Category Archives: i write letters

I do not consent to #SamaritansRadar

Content note: this post makes reference to mental ill health and suicide

This is a note to everyone who follows me on Twitter, as well as anyone who might be thinking about installing the #SamaritansRadar app, as well as the Samaritans themselves. I do not consent to you using it. Please don’t install it. And if you want to use it, please unfollow me.

 I understand the ethos behind the app, and I think ultimately it’s a good one. It’s just been executed absolutely horribly. What the app does is allow people to monitor you, without your consent, to receive a notification if you tweet certain keywords which might flag up you’re low. This sounds all right in theory, until you realise that not everyone is going to be operating from a position of good faith, not everybody will be keeping an eye on you because they care about you and want you to be all right. Trolling is rife. Trolls like telling suicidal people to kill themselves, and like to attack people at their weakest. What the Samaritans Radar app does is make this far, far easier. No longer do they need to take the time and effort to timeline-stalk, to scroll through every one of your tweets to find an opportunity to pounce. The Samaritans have unwittingly automated the process, giving a handy notification when one of their victims is down.

What I’ve always loved about the Samaritans is they are 100% there for people in times of need. When you’re in the position where you just have to talk to somebody, they’re always there, at the end of the phone, ready to talk to you. It is centred on the person who needs them, and on that person’s terms. The Radar app is quite the opposite of this. This is sad, because it could so easily work the other way around. Why not set it on the person’s terms? If somebody feels like they need others to keep an eye out for them, let them install an app which will notify others–perhaps selected trusted contacts–that they might need a kind word, a reminder that they’re loved and appreciated and they’re a good person.

As I said, I understand the ethos. Sometimes we find it hard to ask for help, and when you’re in crisis you might feel alone. But others monitoring you without your consent isn’t the way forward. I’ve included links at the bottom of this post which explain, from all angles, why this app is a very bad thing.

But please, please, if you use the app, don’t monitor me. I do not consent. I’d like to see the app pulled, and I will donate money to the Samaritans if they do so, because I believe in the work they do, and I also believe there are better solutions to this problem that they could put the money towards. At the moment, I can’t in good conscience give money towards funding an app which I believe to be fundamentally flawed and could further abuse of mentally ill people. I truly hope the Samaritans do what they do best, and listen.

Further reading:

On “Samaritans Radar” (yetanotherlefty)
Email to Samaritans about Radar (Queer Blue Water)
The Samaritans and the Panopticon Society (hundhaus)
Samaritans Radar and Twitter’s Public Problem (a latent existence)

UPDATE: 30/10/14 The Samaritans have announced you can opt out of the app. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is by sending them a direct message on Twitter. And you can only send them a DM if they’re following you. So that’s about as much use as a chocolate strap-on.

UPDATE 2 (30 mins later) I have publicly said I will volunteer to work with the Samaritans to avoid problems like this again. I feel it’s relevant to attach my commitment to this post. Tweets here 1 2 3

UPDATE 3 (~6pm) Some people have been using this workaround to DM the Samaritans. I’ve tried it, and it hasn’t worked yet; I’ll update again if it does.

UPDATE 4 (6.42pm) The workaround works, use it if you want to opt out. I do believe this should be an opt-in rather than opt-out system, though.

UPDATE 5 (05/11/14) The Samaritans have responded to data protection challenges to the app, saying they have no control over the data. However, this has already been questioned, and there may be a precedent for the Samaritans being data controller. Even if it is 100% above board, it doesn’t make it in any way desirable.

UPDATE 6 (07/11/14) Samaritans Radar has been suspended. They will be looking into changes to the app.


An open letter to all men

Content note: this post discusses violence against women and misogyny

Dear men,

I’m addressing every single one of you. If you think this isn’t for you, it probably is. If you’re itching to complain that I’m making generalisations, this is definitely for you. Sit down, shut up, and maybe try not to prove me right.

It’s been in the news that Elliot Rodger murdered six people because women weren’t giving him the time of day. I’ve seen you struggling to make sense of this, putting what he did down to mental illness, or neurodiversity, or being mixed race, or even being a repressed gay man. You’ve been twisting the truth to make it seem like he’s not like you, that he’s a deviant.

You’re wrong. Elliot Rodger murdered six people because of a feeling that all men are taught to feel. Elliot Rodger murdered six people because he felt entitled to sex and emotional labour from women. Elliot Rodger murdered six people because, like all men, he was taught he had every right to feel angry at not getting his own way.

We were all born and raised under patriarchy. These beliefs about men and women are prevalent. You can trace a direct line between that sense of entitlement and Elliot Rodger murdering six people. You can also trace this direct line between that sense of entitlement and much of the other violence men inflict upon women: the rapes, the beatings, the random acts of street harassment.

By now, your fingers are probably twitching with the urge to scream NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THIS. I can almost feel your agitation, and your desire to say this. Guess what? That desire to burst in and announce NOT ALL MEN is tied in to that self-same sense of entitlement. You say it because you feel entitled to my time and attention. You say it because it horrifies you that I might feel negatively to you and you want to show off what a nice guy you really are.

Last night, I talked about this on Twitter, and was deluged with men screaming NOT ALL MEN. Take a look at your brothers. Take a look at the level of misogyny seeping from all men who screech NOT ALL MEN.

It’s easier to say that not all men think like Elliot Rodger, because that stops you having to worry about structural misogyny. You can pretend to yourself that you’re a special snowflake who is above all of that. The truth is frightening: sure, you probably haven’t murdered anyone, but that doesn’t mean that you have a hell of a lot in common with that mass murderer. Instead of trying to distance yourself from Elliot Rodger, you need to take a long and hard inventory of the things that make you alike. Only then can you kill the Elliot Rodger inside your head.

I’m sick of you men whinging that you’re not all like this. Every time you do, it makes you seem all the more similar to me, a writhing mass of entitled misogyny. You need to accept this problem that you have and solve it rather than continuing along this path. End your complicity now.

NOTE ON COMMENTS: I’ve not been moderating comments like I usually do, because they all kind of prove me right. Content note for misogyny, racism and disablism because men are pigs.


Dear Amanda Marcotte

Content note: This post discusses rape

Dear Amanda Marcotte,

I read your piece in Slate justifying a decision to incarcerate a survivor of rape to force her testimony with a kind of slack-jawed disgust, slowly morphing to a deep and visceral sense of terror.

I was horrified to read what happened to the woman who, having survived something so vile, was arrested and incarcerated until the trial. My heart shuddered at the thought that could happen. And the bile rose up in my throat as you said, over and over again, that this was all right. You say that in domestic violence cases, a lot of survivors recant their testimony because of the abuser, and go on to speculate that perhaps this is what happened with this woman. You say that there’s nothing that can be done to heal this in time for lawyers to get what they want, as though that’s the important thing here. You pretty much out-and-out blame women who do not comply with the justice system for any future violence that may be perpetrated.

Your article is sickening and frightening to me, a rape survivor who never reported what happened to me to the legal system. I’ve had to deal with many shades of bullshit from rape culture in my time, but you’ve given me something new to feel horror over. It had never occurred to me that some people might decide to blame me for any other things that might be perpetrated by that man. It had never occurred to me that the state could lock me up if they wanted to for not wanting anything to do with them, and self-professed feminists would cheer them on. I know that men who rape often don’t stop at one. And yet, what happened to me was deeply personal and I chose to deal with it in the way that made me feel safest. I feel like, for the most part, what I needed to happen, happened: all I wanted was him out of my life and to not have to talk about it in great detail to anyone.

As a feminist, I believe that the needs of the survivor are the only thing that matters in any instance of sexual violence. The way of starting to heal a deeply personal violation is also deeply personal, and deeply individual. For some survivors, this might be the route through the legal system. For others, it might be making sure everyone knows the name and face of the perpetrator as a warning. For others, perhaps recognition of what happened and reconciliation with the perpetrator is possible. For others, maybe setting the perpetrator on fire. It’s individual, it’s unique, and all of these are valid if that’s what the survivor wants.

Under rape culture, the wants and needs of survivors are ignored twice. First, in the initial violation, and second, in the response. We have our autonomy completely stripped of us by a state which supports and enforces rape culture, by peers who support and enforce rape culture, and, apparently, by people who consider themselves prominent feminist commentators who are also doing their best to sweep the wants and needs of survivors under the carpet when they get a little inconvenient.

So fuck your “greater good” guilt trip. Any greater good which involves kidnapping and incarcerating women is not worth it at all. Fuck your decision to ignore the wants and needs of survivors; you are just as bad as the rest of the rape culture which spawned your ideology. Fuck your supporting a move which will only put survivors off speaking out about what happened.

There is only one thing that matters, Amanda Marcotte, and that is what survivors want. Our role, as feminists dismantling rape culture, is to support each individual survivor unconditionally, in whatever course of action she chooses. Any other course is just rape culture, rebranded.


Rescue me! An open letter to carceral feminism

Dear carceral feminists–or, whatever you want to call yourselves,

You all say that you are against exploitation of women, so I am dearly hoping that you can help me with the predicament I’m in–and, to be honest, I’ve been in for much of my adult life. See, I’m fucked. Completely and utterly fucked.

In front of me, I have my latest payslip. I work four days a week–eight hour days (with an unpaid hour-long lunchbreak)–at London living wage. The mathematically-minded of you may have noticed that living wage is calculated based on full-time employment, and therefore a 28-hour week on living wage is kind of unlivable. For the last year or so, I’ve just about made ends meet, because untaxed it averages out as just under a grand a month which can cover my bills and rent and food and travel. Not this month. This month, you see, I have hit the point where the government decide you have earned enough to start nicking a cut of your money, and therefore, with NI and income tax, I’ll be taking home less than £700 to cover my bills and rent and food.

The sharp-eyed among you might have spotted that the second time I listed my expenses, I didn’t list “travel”. This is because this problem has conveniently gone away–in the most inconvenient way possible. See, tomorrow is the last day I’ll have this job before my contract expires and, being unable to afford to keep me on in this horrid economic climate, I will be boarding the merry-go-round of unemployment once again.

I was unemployed about a year ago, just before I got this low-paid and precarious job. Do you know how much being unemployed sucks? Have any of you ever been on the dole? Because let me tell you this: the less-than-700-quid a month I have is significantly better than the 70 quid a week you have to jump through hoops for. And I’m one of the lucky ones, because at least I’m old enough to claim the stuff that might just cover my expenses if I’m incredibly creative and don’t mind not eating much more than baked beans out of a bowl. That way, I should be able to afford the bus to the JobCentre.

Did you know, in my line of work, the number of applicants could be up to triple figures? I’m considering putting a gender-neutral name on my CV so I can at least increase the chances of getting a job interview. I already use a more traditionally-British sounding surname because research shows that that improves your chances. Perhaps I just need to work on making myself prettier: apparently that helps, too. I have my own style, but I’m desperate. If it helps, I’ll gladly fluff myself into patriarchal ideals of beauty. I have to eat, and apparently this is what the industry wants from me.

I suppose I could go back to what I was doing before I got into campaigns work, but I am loath to do that. The work was poorly paid and truly exploitative; they played upon gaslighting us into thinking we wanted to be there. Sometimes, the work would take such strain on my body and my mind that I would have seizures.  I got given a pittance, but I had to pay to be there! Imagine that, paying a fee to work! The whole ideal had been sold to me on a lie, and I was trapped in their by the continued lie, and it took every ounce of my effort to exit.

And now I am an exited academic. I warn people like me, fresh-eyed and eager, bouncing with the romantic myths about that line of work. I tell them the truth, that nobody could be happy doing that (if they say they are, it’s probably false consciousness stemming from brainwashing into liking a line of work valued by patriarchy). It’s exploitation, pure and simple.

So what can I do?

Sometimes I consider journalism. I can write quickly, and I can write well, and I have a good follow-base already. As I understand it, I am above and beyond the level of qualification for a comment journalist. The thing is, I really don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sell the most intimate part of me to the highest bidder. My mind is the essence of me, far beyond my body, and it is not for sale. I don’t want my thoughts and feelings to be transmuted into my bread and butter, forced to write and think and compromise myself lest I starve. Sure, some defenders of the industry might say people can consent to doing that, but I’m not so sure myself. How can anyone consent to selling a soul?

Like I said, I’m pretty good at campaigning. I can turn this stuff around quickly and I’m bloody good at it. Fuck it, if any of you want to hire me, I’ll strategise your campaigns until they’re something even I’d participate in. But, unfortunately, even that wouldn’t help at the moment. Because that’s the thing, carceral feminism. You’re blinkered at the moment, not opening up your campaigns to the linked struggles. Sex work isn’t exploiting women, work is. The worker-employer relationship is always exploitative. And it goes double for women, and then piles on the second any of us face intersecting oppressions. Ultimately, I’m better off than many: I have no kids, I have white skin, and I can hide my disability until the ink is dry on a contract.

I think, carceral feminism, that all of these women can be saved. We want to be saved. We need support from you, with all of your resources, to focus on all work, to support all struggles, and to strive towards the complete destruction of capitalism. Let us be. Let us grow. Let us not have to break ourselves over and over.

I am asking to be rescued, and I hear you like rescuing women. So please, please rescue me.


Dear BT

Dear BT,

As you may know, I’m kind of against internet filtering anyway. Like many others, I share concerns about blocking important resources about sexuality and sex, and think it’s vital that children are able to access information about what options are available to them, and what is and isn’t OK. It’s vital that this information is available.

We’ve all heard horror stories about sex education sites being inadvertently blocked as porn, due to false positives on filtering. This is, of course, terrible. What’s worse, though, is that you’ve actively set up Sex Education as a category in your parental controls. That’s pretty iffy in and of itself, and gets much grosser when we look at exactly what you’ve explicitly decided to give parents the option to block:

Sex Education will block sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

I’ve got some news for you, BT. This is really, really important information that young people need to access. This is information that keeps them safe from abuse–information about what is and isn’t OK. Respect for a partner is something vital that young people need to know about.

About the only way what you’re doing is OK is if you’re using your filters as a red flag list for spotting potentially abusive families. Are you trying to find out what sort of parent would block their children from knowing about respect, so you can help get their kids out of that situation?

Nope?

I thought not.

Basically, BT, I didn’t think much of you to begin with, and I certainly don’t think much of you now. Your priorities in what information you want to help block are really, really fucking skewed.

No love,

Stavvers

P.S. Terms like “gay and lesbian lifestyle” are homophobic dogwhistles, you pile of skidmarked Y-fronts.

Edit 22/12/13: I note you’ve now reworded, BT. But are you still blocking all of this vital information? If so, all of this still stands.


Dear David Blunkett

Dear David Blunkett,

I was surprised and disturbed by your somewhat revisionist historical analysis. In case you’ve forgotten the speech you gave, these is the alarming sentiments you articulated:

“The Lib Dems in Glasgow debated this and decided they were against automatic protection unless people chose to over-ride it, in terms of pornography on the internet and the protection of children. I think they were wrong.

“I think we have a job in this country, in a civilised, free, open democracy, to protect ourselves from the most bestial activities and from dangers that would undermine a civilised nation.

“In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Berlin came as near as dammit to Sodom and Gomorrah. There was a disintegration of what you might call any kind of social order.

“People fed on that – they fed people’s fears of it. They encouraged their paranoia. They developed hate about people who had differences, who were minorities.

“There always has had to be some balance, in terms of the freedom of what we want to do, for ourselves and the mutual respect and the duty we owe to each other in a collective society. I think getting it right is the strength of a democracy.”

See, the thing is, David, I’m not convinced that Weimar was the worst era in modern German history. It was a pretty decent time to be queer, really; we were accepted. It also wasn’t too bad to be a woman: our sexual agency was accepted and abortion was actually legalised in some cases, almost a century ago! The music was cool: they embraced music like jazz. It was progressive, in short, and marginalised people were treated more like humans than the little bit of history that came later.

That little bit of history that came later, David, was Nazi Germany, the spectre you raise as a consequence of not treating marginalised people like shit. Those who were accepted in the Sodom and Gomorrah times suffered heavily under Nazi Germany. The queers were forced to wear pink triangles and herded into camps, murdered in droves by the state. The women were treated as breeding machines, nothing more than a means of reproduction. The rich art and culture made by people who were not white, once embraced, was now illegal, degenerate. It was a period of history which sucked absolutely enormously for basically everyone who was not a straight, cis, able-bodied white man.

For some reason, you think this was the responsibility of exactly the people who suffered the most. You know who else thought that? Hitler.

I am writing to you, David, to express concern because I am fairly sure that you have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum by twisting Godwin’s Law so much. I presume you’re decrying Nazism and saying it’s bad, while simultaneously using some rhetoric with a distinctly fascist flavour. Of course I’ll help out if some of the Sleeping Ones awaken and pass through the portal you have opened, but I’m a little annoyed that I have to, to be perfectly honest.

On the other hand, David, I’m grateful. What could I possibly be grateful for, when you are essentially blaming millions for their own genocide?

I am grateful, David, that you have laid bare the inherent authoritarianism in the moralistic attitude towards banning porn. I am relieved to see that you have managed to point out that ultimately this isn’t about porn itself, but it is far wider, and far more chilling. It is rooted in a hatred of all that is not straight, a rejection of sexual freedom for women. It reflects a disgust at the queer. You have demonstrated this with your words far more clearly than all of the commentary that comes from the marginalised.

So fuck you, and all who share your views. You frighten and sicken me, as do all who agree with you.

No love,

Stavvers

EDIT 02/10/13: I made Blunkett feel sad.


A love letter to Twitter

I’m here today, talking to you all because of Twitter. Twitter gave me my voice. It empowered me to say the things that had been brewing in my mind. As I talked to people, strangers became friends. My opinions grew and changed as I spoke to people I would have never met in the meatspace, never found any way of connecting. I conversed, and I grew and I learned.

My voice felt stronger than ever, and just over two years ago, friends on Twitter persuaded me to start a blog. And so I turned the conversations I had had into a longer form. I got ever more feedback, especially from Twitter. And my opinions continue to grow, and I continue to learn.

I hear from people who are silenced. I hear from voices I never would have heard had I not joined Twitter. Before Twitter, people who were not like me seemed alien to me. Now they are not, and I am learning to ally with causes I had never given a moment’s thought to.

Twitter challenges the way things used to be on a vast scale. I’m just a woman with a blog and a Twitter, but I can share my thoughts and experiences with so many people. I can listen to people from all walks of life and educate myself. These are voices that once would have only been heard had a journalist taken an interest, and everyone had to hope for a sympathetic portrayal that only sometimes came. Those days are fading, the age of the gatekeeper dies, but it does not go gently.

I will not be silenced. So many people have tried. I get a lot of harassment. Misogynists and bigots who want to attack me for allying with people they despise want me to be silent. It would be easier for them if I shut up. And now, I am being told I ought to boycott Twitter and if I don’t I am in favour of abuse.

But what other medium is there to so swiftly challenge hate? There is none, and that’s what frightens the spiteful, the vicious and the vile. They want us silent so we can never be in a position to challenge them. And yet we do. We challenge them, and they will try ever-harder to shut us down, but they won’t win if we won’t be silent.

So no. I will not be voluntarily moving away from my precarious platform. I will not shut up, not now, not ever. I will not willingly concede to what those who would have me silent want.

I have a voice, and I am going to use it. And I have Twitter to thank for that.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 18,155 other followers