On @RichardDawkins – The Religion of Logic As Used To Erase Victims Experience

Richard Dawkins believes that the severity of individual cases of rape and abuse can be gradated, and he doesn’t like people to point out to him that there are many reasons why he is wrong about that. He has clearly been mulling on this for some time, because this morning he took to twitter with this:

X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.

Whether X or Y is worse is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of LOGIC that to express that opinion doesn’t mean you approve of either. @RichardDawkins 29.07.2014

 Dawkins would, I know, like us to believe that he is not a rape apologist. And in his fervour to apply logic to absolutely everything, he has created an equation which – he thinks – proves that not only is he right, but that those of us who state that his position is one of ignorance (to put it mildly) are emoting not debating.  

It is clear that he does not understand what sexual violence is –  he reproduces common myth and misconception immediately, working as he does from the false premise that rape and abuse have any gradation of severity at all. His formulae (which I am sure he feels is terribly logical), in fact is not;  in not accounting for the most important factor – the effect of the sexual violence on the victim – he erases the voice, knowledge and experience of the victim, thereby excusing one or other form of rape and abuse.   Which is exactly what his supposed fevered logic purports to disavow.

Logic is an important tool which humans use, as we navigate through our lives, trying to figure out the world in which we live and our place in it. But it is not more than that – used incorrectly it is, at best, a blunt object that mangles, obfuscates and erases (as in this case).

Rape and abuse are not logical – those of us who have suffered at its claws, or who work in support and advocacy of those who are, do not learn to navigate the violent landscape in the wake of an attack with logic, because logic is useless to us in those circumstances.  We understand and know better than Dawkins the facts and realities, because he chooses to remain ignorant of our knowledge; he does not value it because it does not fit in to any ‘logical’ box.

Your over heated (dare I suggest religious) fervour for logic Mr Dawkins is useless: you do not understand the subject on which you speak.  Let those who know, speak. Let those who don’t, shut up and listen.


UPDATE:  Richard Dawkins has produced this ‘non-apology-apology-whilst-still-trying-to-maintain-the-moral-highground’.  This man’s arrogance knows no bounds.

Apparently us thinking feeling people unleashed a ‘tsunami of hate’. I taste man tears…

#FaithFeminisms – Why We Need to Love #womenagainstfeminism

The Richer Thread

My Love and Faith are intertwined
not as a knot
but one combined;

For He is Love and love protects
my cloak, my comforter
my strength;

His strong threads drawn through weave and weft
a richly patterned life
to tread;

Through life, the one strong threaded cord
the silver breath
that holds and stores;

His perfect light that staves the dark
the many coloured threads
of past;

And present! On now – see beyond
the endless cloth we’re
formed along;

His Grace, by spirit, constant grows
and guides each soul
’till safely home;

See how the cloth is grown, and grows:
my Lord, Dear Lord –
I am near to home!  

All this week the most amazing conversations have been happening via #FaithFeminisms – a coming together of the growing number of womens voices who by seeking to change the feminist conversation in Christianity are, as Dianna Anderson says, engaging in a radical act of reclamation. These conversations are both affirming of faith and grasping the blood and bone issues of privilege, of the Cross, of life in all its fullness.  Being part of that conversation, in however small a way, and connecting with other women for whom both faith and feminism is fundamental to our lives, is enriching and uplifting.

In another part of the internet a parallel conversation has been happening – women who do not feel connected to feminism, who do not want to be a part of it, who even feel that feminism is not necessary, have been having a conversation around #womenagainstfeminism. And I want us to listen to them. I want us to have faith enough, love enough, courage enough and grace enough, to hear them and to hear why they think and believe as they do. I want to make sure that we are hearing and cherishing all our sisters.

Now, when White, Western Christianity and Feminism have had such a problematic history in our relationships and conversations with black women, women of colour, LGBTIQ women – when our privilege is now starting to become a part of our reflection as a movement and individually – I would not seek to suggest that reaching out to our sisters who do not share our feminism and faith should be prioritised.  But some of the reasons why those women are speaking out in that way contain warnings for us: messages it would behove us well not to ignore. And I know this because I was once a woman who was against feminism.

In my youth, it didn’t occur to me not to be a feminist. I just was and it was not up for debate. But that changed over time: I began to question what feminism (in my white western context) wanted or believed. I saw that its overt concern with glass ceilings in the boardroom and whether or not plastic surgery was feminist was buying in to the very system which had oppressed us; worse, it apparently ignored the oppression still suffered by too many women who weren’t white, western, middle class and able bodied. Or it pitied them, and offered charity instead.

And in the choices I had made feminists I knew looked down their noses at me for being a women at home looking after her children (and believe me they made their disdain obvious).

Feminism no longer spoke to me. It seemed to be disappearing up its own backside, or at least into its own fluffy navel. The women referred to as the feminist leaders at the time (that is, the women in the media with the platforms and the book deals) seemed disconnected with the reality of my life, and the lives of women around me. Women in poverty, disabled women, and my Muslim sisters who might as well not have existed. And whilst I knew that at grass roots level the story may well have been different, the day to day reality was: feminism didn’t seem to care about that.

Women who reject feminism do so for complex and myriad reasons: they do not do so because they are stupid or silly. We may say ‘but rape culture’ – we may say ‘but women of colour’ – we may say ‘but still not valued’. And all of those things are true.

But it is their responsibility to better educate themselves? Or is it our responsibility to better speak what we believe? Are there times when what we say actually excludes other women? Do we have faith, and love, and courage enough to respect the choices of our sisters, many of whom will never accept feminism and faith?

The Lamp That Lit The Path – My Faith, My Feminism and the Debt I Owe My Nan



No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.  Luke 8:16

“Trust your instincts.”

This was the only piece of advise that my Great-Grandmother ever directly gave me, although there was so much I have learnt from her since. I understand better now that she wasn’t really telling me what I ought to do – she was giving me the reassurance I would need in the years to come.

Girlie* was a mystery in many ways to me: a woman of deep faith and belief, a Christian by conviction and experience, fiercely political, and a feminist who eschewed big and exciting campaigns to help fight the little battles and comfort the silent sorrows of the untold, unsung lives of the people in the community in which she lived.

The illegitimate daughter of a rebellious, tiny Maltese Catholic girl who refused to give up her child and chose instead to take on the role of widow to a husband who had never existed, Girlie understood implicitly the politics of women’s lives and the power of refusing the imposed narrative.  What she would fight the hardest for was a person’s right to be themselves, to be who they were, to the creation of God in all their individual beauty.

When the first fragile green shoots of my faith first tested the air above ground, it met in full the resistance of my adolescent and angry teenage feminism, and even angrier teenage politics. I had the badges (“women need a man like a fish needs a bicycle”), placards to wave and the clipboards with an endless supply of petitions (back in the day when you needed a pen to sign your agreement to your cause of choice rather than a smart phone). My spotty, furious social agitator saw only the ‘male’ God, the male leaders, the ‘Our Father’ and the worship of a Jesus with whom I could have no truck and no accord.

So the green shoots of my faith retreated back beneath the earth. My politics became more nuanced, my ears and eyes began to become more attuned to the discord of the un-heard narratives – and feminism and I had our first big falling out. I remember the day quite clearly: I was in the kitchen, struggling with illness and small children, listening to women who were heralded as my feminist leaders discussing plastic surgery. And I looked at my small boys, at my empty purse, at the women around me who were fighting their own silent battles against racism, poverty and domestic violence, against a society that struggled even to see them as women at all; at the periodicals which I borrowed from the library that told me about the women in other parts of the world who were prevented even from earning a living – and I thought: when did the fluff in our navels become more important than this?

The young girls who sneered at my motherhood and my feminism as they went off to their university, their futures in their impressively expensive careers and their apparent equality, were far removed from me.  Politics knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The feminism of my youth seemed to have got lost up its own backside.

So I distanced myself from both, focussed on the battles in front of me.

When faith once again appeared above the ground, it was not met this time with the frost of my angry youth but with the autumn of my quiet disillusionment – not necessarily more receptive, but perhaps not as damaging. As my thoughts became prayers I found myself in front of old questions – if this was what I was coming to believe, how could I accept that which my instincts rejected?

This male god – this narrative in to which I do not fit? This person whom some say I should be, ‘because scripture’ but whom I know myself not to be?

And as I stared at this path, and this road seemingly strewn with rocks and thorns and disagreements – I saw that I already carried a lamp that would help me find my way. It does not give me the answers – it helps me to see what is before me clearly and navigate the spaces between and the tensions that arise. It does not tell me what to do – but it reassures me that I will be able to figure it out.

Trust my instincts. Figure it out. Pray. Listen – God speaks quietly and through many. Love. Live. Learn.

I have much to thank Girlie for. I thank God that she gave me exactly as much as I needed for the journey.




(*Girlie got the name from her husband, my Great-Grandfather and the name stuck.)

To Hear is to Acknowledge, To Listen is to Love

I remember very clearly the day my sister – my Pineapple Head  – admit to me that she knew she was an addict. It had been at least 10 years since I had known and realised that the morphine she had been prescribed had gone beyond it’s remit to relieve pain and had become an all consuming obsession; 10 years of walking that razor sharp line between hopefully-not-enabling and wanting-to-take-all-the-pain-away. I remember that I hugged her, and told that it was brave of her to recognise it and say it aloud.

And then she looked at me, her eyes filling up with anger, and a kind of shocking, gaping grief. She told me that she had tried to tell our Mum, and it had gone badly. “How can I tell anything else now?”

I really didn’t know what to say, because I knew what she meant by ‘anything else.’ Her secret identity , which she would never admit to anyone else. Pineapple Head longed to be listened to. She ached for it, she desired it almost as much as she desired the drugs – and she could talk the hind legs off a donkey. But though she could talk endlessly, she would avoid saying what she longed to say, because she was terrified that ‘it’ would happen again.

For Pineapple Head, the experience of others hearing her and then shutting down and turning against her, or re-writing what she had said, or ignoring what had been said was a far too common experience. Mostly she wasn’t heard. And if she was heard, she rarely experienced anyone truly listening. People spoke about her – or at least, the person they needed to construct in their minds in order to ‘cope’ with her. Each time it happened, I watched a little bit more of my sister become erased, a little bit more of who she was subsumed into other peoples expectations, another piece of her exchanged for someone else’s idea of who they thought she ought to be. And fear became a more constant, clingy and needful companion.

All through that, and in the years that followed I learnt this – it is not enough to be heard; and I began to understand something else – it is damaging to speak about that of which you know nothing and choose to know less.

A little while ago I was at a 3 day assessment thing (kind of an extended interview for vocational training with the Church Army) with several other people, and one of them particularly made an impression on me, because of the way he listened.  It was active listening in a way that was physical as much as it was spiritual and emotional – he seemed to listen with his whole body. It was remarkable. It wasn’t creepy at all, in fact he was incredibly respectful – it was just that when you spoke to him, he beheld you with his ears as much as with his mind.

It did not surprise me to learn that he was a highly respected pastoral worker in his community and a very effective evangelist: he did not just acknowledge people, acknowledge where they were in their lives – he genuinely respected people enough to listen to them, to their stories. It was a powerful demonstration of beholding through listening, and of his Christian faith.

The importance, the power, the respect and the love carried in the act of listening was evidenced on my twitter time line again today. Mid way through the afternoon Dianna Anderson – who blogs over at Faith and Feminism – tweeted out a ‘donotlink’ to an article in Christianity Today (CT):


@dianneanderson: So did CT/Ms. Becker here actually speak to any trans* people in researching this article or…?

A Generous Orthodoxy For Feminism – Or Why This Issue With ‘Cis’ MUST Be Resolved.

In a [Western] society, where patriarchy dominates much of our daily lives, it is too easy to forget that there are also subtle (and not so subtle) web-like power structures which too many of us fail to recognise our own role in – the able bodied and the differently abled, people who enjoy stable mental health and those who don’t, white and black or colour, straight and gay/bi/queer, trans*gender and cis gender.

This a very simplified overview and there are of course many other variants, and interweaving hierarchy’s across all those and more. As we grapple with those concepts, peeling away the layers and struggling with continuously evolving understandings, working out where our oppressions and privileges are within those structures, there is often push back from those who have prefer their theologies more orthodox – more conservative.

Those with such staunch conservative tendancies do not tolerate ‘liberals’ (a word that is often spat out with some venom) – we are heretics, false prophets threatening what they believe with dangerously tempting ideas that put the mortal souls of the laity in danger, taking them away from the One True Feminism that will keep them safe, and their liberation far from jeopardy.  But like the fire and brimstone conservatives of the Christian Church, their refusal to engage with the deepening, enriching theologies is driving away and hurting the very people we should be embracing.

I want to take on the latest Glosswatch blog post on the term cis: in part because nothing rankles me faster than a false equivalency,  but more importantly because I think it is vital for cig-gendered feminists to call out the idea that the term cis is oppressive to women for the lie that it is.

I dislike being blunt about things: I would prefer that feminists could respect each other in their disagreements – but people are flawed and as we grapple with our understandings of ourselves as human beings, our identities and wrestle with these sometimes complicated ideas, there will inevitably be friction. I would like to hope that we can show each other  grace in that process more often. But sometimes we can’t and we have sisters hurting because of these lies.

In criticising (again) the use of the cisgender as defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt (Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago) and Laurel Westbrook who co-authored Doing Gender, Determining Gender this past year – GW demonstrates false equivalencies, flawed premises and, to be blunt, painful ignorance. What Glosswatch actually clearly demonstrates is what Schilt calls ‘gender panics’:

Transgender equality has never been more visible as a key issue than it is today and with the development of every new trans-supportive law or policy, there typically follows an outbreak of criticism.  In our analysis, we find that these moments, which we term “gender panics,” are the result of a clash between two competing cultural ideas about gender identity: belief that gender is determined by biology vs. belief that a person’s gendered self-identity should be validated. These gender panics frequently result in a reshaping of the language of such policies so that they require extensive bodily changes before transgender individuals have to access particular rights.

They point out that biological essentialism – which would segregate our trans*gender sisters from us in sex segregated spaces – actually reproduces the very beliefs about female weakness against which our conservative sisters – who would deny our trans*gender sisters their very identity – claim to rail.  The idea, therefore, that ‘cis-gender’ oppresses us is fallacious – it does quite the opposite. It not only allows us to stand in solidarity with our trans*gender sisters (both binary and non-binary), it begins to free us from the strictures of patriarchal oppression that would keep us its victims, weak and powerless. Further, by denying the term cis, we actively continue to oppress further our trans*gender sisters.

I would never deny that my conservative sisters desire our freedom – but I know they do not desire it for all my sisters and I do not believe that they can provide it. And there will be more thoughts on that later.



Can You Be a Willy-Loving Feminist?


Back in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s when I wasn’t yet a teenager,  radical feminists were pondering on the idea of heterosexuality as a political institution (“compulsory hetrosexuality”)  and that choosing to be a lesbian was the ultimate act of liberation from that institution.

And as Julie Bindel reminded us recently, the mantra of the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group was “all feminists can and should be lesbians.” [Emphasis mine].

The pamphlet produced by this group at the time was called “Love Your Enemy – The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism.”   (LYE – i.e., lie – for short. Get it?) If you read it (and I am always up for reading something which purports to be radical and revolutionary) it takes about 5 seconds to see the inherent flaw and not much longer than that to notice the complete absence of anything remotely resembling an analysis of the patriarchy that considers the problem of gender oppression in terms of class, race, disability, gender binary, trans*gender and bi-sexuality. (The heterosexual anger at Bindel on twitter this last couple of days has been interesting – ask the trans*gender community what it is like to be on the receiving end of Bindels ill-aimed anger).

Bindel asks us to think about these ideas in the comparatively acceptable terms of ‘choosing sexuality’ as an intellectual idea rather masks the fact that this whole idea was deeply unpleasant from the start and it did – and does – absolutely nothing to dismantle the very patriarchy it rails against. And let me clear – it isn’t the notion of choosing your sexuality that’s the problem: no body but you decides who you are. 

Penises are not evil. The patriarchy does not exist because of penises. And if we are going to end bigotry then suggesting that heterosexual women are ‘collaborators’ is just.. well, stupid. All women are equal except for the ones who are heterosexual because they just are or choose to be?  I can’t quite decide if this is the natural result of the dehumanising way they think of trans*gender women or vice versa,  but either way, I am not prepared to dance to the bigots tune.

Yes. You can be a willy-loving feminist.