Blurred Party Lines: The dodgy attitude towards consent from the Labour Party

Content warning: This post discusses rape culture and has a dream sequence involving Robin Thicke in which consent is ignored

All I wanted to do was peek at the Labour manifesto, to see if it was awful. I’d thought the Labour website would be the best place to find it. Maybe it is there, or maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, because before I was allowed to view the site, I was presented with this choice:

Labour Thicke

Eagle-eyed readers will spot an option that is missing on this poll: the ability to say “no”. By polling standards, this is therefore a pretty crummy poll. By the standards of basic human decency, this is merely reflective of how consent is usually constructed.

Labour’s framing of the question would not sound out of place if Robin Thicke were canvassing, a red rosette fixed jauntily to his sunglasses. As you try to close the door, his slimy foot slithers in in that classic salesman tactic. Robin Thicke proffers you leaflets, red and yellow. More and more of them, and he begins to stuff them down your throat, incessantly yelling “I KNOW YOU WANT THIS”. You gag, you choke. You cannot breathe. With your fading strength, you nod assent. You tell him you will vote Labour just so he’ll go away.

Nightmares aside, this little snap survey from Labour does betray rather a problematic, yet sadly commonplace attitude towards consent. There is no such thing as a no, only a “maybe” that can be turned into a “yes”. Rape culture is everywhere, and so the idea that “no” is not an option is equally ubiquitous.

It is in the interests of maintaining rape culture to keep the ability to say no off the table. What might seem like an innocent bit of bad polling has the seedy undercurrent of rape culture allowing it to happen in the first place. Perhaps instead of a pink bus, Labour could have demonstrated an understanding of the concept of consent to attract women voters.

Disclaimer: I suspect the content of this blog will appeal to people with political affiliations which isn’t Labour, so allow me to say that as well as Labour being dripping anuses, so are the Green Party, the Tories, the Lib Dems, UKIP, TUSC and all the other tiddly trot parties, the nationalist parties of NI, Scotland and Wales, as well as Mebyon Kernow (who always get forgotten), and also the loyalist parties, and basically, if you’re in a political party, your party’s shit. So there.


On victim blaming and voting

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, because the UK media have been pretty quiet about it, but there’s an election next month. This week is the last week you can register to vote in it. In turn, this means we can expect left-liberals to begin trotting out a particularly insufferable and deeply unpleasant line in order to encourage voter registration.

It goes like this: women, young people, people of colour, disabled people, poor people–basically, any marginalised group you can name–are being fucked over by the government. It’s in their power to change this, if only they go out and vote!

On the face of it, it sounds like your classic harmless liberal drivel, with that fervent belief that the Vote Fairy will change everything if only the right guys get in next time. However, scratch a little deeper, and at its core is victim blaming: it’s your fault the government is doing its damndest to murder you, because you should have voted for the guys who will murder you a bit slower. You had a choice, the liberals say, and you failed to take it.

Rather charitably, I’m going to suggest this argument comes from a place of oblivious privilege rather than a malicious attempt to actually emotionally blackmail vulnerable people into feeling blamed for their fate. There are lots of reasons people don’t vote other than an understanding that absolutely none of the people vying for your vote actually have your interests at heart, or an ideological disdain for the entire sham of representative democracy.

The people who are supposedly to blame for their oppression if they don’t vote are exactly the people who face impediments to voting. Even at the point of registration, for example, trans people are experiencing disenfranchising problems. Registering to vote also requires a level of reading ability, internet access or a stamp, and the time to fill the fucking thing in.

Then there’s the hurdles at the polling station. They’re not necessarily accessible: even with legal protections, last election a lot of disabled voters were failed in very basic requirements, and this is for the bare minimal accessibility standards for people with common physical disabilities. If you have a job or childcare arrangements, it’s going to be a pain in the arse managing to get to the polling station–just because the polls are open from early until late doesn’t mean someone has a chance to go! (and don’t, at this juncture, suggest postal voting: that requires a degree of planning which simply doesn’t fit in with a lot of people’s lives)

The barriers to voting are very real, and for the people being blamed for their own oppression, if not physically insurmountable, certainly psychically so. On one side, there is the right, saying that marginalised people are to blame for their own problems because they’re not trying hard enough to lift themselves out of their oppression. On the other side, the liberal left are saying that these people are to blame for some of their problems because they’re not trying hard enough to vote themselves out of their oppression.

Disengagement is manifest in particular among the groups who have been historically shafted not just by governments, but by society. Disabled people, people of colour, women, young people, poor people, queer people have been scapegoated throughout history. They are being scapegoated once again by those with the power.

If it’s true that a government reflects the society that elected it (I’m not convinced) then this means that unpleasant attitudes towards marginalised people will be present in government for as long as they’re present in society. Of course, it isn’t true that government is like real people: government is overwhelmingly a bunch of white abled cishet men from rich backgrounds. The rest of us look at these people, a ballot card full of these freaks and see them as completely indistinguishable. Even the candidates who aren’t white abled cishet men from rich backgrounds are still toeing party lines–which are, of course, decided by people in parties who come from the same position of privilege as the government and so forth.

Inviting oppressed people to vote is all well and good, but all it achieves is an invitation to be nominally complicit in one’s own oppression. A lot of people are wise to this.

If people want to vote, of course there shouldn’t be barriers in the way, but this goes out to the people who do not and cannot: whatever happens in May is not your fault. The game is stacked, and there are people from all points on the political spectrum who are itching to blame you, because you’ve always been the scapegoat. It’s not your fault, and it never was. 


Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

Happy Easter, readers. No, I don’t mean happy Easter from last week, it’s Easter today. Here’s some links.

Outraged About Purvi Patel Case? Four Things to Do Now (Deepa Iyer)- Purvi Patel was imprisoned for having a miscarriage. Here’s some actions you can take.

Who cares about the vulnerable when there’s a fight to manufacture? (CN Lester)- CN exposes dodgy tactics at the BBC.

Rad American Women A-B-C– Some fab illustrations of awesome women here.

We need to talk about Ivan (Sturdy Blog)- Old post, but salient again as the election is upon us: how Cameron exploits his dead child.

A Case of Cis Regret (Lola Olson)- An agender activist writes about the hormone therapy they were pressured to take.

An Intersectional Feminist against Imperial Feminism (Julie Hall)- Against white saviours. An important read.

What They Really Mean When They Say They’re Not a Feminist (Ronnie Ritchie)- Comic illustrating what’s really going on.

Everything The Police Said About Walter Scott’s Death Before A Video Showed What Really Happened (Judd Legum)- Documenting the lies. Never trust a copper.

Ferguson officials’ racist emails released– More police racism exposed.

Why being ‘overweight’ means you live longer: The way scientists twist the facts (Malcolm Kendrick)- Hugely important article, highlighting the hidden bits in science.

Actual harm (UnCommon Sense)- What the transmisogynist bigot feminists claim to be “just debate” leads to real world harm. Here’s just one way.

And finally, here’s The Rock lipsynching Taylor Swift and it is absolutely delightful.


Tory “volunteer leave” is absolute bollocks and largely unhelpful to charities

Like everyone else, I can’t fucking avoid all this election waffle. It would be nice if, like during the World Cup, news websites had a way of hiding this big event, because almost everything I see annoys the piss out of me.

Today, it’s the Tories rebranding their “Big Society” wiffle with a promise to require large employers to allow workers paid leave to do volunteering. Three days of volunteering leave!

*record scratch*

Three days a year.

Anybody who has worked at a charity will recognise that this is almost entirely unhelpful to how charities work, and the sort of volunteers charities tend to need. I have worked at small charities and have volunteered in the past, and I can see numerous holes in what is being proposed.

Regular volunteers are crucial to how charities operate. Three days a year is nowhere near enough for many of the tasks charities require from volunteers. Regular, reliable volunteers are the lifeblood of the kind of small charity that cannot afford an employee to perform the work that keeps an organisation ticking over. Volunteers are often needed for the less-than-glamorous, time-consuming tasks like updating databases, stuffing envelopes, and so on. This is stuff which paid staff could do themselves, but then they would never get round to doing their actual jobs. It would be ideal if this sort of work was paid, but charities cannot afford it, and I don’t see the government leaping to subsidise this crucial labour.

Volunteers need to be trained. Regular volunteers are better for charities, because, even with clerical office work, the volunteers need to know the ropes. Every organisation functions differently, and just because a volunteer is a wizard with a particular CRM, doesn’t mean they’ll know how one particular charity formats their data. For volunteers delivering a service (Rape Crisis and the Samaritans spring to mind), the training is at an even higher level. Even if just for an event, volunteers need to know their stuff because they’re representing the charity or cause. A level of training is absolutely essential, and of course this is time- and resource-intensive. Under these three-day-a-year Tory proposals, what would happen would be volunteers would receive their training and then just swan off into the sunset with a sense of warm fuzzies.

Volunteers require a whole bundle of paperwork. It’s difficult having volunteers. While charities may vary in their volunteer policies, having a volunteer generates at least a small degree of labour pays off if they stick around. Everyone requires some sort of record of volunteers, but also some charities might require volunteers undergo a DBS check, for example. I have a sneaking suspicion the Tory proposals would generate yet more paperwork for charities, given that I am sure employers will only grant leave for volunteering with documentation that an employee is actually volunteering at a specific place.

Even for big events, it would be nice to have regulars. I get that this proposal isn’t for the type of volunteering desperately needed by small charities. I get that it’s so a load of employees from big businesses can turn up and smile in photos after planting a tree or whatnot. Here’s the thing: a lot of small charities already have people to do that: regular volunteers. The relationship of trust with a regular volunteer is great for small charities, as you know they’re not going to say or do anything terrible when the cameras are pointed at them. Somebody who has only donated three days has not had the time to build this relationship, and there would be this anxiety hanging over the whole thing.

In short, the whole thing is better for employers (who can feel good about letting their employees go off and volunteer) and potential volunteers rather than charities. For the tiny charities who need volunteers the most, these proposals would create a massive headache with little benefit.

Disclaimer: I suspect the content of this blog will appeal to people with political affiliations which aren’t the Tories, so allow me to say that as well as the Tories being dripping anuses, so are the Green Party, Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, TUSC and all the other tiddly trot parties, the nationalist parties of NI, Scotland and Wales, as well as Mebyon Kernow (who always get forgotten), and also the loyalist parties, and basically, if you’re in a political party, your party’s shit. So there.


Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

Hi, everyone. I read things, and then I link the things I found interesting. Perhaps you will also find them interesting.

The Price of Shame (Monica Lewinsky)- Video of Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, a must-watch.

A short guide for the inclusion of trans, intersex and gender non-conforming youth in the classroom (Assigned Male)- A really helpful guide, in comic format.

Benefit sanctions: the 10 trivial breaches and administrative errors (Patrick Butler)- Fucking devastating.

Having The Option: Alissa Afonina/Sasha Mizaree On Her Case And Being A Disabled Sex Worker– Interview with a disabled sex worker, explaining why sex work is a far better option for a lot of disabled women.

The Mother and the Whore (Juniper Fitzgerald)- Exploring the intersections of sex work and motherhood.

iCare: Facebook and the Business of Suicide Prevention (Aiden Rowe & Robert Stephens)- A conversation about social media methods for suicide prevention.

What about the menz? (sometimes it’s just a cigar)- Exploring what a feminism actually concerned with sex workers’ rights would look like.

Rape victims with petty convictions denied compensation (Frankie Mullin)- This is a fucking travesty.

Getting to the bottom of anal evolution (Andreas Hejnol and Jose M. Martin-Duran)- Ever wondered why are buttholes? Here is the science. Plain language summary here.

Clarkson Agonistes (Tom Ewing)- Analysing the mindset of the Clarkson fan.

And finally, if you miss a good fandom wank, why not join every argument about Buffy ever?


Can we please stop giving JK Rowling cookies over Dumbledore

I have been a Harry Potter fan for more than half my life. Like most Harry Potter fans, I am largely annoyed by the paucities of the source material and have spent probably longer than I should reading and writing fanfic which addresses these huge gaps. And, like most fandom types, I have a tendency of casting a queer eye over the source material and concluding that pretty much everyone is enjoying rampant same-sex relations.

I was surprised, then, when Rowling announced, after the bestselling series was complete, that twinkly-eyed headmaster and creepy child-groomer Albus Dumbledore was the gay character and that obviously he had been in a relationship with naughty miniboss wizard Grindelwald. Really? He was low down on my list of characters who were probably LGBT. There was nary a hint of homosexuality going on in canon. One would have thought, at the very least, Rita Skeeter might have luridly made innuendoes in her scurrilous The Life And Lies Of Albus Dumbledore. 

Rowling has been in the media eating the plates of cookies handed to her over her dealing with a fan who said they couldn’t see Dumbledore as gay. Her response? A variant on the old “gay people are just people” trope. While on the surface this is true, it’s often a cop-out for hetero authors who completely failed to pull off writing a queer character.

Rowling went wrong in numerous places in her portrayal of Dumbledore as a gay character, not least because there is not even a hint of it in the actual series she wrote. It is not sufficient to out a character through word of god after you’ve made your bajillions on the series, when it’s too late for the homophobes to boycott. And when a straight person writes a queer character as “just a person” they are drawing on their own hetero views of what constitutes “just a person”–which is invariably straighter than a Roman road.

The Harry Potter universe is brimming with parts where people’s heterosexual love affects the story. Take, for example, Snape, who did everything he did because he really wanted to bone Harry’s mum but she wasn’t into him because he was a magical racist. Take Voldemort’s parents and the wizard mind-control rape that happened because of a hetero crush. Or how about all the dramatic tensions surrounding Hermione Granger’s love life? Rowling clearly knows how love can drive characters to develop, and propel a plot forward.

And yet all of this is completely absent with Dumbledore. Which is a crying shame, because a gay Dumbledore could have added so many interesting dimensions to the story. How would Harry react to discovering his idol was gay? I’d guess he’d probably be a bit homophobic at first due to his upbringing in suburbia with small-minded types, and then get over it which would be interesting to see. Did Dumbledore and Grindelwald wear their hearts on their sleeves, since the wizarding world is apparently so inclusive according to Ms Rowling, or did they keep their relationship a secret? How did that affect what went down between them? How did Dumbledore feel when his beloved turned evil? Surely that must have hurt his heart, especially when he ultimately had to fight the man he loved. Did Dumbledore ever love again?

Instead, all we get is the same old chate wise magic dude, in the same vein as Obi Wan Kenobi or Gandalf. Canonically, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin appear to have more of a homosexual relationship, because at least they sent Harry a joint present together.

JK Rowling failed at bringing queer content to Hogwarts, and we should stop giving her cookies for this completely invisible representation. For queer content, we’ll have to stick to fandom. I don’t see Dumbledore as gay–because JK Rowling completely failed to write it.


I believe Eleanor de Freitas

Content note: This post discusses rape and suicide

Eleanor de Freitas was just 23 years old when she took her life.

Her story started like far too many others. She reported a rape to the police, and the police said there was insufficient evidence. It’s a script as tired as time: inconsistencies, blah blah blah. Unlike most other cases, though, it deviated radically from the script.

The man accused took out a private prosecution against Eleanor de Freitas. He must have been a rich, powerful man to do this. Her solicitors asked the CPS to stop this spiteful action, but the CPS decided to take it up for reasons which are currently completely unclear.

Eleanor de Freitas was a vulnerable woman, with bipolar disorder. She had been receiving counselling for rape. As soon as the summons came, this support was snatched away. Her mental health grew worse, and her psychiatrist deemed her not fit to stand trial.

Three days before the trial was due to start, Eleanor de Freitas took her life.

Her family would like the CPS to address the questions that they have, although so far this request is being blocked. Why did the CPS think it in the public interest to prosecute a sick young woman? Why didn’t they put a stop to the private prosecution that was quite literally killing her, despite its duty to think these things through? Why did they allow her vital counselling to be withdrawn?

The CPS need to address these questions, and their silence speaks volumes. There is something fishy going on.

I am inclined to believe Eleanor de Freitas, knowing what I know about rape and rape culture. I know that the police are fucking terrible at dealing with survivors coming forward, and don’t understand how the stress from trauma can lead to statements they deem “inconsistent”, because that’s how human brains work. I know that men falsely denying having committed rape is vastly more common than women making up false allegations. I know that society is far more inclined to give the men making denials the benefit of the doubt. I know that women with mental health problems are more likely to be disbelieved, thought to be mad.

I believe Eleanor de Freitas, and I want to know why the CPS helped a man to kill her.

__

Update 24/3/15: Men keep leaving comments explaining why one shouldn’t believe Eleanor de Freitas. I’ve not approved them because men get platforms to spout rubbish in all sorts of other places. Anyway, all of their comments make me believe Eleanor de Freitas even more. Their comments boil down to three threads:

  1. Eleanor’s mental health: as discussed earlier, women with mental health problems are less likely to be believed.
  2. Some CCTV evidence or other showing her in the company of the accused after the alleged rape: so? A lot of survivors end up spending time with their rapists. It’s really fucking common. Read this
  3. They are saying Eleanor de Freitas was a sex worker: again, so fucking what? Whether this is true or not, sex workers can also be raped. In fact, sex workers are another group less likely to be believed. 

In short, these comments remind me of Ched Evans supporters. And we all know Ched Evans did it. Every time I see rape apologism crop up, I believe Eleanor de Freitas even more.


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