Category Archives: not angry just disappointed

Why I’m not brimming with confidence over Theresa May’s plans to criminalise emotional abuse

Content note: This post discusses emotional abuse

In the latest in a string of policies which sound good and are incredibly cheap to implement, Theresa May will announce plans to put emotional abuse on a par with physical domestic violence. This sounds like nothing to object to, a long-awaited recognition of the seriousness of the coercive dynamics which so often sustain abusive relationships and hit survivors hard.

There is a catch, though, and it’s a catch which means I severely doubt that any perpetrators will find themselves prosecuted for something they have blatantly done: the whole thing hinges on telling the police.

The way the police tend to work is through talking about what happened. You list specific incidents. This happened, and then this happened, and then that happened. Imagine having to do this as a survivor of emotional abuse!

The very clever thing about emotional abuse, the thing that really helps abusers keep things going is how petty it sounds if you recount a blow-by-blow history of what happened to you. I’ve never gone into detail about what I experienced in an emotionally abusive relationship, because under the flicker of gaslight, it all sounds rather ridiculous. I could tell you all about some drama involving a duvet or how I needed to watch what my face was doing during sex, but to be quite honest, I’m embarrassed to speak about these things, because everything would require so much detailed explanation of the entire context, and when boiled down to a story it still all sounds quite trivial.

Emotional abuse is a pattern which is hard to explain, and reinforced by abusers making you feel like everything is silly and you’re overreacting.

I wouldn’t explain what happened to me in an incident-specific format to a friend. Hell, it took a lot of time for me to open up about these things to a therapist because they sounded so probably-nothing to me. So why the fuck would I want to speak to a hostile police officer about all of this? The police are known to suck at talking to vulnerable women at the best of times, and this is a situation which is so intrinsically delicate that I cannot imagine any survivors wanting to take the leap and report to the cops. The effects and mechanisms of emotional abuse just present too much of a barrier to this happening.

What would actually help survivors of emotional abuse a lot more is one of the strongest weapons against abusers: knowledge for everyone. Emotional abuse is so little-understood, and that needs to change. An informed populace, with the level of knowledge about what emotional abuse is and the understanding that sometimes what sounds trivial and petty is anything but, could join forces with survivors against abusers. It would be so much easier to fight emotional abuse if we started from a position of supporting and believing survivors, knowing that what might sound like nothing is probably something, especially if she’s taken the step of speaking out.

It would all be so much easier if we could see the difference between little squabbles and emotional abuse, but the problem is that our culture normalises coercive control in relationships to the point that these things are indistinguishable to us. Survivors know the difference, and we should listen to them.

I don’t expect the government to get working on tackling emotional abuse in a way that would actually work, any more than they tackle other forms of violence against women. I have no faith in them; they’re not the route. So we must hack around them, supporting survivors in the way that they want us to.


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.


#NoBraDay: Oh ffs.

Today, the trending topics on Twitter inform me, is #NoBraDay, a day where women are encouraged not to wear a bra because… breast cancer awareness, or something. You can probably feel me rolling my eyes through the page.

I’ve tried to discern where this meme came from. It doesn’t appear to have originated with any actual breast cancer charities or campaigns. All I can find is that some dude invented it in 2011. And even that article manages to conflate it with an actual breast cancer awareness project, Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, which falls on the 15th and is marked by breast cancer survivors talking about their experiences and their decisions about reconstruction after mastectomy.

In short, this “awareness day” is full of shit. Everyone enthused by it is just banging on about “setting their tatas free”, and it smacks of how Page 3 in the Sun now runs a “Check ‘em Tuesday”, where, by the medium of a topless woman, we are encouraged to check our boobs (I am not sure the Sun got the target audience of this message quite right).

This is a quite common thread in breast cancer campaigns, the line which goes “boobs are great, make sure they stay great, yay boobs”, and it’s a crass one. It’s a classic patriarchal line, the notion that our bodies and our tits are there as sex objects, and nothing more. Forget about health, the message is that breasts are cute and sexy.

So today, do whatever the fuck you like with your norks, as I hope you always do. Go braless, wear a bra, bind them, get surgery… whatever the fuck you want. They’re your boobs, and what you do with them isn’t going to kill someone from cancer.


What the media isn’t telling you about the Heywood And Middleton and Clacton elections

On checking the news and Twitter this morning, I’d kind of expected the country to have been overrun by frog-eyed pint-swilling overlords to whom we must all bow. Now, I’m going to outright assume that nobody who reads this blog is particularly interested in having UKIP in charge because I have low expectations of pretty much everything, but they’re not that low, so I have good news for you: don’t panic. 

The media construct narratives surrounding elections. They do this because they need something to report in a 24 hour news cycle, and stories get blown up and spun, despite the fact they’re not really all that true. So, as they treat this as a storming victory for the petty little racists they’ve been building up over the last year or so, that’s not actually the case. Here’s a few things the media conveniently haven’t bothered mentioning much in their quest to create narratives.

UKIP are really bad news for the Tories and quite good news for Labour

Let’s take a look at the Heywood and Middleton results. I’ve made a little graph of vote share, comparing 2010 with this by-election. I’m only showing the parties that were in both elections.image

 

Now, the media are very fixated on the massive jump UKIP have made, but what interests me is what’s happened to the share of the vote for the other three parties. The Lib Dems and Tories have lost what is technically referred to as a massive fuckload of votes. This election is an unmitigated disaster for them (lol). See, they’ve had their go in government and haven’t satisfied anyone, so the right-wingers have decided to vote for this shiny new party instead. Meanwhile, Labour’s share of the vote has held. It’s even risen ever so slightly, for the first time since 1997. I have seen this election treated as TOTAL WIPEOUT for Labour, when in fact, it’s a perfectly cromulent outcome for them. You see, this is a quirk of our electoral system. It’s how first past the post works. You only get one vote. In 2010, the sort of people who don’t vote Labour spread their votes about, while in 2014 they’ve all gone for the same bunch. And this is at the expense of the Tories and Lib Dems, not at Labour’s expense.

Of course, the Labour Party will take this as an excuse to go further right and more authoritarian, but don’t let that fool you. They’re doing that because they want to, not because it makes electoral sense.

Of course people voted Douglas Carswell in Clacton

Douglas Carswell was the MP for Clacton. Douglas Carswell still is the MP for Clacton. For whatever reason, they like him as an MP. This would be a tedious non-story if he hadn’t changed parties. “MP gets re-elected” doesn’t exactly sell newspapers. In 2010, Carswell was elected as a Tory MP on a 53% share of the vote. In 2014, he was re-elected on a 59.7% share of the vote. Meanwhile, once again, we see the Tory share of the vote tumbling–it’s more than halved.

Usually by-elections happen when the incumbent isn’t there: maybe they’re dead (like in Heywood and Middleton), maybe they were forced to resign due to fiddling expenses, maybe they were just fucking done with politics. It’s very rare that they’re still around to contest their seat. Before Clacton, by-elections triggered to ratify an MP switching parties have only happened six times: Merton, Mitcham and Morden in 1982; Lincoln in 1973; Preston in 1929; Kingston-Upon-Hull in 1926; the Isle of Wight in 1904; and Orkney and Shetland in 1902. In five out of these six instances, the electorate voted for the incumbent MP. In the other case, MM&M, we saw a similar pattern to Heywood and Middleton: the vote was split between two similar parties (Labour and SDP; the incumbent had defected from the former to the latter) while the Conservative vote held allowing them to get in.

It just goes to show: people really do vote for the person rather than the party.

The media manufactured this whole thing

Our democracy is very much controlled by the media. The media pretty much invented UKIP, because at the moment UKIP can give media owners what they want. In 2010, we saw something similar with the Lib Dems. The more the media blart on about how UKIP are a credible party, the more credible they become. This is why people bothered voting for them at all. At present, UKIP best represent media owners: like media owners, they’re a bunch of terrible old rich white men. So of course the media has a peculiar hard-on for UKIP.

Furthermore, journalists are bored because elections are boring. To make them interesting, you need a narrative, and the novelty value of UKIP is currently very exciting to them, especially because UKIP love talking to journalists and mugging for the cameras. It makes journalists’ jobs easier, so of course they’ll regurgitate UKIP press releases.

Unlike the Lib Dems in 2010, though, we’re unlikely to see a Tory-UKIP coalition in our future, because UKIP are wiping them out at elections. Instead, I predict we’ll see destabilisation of Tory safe seats, which will likely guarantee a Labour government in 2015.

Representative democracy is a shambles

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed that this whole system is flawed. Elections are easily influenced, and our first past the post voting system makes it even harder for the will of the people to truly be heard. These by-elections–and the media analysis thereof–lay this bare. If you believe in voting, you’re lumbered with the possibility of having to root for UKIP to keep the Tories out (it splits the vote, remember?). If you want to campaign for electoral reform, you might have an issue where suddenly small parties like UKIP do become a real problem, as well as the nice smaller parties like the Greens getting to have a go. There’s also the option of becoming an anarchist, which is working all right for me, except for the having to organise with some awful people sometimes. However you choose to navigate this territory, be aware: everything is broken. The rot is deep.

The thing we really need to worry about is not whether UKIP win any elections or not, but the fact that our society is so riddled with racism that all of the major parties are spouting nastiness similar to UKIP, and a lot of people seem to genuinely believe it. This is the root that we need to fight, and it won’t be won at the ballot boxes.


I am cis

So, there seems to be a lot of wilful misunderstanding about what the word “cis” means, with a complete lack of will to listen to what trans women are saying, so I figured now is the time for me to come out as cis.

When I’m downing pints in the pub, watching the football and making whoooargh football noises, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m climbing trees and skinning knees, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m wearing a gigantic strap-on dildo and feeling the thing like a phantom limb, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m shoving the boys aside to explain to them how badly they’ve fucked up the barbecue and how to do it right, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m wiping out space armies on the tabletop or computer screen, guess what, I’m a fucking cis woman.

But wait! Those who deliberately refuse to understand the word “cis” cry. Surely I cannot be cis if I do these things, because I’m subverting gender roles.

Nope.

See, when I was born, the doctors looked at my junk and went, “it’s a girl”. I grew up a cis girl, and I blossomed into a cis woman. I have never in my life been a trans woman, or a trans man. I have never experienced transphobia or transmisogyny. I have never transitioned. I’m also not non-binary.

And that’s all “cis” means.

That is all it means. 

Cis is not trans.

Got it? Good.


On mother’s names and marriage certificates

Let me start by saying I don’t just have a problem with every feminist petition on change dot org. Heck, I’ve linked to a fair few in my time. I just have an issue with a certain streak of liberal feminism, the high-profile sound and noise which makes a big media impact because even if a campaign is won, nothing will change.

The latest of this ilk that has bothered me is a petition to put mothers’ names on marriage certificates as well as fathers’. As with much of this brand of feminism, on the face of it, it sounds perfectly reasonable, a step towards equality. However, what this all fails to understand is what marriage actually is. Historically, marriage is a political arrangement, to join bloodlines. It is a relic of a patrilineal society, and by existing, it continues to keep the old ways alive. It comes as no surprise, then, that it is only fathers on the marriage certificate, because it is only fathers who matter throughout the way we frame lineage. Lineage itself is very literally patriarchal.

Let us imagine for a second that this campaign was won–which seems plausible given it’s such a minor tweak to the system. The mother’s name now appears on a marriage certificate. But who’s name is the mother’s name? Odds are, it won’t be hers. If your mother married your father and took his name, then she has his name. If your mother has her “own” last name for any reason, that comes from her father or some other male ancestor. This is how lineage works: as women, almost all of us have names conferred on us by men, save for the very few who are awesome enough to carve out their own true names. Therefore, to put a mother’s name on a marriage certificate is simply to add more detail about the male line.

There are far better uses for our time. I ought to remind readers at this point that I am far more in favour of completely abolishing marriage than I am of reforming it to make it marginally more inclusive. I think we should solve the problems which require people to marry: to preserve immigration status, to confer next-of-kin status, and various tax and income perks. Make it easy to do these things without marriage, then grind the whole patriarchal institution into dust. Stop the state from dictating how we form families, and create something beautiful and new.

I realise I’m an idealist here, and so I also offer a more pragmatic solution to equality on marriage certificates: do away with naming parents entirely. It’s bizarre and dated that, in 2014, one still needs to mention who owned those getting married before a transfer of ownership. Why not get rid of this archaic requirement entirely?

This would have more benefits than adding a mother’s name. There are a lot of people who are estranged from their parents, for good reasons. Their parents are irrelevant to their lives, so why should there be any need to acknowledge their existence simply to get married? There are benefits for everyone in getting rid of parents’ names on marriage certificates: it chips away, ever so gently, at the patrilineal foundations of marriage itself. This is also just as easy a minor tweak to marriage as putting another name on the certificate.

And maybe after we’ve done that, we can abolish marriage completely?


Can you be a feminist and write “can you be a feminist and” articles?

Writing an article examining whether one can be a feminist and do whatever the article’s about seem to be all the rage at the moment. From working certain jobs, to having certain sex, to liking certain media, to standing with your hands on your hips, all is fair game to be examined through this lens. It makes for an easy article and you can go home with your ninety quid fee from Comment Is Free and enjoy a nice cup of whatever beverage is still feminist to enjoy.

This whole format is asking the wrong questions, from the wrong perspective. To ask if one can be a feminist and positions feminism as a question of individual choices and identity as a feminist rather than movement. It’s hardly a surprise that this format has erupted to popularity within comment journalism, which typically focuses on a watered-down liberal model of feminism, devoid of the radical kick we need to Get Shit Done. It elides asking why things are as they are, and proposing solutions, instead lumbering blame on the unfortunate women who commit unfeminist acts, or lauding those who act adequately feminist.

Positioning behaviour and feminist identity as sometimes opposing factors that need either reconciling or boycotting inevitably leads to bollocks. It leads to vehement declarations that something must be feminist, because the author as a feminist enjoys it, or, conversely, that something must be unfeminist because the author as a feminist does not like it. It neatly sidesteps asking the awkward questions, such as, where does this all fit in with a model of dominance and power? It is a study in egocentrism: the author’s views as a feminist suddenly become the definitive feminism by adopting this position as judge.

Issues are oversimplified. If something is unfeminist, then all we need to do is not do it to make the world a better place. The boycotting model works just fine and dandy for the most privileged of women, but for many of us, bargains are required for survival in this violent system. Such can one be a feminist and articles fail to examine why one would possibly do these things, in favour of a very basic proclamation that this is unfeminist. On the flip side, something deemed feminist is considered above criticism, no matter how problematic it may be.

Ultimately, one can be a feminist and full of conflicts and nuance. One can call oneself a feminist and do things which are horribly harmful for other women, such as becoming a CEO, being anti-choice or being a galloping bigot. Feminism is a broad church, and a lot of our sisters are wrong. The sort of feminist who writes opinion pieces as to whether one can be a feminist and, the one who lacks the vision to ask the right questions–and, indeed, lacks the vision to even examine the right problems–she, too is a feminist.

Our attention need not focus on individual behaviours and our own personal identity as a feminist. Instead, we need to think bigger, think broader. This is the sort of thing that will not get published in the mainstream, for it poses a genuine threat to patriarchy.


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