Originally published: 31.12.17
Content Note for rape
This is a review of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and the construction of consent in the aftermath of #MeToo.
Content Note for rape
This is a review of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and the construction of consent in the aftermath of #MeToo.
This is the text of a keynote (and the inaugural Lincoln Lecture) delivered at the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies conference in Loughborough on June 12th 2018.
I am speaking today about sexual harassment and violence. It is difficult to speak about sexual harassment and violence; these are traumatic experiences, and survivors are subject to many forms of silencing. This is why ‘speaking out’ is crucial. We speak our truths publicly because problems need to be named, to be dealt with: and putting our trauma ‘out there’ is a way to avoid being consumed by it ‘in here’. But speech in this area is also vexed. Because of where and how we are able to speak our truths, because of how these truths constitute us as subjects and objects of discourse, and because of how our disclosures can be co-opted. We are also caught in a number of binaries and backlashes which position us or which we have to position against. There are binaries between men and women, between perpetrators and victims, which often map directly on to each other. There is a misogynistic, racist backlash from the so-called ‘alt’-right, and on the left what Sara Ahmed calls ‘progressive sexism’, which gives cover to sexual harassment and violence through critiques of neoliberalism and concerns about ‘moral panic.’ This is the context in which I share my thoughts about how sexual harassment and violence are ‘reckoned up’ in institutional and cultural economies. …
Alison Phipps: Genders, bodies, politics
“Set in 1960s and ‘70s Australia, The Blood on My Hands is the dramatic tale of Shannon O’Leary’s childhood years, growing up with an abusive father, who was also a serial killer. No one, not even the authorities, would help O’Leary and her family. The responses of those whom O’Leary and her immediate family reached out to for help are almost as disturbing as the crimes of her violent father. Relatives were afraid to bring disgrace to the family’s good name, nuns condemned the child’s objections as disobedience and noncompliance, and laws at the time prevented the police from interfering unless someone was killed. “
The Blood on My Hands is a gripping read, with underlying tension throughout the book, right from the beginning. Every recollection is detailed and concise, be it the author’s memories of her pets and animals or her days at school. It is full of rich descriptions of the characters and the hot Australian setting. The book has a structured, chronological timeline of events, which works without losing the storytelling/memoir feel.
Yet this is not for the weak-hearted. The story is gruelling and traumatic, not for the shock effect, but because this is a story that needs to be told, and the detailed account is an evidence of that. It could be argued that it didn’t need to be so detailed and horrific, and the more traumatising recollections could have been toned down. However, while as a reader, I see the reason why others may feel this way, but as a human, there is credit to be given to Shannon for being so honest and vulnerable on the page. ….
HerStory (Durre Shahwar): I’m a writer, a book reviewer, and an MA Creative Writing graduate. As a South Asian female, I’ve identified as a feminist, since a teen and to this day, I’m writing about what that means and trying to put my experiences into words. My blog was named ‘Herstory’ after my research into Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own during my degree. The term has been the driving factor behind my writing. We all have stories to tell, voices that need to be heard, especially from women of colour, and I hope to be one of them. On my blog, I write book reviews and other content related to the craft of writing and sometimes, academia. I’m interested in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, mental health, intersectional feminism, gender, religion, art, yoga – though not always in that order or mixture! I’m slowly getting my writing published, and trying to review more book by women/women of colour, for which, I am happy to be contacted for via my blog or on Twitter: @Durre_Shahwar.
As you board a plane, it’s not uncommon to scrutinize the size of the seats and wonder where exactly your carry-on bags are supposed to fit. But other than that, we generally feel safe nowadays, having gone through several security screenings and identity checks to board the plane.
Another problem looms, especially for women who fly. Sexual harassment is commonplace on airplanes, with both passengers and flight attendants as targets. And the contained space in which it takes place makes the situation even more violating, with the person making unwanted advances — and the people who could stop it — sitting mere inches away.
What’s Causing Airline Sexual Harassment?
We know that many stories of sexual harassment, both on the ground and in the air, involve alcohol. One woman detailed her own terrifying experience with sexual harassment on a plane, noting just how much the man next to her had been drinking.
She said he downed several beverages quickly, perhaps to deal with a fear of flying. But the alcohol soon gave him the courage to make an advance on her, which started verbally and ended with him leaning in for a kiss. Nearby passengers intervened to stop him. …
This was first published at Feimineach. You can find the full text here.
The title of this post summarizes my thoughts whenever I have a discussion with men who seem to proudly display their ignorance about the constant attacks on women and girls. One should not have to pull heart strings in order for one side to have any feelings or even care about the subject at hand. It never forces men to have empathy for women and girls, it just reinforces the idea that men’s “damaged property” (female loved ones) should be the only reason why they should be against rape.
On 1 February 2018 the inquest into the self-inflicted death of 21 year-old Emily Hartley at HMP New Hall in 2016 concluded.
She was the youngest of 22 women to die in a women’s prison that year; 2016 saw the highest annual number of deaths on record.
And the evidence at the inquest raised serious issues about the decision to place Emily in prison.
We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.
‘Everyone knew’ about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; allegations that go back decades. Yet, no one (read men) in positions of power followed even the most basic protection regulations and laws around sexual harassment.
Everyone also ‘knew’ about Jimmy Savile’s predatory behaviour to children and women. Despite multiple allegations made to numerous people supposedly responsible for child protection and multiple reports to police, the media still didn’t want to publish the clear evidence of Savile’s sexually predatory behaviour even after he died. Everyone knew; no one talked.
Watching footage in the news this week of a male person running into a crowd to swing a punch at a sixty year old woman, you might be forgiven for assuming this was another example of male violence against women, and therefore proof that women sometimes need spaces of their own, in order to stay safe. You’d be wrong in this instance, because in fact this was apparently a trans-identified male doing the punching, so it’s not male violence at all: in fact the sixty year old woman is the one to blame because she wants to go to a feminist meeting about gender. It’s a neat trick: if you make sure women can’t go to feminist meetings about gender they will not be informed enough to criticise an ideology which transforms a fist-swinging male into the victim of a sixty year old woman who wants to go to a feminist meeting about gender.
It ties in with other issues raised recently by reports of a male rapist who got to be housed in a woman’s prison because he identified as trans. In both examples I’m interested to know how a man with a male body (sex) who has displayed the most extreme kind of toxic masculinity (gender) can get to be diagnosed as a woman. Where, in this man’s body or soul, is there even room for the tiniest chink of the female or the feminine? It’s surely already filled up with all the male and the masculine?
Read more Why is a A Male Rapist In a Woman’s Prison? by @helensaxby11
The concept of the ‘good-enough’ mother, introduced by Winnicott (1965), is still in common use today in family law, and in health and social services. However, it is often misused to blame women for falling below expected standards of parenting rather using it in its intended context. It is often not understood that the concept of the good-enough mother was embedded in another concept: that of ‘the nursing triad’. Winnicott acknowledged that support for mothers is necessary to mothering. The author did not have an expectation that mothers could be ‘good-enough’ without the support of either the child’s father, or another supportive adult. On the contrary, Winnicott acknowledged that mothering would be very difficult without support: this was a concept that he applied to all mothers.
Read more Winnicott’s ‘good-enough’ mother
Mothers Day, several years ago, I went with a friend to feed the ducks (and possibly nutria) at a local park. It was supposed to be a pleasant excursion to take my friend’s mind off of troubles with her own kids and to see some animals. It ended up being a sad and clarifying outing.
The nutria did not come out which was unfortunate as they’re really incredible creatures to interact with. We were flooded with ducks and geese grabbing our treats. After we ran out of goodies for the birds we sat talking and let everyone get back to their routines. It didn’t take long before we witnessed a horrific scene on the water of several drakes gang-raping a duck, her screaming out in pain and fear. We shouted at them and threw rocks into the water in the hopes of scaring them off but could only do so much to frighten them. They did let up soon after they were interrupted by us but it was too late, she was already hurt and violated.
Read more Of Ducks and Drakes: Male Violence Across Species, by @terristrange
I have recently produced two introductory undergraduate lectures on the subject of feminism: the first tackling discussions around universalism and intersectionality, and the second applying an intersectional analysis to the topic of gender, power and violence. These lectures are free for academic colleagues and others to download, adapt and use as they see fit. Both should be seen as introductory rather than comprehensive, and I’m sure there is plenty I have missed! Consider this a work in progress and a small contribution to the rich array of gender-related teaching resources which exist online.
Feminism 101: Universalism and Intersectionality (link here)
Feminism 101: Gender, Power and Violence (link here)
This lecture attempts to construct an intersectional analysis of gender, power and violence. It asks questions about: how acts, threats and allegations of violence both reflect and reproduce gendered and intersecting power relations; who is more likely to be able to claim state protection and who is more frequently a focus of (violent) state governance; how our definitions of violence and victimhood are shaped by intersectional identities and oppressions; and, how these dynamics enter the political and geopolitical spheres. Click the image above to download the Prezi; click here for the reading list.
I hope you find these resources useful – if so, do recommend them to colleagues.
Alison Phipps : I am currently Professor of Gender Studies at Sussex University, and this site houses links to my academic and non-academic writing, and resources I have produced.
How do they know who to kill?, by @marstrina
“However. Here’s what I think anyone pushing the “sex is a social construct and therefore it is up to me to decide if my reproductive organs are male or female” has an absolute moral duty to account for: if sex is not a “real” and meaningful political or economic category, on what basis did the parents of the hundreds of millions of women and girls lost to femicide know who to kill? This is not state mandated, low-resolution social engineering: each individual family, each individual father, and sometimes mother, has made a decision to abort this baby, but not that baby. Each individual village midwife or grandmother or mother in law in a village somewhere has decided to take this child and leave them by the side of the road to die, but not that child. These people are not scientists and they are certainly not feminists. They didn’t get their decisions out of a Janice Raymond book, so give me a fucking break, use your educated-beyond-its-capability brain for a second and think about it: if sex doesn’t really exist, how do they know who to kill?”
The Thing about Toilets, at Not the News in Brief
“The thing about toilets is that it’s not just about toilets. It’s about ALL the public spaces which could present a risk to women and/or children because of factors such as confined space, being locked in, restricted escape routes and being either explicitly or potentially in a state of partial/complete undress. These spaces include public toilets (no, not your private one at home, stupid), changing rooms in shops, gymns, leisure centres etc, prisons, rape crisis centres, dormitories, shelters and more.”
The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist. by @ClaireShrugged
“…what’s a shorter non-essentialist way to refer to ‘people who have a uterus and all that stuff’?” In many ways, Laurie Penny’s quest to find a term describing biologically female people without ever actually using the word woman typifies the greatest challenge within ongoing feminist discourse. The tension between women acknowledging and erasing the role of biology in structural analysis of our oppression has developed into a fault line (MacKay, 2015) within the feminist movement. Contradictions arise when feminists simultaneously attempt to address how women’s biology shapes our oppression under patriarchal society whilst denying that our oppression is material in basis. At points, rigorous structural analysis and inclusivity make uneasy bedfellows.”
‘Men, shut up for your rights!’, by @wordspinster
“If you haven’t spent the last decade living on another planet, I’m sure you will recognise the following sequence of events:
A powerful man says something egregiously sexist, either in a public forum or in a private conversation which is subsequently leaked.
There is an outpouring of indignation on social media.
The mainstream media take up the story and the criticism gets amplified.
The powerful man announces that he is stepping down.
His critics claim this as a victory and the media move on—until another powerful man says another egregiously sexist thing, at which point the cycle begins again.
The most recent high-profile target for this ritual shaming was David Bonderman, a billionaire venture capitalist and member of Uber’s board of directors. It’s no secret that Uber has a serious sexism problem. Following a number of discrimination and harassment claims from former employees, the company commissioned what turned out to be a damning report on its corporate culture. At a meeting called to discuss the report, Arianna Huffington (who at the time was Uber’s only female director) cited research which suggested that putting one woman on a board increased the likelihood that more women would join. At which point Bonderman interjected: ‘actually what it shows is that it’s likely to be more talking’.
Include me out. How ‘inclusion’ is killing feminism, by Sister Hex
“The problem with this modern obsession for ‘inclusion’, especially for university societies, is that it’s not only killing the soul of feminism or lesbian/gay rights but it’s basically devoid of any common sense.
The reason we’ve always had separation in activism has never been particularly about exclusion specifically, but for reasons of focus, empowerment, allowing an oppressed voice space to speak and sharing experience. This, in turn, lead to clear analysis and particular campaigning. Separation in activism is both common and successful and has been used in anything from civil to gay rights.”
The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, by @GappyTales
“… At the root of women’s oppression lies an unassailable biological reality. Women are denied reproductive rights, paid less than men for doing the same job, and carry out the vast bulk of unpaid labour in the home, for no other reason than we are biologically female. As a woman I don’t get to opt out of this reality. I don’t, for instance, get to say to my employer that today I’m identifying as male so will be expecting a pay rise commensurate with that fact. Gender on the other hand is imposed and performative, so I can present as feminine in make up and heels, or I can choose to shave my head and wear masculine clothing. Either way my biology and the discrimination I suffer as a result of it remains a fact, not a privilege. …”
The Sex Delusion by @GappyTales
“We live in an age of alternative facts.
And so this article will begin with the premise that there are knowable truths, separate from our personal perspectives and belief systems. Water is wet, for example. Whether on the left or right of the political spectrum, water is never dry. With this in mind, here are some long agreed upon and universally recognised word definitions:
1. Woman: An adult human female.
2. Female: Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilised by male gametes.
3. Gender: The state of being male or female, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behaviour.
So a knowable truth gleaned from these definitions would be that sex is a biological reality, and gender a more malleable social construct. Let’s consider then, the medical condition of gender dysphoria, experienced by individuals as a distressing mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Let’s imagine it on a spectrum. How many people do we know with no mismatch at all between their biological sex and the stereotypically gendered traits and behaviours associated with it? The truth is very few humans fit perfectly into pink and blue boxes meaning, surely, that we can dispense with any ideas of an existing gender binary. ”
Dress Rules for Women over 40 by @JumpMag
“Another summer, another list of rules for women on what they should and shouldn’t wear. From the ‘how to get a bikini body’ articles (top tip – buy a bikini, put it on your body, done!) to this incredibly stupid list of rules for women over 40 years.
Here are my dress rules for women over 40.”
Colonialism and Housewifization – Patriarchy and Capitalism at Mairi Voice
Maria Mies: Patriarchy and the Accumulation on a World Scale
This book provides a most important analysis of the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Maria Mies’ thesis is that patriarchy is at the core of capitalism, and in fact, capitalism would not have had its success in its accumulation of capital without patriarchal ideals and practices.
She builds on Federici’s analysis of the witch hunts, which were instrumental in the early developments of capitalism and argues, convincingly and in-depth, that the exploitation and oppression of women allowed for its successful domination of the world. …
A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster
In New York City in 1999, I heard a talk in which Riki Anne Wilchins (self-styled ‘transexual menace’, and described in the Gender Variance Who’s Who as ‘one of the iconic transgender persons of the 1990s’) declared that feminists had no theory of gender. I thought: ‘what is she talking about? Surely feminists invented the concept of gender!’
Fast forward ten years to 2009, when I went to a bookfair in Edinburgh to speak about The Trouble & Strife Reader, a collection of writing from a feminist magazine I’d been involved with since the 1980s. Afterwards, two young women came up to chat. Interesting book, they said, but why is there nothing in it about gender? …
First published on The Fifth Column, 2/10/17.
Students, sexual assault survivors and campaigners in the USA are riled up, and rightfully so: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week rescinded Obama-era guidance on universities’ duties to deal with campus sexual assault. But just because there’s a relative lack of public debate on the issue in Britain, doesn’t mean it’s not happening or that British universities and colleges are dealing well with campus sexual assault.
Let’s take a look at the legal situation in the USA first, then compare it to the UK.
This post is a hard one to write. I’ve kept this blog for years but this is the post I’ve always second guessed myself out of writing. I’ve written about dysfunctional homes so many times, homes that weren’t safe, predatory men, an inadequate legal system, but I’ve never said that what I had a personal stake in what I was writing – that I understood, that I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to live with a volatile narcissist who will make you doubt the facts in front of your nose. I know what it’s like to dodge ever-changing emotions. I know what it’s like to fear for your life – a dull practical alertness, not a nerve jangling panic.
Read more On hashtags, secrets and the balance of power, by @abigailrieley
A new angel has opened his wings!”
“We need more men like Hugh in this world today.”
These passionate declarations from his Facebook page are among numerous accolades for the pornmerchant Hugh Hefner, who recently died aged 91.
A charming trendsetter, brave visionary, legend, pioneer, icon, folk hero – the glorification is seemingly endless.
Big names joined the love-in. Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted in praise: “Hugh Hefner was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. We shall never forget him. May he Rest In Peace.”
Read more The House that Hef Built: Hugh Hefner’s Dark Legacy, by @meltankardreist
Whenever sexual harassment is discussed, someone will always pipe up “but they don’t mind it if the bloke’s good-looking!” as if that proves – what? That sexual harassment is a deeply unfair concept, designed to unjustly prevent unattractive men from exercising their natural right to grope their female colleagues and friends whenever they want? That women are inconsistent and “want it both ways”, i.e.: want to have friendships and love affairs and personal relationships with some members of the opposite sex, without being obliged to extend their personal relationships to every single other member of the opposite sex who might fancy a relationship with them – just like men do?
How galling must it be, to be treated with civility and politeness every day, instead of being treated to what you are entitled to: bantering, flirting, joshing around and the occasional knee-stroke during the working day. How outrageous is it, that a woman might connect with another male colleague more than she does with you, finding him wittier, more congenial and more interesting than you and therefore treating him with a level of friendliness and companionship that will never be extended to you because … well, er, just because she doesn’t like you as much.
Read more Yes we do want it both ways. Because we’re human. Just like men, by @Herbeatittude
Most teenage boys – and many girls – will experiment with pornography. It’s one of those ‘as long as I don’t have to know about it’ things for a lot of parents – but what if you’re suddenly confronted by it? What if you find out that your teenager has been watching pornography, and that some of it is pretty extreme?
Of course, there’s no ‘right way’ to tackle this, but I would say that whatever you decide to do, trust is key. All teenagers, always, just want us to trust them. The more we demand explanations, or endlessly check up on them, the stronger the message of mistrust.
The media will always scare us with stories of teen porn addiction, but developing this trust requires a process of ‘un-scaring’ yourself about the issues that really worry you, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex or porn. Your teenager is busy working out their own relationship to all these issues, and doesn’t need the burden of your anxiety on top of their own. Over-concern can create a kind of emotional feedback loop of mutual anxiety reinforcement – and to them, anger, sullenness and resistance may seem like the best way of handling it.
Read more How to Talk to Your Teenagers About Porn, by @cwknews
Sparked by the exposure of Harvey Weinstein as an alleged serial sex offender, a mass confessional has taken place recently via social media, in which women everywhere have held up their hands and said, me too: the things that Weinstein did to those women have happened to me too. I hope to goodness it was cathartic and useful for the women who took the brave and exposing step of outing their private pain to the world, and I hope to goodness there were as many women reading who felt less alone, less ashamed as a result. But the outpouring is slowing and I, for one, am relieved. A collective boil has perhaps now been lanced, although I still cannot see through the pus.
The pus gathers in the responses, which can be divided into three broad categories. First is blanket denial, whereby men and their cheerleaders deny that sexual abuse on such a massive scale exists at all. Women are fanciful, lying, exaggerating for effect. There is a bandwagon onto which women are joyfully leaping in an attempt to malign men and revel in their perceived victimhood. Second, we have the more modern form of denial which concedes that yes, sexual abuse is a common problem, although not a gendered one. There are simply some people that abuse other people and all abuse is equally bad. The inconvenient and statistical truth that 98% of all sexual crime is committed by men, and that the overwhelming majority of their victims are female, can be pasted over with obfuscation and the politics of individualism. In other words, if we focus in carefully enough on all the tiny pictures, the big picture will begin to fade into the background and eventually disappear altogether. In the face of this manipulative myopia I can find myself longing for the first, more traditional trope. It is, at least, straightforward. Lastly, we have the outraged hyperbole. The shock! The fury! Whoever could have imagined such horrifying evil existed in the world?!
I’ve been working out if or how to write about #metoo. The hashtag was started over ten years ago by Tarana Burke to enable women in underprivileged communities who did not have access to rape crisis centers or counseling, to be able to share their stories of having been subjected to sexual assault. In the wake of the New Yorker publishing details of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of women across Hollywood (over a number of decades), actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet their stories of sexual harassment. A million people have tweeted using the hashtag in the last few days, with many people also using it on Facebook.
The most wonderful Vicky Walker has written over at Premier “Harvey Weinstein isn’t just Hollywood. Men like him exist in our churches too”. Vicky’s piece, which included her own personal experiences of having been subjected to harassment by Christian men, has been commented on by a number of men. Peter tells us that, “I am concerned that this article is actually approaching the whole issue from the wrong perspective.” (What wisdom Paul has…) Whilst Paul tells us that, “Plenty of conjecture and personal anecdote but nowhere near enough sources to properly level the claim with credibility.” (I’m hoping Paul is going to commission a nationwide survey on harassment in churches to help us get the data he thinks is acceptable.)
This morning on the Today program I listened to a very interesting segment regarding deaths of children and young people in the criminal justic system. You can read more about it here:
The charity Inquest has worked with the Prison Reform Trust to produce a report
(called Fatally Flawed, can be found here) regarding deaths in custody, specifically those of children and young people under the age of 24. They report that in the past ten years 163 children and young people have died in the care of the state, mostly as a result of suicide (although there are cases where the cause of death was a result of, for example, the types of restraint used against them). Of those who died, two thirds of those under 18 and almost a third of those between 18 and 24 were being actively monitored for self harm and/or suicidal behaviour. Today’s coverage is as we await an announcement from the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright as to whether he will acquiesce to the charities’ request to hold a full independent enquiry. He has previously refused such calls, but has agreed to look at the request again.
Read more Why don’t women matter?, by @FeministBorgia