Setting The Bar Higher: More Women In Parliament Is Not Good Enough For Me #GE2015

 

Most of the Labour Party's female MPs, including Harriet Harman (centre) gather on the steps to New Palace Yard outside the Member's Entrance to the House of Commons before they enter as the House sits for the first time since the General Election.

 

In the wake of the recent general election, a good deal of post-election comment has focussed on the increased number of women MP’s entering parliament, with most of the major parties welcoming more women in to their ranks.

Increased representation across the political spectrum is for many an important goal: more women in parliament = more representation for women is a logical, if simplistic, approach.

On the night of the election, and in the teeth of the growing grim horror of realising this country had elected for itself the most right wing government we have ever had, there were individual bright moments: Naz Shah’s victory in Bradford was made all the sweeter because she ousted the pinnacle of left-ist misogyny George Galloway; and Mhairi Black’s victory and acceptance speech was also another very bright spot indeed.

Both of these women, by virtue of the lives they have led, and the understandings they have of the world in which women operate, will I hope prove to be both strong and positive role models in the stifling air of patriarchal misogyny that is the House of Commons.

And therein, I suppose, is the very nub of my cynicism about this great display of positive spin being written and spoken about the increase in women MP’s: will these women en masse make this Parliament, this government, and the House of Commons, less patriarchal?

Will they, en masse, ensure that the cuts which have led to crisis in Domestic Violence support services are reversed?

Will they, as a group, work together to change societal attitudes to violence against all women, recognise the particular dangers faced by specific groups of women, and work to tear down the walls of racism, transphobia and misogyny that blight so many women’s lives?

Will they support the unseen, silent army of carers (mostly women) who provide the care to family members and friends that the state cannot or will not?

And what of the women stigmatised because of mental health issues, struggling in severe poverty with disabilities, or vilified by our societies racism because they are refugees?

What of the women fighting for homes? For the safety of their children?

Will they challenge the patriarchal systems they are now working within to effect the kind of changes that women need?

Because this is my concern: women are not all affected in the same way by discrimination, and not all forms of discrimination affect all women – we are not all equally oppressed.  There are differing and intersecting ways in which women deal with (often life threatening) oppression: we are not one single homogeneous class.

Naz Shah and Mhairi Black not withstanding, the vast majority of these new MP’s are white, cis gender and come from comparatively privileged back grounds.  When the difference between the overwhelmingly white, cis gender, privileged MP’s  on any side of the house is so insubstantial – when so many women in various ways face threats from a government that is prepared to ditch the Human Rights Act, I don’t want, or need, more women simply buying in to the very systems which threaten us.

This isn’t something as shallow as disagreeing with someone else’s politics – this is about women’s lives.

Dear BBC: Nick Conrad Perpetuated Rape Culture. You Can’t ‘Minimize’ That. (CN/TW)

This post references comments made about rape and rape victims which attach blame to victims and perpetuate rape culture. Self care is crucial, so this post carries both a content note and trigger warning. 

 

Six months ago, BBC Radio Norfolk presenter made comments with regard to the debate around Ched Evan’s attempted return to professional football which – justifiably – caused serious controversy. Complaints were filed, and the matter was investigated was investigated by Ofcom.

Ofcom have announced the results of that investigation: they have concluded that the comments were ‘offensive’ and ‘not justified by the context of the show’ but that the BBC had ‘minimized’ the offense.

And as far as they are concerned, that’s that.

Except its not, because the on-air apology that Nick Conrad made later about his comments clearly indicated that he both failed to grasp the extent to which his remarks blame victims of rape and assault, and that his remarks (which were made to a large regional audience) treated myths about rape as fact and, therefore, were an expression of rape culture.

It’s important to break down the ways in which Conrad’s comments reflected ignorance about what rape is, validated rape culture and blamed rape victims. It is equally important to remember that this is in the context of discussing a convicted rapist whose victim was entirely unable to give consent (hence rape) and who – since the initial conviction and Evan’s release on license – has had to come under police protection, being given secret one secret identity after another to try and protect her from those who have sought to hunt her down on Evans behalf.

He opened with this:

“I think women need to be more aware of a man’s sexual desire that when you’re in that position that you are about to engage in sexual activity there’s a huge amount of energy in the male body, there’s a huge amount of will and intent, and it’s very difficult for many men to say no when they are whipped up into a bit of a storm. And it’s the old adage about if you yank a dog’s tail then don’t be surprised when it bites you..”

In the first instance, Conrad assumes that the basis of rape is sex. It’s not. Rape is an act of aggression and domination: it is an abuse of power, that occurs when a choice is made by the man to initiate and continue to assault the victim when no consent has been given, or has been withdrawn.

All men are perfectly capable of self control: they are under no compulsion at any stage to initiate or continue with any sexual act at any stage. Because lets face it, if it were simply about a sexual urge, a quick flogging of the bishop would suffice.

This is an issue of consent, which Conrad is clearly confused about. He might find it helpful to read this, which may make it clearer for him.

These comments also play into the old trope of a woman being a ‘prick tease’ – a woman dressing for attention but ‘not prepared to see it through’, for example. In fact the clothes that a victim is wearing has little or nothing to do with the act of rape, and given the context of the discussion – and the nightmare that Evans victim has endured – this makes such comments particularly revolting.

“One wonders if women need to be a little bit more mindful of that and the feminists who have hijacked… Hijacked maybe a bit of a strong word..jump on these arguments and appear to be quite anti-men. (They) Neglect that very important part of the argument, even though it’s a reduced part of the argument and the onus has to be on the men and the men have to be condemned if a woman says no and they persist then that’s absolutely abhorrent…”

“…if you tease, if you jump into bed naked with a man if you give him all the signals and then he acts upon them then you are partially responsible and of course it is a grey area and there will be cases where you wanted to go certain distance and not go any further and the man is absolutely wrong but if..”

This gets to the heart of the biggest issue in these conversations: those who, having no understanding of what consent is and being unaware of their own overwhelming sense of entitlement, assume that women – (and that means all women, not just those who are cis gender) – revoke any right to decide what happens with our own bodies because of the clothes worn, or the alcohol consumed.

And that’s rape culture.

We want to be able to say ‘no’ without fear: we want to be able to say ‘no’, and not be frightened that our bodies will still be taken and used without reference to our own decisions, or that someone won’t take advantage when the ability to choose and make decisions has been clouded for whatever reason.

And that is how it should be.

This is something that mostly men (Conrad included) seem to struggle with; that when it comes to rape and assault – the onus is always with the rapist. It really is: there is no ‘grey’ area here, no ‘blurred’ lines: once consent has been withdrawn, if consent has not clearly been given, where consent has been refused – that’s it. Access Denied. End of Story. There are no ‘if’s’.

Conrad is a BBC presenter, and his audience may not be national, but it is a large one: since the problem is one of his understanding about consent, about his understanding of a woman’s right to autonomy over her body, about the tropes he used to belittle women in general, what is required is a recognition from Conrad directly that his words did blame victims: stating after the event that victims ‘are in no way to blame’ does nothing to address just how profoundly he stated otherwise during the course of that broadcast.

What is required is a full recognition by Conrad that he engaged in victim blaming, and presented views that were the very essence of rape culture.

Stating that the presence of a representative from End Violence Against Women helped to ‘minimize the offence’ is exactly the same thing as passing the buck, and letting Conrad off the hook, and expecting women to once again clear up the mess left by a man.

And it would be nice if, just once, the BBC were prepared to take some responsibility for this sort of thing.

 

 

 

#GE2015 – A Victory For the Politics of Fear

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For many of us who grew up under Margaret Thatcher, there is a feeling of ‘deja vu’ that is familiar, and frightening –  a sense of being plunged in to dark days where those who are most marginalised and most vulnerable, those who have the most to lose and the least to spare, and those who already stumbling because their strength is being sapped are now in greater danger than ever.

It now seems certain that the Conservatives will form the next government; they will, like Thatcher, strip this country still further of its ability to look after the weakest and most vulnerable. Like their much worshipped former leader, David Cameron, George Osborne (no longer saddled with the worse that useless Danny Alexander) and Ian Duncan Smith, will wring changes which will increase the numbers of those struggling on zero hours contracts; that will withdraw yet more of the already pitiful support the sick and disabled are only able to access with increased difficulty; the racism and xenophobia that increasingly dictates the way that we respond to and deal with refugees will produce a fouler stench every day; those in danger will find it harder to access safety. Education and the NHS will be further plundered and sold off. University will become a dream as elusive to a new generation as it once was, long ago when such things were not accessible to the ‘working class’.

I am not in the habit of wearing rose-coloured glasses: I have no desire to take us back to previous era’s , even though they were a time when full employment and a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state where part of a healthy, vital and productive society.  We can’t go back.

But we must go forward, and find a new way to create that same security and stability that helps people to make their communities better.

When the dust has settled, it will become more obvious that the Left messed up, and messed up big time. There will be those in the Labour Party who will mutter that this happened because the party had become too left wing: let me assure them that the very opposite is true.

The Labour Party have not been a party of the Left wing for a very long time – since 21st July 1994 in fact, when they abandoned the solid foundation built under John Smith for the lure of the easy power that came with the compromise of principles, and signing up to the same narrative of fear which Thatcher had found so successful.

And though many may genuinely want to see an end to this narrative of fear and despair which tempts us to look back to some previous time in history – and which has seemingly been rejected by the Scots – both the fragmented nature of the left and that temptation to look back rather than forward, have played their part in handing the Tory party a victory which will undoubtedly lead to more despair, and more death.

There will I am sure, perhaps because of how painful we know the ensuing 5 years will be, be a temptation to seek a false unity that may demand those whom the left have too often trodden on or thrown under a bus to silence their complaints in order to scrape back some semblance of possibility that things will be different next time.

And just as looking back will not make this better, false unity will not a solid foundation create.

So we on the left have to be honest: we have to address the structural and systemic racism, sexism, transphobia and misogyny that plagues us.  We have to be prepared to get our hands dirty, and get back to grass roots activism and re-connect with the problems and people we are supposed to be fighting for.

We have to change the story we tell, and drop the narrative of fear back in to the cesspool from which is was wrought, exchanging it for a language of hope and faith. Those oh-so tempting phrases like ‘helping hard working families’ – which exclude millions and show such contempt and disrespect to those who might not draw a salary or be part of a ‘family’ unit but still have to work harder than some of us know keeping body and soul together – have to go.

We want a better way – and it will take hard work. We already have some idea of how painful that work could be. Lets not be afraid of that. Lets not be afraid to recognise that we messed up because we lacked the courage to challenge the right wing narrative of fear that has so dominated our politics for the last 35 years.

Because then, maybe, next time, we wont feel like this the morning after. And everyone today who is looking at the next 5 years in numbing, gut churning fear, will actually have hope.

Against “Choice Feminism”: four new suggested topics

An excellent analysis of the critiques of choice feminism: is it the choices which are the problem, or the ideology judging those choices?

A Glasgow Sex Worker

Feminism is not about an individual’s choices, and not all choices are feminist just because a woman makes them. Furthermore, “choices” don’t happen in a vacuum: they are shaped by the world around us. Many widely-shared articles on feminism make these points, and yet they typically seem strangely limited in terms of which “choices” are up for discussion. The choices discussed are generally “what amount of makeup to wear, whether to go ‘natural’ or buy mascara that makes your eyelashes look like false eyelashes … whether or not to make a first move with a man”, or choices as regards to “the sex industry, … marriage and makeup” – or (yes, this again) the ‘choice to participate in the sex industry’, or to wear makeup. You get the idea! It seems that some issues – makeup, sex work – come up repeatedly in these…

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When Choice Is Not Liberal But Radical: A Response to Meagan Tyler on Choice Feminism

choices

 

Feminism is not, nor should it be, a monolith; it would be counter-productive – even destructive – for feminists to expect women to become some sort of Borg collective, where all thoughts are one and all individuality is erased.  The idea that choice in unimportant in the collective liberation of women is fallacious: when part of the oppression focuses on denying autonomy over the body in which one lives, and the life that one leads – choice matters very much. That is why ensuring access to, for example, reproductive health care is so important, and why the right to safe abortions is so central to feminist praxis.  Preventing pregnancy or choosing not to carry a pregnancy to term are choices which I suspect most feminists would fight for.

Choices, then, matter in feminism; reclaiming the many ways that patriarchal society seeks, or has sought, to restrict or deny completely many aspects of being able to be fully autonomous goes hand in hand with dismantling the structural inequalities that perpetuate those restrictions. After all, the suffragettes did not seek to dismantle the patriarchy before fighting for the right to vote, and patriarchy did not hand in it’s resignation notice before making abortion legal here in the UK. (Or did I miss the memo…?)

There are many types of oppression which are structured to support and maintain patriarchy: sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism and able-ism for example, and none of those types of oppression operate individually – they intersect in many and various ways to rob people of their ability to make choices that would allow them to reach their potential as human beings and, in turn, contribute to and play an active part in their communities.

One of the impacts of patriarchal oppression is to ‘other’, de-humanise and demonize the bodies of those who live under those many facets of the patriarchy, and that becomes more acute when those bodies do not ‘fit’ the able bodied binary that is held as the ideological ideal. In the face of that, the choices that someone makes can be particularly powerful, and the choice to embrace the very body that is so loathed and feared can both empower others similarly oppressed, and speak with great impact against those structures which despise it.

In such a context, then, choice is not liberal but radical.

The arguments against what is disparagingly called ‘pop feminism’ fail to recognise the power of choice, because it assumes that choices are made because of imagined freedoms, when in fact those choices are usually made fully understanding the absence of them: but it also assume a function of feminism that is prescriptive of what feminism – and by extension women – should and should not be.  Meagan Dylan makes the same error that Meghan Murphy made before her because it is rooted in false notions of a universal experience of girlhood and womanhood, and therefore assumes that all women who, for example, have photographs taken of them naked, are doing so because they are in thrall to the male gaze.

It is ironic that one of Dylan’s criticisms of ‘pop feminism’ is that it supposedly ignores structural systems of oppression, when the criticism itself is so largely absent of any awareness of racial, colonial, able bodied and binary concepts of feminine beauty and sexuality.

I am not under any illusion that we ‘choose’ our way out of oppression, and the assumption that ‘choice feminism’ believes that it can is patronising and without foundation: it is a view that has assumed instead of listened, and frankly feminists, most particularly white feminists, spend far too little time listening.

What choices can do is speak truth, loudly and powerfully, to those who hold power and can it be radical, courageous and beautiful when that happens.