What do I blame myself for?

Cross-posted with permission from Carregonnen

content note for child sexual abuse

My father abused me and, as far as I know two of my friends, one when we were 8 and another when we were 10. He may have abused other friends but the reason I know about these two friends is that I was there when the abuse was happening. It took me many years to stop blaming myself for this. Especially D when we were eight because it was me that suggested we go into bed with my father. I have no idea why I did this and I suspect the reasons are complex and tangled. The other friend G told me what my father had done to her the first time and then I saw them together many times after that. Her father was posted to Gibraltar very soon after she told another friend’s parents what my father had done to her. Nothing else was done other than that – nothing. I have no idea whether anything was said to my father – whether he was even reprimanded for what he had done. All I know is life went on and the violence increased in our house. The sexual, physical and emotional abuse of my mother and me and the physical and emotional abuse of my two little brothers.

Nothing I did could stop this daily violence. Nothing my mother did could stop him although she tried to protect us by putting herself between him and us, but this meant she took many assaults. My mother and I used to apologise to each other for not being able to protect the other from the abuse. We both carried with us terrible guilt for many years.

The guilt I felt about my friends and my mother and brothers was deep and terrible. I felt I had made it all happen. I believed for many years that my behaviour had made my father abuse me and that because I went back again and again that somehow I was giving permission to do what he did to me. Because I had brought my friends into our house I had made him abuse them too. When G told all my friends at school what he had done the shame and embarrassment I felt was overwhelming. When my friend D was killed when she was 12 I added this to my slag heap of guilt. I felt I hadn’t protected my mother enough and I had added to her abuse. I believed I should have been able to protect my brothers more but had failed to, and when one of my beloved brothers died 11 years ago at 47 of alcoholism I blamed myself for not looking after him enough.

My father abused us all but it is only in the last few years that I have been able to take some of this terrible guilt out of my head and heart and forgive myself a little. I have no idea where my friend G is. I have tried to find her to say sorry and to ask her how she is now but I haven’t been able to.

Growing up believing me, G and D were the only ones this had happened to and only having words like ‘interfering with’ or ‘incest’ or ‘doing things to’ to inadequately describe what happened, was hard and unbearable. Through my teens, twenties and thirties I would resort to screaming and raging and getting so drunk I was uncontrollable in my anger. Things are different now. I can talk about it and have had such good support I am healing slowly. But I would say this, never never underestimate the pain of the guilt carried by many of us, some of it so bad that some have not survived or we live with harming ourselves.

I know some of my guilt will stay with me especially to do with my own children and my brother but I am gradually learning that all that happened wasn’t my fault. I didn’t cause, want, ask for or make any of it to happen. These are the words I say to myself – it wasn’t my fault no matter what I think I did to encourage it – I was a child. I was shaped by him and taught by him to see me through his eyes. It’s taking a lifetime to see me through my eyes and to be in control of my own life.

Let’s help create societies where children are loved, cherished and nurtured.

 

Carreggonnen can also be found on twitter: @Carregonnen

Consent Is Sexy And Sexy Is Mandatory

Cross-posted from RootVeg with permission.

I want to start this post by clarifying that I obviously accept that consent is an important legal requirement for a variety of things, including surgical procedures and sexual activity. I also understand why it is politically expedient to endorse a ‘black and white’ view of consent with a view to challenging rape culture, and I do not dispute the fact that rape is not a ‘grey area’. My post here is not concerned with the issue of nonconsent, which mainstream feminism largely does a good job of addressing. Rather, my concerns are pointed in the opposite direction: the inadequacy ofconsent.

I was first made aware of Consensual Spin The Bottle about two months ago by a friend of mine, who seemed to find it as noble as she did exciting. The premise of the game is simple: you spin the bottle while sitting in a circle, and instead of being obliged to kiss the person it points to upon its rest, you must instead obtain consent for whatever act you want the person to perform (and I use the word perform very mindfully indeed here) with you. If they consent, you both do whatever you requested. If they refuse, then you don’t. If they suggest an alternative, you can consent to this, or decline. So far, so middle school. I wasn’t overly interested, mostly because what are you like 13? Spin the bottle? Give me a fucking break. Better yet: give me a pizza, a joint, Blue Planet in HD and leave me at home alone if that’s what your parties are like. Anyway, I digress.

Consensual Spin The Bottle came up again for me recently, this time in the film The East (which was OK). It was a nice demonstration of everything wrong with consent. I want you to watch what happens, and note whether or not you think Brit Marling actually wants to kiss Ellen Page, and juxtapose this with what she actually does. Then I want you to look at what Alexander Skarsgard does, and note any differences. Finally, I want you to ask: whose boundaries were successfully protected in this game, and why? (ETA: My video has been blocked again because, even though it meets the criteria for fair use, YouTube are happy for copyright bots to indiscriminately block content at the behest of irredeemable parasites. Copyright laws are bullshit)

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jowWST8wyl8]

Hopefully you noticed that Marling wasn’t at all eager to kiss Page, yet she did it anyway and pulled away early in order that she wouldn’t have to endure it for too long. In contrast, Skarsgard is unambiguous about his boundaries, and only participates in a capacity with which he is comfortable by suggesting a hug instead of a kiss. Why is this? They both had access to the same rules of the game, after all.

Without seeing the rest of the film, you probably have limited theories. Most obviously, Skarsgard is a man, which means he has been conditioned with the belief that his personal comfort is of paramount importance and he has responsibility for it. Marling is a woman, which means that she has been conditioned with the belief that her comfort is secondary to others, and she must cater to them in order to ensure this. Both of these positions will have been reinforced with respective lifetimes of interactions, largely operating along these dynamics. In this particular scenario, Skarsgard is also the leader of the anarchist group to whom all the other members defer, and also owns the land this group lives on. Marling is a lone newcomer, who is trying to gain favour with the group, make friends and prove her loyalty to their lifestyle. (The fact that she kisses another woman in this particular case is orthogonal to the point I want to make here, though I should note that it’s not an unusual occurrence for heterosexual women to feign/perform lesbian activity in order to ultimately service the male gaze, whether under their own steam or because they’ve been commissioned to do so by others who wish to profit; cf. drunk/insecure heterosexual women at nightclubs/parties, ‘queer’ women in heterosexual marriages, “lesbian” pornography, mud-wrestling, etc).

If you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m using Consensual Spin The Bottle as a metaphor for sexual dynamics in the world at large. The headline point I’m making here is this: material power differentials do not go away just because you’re explicitly talking about consent. People aren’t afforded any more agency if they simply verbalise the dynamics of what occurs with “consent”. If anything, the less powerful participants are now under pressure to voluntarily cooperate with the game, even to their own detriment. Imagine a round of Consensual Spin The Bottle where nobody actually felt like it, and simply declined every proposal; they’re kind of wrecking the point of the game, aren’t they? Seems to me that even if all else were equal, there’s a low ceiling to how many times one can decline an offer in this game without just ruining everything. Same goes if everyone consents grudgingly and hides their displeasure as poorly as Marling did. It may have been nicer for everyone if she had performed more convincingly, but her lot still would not have been improved.

Not only that, but who got to decide that this is even the game we’re going to play? Like Marling, we didn’t even necessarily sign up for this stupid fucking game. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in the HetSex Game by default, and simply have to navigate within its parameters as best we can. If we’re lucky we’ll get to pull away early or get it over with quickly. Just in case I need to clobber you over the head with this: I’m talking about compulsory sexuality. And here lies the biggest problem with this excellent feminist/queer innovation called consent that will supposedly solve all of our problems: the pronouncement, and the well-known fact, that Consent Is Sexy. Consent Is Sexy. Acquiescence with sexual proposals is sexy. The idea with this slogan is to popularise consent. But the corollary to this message is, of course, that nonconsent is definitely not sexy. Why is this a problem? Because the societal context that determines who we are; the same context that built the differences between Skarsgard and Marling; the context in which all of this is happening; is that if women aren’t sexy, then they aren’t worth shit.

In the old authoritarian version of Spin The Bottle, you were obliged to kiss the person the bottle pointed to. Indeed, part of the grotesque ‘fun’ of the game was sometimes having to kiss people you didn’t want to (boys risked “being gay” by playing, girls risked kissing the ugly boys, etc). This old version was nothing if not honest about what was required of the participants. The ‘Consensual’ version of Spin The Bottle, on the other hand, requires that you do largely the same things you did before, but provides you with a get-out-clause that certain people can’t actually make any meaningful use of. The fact that it is there means the only person culpable for what you are involved in, is yourself. The wealth of other factors determining your behaviour are thus smokescreened by this fluffy layer of ‘consent’. The event is atomised and individualised.

I’d like to draw an illustrative parallel with this video where, at 01min 40sec, Slavoj Zizek is talking about a symptom of late capitalism; the liberal phenomena of ‘tolerance’, ‘choice’ and reinterpreting the inevitable as voluntary. WordPress wouldn’t let me embed the time-jump link, but I trust that you can do an extra click for yourself:

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjEtmZZvGZA]

He uses the metaphor of a child being instructed by his strict, authoritarian father to visit Grandma. The child doesn’t want to, but he also knows that this is irrelevant; he must do as he is told or suffer the consequences. In another world, a tolerant liberal father emotionally manipulates his child into visiting Grandma by saying “You know that your Grandma loves you and it would mean a lot to her, but you should only visit if you want to”. The child is not an idiot, and still knows he has no choice. He is additionally now obliged to want it for himself or it means there’s something wrong with him as a person. In order to meet his father’s new requirements, he must also be convincing about his desire to visit Grandma. Not even some notion of ‘enthusiastic consent’, then, can help clarify things here. Quite the mindfuck, isn’t it.

In this same way, it appears that “Lie Back And Think Of England” (the old version of Spin The Bottle) has been replaced with “Consent Is Sexy” (Consensual Spin The Bottle). If you are a woman who has ever had any heterosexual encounters, you have probably consented to many things that you did not particularly want to do. Women rationalise to themselves why they do this; I used to say things like I didn’t need to orgasm to enjoy sex or that vicarious enjoyment through servicing boyfriends was enough in itself. The fact was, I just plain wasn’t going to orgasm from the sex I was having, and the only enjoyment it was even possible for me to get was vicarious. Often I was very uncomfortable, sometimes even in pain. Nevertheless, I consented to a variety of things in service of the male orgasm that I neither enjoyed nor felt an independent inclination to do. I believed that those boyfriends probably would have left me if I were to refuse. I was young and lacked the good sense not to care if they did. Thus, my ‘consent’ was simply a rationalisation of what was in fact inevitable for me, given that set of conditions. I’d wager that none of these boyfriends had any idea about this, of course. The whole point of faking an orgasm is feigned enjoyment. In other words, I feigned enthusiastic consent. In similar scenarios everywhere, women ‘consent’ to things they don’t want all the goddamn time.

This same pattern of reinterpreting the inevitable is true in almost all political arenas where sexual dynamics are relevant. The rhetoric surrounding the sex industry is now of women’s agency and empowerment (despite this being ademonstrable lie). Women don’t wear makeup to look good for men, they just want to look good for themselves (despite never wearing it when they’re home alone). Some women really like staying at home and looking after kids (despite many of those women not having a financially viable alternative). Women enjoy being sexually degraded by their boyfriends (despite being physically uncomfortable, or in pain, or never orgasming, or never having thought of such acts themselves before researching with porn). And so on and so forth.

These rhetorical shifts don’t indicate any material improvements. They obscure the factors that contribute toevery one of our ‘consensual’ decisions. These are factors that we need to be able to examine if we hope to make any substantial changes that enable any meaningful agency. Not only are women still eating more or less the same shit sandwich they’ve always been served, but now we have to enthusiastically pat our bellies too. And that, friends, is some bullshit indeed.

 

RootVeg is on twitter as Umlolidunno

See the following on consent:

 

Jeanne de Montbaston – Penis Trees Against the Misogynists?

Cross-posted with permission from Reading Medieval Books

aroo1

The above image – a sheepish-looking monk handing an unfeasibly large penis to a disconcerted nun – may look familiar to anyone who’s read my first post in this blog.

It’s one of a sequence of illuminations made in the margins of a manuscript by the medieval artist Jeanne de Montbaston. Jeanne worked with her husband, Richard, in Rue Neuve in fourteenth-century Paris. She did the illustrations for a fairly large number of manuscripts, including dozens of copies of the popular Romance of the Rose. This poem is an allegorical reflection on love, but it is also justifiably famous as one of the most misogynistic books around, the subject of medieval author Christine de Pizan’s brilliant attack on male writers who treat women only as sex objects.

A short passage can illustrate what Christine meant. In the poem, the allegorical figure of ‘Genius’ (who is male) argues that all men should take advantage of women as sexual objects, and he compares the (male) act of writing with the act of penetration, while picturing women as passive, blank like an unwritten page. In a vicious rant, he declares:

“those who do not write with their ‘tools’ … on those beautiful, precious tablets Nature has made for them … should suffer the loss of their penis and testicles.”

The word Genius uses for ‘tool’ literally means both ‘pen’ and ‘penis’ – the pun is in the original French. This rant is primarily homophobic – or more precisely, it’s an argument against sodomy, since medieval people didn’t have the same sense of sexual orientation, rather than sexual activities, that we do now. It’s also, obviously, the speech of someone who really doesn’t think a great deal of women, and who thinks the activity of writing and the fact of having a penis are intrinsically related (if you think this sounds familiar, you’ll be pleased to know that V. S. Naipaul and dear David Gilmour, of Dickhead Detox fame, feel the same way).

Now, the question is, why would a woman artist – and one who was obviously pretty good – spend her time working on a book that puts forward such an unpleasant view of women?

I’ve heard it suggested that Jeanne was probably illiterate and that – because of this – she didn’t really know what she was illuminating and so popped in a silly story about nuns and penis trees instead of choosing a more suitable image based on the story itself.

I have a bit of a problem with this, not least because shedloads of medieval illuminators go off-piste in their choices of subject-matter and no-one suggests they’re all illiterate (though some of them surely were). But, more to the point, I think Jeanne’s illumination has quite an amusing relationship to the text and its messages.

On one level, of course, it seems to confirm what Jean de Meun says about women in general: we’re all about the cock, even the nuns. And the little pictorial narrative from which the image above comes concludes – predictably – with the monk and nun sleeping together. Though, honestly, they don’t look much happier about it than they did in the first picture!

aroo2

 

However, I think there’s a bit more to Jeanne’s illuminations than that. In modern culture, as in medieval society, women are all too often viewed as a set of body parts, dissected by the male gaze and by popular media into legs, and breasts, nipped-in waists and airbrushed smiles. In modern culture it’s rare to see male anatomy treated that way. In fact, naked penises cause far more consternation than naked breasts.

This wasn’t the case in medieval England, where dozens of illuminators enjoyed drawing pictures of cocks merrily surging along the margins of pages. But Jeanne’s image of a nun who calmly gathers a crop of penises into her basket is more pointed that most. Standing in the margins of a romance full of mansplaining about female desire and the superior creative powers of men, it’s as if Jeanne’s nun is saying: ‘well, if you have to have a penis to tell a good story … look how many have!’

aroo3

 

 Lucy can also be found at @LucyAllenFWR

The Lynx Effect: Rape culture in action

Cross-posted with permission from Glosswitch

Lynx. The perfect Secret Santa gift for the male colleague you don’t know and/or don’t particularly like. The heterosexual male equivalent of one of those Baylis & Harding “looks vaguely like Molton Brown but totally isn’t” bath sets. The year before last, I received the latter, my partner got the former. What this says about us as colleagues is something I’d rather not consider.

Having had some Lynx in our household within the recent past, I can say at least this with certainty: the Lynx Effect doesn’t work. One whiff of Africa, Cool Metal, Excite or Fever does not provoke unstoppable horniness. It provokes, first, amusement because it smells so fucking awful, second, vague memories of some really creepy lads in Year 10, and, finally, a migraine. Only the first of these is even remotely fun.

Back in the 1980s there was, sort of, a female equivalent to the Lynx Effect, when Impulse used the “men just can’t help acting on it” tagline.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAIQd0tAnwA

That’s right, ladies, when a man you’ve never met before gives you flowers, you’ll know he’s acting on Impulse (which obviously makes it totally reassuring and not at all stalkerish, or so my 11-year-old self used to think). As ever, the expectations placed on men in response to female body spray were considerably lower than those placed on women in response to Lynx. Women detect a little Lynx Apolloand they’re whipping their bras off to reveal ample, if somewhat artificial looking, tits. Men get a noseful of Impulse Chic and the most they’re expected to do is proffer some limp Gladioli (tip: most women would rather have booze. Or even a book token, to be honest). To make matters worse the ball is then back in the woman’s court (he’s bought you some flowers, you say? Time to whip your bra off to reveal ample …). It’s not great, is it? And all this is before we get into the deeply disturbing overtones of a tagline which suggests men can’t really control themselves anyhow.

It’s bad enough that the ads play on the idea of male pursuer, female pursued (always in a deeply heteronormative context). These days Lynx are taking it one step further. Consider this delightful ad:

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 17.04.26

The Lynx Effect. Encouraging Involuntary Seduction, that is, making someone who doesn’t actively want to have sex with you become more “amenable”. A bit like too much alcohol, or Rohypnol, only cheaper. “Involuntary” because, let’s face it, choice always gets in the way. Clearly Lynx understands what a young man wants: not any form of sexual interaction, but someone, anyone, into whom to stick his cock. Sod giving them flowers (that’s so 1980s). Let’s drug them (or let’s at least kid ourselves that a lungful of Lynx Rise will do anything other than repulse).

Sometimes it’s really difficult to explain the concept of rape culture to the unconvinced. Some people still believe there is rape – which bad people commit – and a surrounding environment which does nothing to condone it. If they do nothing else, Lynx adverts, with their jaunty sexism and teenage bedroom fantasies, make it that little bit easier to show how distorted concepts of seduction feed into a belief that consent doesn’t really matter. The word “involuntary” should never be used in adverts aimed at young men at a stage when they need to learn what enthusiastic consent really means. If sex involves anything that is not voluntary, it needs to stop.

It’s not that Lynx actually works. Of course it doesn’t. Everyone, even those using it, knows it doesn’t. But spreading the notion that it is reasonable to get people to whom you’re attracted to do things they don’t really want to do – that can have an effect. This is not selling seduction; it’s legitimising fantasies of assault.

 

Glosswitch can be found on twitter and on the New Statesman

See the following on consent:

 

Patriarchy’s Magic Trick: How Anything Perceived As Women’s Work Immediately Sheds Its Value

Cross-posted with permission from Crates&Ribbons

The gender wage gap has long been an issue of importance for feminists, and one that consistently finds itself on the UN and government agendas. Despite this, there is a persistent idea among many in mainstream society (mostly men, and some women) that the gender wage gap is simply a myth, that women are paid less on average because of the specific choices that women make in their careers. Everything, they claim, from the industry a woman chooses to establish herself in, to the hours she chooses to work, to her decision to take time off to spend with her children, and so on, leads to lower pay, for reasons, they confidently assure us, that have nothing at all to do with sexism. Now we could delve into, and rebut, these points at length, but in this post, I will focus only on the assertion that the wage gap exists partly because women choose to go into industries that just happen — what a coincidence! — to be lower paid.

So here’s how the argument usually goes. Women, they say, gravitate towards lower-paid industries such as nursing, cleaning, teaching, social work, childcare, customer service or administrative work, while men choose to work in politics, business, science, and other manly, well-paid industries. Those who propagate this idea usually aren’t interested in a solution, since they see no problem, but if asked to provide one, they might suggest that women behave more like men, one aspect of this being to take up careers in male-dominated industries that are more well-paid (and respected, but they seldom say this out loud).

But is this really a solution, even a small one? What their analysis misses out is the question of how the average pay levels of different industries are decided in the first place. There’s demand and supply, of course, but another factor is the perceived value of the role, and what it means to society. Let’s examine a traditionally male-dominated role that is very well-respected, and well-paid, in many parts of the world — that of a doctor. In the UK, it is listed as one of the top ten lucrative careers, and the average annual income of a family doctor in the US is well into six figures. It also confers on you significant social status, and a common stereotype in Asian communities is of parents encouraging their children to become doctors.

One of my lecturers at university once presented us with this thought exercise: why are doctors so highly paid, and so well-respected? Our answers were predictable. Because they save lives, their skills are extremely important, and it takes years and years of education to become one. All sound, logical reasons. But these traits that doctors possess are universal. So why is it, she asked, that doctors in Russia are so lowly paid? Making less than £7,500 a year, it is one of the lowest paid professions in Russia, and poorly respected at that. Why is this?

The answer is crushingly, breathtakingly simple. In Russia, the majority of doctors are women. Here’s a quote from Carol Schmidt, a geriatric nurse practitioner who toured medical facilities in Moscow: “Their status and pay are more like our blue-collar workers, even though they require about the same amount of training as the American doctor… medical practice is stereotyped as a caring vocation ‘naturally suited‘ to women, [which puts it at] a second-class level in the Soviet psyche.”

What this illustrates perfectly is this — women are not devalued in the job market because women’s work is seen to have little value. It is the other way round. Women’s work is devalued in the job market because women are seen to have little value. This means that anything a woman does, be it childcare, teaching, or doctoring, or rocket science, will be seen to be of less value simply because it is done mainly by women. It isn’t that women choose jobs that are in lower-paid industries, it is that any industry that women dominate automatically becomes less respected and less well-paid.

So it is not enough for us to demand access to traditionally male-dominated fields. Yes, we need to stop holding women back in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, and yes, we need to allow more women to take an interest in, and succeed in business and politics. But far more than that, we need to change the culture that imbues us with a sense of the inferiority of women, that tells us, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that anything a woman does is obviously easy, requires little effort, and is of minimal value to society.

 

CratesandRibbons can also be found on twitter: @CratesNRibbons

The Signs of Controlling Behaviour – Red Flags and How to Spot Them

Cross-posted with permission from SaltandCaramel

If we were able to teach young people to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour, the ‘red flags’, would we be able to protect them from abusive relationships?

If we were to teach children in schools how to spot a controlling person, would be help save them from misery and self-doubt?

If we talk openly with friends about the ‘red flags’ would they recognise their own relationships and find the strength to walk away?

I hope so.

For this reason, I am writing two blog posts today. One for adults, here on this blog, and one for pre-teens on Jump! Mag for Girls. When writing for pre-teens, I am very concious of the fact that not all parents will have had The Talk with their young girls, and some of our readers are just seven or eight years old. For this reason, sex is a taboo topic on Jump! Mag, but I believe that the foundation for healthy relationship building is laid before children hit puberty.

Young girls are very susceptible to controlling behaviour – when pre-teens and young teens, more likely from other girls but as time passes also from boys. And sadly from ‘men’ – I hardly like to call them men.

It is important that young people are taught how to recognise a controlling person – whether it is a peer, and adult or a family member.

**EDIT**

This blog post is written from the perspective of a woman, and advises how to recognise a controlling man. This doesn’t mean that I don’t accept that men are abused too, or that women cannot be controlling or manipulative. In the majority of abusive relationships, the man is the aggressor. For this reason, and because it reads easier than using he/she, I have used the pronoun ‘he’.

The Red Flags 

We talk about the ‘Red Flags’ of controlling and abusive behaviour. I interviewed several women, and hosted guest blog posts, for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign. Women who were raped, women who had been abused, many of them over a long period of time. Often these women are asked, ‘Why did you not leave?’ and they find it difficult to explain even to themselves.

The answer is that their self-esteem had been slowly but methodically eroded until they were no longer able to make a rational decision. Women who had been strong, independent and happy became timid and fearful. They tiptoed around the house and the moods of their partner. They sought to do everything right, and blamed themselves when they did something ‘wrong’.

What happened between the time that they met their partner and the moment when they realised it was time to get out? And why did they not notice that their partner was abusive?

The gradual escalation of abuse is often very difficult to spot, if you are living in the middle of if. Here are the signs to look out for. If you are seeing a man, and you recognise these signs, take a step back and assess the situation.

Initial Infatuation Period

He is extremely attentive, phones, emails or texts constantly

He gets serious fast. Talks about the love of his life, or moving in together.

He is jealous – which might flatter you at first. ‘It is only because I love you so much’

In this period, he will bring flowers and gifts, treat you like a ‘princess’, be loving and caring. You might feel uneasy about the speed of the relationship but  don’t want to rock the boat because he is so different from the guys who want to play the field.

First Doubts

He blames others eg for his failed marriage or relationship. ‘My ex is a real bitch, I am so glad that I have found you’.

He tries to change you. Your hair, make up, clothes. In a subtle way,  eg. by bringing you presents very different to the clothes you would normally wear.

He tries to stop you seeing your friends. ‘I just want to be with you, I want to spend time with you’.

He doesn’t take notice of your feelings, ‘Don’t be silly…’

In this period, you might have moments of misgiving, but then he backs off and is the loving attentive man you first fell for.

Sowing The Seeds of Self-Doubt

He puts you down, at first when you are alone but later in front of others, often disguised as a joke.

He makes comments about your appearance, making you feel less attractive.

His digs are subtle, and when you call him on them, he is offended and upset that you ‘didn’t get his joke’.

He insults your friends, and tries to stop you seeing them.

He is moody and unpredictable, but blames his bad moods on you so you start adapting your behaviour to keep him happy.

He accuses you of being unfaithful, or of flirting with other men.

He ignores you, if you do something that displeases him, and ‘rewards’ you with his attention and affection when he is pleased with you.

By now, you are already doubting yourself, and beginning to refer to him for minor and major decision making.

Escalation of Abuse

He stops you doing what you want, or seeing who you want.

He isolates you financially, making you dependent on him.

He blames you for anything that goes wrong.

He becomes more abusive, both verbally and physically

He becomes upset if you talk of leaving him, and threatens to do himself harm

By this point, you are cowed. You are frightened and isolated. You barely say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing.

One woman I interviewed for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign talked of the red flags, and how she could see in retrospect many of the signs of abusive behaviour. She was one of the lucky ones.

“I always remember the boiling frog anecdote. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. That describes a woman in an abusive relationship perfectly”.

Two women a week die at the hands of their partner. MP Stella Creasy is supporting the One Billion Women Rising UK campaign, to end violence against women and girls.

The campaign culminates on 14th February 2013 when around the globe women will rise, and dance.

UPDATE

See also the Guest Blog of Amber Rudd Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye on Mumsnet

Great blog post from Eliza Do Lots here is getting lots of attention  and deserves a read. 

GET HELP –

If you recognise your partner or your situation in the above description, you can find advice on how to get help from Women’s Aid or Refuge.

Talk to a trusted friend or relative. They may already be worried about you or have felt unable to speak to you about your partner.

These websites all have information on escaping from Domestic Violence – if you share a computer with your partner, have a look at this section on covering your tracks online first.

Women’s Aid – national support network for domestic violence services

Women’s Aid (Ireland) – Republic of Ireland’s domestic abuse support network

Women’s Aid (Scotland) – support for people suffering domestic violence in Scotland

Rape Crisis – specialist rape support services in England and Wales

Refuge – national support for women and children experiencing domestic violence

Broken Rainbow – support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence across the UK

Directgov – government information for victims of domestic violence

The Hideout – information for young people and children about domestic violence

Men’s Advice Line – advice for men in abusive relationships

National Domestic Violence Helpline – national helpline for those affected by domestic violence

NHS: Live Well – basic advice on support options for victims of domestic abuse

Respect – runs a phoneline for people experiencing domestic abuse across the UK

Rights of Women – legal information for women experiencing domestic violence

Lynn Schreiber can also be found on twitter: @LynnCSchreiber Lynn is also the editor and founder of Jump!Mag 

More articles on Mumsnet:

“It’s only 9 months to save a life” by @Herbeatitude 

Feminism and Motherhood: On Choice, Criticism and Self-Confidence by @LynnCSchreiber

Right, Listen up everybody by @TheSamDavis

“Deeply Romantic”: Hemingway, Domestic Violence and Romance by @LeStewpot

The Signs of Controlling Behaviour: Red Flags and How to Spot them by @LynnCSchreiber

How Mumsnet put some fire in my belly and why I hope my boys embrace feminism by @mummytolittlee

Thanks and all, but no thanks: I don’t want men in my feminism

Cross-posted with permission from Karen Ingala Smith

Yes, I’m one of those feminists who doesn’t want men in feminism, the type who doesn’t think men can be feminists.  I’m quite happy to talk with you, work in partnership with or alongside you, even count a select bunch of you amongst my friends, but call you feminists: “Nah.”

Men – you’ve had since time immemorial to get your shit together.  For the sake of argument, let’s start from the assumption that as a species we’ve been around for about 200,000 years.  Evidence suggests that early societies were egalitarian but that with the development of agriculture and domestication around 11,700 years ago, came the emergence of patriarchy, of men’s domination of women.  What we refer to as first wave feminism gained prominence from the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, though this is western-centric and writes out women’s earlier struggles in Europe from the 15th century.  Even if we take  Mary Wollstonecraft’s  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792 as the start of women’s fight for our rights, men had eleven and a half thousand years to do something about sex inequality – if only a) you had wanted to and b) you weren’t too busy enjoying the benefits.  What’s suddenly happened for you to want to get in on the act?

Feminism is more than the demand for rights for women or equality between women and men. For me, feminism is the fight for the liberation of all women as a class from subjugation under patriarchy.  Loose the structural analysis and feminism gets lost in the rights of the individual, in identity led politics and notions of choice and agency fail to take sufficient account of context and impact.  Get men in and feminism is almost inevitably reduced to the problem of inequality and usually it isn’t so long before the ‘men suffer under patriarchy too’ line is trotted out.

Men, revolutionaries,  when you fight for equality you’re too quick betray your sisters.  Women were fighting for the rights of women as a class, as well as the overthrow of totalitarian regimes in the Arab Spring, but women’s status has been seriously threated in the countries that achieved changes of government.  The end of communism in Eastern Europe, and with it the rise of choice and consumerism furthered the commodification of women and men’s right’s to choose to profit and purchase. In the UK,  the Socialist Workers Party handling of rape shows that misogyny, sexism and sexual violence were seen as equality issues of lesser importance.

Men, you take up too much public space.  This post by End Victimisation and Blaming cites Dale Spender:

“Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.”     […]

“There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.”

Spender is absolutely right if my experience is anything to go by, the situation she described was not atypical. In the media men dominate, they take up disproportionate space. In politics men dominate, they take up disproportionate space.  Even on public transport men dominate, you take up disproportionate space as illustrated by this blog and this.  Seriously fellas, we know that your balls aren’t that big.

This piece by Glosswitch on the vitriol directed towards a twitter hashtag #sharedgirlhood and its protagonist Victoria Brownworth (@VABOX) explores the importance of a collective approach to women’s oppression.   Too few women get to know the joy of mass women-only spaces. It’s increasingly rare to find even a feminist event that is women only, and those that seek to provide this, increasingly face challenges.  Bullying from men’s rights extremists led to the London Irish Centre cancelling a booking for the women-only radical feminist conference Rad Fem 2013 for safeguarding reasons and because the venue could not handle the volume of complaints, though the conference went ahead peacefully elsewhere.  What’s the big threat?  Are you afraid that we’re plotting to overthrow male privilege or something?

Men, how about you prioritise taking responsibility for your violence above asking ‘What about the men?’  Services for women who have experienced sexual and domestic violence are increasingly required by commissioners to offer services to men too, despite evidence that this is not what women want, despite women being overwhelmingly the victims and men being overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Despite even the recognition of this by the government in its strategy to end (male) violence against women and girls. Incidentally men, if you focussed on ending male violence, you’d be helping a whole lot more men – and women – than you are by overstating your victimisation by women.

Men, how about you challenge the pornography tastes of some of your brethren?  Other men and boys listen to you, use their sexism for the greater good.  How about you challenge the sexual objectification of women without needing to call yourselves feminists to do so. Just do it because you recognise that objectification is damaging to women, a cause and consequence of inequality that upholds patriarchy.

Men, how about you sort out the rest of society – that in which you dominate – and make that more equitable and safer for women before you insist on occupying our space?  There is a role for you, plenty that you can do,  and I really hope that you will be influenced by feminism but in my experience, it is the men who exclude themselves from identifying as a feminist, who instead see themselves as allies, supporters or pro-feminist who have the more sophisticated analysis.  Men who realise that feminism is not about or for them, not about what they think.

The silencing of women by men in the public sphere is deafening; the habit of overlooking and failing to respond to women’s subordination is entrenched, structural and serves men as a class. By insist on inclusion in feminism, once again, men’s wants and needs are prioritised over women’s and women’s subordination is reinforced.

 

Karen Ingala Smith can also be found on twitter: @K_IngalaSmith

She also runs the Counting Dead Women campaign: @CountDeadWomen

The petition is here.

“The reason so many rapists get off is because there is a grey area”

Cross-posted with permission from Herbs&Hags

When you sit there with your friends and the subject of rape comes up, this is one of the most persistent rape myths that they put forward. OK maybe that’s just my friends. I apologise for them in advance and I’m working on getting new ones, I promise.

The idea that there are “grey areas” in women’s bodily integrity; that perfectly nice men are confused by the assumption that if you want to enter another human being’s body, then you ought to be 100% sure that they want you there and you ought to check that that’s the case, is surprisingly widespread and accepted even among people who are reasonably educated, lefty, progressive in their views on all other subjects. The grey area myth, tells us that normally-functioning compos-mentis men who are allowed out unsupervised, can’t be expected to know that they need to check another human being wants them in her body, because of the famous grey area which confuses them and makes them into accidental rapists, who may have done the wrong thing, but surely don’t deserve jail?

In reality of course, when you challenge the men you know about grey areas and ask them directly: “so if you’re not sure that a woman wants you in her body, do you just go straight in and ask questions later then?” they are shocked and offended. “Of course not!”

But somehow, although they would never do that, they assume that other men would.

Why? Because they are the man-haters they accuse feminists of being when we suggest that it’s a good idea not to rape women? Possible but unlikely.  Because they are particularly wonderful men, completely above the normal run-of-the-mill type? Are they remarkably lovely, respectful, decent men who any woman would be lucky to have in her life? Are they exceptionally good catches? Interestingly, many of them actually do believe this. They have bought the version of men our culture sells us, of selfish, self-centred knuckle-draggers who really can’t be expected to take responsibility for their own behaviour and only they and their friends and Ryan Gosling are different. This clearly makes the pool of acceptable men available for your average heterosexual woman of any discrimination at all, extremely small and I’m never quite sure if they are overly pessimistic or if I am overly optimistic. In their own circle and minds of course, it ensures that their status as “fantastic catch” is maintained. So I’m slightly suspicious of their jaundiced view of other men, it’s too much to their advantage not to at least query it.

In reality, most rapists rely on the belief in the grey area, to enable them to rape women and not even get accused, let alone convicted of their crime. They know that if they can set a woman up to look as though there may have been a break-down of communication, a confusion, a misunderstanding, a grey area, even where the rape victim, police, CPS and jury believe that the woman is telling the truth (and we know that mostly, people believe rape victims are lying even though only about 4% of reported rapes are false allegations), they will still get away with it because everyone – including the victim – will give them the benefit of the doubt and decide that although it is rape, it happened in the infamous grey area and therefore doesn’t count. 85% -90% of rapes aren’t reported. That’s partly because most rapes can be made to look as if they happened in the grey area.

Rapists know the grey area is their friend, so they set their victim up very carefully, to ensure that the worst thing that can be pointed at them, is grey area stuff. When I was raped, my rapist walked up to me while I was chatting to a friend and kissed me on the mouth without any warning. He held me against him and kissed me, counting on my surprise and disorientation, that I wouldn’t protest or hold him accountable for what I now understand to be a sexual assault. Then of course, it was just counted as a man acting on impulse (like the ad slogan) or trying it on, which was considered normal and reasonable.

It took me years to realise that what he was doing there, was setting me up; if the very remote possibility that I would report his raping me occurred, he would be able to point to this kiss, as proof that I’d “got off with him” earlier on in the evening and rely on the police to support his right to penetrate a woman he had earlier on been seen kissing. Also, something I didn’t realise for years, he was testing the waters – my lack of outrage or fury at his behaviour (I ran off giggling with my friend) gave him a clue as to how easily he could manipulate my behaviour later on.

When I left the party venue with a big group of people, he was suddenly there in that group and he honed in on me and chatted in a normal, friendly manner as we walked to the cab office, before deliberately slowing his pace and imperceptibly, very gradually, separating us off from the crowd. So to a police officer, CPS officer and jury member, it would very much look as though I was quite keen on him and his story would be that I was a bit drunk, it was consensual and I regretted it afterwards. It wouldn’t get to court and it wouldn’t even earn him social opprobrium among our mutual friends and acquaintances. In the eyes of all of them, they might believe that I wasn’t actually lying – but they wouldn’t condemn him as the rapist he was, because they would assume that he genuinely believed I liked him and this was one of those famous grey areas where he’d made an honest mistake and I’d over-reacted.

And of course, I also persuaded myself that it was one of those grey areas; rape victims are no different from everyone else in society and we are subject to the same messages, the same cultural influences and the same assumptions as everyone else. As women, we’re socialised to override our instincts -we’re always being told that they’re wrong – and the fact that I felt that he’d raped me, wasn’t enough for me to assume that was good enough to assume he’d raped me; like most other people, I accepted rapists’ definitions of rape and sex and I accepted that this was a grey area.

Except that it wasn’t. Unlike most rape victims, my rapist did actually tell me (once he knew there was absolutely no chance of him being held legally or morally accountable for it) that he’d raped me. After the rape, I went out with him for about 3 weeks until I could stand it no more. (Read why in my blog post here http://herbsandhags.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/how-i-became-rape-victim.html  if you want an explanation for that). And when I dumped him, he made it clear that he knew what he’d done, that it wasn’t a grey area, that it wasn’t a miscommunication. In the intervening years I realised he did that as a power kick; he wanted to let me know that I’d been his victim, he didn’t want to leave me with the comforting illusion that he was basically a nice guy who’d made a mistake. He wanted me to know that he’d set me up and ensured that he’d get away with rape.

That’s what most rapists do. They don’t “accidentally” rape women. They don’t “misread the signals”. Every day, men who pretend that they are incapable of telling that women don’t want them to penetrate their bodies, read hundreds of social signals expertly. They know when to joke about with the boss; when to back down gracefully in a meeting without losing face; when to negotiate hard and when to keep some back for the next deal; they know when to banter with their colleagues and when to be professional. They know when to slap down someone in a pub or a club or on a train and when that would be dangerous – most men, like most women, are very, very good at negotiating social signals.

Even when they are a bit drunk, in pubs and bars and coming home after a night out, they know when it would be dangerous to get raucous or lairy and when they can throw their weight about safely. Yes alcohol does lower inhibitions, but men are still remarkably good at picking up social cues even when drunk. If they weren’t, their daily lives would be full of unnecessary and draining conflict and public consumption of alcohol would simply be banned as far too dangerous to allow. Only when it comes to sex, do they suddenly lose the ability to read signals and sense reluctance, fear or resignation – and not only can they not read social signals, they also suddenly lose the ability to ask a straight question: “Are you OK with this?” “Do you want this?” It’s remarkable isn’t it? Loss of social signal reading ability and other communication skills, like asking questions. How very emasculating the grey area must be. Er…

The grey area makes it possible for rapists to set their victims up, to rape them without being held accountable for it. It rests on the assumption that a woman in the same space as a man, is responsible for him not raping her, rather than a man being responsible for not raping a woman. Every time people talk about grey areas in rape, they are re-inforcing that lie, that men can read social signals in every other area of their lives, even when they are drunk, except in sexual situations.

Looked at dispassionately, it’s incredible that even sensible people do this. It’s time we recognised what the grey area is: the area where rapists persuade the rest of us, that they didn’t mean to do it and that the woman they were with, has no right to have her bodily integrity respected because she’s in the grey area with him. The grey area is a rapist’s safe space, which is why most of them manipulate their victim into it. Let’s take away their safe space. Let’s stop giving house-room, to the concept of the grey area.

 

HerbsandHags can be found on twitter too: @Herbeatittude

The Feminist Bubble

The Feminist Bubble was first published by Sara Salem at Neo-Colonialism and its Discontents

This post is inspired by a Facebook post I saw the other day that was posted by Black Girl Dangerous:

How would conversations between oppressed peoples with common interests be different if we didn’t spend so much time worrying about how privileged people who were listening in were gonna interpret/appropriate/use for their own agenda what we say to *each other*? We put so much energy into worrying about what they think that we miss opportunities to do the healing work we need for ourselves in our communities. Which, of course, is one very efficient way oppression operates.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and something I am guilty of. It feels like a lot of feminist conversations these days revolve around critiquing white feminism rather than trying to create solidarity or a strong transnational feminist movement (white feminism here of course refers to the movement itself, not being “white” – many brown and black people, for example, adopt a white feminist approach). This is something I do too and have started to find problematic, not because it isn’t necessary but because it seems to create a momentum in and of itself that prevents non-white feminisms from moving forward. So in that sense I definitely relate to the quote above: worrying about how white women are going to interpret something we do or say is not only energy-consuming, it is ultimately pointless because no matter how many disclaimers you might add to something you write, many are simply going to see what they want and interpret it through their own theoretical lens and experiences.

I used to spend ages worrying about writing about gender in the Egyptian context precisely for this reason, because I knew that even admitting that gender oppression exists was enough to legitimate imperialist views and policies. To this day many feminists in the Middle East will not discuss issues such as female circumcision in specific spaces because they know it won’t be understood outside of the Arab-men-are-especially-barbaric narrative that has come to dominate. This makes it difficult to have transnational conversations because hegemonic understandings of feminism (white feminism, basically) continue to dominate. So in this sense, I understand why so many feminists focus on deconstructing white feminism, something I often do myself. I also think it’s important to continue to critique white feminism, but my question is whether it is useful to move away from focusing on that and instead focus more on constructing other solidarities.

But my frustration stems from the feeling that we are now at a point where white feminism has been critiqued and deconstructed, but that these critiques have not extended outside of the small bubble of postcolonial/critical/brown/black feminists. And I think this is why many of us continue to make these critiques. Even though they have been made a million times within this bubble, they still haven’t managed to become dominant and displace white feminism. But it seems to me that continuing to make them won’t change that: they will continue to fall on deaf ears. The reality is that white/liberal feminism continues to dominate, and in fact has transformed itself into an approach that appears to look critical but in fact is based on the same assumptions as first and second wave feminism. (I just want to add that I do understand the value of continually making these critiques in an emotional sense – the post is focused more on how to spread these critiques further.)

This morning I saw a Twitter exchange between two of my favourite feminists – Flavia Dzodanand Sara Ahmed, about white feminists and the often-racist articles they write. Sara Ahmedtweeted: “Yes when I read something like this I wish for it to be shocking but the familiar is exhausting, it gets hard to be shocked!” And this is exactly how I feel these days. I think she was referring to white feminism as the ‘familiar’ and I would add to that my own exhaustion of the familiarity of critiquing white feminism as well. It just seems too familiar.

This dynamic explains why whenever I start writing a piece on feminism by critiquing white feminism, I immediately feel like it’s already all been said and done. And it has – but only within the bubble. And here I use the term bubble instead of circle precisely because ‘bubble’ implies that it is somewhat removed from other groups and people (not to mention the fact that academia in general constitutes one big bubble). The question of how to move outside of the postcolonial feminist bubble (an even smaller bubble within the bubble of feminism) is a complicated one that I still haven’t managed to think through myself. Structural constraints are an important factor, including the continued dominance of positivist and liberal approaches in general, within which white feminism fits nicely. There is also the important point of internalized white/liberal ideas, which leads to many non-white scholars and activists reproducing problematic narratives that in the end aid in perpetuating a system that oppresses them.

A friend of mine suggested that the unwillingness on the part of postcolonial feminists to reach out and engage is part of the problem. I don’t really agree that this is the fault of postcolonial feminists. I think a large part of this is because of the structural constraints I mentioned before as well as the fact that many white feminists don’t want to engage as it would imply an admission of error on their part. Postcolonial feminism isn’t merely critiquing aspects of white feminism, but rather the entire ontology and epistemology underlying white feminism. In other words, there is no common ground, or little common ground, between white feminism and other forms of feminism that are critical or postcolonial. After having a conversation with @ebnee_e I also want to highlight that critique is a form of engagement, thus further proving that the lack of engagement isn’t really coming from the postcolonial feminist side.

On the other hand, I see my friend’s point in the sense that feminists often focus on feminism as a discipline that does not transcend itself. My own view is that gender relations are a part of all social relations and structures, and therefore gender studies should not exist as an isolated field in and of itself. Instead it may be more useful to focus on disciplines and try and understand how gender relations are part of social structures. A good example of this is how feminists working within International Relations have managed to critique the existing masculinist bias of most research and insist that gender relations become part of the agenda. In this sense, these feminists have forced other IR scholars to engage with them and address their critiques, and even though many IR scholars have resisted these new ideas, some have embraced them. In the end, it is clear that there is a feminist trend in IR, as small as it may be. I lean towards thinking of this as more useful than having feminism as an isolated discipline.

What is interesting, however, is that it seems as though postcolonial feminists have focused on working within a discipline that is not feminism – postcolonialism – and yet have still not managed to transcend the bubble. Postcolonial feminists have worked on politics, economics, psychology, sociology, and many other issues from not only a feminist perspective but a postcolonial one. This is why postcolonial feminists are such a major part of postcolonialism in general. And yet this has not managed to challenge the dominance of white feminism, even if it has made inroads in challenging the positivism and Eurocentrism of disciplines such as IR, sociology, economics, and so on. After thinking about it, it seems to me that critical feminists have managed to challenge specific disciplines by engaging with them because they have support from other critical voices within the discipline. So in IR, for example, it wasn’t only Cynthia Cockburn, Cynthia Enloe or Christine Sylvester making the critique that IR is Eurocentric, liberal and masculinist – other (male) scholars did so as well, and perhaps this is why it was somewhat successful.

So the question remains – how to create a challenge that is strong enough to displace white feminism? The problem does not seem to be theoretical or based on content – postcolonial feminism(s) certainly have done enough work in terms of deconstructing and problematizing white feminism. The problem lies more with reaching out. But this brings me back full circle: is it about reaching out, or is it about having someone willing to listen on the other side? I continue to believe that is is more about structural constraints (funding, the dominance of positivism, Eurocentrism) that prevent postcolonial voices from being heard (and this is not only a problem for feminists). I also think that isolating ourselves within a discipline and constituting feminism as a discipline in and of itself has done some harm, in the sense that other disciplines have managed to ignore gender relations. It seems as though only by forcefully engaging other scholars in multiple disciplines can feminists ‘bring gender in.’ 

The question of displacing white feminism, however, remains unanswered. It is not only about the unwillingness on the part of white feminists to listen and engage, but also about the fact that the current imperial neoliberal system continues to create situations of exploitation from which white (and well-off) women benefit. This is why the politics of privilege is so important and has to constitute the starting point of any transnational solidarity. But this is where we always get stuck. We end up with things like lean in feminism or campaigns by feminists for ‘Hillary 2016′ without any kind of self-reflexivity or acknowledgement that these strands of feminism actively oppress other women (and men). Moreover the continued exclusion of trans* and disabled women from white feminism further consolidates it as an exclusionary movement. The reality is that it is not about white feminists themselves (and these feminists don’t have to be white to adopt white feminism) or about what they say or do. It is about the underlying ontological assumptions they have and epistemological choices they make. A focus on liberalism is a key example of this. Because the critiques by postcolonial and critical feminists are so deep (in that they challenge the assumptions themselves), it is perhaps understandable why white feminism has been unwilling to engage.

Engagement in and of itself also doesn’t mean transformation. As is clear from the IR example, although feminists have engaged, and (some) IR scholars have engaged back, the discipline continues to reproduce its masculinist bias. While there are critical strands, there is by no means a critical consensus, as is the case across disciplines – again, I would argue, because of structural constraints. In this sense, feminism is not alone, although it is more extreme. Speaking to another friend, he asked me why the question of engaging white feminism was important to begin with. He suggested that it was impossible since there are no common grounds on which to engage them. This sits more comfortably with me. Rather than focus on feminism, then, it may be more useful to focus on postcolonialism, since postcolonialism challenges global structures and thus any critique of these structures will include a critique of white feminism.  This will also allow feminism to transcend disciplinary boundaries and create transnational solidarities not simply among other feminists but among all groups. This approach would also mean an acknowledgement of the fact that gender is not an isolated structure but rather is produced and reproduced by and through other structures, including capitalism, racism, etc.

Perhaps, then, the question of engaging white feminists is what is problematic. Isn’t it better to construct solidarities with people who share the same ontological assumptions? In this sense, it is not about postcolonial feminism but about postcolonialism itself. Postcolonialism challenges not only white feminism but white supremacy as a totality. The global structure becomes the focus of critique and thus feminists are not isolated, because gender intersects with multiple other relations within this global structure. “The advantage of postcoloniality is that it unveils a global structure that can unite struggles that are not only feminist but also racial, etc. under one umbrella thus leading to a global revolution. The global revolution should be what postcolonial scholars aim at following their ontological and epistemological frames.”* Following this, the priority should be on building transnational alliances that are postcolonial and critical in nature, rather than constantly attempting to engage white feminism.

Going back to the quote at the beginning, maybe the answer is to focus less on critiquing white feminism and more on building transnational feminism. But this is difficult to do because white feminism constitutes the ‘gaze’ that structures knowledge production and activism, since it is dominant. Maybe the solution is to not just critique white feminism but go beyond that. I read an article that gave an overview of the field of African feminist studies, and the author pointed out that the most recent scholarship no longer focuses on critiquing white feminism and instead focuses more on internal dialogue.** This means not avoiding topics like female circumcision just because white feminism might co-opt your voice, but instead having the conversation as though white feminists are not listening in. Then again, this has its own risks because putting these narratives out there can easily be used to justify wars and other interventions that have concrete material effects on women of colour, as we saw with the war in Afghanistan and instrumentalization of Afghan women’s voices by Laura Bush and co. But can voices that are critical be instrumentalized in the same way? Perhaps the solution then, is to have internal dialogues that are critical. (Of course no dialogue is ever ‘internal’ but I mean in the sense that the audience addressed is not white feminists but other postcolonial and transnational feminists.)

So I suppose the conclusion is that I don’t have any answers, other than that the focus should move away from addressing white feminists towards creating solidarity with each other and other critical thinkers. I would love to hear thoughts from other people!

______________

* Ahmed el Hady

** Twenty-Five Years of African Women Writing African Women’s and Gendered Worlds by Nwando Achebe

 

Sara Salem can also be found on twitter

Victims of Domestic Abuse and the English Criminal Justice System

First Published by Donna Navarro

What has happened to a victim centred approach in cases of domestic abuse in the English criminal justice system?

A domestic violence review comes after a number of high profile cases where protection for victims fell below expected standards.

Why has it taken Home Secretary, Theresa May so long to commission Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to carry out an inspection into how police forces are responding to domestic violence? Domestic violence is not a new offence. The fact is two women on average die each week at the hands of their abusive partners. That’s 104 women a year, murdered by their partners. Children left without mothers. 104 women denied futures.

Why has it taken a number of high profile cases before Theresa May has commissioned this inspection? What about all the other women that haven’t made the headlines? The women that haven’t made it into the tabloids or on to the local or national news? Are their deaths not important? That’s certainly the impression the government has given by failing to put female victims of violence at the top of their agenda until now.

I suspect it’s just that Theresa May doesn’t know about those ones in the same way the rest of us don’t, because simply put, they don’t get reported by the media. To do so would be to admit failure. A failure to keep these women safe. Something we take for granted because we think we live in a society with an effective and efficient police service.

The Guardian reports today how poor Daniel Pelka was failed by multiple agencies in the lead up to his tragic murder by his mother and her partner:

‘Teachers, health professionals, social workers and police officers treated four-year-old Daniel Pelka as if he was invisible, failing to prevent his mother and stepfather from murdering him after a campaign of torture and starvation

‘Daniel’s mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27, and her partner, Mariusz Krezolek, 34, both Polish nationals, will serve at least 30 years in prison for Daniel’s murder. During a harrowing trial a jury heard that Daniel looked like a concentration camp victim when he died in March 2012. The court was told that he was subjected to torture including having his head held under water until he passed out and being force-fed salt. He was kept locked in a filthy box room at home in Coventry and was systematically denied food before dying after receiving a blow to his head.’

It appears not a single person involved with Daniel ever asked him about his home life. His voice was not heard.

The police attended Daniel’s home 30 times in response to reports of domestic abuse – thirty missed opportunities for the police to adopt a child-centred approach.  Afterall, women are not the only victims of domestic abuse.

The police failed to enact an inquiring mind, something which happens all too often in cases involving domestic abuse. Maybe the police were short staffed, maybe they weren’t sufficiently trained to recognise the risks. Maybe they felt domestic abuse was something best left to the couple to resolve.

Voices were not heard, for whatever reason. In Daniel’s case, his voice was not heard because no one bothered to ask him.

Domestic abuse has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other offence – on average a woman is assaulted 35 times before she has the courage to contact the police and ask for help. But police will often visit the home when the abusive partner is in the house. What woman, terrified of the consequences will ask the police for help when her abusive partner is hovering in the background, giving her that ‘don’t you dare’ look?

In 90 per cent of domestic violence incidents in family households, children are in the same room or the room next door, watching and listening, trying to hide from the terrifying events unfolding in front of them.

In over 50 per cent of known domestic abuse cases, children are also directly abused – the NSPCC, in 1997, found a 55 per cent overlap. Not only are women being failed by front line staff, but children are too – had the police acted during one of their 30 attendances to Daniel’s home, it’s possible they could have rescued him from a horrible fate.

The importance of multi-agency working in cases of domestic abuse and child abuse is vital. If staff dealing directly with the victims of these crimes do not share the information they hold, the risks to these victims are unthinkable. But what if front line agencies are not sufficiently trained to recognise the risks, to deal with the risks, to understand the risks – and incredibly that seems to be exactly what we’re dealing with here in the UK.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

This government is serious about keeping women and girls safe. We have seen improvements over the past year – domestic violence, rape and sexual offence prosecutions have reached their highest ever conviction rate for the second year running – so the systems in place to protect women are working better.

But sadly there are still too many cases, like those of Clare Wood and Maria Stubbings, where victims have lost their lives because warning signs were missed.

We have a duty to provide vulnerable people with the best possible protection which is why I have commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to review current practices and recommend where further improvements can be made.

To Theresa May, to our government, I say there are far too many cases where women are failed because warning signs are missed, far too many cases involving children where people in authority are afraid to ask intrusive questions. I say the government simply isn’t serious enough about protecting women and children.

The government may have a specific policy on ending violence against women and girls:

We are determined to support victims in reporting these crimes, and to make sure perpetrators are brought to justice. We all need to do more to prevent violence against women and girls happening at all.

We can’t argue with that, but what is the government actually doing?

In November 2012, new legislation was introduced making stalking and harassment a specific offence. Nearly one year on and the number of prosecutions under this law is minimal despite its simplicity.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) 1997, amended by Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 it is necessary to prove a course of conduct on at least two occasions, where the conduct amounts to harassment, stalking or fear of violence, or stalking which causes serious alarm or distress.

A list of example behaviours include following, contacting/attempting to contact, publishing statements or material about the victim, monitoring the victim (including online), loitering in a public or private place, interfering with property, watching or spying. This is a non exhaustive list which means that behaviour which is not described above may also be seen as stalking.

Let’s not forget that stalking and harassment, both offline and online, are linked significantly to domestic abuse.

Since November 2012, it is estimated 80,000 offences of stalking and harassment have been committed, yet only 327 suspects have been arrested, only 190 suspects charged, 33 convicted and 6 jailed. The reason: front line staff, police staff, CPS staff those dealing directly with victims of such offences, those making the decisions to prosecute, have not been trained on the new legislation.

So to Theresa May, I’d say the government needs to practice what it preaches. Perhaps providing front line police and CPS staff with training on legislation before it comes into force would be a helpful tool in ensuring victims receive the support they need.  What happened to a victim-centred approach? By not providing training to front line staff the government is not supporting victims, it is not encouraging them to come forward and report crimes.

The system is failing victims of abuse. When those dealing with cases of violence against women do not have the knowledge, the training and the necessary skills to deal sympathetically with victims, to believe them, to protect them, to effectively assess the risk of harm they face, then victims will continue to lose faith in the British criminal justice system. They will fail to report crimes. They will feel unable to ask for help, and more and more women and children will be killed at the hands of their abusers.

 

Donna Navarro : Writer, campaigner, former offender manager; passionate about social justice and women’s rights. Opinionated. Sarcastic. More fun than I sound… [@lexiconlane]

Methinks they do Protest Too Much

Cross-posted with permission from Abigail Rieley

I’ve been having a bit of a contentious time on Twitter lately. It can be like that sometimes and mostly lately I’ve been steering clear. I’m tired of having the same argument. It’s the argument that pops up with depressing regularity whenever someone raises the issue of violence against women. It usually comes when someone has said that this violence is a serious societal problem that we all need to do something about. Yesterday it came up because of thispiece in the Irish Times. In it Una Mullally made the point that perhaps we shouldn’t be telling women not to get themselves raped and murdered, perhaps we should be telling men not to be harming women.

Well it didn’t take long for the howling and gnashing of teeth to begin. First they started in the comments below the article, then the row took to Twitter, as these things tend to do. One after another men came forward with their chests puffed out, declaiming that this was a gross generalisation. All men were not rapists and murderers. Sexism! Misandry! What about the Menz!

It’s about the third time this week something like this has kicked off. As I said, on Twitter things kick off which the regularity of an explosions in a fireworks factory made of sawdust. Take your eye off the ball for a moment and Whoosh! I’m tired of hearing the same arguments, receiving the same barrage of hectoring points from some bloke who wants to show me the error of my ways for believing in this divisive nonsense. I’ve had enough.

It’s getting increasingly hard to avoid that hectoring response. If ,as a woman, you identify yourself online as a feminist or are definite in your views there will be invariably be someone waiting in the wings who wants to tell you how wrong you are. While I’m all in favour of freedom of speech and while I’ve no problem with lively debate I am sick and tired of trying to make my point to someone who is only interested in getting the last word. This is why I usually lurk Twitter late at night talking about 70s TV. The discussions can get heated there as well but no one tries to shout you down.

There’s a particular type of arguing here that really sets my teeth on edge. It’s not restricted to gender politics either, I’ve encountered the same response when talking about other types of discrimination. The attitude that will invariably be shouted loudest is the one telling me to shut up, telling me that I’m exaggerating the problem, telling me I’ve got it wrong.

Normally I try to calmly reason with them. I try to make them see my point and to demonstrate that their argument is built on a principal of denial. I’m all right Jack. But we come back to the beginning again and again and I really don’t think anyone learns anything.

No if you’re reading this and your fingers are already itching to jump in there to tell me I’m generalising wildly, all men are not like that and I’m just another one of those ranty feminists, let me stop you right here. Chances are we’re not going to agree. Here’s why.

We all look at the world through the lens of our experience. If you go through life and don’t see any of the sharp edges then well done, congratulations, you are charmed. But I’ll tell you now, we’re not looking at the same world. The very glass that makes up the lenses through which we see is fused from different elements. I can’t not see the corners. But I can point them out.

Firstly let’s start with the very, very basics. I’m not a feminist because I hate men. I’m not a feminist because I just want to be argumentative. I’m a feminist because when I look at the world we live in today and see women like me denied education, denied freedom, denied a voice, it makes me very, very angry. Sure, as a white, middle class woman living in Western Europe I’ve got it easy. I come from a culture where I can choose the man I marry, where I can continue my education and where I can vote for a say in how my country is run. I am not forced to sell my body and by and large I’m not marginalised. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see how much easier it is for men to get on in this fine country of ours.

When I worked in radio I often heard that my female voice was just going to irritate listeners. On Irish radio in general two thirds of the voices you will hear belong to men. Women, who lets not forget make up around 50% of the global population, make up only 13% of our elected representative. As a writer I know that my work is likely to be under reviewed and that my book will be more likely to get a softly feminine cover regardless of it’s subject matter because of my gender. I know that while education was never an issue for me it’s not that long since a third level degree was an impossible dream for women. I worked in the criminal courts for over six years and when you’re there on a daily basis you realise that the majority of crimes that pass through the Central Criminal Court are crimes against women. So many sex crimes pass through the courts in Dublin that the papers cover only a fraction. Those crimes, I’m sad to say, tend to be picked for their sensationalism, a pretty victim, a particularly brutal accused. I’ve written about so many of them on this blog. Click on any of the women’s names in the tag cloud and chances are you will find a woman killed by the man who was supposed to love her.

And when I get angry about all this, when I say this is ridiculous and must stop if we are ever going to move forward as a people there will always be those who tell me I am wrong. They will be men. I’ve never had this reaction from a woman.

The problem is that it’s all getting worse. When I was a child in the 70s it was fashionable to give little girls tool sets and little boys dolls. Granted this might have been a vogue in our own leafy suburb but back then I never questioned it. I used to laugh at the boys I played with when they told me I couldn’t play Scalectrix or Meccano because I was a girl. It never for a moment occured to me they had a point. That would be utterly bonkers. No if you go to a toy shop you can tell the aisle that’s meant for girls. While the boys are presented with a kaleidoscope of colours the girls have one option. Pink. Let me get this straight. All little girls do not want to be princesses. I always wanted to be the Prince. He got a horse and a sword and got to do stuff. All the Princess did was lounge around and look pretty.

I could go on and on and on with the examples of how this world is still trying to tell women to stay in the background, to shut up, to look pretty. It might seem like I’m off the point here but it’s all part of the same thing. Good girls are still pretty and mute and passive. Good girls need to be protected. Good girls need to be told when they have worried their pretty little heads about something unnecessary.

Because that’s the crux of it. These men who bristle when a point is made, who are so secure in the fact that they are nice men so we shouldn’t be telling them not to rape, who think that we just misunderstand or didn’t do our research, these men need to stop and listen. It doesn’t matter that you are a nice guy and would never harm a woman. That doesn’t mean that others of your sex would. For time immemorial, women have been told to beware, to watch out for the big bad wolf. We’ve been told to watch what we wear, watch how we speak, watch where we look. We are have the population of the planet but we hold a fraction of the power. It’s not an equal playing field. If your fingers are still itching to butt in just ask yourself why? Is it because you are so unsure of your own position that you can’t see the difference between yourself and the bad men? Is it because you started getting irritated by my words because they were written by a woman who really shouldn’t be this forthright? Is it because you need to look at your own attitudes before getting at mine?

I’ve been fighting my corner for a very long time. I’ll continue to do so for as long as it takes. I do not believe that I am any less capable, any less wise, any less worthy of respect because I was born a particular sex. But most of all I don’t see why as a woman I should have to take all the responsibility. Culturally we persist in assuming that men are at the mercy of animal urges. Surely it’s time they shared a little bit of responsibility and showed a bit of respect and a bit of empathy? I’m also confident that any of the lovely blokes that I’ve met, known and loved over the years will read this and not feel victimised. Because those men know that there is a problem and it’s one that we all need to do something about. I can rant until I’m blue in the face but even if every woman on the planet agreed with me we’d only be 50% and an underrepresented 50% at that. We all need to decide that this crap is unacceptable. We need to stop arguing about the bloody details.

 

Abigail RieleyI’m a writer, journalist and feminist and this is my personal blog. I’ve written a great deal about the Irish criminal justice system based on my observations from working at a court reporter, particularly about the sentencing laws concerning crimes against women be it murder or manslaughter, rape or sexual assault or domestic violence. I also write about books and writing, women in 19th century Ireland (a subject I’ve been researching for the past couple of years), science fiction and general women’s issues (including, of course, the Irish abortion situation) and social issues. I’m also a bit of a geek and write about British science fiction and horror.

Abigail Rieley can also be found on twitter.

Pro-Life is Lies

Cross-posted with permission from The Real Thunder Child

Thanks to the recent underhand behaviour of the Telegraph regarding “sex selective” abortion, and the clear stated intent of the Times, I would like to re-iterate my own rebuttal of the pro-life narrative- a letter I wrote to the Guardian in 2011, as follows here;

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/27/abortion-debate-government-pro-life

In case the link doesn’t it I have re-produced it verbatim…..

“What the “pro-life” lobby fails to be honest about (which is why their influence is increasingly dangerous) is that – unlike the “pro-choice” lobby – they seek to remove from women their ability to choose a course of action best suited to their own circumstances and conscience.

I am a Catholic. I am against abortion*. But – as the mother of a girl – I’m fervently “pro-choice”. As much as it’s every woman’s right to choose not to terminate a pregnancy, it’s also her right to choose the opposite action. Every person has the right to complete sovereignty over their own body, and the right to deal with whatever consequences exercising that choice involves. “Pro-choice” only advocates a woman’s right to a termination if that’s what she chooses and, unlike “pro-life”, seeks neither to coerce or legislate (or coerce via legislation) over a person’s ownership of their reproductive destiny.

Medically speaking, allowing choice is ethical; removing it is not. Along with the abolition of the death penalty and the creation of the NHS, the 1967 Abortion Act stands out as the most ethical, humane piece of legislation in British history. It’s about time we of the “liberal left” grew a backbone and defended it as such.

Sinead Connolly”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

* when I say I’m against abortion, I must clarify that I’d prefer to live in a world where it was never necessary. But that world MUST be created on women’s terms, not those deemed by patriarchy, or nothing will have changed.

** I have nothing further to add, anything else would be hyperbole – and the subject has enough of that without any of mine.

The Real Thunder Child can also be found on Twitter as @resurgamblog.

Maria Miller’s fallacy of modern feminism

Originally published by The Jaded Ladies

Maria Miller is a Conservative MP for Basingstoke.  She is also newly appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as well as Minister for Women and Equalities.  Setting aside her voting history on issues that would help reduce inequality (she tends to vote against them), she seems to be rather anti women’s rights as well, however much she claims to be a ‘modern feminist’.

This comes from her recent proclamation that the time limit for abortion should be reduced from the current 24 weeks, down to 20 weeks and her reasons for thinking so.  According to Miller, the time limit should be reduced ‘to reflect the way science has moved on’ in that now, a foetus born prematurely at 24 weeks is considered ‘viable’.  Though there is very little medical evidence to support this claim (The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – arguably the most relevant professional body in this discussion – are AGAINST lowering the limit), Miller should still have used a different justification for her argument to avoid making herself look like a complete fool.  To take Miller’s reasoning to its logical extreme, it follows that when future medical advances make it possible to conceive a life and then grow it to full term outside of the womb, then the need for any abortions at all will reduce to zero.  Here, Miller has conflated two very distinct issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights into one, and in the process has muddied the waters of the whole ‘debate’.

It is largely accepted that in a progressive society, the reproductive rights of women are necessarily protected and placed as higher priority than the right to life of a foetus that is yet to be born.  The current 24 week time limit on abortion recognises that there is a small chance of survival if a baby were to be born at this stage, though is still quite arbitrary, and for the purposes of maintaining the rights of women, needs to be recognised as such, and remain so.  As uncomfortable as the issue is for anyone to come to terms with, a society that respects women must realise that  it is a woman’s prerogative to make that decision, and that woman’s prerogative alone.  This is not the time nor the place to start bringing in the rights or the ‘viability’ of the foetus.

To start bringing into the debate the idea that the right to life of a foetus is more important than the right of the mother to choose whether or not to give birth to that foetus, is to give up any claim to feminism, ‘modern’ or otherwise, that one may have started with.  To place restrictions on abortions in this way is to attempt to remove women’s autonomy over their own bodies.  This is a very regressive opinion, and by all means, one could hold it and attempt to argue one’s point, but to do so from a position of concern for the ‘women and children’ affected is not only incredibly condescending, but also completely irrelevant in the circumstances.

One wonders why so much energy has been spent on this in the first place.  Less than 2% of abortions in England and Wales in 2011 occurred after the 20 week mark, meaning that this proposal would have affected less than 0.005% of thepopulation last year.  There are plenty of issues that Miller could have addressed to improve the quality of life for all women up and down the country.  Hyper focussing on this one in such a way as she has done, undermines her commitment to her role as ‘Minister for Women’.

I wouldn’t even like to credit this woman with being hugely controversial, as much as she may have been attempting to do so, however, along with Nadine Dorries and her similarly ridiculous claims that tightening abortion laws made her ‘more of a feminist’, it seems that we need to be increasingly aware of these people that are helping to make our laws and run our country.

The Jaded Ladies

Jaded Ladies: 4 friends blogging about feminism [@TheJadedLadies]

Surviving the Holidays

 

(Surviving the Holidays is cross-posted with permission from Terminally Forgetful)

etolle

 

Regardless of your familial situation, facing the holidays can be daunting; especially for survivors and people in recovery…I should know! I’ve cringed at the looming specter of faking holiday cheer, once again trying to keep the peace when the voices inside of me were anything but peaceful. It did not matter whether I was with my own family or someone else’s; I was triggered all the same.

But there is HOPE!! We do not have to continue to suffer through the insufferable today. If I am not first for myself, then I have nothing to give to others. Here’s a look at the top 7 tips I have for surviving the holidays and maintaining your serenity:

1. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

I am done carrying that clawing creature in my heart that causes me to feel isolated when surrounded by others. If I go to a party, a family gathering, or a situation where I know I am going to be triggered I make sure to bring a trusted support person with me. I have the right to be supported, or to not be present. If it is not okay for me to bring someone with me, I have the right to choose not to come.

There are resources in most countries for hotlines for survivors and people in recovery to reach out for 24-hour support. Google: 24 hour Hotline (the issue you have & your location or country). If you do not find one, please feel free to contact me via my Ask Me page.

2. EXIT PLAN

The number of times I have felt trapped in a place, because I did not take my own transportation or devise an exit strategy prior to arrival are too numerous to count. I’ve since learned that I can bestow myself with peace of mind by knowing ahead of time how I can leave when I need to. This forethought often lessens my hypersensitivity to being triggered, having a relapse or acting out.

If you decide against taking your own transport, I encourage you to note down local numbers for taxis & to be sure to have cash on hand. You have the right to leave a place where you feel unsafe or are tempted to relapse.

3. RECOVERY FIRST

A holiday from work or school doesn’t mean I take a holiday from my recovery. If I do not have my equilibrium built upon the foundation of doing a few simple things to receive a reprieve from addiction and madness, then I have nothing. Worse than that, my crazy train starts up & I begin looking for passengers to take with me into krakalaka-ville aka Insanity!

Whatever your normal daily discipline is to keep balanced, I suggest you continue to maintain that during the holidays. Give yourself and others the opportunity to be known and to know you. My recovery is an intrinsic part of who I am. If you need tips on how to maintain your recovery during the holidays, please do not hesitate to Ask Me.

4. YOU ARE A GIFT

I don’t know if this is hard for you, but I really struggle with the commodification of holidays. We’re inundated with stories of how people suffer emotionally and economically during the holidays by trying to ensure they have enough gifts for everyone they “should” give to. I want you to know that your presence is a gift! Your willingness to share your time with others and to allow others to get to know you is worth more than putting yourself in debt or depleting emotional reserves.

If you feel compelled to give gifts: I have enjoyed making small donations to humanitarian organizations in the name of the people I am gifting to. My most favorite gifts to give are ones I can have fun making myself, or are coupons I create redeemable for time spent together doing fun activities.

5. CREATE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY

Do you ever feel like the holidays are something imposed on you, rather than something you create yourself? Are there certain rituals you’ve always just done, because that’s the way it is?

You have permission to use your imagination & design holiday rituals that embody what the holidays really mean to you! This gives me a feeling of belonging and relating to the holidays on a more profound level. Often it can feel as if we are tolerating life, rather than creating it. I believe you are courageous and I encourage you to take time to create a ritual this holiday season that has special meaning for you.

 

pourintoothers

 

6. BE OF SERVICE

Drowning in a swamp of misery, loneliness, alcohol, or food is nowhere we’re going to be this winter, right? Let’s get out of the abyss together! Over the years I have volunteered my time during the holidays at crisis phone lines, soup kitchens, or packaging items for those in need. These are only a few of the many ways we can be of service to others. I’m not suggesting you stress over how to give, or exhaust yourself by giving too much to others and not enough to yourself. I’m suggesting you try…try to keep your eyes open for someone who needs help: Call someone to check-in & remind them that they’re not alone; Go with someone to a recovery meeting; Help someone who is struggling in some way.

It feels good to get outside of ourselves and our problems, even if for a little while, to be given a new perspective.

7. DRESS COMFORTABLY

Sounds silly? It’s one of the most practical pieces of advice I can give you! Back in the day when I wore heels to every special occasion, I use to call them my “drinking shoes.” I would have to have a couple of glasses of whatever type of alcohol was available to anesthetize the foot pain, never mind the emotional pain. I don’t need social anesthetic today. What I need are comfortable clothes and shoes I can be in for more than 2 hours at a time. During the holidays, my siblings and I celebrate “Pajama World.” It is one of our self-created rituals where we all wear pajamas, watch movies & spend time together.

Comfort + Fun = A Great Time

I suggest you try the exercise on closet clearing. Afterwards pick an outfit that is most authentically and comfortably you.

I am happy to support your journey towards wholeness this holiday season. Please Share this with others.

 

Terminally Forgetful: Helping motivated survivors transform their lives. A place to share your stories, ask questions and receive support and tools for healing and transformation.

An interview with Huma Munshi

This article is cross-posted from The Lifting the Veil Project with permission

An interview with Huma Munshi

We recently interviewed Huma Munshi about the concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ within South Asian communities, among others. Huma is a writer and poet who writes on many issues including feminism and tackling ‘honour’ based violence. She sees writing as a means to connect with others and healing. She tweets at @Huma101

Please be aware that there is a trigger warning for child sexual abuse, rape and examples of victim blaming within this article.

Huma

You recently started the #fuckhonour and #fuckshame hashtags on Twitter. What drove you to start your campaign?

Muslim Women’s Network launched a report, entitled Unheard Voices, in autumn of this year describing the prevalence of young Asian, Muslim girls being sexually abused. There were a number of things that made me extremely angry but what led me to start the “#fuckhonour” hashtag was the concept of ‘honour’ to victim blame[1] and silence young girls who had been victims of abuse. In one case, parents of a sexual abuse victim felt that the young girl had brought shame on to the family. As a result, they forced her to undergo hymen repair surgery and then into a forced marriage.

A child being abused is horrific and but what compounded my anger was (yet again) family and community ‘honour’ had come before the needs of a child. There are umpteenth cases like this. There is the case of Shafilea Ahmed a 17 year old girl who was murdered by her parents in front of her siblings for refusing a forced marriage. There was the case of Banaz Mahmoud, a young girl in South London, who was raped and killed by her family members for not staying with her abusive and violent husband who they had chosen for her.

So my anger was cumulative. I started the hashtag whilst reading the case studies in Unheard Voices but I have heard stories of young people being abused and murdered in the name of honour for a long and painful time. I know this only too well. I allude to my own experience in my #fuckhonour and #fuckshame article of being a survivor of honour based oppression. I found the writing and the twitter hashtag extremely cathartic.

Interestingly, it was the founder of Media Diversified, Samantha Asumadu, who suggested I write the article and that is how I got the opportunity to put my views across. She saw me tweeting the hashtag. Sometimes social media gives you some special opportunities.

In your accompanying article to the hashtags, you mentioned that some people did not like that you had used profanity. Why did you step away from a ‘polite’ way of highlighting this important issue?

I recently came across the term ‘respectability politics’ whereby you play by the “rules” and adopt the acceptable discourse of the dominant class in order to get respect and the recognition you desire. But the more I understand oppression, the more I realise that we have to develop our own discourse and do away with so-called respectability politics. I also think asking politely for change within my own community will not overturn the hegemony that legitimises oppression.

This realisation and change in my writing is reflected in my activism. I refuse to ask politely for my rights to be protected or the rights of other women who are being oppressed. To suppress that part of myself now would be inauthentic.

Could you please explain what you mean by ‘honour’? How does it impact the reporting and attitudes towards sexualised violence in South Asian communities?

‘Honour’ can be translated as family status or standing within the community. The word in Urdu is “izzat” and a more accurate translation is “family status”. But ‘honour’ is the commonly used word. It is ironic as there is no honour in murder, it is a hate crime.

The Crown Prosecution Service define honour based violence as “practices which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. Such violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their honour code. Women are predominantly (but not exclusively) the victims of so called ‘honour based violence’, which is used to assert male power in order to control female autonomy and sexuality.”

The final sentence is particularly import to understand the impact of honour in patriarchal societies. Honour is a means to oppress and subjugate women. In societies where ‘honour’ is put above the well-being of women, a woman’s intellect, autonomy, sexuality and identity and all supressed. They are seen as a threat to family standing within the community. Within these patriarchal communities, what could be more dangerous than an unmarried sexually active young woman?

There is also a prevalence of honour based violence within Turkish, Kurdish (see the work of the Iranian, Kurdish, Women’s Rights Organisation), Middle Eastern, Afghani, African and South and Eastern European communities. It is a common misunderstanding that only South Asian communities are impacted by ‘honour’. This list is not exhaustive. The police need to be particularly mindful that this is an additional barrier which hinders people from those communities reaching out, young people from these communities have been socialised to not bring “shame” to their families.

In addition to this, the police are still reluctant to intervene when young people say they are at risk of violence from their families.  As Unheard Voices reports: “the level of service received from police can depend on your ethnicity. There was a tendency not to disrupt and a reluctance to intervene because of the potential resistance from within the community.”

What were the general attitudes of men and women towards your activism and speaking out? Did they differ between sexes? Did they differ between races?

Fortunately, the response has been positive and I personally have not had any backlash. I have been speaking up about these issues on twitter for a while and haven’t been trolled. My aim is to combat all forms of victim blaming and realise that every victim is of equal worth and requires equal support. I would hope this is picked up by wider feminist networks and campaigns so this does not remain a marginal issue.

Do you think that with the rise of the far-right, there is some element of victims being afraid to speak out because the issue may be turned into one of race, rather than one which focuses on violence?

Being a survivor of honour based oppression and having read widely on the barriers other victims face, it is not the far-right that stops you accessing help.

You don’t speak out because you feel a profound sense of shame. You feel a sense of shame that you are a victim; you feel a sense of shame that it is your family – the very people that should be supporting you – that are the perpetrators.

We should focus on whether front line services are less likely to support victims due to the cultural background of the victim. Is a teacher less likely to help some children because they do not want to interfere in so-called “cultural issues”? Will there be less support from the policeand social services because of the background of the victim? This is the issue that needs to be addressed.

Focusing on race in cases like the child abuse and exploitation cases in Rochdale is very unhelpful. There is no “typical victim”; Asian girls are just as likely as their white counterparts to be victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.  It is gendered violence and abuse and not an issue of race.

How closely tied are the issues of forced marriage and sexual violence in South Asian communities?

The two issues are tied to consent and domination. In both instances, patriarchal society seeks to dominate, subdue and control women (and men who do not comply). In these instances, these acts seek to control women who do not adhere to the strict moral code.

There are wider points regarding the prevalence of rape and gender based violence in Indiawhich alludes to the unequal treatment of women and issues pertaining to dowry and the high rates of foeticide. This provides some wider context to the oppression women experience.

How do you hope that the #fuckhonour and #fuckshame hashtags will help to raise awareness, or tackle the issue?

I hope this issue is picked up by the mainstream feminist movement and those that campaign to end violence against women and girls. This issue must not be neglected within the South Asian community.

Service providers from police, hospitals, teachers, housing and social services need to understand the profound impact of ‘honour’ as a barrier for some to access support. Most importantly they need to treat all victims with the support they are entitled. No culture comes before the dignity and rights of an individual.

Finally, I would like other survivors and victims to see this hashtag and realise it was never our shame; the shame will always lie with the perpetrators.


[1] There are a number of campaigns tackling this, Everyday Victim Blaming is a good campaign to combat this http://everydayvictimblaming.com/ @evb_now

 

The Lifting the Veil Project

Every sex worker deserves safety

[Every sex worker deserves safety is cross-posted with permission from Ruth Jacobs]

I wanted to write something for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers but I didn’t think I could as I’ve been in too much of a dark place these last few weeks with my own suffering from the repercussions of sexual violence. I wanted to go to London to stand in solidarity with sex workers and allies to mark this day, but for the same reasons, tonight, I couldn’t do that either. Then I felt selfish wrapped up with my own pain when tonight there will be women in the sex trade who will be raped, who will be beaten and some will be murdered. So I have to say this…

Violent men think they can beat, rape and murder women in the sex trade because they do not have the protection of the police and recourse to justice. Then there are some feminists who say all sex work is violence and rape. If this is so, how can anyone in the sex trade report violence or rape against them, if it is all the same? Let me tell you, because I have lived this, it is not. There is nothing remotely similar between clients who respected my boundaries and clients who raped me, or the client who beat me. This complete disparity must be recognised so the police do take notice and deal with the rape or violent attack we’ve suffered as they would any other victim. If our friend, sister, mother or daughter is murdered by a client, it was never part of their job!

Most people in the sex trade do not have other choices, many are in poverty, and for those who do have other choices and still choose to sell sex, every single person deserves the same respect from all of society and the same protection of the police and recourse to justice when they have been the victim of a crime and for that to happen, the Merseyside hate crime model must be made law UK wide.

The hate crime model is not just about classifying crimes against people in prostitution as hate crimes; it is so much more than that. There are relationships built between people in the sex trade and sex work projects, between people in the sex trade and the police, and the police work closely with the sex work projects. There is a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) who supports the victim of crime from report to court. And for all this to work, the police prioritise protection of people in the sex trade over enforcement of the law. This means in Merseyside, people in prostitution are not viewed as ‘easy targets’ by criminals as they are throughout the rest of the UK.

And to prioritise protection over enforcement that means that when a woman, man or transgender person reports a crime committed against them, the police deal with that crime and treat that victim of crime as a victim and not a criminal, as is known to happen in the rest of the UK where the victim of crime is instead charged for something related to prostitution. So in Merseyside, the police do not charge them for working in premises with another woman for safety, which is classed as running a brothel, they do not charge them for soliciting if they were working on-street, they do not charge their university student twenty-year-old son or their elderly mother who lives with them for living off immoral earnings. They deal with the crime reported against them and treat them the same as any other victim of crime.

Knowing this is what has increased reporting of crime in Merseyside, is what brought about a 90% conviction rate of those who raped sex workers in Liverpool in 2009 and a 67% conviction rate for those who raped sex workers in Merseyside overall in 2010, is what has made all of society safer by taking off the streets more rapists, murderers and other violent criminals and what means there are fewer rapes, other violent crimes and murders.

What is operating in Merseyside is a discretionary decriminalisation of sorts. Decriminalisation is needed for the safety of people in the sex trade. It does absolutely not decriminalise sex trafficking. There are laws in place already that need to be upheld when a man pays to have sex with a sex trafficking victim, because that is rape every time. There are laws in place already that need to be upheld when a man pays to have sex with a child. This is child sex abuse. That money has changed hands does not make this anything other than child sex abuse and it needs to be treated as such. There also needs to be tougher sentences for trafficking in persons, which is already a crime.

To the people currently seeking to abolish prostitution, in a capitalist society what you are actually saying is abolish prostitutes because there is no money for exit routes; our UK government here is not going to invest in this if it even has the money. Most people in prostitution are in poverty. Shelter estimate there are 80,000 children who are homeless. If their mothers choose to, and it might be their only choice so there isn’t a real choice, but if they do, sell sex so they don’t end up homeless, or to take them out of the temporary accommodation homelessness has left them in and in which over half have witnessed disturbing incidents, we as a society need to make sure they are as safe as they possibly can be. We need to end poverty. That is what we should be seeking to end, not demand. This is the wrong fucking way round. And I can’t see why people cannot or will not see this.

As we’ve seen in Scotland when clients of women working on-street are criminalised, the women are left mostly with the more dangerous clients, murderers and rapists, and they have to see more clients for less money and they have to agree to sex acts they don’t want to do because of lack of clients. And you might argue that they do not have do this, but if their home is freezing because they have no money for gas, if their children have lived on porridge for a week and they want to buy them some meat, if they are about to lose their home because they are in rent arrears and the council won’t help them and this new bedroom tax has meant their benefits are no longer enough, and they would rather sell sex and have their home warm, their children fed, not end up homeless, then they need to be able to do that as safely as possible. And if the woman wants the money to save going into further debt while studying, or for drugs, or for any other reason, whatever the reason, she deserves the same safety, and not the judgement of people on their plastic moral high ground.

Some people seeking to abolish the sex trade want to criminalise clients in every country based on research of the Swedish model, research that does not stand up. It is a “failed experiment in social engineering” and Sweden has history here. They want this Swedish model, which regrettably I used to support because I did believe it was best for people in the sex trade, but it will cause more rapes and murders, deeper poverty and more homelessness, to operate globally. And even if the research did stack up, any sane person can see you cannot replicate something that relies on government investment for ‘exit routes’ from a wealthy country with a tiny population and a small number of people in the sex trade to the UK, which has an estimated 80,000 people in prostitution. And then use your common sense when you look further to India, for example, a poor country with a huge population and high number of people in the sex trade, where if there was this Swedish model, there will also be starvation and death for women in the sex trade and their children and grandchildren.

I do believe there needs to be in every country serious investment for real alternatives for women seeking to leave the sex trade. Personally, I do not believe these services should be forced, but optional, and non-judgemental and non-religious. But surely even those wanting to criminalise all clients can see these ‘exiting routes’ need to be in place first. Even if countries had the money and were willing to invest, these services and the volume required are not going to pop up overnight, or in a month, or even a year.

I am not the sex trade lobby and I am not pro-prostitution, but I am pro-every-person-in-prostitution, both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking. It is possible to care about both equally and it is possible to realise different laws are needed to protect both groups of people. And as someone who has sold sex, who knows that for her and for most of the women she knows who are out of that life that it is traumatic, even with that knowledge and the repercussions of trauma that I live with daily, as a mother I would still choose to sell sex to keep my home warm, to feed my children, to pay my rent arrears, if those were my circumstances. I am fortunate that right now, they are not, but perhaps because I am able to envisage that and imagine myself in other women’s shoes whether in the UK or India or anywhere else, I respect them for what they do to survive, which is the reality for most people in the sex trade. I am no different from those women just because I don’t sell sex any more, and I and them are no different from any other woman who has never sold sex.

No woman deserves to be raped or the victim of other violence or murder. It is never right to blame the clothes she was wearing, that she was drunk or on drugs, that she was out late at night, or that she was selling sex.

 

Ruth Jacobs blog is a mixture of human rights (focusing on anti-sexual exploitation, anti-human trafficking and sex worker rights) and arts and literature. Her current campaign is to make the Merseyside hate crime model of policing prostitution UK wide. In addition to the human rights interviews she undertakes, there are regularly interviews with other writers, from bestselling authors to brand new upcoming talent, and musicians, artists and filmmakers. [@RuthFJacobs]

Ruth Jacobs can also be found on Twitter.

What about the Women? The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

This piece is cross-posted with permission from Louise Pennington

What about the Women? The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps

This is a response to a post at Everyday Whorephobia called “When the State Traffics Women“. I posted a brief response on the blog itself but I wanted to write a longer response. Women’s history is something I am very passionate about and this particular topic is something I am quite familiar with. Whilst I am glad more women are writing about this topic, I do have some reservations about some of the conclusions within this piece.

Sexual violence and rape were common during the Holocaust. The fact that these experiences are not common knowledge is because of sexist constructions of a specific Holocaust narrative which privileged testimonies of male survivors like Elie Wiesel over women, Gay men, people with disabilities, and children, to name a few. Partly, this was because of the historical context in which Holocaust narratives became well-known as very little academic research was done until the 1960s. Testimonies published in the immediate post-war era, of which there are many, had very small publishing runs as many people were simply not interested in analysing the full spectrum of violence perpetrated during World War Two. Holocaust history was written during, and is historically situated by, the Cold War. The political desires of the US and the USSR impact how Holocaust history was written and who it was being written for. Racism was a motivating factor of the crimes against humanity during the war as much as it was a motivating factor for how the history of the war was written.

As with all history, the Holocaust was complicated. Mass genocide does not simply occur because a few men in one nation order it. The Holocaust required the participation, active and passive, of much of Europe. That is a fact which very few are willing to acknowledge but it is something we need to remind ourselves of daily.

“When the State traffics women” does raise awareness of just how prolific sexual violence was during the Holocaust. This point cannot be emphasised enough; sexual violence was ignored by mainstream historians until well into the 1990s. Feminist historians were writing about in the early 1970s but this researched was dismissed, as women’s history frequently is. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous collections of essays on the experience of women published as well as numerous conferences which dealt specifically with the gendered experiences of women. There also been an explosion in the sheer number of women’s testimonies being (re)published. In 2010, an anthology specifically about sexual violence against Jewish women was published. As I write this, there are a multitude of PhDs, essays and books being written about sexual violence during the Holocaust. Women’s experiences are being written back into the history of the Holocaust and the extant of sexual violence against all peoples is finally being questioned.

My personal belief is that there cannot be enough research and writing on the Holocaust. The Soviet archives, which were only recently opened, have demonstrated just how much we did not know. 10 years ago, a group of scholarsdecided to establish the official number of slave labour and concentration camps. It was double what was previously believed and includes at least 500 brothels. So many records still need to be archived. What we thought we knew has turned out to be only a brief snapshot of what actually happened.

This piece had the potential to increase public awareness of the existence of brothels and the treatment of prostituted women. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the essay. First, it occasionally  conflates the experience of prostituted women within Nazi Germany with the experience of all women within the concentration, death and slave labour camps. This conflation is not helpful when researching sexual violence. The treatment of individuals within the camp system depended on their nationality, race, age, sex, sexuality, criminal activity, disability and skill. During the 1930s, the Nazis deliberately targeted prostituted women under the category of ‘asocial’** for incarceration, however we do not know how many women incarcerated as ‘asocials’ were prostituted women as the category included convicted criminals, women with disabilities, and those who are still othered in the UK now. The category of ‘asocial’ included anyone accused of moral degeneracy. It is also included women who were Lesbians. Lesbianism, unlike homosexuality, was not illegal under the Nazi regime. Lesbian women were still incarcerated but they were charged as ‘asocials’ rather than for the crime of homosexuality. This category was specifically about women living within Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war and at the beginning.

Secondly, the number of prostituted women who were incarcerated in concentration, slave-labour and death camps which had brothels is open to debate because of this issue of identification. We know, for the camps where records were not destroyed, how many women were incarcerated as ‘asocials’ but that does not give us an accurate record of women incarcerated for prostitution. This is a very important point when addressing the issue of brothels and which women were required to “work” in them because women incarcerated for the crime of prostitution were by no means the only women forced to “work” in the brothels.

The establishment of the brothels, as the piece correctly points out, were in direct response to two issues: Heinrich Himmler’s “incentivisation” program for male inmates working within the armaments factories in the slave-labour camps and homosexuality within the camps. Brothels were obviously the answer to both problems. I have some personal reservations about the brothels being developed to combat homosexuality within the camp system since the men who were incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality were subjected to sexual violence and medical experimentation. Being a known homosexual was much more likely to result in death than a pass to the brothel. The problem within the camps was sexual relationships between men who were not homosexuals and the rape of teenage boys by adult men. Both issues need far more research.

The women who were raped in the brothels included lesbian women as punishment for being lesbians and Jewish women; the laws of Rassenschade were generally ignored in the camps. “Working” in the brothel did involve better food rations. The women were also allowed to bathe and had access to better clothes. They also got to work inside which was an important consideration for many women. Women’s testimonies vary on how women were “chosen” to work in the brothels but most involve the women themselves “volunteering” to be raped in the brothel and women being forced to parade naked in front of SS guards and the most beautiful being chosen. Stories of women “volunteering” to work in the brothel include women who made the “choice” in order to access extra rations to smuggle to their sisters, which may or may not have included biological sisters as the benefits of sisterhood and the importance of women’s relationships are a common theme in women’s testimonies. There are also stories of women who were incarcerated for prostitution “volunteering” for the brothels in order to spare other women the degradation of being raped.

The women “working” in brothels generally represented in women’s testimonies in two ways: as debased women or as true sisters helping other women. Much more research needs to be done into the experience of women who worked in the brothels: who they were and, for those who “volunteered”, why did they make the “choice”.

The third, and in my opinion, the biggest problem with ”When the State traffics women” is that it focuses on men and their feelings, effectively erasing the humanity of the women “working” within the brothels. Men were given tokens for ‘good behaviour’. The tokens were bartered around the camp for food and other extras. Women’s bodies were bartered as objects and then the women were raped but not just by male inmates, and certainly not Jewish men. SS guards also raped the women within the brothels, as they did with women in all the slave-labour, concentration and death camps. Jewish women were allowed to be raped by men but Jewish men were not allowed in the brothels.

As the piece states, the men were given tokens to the brothels were subject to ”humiliating genital examination and a prophylactic injection before being taken to the room”. The piece fails to mention that the women within the brothels were also subject to humiliating genital examinations. SS guards certainly did watch in some camps but not in others. In some camps, SS guards were the only people allowed to rape the women in the brothels.  The women were also raped by dozens of men every day but no mention is made of the effect of this on the women’s bodies. The article also suggests that women who were infected with STIs were sent back to the main camps. It does not mention that this was frequently followed by a death sentence. It is also important to note that the campaign against STIs, as with the campaign against lice, was actually about the “safety” of the SS officers within the camps rather than concern about the male prisoners. The women, obviously, did not count. And, yes, the pregnancies which followed mass rapes were frequently aborted. Depending on the camp, this abortion could simply involve the murder of the women or the women dying from the abortion. It is certainly not quite as easy as the article implies.

This is the piece of text with which I have the most reservations:

What motivated the men who used the service? The need to relieve sexual frustration was one motivation but survivor testimonies also refer to many men wanting to talk or simply feel the physical closeness of a woman. In the pitiless world of the concentration camp they simply sought a few minutes of tenderness. They were as much victims as the women.

Whilst the men were as much victims of the women, it wasn’t for the reasons stated above. After all, the women weren’t exactly in a position to decide whether or not they wanted to talk or just feel the physical closeness of a male body. The women were being raped dozens of times a day by dozens of men. The men had a choice. The women did not and to ignore this point is to ignore the experience and trauma of the women. This failure to acknowledge the very gendered nature of the Holocaust has led to women’s lives being written out of history.The issue of brothels within the camps is complicated because it does “challenge prevailing orthodoxies about the nature of Nazi oppression”, but, and this is very important, race was a key factor in the privilege to access to the brothels. Polish resistance fighters, German criminals and western POWs were allowed access to the brothels. Jewish men were banned and Soviet POWs were considered suspect. For the women, race was generally irrelevant. Once women were incarcerated in the camp systems, they were victims of sexual violence from all men*** without the added factor of being incarcerated in the brothel.
For women out with the camp system, race also impacted on their experience of sexual violence. German soldiers raped whomever they wanted and the rape and murder of Jewish women in the ghettos guarded by regular German troops. The mass rapes by the Soviet army as the moved west is well-known, less so is the mass rapes committed by Allied forces. The stories of rape of women in Western Europe have not been fully explored.I do agree that the story of sexual violence needs to be historically situated within the wider context of Nazism, however the article refers to a now questionable construction of womanhood in Nazi Germany that was based on Nazi propaganda rather than the reality of the lives of Aryan women [and the conflation of *all* women with Aryan women here is telling]. This, however, is another essay for another time.
Sexual violence was an integral experience of the Holocaust for many women and I will write further about the experience of Jewish women in the camps. What I will say is that current research into sexual violence in the Holocaust has shown just how integral sexual violence is to genocide and human rights violations. The fact that rape was not mentioned once during the Nuremberg trials is disgraceful. The fact that neither “forced prostitution” nor rape were considered war crimes until 2002 is a crime in and of itself. When writing women’s histories we need to be careful that we do not use their life-stories to reinforce a narrative based on our political leanings. The experience of women during the Holocaust has already been erased from history once to meet a male political narrative. This cannot happen again.

 

** I have placed a number of terms in quotation marks because they are deeply problematic and outlining why they are problematic is an essay for another day.

***Clearly, not all men in the camps were involved in the rape of women and teenage boys but the threat was there for women.

There is more research on the experience of women available here:

The Holocaust at Women Under Siege
New Holocaust findings highlight larger gap in conflict and rape research at Women Under Siege
Remember the Women Institute

 

 My Elegant Gathering of White Snows: a blog about male violence against women, celebrity culture and cultural femicide. You can find more by Louise Pennington  on her blogs My Elegant Gathering of White Snows and The Seething Cauldron and on Twitter and Facebook.

See also:

RAPE AS GENOCIDE: UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL VULNERABILITY, ABUSE AND RAPE IN THE HOLOCAUST BY @LESTEWPOT

The importance of women-only spaces

This speech is cross-posted with permission from the campaign group Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. The speech was given at the opening of a new rape crisis in Lincolnshire.

Good evening. My name is [redacted], co-founder of the training, consultancy and campaigning organisation Ending Victimisation & Blame.

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at this event, launching a new Rape Crisis service in Lincolnshire. Thanks to Laura and her team for extending the invitation to our organisation.

I founded EVB in May 2013, both as a response to the media coverage of domestic & sexual violence and abuse, and to challenge the associated disbelief of those who disclose such abuse. Regardless of which professional service I have worked within, it had the threads of domestic & sexual violence woven through it. My experience in education, specifically pastoral support, found children and young people living with domestic abuse. My work with families in crisis via children’s services, found women with experiences of sexual violence as both an adult and a child, current domestic abuse and the after effects of all of these. My work with women and children who had experienced domestic abuse, found sexual violence woven through their experiences. In short, I have not been employed within a professional organisation that didn’t come into contact with Domestic & Sexual Violence.

I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When I disclosed my experience as a child, I was met with disbelief.  The perpetrator was believable. Much more believable than the ‘out of control’ teen I presented as. As a direct result of this, when I was raped as an adult, I didn’t tell anyone for over 17 years. The reason for this was that I didn’t expect to be  believed. I had consumed some alcohol (and incidentally have an overwhelming urge to say ‘But I wasn’t drunk!’), I knew my rapists. I had voluntarily got into the car with them, made choices that I knew would be questioned by the police. I’d grown up in local authority care, I wasn’t a ‘good victim’.  All of those things combined into a cycle of self blame that completely absolved the perpetrators of any responsibility.

At the time of my rape, I didn’t think rape crisis was for women like me. I had become politically active in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I knew about Women’s Liberation, but in many of the activist groups I joined, women issues were considered marginal.  Almost as if we’d be sorted out after the revolution – which of course meant after the men. In the early 1990’s, I stumbled across ‘Surviving Sexual Violence’ by Professor Liz Kelly & it changed my life. Knowing that there were networks of services set up for women like me helped me to re-evaluate my experience. It didn’t help me to disclose, but it did help me to be kinder to myself and to know that I wasn’t the only one.

I could stand here all evening and talk about the benefits of the Rape Crisis network; instead, I’m going to pick out 2 benefits that I think are crucial, and why they matter.

The first is women only services. We know women make up the majority of those who experience sexual violence. It is important that we have designated services just for women and these services must be run by women. When we are talking about violence perpetrated by men, we should be naming it as such. We should not be derailed by comments such as ‘it happens to men too’. We know this. We also know that sexual violence against men is most often perpetrated by other men and that specialist services for men are important. But not at the expense of women’s.

In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

    It reported that:

  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year

  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year

  • 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

These women deserve a service that will help them to feel safe.

The ‘Why women only spaces?’ Research published by the Women’s Resource Centre in 2006 tells us that women want women only spaces. If they have been a victim of sexual violence perpetrated by men, they need a safe space to heal. When reading the research, one comment stood out for me: The Latin American Women’s Rights Services stated: ‘We provide this service for women to come here and feel safe… in addition to this, it’s very important for women to see women doing this, and thinking they can do something like that in the future’. So women only space has a multitude of benefits. Helping women to feel safe and recover from sexual violence, and supporting their aspirations. All of the women that I have spoken to when preparing for this speech were positive about women only spaces, and how they should be protected.

The second benefit that stands out for me when looking at the service provided by Lincolnshire Rape Crisis is how this is a Feminist space. Why is this important? Do we need to identify as feminists in order to provision an appropriate service for women who have experienced sexual violence? Do we need feminism at all? The answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’! Feminism is the liberation of women from oppression, and the prevalence of sexual violence shows a clear need for feminism. The position of women in society contributes to the rate of sexual violence. Women being considered objects, lesser value and the property of men, leads to violence against women and girls. If we think of violence against women and girls as the trunk of a tree*, its roots are patriarchy.  Patriarchy upholds other oppressions, such as homophobia, class inequality, disability discrimination and racism.  The ‘branches’ of our Violence Against Women Tree are rape, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking, FGM, so-called honour based violence and gang related violence. We have to be able to name the problem of men’s violence in order to solve it.

Research confirms that men silence women just by their presence. Dale Spender did an experiment to find out just how this happens. She published her results in Man Made Language – which is a very interesting read. This is a summary of what she found:

    Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.

    […]

    There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.

So what does this say? Men set the agenda. Men often talk over women, sometimes without any awareness that they’ve even done so. Women need space within which to discuss their oppression and manage their activism.  That space does not need to include men. If men wish to talk about feminism and the oppression of women, they do not need to be in women’s spaces in order to do this – men can use the space they have in the rest of the world, and make it more feminist.

In preparation for this speech, I did an unscientific straw poll of some of my women friends, all of whom identify as feminists. I asked them to sum up why we need feminist women only spaces in one or two sentences. These are the responses:

“Because of the sheer volume of women who’ve suffered at the hands of men, in many differing ways.  Women need a safe space to trust.”

“Without a feminist understanding, all we have are myths and excuses for men’s violence – all of which disempower women.”

“Because women need to feel totally safe.  That isn’t possible when men are around.”

“Men’s presence means they will be prioritised. Our shared consciousness is important.”

“Because men talk over us, undermine us, and attack us. We need the women running the services to understand how this is systemic.”

Recent research published by Ruth Lewis & Elizabeth Sharp following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 adds gravitas to the unscientific straw poll I’ve completed! Women said that being released from having to defend their feminist politics:

“enabled deep discussions. In this safe space, women explored their potential rather than censoring themselves. Safety fostered confidence to speak, to share, to explore one’s skills and talents as well as to be emotionally expressive.”

Defending ourselves from the everyday sexism experienced by all women takes up space that women should be free to use to free ourselves from oppression. Defending our politics is often exhausting. Understanding the roots of the ‘hairy man hating lesbian’ or ‘angry feminist’ tropes as homophobic and misogynistic gives us the freedom to challenge these concepts outside of feminist women only spaces. We should not need to explain what we do, or don’t do, with our body hair. Nor explain our sexuality. Being angry gets things done – we should be angry. Women make up almost 52% of the worlds population, and yet own less than 1% of the worlds property. In the UK, less that 16% of high court judges are women. This should make us all angry, not just those of us who identify as feminist. When a billion of us on the planet are exposed to men’s violence; when the atrocity of rape affects so many of us; when our internal risk assessments become completely normalised – we are right to be angry.

So how does EVB link with Rape Crisis? One of the most significant things we have in common with those services within the Rape Crisis network is that we believe women. When they disclose their experiences of sexual violence, we do not question what they did to ‘provoke’ the abuse. We do not suggest that they should have behaved differently in order to avoid abuse. We do not hold them responsible for the choices men make. And we use that word ‘choices’ deliberately. We do not believe that men are hardwired to be abusive. We know that they make a calculated choice to behave in that way; and that not all of them do so. Questioning a woman’s choices, what she was wearing, why she consumed alcohol, asking why she doesn’t leave, telling women how to avoid abuse, making women responsible for men’s choices – all of these contribute to the expectation that if women changed their behaviour, men would not abuse them.

In the few short months that we have been set up, many women have told us that we are the first people they have disclosed their experiences to. Our supporters said :

“Since finding your site, I can’t tell you how much it has changed my life. I finally felt safe enough to disclose all of the sexual violence I had experienced to my Rape Crisis counsellor. You told me that she’d believe me, and she did. Without your service, I might have taken that information to my grave”

“Thank you. Thank you for all that you do. When I found your site, I didn’t think my experiences were bad enough to be considered sexual violence. I decided to look at the support services you list on your site, and call my local Rape Crisis anyway. They helped me to see that there isn’t such a thing as ‘bad enough’, as we all have different experiences. I couldn’t have done this without you, knowing that you are there for all of us, regardless of how ‘bad’ our experience is considered to be.”

Comments such as these give us hope that we can challenge the institutional disbelief that affects so many survivors. Together, we can support women and say “we believe you and know it wasn’t your fault”.

(*Thanks to Imkaan for the Violence Against Women & Girls tree analogy)

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.

You can find more about Ending Victimisation and Blame‘s campaign on their website, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

Welcome to A Room of Our Own: A Feminist Network

Welcome to A Room of Our Own: A Feminist Network.

This space is for women to share their writing; we are fighting cultural femicide by sharing women’s writings, experiences and musings.

The only criteria we have for membership is that you self-define as a feminist or a womanist. It doesn’t matter what you blog about – hockey, parenting, donuts or feminist theory – as long as you are a feminist, you are welcome here.We welcome collective blogs as long as all the bloggers are women. We also welcome blogs which are art, poetry, photography, video and any other medium of expression which can be posted online. We include traditional ‘blogs’ as created on blogger or wordpress, as well as Tumblr, Facebook pages, Youtube pages etc.

We expect that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism. We believe these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating. We will post a new blog by our members everyday under the heading Featured Blog. We do not agree with every single blog we feature but we believe it is important for women to have a safe space in which to share their work.

A Room of Our Own is about ensuring that no woman’s voice is silenced, regardless of whether or not we disagree with them.