Category Archives: rage at the system

Obligatory International Women’s Day post: let the bridges you burn light the way

Today is International Women’s Day, once again. It’s also the fifth birthday of this blog, and I like to think I’ve improved my opinions a lot over the last five years. Honestly, I’m not even linking to that first post, and I’ll instead link to the disclaimer which applies to any old content on this blog.

Five years ago, I was confident there was something winnable, that we were on the cusp of a great tipping point and that if we women all banded together, and surely that’d be easy.

I was naive, and in my defence, it was 2011, when revolution was in the air.

I had yet to see how broken everything is.

I’ve burned a lot of bridges since then.

Everything is broken. Literally fucking everything. There are no causes for optimism. It’s nice to believe there can be, because that way if feels a lot more like there’s something to be won. It’s nice to celebrate small victories, but when these small victories are defeats for the vast majority of women, there’s nothing to cheer about.

 

When I logged into Facebook this morning, it gave me a chirpy message wishing for equality for all. I wish I could have told it to go fuck itself with a wonky church spire, because equality is a crock of pigshit in this broken world. Equality is desirable in an unequal system. Equality is palatable for those in power, because it doesn’t actually make anything any different. If half of the positions on parliaments, boards, armed forces and on and on were occupied by women, that wouldn’t help because these structures are themselves oppressive. Women shouldn’t be fighting to be the oppressor, these systems should be razed to the ground.

As a cis white woman, I now understand myself to be part of the problem. I try not to be part of the problem, and that’s burned a fair few bridges–and I know I still am part of the problem. All I can do is be willing to be held accountable for when my being part of the problem becomes me being a big problem.

I think what I’m trying to say, clumsily and inarticulately, is I’ve realised there are no solutions to the fucking massive structural problems. I have a better understanding of what’s wrong now, but not what to do to put it right. I know what’s broken and I know how it’s broken, but I have no idea to put it right. There’s harm reduction measures put forward by marginalised groups that I support wholeheartedly, but ultimately everything is fucked.

And maybe that’s OK. Maybe a negative feminism is part of what we need. People like to be given a solution and to feel that something is winnable, and don’t like to hear the cold hard truths. I say “no” a lot, and so do many other women. “No” is treated as a dirty word, but is it really? Is it only a dirty word to keep this whole system in place?

I have no answers, and I’ve decided that’s all right. Maybe I’ll feel differently in five years, dropping the shards of a teacup and have them reassemble into the complete object. Maybe solutions and opportunities will present themselves.

In the meantime, I look to the bridges I’ve burned, and feel that they are narrowing a path, and I hope this path leads somewhere useful.


3 current freedom of speech issues which the media neglect to cry over no-platforming

Content warning: this post mentions CSA and benefits

Freedom of speech is under threat. Like, really really badly under threat. Some teenagers aren’t interested in listening to what crusty old bigots have to say.

No-platforming is a pretty hot topic in the media at the moment, as it seems to be whenever some crusty old bigot gets offended that not everyone wants to listen to their special snowflake opinions. However, what’s more interesting is the things which aren’t hot topics, which don’t get endless opinion pieces churned out, nor ubiquitous Newsnight debates. Now, of course, I’ve said before (and I’m fucking sick of saying it), that no-platforming and censorship are wholly different things. This holds.

In fact, while everyone’s talking no-platforming , they’re helping draw the fire away from some genuine and real freedom of speech issues which are going on, and are current. Your Germaine Greers and Peter Tatchells and Julie Bindels are helping the government get away with instances of censorship and suppressing free speech by simply banging on about their hurt feelings and making that the big media issue. These issues are the ones which we need to look at, because these present a real danger.

Gagging scientists and charities

The Cabinet Office wants to “muzzle” scientists whose research conflicts with government policy. Say you’ve done some research where you found that disabled people are dying at a higher rate under Tory welfare, and the research clearly points to a change in policy. If you had any government grants contributing to your research (which most academic research does!) tough fucking titties. You can’t publicly state the conclusion you drew from your research. Best hope you concluded that Iain Duncan Smith is The Best, or your science will never see the light of day.

This clause to be added to all new grant applications also affects charities. Charities which receive public funds (for example, pretty much any charity that provides any service) also can’t criticise or lobby to change government policy. This could ultimately prevent charities from functioning at all, since there’s rather a lot of government policy which directly impacts their issues.

The Trade Union Bill

The Trade Union Bill will suppress the democratic rights of workers to organise and protest. This, obviously, benefits the government, bosses and very few real people. The right to strike is hugely important, and the government would like very much to take it away, because it makes them feel sad when they have to get a bus instead of a tube. They’re also aiming allow bosses cap the amount of time union reps can fulfill their role and represent union members–which, you may recognise as something which union reps do. 

This is an enormous freedom of speech and civil liberties issue, and sadly the government is trying to force it through as quickly as they can. Near-silence on the part of the mainstream media has probably helped. There’s little that remains in terms of doing much about it, save cross our fingers and desperately hope that the House of Lords–yep, those unelected oyster munchers–manage to halt it or take out the worst. In short, workers freedoms are about to be severely fucked over, with little fanfare.

Coverups, all the coverups!

From calls to stop naming perpetrators in historic CSA cases, to demanding a public investigation into undercover officers deceiving women into sex and relationships be mostly private, the police have been helping cover up rather a lot recently. It’s weird that this goes mostly unremarked, considering usually the media hate a coverup and will do their best to dig at the truth. However, peculiarly, these issues have not been treated as the free press and free information issues that they are.

The police are covering things up. And it’s fucking working.

Freedom of speech is under attack. Usually that sentence leads to some bullshit whining, but it is actually true. While the bores at the media continue to spill column ink about sad baby boomers being deemed irrelevant, let’s talk about what’s actually going on, because it’s more frightening than we think.

 


Bernard Hogan-Howe probably would have let Rolf Harris get away with it

Content warning: this post discusses child sexual abuse, sexual violence and police

It was reported today that Rolf Harris will be charged with seven counts of indecent assault, with one of the seven complainants being just 12 years old at the time the offence occurred. This follows his conviction in 2014 for twelve counts of indecent assault, with one of the survivors being just eight at the time it happened. Rolf Harris is a predator. A convicted paedophile. So, why is it that one of this country’s top police officers would have let him get away with it?

A few days ago, Bernard Hogan Howe, head of the Metropolitan Police, wrote an article outlining what he reckons should be done about sexual abuse investigations (warning: if you click this link it contains discussion of CSA and sexual violence and is absolutely viciously infuriating). Hogan-Howe advocates a two-stranded approach which will have a devastating effect on encouraging survivors–particularly survivors of historic sexual abuse–to come forward:

  1. Making it clear to survivors that they will not be automatically believed if they report to the police.
  2. Offering anonymity to those accused.

Both of these affect reporting sexual violence to the police. A lot of survivors don’t report because they’re scared of not being believed anyway. The man in charge of the capital’s police force making it explicit that the police might not believe you isn’t exactly going to alleviate these concerns.

Anonymity for the accused sounds nice and fair in theory, but it, too, has an impact on reporting, particularly for serial rapists and abusers. We see the pattern again and again: one or two survivors stick their head above the parapet and speak out about what happened to them, and it encourages more and more survivors to follow, knowing that they’re not alone. It happened with Savile (although, unfortunately, after he died, so he was never brought to justice). It happened with Bill Cosby. It happened with Greville Janner (although, again, he died before being brought to justice). And yes, it happened with Rolf Harris, which is presumably why further charges are being brought 18 months after he was convicted.

In his nasty article, Bernard Hogan-Howe describes what happened after Savile as “a dam burst[ing]”, as though it’s a bad thing that more survivors come forward. He acts as though a senior police officer telling historic abuse survivors, “Come forward, we will believe you,” is a bad thing. It isn’t and it wasn’t.

So why has Bernard Hogan-Howe laid out a roadmap for helping serial rapists and abusers like Rolf Harris get away with it? Again, Hogan-Howe is kind of clear about this in his article: it’s been more than a little inconvenient for some powerful men who have been accused, but there isn’t enough evidence to bring charges.

The right-wing media have been all over Hogan-Howe, baying for his blood. Not because Hogan-Howe is proposing measures that will help serial child abusers like Rolf Harris get away with it, but rather the opposite: a high-up army man and a Tory peer got accused and weren’t charged because of insufficient evidence. Lord Bramall’s case is getting ugly, with him calling for an investigation into his accuser, and today’s Sun front page headline outright calling the accuser “a serial liar“. Meanwhile, Lord Brittan was implicated in dossiers on the Westminster paedophile ring  being ignored, allowing child sexual abuse to go on.

I have no opinion as to whether Brittan or Bramall committed the crimes they were accused of or not. It’s worth noting at this juncture that a lot of historic abuse cases are dismissed because there’s not enough evidence. Even in recent cases of sexual violence, there’s often not much of the sort of evidence which will likely secure a conviction through the courts. With historic abuse, the case may be investigated over 40 years after the incident took place. In a way, it surprises me that there have been any convictions of historic sexual abuse at all, especially ones for abuse which happened decades ago. Again, I am not saying that Bramall or Brittan raped anyone. Rather, the point I would like to make here is that what helps these convictions take place is more victims coming forward. Indeed, one of the things which contributed to the lack of evidence against Bramall–and indeed the media frenzy over how unfair it was to investigate him–was it was based on only one complainant’s testimony.

So, the way things are set up, for historic abuse claims to stand a chance of seeing the inside of a courtroom, plenty of survivors need to come forward. It’s probable that if just one person had come forward to accuse Rolf Harris, he would have got away with it. It’s probable that if other survivors didn’t know an investigation was taking place, they wouldn’t have come forward. It’s probable that nobody would have come forward to accuse Rolf Harris if they’d felt they might not be believed.

Bernard Hogan-Howe would have let Rolf Harris get away with sexual abuse of children and adults alike if he’d decided to say what he said a couple of years ago. In pandering to right-wing media outcry over the poor powerful old white men, Hogan-Howe has achieved only one thing: making it easier for rapists and paedophiles to never be brought to justice.

The media are of course complicit in this, and I am sure they know exactly who they’re helping and who they’re hurting.

I’m sure it’s incredibly inconvenient for the police to be investigating powerful old white men, but this doesn’t mean they should try to discourage reports that they have to investigate. I don’t know, maybe if they stopped harassing BME people using stop and search powers, they’d free up some resources to investigate complaints.

The fact is, under Bernard Hogan-Howe’s ideas, Rolf Harris would have got off scot-free. Think about what when talking about how historic abuse investigations are handled, rather than Bramall and Brittan.

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In which I gush about a book I read: Lean Out by Dawn Foster

I’ll confess. When I first picked up Dawn Foster’s Lean Out, I wondered just how relevant it was. Was Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate Lean In brand of feminism not just a fad in 2013, like everyone suddenly snapping themselves naked on wrecking balls, or the Doge. Had we not, as feminists, successfully rejected Sandberg’s corporate feminism already? Didn’t feminism start digging a little deeper in its analysis? Wasn’t it kind of old hat? So, while I read Lean Out, I found myself nodding along, but questioning whether it wouldn’t have been more important had it been published this time two years ago.

Just as I put down Lean Out, feeling roused, validated and furious all at once, I made a terrible mistake. I clicked on a New Statesman link. And I saw this, by Sarah “Never Knowingly Right” Ditum:

FireShot Capture 207 - The Thatcher Problem - http___www.newstatesman.com_2016_02_thatcher-problem

Rumours of the demise of Sandberg’s brand of corporate feminism were premature. Women, according to Ditum, deserve to sit alongside men as oppressors, and all criticism of what women do as leaders is misogyny. Rather than questioning power as a step towards liberating ourselves from it, Ditum espouses the individualist, corporate brand of feminism that I’d thought was dead–or if not dead, at least no longer articulated quite so nakedly.

So Foster’s book is just as relevant as it would have been in 2013.

Lean Out seethes with raw anger, and yet Foster’s claim that corporate, individualist feminism not just ignores the conditions of the majority of women, but actively exacerbates them, is meticulously evidenced. She examines how austerity hits women hardest in often-painful detail, outlining the complicity of the corporate feminists in this continuing gendered oppression. She takes a look at Yarl’s Wood, and the attitudes towards poor and working class women having children, compared to those of the women in the boardrooms and parliaments. She looks at wars, and how women’s rights are often used as a justification for bombing women–again, this is more relevant than ever following the discourse around bombing Syria. She clearly explains how this individualist model of feminism turns a movement into a palatable brand, a series of personal lifestyle choices, as women further down the ladder struggle, starve, and find feminism increasingly unrelateable and irrelevant.

The world is fucked, and Dawn Foster does not mince her words in articulating this fact. She shows how these issues are interconnected, how trickledown feminism does little for the enormous majority of women except paint a feminist sheen on a system which actively harms most.

Despite the doom and gloom of the subject matter, Lean Out isn’t all doom and gloom. Foster writes with a fabulously sardonic humour, and ends the book on an uplifting note, a celebration of the resistance organised by working class women. The title, contrasting with Sandberg’s unimaginative invitation to lean in and only focus on your nuclear family and your job, invites women to organise and resist, to lean out and fight. It is perhaps one of the most accessibly radical texts I have read in a while, and I feel like few women who relate to Foster’s book (rather than feel attacked by it, as no doubt many of the establishment feminists will) are likely to find themselves unstirred.

In a very short book, Foster has neatly articulated the problem and its possible solution: it is a truly empowering text. As a bonus, it really is short: I read it on the tube to and from work, and then finished it off in a bath. It doesn’t even feel like preaching to the choir, but rather validation. 

I hope that Lean Out becomes one of those seminal texts, that it represents the beginning of the end for the kind of complicit feminism that just wants a few more women to have a seat at the oppressor’s table. It certainly instilled me with a sense of optimism that maybe, just maybe, it might.

This post was made possible by my supporters on Patreon, who gave me the financial means to buy the book. Become a patron!


Guest post: The Fuck Off Fund–all right for some

Content warning: this post discusses domestic violence

This is a guest post from an anonymous woman. It is a response to the article A Story of a Fuck Off Fund, which has been widely shared and praised by middle-class white feminists. This guest writer has written a response to the article. 

Sometimes the mother and the feminist in me find themselves at odds. It shouldn’t happen but it does. As a feminist I want to tell my daughter to wear what the fuck she likes, say what the fuck she likes to do what the fuck she likes, but the mother wants to counsel her against the risks of getting too drunk or wearing shoes that mean she can’t run fast, or walking alone late at night in dark deserted places.

This is what it means to be a woman in this world -this constant battle between what should be our right and what is safe.

For this reason I can see why this article has been such a hit with some people. This is the advice I would give to give my daughter, before she goes out into the world. To be careful, not to take risks, not to be too trusting. To always have a get out plan. In an ideal world we would all always have a get out plan, but we don’t live in an ideal world.

Let me share something with you that I haven’t told many people yet. On Boxing Day I fled an abusive relationship, I took the children and we crept quietly out, in the dark of the night. We took little more than the clothes we were standing up in and we ran.

As it happens I did have some money saved, and I have many supportive friends, and my parents have been great and most importantly I have a secure place to live within my community and every day I am thankful for these things and more -that I was able to buy a washing machine (because of course we don’t have many clothes right now) that I could afford to pay for a bunk bed so they have somewhere to sleep, that there were school places available in the local schools. I know how incredibly lucky I have been and yet still it hasn’t been easy.

When I read the article I started crying. It is true that I’m emotional these days and it doesn’t take much to trigger a round of tears, but I haven’t stopped all day. I am horrified to realise that there are people in the world can write this shit or share it without appreciating the wider implications of what is actually being said. It is sensible to always have something saved in case of an emergency, to not max out your credit cards or take out loans, of course I agree, who wouldn’t agree? But to say that with no awareness that sometimes we are forced to this, to get through christmas, to pay the colossal gas bill that always comes in spring, to replace the broken laptop so your children can do their homework or to find the money for the school trip.

I live in the UK, and despite being one of the richest countries in the world it is a place where the majority of under 30’s are spending more than 50% of their income, not on halterneck dresses, but on paying rent to private landlords. Where visits to food banks are routine. Where until the government redefined what it meant to live in poverty more than half of all children lived below this line.

Britain is a country where some of us have to choose between feeding our kids and switching the heating on at night. I might have had a fuck off fund a few weeks ago, but I certainly haven’t got one now, and unless some kind of miracle happens I won’t be replenishing it any time soon.

Arguably financial independence is a good thing to strive towards, a good thing to teach your kids, I get that. But having savings is simply not an option for a large proportion of the world’s population. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to pull themselves up by their boot straps, many people but more commonly women don’t do jobs that are valued enough by this patriarchal capitalist society to make any more than just getting by a possibility. Being able to put a little aside every month is not something everyone can do. That doesn’t make them feckless and short-sighted, that makes them victims of an unforgiving world.


A short rant on communication and all girls’ schools

Doing the rounds today has been a headteacher of a mixed-sex private school trying to promote his school by saying that girls who go to single-sex schools don’t learn to communicate with men in the real world.

I went to an all girls’ school and I’d query that massively. I had a short rant, which I’ll collate here.

(though, to be fair to the lesbian drama, it was significantly superior to the hetero drama at sixth form)

 

Adding to this, at my current workplace, it’s mostly women. It’s a great place to work because I never get men talking over me, and I can make my points and get on with my fucking job.

 

The reason I used “much” here is because it’s not completely absent. Yes, you won’t have teachers calling on the boys more than the girls. Yes, you won’t be a direct witness to patriarchy in action among your peers. However, you’re still living and growing up in a patriarchal society so it’s kind of still coming in.

A “bitch” here clearly defined as “a woman who pisses off men”, by doing Terrible things such as not quietly standing there and nodding while he speaks, not accepting everything he says as right, arguing, talking back, saying no, etc etc.

If anyone can get hold of the paywalled article, please do send it my way. I believe it was in the January 2012 issue of Science, although I didn’t actually have much to go on: all the headteacher said was it was an article in that magazine, never specifying a date, or anything.

 

 

This bears repeating again and again. Single sex schools are fucking shit for a lot of kids. They’re probably not the best thing for anyone, really, in an ideal world. Nonetheless, do they make it harder for women to communicate with men? Yes, probably. But only because men are entitled pigs.


Let’s stop using the term “revenge porn”. Please.

Content warning: this post discusses abusive behaviour, victim blaming and misogyny

Every time I see the phrase “revenge porn” it hits a kind of berserk button inside me. I am writing this post to save myself having to have the same bloody rant every time it pops up: automating my own fury as it were, because I doubt the phrase is going to go away any time soon.

Revenge porn is not, as the name would suggest, like Kill Bill but naked. It’s the name the media like to give to distributing sexual images or videos (usually of women) without the consent of the person featured in them, usually to humiliate them. I’m not sure who came up with the name–it may have been men attempting to trivialise the violence they are enacting, or it may have been those well-meaning but ultimately harmful anti-porn feminists who have decided to have a pop at pornography. Either way, it’s a gross name for it, and as feminists we must be deeply critical of it.

Revenge porn is neither revenge, nor porn.

“Revenge” is inherently victim-blaming. It suggests that there is something that ought to be avenged: something that the victim did to warrant such treatment. There isn’t. Intimate images and videos aren’t released to avenge, they’re released to intimidate, to control, to humiliate. It’s probable that the perpetrator thinks he’s enacting revenge for perceived slight on the part of the victim, but that’s not what’s really happening, and it is not all right to keep on using the language that abusers will likely prefer.

“Porn” is perhaps harder to define, but most definitions tend to include that it is produced for the purposes of sexual arousal to distinguish porn from other reasons people might be naked in representations. Again, “revenge porn” does not fit this purpose. In a lot of instances, perhaps, the images or video were created because the people involved found it erotic at the time, but the public distribution of them did not have titillation in mind. The purpose was to intimidate, to control, to humiliate.

The usage of “porn” here is much the same as in the equally ghastly phrase “child porn” to describe images or video of the sexual abuse of children (and we should stop using that phrase too).

Put together, what we have in the term “revenge porn” is something which trivialises the violence being enacted, while simultaneously rooting for the perpetrators.

As feminists, it’s important we question everything, but it’s not difficult to see why, in a culture which helps abusers at the expense of survivors, the phrase “revenge porn” grew so popular.

So what to use instead of “revenge porn”? Instead of the euphemisms, I suggest we call it what it is, and here are a few suggestions:

  • Abuse
  • Humiliation
  • Sexual shaming
  • Violence against women
  • Non-consensual distribution of sexual images or video

You’ll note at least two of those are shorter than “revenge porn”.

 


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