why?

              I believe in a woman's right to autonomy over her own body. For me, this is non-negotiable and is part and parcel of being a feminist and a woman. And that means being able to decide what can and cannot happen to your own body at any stage, including being 39 weeks pregnant. It is hard to imagine any conditions in which I, personally, would need or want a late-term abortion so I found the discovery that in fact I was pro-choice at any time, difficult to accept. But of course, I don't have to have a late-term abortion. Other women are not so lucky.

              The argument against women having abortions up to term is based on women-hating rhetoric and no fact whatsoever. Yes a woman in 1983 did have an abortion at 38 weeks because she wanted to buy a new pair of shoes instead*. Women really are that flaky. So obviously we need to penalise womankind because of it. Instead of trusting women to know what is best for them, we are treated as fickle children. We are not allowed to decide what can be done with our body, just in case a woman really does decide to buy a pair of shoes over having a baby.

              Trusting people involves accepting that some will make a decision that you may not deem correct. There seems to be this view that as soon as abortion is allowed to term women will suddenly decide, for no good reason to abort foetuses at 30 weeks +. There is no evidence that would be the case, but hell, we are women. Who knows what we will do? But realistically, given a completely free choice, i.e. without external influence and pressures or problems with health of mother or foetus, how many women would actively choose to have an late-term abortion? If your answer is greater than 1 in a million then take a serious look towards your internalised misogyny. You also need to revise your understanding of pregnancy, late-term abortion and birth.

              And that should be enough of a reason shouldn't it? Except it's not, of course. Because we don't live in an equal society, free from the patriarchy, where our choices are free. In fact if we did, abortion rates would probably be considerably less than they are. And, of course, we don't have free access to abortion up to term (at least not in the UK). So here are my other reasons I am pro-choice.

              Because society unfairly penalises women for having children in terms of monetary income, career options, status etc.

              Because women are raped.

              Because women are subjected and trapped by domestic violence and abuse, often beginning during pregnancy.

              Because of monetary and logistical constraints.

              Because the woman's life may be at risk.

              Because contraception fails.

              Because men and women have sex without contraception.

              Because of society's preoccupation with PIV (penis in vagina) sex rather than other non-penetrative forms of sex.

              Because the foetus may not be able to survive or may have severe disabilities if born.

              Because circumstances for mother and foetus can change throughout the pregnancy.

              Because men are always trying to get rights over women's bodies:
              Paul Ryan - allowing rapists to stop their victims from aborting
              Paul Ryan (again) - trying to make it possible for rapists to sue women who abort

              Abortion gives women choices. These choices, in some situations are desperately needed. Access to abortion is a key necessity in our fight for equality and to free us from oppression. It saves women's lives. It gives them some control. It is essential.

              * I made that up - just in case you were in any doubt.