Monthly Archives: May 2011

The war on choice escalates

It seems that the British war on choice has become a little less silent.

The placard-wavers are becoming more prominent. Many are British chapters of American anti-choice groups, their odious ideology wafting across the Atlantic to harass, intimidate and control.

They claim to be religious, holding “prayer vigils” accompanied by grotesque gory horror pictures. They control in the name of a God–the god who frequently oppresses women.

It is not surprising that they are here now, visibly imposing their twisted morals in which a woman is nothing but a walking womb.

Little information seems to be available about police reactions to these protests. It would appear that their involvement entails little more than mildly telling the anti-choice protesters to kindly move a little bit further away, despite such protests involving graphic imagery, filming of members of the public, and leafleting lies.

This seems curious, as left-wing activists are arrested for conspiracy to commit street theatre, banner-holding, or sitting down in a shop. One wonders just how much policing of protest has become an arm of the state; certainly, senior members of government are very interested in stripping away a woman’s right to choose.

The British war on choice is no longer silent. It is building towards a full-scale battle. It is now time to fight.


It speaks!: on being a woman and an activist

I protest quite a bit. Sometimes I march. Sometimes I charge around with a megaphone. Sometimes I commit acts of aggravated sitting or aggravated banner waving or other aggravated perfectly legal activities. Sometimes I might get a little stubborn about melted cheese on my food and throw a bit of a strop.

I protest quite a bit.

I also happen to be a woman. A cis, somewhat femme woman.

In a perfectly gender-neutral, equal society in which women are viewed as people rather than objects, these two facts should be entirely unrelated. This is the world I am fighting to build. It is not a world we inhabit.

The media tend to view women who protest as something of an anomaly: a fascinating creature to be documented and photographed meticulously. A particularly striking example of this is this Daily Mail article [clean link; they will not be getting the clicks they crave] which mixes images of “riot porn” with young women, breathlessly commenting on how exciting and new it is that girls are worrying their pretty little heads with politics. The images are strikingly similar to the annual newspaper feeding frenzy of printing pictures of girls celebrating their A Level results, which tend to imply that the route to four As at A Level is to appear female and jump a lot. Many of the photo collections of actions feature a young woman holding a placard or shouting as their front page, reducing the message of the protest down to”you’re cute when you’re angry”. These photographs are invariable captioned “a female protester joins in”.

From personal experience, this is because photographers tend to gravitate towards the women, buzzing like wasps at a jam sandwich. I recall one instance in which a photographer lay down on the floor in front of me, attempting an upskirt shot. A comrade of mine once attracted the attention of a particular photographer, who spent the entire action taking close up pictures of her face and breasts. Another comrade is prominently featured in the photosets of every action she has ever attended.

These women are intelligent, articulate, opinionated and angry, and yet their participation is reduced to little more than a bit of cheap eye candy.

Then there are the trolls: an example of this is the overt misogyny in criticism of articles written by journalist Laurie Penny, who happens to be a young woman. These criticisms are rarely related to the content of her writing, or even to her politics, but, rather a stinking mire of hatred, much of it focused on her gender, including calls for her to be raped and an obsessive deconstruction of her looks.

I have experienced this to a much, much smaller extent on Twitter. Members of the EDL have a fondness for talking about my breasts rather than responding to the fact that I called them a bunch of fucking fascists.

The objectification of women is not merely external, though. Some of it comes from our own back garden.

I have expressed my frustration before that the dominant voices in consensus meetings tend to be male. This can sometimes trickle down into actions.

On more than one occasion, I have heard a frantic whisper ripple through the group:

“Can we have a woman talk on the megaphone?”

On more than one occasion, I have heard this succeeded by:

“We don’t want it looking like it’s all blokes. It doesn’t matter what you say. We just need a woman to speak.”

Before I stopped worrying and learned to love the megaphone, a part of me believed that perhaps this should be the extent of my participation in a protest planned by someone else. These days, I have no such qualms, and that megaphone will be pried from my cold, dead hand.

At the back of my mind, though, I still fear that my words are less important than my gender to the media and some of my comrades.

In the comments to my post on decision making among activists, it was noted that male privilege can sometimes be left unchecked. I have some comrades who identify as feminists, but their behaviour is far from it. They are not misogynistic, rather, they display benevolent sexism.

When I speak with them, I see a look cross their faces of bewilderment mixed with paternalistic delight.

It speaks, they seem to silently say. Isn’t that sweet?

I believe this to be the crux of all of these experiences: the photogenicity of woman activists, the resorts to misogyny rather than political debate, the manarchists finding opinions coming from a woman more adorable than valid.

It speaks. 

We are still lumbered with the belief that women should be seen but not heard, that we are objects rather than people. Our opinions, therefore, are less worthy. Even among those leading the charge for social change, there is unchecked privilege, which, in the unlikely event of a revolution, would mean building a world in which a woman’s opinion is still novel and surprising.

These attitudes need to be destroyed. Benevolent sexism is as dangerous as hostile sexism.

An angry woman is not cute. An angry woman is a person. It speaks. Why should this be exceptional?


How to liven up something dull with a flash of knickers

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this. The Badminton World Federation has decided that women must play the sport in skirts or dresses. If they wish to wear trousers or shorts, they must wear a skirt over this.

Their rationale for doing this?

Interest is declining, Rangsikitpho said, adding that some women compete in oversize shorts and long pants and appear “baggy, almost like men.”

“Hardly anybody is watching,” he said. “TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.”

As tweeter @HelenWayte put it,

They’re also essentially saying that their sport is so dull it’s only worth watching to get a glimpse of lady pants. That’s sad!

This is a good point well made. Badminton is one of the more boring of the sports, and there certainly seems to be a good case for saying that this regulation may have been brought in to appeal to the male gaze. This is the executive committee and council of the Badminton World Federation. All of the executive positions are filled by men, and only two of the fifteen council seats are filled by women. Providing a little bit of eye-candy in the form of a woman in a short skirt jumping so her knickers are sometimes visible may be appealing to this set of very enthusiastic badminton fans.

There is more to be angry about in this story, though, above and beyond the rather transparent motivation to spice up a cripplingly tedious sport with some lady-legs and lady-bums.

First of all, badminton is a popular sport on Muslim countries. Muslim women who play badminton will be subject to the new dress code, despite cultural concerns about modesty. They will be permitted to compete wearing trousers under their skirts, but this addition of extra layers will almost certainly impede motion, giving some athletes a disadvantage in the game. This is therefore discrimination, even if the Badminton World Federation say it’s not.

Secondly, it furthers the distinction between “sports” and “women’s sports”. This regulation applies to “Women’s Badminton”. Likewise, we see “Women’s Football”, as distinct from “Football”; “Women’s Rugby” as distinct from “Rugby” and so forth. There are women’s sports and there are proper sports.

Apparently, we only need to care about women’s sports if we can get a good look at their pants.

Finally, the big gun. Rarely has the relationship between women performing femininity for the male gaze and capitalism been made more explicit. Attracting corporate sponsorship is overtly given as part of the rationale behind bringing in the dress code. It is clearly stated that the Badminton World Federation hope that by dressing up women in pretty little skirts will bring in better “marketing opportunities”. Being sexy is lucrative. The corporations will want to capitalise on a potential panty peek.

There are opportunities to subvert, and I offer some suggestions to badminton players who are outraged by the new dress code.

Imagine women badminton players refusing to play in the short skirts expected, instead covering up in full maxi-dresses. Let us see how long the Badminton World Federation would allow women to play without being sexy.

Imagine women badminton players denying the world a cheeky glimpse of their knickers, instead choosing to go without, offering up a sight of a cunt with a hairy, lustrous, full bush. Let us see how long the Badminton World Federation would allow the offensive view of a woman’s genitals to continue.

Imagine if men who played badminton chose to stand in solidarity with their sisters, opting to play in skirts. Let us see how long the Badminton World Federation would allow such blatant flouting of gender expectations.

Badminton is dull, and the addition of the tired standards of female sexiness will do nothing to remedy this.

Imagine if any of the above happened. Suddenly badminton would become interesting–but a lot less profitable.


The British war on choice: silent but deadly

I always associated the war on choice with the US, where abortion rights are gradually eroded–women are forced to jump through hoops to gain access to a legal procedure in a perpetually-narrowing window of time.

While decrying the American war on choice, I failed to notice the quieter war on choice happening in our own back garden.

The British war on choice is, like all British equivalents of American phenomena, far more subtle. There is very little placard-waving and harassment outside our abortion clinics. We do not see the level of violent crime committed against providers. Our churches are quieter about the matter, for the church has less sway in the UK.

It is happening.

Despite the fact that Parliament consistently votes against attempts to erode a woman’s right to choose, there are some who are utterly determined to push their agenda.

The disappointingly-not-raptured Nadine Dorries appears leading the charge, though she has the full backing of the Prime Minister.

The claims rear up again and again: anecdotal and emotive stories, couched in bad science, rather than evidence and data. There is no causal relationship between abortion and negative outcomes on mental health. Abortion is not linked to breast cancer. 24 weeks is not particularly viable.

The votes to reduce the abortion limit fail, and so different tactics are attempted. Dorries is currently spearheading a campaign called “Right To Know“, which makes the reasonable-sounding suggestion that women should be given information before they have an abortion. The information, though, are the shaky myths outlined above. It’s a baby. You’ll go mad and get cancer and have your tits cut off if you have an abortion. It is a tactic which is widely-used in the US as an attempt to restrict access to abortion.

Then there is this. Put succinctly, an anti-choice group has been invited to join a newly-created advisory committee on sexual health, while the evidence-based advisory-group veterans British Pregnancy Advisory Service have been snubbed.  The original advisory committee, the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV was disbanded in the “bonfire of the quangos“. Its replacement seems somewhat less interested in evidence and more interested in pushing an agenda. This is hardly surprising behaviour–governments have a nasty tendency to get rid of advisers who do not give them the advice they desire.

LIFE, the anti-choice group in question, has some decidedly bizarre views on sexual health. They advocate use of the rhythm method of contraception, which has no effect on STI prevention and very little on pregnancy prevention (despite what the evidence-free table published may say). LIFE provide “educational materials” which do not even bother repeating the shaky scientific claims the anti-choice brigade tend to use, instead going for flat-out “IT’S A BABY, YOU UTTER MONSTER” propaganda. Rather than test the efficacy of their education programme, LIFE provide testimonials in support of themselves.

This evidence-averse group is advising policy: policy regarding a medical issue. They appear to have no knowledge, merely an agenda which is similar to that of the Prime Minister.

The British war on choice is barely perceptible. It permeates quietly throughout the fabric of the legal system, affecting care and bodily autonomy. As it drifts past, largely unnoticed we need to call attention it out. There is something noxious in the air. It will hit you sooner or later.


Justifying the system: why do disadvantaged people believe the game isn’t rigged?

Why do some people continue to believe that the system is fair, that this is a meritocracy, that they can win? Why do they fail to see the system as I do?

Intuitively, one would believe that those for whom the system doesn’t work–those in marginalised groups–would be those who express the most rage at the system. In fact, the converse is true: for example, people from economically deprived groups often believe capitalism to be fair and good, rejecting socialism. There is also a strong bias towards believing that profitable companies are more ethical than non-profitable companies, despite the opposite being true. Stereotypes flourish: black people are lazy and that is why they can’t get jobs; Polish people work insane hours and that is how they are stealing all our jobs. People will vote for political parties that do not represent them: for example, many economically deprived people vote for parties that endorse neoliberal ideologies, destroying services they access in favour of the pursuit of profit.

This seeming anomaly is explained by a psychological theory: System Justification Theory.

System Justification Theory posits that people are motivated to perceive the world around them as fair, that even though they themselves may be receiving the thin end of the wedge, the system is inherently just. This happens because people want to believe that the world is predictable, giving a sense of certainty and stability. Due to this motivation, people fall over themselves to justify the system.

It is comforting to believe that everything makes sense, and that the world isn’t all fucked up and crooked. It is more comforting to believe that people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, and they’re happier poor, anyway. It is more comforting to believe that women who are raped had probably done something wrong or deserved it–rather that than believe it could happen to anyone. It is easy to believe that immigrants are to blame for unemployment than it is to believe a corrupt capitalist system is streamlining the number of jobs to maximise profits.

System justification increases when people are thinking about their own mortality, or when they believe the world is not a safe place. Threats of terrorism and crime increase people’s belief in system-justifying ideologies.

I, of course, get frustrated when I see other people justifying a system which I believe to be unjust (though that may be because people who do not endorse system-justifying ideologies display higher levels of anger and frustration). However, there are consequences to system justification beyond me being a bit angry.

Psychologically, people who endorse system-justifying ideologies are happier and more satisfied with life, and less angry and frustrated, across the board. For advantaged people, additional benefits emerge: those who endorse system-justifying ideologies have higher levels of self-esteem and feel a greater sense of solidarity with people from similar social groups. For disadvantaged groups, the opposite is true: self-esteem is lower, and there is less solidarity with similar individuals.

Increased system justification also leads to increased perceptions of legitimacy of governments and institutions, and decreased support for social change: in other words, system justification may help maintain a fundamentally unjust and broken system.

Put together, it is unsurprising that very few class revolutions or civil rights movements are successful with the strong psychological barriers in the way.

Real-world implications of system justification have been measured with regards to beliefs about climate change and behaviours to protect the environment. In this study (unfortunately, paywalled), it was found that system justification led to climate change denial and a reduction in environmentally protective behaviours such as recycling.

The authors of the study then attempted to work with system-justifying beliefs to attempt to encourage environmentally protective behaviours, by informing participants that such behaviours were vital for protecting their way of life, and it was therefore patriotic. This had the desired effect: people changed their behaviour.

Such “system-sanctioned change” may represent a way of counteracting some of the negative effects of justifying the system, but it is difficult to see how it can have an effect on stereotyping and prejudice and building an altogether fairer society.

It is frustrating and anger-inducing to be unable to justify the system. I have enough rage, though, that I wish to see an end to hierarchical power structures. It keeps me fighting.


Apparently all men are rapists

To round off a week of Tories talking bollocks about rape, meet Roger Helmer MEP.

In this post, Roger decides to defend Ken Clarke’s comments regarding rape.

Now, Roger has some rather unconventional views, regarding climate change to be a myth and a hatred of the EU, despite being a member of European Parliament. Roger is also very firmly on the right of the Conservative Party, considering Ken Clarke to be a little bit too soft and fluffy to his liking.

Here, then, is his take on rape.

The first is the classic “stranger-rape”, where a masked individual emerges from the bushes, hits his victim over the head with a blunt instrument, drags her into the undergrowth and rapes her, and the leaves her unconscious, careless whether she lives or dies.

The second is “date rape”.  Imagine that a woman voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naïvely expecting merely a cuddle.  But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says “Stop!”.  The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on.

In both cases an offence has been committed, and the perpetrators deserve to be convicted and punished.  But whereas in the first case, I’d again be quite happy to hang the guy, I think that most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence in the second case.  Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.

There is rather a lot to be angry about in this hundred-odd words. First of all, it becomes apparent that at least part of Roger’s disdain for Ken Clarke is that rapists are not hanged. Secondly, he uses the tired old defence of declaring that all “right-thinking” individuals must agree with him. Thirdly, he repeats the rape culture mantra that rape comes in differing degrees, that some rapes are not “properly rape”.

And then, there is the fact that Roger Helmer MEP believes that all men are rapists.

According to Roger, men are unable to restrain themselves when confronted with a partially-clothed woman in their vicinity and will immediately commit a serious crime because they just can’t help it. I have said it before, and I will say it again: this view is hugely insulting to men.

I have shared a bed with men before. None of them have raped me. I have been near men in a state of undress. None of them have raped me. I have cuddled men. None of them have raped me.

This is because not all men are rapists.

The vast majority of men know that when a person says STOP, that means stop, and that getting into bed with a person does not mean an instant ride on the Shag Express. Most people do not feel this sense of entitlement.

This is because not all men are rapists, despite what Roger Helmer MEP seems to think.

Roger disagrees with this notion:

My two scenarios also give the lie to one of the popular over-simplifications trotted out by the feminist tendency in these cases: “Rape is always about power and control and domination, never about sex”.  In the first case, that may well be true.  In the second case, it is clearly not true.

Sometimes rape is entirely due to succumbing to the forces of the sexy Jezebel who is right there, according to Roger Helmer MEP. Men are just walking dicks, and if there is a convenient hole nearby, according to Roger Helmer MEP, they have no choice but to throw themselves into it.

All men are rapists if there is a woman nearby, according to Roger Helmer MEP.

What are the implications of this?

Let me make another point which will certainly get me vilified, but which I think is important to make: while in the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.

Women! Being raped is your fault if you established “reasonable expectations”, such as being in a bed with a person you presumably share a bed with frequently. The poor mite couldn’t help himself.

Reasonable expectations.

I have reasonable expectations that politicians should not further rape culture. I have reasonable expectations that politicians should not engage in victim blaming. I have reasonable expectations that politicians should not believe that 50% of the population are rapists waiting to happen.

I am therefore, according to Roger Helmer MEP, thoroughly entitled to violate him in some respect for failing to meet my reasonable expectations.

Fortunately for Roger, I think that line of argument is utter bollocks.


Rapture

If you are reading this, I have not been raptured, and neither have you. This is a good thing, as it means I will not miss Doctor Who.

It was unlikely to happen anyway, as I am a bit naughty by Magic Sky Daddy’s standards. Even there, I cannot help but blaspheme.

The good news is, rapture is perfectly possible for every one of us. It is another nice thing that has been stolen by organised religion. Go and find a dictionary. Any dictionary. Look up the definition of rapture.

It will, invariably, contain some reference to ecstatic, overwhelming emotion.

Now go and find any piece of literature containing a sex scene. Chances are, the word “rapture” will appear, particularly if it is a poorly-written clichéd romance novel.

And there it is. Rapture is dead easy. You do not need to leap through hoops set by oppressors in the name of an imaginary being or have a temporal lobe seizure.

Have a wank. Fuck.

And that is why religions tend to impose limits on sex.


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