Monthly Archives: October 2012

I’m in the Indy, writing about Savile

I wrote a thing about Savile for the Indy, and how there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the case. Unfortunately, the mainstream media are a bit jumpy about putting certain things in, so there’s a paragraph missing. It provides some examples of rape apologism, and goes above the one about how silencing doesn’t come from speaking ill of the dead:

It’s hardly surprising, then, that information about Savile only came to light after his death: experience of rape is something that society trains people out of talking about. Take, for example, senior BBC executives explaining why they spiked the Newsnight episode detailing allegations against Savile saying “it was not the worst kind of sexual offences” or it was based on evidence from “just the women”. The former falls into a similar vein as Congressman Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape”or Ken Clarke’s controversial “serious rape” comments.  It suggests that some cases of sexual violence are less important, less pressing, and less important to be dealt with. The latter suggests that the word of the survivor is not to be believed, and contributes strongly to a culture which silences people from speaking up.

Also taken out was a reference to police officer Ryan Coleman-Farrow, who was imprisoned for actively foiling rape investigations.


The NetMums survey: how not to conduct a survey

I’ve been trying to ignore this, as frankly it’s utter bollocks but people keep sending it my way anyway.

Transparent knock-off of Mumsnet, who are creatively called Netmums, have produced survey data declaring feminism is dead. Predictably, the media have leapt on it and are masturbating frenziedly to the whole thing. Now, obviously feminism isn’t dead, unless there’s some sort of Halloween witchcraft keeping all the zombie discussions of the liberation of women from patriarchy going, so that’s a non-point in the first place.

Now, there are discussions to be had about the label of “feminist” and whether or not people want to wear it, but this definitely shouldn’t be hung off of the Netmums survey, for the simple fact that the Netmums survey doesn’t actually show us anything whatsoever, except how to conduct one a survey really poorly and then get it into all the papers, thus promoting your brand as better than those splitters at Mumsnet.

(for what it’s worth, I proudly wear the label feminist, but see why others are reticent because there’s some utter wankers who also call themselves feminists storming around being thoroughly wrong about everything)

To conduct a good survey, you need a good sample of people to conduct the survey on. You want people who are representative of the population: a spread of races, ages, class and so on, in a way that is roughly similar to how things are distributed in the real world. It’s also best to seek out people to participate in the survey rather than stick it online and see who volunteers to take part–this helps make your data more representative. This is why opinion polling services are often engaged to gauge public opinion.

Netmums had a pretty big response to their survey–1300 people took part. However, only Netmums members were surveyed. They literally have a “surveys” section of their website, where users can participate in surveys to win prizes. This is hardly a particularly representative sample of women in the UK, and therefore it comes as no surprise that the survey data revealed that “women” want the next struggle for social liberation to be “reinstating the value of motherhood”. If you ask these questions only to women on an internet forum centred around the identity of “mother”, of course they’re going to say this is one of the most pressing issues to them.

The next issue in developing a good survey is how the questions are asked. Ask a leading question, and you’ll get the answers you want. Rather unsurprisingly, Netmums didn’t bother linking to a full set of survey questions, so it’s pretty much impossible to discern what they were actually asking participants and the order in which the questions were asked.

The glimpses we get suggest that the questions weren’t particularly well thought-out, asking to what extent people agreed with various statements like “I would like a bit of old-fashioned chivalry”. There’s a particularly risible question where participants are asked “Which of these activities are acceptable for feminism”, listing a range of options which respondents presumably tick, including highlights, baking cupcakes and prostitution. For real. Firstly, “acceptable for feminism” is a pretty complicated and confusing way of phrasing the question, which would mean different things to different people. Secondly, these things are all lumped in together to guide responses: it’s really no wonder that so many “women” think that sex work is unacceptable, when they’re comparing it to wearing false nails.

So it’s a pretty shittily done survey, and you’ll be delighted to know their reporting of it isn’t any better. Please study the image below for an example of how horribly they fucked it up (description below, for those using screen-readers):

Note that the text next to the pie chart–of presumably the same questions–bears literally no relation to what’s outlined in the pie chart. Admittedly, it’s a crap pie-chart and the weird oblong shape makes it very difficult to discern percentages, but absolutely nowhere is anything that can be remotely construed as anyone agreeing with a statement about feminism saying it’s not about equality, and the percentages don’t seem to add up at all. I don’t know if there were more questions asked or if Netmums are literally pulling things out of their arse, but either way it’s a thoroughly disingenuous way of reporting data.

Also noteworthy is what they don’t draw attention to in the blurb next to the pie chart: the fact that more than half of the respondents have said they don’t identify as feminists because they don’t need the label.

It’s a smart tactic, though. They stick the shit they want people to see on the press release, highlight the bits they really want people to see, and hope nobody actually bothers looking at their data. And they usually don’t, because journalists are lazy and they will therefore just spew out whatever Netmums told them to say.

Ultimately, then, let’s forget this survey ever happened. It’s a crap survey which tells us nothing. I imagine it’ll rear its ugly head periodically, so consider this a public service explaining why this is something to which no attention whatsoever should be paid.

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Image depicts text and a pie chart. The text reads:

<“If you don’t call yourself a ‘Feminist’ why is this?”

39% criticised old-fashion Feminism for being too divisive, claiming they ‘dont want to be equal – women are different to men and we should celebrate the differences.’

Almost a third (28%) think traditional radical Feminism is ‘too aggressive’ towards men while a quarter (24%) no longer view it as a positive label for women. One in five describe Feminism as ‘old fashioned’ and simply ‘not relevant’ to their generation.

In subsequent questions, 17% even claim Feminism has gone too far, oppressing men and ‘losing sight of the natural roles of men and women’.>

The pie chart consists of five slices. Moving clockwise from the top, the largest segment, comprising more than half is coloured blue and labelled “I can be strong without labelling myself. A beige segment equivalent to roughly 10% is labelled “I don’t feel it’s relevant any more”. A turquoise segment, also around 10% is labelled “It’s old-fashioned, it’s not really my generation”. An orange segment, also 10% is labelled ” It’s not a positive label any more”. A pink segment, slightly larger than 10%, is labelled “It’s a bit aggressive towards men whereas we need compromise”.


How to be better: on intersectionality, privilege and silencing

It’s been brewing for a while. The backlash is on, and this time it’s coming from inside what is nominally “our” camp. The problem? Some people, it seems, just don’t get intersectionality. They hate it when they’re called out on privilege, and they try their best to shut down or derail any of the discussions. It’s hard to work out where it started, but I think it’s something to do with the festival of rightful criticism thrown at Mehdi Hasan (thinks he has a right to peek into our uteruses) and Caitlin Moran (more on her later). Those with the double whammy of privilege and platform have all closed ranks, and entered onto the offensive.

First of all, we have Vagenda Magazine, a feminism-lite blog with a platform in the New Statesman. Vagenda today published a defence of Caitlin Moran. It wasn’t exactly a very good defence, as they completely neglected to explain why Moran was being criticised, which includes but is not limited to that awful, awful bookcasual transphobia, comparing gay men to sea monkeys, liberal use of words like “retard”, and, the latest offence, saying she “literally couldn’t give a shit” about representation of women of colour in the media. All of these actively contribute to the oppression of people. Some of these people will, inevitably, be women.

But no. Vagenda Magazine think it’s unfair to criticise Moran for this, because taking an intersectional approach to feminism is too hard. It’s too academic, apparently, and one could never go into a school and explain, Vagenda complains. Yes, they actually said that:

 Going into certain state comps and discussing the nuances of intersectionality isn’t going to have much dice if some of the teenage girls in the audience are pregnant, or hungry, or at risk of abuse (what are they going to do? Protect or feed themselves with theory? Women cannot dine on Greer alone.)

So much wrong with this sentence it’s hard to work out where to start. They’re repeating a tired old criticism which has always been levelled at feminism–that people won’t understand it and that it’s too academic. We all know that argument is bollocks. Vagenda have also managed to imply that young women at a state comprehensive are somehow too stupid to understand intersectional feminism, which is again patently bollocks.

The thing is, intersectionality is fairly intuitive when one experiences intersectional oppression. Things suck harder. I only learned the word for the fact that things suck harder when you’re not just a woman, but also black, or gay, or trans, or disabled, and so forth fairly recently. And it delighted me. I was glad there was a name for this phenomenon I’d noticed. I also only learned the word privilege fairly recently, and the word “cis”, and do you know what? Again, I was glad, because there was a word for these little things I felt that actually gave me a leg up in life.

It’s not difficult at all. In fact, one can think about a four-way junction (or, as the Americans call it, an intersection). One road is not being male. Another road is not being white. Another road is not being able-bodied. The last road is not being cis. Now, if you stand in the middle of any one of these roads, you’re going to be dodging traffic. But if you stand right in the middle of the junction, you have cars coming at you from four ways, and you’re going to have to do a fuckload more dodging than you would have if you were just in one road.

I don’t know if that’s why it’s called intersectionality, but if not, it should be.

Vagenda think we shouldn’t be too hard on Moran, though, because:

Caitlin Moran may not be perfect, but she has come closest thus far… Moran at least speaks a language that we all understand

If by “we”, they mean the privileged women with a national platform, then yes, they understand it. But not if you’re one of the groups Moran doesn’t give a shit about. At best, it’s dismissive. At worst, it’s actively oppressing others. I mean, fucking hell. Imagine if Jeremy Clarkson had said some of the shit Moran said. Imagine if David Cameron said it in a speech. We’d be rightly yelling at them, at best.

Vagenda didn’t like the criticism they received, though. They were dismissive, saying it was “the same clique of angry people“. They wanted me to shut the fuck up explaining intersectionality in under 140 characters, so said I should email them instead

Which brings me on to the other ghastly article about privilege I’ve seen this week. The Guardian ran a piece entitled “Online bullying–a new and ugly sport for liberal commentators“. What is this online bullying from liberals, you ask?

It’s publicly calling someone out for using problematic language or forgetting to check their privilege, apparently. Basically, the author thinks that we should always criticise for email rather than publicly, we shouldn’t be angry, and we should stop suggesting to put trigger warnings above potentially triggering material, because she’s trying really hard. Again, imagine for a second Jeremy Clarkson had written such an article. We’d be nailing his balls to a wall for such a tirade.

It’s ultimately a method of silencing criticism, of pointing out unchecked privilege. Now, bullying in my book has always involved someone exerting their power over another. And here’s a relatively privileged woman using a national platform to silence people who are levelling rightful criticism from those with less privilege. Not cool.

There’s good reason for criticism to be public. If the problem is public, why shouldn’t the criticism be public? While banging my head against the wall with Vagenda earlier, a fair few people saw my tweets and thanked me for explaining what intersectionality was in 14o characters or fewer. We all learn from one another, and criticism of something public can and should be public.

As for the tone policing, I’m always aghast when people don’t want to understand why others are angry. Guess what? Oppression is kind of infuriating. Furthermore, the anger often comes from frustration: from hitting a brick wall where a privileged person says “yeah, well I don’t see that so you’re wrong”. It’s OK to be angry. It’s natural to be angry. It’s not cool for privileged people to say you have no right to be angry.

I’m fucking furious, and proud.

Ultimately, I don’t get why some people don’t want to hear criticism. There is a huge difference between criticism and personal attacks, between criticism and misogyny. Criticism, if we learn to embrace it, makes us stronger. It is not the job of others to check our privilege for us, but it’s our own, so it’s, frankly, a fucking favour when people call us out on it. And if we listen and engage, it will make us all the better.

And what does that entail? It’s actually fairly simple. It involves a willingness to learn–not to say you don’t give a shit about something you don’t know about, but to want to learn about. It involves thinking about your own privilege, watching your own language, and not getting pissed off at others when you slip up. It involves knowing when to shut the fuck up.

Yes, we all fuck up, and nobody’s perfect, but embrace that criticism and learn from it and it will make you a better person.

Sometimes it’s hard to confront your own privilege, particularly when your life sucks because of one form of oppression you experience. But know that there are other forms of oppression that you are lucky not to have a fucking clue what the experience is like. Fuck the radfem mentality, or the privileged queer “let’s get married, everything else is fine” mentality, or the “no war but class war” mentality. All of these oppressions overlap, and fucks people over in different ways.

It’s telling that those rejecting intersectional oppression also happen to be the ones who probably don’t experience it. It’s also hugely fucking unfortunate  that these are the people controlling the discourse.

In terms of the life lottery, I can hardly say I’m a winner, but I’m not doing too badly all things considered. Yes, I’m a woman and I’m queer and I have a chronic medical condition, but I’m also cis and white and thin and have enough money to survive. I think I’m reasonably aware of my privileges, but I know I’m not perfect. So if you see me fuck up, if you see me cissplaining or using problematic language or failing to check my white privilege, then call me out on it. Publicly, if you want. Loudly, if you want. I will do my best to understand how I fucked up and try to be a better ally.

Calling out privilege isn’t a threat. Intersectionality isn’t a threat. Instead of calling for unity around the privileged few to stop the infighting, why don’t we try to mitigate privilege and try to be better?

Further reading:
Flavia Dzodan: My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit
blackfeminists: Dear Vagenda editors…
sian and crooked rib: It’s not infighting to call each other out
Boldly Go: “Liberal bullying” nonsense
Interview with Kimberle Crenshaw on intersectionality. She coined the phrase, and it was referring to roads!
Ally Fogg: Intersectionality? It’s been a privilege.

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Mad propz to Mediocre Dave for the Clarkson analogy. It’s a very good way of thinking about it and I like it so much I put it in my blog.

Also, I left a comment on the Graun article, and I’m disappointed that it hasn’t been upvoted as much as I’d like, so if you love me, get clicking. /shamelessselfpromotion


Thoughts on October 20th TUC demo

Meh.


I support Marie Stopes Belfast

Today, something amazing happened. A tiny, incremental step that will change lives for the better. An abortion clinic opened up. Not just any abortion clinic, though. This one is in Belfast, in the heart of a country where reproductive choice and bodily autonomy is a right which has been historically denied to women.

Women in Northern Ireland (and the Republic, where the law is similar), have to travel to mainland Britain to access abortion. The opening of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast has changed this.

It’s offering contraception advice, help for women, and medical abortions up to nine weeks. It’s not enough, of course it’s not enough, it’s hamstrung by its attempts to comply with existing regulations, but in the context it’s a giant leap. They’re there, in the open, saying “women have abortions and that’s OK. We’re here to help.” And of course it’s drawn the usual attempts to shut down and silence from the usual suspects.

Today, on its opening day, the clinic is plagued by religious fundamentalists and fascists harrassing people. The clinic has asked for there not to be a counter-demo, which is fair enough as a confrontation is the last thing women trying to access abortion in such a hostile environment need.

However, there’s some things that can be done. I hope that in Belfast, a network of abortion escorts is being drawn up; people who can meet women accessing the clinic and guide them through the rabble of fascists safely. I hope there’s other measures for safety to counter these affronts on bodily freedom.

And for those of us who are not physically in Northern Ireland, we need to be loud and vocal in our support, and drown out the clamour of those who seek to control our bodies. Speak out about your support for what Marie Stopes are doing in Belfast.

Attempts to increase access to abortion are important, and I applaud the bravery of Marie Stopes International.


Police taser a blind guy: there’s a scientific reason they’re bastards here

In the news today, a police officer tasered a blind man for walking down the street with a stick. Apparently the poor little copper was frightened by the victim’s white stick, and thought it was a samurai sword, so attacked him with a deadly weapon. The context behind this event was that the police had heard that apparently someone was wandering around with a samurai sword, which really doesn’t give the copper any excuse because the sticks used by blind people to navigate look exactly fuck all like a samurai sword.

Now this is hardly the first time a police officer has developed very questionable judgment of the nature of a threat: recall the case of Delroy Smellie, who beat the fuck out of a woman for waving a juice box. He told the court that he’d thought it was a weapon–a fucking juice box!–and was acquitted.

Obviously, I’m hardly going to rule out the parsimonious explanation that these cops are simply just lying bastards. However, even the nice cops will be susceptible to this effect, as once again science proves that all coppers are bastards (for those interested in more science about why the police differ from the non-porcine population, please read this overview).

A study conducted this year–unfortunately paywalled, but summarised here–found that when people are holding a weapon, they are more likely to think that others are holding weapons. They’re also more likely to get jumpy.

The participants in this study were given one of two objects to hold: a foam ball, or a toy gun. They were then shown people holding objects: sometimes neutral, like drink cans, but sometimes guns. Those who were holding toy guns were far more likely to classify the innocuous objects as guns. There was no effect if the toy gun was just near the participant, rather than in their hands.

Furthermore–and this bit is less clear in both the abstract of the study and the summary–participants were more likely to raise the toy gun in response to a perceived “threat”: again, remember this “threat” is nothing more than a drink can.

The researchers concluded that this effect is due to perceiving the environment in terms of intended action: by holding the gun, people switched into an “I intend to use this gun” frame of mind, and began to see the world differently and seeing people as threats.

Now think about how this applies to the police, a group who are typically armed as part of the job. They walk around with batons incredibly close to their hands, and are sometimes instructed to draw them as part of standard public order procedure. When even normal people suddenly start perceiving the world as being full of threats and weapons, is it really any surprise that the cops do routinely?

It’ll only get worse if Bernard Hogan-Howe gets his way; he wants to stick a taser in every police car, which will likely result in increasingly edgy and trigger-happy cops whizzing round London. I can’t say I’m comfortable with this.

There’s a decent explanation for police being trigger-happy, but this doesn’t make it right in the slightest. In fact, it’s an argument to move towards disarming the police force: keep the weapons hard to get hold of, and maybe they’ll stop harming innocents.

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Thanks @gmartin for telling me about this study


There’s something horribly medieval about seeping chancres on a chode

Noted rape apologist and all-round weeping syphilitic chode Brendan O’Neill has weighed in on the Jimmy Savile story. It’s taken him a while to alight upon an opinion which is in equal parts offensive, silly and outright anti-reality, but as always, he’s delivered.

This time, he thinks it’s like something medieval involving the Church, but at the same time also exactly like a 17th century witch hunt. Yeah, he’s kind of confused. Anyway, it’s exactly as awful and objectionable as you’d expect from a weeping syphilitic chode like O’Neill, and there’s very little novel content; it’s mostly him fighting with imaginary people, which isn’t worth comment as I’ve covered it all in previous posts on O’Neill.

However, as with O’Neill’s general ouevre, there’s always at least one novel awful statement per article, like the fact Brendan O’Neill reckons everyone’s being a little unfair to Jimmy Savile for saying he’s a paedophile when most of what he did wasn’t raping underage people, and in fact anyone concerned about this is the real pervert:

It seems everything from saying ‘nice tits’ to a female DJ to hugging a 14-year-old girl too tightly on Top of the Pops to having sex with someone under 16 can now all be packaged up as evildoing, as child abuse.

The Savile story is really a vessel for the cultural elite’s perverted obsession with child abuse, and more importantly its belief that everyone is at it – that in every institution, ‘town, village and hamlet’, there are perverts and innocence despoilers, casually warping the next generation. In modern Britain, the figure of The Paedophile has become the means through which the misanthropes who rule over us express their profound fear and suspicion of adults in general, and also of communities and institutions – even of the institutions they hold dear, such is the self-destructive dynamic triggered by the unleashing of the Salem ethos.

Whatevs, you weeping syphilitic chode.

Likewise, O’Neill engages in a really sickening attack on the survivors.

Some people have said it is brave of the women who claim to have been assaulted by Savile to come forward and tell their stories. I’m sorry, but it isn’t. Making serious accusations against a dead person who is in no position to fight back or plead or prove his innocence, 30 or 40 years after the alleged incidents occurred, is the very opposite of brave – it’s cowardly.

Yes, thank you, you weeping syphilitic chode. Apparently rape survivors should never come forward unless it’s unsafe for them to do so and Brendan can find other ways of smearing them.

Really, I find this man’s passionate and repeated defences and denials of rape culture rather frightening. It makes me wonder what his vested interests are, what stake he has in it. It’s going beyond being a contrarian fucknugget–or even a weeping syphilitic chode.


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