Chained

Cross-posted with permission from Splashes of Colour in your Dreams

 

<br /><br />
Chained</p><br />
<p>This sociopolitical art piece depicts how girls and women are weighed down by the social pressures to perform femininity, and adhere to beauty standards.<br /><br />
The feminine gender role is pretty. A girl or woman might not realise the weight of this ball and chain, because she is so used to it. She might look at it and rejoice in how pretty it is. That does not stop it being a burden that slows her down.

Chained

This sociopolitical art piece depicts how girls and women are weighed down by the social pressures to perform femininity, and adhere to beauty standards.

The feminine gender role is pretty. A girl or woman might not realise the weight of this ball and chain, because she is so used to it. She might look at it and rejoice in how pretty it is. That does not stop it being a burden that slows her down.

 

Cross-posted with permission from Splashes of Colour in your Dreams

Twitter: @acrosstheaether

“PUT AWAY THE SHOPPING CART AND PICK UP A SHOVEL” – WHO TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR ISSUES WITH CHURCH?

Cross-Posted with permission from We Mixed Our Drinks

We Mixed Our Drinks I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church [@boudledidge]

What would you say would be a really good reason for leaving a church? Pastor and blogger Aaron Loy* has five reasons he thinks are really bad, but I don’t think I agree with him.

No doubt, as a pastor and church planter Aaron Loy has heard the concerns and complaints of many members of his congregation. And this post must have been borne out of a certain amount of frustration at concerns and complaints that he can’t fully address or resolve, because some of that responsibility lies with someone else, even the complainant themselves. But my own concern is that just as we can be pretty one-sided in the way we look at issues in our church life, his response to this was just as one-sided and actually comes across as dismissive and patronising, hurtful to those dealing with the issues he lists, and even going as far as to remove responsibility and accountability from leaders.

Discussing the post on Twitter, someone I know commented that it read “too much like cajoling someone to stay in an abusive relationship”.

As I read through Loy’s five “really bad reasons”, my first reaction was to become steadily more irritated. Not because I think we need to move churches at the slightest hint of conflict or dissatisfaction, but because of how I’d feel if I received these answers in response to raising a concern. Under “I’m not being fed”, he writes:

“Do pastors have a responsibility to steward the scriptures and care for their church spiritually? You bet they do.”

This, however, doesn’t stop him believing that the access to “substance” we have through books and the internet makes it a “cop-out” to expect to get what we want or feel we need, teaching-wise, on a Sunday morning. I’d say it’s just as much of a cop-out to respond to people concerned about the quality or depth of teaching by telling them to go and get it elsewhere when they might not have the first clue where to start. I believe that a church with the resources to do so has a responsibility to serve its congregation, teaching-wise, at different stages of their faith life. Not by offering these opportunities only to those who are being mentored and trained on some sort of leadership track, but with teaching days, evenings, weekends, papers. There is a difference between spoon-feeding the selfish and ignoring valid concerns about teaching.

Many people spend many years of their lives serving the church and “contributing” to their community, but I also believe there are times when this is not possible, and a bit of consumption of something, anything, is exactly what’s needed. That could be down to illness, work pressures, or parenting pressures. From personal experience, I know that when you’re going through a stage like that and feel that “contributing” is a struggle, and people to give you the impression that you must give more, do more, expend more of yourself, it can make you feel resentful and cynical.

Not everyone feels comfortable in the same sort of church set-up, and it’s here that I worry about Loy’s response to his second point – “It’s getting too big”.

“If you have a problem with big churches, you really wouldn’t have liked the first church and you definitely won’t like heaven. To be frank, if you have a problem with the inevitable growth that happens when lives are changed by the gospel, you have some serious repenting to do.”

Feeling comfortable in a smaller group of people, in a quieter and more intimate church service or community has got nothing to do with having a problem with people’s lives being changed by the gospel, and I think that’s actually quite a nasty way of framing it. On one hand I can see his point about people being dissatisfied when ‘things aren’t how they used to be’ because they are resistant to any sort of change. But small churches and the people who prefer to worship in them, are not ‘wrong’. This point also seemed to highlight the oft-discussed divide between extroverted and introverted churchgoers, and the way that extrovert characteristics are often prized by Christian culture. For some people, large groups, noise and crowds are emotionally draining and a huge source of anxiety.

Do they need to be ordered to ‘repent’ as well?

I’m not going to argue with Loy’s point on “I don’t agree with everything that’s being preached”; that’s fair enough. But his fourth “really bad reason”, “My needs aren’t being met”, needs some looking at. Again it’s important to note there are two sides to every story. No-one can totally have their needs met by a church. But when someone speaks to a church leader about a concern they have, it should not be dismissed as a question of needing to “put away the shopping cart and pick up a shovel”. What is the need and why isn’t it being met? Can the church help? Is it a petty request or gripe, or an issue where someone needs pastoral support? Is it an issue that has been raised numerous times by numerous different people? If so, it might be time to consider change.

I know that the issues Loy has identified must be a source of frustration for countless church leaders who are working hard and doing their best and trying to accommodate people, but it goes both ways. After reading his post, I felt his overriding message was “Don’t try to implicate the church, its leaders, or the way it has dealt with issues – the problem is YOU. If you were less selfish, less needy, and more willing to suck it up and give more rather than expect something in return, you wouldn;’t be in this mess.”

We all have issues with the church. Sometimes these issues can and should be addressed. Sometimes, we need to talk them through and understand that we have to take some responsibility for solving these issues (sometimes we truly are the victims of something terrible, other times, we’re not and need to keep things in perspective), or that we need to look at them from a different angle and see the nuance.

Aaron Loy’s “really bad reasons” might not be the greatest of reasons for leaving a church. But his responses to them are exactly the reasons I have often been fearful of raising church-related issues with people: that in doing so, I would be dismissed and given the impression that the problem lies only with me and my selfishness. People I know have experienced it too, in conversations with church leaders and even in response to blog posts. It is perhaps one of the most common sights below the line in some corners of the Christian blogosphere – someone writes about a negative experience with church; someone else rushes to tell them that they’re actually the one at fault. When we address the issues that arise on our journeys of faith, the reaction of the church should not be to absolve itself of any responsibility, but to see both sides of the story and think about what could be done to help.

*who I had never come across before today – which leads me to say that I don’t regularly read his blog or know about anything else he has written on this subject. I felt the post discussed here was problematic and hurtful, and felt moved to explain why.

 

We Mixed Our Drinks I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church [@boudledidge]

Seven Years

Cross -posted with permission From a Whisper to a Roar

It is almost seven years exactly.

Seven years since I walked into that school and felt all of the pride and excitement that comes with starting the job of your dreams.  Especially after returning to university to get there.  Giving up a professional income to study for this because THIS is where your heart is.  Where all of the best things can happen.  The classroom.  And it was mine.

Seven years since I moved into my first real home on my own.  Not a granny flat or weirdo share house.  Mine.   Two bedroom unit I would pay for with my dream job in the school I had chosen, in the beautiful small suburb on the edge of town.

I was in a relationship.  I had my home.  I was happy.  All my ducks were in a row.

Seven years since the school year started but I see now that by that day, I was on his radar.  He was a predator from very early on, if he has ever been any other way, I couldn’t say.  Certainly the gossip from those on his interviewing panel were that his references were questionable.  Inappropriate relations with staff, in general, were part of his MO.  But hey, they knew him.  He was a Nice Guy.  Further complicating my experience, the power plays and existing alliances amongst such a small, long term staff list would ensure I would not get any of the support that was rightfully mine when the time came; ethically, morally, legally or as the profession standard.

Seven years I have tortured myself.  First with denial – This revolting creature could not possibly be serious?  But I will never forget how he asked for a ‘team photo’ on school photo day and as they took the shots his hand slid down my back and squeezed my buttock.  But I look so happy in the photos.  My hair was shiny, my eyes bright.  My belief that I was in the right place with important work to do with students as a caring, empathic teacher was at peak level then.  And I fought it’s demise every step of the way.  Then I tortured myself with the guilt andshame spiral that I’d come to know well working in welfare with child survivors of sexual abuse.  No amount of reasoning and research means a thing when you feel so stupid and trapped in your own skin.  That theoretical knowledge probably makes it worse in some ways.  Another thing to beat yourself with.  How could I miss the signs?  How could I be fooled?  How did I get to this?  I am an educated adult in a fair country in 2007.  I am a Union member who knows my rights by heart.  I can talk.  I know who to tell.  How the hell can you have all of that and still sit at the bottom of your running shower every night and wail?  How?

It really has been seven years of screaming into people’s faces as they stare blankly ahead and pretend they can’t hear me.  I did it that first night.  We had the children on a school camp, you see.  While you wondered how your kids were on their first big camp away, they were tucked up in bed but the most senior teachers were both in a dark room with me.  One trying to remove my pyjamas, one joking about how I was young and “probably giving HIM an erection” as I fought him off and yelled about how much trouble he would be in.  She was awake.  She did hear me.  I fucking told her I was upset about it when he left the room and she said, “He’s just an affectionate guy” – hard to say in your sleep.

I just had to stop for a bit.  Seven years and it still hurts.  It is still hard to believe that two primary school teachers acted in that way with kids asleep in the cabins beside us.  He was supposed to be in a cabin on the other side of the camp.  With the fathers who had volunteered to assist.  On this camp so far away from home.  No car.  Only HIS car.

I am in awe of the human mind, how it worked to get me through that camp.  That whole year with HIM, in the office next to my classroom, only windows between us. Six months later, after he was sent home and the Police became involved.  As the Principal held a staff meeting to tell everyone that HE was suspended due to accusations by a staff member.  And the room fell in on top of me.  (Protocol that can be found on a Google search clearly states that this meeting should not have taken place, staff should NOT have been told but apparently the Principal should not be reprimanded because “he was new to the job”.)  I printed out the guidelines for him, you know.  Highlighted what he had to do next and the ‘chain of command’, if you will.  I spoon fed it. I knew enough to have little faith in either his abilities or interest.  And he pretended I hadn’t. Because they went to school together as kids.  He knew HIS wife.  HE was immature but harmless, couldn’t I see that?  They were both just NICE GUYS.

For seven years I have heard that.  From every level of the hierarchy.  I have been questioned, cross examined, shamed, blamed and talked about.  I worked for another two years (because I’m stubborn, and I truly believed in Right and Wrong) but this followed me.  Like they told me it would.  When I sat in her office, broken down, desperate, and asked the Principal for help as HIS frightening behaviour was breaking all kinds of LAWS (I thought that would scare him into action HAHAHAHAHA) and he stated very simply, “If you make this known outside these walls, your career will be ruined.  Mud.  Sticks.” I still thought he was being dramatic, or referring to other difficulties.  I did not realise that what he actually meant was that the three of them together would almost kill me from the inside out.  That he would laughwhen a temp agency called to ask if I had worked there before.  That I would become unemployable because someone with authority over me in the workplace decided that he would have me, body and mind, whether I wanted that or not.  Every time I got the guts (or pissed off enough) to say something I was “being unprofessional” and “should reconsider whether I am suitable for the job”.  Said the ‘new to the job’ principal.  Was he also new to planet Earth and Australian Law?

For seven years I have known that the only option for me was to fight.  At times I had nothing left.  I considered how I could stop the insanity…only one way that I could see.  Then I would decide again that they couldn’t have all of me, the pricks.  I didn’t try to wipe myself out in defiance because that would be too much of a gift to them.  All gone.  Nothing for them to worry about.  I wanted them to have something to worry about.

For seven years I imagined bloody revenge.  Fiery vengeance.  Sometimes violent retribution.  What else can you do?  I did take myself to a counselor then and ask if I was becoming a psychopath, had I crossed the line?  What had I become?  (It’s particularly disconcerting when the targets inhabit primary schools, really makes you feel fucked up)  Just a normal person after trauma, apparently.  Using anything that my brilliant mind could dig up to release some of that pain.  I don’t think you can ever be the same though, after a mind shift like that.  My tolerance for hearing about other people’s trauma is much lower.  I am enraged.  Angry.  Sick to fucking death of sexual violence and manipulation and victim blaming bullshit.

It has been less than seven years since I first called my union representative and put this scenario to them.  Probably about three years since I saw a lawyer.  The union works with this law firm to aid employees financially and legally in a way I cannot emphasise strongly enough to you.  Join your goddamn union and investigate your rights at work.  That wasn’t enough to help me, true, but I have utilized those venues in the only way they are available to some of us – with the impending threat of a public hearing.  Seeking some financial compensation.  Not to get rich.  Hahahaha you don’t choose Workcover to get rich, kids.  Turns out you have to be a bit of a sadist, or one tough mother.  It’s brutal.  For bringing Rape and Stalking charges against your boss…faaaaark.

Even with all of the evidence that I had, the Police and Court documents, countless psychiatric examinations by strangers and sharp legal representation to face their scary lawyers…seven years to come to an end.  Three years of constant legal action.  He pled guilty, right?  Still three years for that to be recognised.  To prove that I was damaged by what we agree he did.  Prove damage enough that I might get some recognition in the eyes of…well…anyone.  I wasn’t fussy by now.  Only one option.  I had to fight for it.  I knew I couldn’t go on any other way.

Yesterday, I got the call.  My lawyer.  Her voice happy and light.  It IS over.  I’ve taken it to the limit and the other side has made an offer that indicates I was indeed the victim of some hellish wrongdoing.  There was a tussle, mind.  Some initial offers which were insulting to the person reading them out and all of us.  This kind of settlement could’ve meant a much higher one should I have been forced into  jury trial to prove employer negligence.  It could also have meant the same, or less.  Depends on the jury.  It would have meant more public knowledge and opportunities for more abuse and pain for me.  I was willing because I wanted to prove a point but I’m pretty bloody glad that I don’t have to, as I’m sure anyone would be.  Seven years is enough.

Turns out that there is no precedent for this scenario in workplace/employer law to get this far.  Has a boss sexually assaulted an employee?  Well, yes.  Was it like this?  Did everyone involved lie, bully and blacklist the victim?  Was that person able to fight this long?  Nope.  When I first called the union they did say, “Um, I don’t know where to start.  This is a new one for us!”

I wanted to make a mark on the world, you know.  And I hope I do it in other ways, too.  But in these circumstances, I have had a big win.

What I am hoping for is that this seven years and yesterday’s outcome serve as a warning to employers and other staff (especially THIS employer) that rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and gossip ARE WRONG, EVEN IN YOUR ISOLATED WORKPLACE!  A Duty of Care exists even if you choose to think that young women are “dick teases” who “bring it upon themselves”.  (Yes, direct quotes).  If an employer in the future only acts out of fear for his own hide rather than being a lawful and ethical professional, so be it.  As long as someone’s silent suffering is minimised or prevented.  The moral revolution necessary and thorough smashing of the patriarchy that enables this shit must come also but that’s work far beyond the capacity of the utter bastards in my story.  It was of course their strongest weapon.

If there happens to be another asshole out there preying on a Bright Young Thing who dreams of Making A Difference (and I think we know there is), and she has to call her union rep or a lawyer one day, I want to make sure they know there is a precedent in this area.  You are not lost in the woods entirely.  Because I tried my best to slash my way through and I think I left a trail with a little light.  It’s yours if you need it and I’ll be here somewhere if you need directions.  Funnily enough, in about seven weeks I don’t have to be an anonymous shell anymore.

 

Cross -posted with permission From a Whisper to a Roar who can be found on Twitter here.

My Feminist Parenting by @HisFeministMama

Following my recent personal experience with the great and knowledgeable trolls of internetlandia, I feel the need to share some information. It appears that when people use the term “Feminist Parenting” they attach a whole world of incorrect and oppressive misinformation.

To begin, and this must be the vein through which any further discussion on Feminist Parenting runs,Feminist Parenting is different in every situation, every family and within every parent-child bond (arguably, parenting can be further sliced as being different with every interaction we have with our children or ourselves as parents). But, in essence: my feminist parenting is just that. It is mine.

In our house, Feminist Parenting means:

1. we actively sought out research and information about birth, and did what we could to ensure that my choices were communicated throughout the experience.

2. my partner supported me throughout pregnancy and childbirth. He respected the choices and decisions that I made about my body.

3. when our son was born we began parenting gently and with mindful attachment. I have discussed before the connections between attachment and feminism. Read bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody or connect with other Attached-Feminist parents to learn more.

4. despite my decision to leave my job as a teacher, we view my work as a parent equal, and as valuable as the work my son’s father does in his paid employment.

5. I strive to teach my son about oppression when it is appropriate and contextual. Got that? Being a Feminist Parent has zero to do with dogma or indoctrination. Everything we do is contextual and developmentally appropriate. Example: If my son wants to play with a doll he does. Because his sex assignment should have zero to do with what toys he plays with, books he reads or activities he is involved in. If he wants to play with trucks (and trust me, he does) he should and will.

6. my partner and I practice shared parenting. Despite working outside the home, Aodhan’s father is 100% involved in raising and parenting our child. We celebrate fatherhood as being caring and nurturing and really no different than mothering (minus the biologically ability to breastfeed and birth – if these are possible or chosen)

7. we welcome into our family a worldview that is inclusive, loving of all and intersectional. I strive to ensure that my child sees a reality that isn’t limited to our cis-heteronormative, white world. I do this through story-telling, songs and play. This does matter.

8. we practice gentle discipline. We do this not only because it is our instinct, but because we believe the research around gentle discipline, and as teachers we have first hand experience: we know that through kindness, respect and communication, people come to much better understandings. As a Feminist, I am also critical of any type of oppressive control, and thus work against it in the parenting that I do.

9. I neither hide, nor excuse my Feminist beliefs in family discussions. Aodhan’s father is an ally and celebrates me as the Feminist I am. He is proud to be raising another ally.

10. I continue to read, learn from, and connect with other Feminists – both parents and child-free.

Perhaps the most obvious element of Feminist Parenting is that I am a Feminist. I believe in discovering a world where we are free of rape-culture and where there are no more barriers, glass ceilings or ‘in spite ofs’. I believe in a time when people are loved and supported for the unique and wonderful people that they are. I raise Aodhan the way that I do because I want him to care deeply for others – no matter who they are or where they have come from. I raise Aodhan the way that I do because I want Aodhan to love HIMSELF, no matter who he is, who he loves or what choices he makes in his life. I do not ask that Aodhan be a Feminist, nor that he be an ally. I ask that he grow up in a home where love is paramount and acceptance is vital.

That is my Feminist Parenting. It isn’t perfect, and neither are we.

 

Our Feminist Playschool: feminist discussion while mothering tweets as @HisFeministMama

Infertility, patriarchy, profit and me, or: “KERCHING!” – Infertility and woman blaming, woman shaming, woman controlling

Cross-posted with permission from Karen Ingala Smith

I awoke this morning to what I thought was good news: a campaign to raise awareness of the relationship between a woman’s age and infertility.

I’m 45. I’d assumed that I’d become pregnant when the time was right. The time felt right when I was around 36 years old; I believed I’d been a mixture of lucky (not to have had an unplanned pregnancy, to have had a decent-enough education, to have a challenging and rewarding job, to have a home/mortgage and to have met someone I wanted to share life and parenthood with), unlucky (it had taken a while and a few ‘not so great choices’) and sensible (it had all taken effort). The ages 38 to 41 brought the delights of temperature/ovulation charts, followed by drugs to control ovulation and eventually four failed IVF attempts, one reaching the dazzling ‘success’ of an early miscarriage; complete with a side order of giving up alcohol and caffeine, vitamin and mineral supplements, losing weight, acupuncture and – and it pains me to admit this – listening to awful visualisation CDs, surrounding myself with ‘fertility colours’ and a strategically placed piece of rose crystal (no, not internally). I’m going to blame the mind altering ovulation and IVF drugs for my descent into those, please allow me and also grant me lifelong forgiveness for any adverse reaction that I might have to the phrase ‘positive mental attitude’. I’m now, jointly with my partner, about twenty thousand pounds lighter in pocket. 1

The years between the ages of 40 and 44 were not easy ones for me, with grief, loss, depression, jealously, bitterness, emptiness and despondency the companions of dwindling hope. I found out that our first IVF attempt hadn’t worked the day before my 40th birthday. I can still see where I was when I received that phone-call.

I didn’t have a seamless transition into acceptance of childlessness but one Saturday morning, in February 2012 came across this piece by Jody Day on her work to set up Gateway Women, and – once I’d stopped sobbing – I contacted her and eventually enrolled on her group work programme. It set me free, allowed me to move on.2

I’ll probably never know why I didn’t get pregnant, none of the testing involved with infertility treatment found any problems, I have ‘unexplained infertility’ but certainly age is a – if not the – most likely significant contributory factor. Fast forward to this morning and the issue of women, age and fertility being discussed on the radio and in social media and I was pleased. Pleased because I genuinely believe that there is insufficient attention paid to infertility, in society, in education and also in feminist discourse on women and reproduction.

However there are awareness-raising campaigns and ‘awareness-raising’ campaigns. The one people were talking about this morning is part of First Response’s “Get Britain Fertile”, campaign and is purportedly about warning those women who want to and are able to delay motherhood about the risks of doing so. First Response is a registered trademark of Church & Dwight Co. Inc., a £1.7 billion ($2.6 billion) company with headquarters in New Jersey, USA with brands including Arm & Hammer, Trojan, Nair, Oxi Clean, Orajel, Lady’s Choice and First Response. Whether they knew it or not, people were talking about an awareness raising campaign that is funded by a multi-million pound company that also trades in diet foods and hair removing products, products that rely upon misogyny created self loathing like chips need potatoes. The campaign is lent legitimacy through the backing of Zita West, the self-called “UK’s no. 1 for preconception planning, natural fertility, assisted fertility, pregnancy coaching and post-natal support”. I found three active UK companies registered is her name, all selling fertility products and treatments.3 In other words, this awareness raising campaign is about selling products through the medium of raising awareness. There doesn’t appear to be any of this messy business stuff referred to in the campaign.

When I think about raising awareness of issues relating to women, age and fertility, I want us to be talking about the facts. Whilst the average age of a first-time mother has been increasing, a woman’s fertility peaks in her early to mid-twenties after which it begins to decline, this is true of both natural and assisted conception. Three out of four men and women overestimate by five years the rapid decline in women’s fertility at 35 not 40.

When I think about raising awareness of issues relating to women and fertility, I want us to be talking about how women are judged for getting pregnant too young, for getting pregnant without a long term and male partner, for getting pregnant or failing to get pregnant when too old, for getting pregnant and remaining in or leaving paid employment, for only having one child, for having too many children, for having abortions, for staying in abusive relationships or leaving and breaking up ‘happy families’. Teenage mothers, single mothers, lesbian mothers, older mothers, women who work, women who stay at home, woman who have ‘x’ number of children, childless women, women who leave, women who stay –whether through choice or lack of choice- what unites us is that according to someone, we’re doing it wrong!

When we’re looking at why some women are delaying the age at which they have children and why some choose to have them as soon as they can, we need to look at how hard we make it for women to afford to be able to have children, how hard it is to have children and rewarding paid employment, how expensive and for many, unaffordable, childcare is, why for some young women their aspirations do not go beyond motherhood or why for some a child is seen as the solution to their sense of isolation, loneliness and worthlessness. We need to look at equality issues, we need to show the concept of ‘reverse-Darwinism’ – the panic about the trend for women with higher levels of education to have children in later life and fewer of them (and therefore more likely to face infertility) – the contempt it deserves, whilst looking at what we can do to support women of any social background in their decisions to have, or not to have children and to be able to plan the size of their families.

We need to look at the roles of men in raising families and at the effects of their ages, their jobs, their contributions in the home. We need to look at gender stereotypes and their impact on family life, relationships and woman and men’s ‘choices’. We need to make it no big deal for families to be made of people in same sex relationships whether or not they have children.

We need a global perspective. We need to look at poverty, inequality and fertility rates and ensure the relationship between higher birth rates and countries with lower GDPs and higher gender inequality, are seen as problems of international poverty inequality and gender inequality.

TV presenter Kate Garraway fronts the new campaign; she said that she “agreed to become Ambassador to the campaign” because “I want to alert women to start thinking about their fertility at a younger age than our generation did. They should get prepared and make informed choices early so there is no chance of sleepwalking into infertility.’ According to a report in the Telegraph, as part of the campaign, Garraway spent a day being transformed into a heavily pregnant 70 year-old by a prosthetic make-up artist, to “shock and provoke debate about how old is too old to have a baby”.

kate garraway old pregnant women article-2326293-19D52D22000005DC-611_306x450

The thing is I’ve never met anyone who planned or plans to delay having a baby into their 70ies. Women’s fertility declines through their 30ies and 40ies, what’s the point in an awareness campaign featuring a woman supposedly in her 70ies? Isn’t this confusing the message? Isn’t it telling women that they don’t want to delay motherhood until their 70ies, not that they cannot? The only way that this photo has impact is by exaggeration based on misogyny, the special misogyny reserved for older women in a society where women are valued by what they look like and an ideal of beauty rooted in youth.

This new campaign is not about raising awareness of the relationship between women’s age and infertility; it’s not about supporting women to make informed choices and making society more supportive of women’s choices. This campaign is about persuading women to start spending money on fertility treatment at a younger age and it relies upon misogyny to do so.

Footnotes

1 Yes, I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to make the choice to spend a lot of money on unsuccessful fertility treatment.

2 Gateway Women was hugely beneficial for me, and I’d encourage any woman struggling with issues around childlessness by circumstance not choice to find out more: gateway-women.com

I’d also like to acknowledge that the support of Jodie and the group that I was part of contributed to me daring to start blogging.

3 They’re not legally required to disclose their annual turnover and I wasn’t able to find it.

 

Karen Ingala also runs the Counting Dead Women campaign which demands a:

a fit-for-purpose record of fatal male violence against women.  I want to see the connections between the different forms of fatal male violence against women.  I want to see a homicide review for every sexist murder.  I want the government to fund an independently run Femicide Observatory, where relationships between victim and perpetrator and social, cultural and psychological issues are analysed.

World Leprosy Day

What is leprosy? 

Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease caused by a bacillus – mycobacterium leprae – that’s related to tuberculosis. It multiplies really slowly, which means that symptoms of the disease can take up to 30 years to appear. It starts by damaging the small nerves in the skin’s surface, which can result in discoloured patches of skin with no feeling

If left untreated, leprosy then goes on to damage the large nerves in the elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. This can lead to loss of sensation in the hands and feet, meaning that affected people can no longer feel pain and are liable to injure themselves more easily. Unhealed injuries and infections can lead to the shortening and deterioration of fingers and toes and ultimately, amputation may be needed. Leprosy can also damage nerves in the face causing the eyelid muscles to stop working, which can lead to blindness.

How is leprosy spread?

It is most likely that it’s an airborne disease, but due to the fact it’s an extremely complex disease that is difficult to understand, it is not entirely clear. It is not, however, spread by physical contact.

How common is leprosy now?

The last case of indigenous leprosy in the UK was diagnosed in 1798, so many people believe that it has been eradicated. That’s not the case. In 2012, 232,857 people were newly diagnosed with the disease. Over half of these new cases (134,752) were found in India, with Brazil and Indonesia having the second and third highest numbers of new diagnoses (WHO, Aug 2013). Leprosy is found in more than 100 countries today. There are about three million people living with permanent disability as a result of leprosy

Is there a cure?

Yes! The cure for leprosy is a course of tablets called multidrug therapy (MDT), which has been available since 1982. It’s a combination of three drugs taken for six to 12 months. But while treatment stops the infection immediately, it cannot turn the clock back in terms of disability.

A clawed hand or ‘drop foot’, caused by muscle paralysis, can be restored with surgery. Surgery, however, cannot restore the feeling to hands and feet meaning they are easily injured. The blink mechanism can also be restored by surgery. But once eyesight has been lost, tragically nothing can be done to reverse the situation.

What are the stigmas associated with leprosy?

Leprosy has been, since ancient times, one of the most stigmatising diseases known. Many different cultures and religions have, through the centuries, interpreted the disease as a curse or punishment for some misdeed carried out in a past life or by a family member. Misinformation about the way leprosy is spread also contributes to stigma – people might fear touching someone affected by leprosy even though it cannot be contracted by physical contact, and many people also believe that it is incurable.

The inclusion of people with disabilities in society is an enormous issue worldwide. We know that people affected by leprosy were seen as ‘unclean’ in Biblical times, but this stigma still persists today. It’s only in the last few decades that many countries have stopped forcibly confining leprosy patients to institutions or colonies. Today, there are still many leprosy colonies and communities in existence.

Stigma today manifests in many ways. It might mean that a person is thrown out of the family home and shunned by relatives, or indeed their entire community – hence the existence of entire villages of people affected by leprosy. It might mean that a child is told by a teacher that he or she can no longer go to school. It might mean that people refuse to buy goods from a person affected by leprosy. Leprosy can present barriers to education and employment, but also marriage and family life. In India, leprosy is grounds for divorce (Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939; Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872; Indian Divorce Act, 1869).

The many ways people are affected by leprosy means that our work at The Leprosy Mission must be wide-ranging.

Why is it wrong to use the word leper?

The word ‘leper’ has historically been used to describe someone affected by leprosy, but it is a very derogatory and disablist word that people with the disease find extremely offensive. It’s a word that’s associated with stigma – how many times have you heard people use it to mean that they felt or were treated like an outcast? The World Health Organisation has underlined the importance of not using the word, and the BBC notes this in its style guide.

Are women and girls disproportionately affected by leprosy?

Women and girls are not disproportionately affected by the disease itself, but they are often disproportionately affected by its knock-on effects. In male-dominated societies, women affected by disability can be particularly vulnerable. Women with leprosy are at risk of violence from their husbands or male family members, and we also meet many women whose husbands have left them or thrown them out of the house because they have the disease. As women, it may then be more difficult for them to get a job and support their children. Girls may then be more likely to drop out of school so that they can help their mothers.

We have also worked with women who have become involved in sex work as a result of feeling they have no other way to earn money. Some of our projects have worked specifically with women, recognising that they are disadvantaged in particular ways.

How did you get involved with The Leprosy Mission?

I had been aware of the organisation for some time as it is based close to where I live. I had been keen to work in communications for a development organisation for some time and was delighted to join the team in 2011.

How can others help your organisation?

People can of course directly support our work financially, but one thing I’m working on at the moment is really raising awareness of leprosy and the fact that it still has a huge impact on people’s lives today. You can help simply by spreading the word and making others aware that leprosy isn’t something to make jokes about, or something from history. We’ve produced some resources for World Leprosy Day 2014 to help with this – share our leprosy facts and watch our video, which tells you all you need to know about the disease and about our work in less than three minutes.

There are many other ways to help – through volunteering, fundraising, and through our Gifts for Life, where purchasing a gift for a loved one will directly impact someone affected by leprosy.

Find out more online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Our very long Autism journey and how we’ve been let down along the way

Cross-posted with permission from bottomfacedotcom

I have M.E, FMS and suffer from chronic anaemia. On top of these problems I am also on a medication regime which includes 4 different medicines which cause fatigue. Meanwhile, my son has autism and ADHD. It’s 6am and he’s only just fallen asleep. At 9am I am supposed to home educate him.

Almost 3 years ago I had to remove him from school. He was being bullied, every day having to cope with being called a “retard”, “mental” and a “moron” and having children doing horrible things to him such as pulling his trousers down in the playground. In addition to this the school had made the aim of him writing just 3 words per day. He was quickly falling behind his peers.

When he was in Infant school, a wonderful school with a play based curriculum, he coped relatively well. They accessed a lot of advice from the local special school and he spent one day per week there. They used several interventions. Giving him his own desk, a reward box, TA support, a special box, sensory toys, a laptop, a private white board, visual schedule and many other things. Despite consistent meetings between the infant school, ourselves and the junior’s regarding his transition, as well as the infant school giving the junior school all of his equipment, the junior school did not put any of these interventions into place. We made frequent complaints to the junior school who told us he was settling in fine and much better than they expected. Of course this was in the first month when little work but many settling in activities were implemented. Then things took a turn for the worse and his Independent Education Plans began to reveal that there was trouble in paradise. Yet, they still didn’t reintroduce the interventions previously used and had lost the equipment given to him. We bought some equipment ourselves and took it into the school, but it still hadn’t been used properly. Things came to a head when his teacher in a very difficult meeting, angrily told us he was unteachable it was then that we decided to remove him from school.

Due to staff cuts, and funding shortages, my son only received his final diagnosis last year. When he was 5 we requested for him to be assessed for autism. When he was 6 we finally had an “Options meeting”. This was where they would perform a pre-assessment to decide whether they thought it was worth putting him forward for full assessment. Me, my husband, and my son’s SENCO, attended a meeting with a CAHMS doctor. She said to us that he was probably autistic, but due to funding cuts and the fact that we were coping was there really a need for him to go on to full assessment, could she not, instead, write a letter saying he was probably autistic and could we not use that instead? The three of us insisted that it would be entirely inadequate. We were then placed on a waiting list for the formal assessment. Due to staff repeatedly leaving and often not being replaced we had to wait another 3 years for this assessment to begin, which then took 9 months to complete. All this while he was having the struggles in his life and had to leave school at the age of 7. Eventually he was given a diagnosis of classic autism, for which he met all diagnostic criteria, and combined type ADHD, he had to fulfil 6/18 of the criteria for this diagnosis, he met 15. The staff dealing with him could not believe it took so long for such an obvious diagnosis to be made, unaware of the structural problems which had delayed this. As well as his diagnosis it is thought that he may have dyslexia and dyscalculia, though it has been decided that it is not worth the expense of testing because the interventions will be the same either way.

When he was 8 I became too ill I decided I could no longer physically cope with home educating him. He spent long days being taught by the internet, or lying in bed with me for his lessons. Everywhere I went I was told he couldn’t be statemented from home. I was told that he would have to go back to a mainstream school where they would eventually statement him. That was an impossible answer for us. There was no way we could place him back into the same situation again. So we struggled on: him having an education that was inadequate but better than the alternative and me struggling every day to do my best but feeling incredibly ill. Eventually when he was 9 and undergoing his formal assessment his mental health nurse looked into the situation for us and discovered that he could be statemented at home.

In the summer we began the statementing process. This is still ongoing. It has involved assessments with both an education psychologist, and a paediatrician and we have had to fill in many, many forms gathering evidence from the last few years from the wildest places. Midway through this process, we were told we had to begin searching for a school. I emailed every single school in the area. Almost none of them had places. Eventually we found a couple which did. We looked around the schools, one of them immediately brought up the matter of money. Did we know that the schools have to find the first £6000 of a statement now and that taking on statemented children is a large burden on school budgets? They were unimpressed with his level of need to an extent that we did not want to place our child in that situation. The next school we found were much more enthusiastic. My husband visited the school who told him they would take on my son before the statement was completed and help us fill it in. They had numerous facilities that could be used to help him with his autism and they would love to have him. This sounded like the answer to our dreams and shortly afterwards we sent him for a visit to the school. He loved it and they continued the rhetoric to him, telling him he’d be welcome there and would he like to come back for a trial lesson. As he left my husband left the proposed statement with them so they could better understand his needs. The next day I emailed them asking when he could go in for his trial lessons. They emailed back. Some issues had been raised from reading the proposed statement and so they would need to have a meeting with me. The meeting was scheduled for a month later. In statementing time this was significant, it meant that they would no longer be able to help us write it.

I went along to the meeting, still hopeful, but nervous. They hadn’t realised his needs were so significant and they weren’t sure he could keep up in a school such as theirs where different years worked together. It wasn’t long before that conversation happened. They wondered if we knew that funding had changed for statemented children and did we know that they would have to foot the bill for the first £6000 which would be a huge burden on the school’s budget. My heart sank. I asked them to be honest with me and tell me if they thought they couldn’t fulfil his needs. They couldn’t legally answer this directly but told me that statements don’t work the way we think and that if he was, for instance, given a statement for 1:1 support for 20 hours a week, this would probably actually involve about 5 hours of 1:1, some small group work and the rest being used for other children within the school who need help. Knowing how much I struggle to get my son to stay on task, the fact that he can’t write for himself, and that even with a predictive text writing programme on his laptop it still takes him an hour to COPY a paragraph, and hours to do so when he is making the information up from scratch, this would be entirely inappropriate. They also wondered if he wouldn’t be better served by attending a special school to help him get into a special senior school which he would clearly need. This sounded like a pragmatic way of giving us more reason not to send him there. Nonetheless, I had no other options and so arranged for him to have a trial lesson, which was arranged for over a month in the future. I tried to calmly tell my son that he probably wouldn’t go there but we had to keep our options open, however, they had sold it to him so well at his previous visit, my warnings were not going in. He went for the trial lesson and my husband had a chat with them were again they attempted to dissuade us from sending him to the school.

As our last option we managed to get a meeting with our local special school. Alas they only gave us 10 minutes of their time and so we have little understanding of whether the school is appropriate or whether they can accommodate him. They don’t really want to talk to us at all until his statement is complete. His Educational Psychologist said that he is possibly too intelligent for special school, and that the chances of him making progress there are very slim, but that at least he wouldn’t have to cope with being called a “retard” and the transition would therefore be easier.

This lead to me to write to our MP. I told him that we were concerned that schools were being dissuaded from enrolling children with SEN due to the funding changes and explained what had happened to us. He wrote back to us with one letter from one of the ministers with the DfE who assured us this wasn’t happening, despite us having direct experience of it ourselves, and another letter from a senior member at the LEA who again told him this wasn’t happening, despite us having direct experience of it, but also that they were preparing a statement that they thought we would be very happy with and that we were to expect to receive it by mid-December. It didn’t arrive. I’ve also written back to my MP informing him that this isn’t the case, and that we know it is happening because it’s the very reason we can’t find a school for our son. We have not been offered assistance as a result of these letters, I have simply been managed and fed spin which goes against my direct experience. Yesterday I emailed the LEA asking them when we would finally receive it and they said, miraculously, that they just happened to be working on it that day. Hopefully we will finally receive it soon and we can begin again in our search for a school, though this time we will only be looking at special schools, which are few and very far between.

My son turned 10 a fortnight again. I cannot believe that we started all of this so long ago and yet we’re still so far away from meeting a resolution. He is now on medication which stops him pacing the hallway and spinning as much but which has done nothing for his concentration and absences which is why we made the decision to try medication in the first place. I am sick and exhausted, and scared and frustrated and perpetually guilty. I used to believe that every child had a right to an education. I used to believe that the state systems would not leave someone who is as sick as I am to home educate a child, badly due to lack of energy. He is barely socialised because I can’t get him out of the house. I’m reliant on my husband taking time off work and my father who has several life-limiting conditions himself. My husband also has a disability, and recently had to have an operation on a flesh eating enzyme emitting tumour. None of us are coping. None of us are being adequately supported for any of our varying conditions and needs. We are a burden on the state who act as if their only commitment is to manage us and make us go away. Every step along the way we have tried to act like dedicated parents, we have crossed every T and dotted ever I. We have fought tooth and nail for every little thing we have received and we have received very little.

Right now I am so exhausted. I don’t know if either I or my son will be capable of teaching and learning today, which is another little step backwards on a long path of moving backwards. I am not receiving carer support from the state: because of funding cuts I no longer fulfilled the criteria. But the good news on everyone’s lips is that I have another slightly older son who can be a child carer! My doctor wants me to push adult services again, I don’t even know if I have the energy to do the pushing anymore. Most days my son now even has to make his own sandwiches, and if I don’t have a drink handy (normally something woefully bad for you like coke) I can go a whole day without a drink. None of this is adequate. I’m quite sure our human rights are being trampled on and I’m beginning to wonder if this government believes that people with disabilities are even human enough to be owed them.

bottomfacedotcom: proud owner of lady parts. Lucy tweets at @LUBottom. She also has an etsy page: Little Shop of Vulvas

The science behind sex differences is still in dispute

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

In November 2013 a study was published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA’ (link here for those interested http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/27/1316909110, the full paper will be available on open access in May 2014) titled, ‘Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain’. Now if you don’t know what a connectome is, don’t worry, the term was only coined in around 2005. It refers to a map of neural connections in the brain, and it exists as a way of trying to connect the physical structure of the brain with its function (if you are interested there is more on this here  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectome). Fancy new terminology aside, the purpose of the study was to measure structural connections within the brains of just below 1000 young people (aged 8 to 22) and their results showed some interesting differences. Using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (an MRI technique that measures the restricted diffusion of water) they found that after the age of 13 there were significant differences in how the brains of men and women were connected. In the study men’s brains were found to connect more within a given hemisphere. and women’s had great cross connectivity (seen below the connectome maps published, showing the male brain in blue and the female brain in orange:
Image

As you can see, the male brain shows more longitudal connections whilst the female brains shows more transverse connections.
The abstract for the study states, ‘the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’, having earlier noted that ‘Males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills’.

The publication of this paper resulted in a number of excitable and fairly familiar newspaper headlines.
The Telegraph announced boldly ‘Brains of men and women are poles apart’, (demonstrating once and for all that broadsheets aren’t immune to headline puns) telling us that women’s brains are set up to have better memories (for anniversaries!) and gauge social situations better while men’s brains coordinate their actions with their senses, so can navigate better (not to mention be better at parking cars).

The Independent declared these differences, ‘could explain why men are ‘better at map reading”.
The Belfast Telegraph gets the prize for the best reporting on this, by first reminding us that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ before going on to declare that the study has shown ‘men and women’s brains are wired in completely different ways, as if they were species from different planets.’

With the possible exception of the Belfast Telegraph (who seem to have got themselves hopelessly overexcited), you can’t place too much fault on the reporting here. It is a clear cut case of ‘science says’, and in this case has the benefits of a peer reviewed journal to back it up. The study itself made reference to differences in male and female behaviours, stating that men have better ‘motor and spacial abilities’ whereas women show, ‘superior memory and social cognition’. Unfortunately, whilst this paper may make that claim, the preceding study (of which the participants of this study were a subset) does not back that up (abstract here http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/neu/26/2/251/). Of the 26 behavioural measures made for comparison (for example executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition), 11 showed sex differences that were non existent, or as small as 53:47 (the expected sex outperforming the opposite only 53% of the time), Even in those areas where the differences are meant to be the greatest (spatial or social awareness) the performance difference was only 60:40-a measurable and noticeable difference for sure, but hardly enough to declare difference species.

My problem is not with this study or with their results, but rather with the way the conclusions have been drawn, and with the extrapolations. They have shown interesting differences in how men’s and women’s brains connect with themselves, but then rather than taking any further interesting steps, drilling down further into the data, they have attached some male/female stereotypes and called it job done. One of the authors has even suggested that the ‘hard wired’ differences found could explain the ‘gut feelings’ that women demonstrate more than men, and which makes them good mothers (‘intuition’ and ‘mothering’, or indeed ‘nurturing’ was not in fact measured in this study).

There could be other reasons than ‘men are better at map reading’ for the differences observed. Men’s brains are frequently bigger than women’s brains, the difference in the wiring could be due to physical necessity (there are also studies on this).

Then there’s the most interesting part of the study that has been the least discussed: the structural differences are not observed in a significant manner until after age 13. And we have to ask ourselves why. One of the proposed explanations is that this is the approximate average age for the development of secondary sexual characteristics. There are massive changes in the body, hormones flooding everything, the logic seems to be that the brain changes at this time too. However there is a better explanation, and one less routed in speculation. See, there’s this thing called neuroplasticity. It refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour or environment. Literally as you learn, your brain changes shape. Then we have to bear in mind that gender as a social construct is learned. It is taught. Little girls aren’t born liking pink. They are taught that girls like pink, and that they are a girl, therefore they then like pink. You put those two things together and what you end up with is the possibility that, rather than being innate, related to the release of hormones at puberty, the structural differences in the brains are programmed in by telling girls that boys are boisterous and girls play nice, that boys are good at maths and girls are caring, that boys build things and girls decorate them. But no mention is made in the study of any consideration of gendered activities in their subjects, or indeed any activities that may (and in fact do) influence how our brains are wired.

If you take this into account, the claim that ‘sex differences are hard wired’ seems a little less proven than it was before.

I am very fond of saying ‘peer reviewed journal or it didn’t happen’. But we have to be able to treat even these studies critically. Their data may be fixed and immutable (tho that is not always the case) but the conclusions have more room for movement. And the people making those conclusions are not immune from sexism.

The study may have shown that men and women’s brains connect differently. But it hasn’t shown why. And it hasn’t shown that the differences are innate. It has shown they are learned. ‘Men and women are taught to be different’ is a less interesting conclusions perhaps, but it is a more truthful one.

 

Post script: If you are interested in this subject, may I recommend the very excellent Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. Her article on this study was also very useful to me https://theconversation.com/new-insights-into-gendered-brain-wiring-or-a-perfect-case-study-in-neurosexism-21083

 

Cross-posted with permission from Feminist Borgia who blogs occasionally about feminism, rape culture and games [@feministborgia].

 

See also: Extra, Extra! Scientists Misunderstand their own Research by @Marstrina

A Tale of Lovely People!

Cross-posted with permission from JemJaBella

I have just taken a break from the chaos of downstairs (Karl + kids + all that entails) to move some money around and make sure cash is in the right place so that I can pay my car tax & cover the childcare bill that comes out tomorrow (Oliver starts nursery this month) and I happened upon a £10 transfer into my account from a lady I met in a café.

On Christmas Eve we’d popped out for some last minute shopping in Ironbridge and had stopped for lunch in a café. As they don’t accept debit cards, I had to do battle with their cash machine. First it spat a receipt at me, and then it gave me £20 despite me requesting £30. I assume it was a mistake *I’d* made and left it alone.

Nearly an hour later as we were getting ready to leave, I overheard a lady mention to her friend that the cash machine had given her an extra £10. I honestly nearly left it – because what are the chances it was my £10? – but £10 is half a week’s shopping here! I popped onto the chair next to her and explained my situation. She was perfectly lovely about it, and said that she’d check her bank balance when she got home so that she didn’t accidentally give £10 away that was hers and lose out. I gave her my business card and my bank details and left it at that.

Few hours later, by which time I’d forgotten about the whole thing, she rang me up to confirm that she’d paid me the £10. This woman, who would probably never see me again, took the time out of her day on Christmas Eve to look at her account and make that transfer. How nice is that?

The other lovely people don’t involve me eavesdropping and interrupting a conversation(!) but rather just some old fashioned manners. To get me out of my snot-filled misery yesterday, we all went out to Shrewsbury on the park and ride (gist: park your car on the outskirts of town, get a bus to the middle so as not to clog up centre with vehicles). I was carrying Oliver in the R&R, as usual, and despite the bus being rammed with people there and back, 4 gentlemen offered me their seat. Although I turned them down as I’m fine standing, just being offered was nice :)

The Ian Watkins case – is rape ever ok?

Cross-posted with permission from Delusions of Candour

Trigger warning: child abuse, rape, sexual assault.

Today the former rock star Ian Watkins was sentenced to 29 years in prison for sexual offences against children, including the attempted rape of a 10 month old baby (news article here). He must serve a minimum of two thirds of his sentence before being considered for parole. His two co-defendants, mothers of children that Watkins abused, were sentenced to 14 years and 17 years. They cannot be named for legal reasons; to do so would be to identify their children who, as victims if sexual crimes, have their identities protected by law.

The public has understandably been filled with horror and anger towards Watkins. This is particularly evident on social media sites and discussion forums. But some take that anger a step further, a step too far. They exult that Watkins is likely to be attacked in prison, and gleefully hope that he will be raped. This is not ok. In fact this is very far from ok.

Rape is never acceptable, no matter the circumstances.

When I worked as a forensic scientist I spent a lot of my time working in the digital forensics section, extracting data from electronic devices seized from suspects and/or victims in criminal cases. This data included images and videos and it was part of my job to examine and watch every media file that was extracted. This meant that I often had to watch videos of rapes, sexual assaults and child abuse. It was, to say the least, deeply unpleasant. I understand the disgust and almost indescribable revulsion that seeing such abuse evokes and it makes me angry as hell.

But you cannot on one hand say that rape is abhorrent, vile, a despicable act, and on the other hand wish it on someone else. “Rape is never ok – oh, unless it’s someone I don’t like who’s being raped. Then it’s fine”. It just doesn’t make sense. And in the same way that no law-abiding man, woman or child deserves to be raped, no alleged or convicted criminal does either.

No-one ever deserves to be raped.

When I was a student I occasionally moved in the same circles as Watkins, going to the same parties and clubs. I was one of the early fans of his band, Lostprophets and he always seemed to be a decent man, a normal man. But he clearly isn’t and today I feel the same fury, horror and disgust towards him as anyone else. I understand the urge to hurt him as he has hurt others but I don’t feel it.

These pro-rape sentiments contribute to the normalisation of what is a revolting act, designed to degrade, humiliate and control. After all, if it’s ok to rape a child-abuser is it ok to rape a murderer? A burglar? Someone who’s annoyed you? No. Rape is never an excusable act and there is never a justifiable reason for it.

So if you’re one of those who think that Watkins and his ilk deserve to be raped, stop and think for a moment. You may be part of the problem, not the solution.

Delusions of Candour: I blog about mental health, motherhood and topical issues.

Is it the beginning of the end for our family relationship with cbeebies??!!

Cross-posted with permission from Mum in a daydream

My youngest child, I’ve noticed recently,  rarely asks to watch cbeebies anymore.

This is going to be a very long,  drawn out, heart wrenching goodbye…….. for me!!

When biggest boy was little we didn’t have the actual cbeebies channel, freeview wasn’t a necessity back then. Also I had first child syndrome in those days and was never going to be the kind of mum who sat her child in front of the TV. As it turned out cbeebies has been such a good babysitter over the last 10 years I probably should buy it a pizza and slip it a tenner!

The different children have all had their favourites. Biggest boy had a fondness for The Shiny Show and Rubberdubbas. Though when he was younger the tweenies was his absolute favourite. He had a particular DVD (or was it video eeekk) which I reckon to this day I could probably recite word for word the hammering it got. Don’t judge me I had 3 children under 3 at one point. I was tired often.

Littlest boy was Bob the Builder obssessed. Even now at the age of 11 he’s a collecter, Damn you Match Attax. I believe it started with the Bob vehicles though. Every Christmas and birthday there would be great excitement for these toys which I can vouch  were the most played with toys to this date.

For biggest girl it was all about Charlie and Lola. I believe she gained all inspiration for being an annoying, demanding little sister from this show. She does it well I have to say. Though she had to adapt the technique to get right under her brothers skin as she’s gotten older, I believe she still at times is able to channel her inner Lola in a way I, as a female, can only stand back and envy.

Littlest girl though and I have had more time to peruse the delights of cbeebies together. By the time she came along the elder kids were in school so I had way more free time and we always scheduled in an hour of cbeebies on return from the school run. We’ve seen Night Garden, Postman Pat and Chris and Pui live (Chris and Pui were exceptionally good)

Now though, the only programmes she really asks to watch are Old Jack,  Topsy and Tim and Katie Morag. This week though, she’s been into the Stargazing programme so much that biggest boy is trying to convince her to watch Brian Cox with him!

We’re still happy to snuggle with beebies when tired or off colour.. I hope we’ve got a little while longer with Mr Bloom and his friends . I’m not ready to leave them behind just yet.

So thanks to Sue and Chris for giving for allowing a pregnant woman half hour here and there to slouch on the sofa. Thanks to Nicole and Chris for entertaining my toddlers for a while and allowing me to feed a newborn unnagged. Thanks to Sarah-Jane and Justin who allowed a bit of housework to be done from time to time. Thanks to Cerrie and Alex for the days littlest girl and I had the best singsongs to the summer/winter songs,and the memory I will always treasure of eldest three singing the bedtime song to littlest girl every night before bed. To Katy who littlest girl adores and had great fun going to watch in the Trafford Centre (obviously daddy got that gig as,sshhh don’t tell anyone, but he’s a bit in love with her himself!!) and who inspired a little girls love of cooking so much, it’s the food channel that she favours now.

It’s been a lovely 10 years, and even when little girl has totally left you all behind, I do have a baby nephew so will be popping by from time to time… Purely for research purposes to gain auntie points of course!!

Follow me on Twitter @daydreamer_mum

Being is Bewildering

Cross-posted with permission from Portia Smart

My name is Portia Smart and I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). *TUMBLEWEED*.

What would you say to that?! “I’m sorry….erm…wow that sounds tough”? Would you change the subject? Would you say nothing? You’d not be alone. I tend not to share my experience of PTSD with people outside of those I trust. Because it isn’t the type of thing you drop into a conversation and because I manage it well most days.

This purpose of this post is twofold – a chance to introduce what PTSD is and how it affects people, and secondly, it gives me the chance to share my experience. My hope is that it will help people to better understand and empathise with people experiencing PTSD. I also hope that maybe others will recognise symptoms/experiences that mirror their own, and can access support. My post is dedicated to everyone who has experienced trauma.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition that can affect anyone who experiences, witnesses or hears about events where there is a threat to life.

NICE guidelines state that: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is the name given to the psychological and physical problems that can sometimes follow particular threatening or distressing events…. The trauma can be a single event or a series of events taking place over many months or even years.”

My story.

After experiencing a range of trauma caused by male violence, I was diagnosed with PTSD by a clinical supervisor and trauma psychotherapist in my early twenties.

What causes PTSD?

As previously mentioned, many events can trigger PTSD. The following list is by no means exhaustive:

  • a major disaster
  • war
  • rape or sexual, physical or emotional abuse
  • witnessing violence
  • a serious accident
  • traumatic childbirth
  • experiencing trauma by proxy (hearing about a traumatic experience, for example)

Personally, I find these lists quite off-putting. Sometimes, I have developed traumatic reactions to events not often associated with PTSD. The key to understanding what can cause PTSD is to understand that it can occur when a person experiences acute fear, horror or helplessness in a situation that is traumatic.

My causes

For me, it is difficult to identify when it started as I have had significant traumatic experiences since early childhood. It is believed that it may have been triggered as a baby/toddler living in a household with domestic violence. Subsequent traumas include rape and sexual abuse in childhood, physical assault in childhood, rape and sexual abuse as an adult, domestic abuse as an adult, bereavement and witnessing events where people were killed. I have “layered trauma” or complex PTSD – meaning that I am managing many traumas.

Symptoms of PTSD.

As with all conditions, PTSD affects people in different ways. However there are some *symptoms which are often experienced (*this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Flashbacks to the event/reliving the trauma
  • Intrusive thoughts/memories
  • Anger/distress
  • Dissociation
  • Sleep problems
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Numbness/emptiness
  • Acute anxiety
  • Avoidance (to minimise triggers)
  • Nightmares
  • Survivor guilt
  • Fight or flight responses
  • Suicidal ideation

(please note – people experience a variety of symptoms with PTSD – you may experience only a few of those listed above, or some which haven’t been included)

The symptoms listed above will be in play for the first few weeks after the traumatic event – this is seen as a natural, if frightening, experience to trauma. PTSD develops if these symptoms last longer than 4 weeks.

How PTSD affects me

In all honesty, although I seem to manage my PTSD quite well, I do adjust my living to accommodate it. I startle easily at loud noises, raised voices. I sometimes have flashbacks and/or dissociate when triggered by images/language/media relating to male violence. I disengage/cut people out of my life if they exhibit abusive behaviour (although this may have happened without my experience of PTSD). Trigger is a word often associated with PTSD. It means that something or someone “triggers” a distressing memory and that triggers off some of the symptoms listed above. Smells, sounds, places, faces, media…. Some directly linked – the same aftershave – some more tenuous – a song that reminds me of my childhood. It is hard to know what may or may not trigger me. Thankfully, my triggers seem to happen less frequently these days. My sleeping pattern is problematic and distorted. I don’t experience nightmares or sleep paralysis as much as I used to, but because of my hyper-vigilance, I startle easily. I also experienceVicarious Trauma – which I believe is connected to my experience of PTSD. This seems a lot more prevalent for me at present.

How to manage

It is recommended by mental health services that you seek professional support via your GP. If this is not possible, contact your local Mind  – they can provide information about a suitable service. People manage their experience of PTSD via many different ways.

Coping strategies

Before seeking professional support, many people self-manage using a variety of coping strategies: sometimes these strategies can cause harm as well as alleviating distress.

Drugs and alcohol may be used to manage symptoms and numb the distress. People may engage in risk-taking behaviour – such as driving dangerously or gambling. Some people suppress feelings/memories in order to “cope” better. This works short-term but over time can cause deeper distress. Self-harming may provide a release, a grounding, a connection to emotions or a dissociation for people with PTSD. Some people may consciously or subconsciously seek to actively re-traumatise themselves in order to “face their fear”. Some coping strategies can help more than harm – meditation, relaxation, self-help via books or online websites. This list is by no means exhaustive – you may be able to share a dozen more examples of your own.

Medication

Anti-depressants, sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety medication such as beta blockers can be prescribed to people with PTSD but should never be the first option. Medication should be prescribed alongside therapy and should not replace therapy, unless the person with PTSD specifically requests medication alone or has to wait a long time for therapy.

Talking therapies

Talking about your experience to someone you feel safe with can help. However, it is VITAL that you only talk about your experience when you are ready. Any forced discussion of your experience can actually re-traumatise you and cause deeper distress. The following therapies for PTSD are available via the National Health Service:

CBT is a therapy that looks at your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and how they influence one another. The idea with CBT is to challenge your thinking so that your feelings and behaviour may become less negative and or/restrictive to your life.

This is a therapy where you become less sensitive to your trauma by making a repeated movement of your eyes whilst remembering the trauma that you experienced.

Other therapies that may help, although are not necessarily available for PTSD via the NHS include:

My experience of managing PTSD

In my younger years, I avoided spending time alone with men and boys as much as possible (I still do!). As a teen I used coping strategies to manage the symptoms – some helpful (keeping a journal, self-help), some unhealthy (eating distress, alcohol). I experienced sleep problems for so many years. Nightmares and sleep paralysis were very debilitating for me. When I started to journal my nightmares, I could identify the “theme” and I started to work through a particular part of the trauma. I also tried to connect to the younger me – to reassure her that she is safe now and that she survived. This process helped me immensely.

I also started volunteering at Rape Crisis. I needed to understand what I was feeling and why. Thankfully, I was self-aware enough to not work with clients until I was well enough to be boundaried. Rape Crisis not only changed my life, but saved it as well. The more I learned about PTSD and sexual violence, the more I realised that I was not abnormal, but responding naturally to trauma.

In terms of talking therapies, although the woman who diagnosed me was an excellent therapist – and specialised in trauma from sexual abuse in childhood, I don’t engage well in therapy. I decided to self-help by working through the causes of my own PTSD (domestic abuse in childhood, child sexual abuse, rape, bereavement). I used incredible books (listed at the end of the post) to work through my feelings and memories, as and when I could. I was successful by working really hard at processing the trauma that I could remember. However, a significant portion of the trauma in childhood is inaccessible. Until I feel safe enough to remember those memories, I am unable to process them. The biggest discovery for my experience of PTSD is that I need to be patient. I am so determined and forceful in all aspects of my life – fixing and micro managing…..yet this is one area that I have to allow to unfold of its own accord. It is not always easy but I recognise that memories will be released when I feel safe enough to process them. And so I wait…

Recovery

It’s possible! That’s why I am able to write about PTSD – because I am in recovery. I can’t envisage a time when I won’t have PTSD but I know it is possible. I worked with people experiencing mental ill health for many years, some of which experienced PTSD and some of whom were in recovery. Recovery is not the same as cure – for some people it means living with PTSD for others it is living without PTSD symptoms. Recovery will mean something different for every person with mental ill health. And recovery is fluid – some people may become symptom-free only to have symptoms return… That is OK – mental health is on a continuum – it is fluid. Not too many years ago there was the widely held belief that mental ill health was fixed and permanent. Thankfully today, we know that is something that we can live with and recover from. And that is exactly what I intend to do!

Note: the picture at the top of the post is from The Princess and The Pea – it’s what my beautiful Nanna used to call me when I struggled sleeping as a bairn xxx

Helpful resources:

Websites

Blogposts

Twitter accounts

  • @TheFementalists –  Twitter account which is for feminists with mental health problems.

Books (if your trauma is based in sexual violence and abuse)

Portia Smart: I write about feminism, politics, male violence and mental health & wellbeing. My blog is women-centred [@PortiaSmart]

#16Days: Erasing The Victims of Men’s Violence

Cross-posted with permission from Frothy Dragon and the Patriarchal Stone

We hear the statistic so frequently. In the UK, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner, and in most cases, there is documented proof of abuse in the relationship.

As a quick note, non-abusive men do not kill their former or current partners. Non-abusive men do not use intimidation or threats against women’s lives to ensure their wishes are met. Just because abuse isn’t documented in some of these murders, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. It merely wasn’t recorded. So when people tell me a man who has murdered his current or former partner was ‘such a nice guy’, I call bullshit.

But the two women a week statistic is a lie. These statistics aren’t being exaggerated, or overestimated, much as those who hate women would like to claim otherwise. Instead, they ignore 60 – 83% of domestic violence related deaths.

On Monday, an acquaintance of mine raised the subject of suicides in relation to domestic abuse; an area which seems to be largely ignored. I found a statistic that sent me reeling into a state of shock; that 30 women a day attempt suicide in order to escape domestic violence. For those who were wondering, that works out to 210 a week, or 480 during the 16 Days of Activism.

Of those 210 attempts each week, between 3 and 10 women successfully commit suicide. I’ve found conflicting statistics, with Enfield’s Health and Wellbeing service stating the higher number. [x] Yet these women’s deaths are largely ignored when measuring the extent of men’s violence against women. Men may actively kill two women a week, but their violence is factored in to at least five deaths nationally a week. We serve the victims of men’s violence no justice if we ignore those killed by suicide.

We need better discussion around the invisible fatalities of men’s violence. We need for women to know that there is support out there; not just in relation to domestic violence, but with regards to suicide and helping these women to survive. We need for those involved in helping women who are experiencing domestic violence, or who have done in the past, to be aware of the number of women who attempt suicide daily. We need those who help victims and survivors of domestic abuse to know the warning signs in relation to suicide,and for them to receive training in how to help women who are contemplating suicide. And we need to hold men accountable when their violence is a factor in a woman’s attempt to take her own life, whether she survives the attempt or not.

But most of all, we need to give these women hope. And we need to let them know that they are not alone.

Further reading:

Refuge: Taking Lives campaign –
http://refuge.org.uk/takinglives/

Enfield Health and Well-Being: Domestic Violence – http://www.enfield.gov.uk/healthandwellbeing/info/15/enfield_place/187/domestic_violence

Rape Victim calls for law change as three women a week commit suicide to escape violent partners –
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/rape-victim-calls-law-change-2644286

Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and ‘Honour’ Based Violence –
Volume 2

Victim’s suicide leads to fight for new law-
http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Victim-s-suicide-leads-fight-new-law/story-19996117-detail/story.html

Refuge call for 16 days of fundraising against domestic violence –
http://www.feministtimes.com/refuge-calls-for-16-days-of-fundraising-against-domestic-violence/

 

Frothy Dragon and the Patriarchal Stone I Got 99 Problems, And The Fact You’re Still Calling Me A Bitch Is One [@FrothyDragon]

Three Years in Prison Without Trial for a Miscarriage

Cross-posted from Hiding Under the Bed is not the answer

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Hiding Under the Bed is not the Answer is the blog of historian of Mexican politics Cath Andrews who also writes for e-feminist and Toda historia es contemporánea. She tweets at @Andrews_Cath

Russell Brand: A Feminist?

Coverage of Russell Brand’s apparent conversion to non-sexism has amply demonstrated the variations within feminism. We’ve collected a few of the responses we’ve seen on our Twitter feed to show these differences. If you’ve written about (or read) a piece, please tweet us a link Coverage of Russell Brand’s apparent conversion to non-sexism has amply demonstrated the variations within feminism. We’ve collected a few of the responses we’ve seen on our Twitter feed to show these differences. If you’ve written about (or read) a piece, please tweet us a link to add!

Russell Brand’s ‘love of a good woman’ is not what feminism needs by Ellie Mae O’Hagan

Fuck off Russell, Feminism doesn’t need you by GoddessDeeva

Branding Exercise at The Kraken Wakes

Russell Brand and the “Perfection” of Feminism at My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

Russell Brand: I’m Just Not Buying It at My Elegant Gathering of White Snows

How can a Brand change his sexism at Feminist Borgia

Russell Brand deserves no praise or gratitude at Another Angry Women

Russell Brand’s hollow conversion from sexist to feminist by Dr. Brooke Magnati

Russell Brand: Can a notorious sexist change? at Feminist Times

Russell Brand says No More Page 3 by Lucy-Anne Holmes

A Controlling Friendship – A Bully By Another Name

Cross-posted with permission from Jump!Mag

Have you ever had a friend who made you feel bad? Maybe your friend was mean to you sometimes, and confused you. Or she (or he) would ignore you because you had done something wrong.

We all fall out with our friends on occasion, even us adults. It is a normal part of life.

When the friendship is one-sided then it is a different story.

Have you ever had a friend who behaves like this:

Always wants to spend time with you and doesn’t like when you play with others

Gets angry if you don’t do what she wants to do

Contacts you all the time, even when you have gone home.

Wants to be like you, or wants you to be like her. Copies your clothes and your hairstyle

Doesn’t take notice of your feelings, it is all about what she wants

Makes a fool of you in front of others, to make them laugh

If you object to this, tells you that you have no sense of humour, and that it was just a joke

Is moody and unpredictable, and blames you for anything that goes wrong

When you do something she doesn’t like, she ‘punishes’ you by ignoring you, or playing with someone else

Pinches, kicks or hits you

You might still think of this girl as your friend, and she can be a lot of fun at times, and you want to continue to spend time with her.

We would call her controlling. She wants to get her own way, and she does this by making you feel bad about yourself.

We would also call her a bully, because she is ‘a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker’.

A controlling person can be someone your own age, or someone older than you. If you know how to recognise a person who behaves in this way towards others, then you can avoid making friends with them. If you see them being mean to other people, then remember that they may later turn on you.

What is the best way to deal with someone like this?

First, you could tell a friend, or a trusted adult. It could be a teacher, or a family member, maybe even the parent of a friend. Let them know that the ‘friend’ makes you feel bad, and that you don’t want to be friends with them any more.

Then you could start to distance yourself from the person by not always being available to spend time with her. If she ignores you, walk away and speak to other people in your class. Perhaps there is another person in your class who you could team up with.

No one should make you feel bad. If you have a friend who makes you upset, or who you wish you could avoid, then it is ok to stop being friends with them. Don’t let anyone control you.

You are strong. Walk away and find someone who values your friendship and who makes you happy.

 

A Portrait of a Male Space – Henley Royal Regatta

Cross-posted with permission from It’s Just not Feminine.

Most people within the UK have heard of Henley Royal Regatta even if they know nothing about rowing at all. The picture conjured up is probably one of white, male, public school, wealth and privilege and that is incredibly accurate. Let’s make no mistake Henley Royal Regatta (HRR), the most prestigious rowing regatta in the world is all about the men, white men at that. Oh yes women attend but overwhelmingly in support roles.

Lets look at some of the stats

Out of 1550 rowers1 who will be competing at HRR 136 (8.8%) will be women.

Out of 301 crews 32 (10.6%) will be female.

Out of 20 events 4 (20%) are for women.

Of those 4 events 3 are for International standard crews and one is for juniors (under 18). So no events for women of a reasonable/intermediate standard (there are 8 events of that nature for men).

Out of 65 Henley Stewards2, 2 are women.

Mind you, we should be grateful. This is a massive improvement. Back in the day (pre 1993) it was an exclusively male event. Then the men at the top woke up one morning, enlightened, realised how sexist they were being and opened the regatta to women, apologising for their privilege in the process. Not really. Years of campaigning, negotiating, begging and justification occurred before they deigned to let women walk the hallowed ground and compete on the same river as men. Crumbs off the table.

But the benefits for men don’t stop at the adulation of their sporting prowess and being the main focus of attention. Prizes for the men go beyond the regatta: entry to the most prestigious and elite rowing club in the UK; invitation to become a member of the Stewards Enclosure3; talent spotted for the GB squad; more networking and career advancing opportunities not afforded women (be that rowing or other careers). And this is how male spaces work. The power and money gather and bestow their gifts on the chosen few.

And they don’t just work to advance men, they work to exclude women. It’s not just that women are woefully under represented in terms of the athletes, there are many other subtler exclusionary tactics.

For a start, there are special enclosures which require special badges to enter. The two main ones are the competitors enclosure and Steward’s enclosure. The more exclusive and therefore higher in the networking stakes is the Stewards. Tickets to these are predominantly held by men so who is allowed in and out is governed by men.

Then there are the obligatory uniform, rules and regulations. Entry for women to the Stewards will only be allowed if they are wearing a dress or a skirt with a hemline below the knee. This is in bold on the HRR website, less we forget what modest feminine qualities entail. No trousers, shorts or culottes. In addition, “it is customary for ladies to wear hats”. Dear God, what century are we in? Men basically have to wear a suit. Although they aren’t allowed to take off their jackets (unless it gets so hot they are passing out. Who said the patriarchy didn’t hurt men as well?). Most men have a suit. Do most women have a dress with a hemline below the knee given today’s fashions?

Another rule of the Stewards is that no children under 10 are allowed in. Personally I wouldn’t take a child younger than a teenager in because there is literally nothing to do other than talk, watch racing, drink and eat. But this exclusion of children will also exclude women as the predominant child-carers. It is really common in male-dominated spaces.

But HRR is so much more than a rowing event. It is a Corporate Hospitality event. And guess who holds most of the tickets to those because Joanna Bloggs off the street can’t just wander in and sip champagne with Corporate elite. Yep, men. Plenty of business takes place at Henley. Men again hold the power to regulate who gets to network and do business and who doesn’t. The cards are stacked against women.

All these exclusive little areas, rules and regulations are just so patriarchal. They are designed to either directly exclude women, to make it more difficult for women and the women who do attend have to conform to a certain view of women.

We also have the ‘banter’ that seems to come hand in hand with male dominated spaces. The casual and not so casual sexism can be intimidating and excluding for women. There is implied or direct pressure to accept with a good grace or a laugh. Even though there maybe a lot of women around at HRR men still own the space and like to remind women of this fact.

And then we get on to violence. In the last 10 years or so, not unrelated to an uptrend in attendees and an increase in hospitality tents, violence has been creeping in over the evenings. This is exclusively male on male violence fuelled by alcohol. The local boys butting heads with the Hooray Henrys. I feel sad that this seems to be inevitable. Men are prepared to put up with violence in order to maintain their privilege, be that privilege be over other men or over women.

In order to counteract the whole exclusivity of HRR, a wonderful group of women headed by Rosie Mayglothling in 1987, decided to set up an event that would be the pinnacle of a female rowers year – Henley Women’s Regatta (HWR). This was not without its own issues. From the Henley Women’s Regatta – a short history it is hugely apparent that even though women were organising their own event men were still pulling the strings. Words like “permission”, “allow” and “prevent” are used a lot. Here are a couple of extracts to illustrate:

Naturally, the crux of the matter was the attitude of the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta. Whilst they do not own the water, they do own most of the land each side of the course, as well as all the installations, and their support was vital. The reaction of the Chairman of the Committee of Management to Rosie Mayglothling’s initial approach was such that the idea appeared to be a non-starter; nevertheless, the polite but determined persistence of Rosie and the first Chairman of the proposed event, Christine Aistrop, finally won the day and permission was given for a women’s regatta to be held on the Royal Regatta course in June, 1988.It was made clear from the outset that the ‘Henley Women’s Regatta’ (HWR) could not use the HRR enclosures or boat tents. HWR was to be held three weeks before the Royal and, should bad weather delay the timetable for the regatta installations (as had happened in the past), the course would not be usable by HWR. It was at this point that the project was saved by the enthusiastic help and co-operation of the owner of Remenham Farm, Mr Tom Copas. By offering the use of the farm as the enclosure for HWR, the problems of boating and spectator facilities were largely solved.

Difficulties didn’t end there though when the regatta wanted to expand to the whole weekend rather than just the Saturday:

After the increased entry in 1989, the Chairman, Margaret Adams had sounded out the HRR Committee of Management on the possibility of HWR becoming a two-day regatta. This had been rejected on the basis that men’s crews racing at Marlow traditionally rowed up to Henley on the Sunday and they would be prevented from doing so if HWR was extended to two days.

Women couldn’t be allowed to prevent men rowing up the river from a regatta in a nearby town for some random tradition. A woman’s event couldn’t possibly be given priority over a man’s event.

However despite this HWR has been a complete success. There are no exclusive areas. There are no dress codes or spectator rules and regulations.  There are no Corporate event tents. The spectators can walk the whole course, right next to the rowers and all the rowers are women. It is a lovely event with a massively positive feel.

Nevertheless the men are still not happy. This event is not about them, obviously, yet they still feel fit to offer their opinions. On rowing forums you can often see derogatory (and misogynistic) remarks about the women and the events. There are subjective opinions on ‘standards’ under the guise that if only women were just ‘better’ then they would be able to join in with the men, they would be treated equally and respected (sound abusive anyone?). There are remarks about the inadequacy of course length (which is not within women’s power to change) and other things like the size of the event which are again out of women’s control. And to a certain extent they are correct HWR is the poor relation to HRR.  But that isn’t women’s fault. It is men’s fault. They are the ones setting these limitations. Women aren’t allowed to organise events for themselves and be left alone, they have to be approved by men.

So here we have a male dominated space that even though women are allowed in the opportunities are still predominantly for men. Then a woman’s space that is routinely disparaged and prevented from fulfilling its potential by men. This is what structural oppression looks like. This is how it is maintained. It is incredibly different to achieve liberation and equality when we are being kept down from all sides.

Please note: Although I only mentioned it briefly at the start of the piece, there is also racial exclusivity at work too. Rowing is overwhelmingly white and HRR and HWR both represent that.

1 In 1975 female coxes (steering the boats) were allowed. In any particular year there are only a handful of female coxes and without access to all the crew names it is impossible to tell how many are female so coxes in general have been omitted from the statistics.

2 Henley Stewards are the management team of the regatta and make decisions on the major changes for the regatta, alongside the Chairman and his team.

3 The Stewards Enclosure is an enclosure set up by the Stewards which allows members to access the spectator area near the finish.  Members of the Stewards Enclosure number 6500 and are predominantly male. To become a member of the Stewards involves an application form, sponsors and a very long waiting list.

 

 ScallopsRGreat: Feminism, Sport and a little bit of life [@scallopsrgreat]

Lady

Cross-posted with permission from Glossologics

Today we can use this word to refer to any woman, if we so choose, as well as women who happen to have it as a title. You might be forgiven for thinking that its origins are associated with words meaning “woman”, “girl” or perhaps, thinking about the historical context of the title, “wife of a lord”.

In fact, as we shall see, there is much more to the story than that. We can find references to “lady” in similar forms to the one we use today from around the 14th century onwards. Before that, there was another sound in the middle of the word that has now been lost: /f/ or sometimes /v/.

In the 1200s, we can find the Middle English forms lafdi, leafdi and lavede. Here is an example from the Ancrene Wisse, which was a list of rules written for anchoresses, women wishing to live a religious life similar to hermits, from around 1230:

Þe oþer is as leafdi, þeos as hire þuften.

(The inner rule is as lady, the external rule as her servant).

This form may seem removed from its modern counterpart, but it had already come a long way. Compare the form in the Saxon Chronicle from around the 9th Century:

Ðá com seó hlǽfdige hider tó lande

(Then came the lady to this country).

At that time, the word was hlǽfdige, used to mean a highborn lady, the wife of a lord – the reference here is to the wife of King Aethelred. And this is where it gets very interesting. We can break this word into two parts: hlǽf, or hlaf and dige. You might recognise a modern version of hlaf, not as “lady”, but in the word “loaf”. And that’s exactly what it meant then, too; “bread” or “loaf”. This meaning continued to be associated with the word hlaf, while the compound word took on another meaning. Here is hlaf sometime after the Saxon Chronicles, from the Blickling Homilies, dated to the 10th century.

Sing ðis on ánum berenan hláfe and syle ðan horse etan

(Sing this over a barley loaf and give it the horse to eat)

The second part of hlǽfdige is of course dige. Although it had come to mean “maid”, it has its origins in daege, which meant “breadmaker”, from dág, meaning “dough”. As you can see, “dough” is itself from the same root, making it a modern cognate of “lady”, or at least of its second half!

Does this mean that historically women were in charge of baking the bread? Or was bread-making considered such an important activity that the woman in charge had to be a ruler? Perhaps the etymology can tell us something about cultural norms at that time.

 

Glossologics: a blog on language, with special emphasis on etymology, and including references to languages other than English. [@AlexpolisTigers]

The Single Most Important Aspect of Sex by @SianFergs

…is the very thing that defines it as sex as opposed to rape. Consent.

When done right, sex can be lovely and amazing and mind-altering. When abused, it can become the most terrifying and traumatising ordeal one could ever go through – rape.

There is a poorly-recognised, but definite line that separates sex from rape: consent. It seems pretty straightforward: if the involved parties consent to having sex, it’s good, and if they don’t, that’s rape, which is bad. But if there’s one thing I’ve picked up from the public discourse surrounding reports of rape cases – including that of Steubenville, Vavi, and more recently Brickz – it’s that many people are confused about what consent is.

And I don’t really blame all of them. It is often said that we live in a society where we teach people not to be raped instead of teaching people not to rape. Even at primary and high school, we all learn more about ensuring our own safety than learning about consent. While well-intentioned, this method of preventing rape is problematic because the responsibility to prevent rape is forced onto the victim, not the perpetrator, at a sub-conscious or conscious level.

In order for us to move away from rape culture and into ‘consent culture’, as it is often called, we should all educate ourselves about consent.

So what exactly is consent?

According to the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act, No. 32 of 2007, rape is any non-consensual sexual penetration. The Act outlines the definition of penetration, as well as instances in which consent is nullified or where one cannot give consent.

A person cannot give consent, or their consent is considered invalid, if they are:

  • Intimidated, forced or threatened in any way, through violence or threats of violence against you or someone you love, or damage to your property
  • Compelled by someone who abuses their power or authority, for instance if someone tells you that you will lose your job if you do not have sex with them
  • Lied to by a doctor or other health-worker who tells you that a sex act is part of a physical examination, or is necessary for your mental or physical health
  • Asleep, or unconscious
  • In an ‘altered state of mind’ as a result of consuming drugs or alcohol, so much so that the victim’s judgement and/or consciousness is impaired.
  • A child under the age of 12
  • A person with a mental disability

In other words, consent isn’t not saying no. It is saying yes; it is agreeing to sex without being forced or intimidated into agreeing to sex. One of the most shocking discoveries in the Steubenville case – wherein a young woman was raped by two men at a party while she was unconscious, and others watched – was that many onlookers didn’t know that it was rape. Often people think that rape always looks ‘violent’, with the victim attempting to ‘fight off’ the attacker. This is not always the case, as sometimes victims ‘freeze up’, are intimidated by the attacker, are drugged or drunk, or – in this case – are asleep or unconscious. As the victim in this case was unconscious she couldn’t consent to sex, nor could she refuse it. What most people don’t understand is that the absence of both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ should be taken to mean a ‘no’. You need a ‘yes’, or its rape. Similarly, when it comes to sexual contact that doesn’t involve penetration, a ‘yes’ is also mandatory.

The idea of the mandatory ‘yes’ can freak people out. Often, silence is seen as romantic and sexy. Romantic comedies and Disney movies tell us that when we meet our one true love, we’ll intuitively know what they do and don’t want. Without verbally touching base with one another, the characters would grab each other and kiss passionately. There’s the romanticised idea that you’ll be so in tune with your one true love that they will always want you, which is simply not true. Indeed, sometimes consent can be non-verbal: it can come in the form of enthusiastic participation. But if you have any doubts, ask. I’d argue that, ethically, it’s always best to ask for verbal consent.

Saying to someone “Hey, can I just get your consent on this? Because you know, I really don’t want to rape you,” can be a bit of a buzzkill. But when you weigh it up, would you prefer to avoid asking an awkwardish question, or to avoid raping or harassing someone? I think the latter. Sometimes people don’t want to ask permission to kiss someone else as it makes room for rejection: they’d rather go in and hope the other person is awkward enough to just play along and kiss them back. To this mentality, I’d say that rejection might be hurtful, but it doesn’t really compare to the hurt and upset that comes with being harassed. Set your pride aside for another’s bodily autonomy.

The conversation on how to make consent less awkward is an interesting one. “Consent is sexy!” is a popular adage of the sex-positive community. This mentality has been criticised by some. I came across the following post on tumblr a while back: “Consent is sexy in the same way that not shitting on people’s doorsteps is sweet and neighbourly.” This is completely true: It’s not like not raping someone is sexy. It should be expected. But just because something is mandatory doesn’t mean it can’t be sensual; that’s why we have ribbed condoms. So look at it this way: consent is always mandatory, and it can be sexy. We have to embrace consent culture in order to get away from rape culture, so why not make consent as sensual as possible?

There are many ways to make consent a romantic and sexy part of your tapping routine. If you’re in a committed relationship, or if you have recurring hook-ups with a certain person, the implementation of boundaries and safewords is always a good idea. Communicate about what you’re comfortable and uncomfortable with.

If you’re hooking up with someone for the first time, just ask. There are a number of sexy, romantic, heart-melting ways to request or give consent. Envisage: you’re in the club, looking fine, hair did, and you’re dancing closely with a person you rather fancy. You’d like to kiss them, but you understand the importance of consent. So you whisper into their ear, “I’d really like to kiss you right now.” Now THAT is an example of consent being sexy. Keep a couple consent-seeking phrases in your hook-up arsenal; I think the simple question “May I kiss you?” coupled with a sweet smile is always wonderful.

It’s easy to forget to educate ourselves about the most important part of sex: consent. But it is the most essential part of a sexual relationship, so embrace it, make it sexy, and above all else, remember that it’s mandatory.

Just a South African Woman: An intersectional feminist blog tackling issues from a unique South African perspective. The posts attempt to explain and discuss some academic feminist theories in a simple manner, so as to make feminism accessible to more people. Follow me on Twitter at @sianfergs.
See the following on consent:

Gertrude Stein and Cultural Femicide

Cross posted with permission from SianandCrookedRib

The other morning I re-watched the film Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen in 2011. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s hardly a classic, but it is good fun. In it, Gil, played by Owen Wilson, is visiting Paris with his fiancée. He’s a ‘Hollywood hack’ who wants to write a novel, and is obsessed with 1920s Paris. He is walking through the city at midnight, and finds himself transported back in time to 1920s Paris, where he meets the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Man Ray, Bunuel, Cole Porter, TS Eliot – the whole crowd. He falls in love with Adriana, played to perfection by Marion Cotillard, who had affairs with Modigliani, Picasso and Braque. In the film, that is.

It’s a fun film and it makes you want to go to Paris. But on my second viewing I noticed something that escaped my attention first time round, and it’s been making me cross.

When Gil meets Hemingway, he asks him to read his novel. Hemingway refuses, saying that you should never give your work to another writer to read. He then says he will take it to Gertrude Stein.

Hold on, I thought to myself. If you should not give your work to another writer to read, why would you give it to Gertrude Stein, who not only was a writer, but was one of the most prolific and one of the most exciting writers of the twentieth century?

It felt to me that this was a classic piece of cultural femicide, where Woody Allen completely erased Stein’s writing, and her contribution to modern literature.

It sounds like just a small thing. But Woody Allen presenting Stein as someone who read workbecause she was not a writer herself is just part of a much greater dismissal of Gertrude Stein’s importance and influence, and a wider dismissal of women writers living and working in Paris in the 1920s alongside the men who wrote ‘the great American novels TM’.

Hemingway knew the importance of Stein as a writer. Although they fell out over Torrents of Spring, he admitted later that ‘Gertrude was always right’, and explores her influence on him in A Moveable Feast.  In fact, contrary to Woody Allen’s portrayal, everyone in Paris knew the importance of Stein as a writer as well as a salon hostess. Janet Flanner, in one of her letters from Paris in 1926, wrote:

No American writer is taken more seriously than Miss Stein by the Paris modernists.’

But time and time again we see Gertrude Stein erased from our understanding of modernism. She’s not taught on university syllabuses, her influence on writing is not mentioned or celebrated, and trying to get hold of her work at your local bookshop is a bloody nightmare. Yet when you read Stein, you see in her bold, truthful prose that she wasn’t lying when she said that what Picasso was doing with art, she was doing with literature. She knew that Picasso was the most important artist and she was the most important writer. Her experimental form, her desire to create literary cubism – all of it is incredibly influential on the male writers we are all told to read.

The reason that men and women writers went to Stein with their manuscripts and asked for her views on their own words was because they knew her as a writer, as a genius with words. They didn’t just rock up to 27 Rue du Fleurus for Alice’s cooking and a chance to meet Picasso. They went because they knew that she was a writer who they respected to view their work, and advise on their work.

So why is Stein so ignored today, when her male peers and pupils are so celebrated?

Well, part of the problem is the one presented by Allen. Stein knew, and wrote about in Everybody’s Autobiography, that people in the USA were more interested in Stein the figure, than Stein the writer. This is exactly the trap Woody Allen falls into in the film. Here’s Gertrude Stein, the mentor, the hostess, the personality. But where is Gertrude Stein, the writer?

Another part of the problem was the widely-held conception that her work was difficult. Well, yes. Her work is quite difficult but only because it is challenging everything we accept about form and how we use language. It’s exciting. A lot of great modernist literature challenges you as a reader, Stein is no different. But while the linguistic gymnastics of her male contemporaries was admired, in Stein’s case it became something to dismiss and to mock.

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas was an instant bestseller, but the perceived difficulty of Stein’s work meant most of her writing was unpublished for most of her life. In fact, she famously fell out with Sylvia Beach – proprietor of Shakespeare and Company – because she felt Sylvia was championing James Joyce’s work over Stein’s own. It wasn’t until the success of Alice B Toklas that more of her work began to be published, and ever since then it seems to have fallen in and out of print.

Yet everyone who reads Gertrude Stein surely knows what an extraordinary writer she was. She was the genius she claimed herself to be. Janet Flanner doesn’t lie, everyone knew it in 1926. So why have we forgotten it now?

Stein isn’t the only women writer in Allen’s film who has been sidelined. Djuna Barnes makes a brief appearance, dancing with Gil, who “jokes” that it was no wonder she wanted to lead (this joke annoys me in so many ways).

Now, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood is widely accepted as a modernist masterpiece. TS Eliot wrote the introduction, and it is a hugely influential text. It is also beautiful, frightening, heartbreaking, funny, transgressive – and the prose is poetic and gorgeous and sensual and stark. Nightwood is a truly great novel.

But where is Djuna Barnes in our cultural landscape? Again, she’s not taught on university syllabuses. She might turn up on women’s history reading lists, her Ladies Almanack is a literary curiosity for students of lesbian history, she’s read by geeks like me who love 1920s Paris and the women who lived there. She’s recognised and celebrated in ‘the academy’ but she doesn’t enjoy the fame of her male contemporaries, even though Nightwood is the masterpiece it is, even though the stories in Spillway are magnificent.

I love Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald, and I love Sherwood Anderson and all the big American writers who flocked to Paris and met at Gertrude’s salon and talked to her, writer to writer. But I am constantly frustrated and amazed by the lack of mention of Gertrude Stein, by the lack of respect paid to her, or to Djuna Barnes, or to the many, many women who were writing and working and creating in 1920s Paris, just as the men were.

So, what can we do to try and counter this cultural femicide? Well, we can start by reading Gertrude Stein. Below is a handy reading list for you…

To find out more about Gertrude Stein and her circle, you should start by watching Paris was a Womanand reading the accompanying book. Then try Women of the Left Bank by Shari Henstock. You can also read Noel Riley Fitch’s biography of Sylvia Beach.

To read Gertrude Stein, the best place to start is The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas.  Then Tender Buttons (my favourite is Sugar).  Then there’s Everybody’s Autobiography.  And The Making of Americans.  And Three Lives.

There are loads more – she was incredibly prolific. She wrote every day, barring a period of writer’s block after the success of Alice B Toklas. There’s her writing on Paris, her Novel of Thank You, her portraits of Picasso and Carl van Vechten – seriously there is just so much to read!

You can also read this anthology that has a lot of the above in it, as well as lectures and other things.

Gertrude wasn’t the only writer in the family. Alice B Toklas wrote her memoirs too, and even better it’s packed with her favourite recipes. It’s called The Alice B Toklas Cookbook.

If you want to read Djuna Barnes, this volume includes Nightwood, The Antiphon and Spillway.

Janet Flanner wrote her Letter from Paris for the New Yorker between 1925 and 1939, and her ‘best bits’ are recorded here. If I could have a drink with anyone in 1920s Paris, it would be Janet.

Happy reading!

Sian Norris blogs  at SianandCrookedRib. She can be found at @Sianushka