“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 

 

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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…

 

 

 

 

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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?

An Open Letter to My Fellow White Older Feminists: Lets Talk About Our Ignorance

“Maturity is more absurd than youth and frequently is most unjust to youth.”

Thomas A Edison

Gather round my sisters-of-a-certain-age. We need to have a chat about something.

It didn’t start with you Gloria Steinem when you decided to throw a whole generation of young women under a bus suggesting that by supporting Bernie Sanders, they are doing so to get attention from boys. And I’m not sure if it was ignorance or arrogance, but either way it was undiluted misogyny and frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.

But it’s not just you, of course. (And I’m looking particularly at you Julia Hartley Brewer and Louise Mensch: neither of you are exactly covering yourselves in glory with your shameful behaviour toward certain young women are you?)

See, we have a problem, and if some of you haven’t already stormed off in a huff muttering incoherently about our collective war wounds from battles past, or how unappreciated you seem to think we are, then stay with me because I would imagine a lot of the rest of you will have by the end of this too. Hopefully, some of you are going to reflect, and listen. And I am hopeful because we are treating our young women, our young feminists, like crap. And that’s because we’re being ignorant.

I know you don’t like hearing it but, well – tough.  Because its true.

I don’t know what you see when you look at the young women out there – well, okay, I know what some of you think you see. You might hang your head in despair (that’s if you manage to remove it from up your own backsides long enough), but I don’t. I see these young women loving themselves and taking control of their own images and my heart sings. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not here for a good old heart to heart so that we can all walk away from this feeling a bit better about ourselves and having a collective slap on the back.

We just need to stop being so bloody awful to young women. For their sake.

It is blindingly obvious that quite a number of us have imbibed of the patriarchal cup and gotten just a teensy bit drunk on the idea that being ‘equal’ (cough) to men means having an equal shot at shaming young women. ‘But no’! I hear you cry.

Well yesJust a bit.

And I really don’t give a monkeys what you think about selfies either. Thankfully, neither do our young women. They do not need our approval to post pictures of themselves, any more than they need the approval of other men.

That’s kind of the point.

Next – it is also strikingly clear that you think their politics and feminist campaigns are somehow ‘letting the side down’.  And this is where I need you to pay attention because a number of you seem to think that they have failed to learn something from us – and I’m going to say something about that will permanently make me the most unpopular girl in school. Just as well feminism isn’t some sort of popularity contest really, isn’t it?

They learned plenty. We are the ones who are failing to learn from them. We are letting them down.

And oh, I can hear you all already: but we did this thing! And won that battle! And got these rights!

Yes. And the fact that some of you think that they don’t know that is appalling. Of course they know that. Every anniversary of Roe v Wade, young feminists stream across my social media in celebration. (And that’s just one example). Of course they know it, and value it. For those so wilfully blind as to refuse to see it, whose future were you fighting for anyway? Because it can’t possibly have been theirs.

But some of you do know this: what you don’t like is how they don’t always agree with you about some stuff. You don’t like that they are exploring and generating and imagining new ways of understanding feminism, and their lives – how they are evolving the feminism you somehow became convinced was set in stone with us – because you’re not comfortable with it. Quite a lot of you don’t like being trans inclusive, quite a lot more of you get real squeamish around queer theory, and good lord I watch us as we tie ourselves up in knots over intersectional theory, and its painful to behold.

And the point is not whether or not you agree or disagree with what they are learning and developing, and it doesn’t matter a jot whether any of that speaks to your life because (again) they do not need our approval to develop the narratives of their own lives. (And how you don’t see that they have learned that from us better than we have learned it ourselves is completely beyond me).

The point is that we give them better than we were given – that we uphold them because they are, not because they have to agree with us first.  (And that some of you carry on as though they ought to is just another example of how much patriarchy we absorbed without recognising it).

You might not want to learn anything from them, although I promise you your life and thinking and learning would be the richer for it.  But for the love of all that is holy, will you stop with the sense of entitlement about what you think they owe us?

All of us have enough on our plates dealing with that from men. We damn well shouldn’t be giving our young women that from us either.

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She Was Not Yours to Take: Why Money Doesn’t Buy Ched Evans a Conscience

“Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.” George Washington

Conscience: The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct and motives, impelling one toward right actions – the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls and inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.

I was not surprised to learn that Ched Evans case has been referred to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC, despite originally being refused appeal twice in the months after being convicted of rape at Caernarfon Crown Court in April 2012.

I wasn’t surprised because what Ched Evans has access to is money – a very great deal of it, care of his future Father-in-Law Karl Massey. He is also a pampered young man with an inexhaustible ability to play the victim. Like many spoiled and pampered young men with too little discipline, and access to too much money (and the power that provides), he is someone who, thanks to Massey, can afford to buy expensive legal muscle and flex it to the fullest possible extent.

Leaving aside (for the moment) any discussion about consent within a legal context in this case, (and the appeal must be allowed to run its course) what we know about Evans behaviour that night is this:

  • Somewhere around 4am on the night of the rape, Clayton McDonald sent Evans a text to tell him “I’ve got a bird.”
  • After receiving the text, Evans and two friends went to the Premier Inn where McDonald and the victim were.
  • Evans approached the reception desk and obtained a room key after lying that he had booked the room for a friend who no longer needed it.
  • Evans friends stayed outside the hotel, looked through the bedroom window and filmed part of what happened.
  • Evans entered the room. I will not describe what occurred but at the time of writing this, Evans remains a convicted rapist.
  • Evans left the hotel via the emergency exit.

When Evans made his public statement  – following the remorseless hounding of his victim by supporters he tried to distance himself from – he framed this behaviour as infidelity. And yet nothing about his behaviour that night suggests that this was a man who believed himself to be conducting an ‘affair’, and whether it was behaviour that reflected a reasonable belief in consent will now, once again, be a matter for the Court of Appeal.

But his actions that night – and since – suggests a man who is happy to indulge in behaviour which at best can only be described as sleazy. Consider: at no time has Evans ever, in any way – either explicitly or implicitly – addressed the presence of his two friends that night who filmed either McDonald and/or Evans and the victim. There is no suggestion that she was ever made aware of that at the time, far less given the opportunity to agree to it.

Further: Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim. Therefore is the only communication, on which Evans bases his claim, the text sent to him by McDonald? A text from your mate that says ‘he’s got a bird’ is not consent from the victim.  Is it unreasonable to infer then that Evans believed that his friend had procured a woman for him, and that’s this was what he understand the text to mean?

And moreover: Despite claiming to be ‘sorry’ for the appalling impact of the events, and the brutal hunting of his victim, he has apparently done nothing to change the horrific way in which his ‘campaign’ website has determinedly sought to criminalise and undermine a young woman who has been robbed of her identity, her life and her family – and her dignity and peace of mind.

So far, the privilege Evans had as a footballer and the access to wealth and influence that obtained has bought Evans many things.  It has so far failed to by him a conscience.

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Amendment:

“…Evans has not at any time stated that his belief that he had consent was based on any form of communication – verbally or otherwise – from the victim.”

I had spent more time on the ‘front sheet’ copy of the appeal transcript than on the full copy: Evans does, in fact, claim verbal consent from his victim, at the time of him entering the hotel room. And the timing of this is important because this raises further questions, which are deeply troubling.

There is still no indication that the victim gave consent to McDonald to send the text that brought Evans to that hotel room. So at the point at which Evans entered that hotel room, the victim was in the most vulnerable possible position: she is very likely incapacitated (and one jury and 2 appeal courts have decided that she was incapable of giving consent due to intoxication) – and she is in a room, naked, with 2 physically strong men. Even if she hadn’t been incapacitated through drink, she was in an immensely vulnerable position and I would consider it highly questionable that she would have had “..the freedom and capacity..” to make the choice to say no with any certainty of her safety.

So, just to recap: At the time of writing this, Ched Evans remains a convicted rapist.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place Pt 1: The Gendered Language of God and Praying to My Divine Parent For A Church That Puts Victims First

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But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 27-29 (NRSV)

If your understanding of the discussion around the gendered language Christians use about God was based only on what you have read recently in the national media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the use of feminised worship and liturgical language was the concern of a few white middle class cis women. And indeed in the UK, WATCH (Women And The Church) who led the successful campaign for women bishops, is driving much of the current  national conversation. I agree with them: I am, however, frustrated with much of the mainstream church discussion** and media coverage. Whilst the Rev Jody Stowell has at least acknowledged that this is also about race, and has written and spoken about the need for more inclusive church for the LGBTIQ community, there is little acknowledgement about how this conversation matters for women who are black, of colour, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, or intersex people – and no acknowledgement at all about what this would mean for victims of abuse, and the intersections of all these.

This conversation of course did not start when Rachel Held Evans was called ‘heretic’ for referring to God as ‘She’, or with the recent discussion at the Westminster Faith Debates. But this conversation matters, because this is not just about sexism and misogyny in the Church. Its also about homophobia, transphobia, and the systemic sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse and victim blaming which so plagues, the world – and the Church.

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The medium is the message.

When we [Christians] speak about our faith, our message of the liberation, transformation, reconciliation, forgiveness and – above all – the eternal and encompassing love of Christ, we too often fail to think about who and what we are when we speak it.  Christians most normally fall to the arrogance of assuming that our faith provides us with a mantle that erases whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and gender identity, magically giving us the insight to assume that know and understand what, in fact, we do not. Instead we take passages of scripture (all too often without recognising it’s cultural, historical context) and apply it like a sledgehammer against people and situations.

The overt use of masculine, white, language and imagery when speaking of God to people who find themselves excluded, rejected, oppressed, unloved, and silenced by white masculine cultural, political (and yes, religious) dogma’s of society distorts the message: and it is not Christ that people hear, but the white masculinity that abuses and oppresses them.

So often I see cis, white hetrosexual men claiming a mantle of ‘counter cultural’ and I wonder at the cognitive dissonance which allows them to believe this. There is nothing ‘counter cultural’ about people who embody the dominant power structures, and speak its language, albeit wrapped up in scripture, God and Jesus. It makes the very liberation promised in the Gospel a tool through which the oppressor maintains its dominance. The Gospel stops being hope, love, faith and restoration – it stops being a language of repentance and reconciliation. Instead it becomes a rigid and unbending ideology, the cage within which people are imprisoned, rather than the key which sets them free.

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Regardless of denomination, the Church is not very good at dealing with the abuse: it is too quick to excuse the abuser, and does not listen to and believe the abused. Instead of being people who ‘come out from among them’ to be separate and truly ‘counter cultural’ – instead of going against what the world does when it excuses the abuser and does not believe the abused – it acts with the world. It replaces the excuses the world gives to the abuser (‘he was jealous’, ‘he was stressed’, ‘he was depressed’) with ‘we are all sinners’: the words are different, but for the victim the impact is the same – the abuser had no control, no responsibility. It couldn’t be helped. Forgive them – everyone deserves a second chance.

For the victim, this attitude is tantamount to the trauma and damage being brushed aside, swept away as though it were just dirt on the floor that simply requires a decent broom for everything to be made clean again, potentially deepening the wounds the inflicted. Instead of offering the love and justice of Christ – who would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick – the church offers instead exactly the same as the world does. Thoughtless indifference at best – cruel disregard at worst.

It is an approach that fails the abused – and an approach that makes the possibility of genuine, radical and effective ministry to the abuser impossible.

In the moment that the abused comes forward, instead of finding the mother bear who will love them and fight ferociously to protect and care for them, they are met instead with the embodiment of the very cause of their trauma – powerful people, protecting the person who had the power to harm them in the first place. Instead of the mother crying with and for her child, the abused are met instead with disbelief, or even shame.

This is what the world does – it excuses the abused and shames the victim. Language alone is not responsible for that – but language matters when the weakest, the most vulnerable, those ‘made low and despised by the world’ are found amongst us, or come to us.  The abused should not hear from us the language of the world which despises them, but the God – the parent who is Mother as well as Father – who will take care of them and make them safe.  And they should hear that because that is what the Spirit of God is: both (and neither) feminine and masculine, not one predominant over the other but the Divine parent, taking the best possible care of the children that are so loved that it would, and did, sacrifice anything for them

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**In various corners of the internet, a deeper conversation can be found about feminine images for God, and the use of feminised language.  Here are two posts by Sarah Moon over at Patheos Blogs, which I really love.

 

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.

On The Violence and Transmisogyny of Christian Men and White Feminsim: Putting Ideology Before Love (TW/CN)

This article will discuss the violent, transphobic and transmisogynistic responses to the transgender community by – specifically – Meghan Murphy, Owen Strachan and Matt Walsh. The articles they produced, and which have rightly been received with revulsion by many, are linked using ‘do not link’: but given their content, I urge care and caution. 

Some time ago I was struggling to find the words to express what I saw as the parallels between anti-trans radical feminism and conservative (evangelical) Christianity: I recognised in both the desire to maintain the gender binary, the dismissal (in words, and in silence) of our black and of colour trans sisters, and the rigid ideology that grips tightly to a biological binary view of human beings. But my thoughts struggled to translate to words.

Dianna E Anderson, writer of Damaged Goods, whose experience living within, and studying, Christian Purity Culture adds a vibrant and vital perspective to the faith and feminist conversation, put it into words in a recent post on her blog, noting the similarity between the fundamentalist Christian thought process she had internalized during her years within that, and Radical Feminism, describing one as the ‘Church of Biblical Womanhood’ and the other the ‘Good Church of Radical Womanhood’.

In the last of couple of weeks, attacks have been made against the transgender community, one under the guise of feminism and others in the name of Christianity (and I would again urge caution before reading those articles by Meghan Murphy, Matt Walsh and Owen Strachan).

Murphy, like Sarah Ditum before her, targeted Laverne Cox: Walsh and Strachan targeted Caitlyn Jenner* following Jenner’s public revelation that they identify as a woman. There are notable parallels between their arguments; the premise from which both camps start is a conviction of the rightness of their own rigid ideologies; both camps understand patriarchy in the same black and white, binary manner (even if they come to that from different sides); both hold to an understanding of unity which is restrictive and prescriptive of womanhood (one through the idea of ‘shared womanhood’ and the other through their own understanding of Christ); both are rooted in a structural racism and colonialism from which they make no effort to divest, and both end up in a place where trans women – particularly black and of colour trans women – are met with brutal and violent resistance in word and thought, which is so often the pre-curser to violent deeds.

I want to refrain from analysing the reasons for these parallels too deeply right now, partly because there are writers out there who are doing a far better job of this that I would be able to, and because it is the distressing impact on women that is my own first concern: trans women are dying (TW) facing abuse and brutality (TW) and when both Christians and feminists – both of whom believe in the need for human liberation – express that same violence against human beings, and exclude, marginalise and de-humanise trans women in their praxis they do so because they have placed rigid ideology above the very liberation they claim to stand for.

The impact of this is real, and costs lives. The pain it inflicts is incalculable – and the message received constantly is that this is the price expected to be paid for the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ of straight, white, cis gender men and women.  It makes gods of those who fit the binary – and expendable pawns of everyone else.

When Christian men and the feminists they supposedly oppose demand adherence to ideologies which require the same blood sacrifice from the same group of human beings – then the question is not ‘is the price worth paying’?

***

Some suggested reading for you:

Black Girl Dangerous

No Shame Movement

Sarah Moon

Joan’s Pants

Dianna E Anderson

*This article was written prior to Caitlyn Jenner revealing her new chosen name, and so has since been updated accordingly.  My apologies for any offence that may have been given for not updating this post sooner.

‘The Last Shall Be First’: Call Out Culture, Faith and Feminism

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I have been thinking, a lot, about ‘call out culture’ recently: as a Christian and a feminist, there is a tension that exists between challenging the entrenched norms that perpetuate oppression, and practising the grace and forgiveness I am called to. Criticism and self-reflection are vital tools when your conversation and activism is focussed on aspects of patriarchal and kyriarchal structures of hierarchy and power.  Often it means discussing complex and painful issues, and whilst challenging the entrenched myths and norms [both interior to, and exterior of the self] which perpetuate oppressions, how do we do that without falling to self-righteous finger pointing, or failing to speak up when justice demands it?

Critiques of call out culture can be nuanced, and reflective of the context in which our lives are lived – Flavia Dzodan’s essay on the subject for Tiger Beatdown 4 years ago remains one of the best on the issue: it is thought provoking, placing the era of blogging and social media in the context of the emergence of ‘reality show’ programming, examining the performativity of call outs and asking serious questions about what motivates people collectively and individually. (And if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend that you do).

On the other end of the spectrum was the infamous Michelle Goldberg piece, which itself became a focus of ‘calling out’: it’s juxtaposition of ‘toxicity’ with black women and women of colour was indicative, not only of how white feminism can use words like ‘intersectional’ without a comprehensive understanding of the necessity of de-colonializing self, but how accurate Dzodan’s earlier piece had been. When call out’s are about performance in an era of Big Brother TV, magical intent and calcified liberal social politics, we act and react in the context of the cis-white-hetro-normative systems, losing sight of how other people are being subsumed in a society which forces us to clamber over one another in an un-winnable race to survive.

We cannot ignore the structural racism that exists around much of this conversation: black and women of colour – both trans and cis gendered – have faced appalling reactions from white feminists, recalling the days when Francis E Willard and other white suffragettes put white women’s votes above the lynching of black people, and the White British press tried to smear Ida B Wells.

What, then, are we ‘calling out’? Just sexism? Or are we asking not only others to look at their words and behaviour, but ourselves as well? As Dzodan’s piece challenges us – for whose benefit do we make these call out’s?

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I have been meditating on this in the context of how Jesus spoke about the last and the first – or those at the ‘bottom’ of the social heap, and those at the ‘top’ of it. In Matthew 20: 10 – 16 NRSV :

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 

Jesus topsy turvy kingdom has always profoundly spoken to me in my own calling of standing for and with the most marginalised : how God upends human systems of power and privilege, and puts the very least (in the eyes of the world) at the very top.

In the context of the work of feminism, I wondered, what might that look like?

Feminism has, through it’s many evolutions and theories, sought to challenge and dismantle the patriarchal and kyriarchal structures which diminish and oppress women in the many and varied ways which it exerts it’s oppression and rabid authority.  Feminism, whether driven by intellectual theory or grass roots activism, is built on ‘calling out’ the harmful and violent expressions of patriarchy. It might be street harassment, rape and intimate partner violence or equal pay; it might be purity culture, victim blaming, or challenging an on line article or news story.

Whatever it is, feminism is born of the need to ‘call out’ patriarchy: to challenge it, stand up to it, and to demand it relinquish its grip on society.

There are subtle ways in which patriarchy exerts itself, and how it does so has changed over time: this was brought in to stark relief to me recently during a conversation with a friend whom I have known for some years. It came up that – for her – the word ‘queer’ has incredibly negative connotations, but not because she is homophobic, quite the opposite. Having watched a close family member have to cope with what used to be called ‘queer bashing’, having loved and supported them unconditionally, her understanding of that word is within an abusive context.

Now, for myself and many others who identify as queer, the reclaiming that has occurred of that word is positive and life giving: but not for my friend. That word brings threats of danger and abuse to the family member she loves dearly. Two or three decades ago, being LGBT and hearing that word called out would have frozen you with fear down to your very marrow. (Actually, sometimes I am not sure that has changed so very much).

When she raised this with me, my first reaction could have been even more damaging – I could have simply told her not to be silly, that the word meant something positive now: but that would have been to erase her experience and that of her much loved gay family member who endured such horrible abuse.

In one simple sense, this is what it all comes down to: recognising the experience of another human being, acknowledging their own story and their own hurt and respecting that. Had I overlaid my own experience of that word on to her, I would have hurt her tremendously – but by stepping back, by hearing her without pre-conceptions, by simply saying ‘sorry’ for using that word (whatever my intention) our conversation (which could have been hurtful to both of us) was instead encouraging and uplifting for us both.

And we knew each other much better.

Suppose for a moment, that you are cis gender and a transgender woman is trying to explain to you why she feels erased by other women – what should your first reaction be, as a human being? To listen to her – or to ask her to put her own feelings aside and prioritise your feelings?

Perhaps you are white, and a black person or person of colour is trying to explain why something you did not acknowledge as racist or appropriative, is exactly that – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?

Perhaps you are straight, and a person who is gay or bi-sexual is trying to explain something about their experience of the world which you do not understand – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?

You might be a man, wondering if women are spending too much time complaining about how they are treated – but when so many are treated with violence, verbally, physically and emotionally, should that be your first reaction as a human being?

Now suppose you are a Christian too.

Is your first reaction to prioritise your idea’s and theology – or to put the last first, and the first last?

Being An Actor Does Not Make it Okay For You To Be A Stalker – That Jamie Dornan Interview

Jamie Dornan - 50 Shades of Creepy Stalker Dude
Jamie Dornan – 50 Shades of Creepy Stalker Dude

There is a BBC drama called ‘The Fall’, starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. I hadn’t watched either the first or second series at all yet, and after an interview Dornan gave recently to the LA Times, I very much doubt I ever will now.

This is a really bad reveal‘, he says, as though he were disclosing that he once owned a pair of paisley print trousers, and not telling the world that he once stalked a woman to ‘get in to the role’ of a serial killer. Specifically that he ‘followed a woman off a train, and lurked behind behind her’ for a distance. You know, just to see how it feels.

(Which was ‘exciting, in a dirty kind of way’, just in case you aren’t sure just how extremely creepy this whole interview became).

I wonder if Mr Dornan has given any thought at all to the woman he so casually and thoughtlessly exposed to his stalking? I wonder if it has even occurred to him that the woman he followed and ‘lurked’ behind for what must have been several minutes or more, might have noticed – and how stomach churningly, heart-stoppingly, marrow-to-jelly terrifying it would have been for her if she had?

“I’m sort of not proud of myself. But I do honestly think I learned something from it, because I’ve obviously never done any of that. It was intriguing and interesting to enter that process of ‘what are you following her for?’ and ‘what are you trying to find out?” ~ Jamie Dornan

But never mind the potential fear of the woman who was the target of this little ‘method acting’ experiment, because the man ‘learned’ something (although what he learned, and what value that had, is clearly doubtful).

I doubt that Dornan would have been so flippant, or so prepared to reveal what he did to the woman he stalked, if we did not live in a society so ready to excuse such behaviour, or so eager to make entertainment of the daily violence and harassment that all women have to deal with on a daily basis  – whether that be cat calls or verbal abuse, or the kind of violence that puts a woman in jail if she tries to defend herself from it.

If we lived in a world where such behaviour was understood for what it is – the abuse of gender power and privilege for personal gratification – he would never have engaged in that behaviour, far less admitted to it.

But we don’t: and because we don’t Jamie Dornan can stalk a woman and get away with it.

This is rape culture. This is not okay.