Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sheila Jeffreys, RadFem2012 and the imaginary trans conspiracy

For those not in the know, in July a conference entitled RadFem2012 is supposed to be happening, with headline speaker radical feminist–and noted transphobe–Sheila Jeffreys. The conference is open only to “women born women living as women”, a clunky way of saying “no trans people”.

Kickass feminist and activist, the thoroughly inspirational Roz Kaveney recently wrote a takedown of this particular branch of radical feminism, rightly likening it to a cult (although arguably  there are also fascistic overtones to the radfem party line on this issue). If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s utterly brilliant.

Sheila Jeffreys has responded to Roz’s excellent piece with an argument with so many holes it would be better suited to function as a colander. Again, this piece is worth reading, though for the exact opposite reasons to the one above. Jeffreys’s entire argument hinges upon the idea that it is only trans people who could possibly ever object to this particular murky brand of transphobia.

This is, of course, patently untrue. I’ve written myself that transphobia has no place in feminism, and I’m hardly the only one. One does not have to be trans to care about the rights of trans people. One simply has to be free from bigotry.

Jeffreys claims persecution from the trans community in the form of utter horrors such as glitter bombing and captioned photographs. Perhaps the most stark example of the hideous persecution faced by poor Jeffreys and her transphobic ilk is that Jeffreys claims the RadFem2012 conference venue to have banned her from speaking, citing evidence of her hate speech that she believes to be entirely reasonable. Throughout, notably, Jeffreys can only blame a shadowy cabal of trans people: the idea that cis allies may have in any way been involved simply fails to occur to her.

This line of thinking is not unique to Jeffreys. In the past, coming up against a transphobic radfem who I will not name because I’m utterly terrified of her, I received a string of tweets saying “sorry you’re male”. It simply did not enter this person’s imagination that anybody but a trans person could care about transphobia.

For cis feminists, there are three major reasons to fight transphobia coming from those who are supposedly on our side. The first is a moral one: we should be against misogyny and hatred in all forms. Second, we must fight gender essentialism. And third, we must stand up for bodily autonomy.

Trans people are more likely to experience violence, sexual or otherwise. Trans people are more likely to be excluded from areas of public life. A large group of women are more vulnerable than others, and in their ignorance (at best), the transphobic radfems ignore this travesty: in the case of RadFem2012, and many other instances, they are actively partaking in exclusion.

Gender essentialism is something we have fought against for years, and I had honestly hoped that it would be at least mostly dead since the publication of Delusions of Gender. Alas, no. The radfems obsess over chromosomes and what genitals a person might have and testosterone levels as if it means anything. They view trans women with an almost McCarthyist suspicion, believing that they can never be anything but men infiltrating women’s spaces. All because of a peculiar fascination with biology in an age where such essentialism is largely discredited.

And finally, bodily autonomy. This is a fundamental aspect of feminism which is ignored by the transphobic radfems, who believe the surgical and medical interventions some trans people undergo to be inherently wrong. Jeffreys couches it in the language of concern-trolling, claiming it to be a “human rights violation”, yet, surely, having the right to do whatever the hell you want to do with your own body is the basic human right?

It is curious, then, that the men’s rights activists and the radfems do not make good bedfellows: both position themselves against these feminist struggles. In her piece, Jeffreys even uses the same argument tactic as the MRAs: all she wants, she says, is to have a debate (the irony of excluding trans people from this debate is apparently lost on her).

I am not alone in thinking that transphobia and feminism are diametrically opposed ideologies. The shift in feminist thinking is firmly on this side. Jeffreys and her ilk are anachronistic curiosities, though loud and dangerous. The trans conspiracy Jeffreys fights is non-existent: in fact, she is attacking a foe far bigger than she can possibly imagine.

We are in the majority, we who reject transphobia. We must continue to be vocal in our rejection of this dated and frightening rhetoric.


The solution to millennia of patriarchy? Confidence building, apparently

Beloved readers, I have some news for you. The BBC is dead. It was not a good death, nor a dignified one. In its last breath, it rasped “Are women their own worst enemy when it comes to top jobs?

Yes. According to some talking heads, the only thing stopping women from getting top jobs in politics, business and even the sodding army is women. Not other women, mind. When we don’t succeed it’s entirely our own fault.

Chief talking head Emer Timmons, who has been promoted eleventy bazillion times and is CEO of the Entirety of Space and Time reckons there are few lifestyle obstacles and it has to be down to the individual. Cherie Blair, whose career includes picking the wrong side in a land dispute involving dispossessed people, concurs and spouts the dreaded “30%” statistic, the proportion of female board members which would supposedly magically transmute capitalism into a functional economic system.

But what of the very real issues facing women, such as the fact that they are still expected to care for children? Not to worry, Timmons reckons there’s oodles of free childcare, presumably going on in the same alternate dimension where the only problem facing women is their lack of confidence and there are actually fucking jobs happening.

I wish I were misrepresenting this article, but sadly this is what the BBC have actually seen fit to publish on their website. It is so far from the reality of most women’s experiences, and thoroughly insulting to boot.

It represents the same line of thinking that pervades Tory feminism, right libertarianism and many other unpleasant ideologies: the shifting of responsibility on to the shoulders of the individual. It is a means by which the privileged can entirely absolve themselves of playing any part in an oppressive system, and as an added bonus can feel good about themselves for earning the position they were probably always going to get anyway.

The fact is–as the closest thing to voice of reason Averil Leimon points out in the article–the world isn’t a meritocracy. Unfortunately, Leimon’s solution to this is the same as the rest of the article: confidence and a go-getting, can-do attitude. This is woefully insufficient when we consider the convergence of factors which can hamper a person: class, race, disability, gender and so on. Were millennia of discrimination simply overcome with a bit of a swagger, kyriarchy would have never happened in the first place.

The pervasive stereotype of a confident professional woman still remains–in the year fucking 2012–a ballbreaker, a bitch, a devil in Prada. While we’re up against this, all the confidence in the world cannot shatter the glass ceiling.

Of course, discrimination is only part of the story, and the lack of confidence is a real problem, although it is not the only factor keeping women down. The root cause of this lack of confidence is not due to the individual, but, rather, an effect of living in a system wherein the odds are already stacked phenomenally against us. It creates a negative feedback loop. This is not our fault: we are not our own worst enemy. Patriarchy and kyriarchy are.

The thing is, this article also betrays a staggering lack of imagination when it comes to aspiration: to the people quoted, it all boils down to just getting a job and earning a lot of money. What of, instead, working somewhere less well-paid but offering a greater degree of satisfaction? What of happiness and personal fulfilment and self-actualisation? What of abolishing the entire sorry concept of wage labour entirely?

The BBC’s death throes represent just about everything that is wrong with kyriarchy, neatly packaged in an uncritical bundle. I shall not weep at its funeral.


Reasons not to trust police witnesses (that aren’t because they’re bastards)

It is a feature of the legal system that an arresting officer will often end up testifying in the court case. It is also a feature in our legal system that the police don’t always tell, as they are supposed to, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have seen court cases wherein police evidence has suggested the defendant has somehow managed to magically be in two places at once, charging a police line from both ends while simultaneously fabricating a complicated full face and head garment. I have seen court cases where video evidence has revealed that rather than assaulting a police officer, the defendant was assaulted by police officers.

The usual explanation put forward for these “minor inconsistencies” is that the police are a bunch of corrupt, vile pigs. While this may be true, science suggests that they can’t help but misremember.

In a study entitled Witnesses in action: the effect of physical exertion on recall and recognition [paywalled, alas], police officers were tested for their ability to recall details following physical exertion, similar to the sort of activity that a copper might encounter while arresting someone. In short, their ability to remember what happened or recognise a suspect was sorely diminished.

The participants were 52 experienced police officers, mostly male (which reflects the make up of the police force). Half of the participants were asked to beat up a big heavy bag of water–a slightly unnatural task, but presumably the university ethics panel refused to allow the researchers to use students as beating material. After this task, all of the participants went to raid the trailer of an imaginary “known criminal”, where they encountered a living room full of weapons, and an angry stooge yelling at them.

The police officers who had beaten up water recalled significantly–hugely–less about the stooge than those who had not exerted themselves. The exerted participants often could not identify their suspect from a line up.

Now, while this task is somewhat unnatural, it certainly casts damning doubt on the credibility of police evidence: arrests tend to happen after the arresting officer has been physically exerted in some way, and often in a rather aggressive fashion. Why, then, would the police lie in court rather than say “I don’t remember”?

Again, they might just be a bunch of filthy, corrupt pigs, but there may be a more benign reason for police officers saying something that is diametrically opposed to the realms of plausibility. A classic psychology study from the seventies can shed light on this. Loftus and Palmer studied the effects of leading questions, and found that it was very easy to manipulate participants’ memories of a situation by simple phrasing of questions. On watching videos of traffic accidents, participants could be lead to estimate a far greater speed for the accidents if the question involved the word “smashed” rather than “contacted”, and recalled seeing broken glass where there was none depending on the wording of another question.

If police officers have a fuzzy enough memory of a situation, a lawyer asking just the right questions can persuade their minds to fill in the blanks and begin remembering things that did not happen.

The author of the exertion study summarises her research by saying:

“The legal system puts a great deal of emphasis on witness accounts, particularly those of professional witnesses like police officers.  Investigators and courts need to understand that an officer who cannot provide details about an encounter where physical exertion has played a role is not necessarily being deceptive or uncooperative.  An officer’s memory errors or omissions after an intense physical struggle should not unjustly affect his or her credibility.”

I disagree. This absolutely should affect their credibility. We need not necessarily feel angry at the police, but every judge, magistrate and potential juror in the country ought to know that the police account–with its added weight of credibility as it comes from a person with higher social status–is likely to be flawed and possibly outright untrue.

As for those who have found themselves on the wrong end of police untruths in court, is it still worth suing the officers when it may not be their fault? Absolutely. This sends a clear message that if the officer does not remember something they should say so in court. They should be aware of the shortcomings of their own memory, rather than this being used as a tool for implicating people in crime.

The system has capitalised upon these quirks and inconsistencies in human memory for too long. This needs to end.

 


The Taxpayers’ Alliance use evolutionary psychology: apparently their opposition isn’t getting laid

The Taxpayers’ Alliance are hardly famed for their intellectual analysis of situations, but this one takes the piss-soaked biscuit.

Those who oppose tax cuts for the rich are apparently suffering from sexual jealousy because the rich people get all of the best women. I am not making this up. Here are some select quotes I could be arsed to type out from page 92 of their latest report:

The successful hunter gatherer knows better than to resist the theft and he still garners some rewards–in terms of gratitude, prestige and sexual affairs–for his success. Among hunter gatherers, even the tiniest inequality is translated into more babies.

It was the still same in early agricultural societies: the man with  with the most corn or cattle had the most wives or concubines. And it is still true today: even in an age of working women, sexual continence and gender equality, the man with the most money still gets more sexual opportunities than the man with the least money. Ask them.

So no wonder we dislike inequality. No wonder we want to tax that money off a Vanderbilt before he grabs all the best women.

Who can really think that when confronted with all the middle-class benefits that flow from the taxpayer? No, at least it’s partly plain old sexual jealousy at the root.

This is actually a report that was actually commissioned and published, and I promise I haven’t just cherry-picked quotes to misrepresent their argument. It actually is that.

Now, it’s hard to begin deconstructing an argument as plainly stupid as this, so let’s all take a break to laugh until we shit ourselves. Once this is done, let’s pop on some clean pants and talk about how risibly wrong the TPA are.

The big glaring elephant in the room is that evolutionary psychology is almost entirely complete bollocks. It is largely speculation based on “these ancient people did this, and we do something similar SO WE EVOLVED IT AND IT’S NATURAL”. It is often used to justify existing inequalities, as it is being applied by the TPA.

The TPA are using the typical evolutionary psychology justification, but with a twist. They are actually more open about their lack of evidence than most evolutionary psychology papers: they suggest “asking” a rich man if he is having more sex than a poor man. I think we can all sing in chorus that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but seeing as the TPA have decided this is sufficient evidence, I will point out that I have had sex with nine people since the beginning of May and science says that the TPA publish these reports specifically to piss me off because they’re jealous of the sheer quantity of orgasms I have.

To damn the TPA with faint praise, it’s kind of gratifying to see that at least they don’t pretend that the rich are mostly men–in fact, given the wording of the report, it would seem that all of the rich are men. It’s also nice to see that on planet TPA, gender equality exists, presumably because all the women know their place in servicing the super-rich in harems while pointing and laughing at anyone without a diamond-encrusted helicopter.

Now I think about it, the TPA exist in the same dystopian universe as Catherine Hakim.

It’s interesting to note that at no point do the TPA acknowledge that this sex-surplus of the rich might boil down to the fact that they can afford to pay for it. By evolutionary psychology standards, actually, there’s some “evidence” to suggest it’s the most generous men who get the most sex.

So, basically, the TPA have, as always, commissioned a report that is complete and utter fuckwitted bollocks, and the only saving grace is that most people will never be bothered to read through a 400-page report to read this shit.

__

Hat tip to Political Scrapbook for highlighting this and @MediocreDave for making sure I saw it and kicked off.


Hollande’s Honeys: putting women back in their place.

New French president Francois Hollande has been making quite a splash and in his first few days in office hasn’t yet revealed himself to be a crushing disappointment. He has taken steps towards gender equality by making sure that half of his cabinet are women: something which should not be a surprise, given that half the population are women, yet under patriarchy this is not the norm. I’ll give props to Hollande for this: he’s meeting transitional demands admirably. Next up, abolishing hierarchical power structures, I hope.

Meanwhile in the UK, right wing bog roll The Daily Mail has reported on this story rather poorly. I will not link to the article, but here’s a taster from the beginning of an article entitled “HOLLANDE’S HONEYS: NEW FRENCH PRESIDENT UNVEILS HIS CABINET OF BEAUTIES”:

Carla Bruni has only been out of the Elysee presidential Palace for a matter of days.

But already a new line-up of glamorous political beauties is threatening to make the French former first lady a distant memory.

Newly sworn in French President, Francois Hollande, last night unveiled his cabinet, led by a bevy of young, stylish Mademoiselles.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the article is largely photographs of women’s legs with commentary on how their looks. I would really, really recommend not reading it, as this summary I have given is completely accurate and every time you look at the Mail a baby penguin dies.

The title “Hollande’s Honeys” echoes the “Blair Babes” of the nineties, which makes it ghastly enough in and of itself. It also fails at alliteration: are we meant to voice the silent “h” in “Hollande”, or are we meant to drop the “h” from “honeys”? Most importantly, though, it is sexist as hell.

Words like “babe” and “honey” manage to simultaneously sexualise and infantilise the target. They attribute characteristics of saccharine femininity, yet are also almost always used to cast the target as a sex object. While regional variations of the words apply, the intention behind the the Mail’s label is clear: look at these sexy little things doing politics! Isn’t that cute? Let’s all have a furtive wank over what they’re doing.

The fact of the matter is that Hollande’s “honeys” are highly unlikely to have been appointed as a bit of popsy, and are actually capable grown women who have successfully managed to smash through the glass ceiling and into positions of political power. Rags like the Mail, dedicated to preserving patriarchy at all costs simply cannot handle this and feel obliged to throw these women back into their place. It reminds us that women can’t be successful: we are sweet little things who walk the tightrope between whore and Madonna, teetering in our heels as we wait to be told how pretty we are.

The appointment of a cabinet which is somewhat representative of the population (at least, in terms of gender; race, disability, etc seem to be as neglected as usual) is big news: a wedge has been driven into a crack and it might just be possible to wriggle it open and smash down the wall of patriarchy. The Mail can’t let this happen, so it pretends to celebrate the success of these women by turning them back into the delicacies that they believe them to be.


If I had my way, this woman would be dead (according to her)

Meet Rebecca Kiessling. Kiessling was conceived in horrific circumstances: her birth mother was brutally raped at knifepoint. Her mother sought an abortion, and, because it was illegal, ended up giving the baby for adoption. It is a very sad story for both the unnamed woman, and for Kiessling herself.

In her struggle to process the circumstances surrounding her birth, Kiessling has become a vocal spokesperson for the anti-choice movement, speaking out to make abortion illegal, in particular attacking “the rape exception”, a watered-down anti-choice position which suggests that abortion should be available for rape survivors. She uses the following rhetorical device to make her point:

Please understand that whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.”  That’s a pretty powerful statement.  I would never say anything like that to someone.  I would say never to someone, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.”

It is a very emotive argument, and thoroughly fallacious. To counter it, I am going to use as ludicrous an example. In the following scenario, I have travelled back through time to late 1984, and my mother–who, by the way, is a happily married woman impregnanted by the conventional means of happily married monogamous couples by my lovely father–is considering an abortion, because she doesn’t want a kid right now. The embryo inside my mother will become me, and I know this. So what would I do? Would I look her in the eye and say, “go on, mum, kill me, you big killy murderer”? Would I wave around pictures of foetuses and pray aggressively in her face? Would I ask Margaret Thatcher to ban abortion?

No. I am pro-choice, so I would respect that choice the woman who could have been my mother made, and I would respect it as I dissipated into the time-void. I wouldn’t be dead. I’d have never existed at all.

Because that’s how choice works. I don’t want Rebecca Kiessling dead. I want a world wherein any woman can make the choice to terminate a pregnancy. I do think Kiessling’s mother should have been able to abort her, just as I think my mother should have been able to abort me if that was the choice she made.

It must be horrible for people like Kiessling to find out that their existence is the result of a brutal attack. Nobody should have to go through it. Not Kiessling, and certainly not the woman who gave birth to her. Yet Kiessling’s proposed solution–banning abortion–would lead to the suffering of millions more women, forced to carry pregnancies or endure dangerous illegal abortions. The violence inherent in taking away a safe option for women is stark: with what she is proposing, Kiessling endorses a different kind of invasion of women’s bodies. She would be better placed throwing her energies into building a world where rape is not possible.


Why an NHS party is the last thing we need (and a possible alternative)

It  was announced yesterday that a new political party is being formed: the National Health Action Party. It is a single-issue party, dedicated to opposing the destruction of the NHS, encouraging doctors to stand in tactically-selected constituencies at the next general election.

I think it’s utterly futile.

First, the small stuff. The leader of this party was previously an MP, with a slightly dubious voting record, including voting against hunting bans and for homophobic policy (which he later U-turned on, which smacks of politicking). This just goes to show the mixed bag that one gets with single-issue parties. The NHS is lovely, but I’m not so keen on homophobia or the rich murdering animals for fun.

There is also an argument to be made about “competition” with “good” political parties, but frankly, I’m not going to touch that Westminster gibberish. It is all part of a spectacle in which we have about as much control of the outcome as a county cricket match. Instead of worrying about Labour losing a vote or two, it’s probably better to watch Game of Thrones. At least that’s got some sex and swearing in it.

Ultimately, changes to the NHS bill are not going to be made through parliamentary processes. At its best, end-game strategy, the National Health Action Party would get a couple of seats, say their piece, and be voted down. Top-down re-restructuring isn’t going to happen. On this level, the changes to the NHS are irreversible. It’s not coming back any time soon, and no amount of voting for friendly-looking doctors is going to change that.

So what can be done? Let us remember that those in the medical profession, the doctors, the nurses, the hospital workers, all have a very negative attitude towards the government policy. With increasing, impenetrable layers of bureaucracy being added, they are unhappy. Now, normally when workers get pissed off, they have a brilliant weapon in their arsenal: withdrawal. Unfortunately, this option is not available to those in the medical profession, as we kind of need people with the knowledge to make people not die.

Yet striking does not need to be simply a withdrawal of labour, and there is one method which would be highly suitable for medical professionals: the good work strike. This tactic was used by workers in a French hospital, who stopped filling in the labyrinth of billing paperwork, and simply spent more time with their patients.  Within three days, their demands were met, as the hospital had lost half of its income.

If every doctor, every nurse, every porter and  ambulance driver and dentist and radiologist working in the NHS ceased to comply with bureaucracy and focused more on the people that matter–the patients–imagine the possibilities. The GPs could refuse to commission, and spend 15 minutes talking to a patient rather than ten. Any patient in an NHS bed rather than a private one in the same hospital would receive the same level of care, as nobody would be filling in the billing. The workers could run medical care their way, rather than as a business.

Even the sympathetic bureaucrats could help: those countless pen-pushers who hate the system but cannot see an alternative. Medical services are always understaffed, and imagine the possibilities of more people spending more time with patients: just sitting with them, talking to them, not even providing care.

Government policy would crumble, and patient care would not suffer at all. In fact, it would improve.

A political party for the NHS is ultimately disempowering, taking the solution out of the hands of the workers and concentrating it among a few select individuals who must be trusted to represent. It is unnecessary, and right now, it’s the last thing we need.

 


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