On Naming Male Violence and Conquering Fear. (CN)

Let’s name the problem: the problem is patriarchy. It is patriarchy which enables, perpetuates and encourages male violence. Over eons, woven through systems political and religious, and whilst sometimes having to give a little ground in order to otherwise resiliently maintain the status quo, it has woven into our cultures, our systems and our communities the entrenched idea that men will always, and can only ever be expected, to ‘give in’ to the dictates of his primal, masculine, violent nature. And most especially of all, in terms of his sexual desires and appetites. 

It’s how White Supremacy took back the White House.

At every occurrence of male violence (in all its forms), society draws on a constant stream of excuses and justifications, and they are repeated ad nauseam –  as an unthinking reflex, because essentially it is: we have been taught to provide the patriarchy with excuses, even trained to perform what is needed so that those who benefit the most from patriarchy, can thrive accordingly.

It’s why all of those excuses blame the victim.

And women over hundreds of years have heard every conceivable variation, in all its forms, of those ‘reasons’, which are excuses. And we internalised all of that.

When you live under a patriarchal structure, you internalise the oppression: and we examine more, or less, of that internalised patriarchy, depending upon our ability to survive it.

 

It was the patriarchy’s choice.

It wasn’t a red mist, or a *loss* of control when he punched and hit out. It was control he was exerting, not losing.

It was his choice.

It wasn’t anything you did, or did not do; or said, or did not say; or wore, or any other  single thing about you.

It was his choice.

He didn’t do it because he felt overcome. He did it because it gave him dominance.

It was his choice.

And he didn’t do it because he had a penis.

He did it because he chose to.

And that was not *your* fault. It was his choice. It was his fault. He chose. And he chose it, because the patriarchy wants him to have those choices.

 

He didn’t do it because he had a penis. A penis is just.. muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. A penis doesn’t choose.

We want justice – so we have to start overcoming some of our fear. A penis is just… muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. Blaming that won’t give us justice.

Because I want him to take responsibility for his choices. All of them. Because that’s justice. Because they said it was our fault. And it wasn’t. It was theirs.

I want justice.

I want that for my children, for my sons and daughters and my children who are exploring which of those they are; I want that for for my sisters, my brothers, for my ancestors; I want that for a future I will never be a part of.

We dream of building a world where we are safe, free, and have nothing to fear from a man’s choices. 

I know we’ve been taught to make excuses. We’ve been taught to blame ourselves. We’ve been taught to feel sorry, to forgive, and have pity, but not to expect justice. 

Patriarchy is a choice.

It needs to be binary to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poem: Meditation on Matthew 25: 31 – 46

Stranger, be not afraid –

come in, come in, the table is laid.

I see thee be weary, please sit yourself down

You are tired, you are thirsty  – come, see now

you can rest from your worries and

your burdens lay down.

 

Stranger be not afraid –

come in, come in the table is laid

I once too arrived here, a stranger like you

Be assured you can lay all worries down too

Find here a place where from sorrows released

Where indeed you are known, and loved – be at peace

Stranger, stranger

Why do you beg, for some crumb of food,

for these meagre dregs? Stranger, begone

for I shall not share; but in my great mercy

I will at least, leave you alone

to beg on the streets.

 

 

Those with most power are not the least

(Though they claim the title –

but God knows, and God see’s)

and though the world tells us – turn the stranger away

God calls you out now: hear God say

When you shared nought with the stranger, you shared nought with me.

 

50 Pastors, Roy Moore and Matthew 5:29

 

I have never in my life so far, or even once since becoming a Christian, advocated, believed in or approved of anything that looks like the authoritarian practice of ‘shunning’ or disfellowshipping, as it is practiced in various Christian traditions. It’s not an Anglican practice, and my understanding of it is very much in the context of it being practiced abusively by those who have more power, over those who have less. I have witnessed it toxic effects up close, and I do not believe it is healthy practice.

And then I saw that more than 50 Christian pastors had publicly given their support to Roy Moore.

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Christians have never been the most cohesive group of people. Even in the very earliest days of the church, Apostle’s quarrelled amongst themselves, and barely had Jesus ascended from Bethany before the church started writing women out of its formation, leadership and history. Arguably, you cannot trace the evolution of Christian tradition without acknowledging the fundamental role that it’s many splits played, not only in its differing theologies, but in the way that it sees itself, and how it portrays itself to ‘the World’.

Many of those splits could be considered a moral necessity, yet we must also remember the fullness of context: for example whilst Martin Luther was anti-semite,  a legacy that the Protestant church has yet to truly and properly acknowledge, Bonhoeffer’s split with the German Lutheran church helped grow a legacy of theology as resistance, as well as liberation.

Neither is the Anglican and Anglo-Catholic wing of the church without considerable failing – the role the Anglican Church played the treatment of Native peoples at the hands of her missionaries, for example, rightly remains an issue of contention with Indigenous people today .

But the Church is not without a model for corporate repentance, for there are moments in history when the body of Christ must reflect on its corporate sins and repent – as the Church of England did 10 years ago, when reflected on how it backed the slave trade, something which it acknowledged and apologised for. Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, said this:

“The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

The corporate Church across all of its traditions, however, is yet to truly repent for its systemic failure to address its sexual sins: long before those 50 pastors decided to support a man whose personal morality is at the very (very) least questionable, the Catholic Church and Protestants both have come under scrutiny with regard to the abuse of children by its priests and pastors. So the response from  some wings of the Church to the accusations against Roy Moore, whilst immensely disheartening, was sadly unsurprising. Only a day or so before the open letter of support was published by the Alabama Pastors, Franklin Graham Jnr, had tweeted his own support for Roy Moore.

Those 50 pastors represent a small-ish but hardcore group of Christians who assume that a powerful, influential man is more likely to be the victim in the situation than a child; who are so in thrall to a phoney gospel that they will leave the widow and the orphan, and the violated child, out in the cold. It does not matter that I am from a different Christian tradition – it matters only that the body of Christ “..exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors..” – and, indeed, our peers.

Children, in this instance young girls, were used and abused yet these 50 pastors hear those cries and they react first with paranoia, and suspicion. If we will know them by their fruits, and their fruits are as rank, as bitter and as spiritless as this – what place exactly do they have in the Body of Christ?  If abusers are welcome at the table but victims are not, when is it time to cut out the eye that causes us to stumble? Had we already gone past that point when the Church gave slave traders a theology to justify their trade?

I don’t have answers: I do have anger, and hurt and frustration both as a victim, a woman, a survivor and a Christian.Was Jesus not explicit enough when he warned us not to make these little ones stumble? Was he not severe enough we he said it would be better to drown, than to cause such stumbling to a child?

Or will centuries have to pass before we take responsibility, before we humble ourselves again before God, before we say sorry and repent, before the victims receive the justice, and the peace, to which we were called to live out in the first place? And is it time to gouge out the eye, if it means we will see more clearly?

Who Are Your Acceptable Victims and Who Do You Choose to Believe?

It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.

But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.

I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after.  I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such.  Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).

When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating.  And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.

You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.

But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.

Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.

(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).

Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is.  And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.

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When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed.  There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.

There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”.  If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.

But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?

What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?

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The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced.  The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.

But if we accept that most people would rather work than put themselves through the Dickensian benefits process, and we believed disabled and chronically ill people, then would we really continue to tolerate and normalise the thousands upon thousands of disabled and chronically ill people dying, every year?

What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?

What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?

What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?

What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?

What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?

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The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.

And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…

And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.

We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.

And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.

Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.

 

 

Poem: We Are The Bodies That Tell – a poem for #CripTheVoteUK

We are the bodies that tell

Of the lies to us all you would sell;

We are the price, we are told,

Both hostage and ransom

The flesh and the blood,

Yet silence can never be bought, or be sold.

We are the bodies that speak

No matter how seemingly lowly or weak

you perceive, or have beaten us down to become

Our stories are many

And often unsung

Of our dead, we count and sing out, every one.

We are the bodies that value

What truly cannot be bought;

We are the bodies that love and support,

Creating and giving, reaching

stretching, though never quite meeting the end,

Yet still with the strength to stand up, and defend.

We are the bodies that tell

Of a far better truth than the lie you would sell;

We’re not the blame, or the shame, or the guilty –

We’re the flesh and the blood that pay for austerity,

And we’ll give voice even when we cant sing,

We are the bodies, no matter how broken, that never ever give in.

 

An Open Letter to @EricBristow on Your Harmful Attitude to Abuse Victims [CN]

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Dear Eric Bristow

It is hard to know where to start in describing just how harmful your tweets  – expressing your attitude toward former footballers like Andy Woodward and Steve Walters who have so bravely talked about the abuse they endured – are.

In your interview on television this morning, you chose (eventually) to apologise for ‘offending’ people.  Let me be immediately clear – what you (and many of your followers in response) expressed was actively harmful to victims of abuse: whatever ‘intention’ you may claim to have in wanting victims to come forward, your attitudes will be doing exactly the opposite. Your view (shared by so many) is part of the reason systemic abuse continues. Let me explain.

Homophobia

Whilst your tweets are not newsworthy, and should not have been treated as such, what they express is a very real homophobia that permeates attitudes toward both victims of abuse, and their abusers.  However, as a public figure, your comments are bound to garner attention, and should therefore be addressed.

Your reference to abusers as ‘poofs’ (which you clarified after originally referring to them as ‘paedo’s’) illustrates both an ignorance of abusive behaviour and abuser dynamics: homosexuality plays no role in this.  It may surprise you to learn that abusers are not primarily seeking sexual gratification, which is a by-product of (not the driver for) abuse. What abusers seek is power, and control, and children are easy targets for such people.

Similarly, the sexuality (or the perceived sexuality) of the child is not why the child is targeted by the abuser – but a child who is gay and is being abused will be suffering not only the terror of abuse, but the scorn of people like yourself because here too, you reveal your homophobia toward the victims themselves. LGBT children are particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation. More than half of LGBT children and teenagers report being bullied for the sexual orientation. 96% report hearing homophobic comments like ‘poof’ (a word you are happy to use publicly) or ‘lezza’. 99% will hear comments like ‘that’s so gay’ in reference to something which is broken or defective.

Think about that for a moment, wont you?

By invoking so strongly a reaction to abuse which is rooted in false notions about sexuality, what you are really saying is ‘I am not an abuser, I am not a victim because I am not gay‘. You are distancing yourself from a perception of homosexuality because you are homophobic.

You did not ‘mis-speak’ when you used the word ‘wimps’ Mr Bristow.  Your meaning was entirely clearly in the full context of what you said, and you seem happy to let the word ‘poof’ remain unacknowledged.

How then, does this encourage a child who is terrified for their life (and almost certainly the lives of their loved ones, given the type of threats typically made by abusers), to come forward?

Victim Blaming & Shaming:

There are simply no circumstances whatsoever in which the victim of abuse is ever responsible for the abusers behaviour – and this absolutely includes any past and future abuse perpetrated, whether the victim reports the abuse or not.

Many victims take years to report what has happened to them, precisely because there is an insidious belief that victims are ultimately responsible both for the abuse the suffered – and any future assaults perpetrated by their abuser.

Many of the following beliefs were clearly stated by you, or re-tweeted by you, in the last 36 hours:

  • “If they hadn’t been hanging around smoking/drinking/with the wrong crowd…”
  • “They were too sexually knowing for their age…”
  • “They should have spoken up sooner…”
  • “If they don’t report it, why should they expect justice?”
  • “If [male victims] were ‘real men’ they would have [insert ridiculous notion here]…”

In your particular case, being that the focus was on the male victims of a predatory serial abuser, the aggressiveness with which you expressed your view that they should ‘spoken sooner’, or sought out a chance to beat up the abuser, told those victims (and children currently suffering abuse) that it was, simply, their fault. The implicit and explicit assumption is that ‘real men’ don’t get abused.

What the hell is a ‘real man’ anyway?

Particularly for male victims, the context of what you both said and encouraged with re-tweets was so toxic in its expression of masculinity that I have to take really quite a deep breath at this point, because you clearly have absolutely no idea how abusive this is – or how it helps to enable both abuse of boys, and prevent help and healing being given.

Have you any idea what it is like to watch your sons agony and distress when they get told to ‘man up’ because they are expressing emotions or attitudes not considered ‘manly’ enough? Because they dare to be something other than a crude stereotype of ‘masculinity’? To watch the men that we love struggle in relationships, with mental health problems, because they feel shame that they might need help?

Do you know what the suicide rate is for men and boys?

 

Your attitude, (and it is not just yours) will do the exact opposite of encouraging victims to come forward.

It will silence them further.

And that benefits nobody but the abusers.

Sincerely

Ali

 

 

 

 

 

“Justice, Stretch Out Your Hand”: Living with Rape Culture [CN/TW]

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,
stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,
from where you have hidden yourself away.

From “Justice, Come Down” by Minnie Bruce Pratt 

 

Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Magdalena

Locker room talk – that’s all it is, of course! how foolish of us silly women to think that there was any reason to feel threatened, belittled, commodified, harassed, worried, frightened, angry, fed up, pissed off when you’ve been doing that thing that’s ‘just’ ‘locker room talk.’

Its just ‘locker room’ talk. Your just explaining what you do. Of course your sorry now, when votes are on the line  when its all been made clear to you. Seeing any relationship between words and actions is really just a bit too ridiculous of us.

And look – look! This guy’s been way ‘worse’ than you, so you’re going to trot out these victims that you are using momentarily to distract us from what you did. Because you have a right to do that, don’t you? This is your precious reputation on the line, and its so bloody unreasonable of us to object to that, isn’t it?

Oh, wait – whats that? It was childish. Oh, I see – well that all makes perfect sense of course. Little boys do silly things and nobody picks them up on it, so really its our fault as mothers, because how can fathers and uncles and friends possibly help pick you up on it when its not their fault for being childish either, right?

Nooo, there’s ‘nothing creepy’ about inviting your little brother and his mate to gawp whilst you do some girl who must have been up for it, because they all are, right? And anyway, you couldn’t help it that you were being childish; and how can there be anything even remotely rapey about receiving a text from a friend that he’s ‘got a girl’ and heading down to meet them because that’s the same thing as invite from her?

Hey – if you are ‘childish’ you can’t possibly be expected to understand that’s not the same thing as consent, can you?

And you cannot possibly be expected to take any responsibility at all because that’s the most unreasonable thing of all, isn’t it?

Its just talk – you were just being childish. Nothing really…

 

But you know what really, really pisses me off, when you get right down to it?

Society buys that crap. I guess it’s easier to convince yourself that the wrong is excusable, when putting the injustice right is too much like realising how much you played a part in the injustice in the first place.

Lord, there is nothing more systemically and outrageously lazy as those simply cannot be bothered. And the cruelty of it should make you spit fire.

But I’m  just some silly hysterical woman who should shut up an put up because anything else is so darned unreasonable of me.

 

 

Ashamed, people turn their face away…

 

 

 

 

When the EDL Came to Colchester and What Came After – Reflections on 22.05.2016

“So many people forget that the first country the Nazi’s invaded was their own.”

Abraham Erskine, Captain America: The First Avenger

In a real sense of course, it is not strictly true: after all, to suggest that the Nazi’s invaded their own country requires you to ignore 300 years of history. From the Enlightenment that brought a new wave of racist anti-Semitism, to the increasingly anti-Semitic nature of mainstream media in Germany at the turn of the 20th century and how all this helped pave the way for the growing influence of Hitler in the 1920’s. His first failed attempt at a coup in 1923 with General Eric Ludendorff didn’t prevent the formation of the Brownshirts (SA), his eventual rise to total dominance, and the building of Dachau, the first of the concentration camps, in 1933: it was less an invasion than it was the collective failure of a societies moral compass and its loss of humanity for the lives of others.

Considering how much had to happen for Hitler to take control, it is far more accurate to say that at the very least it took a great many people to look the other way – and to keep looking the other way – for the Nazi’s to come to power.

But if you are naïve enough to assume that everyone is going to stand up to white supremacy and fascism, and challenge it every time they see it, then I think I understand the sentiment.

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Last Sunday, 22nd May on the third anniversary of the brutal murder by extremists of Lee Rigby, the English Defence League had what they called a ‘memorial’ and wreath laying for the 3rd year running at the Colchester War Memorial outside the Castle Park, despite the Rigby family repeatedly calling on the EDL (and similarly Britain First and any extremist political group using the murder for their own agenda), to refrain from doing so.

Local groups, who have recently organised to help to actively welcome refugees, arranged for a friendship picnic for that afternoon and during the morning local people, unions and other groups stood in defiance of the EDL’s racism, bigoted rhetoric and the utter disrespect shown to the memory of Lee Rigby and his family.

The morning went as was expected: the police kept the 2 groups apart (13 EDL and 50 locals): the locals chanted and speeches were made. The EDL did their thing, and then were escorted away: some locals – myself included – walked over to the memorial and one of them picked up the wreath the EDL had lain, and talked about how it would be more respectful to remove it. The police asked the person who had picked it up to put it down (which they did). Unforunately that incident was reported in the local press rather inaccurately.

During the friendship picnic that afternoon, the EDL (who had been escorted out of town) returned to try and intimidate the many families there, knowing the police would not be present.  A good summary of the day can be found here.

EDL wave flags at children in Colchester Castle Park 22.05.2016
EDL wave flags at children in Colchester Castle Park 22.05.2016

 

A number of local people since then have been subjected to online and offline abuse, intimidation and harassment: for reasons I cannot discuss at this time, I am all too well aware of it. And whilst the threats and intimidation (which have also been targeted at people who were not in attendance at either event that day) is appalling, without justification and (of course) rampantly misogynistic in much of its practice, what is important is what those of us here in Colchester who seek to stand up to the racism that comes from outside of (and within) its Roman walls, learn from it.

Firstly, the abuse that has been metered out to local people – almost exclusively from people who do not live here – is, whilst frightening and unpleasant, not as violent or as relentless as that which our Muslim neighbours, and the families who have come as refugees in need of shelter, are exposed to every day.  The dominant narrative, that Muslims are dangerous and that refugees are invaders who will steal our homes, lives and identities, is a lie that is meant to dehumanise and demonise; it is meant to frighten our neighbours who are Muslim, our neighbours who have escaped bombings, depravation and fear: it meant to set them apart from us.  We might think that the intimidation of the last week gives us a flavour of that: it doesn’t. Being treated as traitors is not the same as being treated as not human.

Second, the abuse and intimidation, online and offline, (and which has been orchestrated by people almost exclusively from outside of Colchester), is a silencing tactic: the message is clearly – shut up, be quite; if you stand up to our racism and bigotry in your own home town, we will try and shut you down. Whilst the EDL (and similarly other extremist right wing groups) are very practiced at presenting a ‘respectable’ face to the police ahead of any organised event, this cloak of respectability in reality drags fear and violence in its wake. During the demonstration in September, plastic pigs heads were waved, and lots of chanting called openly for the burning of mosques – at the very same time that a mosque in London was under attack from arsonists.

Thirdly – Colchester has been increasingly targeted by right wing extremists for a few years now, and we as a town and community must confront this and recognise without flinching that there are reasons for this. Whilst much of that attention is coming from outside our town, there are many within it who believe that refugees should be feared, who think that we as a town lose by providing sanctuary to others, who cannot even believe that refugees have any real reason or need for that sanctuary in the first place.  If we can stand up and say no to the most violent and extreme of racists, then we must not be afraid to say to our friends and neighbours: we are never so impoverished that we cannot share what we have with people who have less.

Because whilst it is tempting to see the right wing extremists who come to march through our streets as invaders (and when they mostly come from outside the town, I certainly understand the inclination), they exist not because they lack freedom of thought but because people are willing to look away and say: ignore them – they will just go away if you ignore them.

But that is not true. History teaches otherwise, and whilst the conditions that allow for unchecked Islamophobia are specific to the era, the use of scapegoats by those violent extremists who wish to dominate society unchallenged, is not.

If the local authorities allow the threatened march in July (and I believe absolutely that they would be very wrong to do so), it will feel less like an invasion if we – as a town – stand up together and say: your violence, your hatred and your bigotry are not welcome here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trigger Warnings: Used by People Who Enjoy Thinking Clearly – On Stephen Fry, And Why I Am Angry (But Not Offended)

Content Note for discussion of abuse, rape and IPV. This post discusses the recent interview – and subsequent ‘apology’ – by Stephen Fry which has received so much criticism. I urge you to read the powerful and courageous responses by Waitingirl13 and Lubottom, and this open letter to Stephen Fry by Tom Leavesley (Ambassador for Survivors Machester). These similarly come with a content note and trigger warning. 

I also recommend that you read this by Scott Burnett, since Fry’s attack on trigger warnings and ‘infantilism’ was in the first instance focussed on the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which has been repeatedly misrepresented in the media and elsewhere by white British intellectuals and media commentators.

I am angry – it’s the kind of anger that initially flows like burning lava from the volcano and radiates heat for days and weeks afterward. I am angry because people with large media platforms, influence, power and the privilege that affords are repeatedly berating victims and survivors of abuse and rape for using – and requesting the use of – trigger warnings and content notes for written, oral and visual materials that reference abuse and rape. This has been largely directed at university students, but is increasingly common in public discourse and on social media. We are told that to use and request these is to want to be treated like children. We are berated for how they, supposedly, make debate and the free flow of ideas more difficult. We are accused of threatening their free speech.

What I hear is: “You victims are a problem. The way you say you need to manage your lives as a result of this abuse is an issue for us. It’s inconvenient, its troublesome. You are inconvenient – you are troublesome.”

And some of the strongest, most intelligent and generous people I know are having to justify something that they should never have to.

Like many others, I need trigger warnings and content notes. Their existence means I am less likely to experience panic attacks, nausea, migraines, nightmares or night terrors or – conversely – insomnia. All or some of those things happen when I experience flash backs to the abuse that was done to me as a child, or the rape and intimate partner violence I endured at the hands of an ex partner, or the emotional and psychological abuse I experienced during my marriage.

These things are real. They happened – and they had a profound effect on my mental health. Trigger warnings and content notes don’t change the reality of the abuse and violence I have encountered: very simply, they advise me that something I am about to read or see or hear might trigger those effects on my mental health that were the result of the assaults, violence and psychological abuse. Using them means I am more able to, for example, think clearly, unencumbered by panic attacks or nightmares.

They do not tell me I am going to be bloody offended.

Stephen Fry is a national icon. People love him – they love him for his bon viveur, his wit and his intelligence. He’s the host of choice for the BAFTA’s, for all those reasons. He makes intellectualism accessible. He has also been, for three years, the president of MIND, the best known mental health charity in the UK: following his own very public mental health battles, people now look to him as the public face – and voice – of awareness of mental health issues. When Stephen Fry talks about mental health, people trust that what he’s saying is right.

It should therefore be startlingly simple to understand (with a bit of clear thinking), that when Stephen Fry says that the feelings of abuse victims are ‘self pity’ and that ‘self pity’ is an ugly emotion, that a great many people will take on board the idea that victims and survivors are full of self pity and therefore ugly: and that is an outright lie.

One more lie to add the lies and myths about and abuse that we are constantly having to fight: because make no mistake, victims and survivors don’t just have to manage the results of what the abusers did – we have to do so in the face of a society that finds countless and innumerable ways to blame us, shame us, and at the same time, disbelieve us.

Yet understanding what trigger warnings are is not rocket science. Victims and survivors of abuse are not the only ones who need trigger warnings, and trigger warnings come in many forms – a warning about flashing lights before a television programme for example is helpful to those who suffer particular types of seizure.

Fry’s ‘apology’ for his words, therefore, ring hollow because we were not ‘offended’ by what he said. But horrified? Yes – horrified that someone whom the public trust to deliver factual information about mental health should say something which damages public perceptions and understandings of a community of people who already face from society such a lack of understanding and support. Fry’s words were not offensive. They were destructive and damaging.

What amazes me – when I see and hear all these supposedly clever people complain that ‘free speech’ is being attacked or that trigger warnings (and safe spaces) prevent people from being able to think (when the reverse is in fact the truth of the situation) – is that they are apparently not clever enough to find new and different ways to talk and think and grow ideas that do not, in the process, repeatedly re-traumatise victims and survivors.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

#IBelieveHer : When the Going Gets Tough, We Will Stand Together.

By a twist of fate, this week will see both the sentencing of Adam Johnson and the appeal hearing for Ched Evans. So it’s going to be a tough week. It’s always a tough week if you are a victim or survivor of course – some item in the news, some deliberately cruel attack or comment on social media, some careless stupid remark from someone you know: the salt that inflames the wounds that are never quite healed.

But this week will be particularly tough. For the young women who were raped, abused and then maligned publically by Evans, Johnson and their ‘supporters’, this will not be a week that ‘draws a line under it all’. At best it will be another step they must take after too many other steps before it. At worst it will be another occasion which will afford their abusers and rapists, and their well paid legal teams, opportunity to malign and smear them. The woman raped by Ched Evans has already had to relieve her nightmare in preparation for this further appeal – after 5 years of being tried by public mob, of being moved repeatedly to try and protect her. The girl abused by Adam Johnson is no doubt aware of the disgusting things being said by his fans and supporters: I fear what may yet come for her. Whatever sentence Johnson is handed, the mob will be no more inclined to compassion for her than they were for Evans victim.

So my first thoughts and prayers are with them tonight, and what they will endure this week. To them I repeat: I believe you. I send you all my love. We all do – everyone of us who did or did not report send all our best hopes and whatever strength we have to spare.

And it will be a hard week for all victims and survivors, on or off social media. The victim blaming, the shaming, the brutal cruelty that people spew because they think that rape or abuse is about sex, and don’t understand or don’t care that its about power, and the exercise of that power through humiliation and brutality.

I send my love to you too: I believe you. And that means that whatever you have to do to get through this week, to cope when the wounds are inflamed or made raw by the salt society rubs in with abandon – do not apologise for it. Don’t justify it, don’t explain it. You owe nobody that.  You don’t have to engage, you don’t have to speak. And should you choose silence I will stand with you in your silence.

And if you want or need to shout from the rooftops at the vicious cruelty and injustice of it all, or scream in rage at maelstrom of sharp and stinging voices whose words carry salt – I will raise my voice and shout and scream with you.

Whatever the outcome of those legal proceedings this week, we who walk through the battle scarred land that is rape culture know only too well what we must each to do survive it. And however you need to negotiate that terrain, we will carry each other. In love, and hope and faith.

I believe you.

 

sozo-heart