Murder by mistake is just as terrifying

Content note: this post discusses violence against women and murder.

Oscar Pistorius has been found not guilty of the killing of Reeva Steenkamp. Apparently, he could not reasonably expect that shooting several times through a door might kill someone.

Let’s pretend for a minute that Pistorius’s line–that he’d thought there was a black man in his house so he blindly shot through a door to protect himself and Reeva–was true. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe it was.

And that in itself is perhaps more chilling than the idea of a murder driven by hate, and anger and abuse. That suggests that Reeva died due to carelessness, indifference. That suggests that Reeva Steenkamp was collateral damage in a racist system.

It suggests that the lives of women are not valued at all, that nobody cares if we live or die, and it’s as easy to kill us by mistake as it is to accidentally tread on a snail on a rainy day. Nobody cares enough to keep us alive.

Hatred of women, I can understand and deal with. But where can one even begin when it comes to just carelessness?

The fact that this is an accepted legal defence and formed the verdict lays bare a structure that protects white men while casually ignoring everyone else.

Reeva Steenkamp died in a world that just doesn’t care. Her name will be forgotten, just as it is for all the others. Her fate will blur into all the others, because whether this indifference is true and real, or an excuse set up to protect men who hate women, it’s there.

Her name was Reeva Steenkamp, and she should still be here with us.


Fragile precious manfeels

Over the couple of weeks, #GamerGate has been raging. As far as I can discern–from the men trying to mansplain in to me–it involves men feeling sad that games they liked got bad reviews due to some sort of Evil Feminist Conspiracy, and also sometimes women who write about games have sex and somehow this is bad. It’s possible there’s an actual real point to be made about the cosy relationship between games journalism and the gaming industry (as there is with any marketing of consumer goods), but these chumps aren’t making it because they’re a little bit overexcited about getting all misogynistic to respond to complaints about misogyny.

Evidence has emerged that this “movement” is a hell of a lot less organic than it purports to be, with 4chan steering away behind the scenes, although of course those involved deny this. And maybe it’s true. Maybe some of them really have been played, and they truly believe in a shadowy feminist illuminati coming to take away their toys. Whether there’s anybody who truly believes this to be legit or not is beyond the point, though. What #GamerGate shows is something a lot of us have known for a while:

Men are pathetic, fragile creatures who massively overreact to the tiniest things.

Men are pretty fond of saying that women have “hysterical overreactions” to things, but ultimately, look at how these men are behaving when video games are critiqued. They swarmed to try and smear the women who did this, they tried and tried to make it into a political cause on a par with Ferguson (yes, seriously), they screamed and shouted and stamped their feet… all because a lot of people were mean about their favourite computer games.

I remember once upon a time, when I was innocent, and I used to get bees in my bonnet over trivial shit. Like, once I wrote a fanfic where Tonks got it on with the entire Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team because she was so clearly a massive slutty lesbian despite what JK Rowling would have us believe. However, even in my disproportionate reactions to things which are ultimately pretty petty days, I didn’t behave in the way men do when they have things they liked challenged. There was far less of the RAGE, far less of the OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING.

Let me be clear on this: pop culture isn’t completely irrelevant: it means something, and it’s a reflection of the society that created it. That absolutely means that we as fans should be critical of it, to want it to be better. And that is the exact opposite of what #GamerGate and similar outcries are about: those are men wanting to keep things as they think they’ve always been.

People who face oppression have to grow a thick skin. We need to, to keep ourselves safe. We need to, to keep ourselves alive. It helps us deflect the daily blows that are dealt to us. The demographic to whom the gamer identity is sold, the ones who proudly wear that mantle and flip a shit every time something looks like it might change, they don’t have this armour, because they never needed to develop it. They’re the ones who are playing life on “easy” mode, and still suck at the game. So I don’t doubt that to a lot of these men, this feels like an attack, because they’ve never been attacked before.

They’ve thrown their dummies out of the pram because their precious little manfeels have been hurt.

I am anticipating a lot of whiny comments from men on this post, so I’m going to say right now that I won’t be approving them, because this is another special snowflake feeling men get. They feel like their tedious, limited opinions are important and that therefore everybody should listen to them. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just the same old boring thing, again and again, and each one of them thinks he’s a free thinker when he’s just parroting the same old shit society spoonfed him without any critical thought at all.

So, instead of commenting, why not maybe play some of those computer games you claim to love so much? Instead of moaning about generalisations, why not spend a bit of time trying not to be the sort of guy this pertains to? Instead of stagnating, why not learn and live a little?


A brief overview of everything that’s wrong with that anti-rape nail polish

Content note: this post discusses rape and rape culture

Some male students have decided to ride in on their white horses and protect women on their campus. How? By developing a nail polish which supposedly detects date rape drugs. I have so many problems with the concept, I have to split them down into reasons. In no particular order, here are my issues with the product.

1. Shifting responsibility: Under rape culture, responsibility for rape is shifted from the perpetrators to the victims. What could we have done to prevent it? Do that, or it’s our fault. Unless we behave like saints, rolling around in our rape-proof bubbles in the safety of our own homes, we’ll be blamed. Such safety products frame rape as something women need to prevent rather than something men need to stop doing. Four men together could have set up an initiative to help stop their fellow men from raping, but instead they chose to develop a fucking nail polish that changes colour in the presence of certain date rape drugs.

2. The method of testing is ridiculous: The nail polish works by sticking your finger in your drink and seeing if your nail polish changes colour. Now, people who have ever visited a university bar might spot a problem with this: university toilets are absolutely disgusting, and usually lack the washing facilities to get your hands sterile for fingering your drink. So, hooray for maybe not drinking something that’s riddled with rohypnol, but the safe drinks are going to be swimming with piss-bacteria and the sticky Jagermeister that just won’t come off..

3. Rohypnol and GHB are not the only drugs: These drugs are reasonably commonly-used in drug rape, but are far from the only ones available. In fact, given the great public awareness of these two drugs as date rape agents, existing testing kits are on the market, and some dealers are switching their game up to drugs you cannot detect this way. I was once spiked with MDMA to “loosen me up”, meaning rape drugs aren’t even limited to downers. Unless this nail polish were to detect anything that wasn’t booze and sugar, I somehow doubt it will be much use in a vast quantity of cases.

4. Gimmicky nail polish is almost always crap: I have bought a lot of new nail polish in my life, getting excited over advertising campaigns that tell me that my nail polish will be two-tone, or not require a top coat, or can be peeled off without nail varnish remover when the night is over. Almost every time I have done this, the process of painting my nails has gone Horribly Wrong. The texture of gimmicky nail polishes is usually weird: too loose, too thick, requires about a million coats, somehow manages to coat your entire hand in indelible red goop. I can only imagine how inadequate a nail polish with a built in chemistry lab will be. And on the off-chance it went on just fine, I’ve a feeling I’d spend half my night trying to source some GHB because colour-changing nail polish would be cool. 

5. It’s really not appropriate for men to be developing anti-rape products: For two broad reasons, men are the worst possible candidates for developing safety products for women. Firstly, because they don’t know what it’s like and what we need. What we need, as I outlined above, is for them to stop raping us, please. And secondly, more chillingly, since men are overwhelmingly more likely to be perpetrators, it’s kind of chilling. Tweeter @Sarah_Wolley pointed out the fact it’s four men making the product, and some statistics put perpetration rates close to one in four.

6. There are a lot of products that serve as drug testing kits already: Nail polish is a somewhat ridiculous one, in a world where you can get a little strip of paper you dip in your drink, or a glass that changes colour, or a little nozzle you put over your bottle to prevent anyone dropping anything in.

7. Will women who don’t wear nail polish become targets? As a woman, I’m fucking paranoid about getting raped. I think most of us are. This thought may, therefore, be catastrophising, but in a world where fucking catastrophes happen, I don’t think it’s an invalid concern. If rapists want to spike drinks undetected, they could easily go for the women who aren’t wearing nail varnish. Since I often cannot be arsed to wear it, particularly because of the short lesbian nails on one hand, would that make me more of a target to them?

8. Not that that matters anyway: The thing is, your rapist isn’t as likely to be a rando in a bar, spiking whatever drinks he can drop a roofie into. He’s more likely to be your friend who walks you home when he realises you’ve been spiked, your boyfriend who you stayed in and ate pizza with instead of going out to the big wide rapey world, the policeman who you report your spiking to.

9. Would you buy a fashion product from these guys? Really, would you?

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Raping women is legal if it’s a policeman doing it

Content warning: this post discusses rape and police violence

The CPS today explained that they’ve decided it’s not illegal for policemen to pretend to be real people, insinuate themselves into the lives of women it’s literally their job to try and incarcerate, and trick them into sex and childbearing. Their full justification for this is pretty grim reading, riddled with rape apologism and a soupçon of cissexism, and you can read it here.

I cannot even begin to imagine the slap in the face this is for the survivors, who have worked hard to drag the violations they experienced into the light. It is revolting that what happened to them is not considered an act of violence, when it so patently is. The law, as always, is all backwards, set up to protect the powerful and allow them to perpetrate acts of violence against women with impunity.

The fact is, these men lied. They lied about who they were, about what they did, about what they believed. They built a castle of lies, and tricked women into building intimate relationships with them, for the purposes of information gathering. The endgame of this deception was to lock up these women, and everyone these women knew, to silence them and to stop them. There is probably not a woman alive who would actively consent to what these policemen had in mind. This is why we discuss what happened in terms of rape: because of the lack of consent. The legal system, for the most part, defines what is and isn’t rape around what they want their chums to get away with, so by their standards, of course it isn’t rape.

It’s not that the legal system isn’t fit for purpose, because it is. It’s just that the purpose it serves is not in our interests.

There’s a knock-on effect of all this, trickling down to women like me. Under rape culture, we’re paranoid about getting raped–and it’s a just paranoia, because it’s phenomenally likely to happen to a lot of us at some point. Under this state-sanctioned rape culture, there’s this additional retroactive paranoia for those of us who aren’t good girls, who make likely targets for a predatory cop. I find myself flicking through the comrades I have slept with, wondering desperately to myself if any of them were cops. There were those I let myself get close to, and then they disappeared. Were they undercover policemen, who got what they wanted and fucked off back to base?

To my knowledge, they were all just arseholes, and while all cops are bastards, all bastards aren’t cops. However, the niggling, wearing anxiety is still there, and I suspect this is precisely what the pigs want. Ultimately, they want us frightened and ground-down, as it positions us as unable to resist.

I’ve said before that being deeply critical of the police is a very important feminist position to hold, and I’ll say it again until I’m blue in the face. These men are a gang of perpetrators, who will gladly inflict sexual violence upon us to suit their needs. Never forget that.


Things I read recently that I found interesting

Hi. I’ve been a bit lax on these round-up posts recently, so here’s a crop of stuff I read recently. Enjoy.

The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker (John H. Richardson)- Amazing article about Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, and the state of play over there.

On the “dispute” between radical feminism and trans people (Juliet Jacques)- This article is so good I actually linked to the New Statesman.

Mentalism and Motherhood (Being Mentally Interesting)- On the issues affecting women with mental health issues who want to have kids.

I Tried Cosmo’s Lesbian Sex Tips and They Were Terrible (Samantha Allen)- Hilarious. Very, very hilarious.

Darling, We Don’t Play With Our Vulvas At The Table (Lea Grover)- On the complex line one needs to walk with kids and their body curiosity.

My Last Two Partners Died, And Three Years Later I’m Trying To Date Again (Kelli Dunham)- Sweet, sad personal story.

ABD Company (Rebecca Schulman)- Glad to see the issues of not finishing a PhD are getting more mainstream attention.

London evicts. Women and children first, thanks (Kate Belgrave)- On the gendered violence of evictions.

White hipsters, not black looters, are now threatening post-riots London (Pauline Pearce)- Gentrification is destroying communities, and here’s how.

A Brief History of the Jobcentre (Gabriel Bristow)- A digestible article about the history and function of the Jobcentre.

This Is What Disability Binarism Looks Like (That Crazy Crippled Chick)- On a disablist meme that is still doing the rounds, and how this line of thought is very prevalent.

Transgender Women in New York State Prisons Face Solitary Confinement and Sexual Assault (Solitary Watch)- A horrifying glimpse at conditions.

Take off the cape: Why using the word “rescue” is harmful to anti-trafficking efforts (CCASA)- Good intentions. Road to hell is paved with them.

It’s scary not shaving your armpits, but I’ll never pick up a razor again (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- An excellent article on body hair.

My Thoughts on the Block Bot, as a User and a Member of the Blocking Team (Sarah Brown)- How a simple tool can make the Twitter experience better.

This is what dysphoria feels like (A gentleman and a scholar)- A rather heartbreaking post, well worth reading.

And finally, lukewarm girl-on-girl action. Mmmm, tepid.


Guest post- “The public have no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations

This is a guest post by Rory McKinnon. Content warning for domestic violence. It is published with permission of the survivor.

My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturdayafternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, as my editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.

It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.

If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.

—–

Last March a former RMT assistant branch secretary, Caroline Leneghan, went public about what she described as a “violent assault” at the hands of Hedley while they had been in a relationship.

“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”

Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction” but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.

Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).

Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.

In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).

The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)

Six weeks later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), andmy own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.

From the minutes:

“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”

—–

“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”

—–

“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”

And from my own notes:

TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”

—–

TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”

—–

TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”

Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:

“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”

I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal (dismissed, ruling here), but that’s procedural stuff that isn’t strictly relevant.

What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.

I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.

It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.

Rory MacKinnon
Morning Star reporter (2011-2014)
mackinnon.rorySPLATgmail.com
@RoryMacKinnon

 

UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.

__

ETA: The survivor has clarified some of the sequence of events. Caroline says:

“There’s a mistake here,the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”

ETA 2 (19.14 08/08/14): The MS have issued a statement denying everything. To borrow their phrasing, it is interesting to note they haven’t started issuing libel threats…


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.


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