poem: the view from down here

if every time you closed a door, i whistled –

then i would whistle every day, if not each night;

and should i sing with every incidence of rudeness,

i would be singing 3 more hours – tho’ the singing won’t delight

 

if each time some person patronised or patted

upon on my head as though i might play fetch;

i swear i would be howling at the moon dear –

most nights’ till i pass out, or from it retch

 

were i to whoop with wild abandon, and excitement,

each time i find exclusion, i’d be whooping without pause –

and you’d look at me all peculiar and offended,

,for being some great drama queen, seeking overblown applause.

 

when silence is complicit with the order

(wherein this whole wrong self would be much better hid away).

i will howl, and stamp, and sing, and scream and whoop holy disorder

and if that makes you uncomfortable, the exit door is that way.

 

oh whoops, oh dear, and sorry if you thought me

respectable and sweet, or so demure –

i sing of a rude and glorious disorder,

my own italian job, that blows up bleeding doors.

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It’s a Jungle Out There: Learning the Language of Danger (or, Don’t Dismiss ‘Feminine Intuition’) cn/tw

I’ve been reflecting recently, after meeting up again with an old friend, on how my perceptions of relationships have both evolved and changed: I first knew my friend when I was 18 and she was 3 or 4 years younger, and our families knew each other well. As it happened I was going out withan older member of her family, though it was a less than healthy relationship, for all sorts of reasons.

My then partner was abusive – but so were his friends. More than one or two of them, at one time or another, tried awkwardly, drunkenly or aggressively to shove their tongues down the back of my throat whilst trying to tune my breasts in to Radio Caroline by the magic of using my nipples for dials – and I was 18, and in an abusive relationship. Some nights, my nightmares were made of dozens of free floating hands.

It was a working class environment, but no, that doesn’t make domestic violence more likely. The violence, control or assault which comes from the more privileged social backgrounds just has a slightly different costume, and a mildly altered script. But [usually] LBTQIA/cis/BAME/disabled working class women are more likely to depend on social assistance from local government, to be able to extricate themselves from the violence. These were the women who were the core of my friendship group – they were hard working and house proud (rightfully so): they make sure the money stretches (less easy now), and get creative when need demands. Long before ‘upcycling’, LBTQIA/cis/BAME/disabled women knew how make the clothes, the furniture, or that old tub in the shed into something that felt like you had something new, and special.

The trope of the slovenly single parent on a council estate, given flesh via Thatcher’s hardening rhetoric in the ’80’s – and later ‘Little Britain’s’ grotesque cartoon of an over painted child in a pink tracksuit – jars in me, then as now. My family lived on a middle class suburban estate, very nuclear but my Dad’s lower management job was the first of the rungs of management to go in a number of large London-based corporations as they geared up for Thatchers first big privatisation push (so I had comparative but nevertheless very real privilege). But I had gone to a council estate Comprehensive school, and spent most of my early social life on that estate (a whole other story). And then spent the two years I was in that abusive relationship living on another- and I have to tell you (and if I do have to tell you, then considered yourself in receipt of a look), that every single one of those tropes about (usually working class) single mothers was, and is, a long, long way from the truth.

Whilst there weren’t less hands as I got older, I learned to navigate … all that stuff (insert gesticulating hands to indicate unwanted male attention) better. Okay, no, I didn’t: I just accepted I was happier and healthier learning not to be ashamed of being ‘the introverted one’** – so it would be more accurate to say that I’ve therefore spent less time in situations where …unwanted advances might be a possibility.

And no, that’s not the same thing as hiding. Though it is also true that even when you’re disabled, you’re not safer – in fact it’s more likely. A confident introvert doesn’t need to be a dichotomy.

But I also trust my instinct now, sometimes even before the evidence of my eye. My instinct is my instinct for reasons, and I don’t argue with it. If a person gives me certain vibes, that person and I aren’t likely to be developing any sort of relationship. And whilst I will own to being hyper vigilant (and chronically anxious), the reasons my instincts are my instincts, are because they learnt what I was slow to trust.

Contrary to what the patriarchal/masculine/western/christianised tropes will tell you, ‘instinct’ is nothing more or less than a subconscious learning of patterns of behaviour, the identification of trigger points, the body language, the tells – you know, those little signs of trouble; learning the language of danger, and of warning. It’s perfectly logical, and y’all loved Tim Roth doing it in Lie to Me.*** Memory is a muscle too.

There’s also the other face of the coin that comes with the extra vulnerability to coercive control, domestic violence and assault as a disabled woman – that we are simultaneously assumed to be sexless, absent of desire, and undesirable.  (And whilst I love my queer community – no, y’all are no more inclusive than able bodied communities a lot of the time, but that’s a whole other conversation).

So it’s no less a jungle now, than when I was 18, though I’ve through passed from Tropical Forest through to Tropical Savannah (and once, by accident, through a saltwater swamp, though this may be a slur upon saltwater swamps). Also, I’m not alone in sharing that whilst most predators are usually straight cis men, sometimes they are not****, so if you ever feel a bit Lost in a Scrub and Thornbush Savannah with that one I believe you.

* we used to call it ‘going out with’ when I was – well, younger. ‘Dating’ certainly wasn’t a term used within 20 parsecs of where I was spending my youth. I’m also apparently now of an age where I note these things. There’s probably no hope for me to be honest.

** I am the product of an introvert (who did a lot of pretending to be an extrovert) parent, and an extrovert parent, (they’re divorced, and happily so).  And it is possible for an extrovert parent to accept that no amount of cajoling is going to change said introverted child. 

***I once had a knock-down-drag-out with a friend who was one-of-those-screaming-misogynists-with-extra-mummy-issues (who thought of himself as a forward looking and progressive man – and yeah, I know), who insisted that ‘feminine intuition’ (grrrrr) was a nonsense, compared to the slightly dodgy, rather glossy pseudo science, that was the staple of Lie to Me’s 2(?) seasons – slightly dodgy, rather glossy pseudo science being apparently more acceptable than ‘feminine intuition’.  Because of course <insert rolling eye emoji>

**** Yes, women are capable of reproducing patriarchal violence.

 

 

An Open Letter to My Sisters and Comrades in the Labour Party: We Must Have ZERO Tolerance For Transphobia.

Dear Sisters

The years of Tory Austerity have been hard on us, and as our election manifesto in June made clear, it is our BAME, LBTQIAA, working class, single parent, disabled, older and refugee sisters, who have borne the worst of the ferocity of that fiscal ideology.  The body count we can barley comprehend – in domestic abuse victims who might have got out sooner, had there been enough refuges – and their children, whose lives have yet to bear the bitter fruit of abuse; in disabled women and WASPI women whose bodies have been worked to within inches of their graves; in refugee women and asylum seekers, criminalised without trial and locked into a brutal prison-like system such as we see at Yarls Wood; in our LBTQI youth, in their homelessness and isolation.

These are just some of those who desperately need an end to Tory austerity, its patronising lip service to feminism. Poverty is sexist, and the Tory party declared war on the poor a long time ago.

We desperately need refuges so that victims of domestic violence can get away from fatal violence safely. We urgently need a properly resourced, properly funded NHS to address issues like the lack of resources for people with chronic illness’ such as MeCFS, Fibromyalgia and Lupus, which disproportionately affect women – and pre and post natal care that leaves those with post-natal depression so isolated. Womens’ basic, simple needs are actively being removed, leaving an ever growing list of need and damage in its wake.

We need humane responses for women refugees; we need to tackle the sexism and abelism that is systemic in our responses to disabled women and the financial poverty that is killing them.  We need to respond to the sexism and homophobia that LBT girls face, and talk about why the suicide rate for teenage girls is up. WASPI women deserve and need pension equality.

For women vulnerable for infinite reasons, and suffering much of the worst austerity has to offer, there is already so much work to be done, to roll back the damage and the violence of Tory policies. And yes, many of those women, who need some of these things too, and more, are trans.

Some of us believe that proposed amendments to the GRA – which would make the process of self-identification easier for trans people – is bad for women. So virulently do some believe this, that trans inclusivity is leading to a small but vocal minority among us, to go so far as to leave the Labour Party and work with more Conservative/conservative politicians to prevent those amendments going through, and to encourage the same from other women. Previous alliances with conservative press saw a barrage of anti-trans hit pieces in the Times and the Daily Mail.

Maybe you have never had to consider the needs of a trans person – or never needed to think about it. Maybe you look at these ‘identity’ wars and think that it has no bearing on everyday life. Perhaps even, hopefully, you see the active inclusivity of trans people that the Labour Party is modelling (often imperfectly, and we must be prepared to own to those times), is simply the humane, socialist, obvious thing to do.

Or maybe you really do believe that we should pathologize and ‘other’ trans people; maybe you really do believe a ‘trans cult’ is ‘transing our children’, and believe trans children should be subject to conversion therapy, to ‘re-train’ them to a more hetronormative identity.  But do you really believe that so much, that you would be willing to actively prevent women from having a government that would seek to redress some of the very great harm that Tory austerity has done us? Just because some of those sisters helped out of poverty are trans?

I am sorry to see that some think just that – so strongly, even, that they would advocate working with those whose political ideology is actively harmful to women.  What price then, that hate?

Let us always stand in solidarity with each other: cis or trans gendered, Black, brown, white, Muslim, Christian, atheist, gender non-conforming, gender fluid – we are varied, we are limitless, and we are women: and we are always much stronger in solidarity together, than we are apart.

Let us always have zero tolerance for all forms of hate, and reject any narrative that would demand us be afraid of some of our sisters.

We have more that unites us, and we are for the many, and not the few.

Thank you.

 

 

Poem: Upstanding Up, Standing Upside Down

I looked at it backwards

or perhaps as a mirror would,

though not would I claim to have

perfect my view –

there is too much to see that I

would not see

for me to say that

and to have that

be true;

 

But I am not her who suggests

that her theory is

somehow the only

and, exclusively

true –

I merely suggest

though you think me in jest

that the platform you

stand on is placed

to allow you

to see what you’ve heard

is the only good

view;

 

I merely invite you

– though not to delight you,

or have you drawn in

to some sticky old web –

to consider that we

are unable to see,

this earth in its whole

and the whole of its globe –

not even if one had the

vantage of space –

for your eye would not travel

the whole of its grace.

 

But you could perhaps travel

o’er more of its face.

 

Oh I see you still

claim I am in the wrong

place.

But I did not speak here

to drag you from

that space –

just to invite you,

and perhaps to remind you

that neither should you

claim to see,

what no human eye

could perceive.

Poem: The Woman I Am Is A Feeling Too

 

I’m still learning to name

who I am,

who I’ve been

to recognise self and

name all of me;

all that was odd and

jumbled up

like glob-knot of string

I still carefully unwind,

the revealing it brings;

 

 

I learnt to find self by

the gifts that I got

from hands that were worn

but made tender with love;

and tender hands taught me

that what I was given

was not to store up

in some

quiet private heaven –

Justice to fear won’t give in,

and liberation welcomes all in.

 

And it doesn’t reduce us to things

And it hopes and it loves

and it never gives up

and all of the feeling I bring

is part of the woman I am

and I sing

we are bodies

but we are not things –

stop pinning it down like

a butterfly’s wing,

as if that in itself is all that defines

what makes a butterfly

grow wings

to fly.

 

the poet can speak as she finds –

and weeps,

when justice of feeling is robbed,

and speaks liberation in captors retort;

the cage was undone,

but the chain?

the chain

was hung loose round our necks,

once again.

 

 

 

 

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.

**********************

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?

***********************

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?

***************************

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.

 

 

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.

paper-dolls-1

Dear Fellow Cisters – It Wasn’t A Penis What Did It, It Was A Man (CN/TW)

This post is one of the most personal I have written, and yet at the same time is not really about me. Nevertheless it discusses rape so I urge you first and foremost to take care of yourselves.

I am cis-gendered. When gender and genitals, or gender and sex, are conflated, it is not I who is hurt by it. By sharing this, my small hope is that I can help and support – not hinder or speak for or over – the transgender sisters, gender queer and gender fluid folk whose identities are too often questioned . (If  I fail to get that balance right, please tell me.) There is another woman I want particularly to stand in solidarity with today too…

Although I don’t follow the writer Sarah Ditum on twitter, I saw this tweet a little while after she had sent it, and for some time now it has been on my mind – or rather, how to frame a response to it has been on my mind. Whilst I had been aware of a feminism that framed rape in such a context I had rarely seen it put so bluntly. However I wasn’t sure if I could find the language for how it troubled me, without either attacking Ditum (which would be counter productive and needless given that we had almost no previous interaction), or talking over the transgender women whose narrative is their own to frame.

Tacking rape culture – calling it out, speaking up, joining my voices with other women’s to challenge it and break it down to help work toward a society where everyone can live more safely – is something I have been doing more and more recently. There are many reasons why I have become more engaged in that conversation, not the least of them being that I was raped repeatedly by a former boyfriend during an abusive relationship. More accurately, it was less to do with the fact of being raped than it was about not being believed, and the attitudes which I (like so many other women) have faced as we struggle to process when they try and deal with what has happened to them.

I chose not to report what happened. We weren’t living together, and it was harder even than now for women raped by their partners to get justice: marital rape had only just become illegal following the 1991 R v R ruling, and the prevailing attitude within law enforcement to domestic abuse and rape not exactly encouraging. Yet whilst I knew that the chances of a conviction were remote, this was not the prevailing reason why I chose not to report.

***

One of the things which I am most grateful to twitter for is how it has helped me both re-engage with my feminism, and helped to confront within myself both how white and cis-normative it had been. My relationship with feminism (not unlike many women) has been complicated, and it was my Christian faith which also played a big part in helping to re-frame it. Like many women of faith, we find no contradiction at all between the call of Christ and our feminism. And like Christ, the call of standing with and for ‘the least of these’ sharpens both our praxis and narrative as feminists.

And whilst I struggle to understand why some people want to define women in conservative ways, and deny to women who they are because of being assigned male at birth, I have to be honest and say that it was not for that reason initially that Ditum’s tweet bothered me so much. Nor was it the fact that my ex-boyfriend also used numerous objects to rape me with, although memories reared their head when I read it. It was because it was so entirely at odds with what I thought even the most ardent anti-trans feminist understood: that rape is not a crime of sex, but a crime based of the abuse of power.

My ex raped me. He could have chosen not to. He could have chosen to walk away, to sod off somewhere and find a more constructive channel for his never-ending quest for control; he chose instead to manipulate me and demonstrate power over me. He could have chosen to question why he wanted those things, he could have chosen to explore within himself why he wanted my humiliation through repeated violations, rather than my comfort and happiness.

Instead he made a choice to hurt me because that was what he wanted. His penis didn’t make that decision. He did. Reducing men’s decision to rape to the random behaviour of a set of genitalia diminishes what rape is, and makes it harder for its victims to name the problem and reclaim the agency and autonomy being raped has taken from them.

But I am not the only woman who has been raped, for whom such penis-orientated attitudes have made the ability to find comfort and community so much harder, even amongst other women. In a sense, Ditum’s comment was just the visible tip of the iceberg of dangerous and bad assumptions which make it harder for women to be believed, even by other women.

Some of you reading this may be aware of a trans*gender woman, a twitter engineer called Dana McCullum who was recently convicted of raping her wife. McCullum raped and violated her wife, not because she has a penis, but because she chose to exercise power and control in an abusive manner.

But the truly appalling aspect of this is not that McCullum is transgender. It is that that focus on this aspect (which happened because feminists forgot what rape is truly about), took away the support that should have been accorded to her wife.

So now I want you to read her story, the one she has had to tell because we helped to make it harder for her. I want you to listen to her, to her story, to the struggle she has had to find agency and identity. I stand in solidarity with her.

When we think that rape is about genitals and sex, we don’t just make stopping it harder. We make it harder for the victim, for the one person we are supposed to be there for. I know that we all want rape to stop. We all want rape culture dismantled so that the women and children on the receiving end of rape and abuse to be safer than we were. We want rapes victims to have all the support they deserve so that they can heal.

But we won’t do that if we are not honest, with ourselves and with each other. If we want to ‘name the problem’ then we actually have to understand it so that we can name it correctly: it was a man who raped me, not a penis;  and it was a woman who raped M, not a penis. The name of the problem is not ‘penis’.

It’s name is patriarchy.

#FreeMarissa: What Does Justice Look Like? #Marissa418

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory ~ Matthew 12: 20 & Isaiah 43: 3

untitled Marissa Alexander

Imagine for a moment that you are a woman, who has regularly endured violence from a husband or partner. You have been frequently slapped, punched and beaten. You have been throttled, assaulted and verbally abused. Often, the abuse has occurred in front of your children, and almost always within their hearing. You might be trying to leave, which is one of the most dangerous times for domestic abuse victims. You may even have sought assistance from the law and taken an injunction against your partner.

What would justice look like to you in those circumstances?

The baby you have been carrying is born prematurely – your tiny, fragile baby is laying in an incubator, it’s every function from heartbeat to breath monitored by machines and her food delivered via a tube that is inserted in to her belly or her nose. You don’t know if she is going to be okay, you are suppressing the fear that somehow her fragile hold on life is your fault. And your husband or partner is still hitting you.

What would justice look like to you in those circumstances?

Nine days after giving birth – nine days of stress and worry, nine days of not being able to hold your new born child, of wires and monitors and fear – your husband or partner attacks you and you are terrified for your life. You can hear your children screaming. This time you decide that will no longer tolerate the violence – you want it to end, for your sake, for your children’s sake. You legally own a gun, so you reach for it: you fire it in the air, hurting nobody but shocking your husband or partner enough for him to stop.

What would justice look like to you in those circumstances?

It was a warning shot only and you made it in self defence, to protect yourself and your family. The place you live even has a law that says that’s okay. The police arrive and arrest you.  Your partner has falsely reported to them that you shot at him and you are put in prison and told that the law that allows you to defend yourself doesn’t apply to you.

What would justice look like to you in those circumstances?

For Marissa Alexander, ‘justice’ is the very thing which tries to erase her: the system which has told her that she ‘wasn’t afraid’ at the time of firing the warning shot; the same system which is more likely to incarcerate battered and abused women than protect them – and most importantly, the same system which is more likely to do so because she is black.

Marissa Alexander matters. Like Ce-Ce MacDonald, she has been criminalised because she is a black woman who chose to defend her life. When a system expects you to die rather than live, unless you are white, male and cis-gendered, that system is a tyranny and a tool of the abuser.

I urge you to lend your support to Marissa Alexander and those who are helping her fight for freedom: there are many ways you can do so. Visit freemarissanow.org – there is a wealth of information about the case on there, as well as details about how you can help in some way. You can contact @KilljoyProphets, tweet using the hashtag #FreeMarissa and spread the word amongst your friends. Educate yourself about the failures of carceral justice and follow twitter accounts like @CheifElk and @PrisonCulture to find out more about that discussion.

It matters – wherever you are, it matters. Please do what you can to help. Thank you.

 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free ~ Luke 4:18

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

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

“Trust your instincts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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