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

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

From “Justice, Come Down” by Minnie Bruce Pratt 

 

Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Magdalena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ashamed, people turn their face away…

 

 

 

 

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They Tie Up Heavy Burdens: When Forgiveness Becomes the Religious Rule of Men

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“But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing”.   CS Lewis, Essay on Forgiveness 1960

Forgiveness – from almost the first moments of his ministry – was at the heart of what Jesus did and said: the forgiveness that he spoke of and practised was profound: indeed it was so revolutionary, so alarming that disciples, followers and nay-sayers alike wrestled with it, poking and prodding at it with a mixture of horror, suspicion and wonder.  For it was not just the rampant forgiveness of others which so awed those around him: Jesus actively sought – and seeks – the same generosity of forgiveness from those who follow him.

The potency of the forgiveness Jesus gave was not just in what he forgave, but to whom he gave that forgiveness. Jesus certainly forgave the system which crucified him: but it was in the forgiving of the sick, the women, the despised and the rejected that the dangerous power of God’s forgiveness challenged mans rule over others. The paralysed walked, criminals were welcomed in to Gods kingdom, women – used and despised by men – were honoured. 

The religious rules made by men to protect themselves, and which made the mad, the bad, the crippled and  women ‘unsuitable’ for consideration of humanity and compassion, were held up to the light and found wanting. These were rules impossible to live by if you were poor, or sick, or not a man. The rich and joyful forgiveness of God, through Jesus, did not just wipe clean the hearts of those forgiven: it challenged societies attitudes. The gates of the kingdom, once denied to those most in need by the rule of men, were thrown open by God.  

These were rules which cared nothing for justice, mercy and faith and the same righteous anger which had swept the money lenders from the temple rose to greet the makers of men’s rule:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…”  Matthew 23: 1-4 & 13-15

Fast forward a couple of thousand years: Christians have apparently embraced forgiveness, seemingly willing to forgive with the same generosity of spirit that Christ called us to. But man’s penchant for the laws and rules that make him comfortable has not been eradicated, and nowhere is this more obvious than in how Christian Churches respond to abuse and rape.  Here we see that the abusers are ‘forgiven’ – or rather excused – and those who are the powerless and the victims are treated as though they have done something for which they should be forgiven, but they are not, and for them there is no love, and not even meagre crumbs of pity from the table.

To be abused is to endure physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual invasion. To recover and find some healing following such trauma can take a lifetime. Those coping with that process should be able to find a lifetime of love and patience from those who claim to be followers of Christ, for Jesus had that to give.  Instead, even if they are believed, victims find instead that their trauma is dismissed, or they are blamed and shamed, despised and ridiculed. The world is already awash with lack of understanding and victim blaming, but there is no safe haven in the body of Christ, for victims are not only met with the same attitude in the church but are then faced with still greater load, for they are told that they must forgive their invaders, their rapists and abusers, in the name of being a ‘proper’ Christian. And if they don’t forgive, then they are guilty – of bitterness, of resentfulness, of lack of faith, of wanting vengeance. Forgiveness has become a rule, a law to be followed, in order to access the gates of the kingdom of Heaven: victims must bow to the rule of man (including their abusers) before they can reach God.

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

Those who say that abusers ‘made a mistake’ are unwilling or unable to confront the reality of the great harm, the terrible sin, that the abusers are guilty of. And whether it is their discomfort or ignorance, or their desire to remain in control, they have twisted forgiveness into a rule which must be obeyed. They desire compliance to their way of life before the call of Christ or the cries of the victims.

It is time to end the warped teaching of forgiveness in its current form, twisted as it has become under the patriarchal church.  We can no longer allow to be used to keep the powerful comfortable and the abusers excused. It is time to reclaim it, be willing to be challenged again by God and dig more deeply than we have ever done before, and find this beautiful and precious wonder that is true forgiveness.

We must acknowledge that abusers are making a choice when they abuse, and that only they are responsible for the choices they make – and we must learn to stop making excuses for them. They can help it, and there is no stress, or worry, or addiction or depression that can excuse their dreadful choices.  We must acknowledge that their victims deserve belief, and love and care for the rest of their lives, and that their safety must be our priority. We must be willing to be uncomfortable, disturbed, and as righteously angry as God about terrible harm and damage that abuse does.  We must desire to hear the screams of anguish and agony and learn that it is not a lack of faith, or a desire to hold on to that which hurts, which causes those tears to fall weeks, or months, or years later. We must learn all this – and yet more.

And then maybe, maybe, we will start to learn what forgiveness truly is.

Are You Really Talking About Rehabilitation For Ched Evans?

 

This post discusses rape, rape culture and the behaviour of a convicted rapist as part of a conversation about rehabilitation. It is important to take care of yourself and so please be aware that some of this post may be triggering. Whilst joining our voices with other victims is important, sometimes the best thing we can do is step back put self first. Never be ashamed to do that. And, as always – I believe you.

 

In the conversation around convicted rapist Ched Evans, and around whether or not he should be allowed to play professional football again, one theme crops up with predictable regularity: that Ched Evans should be allowed to play ‘if we believe in rehabilitation’.

There are three elements to the premise of this narrative. First, that in Evans case there is an assumption that rehabilitation is a return to the same life as was being lived previously – that rehabilitation is somehow analogous to playing professional football. Second, that to oppose his return to the professional game is to be ‘opposed’ to rehabilitation. And third, and most crucially perhaps, that we as a society share a commonly held concept of what rehabilitation looks like, and that those who question the notion that Evans return to football is the best response in this case are ‘rocking the boat’; trouble makers if you will, who don’t like what the community have decided and are making things difficult for everybody else.

So let us start with that last point – that as a society we have a shared understanding of what rehabilitation means. Because it is very apparent to me that we don’t.

This was highlighted again during the brief flurry of interest over the possibility of Evans being signed to Maltese football club Hibernians FC (which in any event Evans is unable to do due to the terms of his license, as confirmed by the Ministry of Justice). Owen Bonnici, Malta’s Minister of Justice, was very clear what his understanding of rehabilitation meant in this case:

What is rehabilitation? In the simplest terms, it is the re-introduction and integration back in to society of someone who has been convicted of a crime and who has served some sort of custodial sentence; that the person concerned does not re-offend, and is able to lead a healthy and productive life.

I think it is important that we first acknowledge this definition is of rehabilitation in the simplest terms; that it is baseline from which we start. I note this because it seems to be treated as the high watermark – that this is all we should expect from Evans and no more. I have a problem with that: rehabilitation is important, far too important, to be treated in such a shoddy fashion. Because in this particular case – and on the basis that every case should be treated individually – there is something else we need to know, something else we need reassurance of:

That Ched Evans will not go out and rape again.

Recidivism: We know that around 1 in 7 rapes or sexual assaults will be committed by someone who has previously offended – and bear in mind that these figures are based on reported cases which have secured a conviction. That’s approximately 400 cases of rape over three years committed by an offender who has been freed after serving approximately half of his sentence. When we also take in to account both the low reporting rates, and low conviction rates, those numbers are the mere tip of the iceberg.

So we need to be sure that Evans not only understands why he was convicted, but that he has shown at least some progress in his understanding of – for example – what consent from someone with whom he wants to have sex looks like. We need to be certain that he recognises why he did not have consent from his victim that evening, and therefore why he was judged to be a rapist. We need to know that he understands why the filming of his victim fell well outside the boundaries of consent, and he has never addressed the issue of persuading his bother and friend to film his victim. (And that’s leaving aside the questions around his behaviour prior to his entering the hotel that evening).

He has only ever referred to what happened that night as a single act of infidelity. In other words, he does not judge what he did to be a crime of violence against a woman: he asks us only to frame it as an act of betrayal against his now fiancée.

We therefore do not know if he is being rehabilitated in that sense.  We don’t know this because he refuses to accept that there was no consent – he refuses to understand, or worse is unable to understand, why there was no consent. He insists that what happened was consensual. In short, he has shown no grasp of the issue of consent and as a result, we have no reassurance that he has, or is being, rehabilitated of his crime.

On this basis then, there is no evidence of – or reason to suppose – that any rehabilitation is occurring. How, then, might Evans be re-integrated in to society if we have no reassurance that recidivism will not occur in this case?

Reintegration. In theory at least, making sure that someone who has served a custodial sentence is able to acquire gainful employment is beneficial to society. And yet unemployment rates are high for ex-offenders, and as the campaign Ban the Box points out, the financial cost of that to society, especially given how positively it reduces re-offending rates, is high. But in Evans case, does that automatically mean re-joining the ranks of professional football? We know that football is not Evans only option – he learned new skills in prison, and could be gainfully re-employed with the assistance of his Father in Law.

However, reintegration is about more than just finding gainful employment: there is a wider issue of responsibility to the community. In the immediate aftermath of the initial guilty verdict, in the intervening years between Evans entering custodial custody and his release on license last October – Evans own family, fans and supporters have all engaged in the extreme bullying and doxxing of his victim resulting in 5 changes of identity and address. There are very serious concerns about the use of the campaign website for Evans – set up and paid for by Evans future Father in Law. As Jane Fae noted extensively last October, (and I strongly recommend those articles to you) the website has become ‘the principle vehicle’ for the bullying of the victim by Evans campaign. The concern about the effect of this website is serious – the victims father is waiting for the Attorney General to investigate material which contributes to what he calls ‘trial by website’: that it feeds a belief amongst supporters of Evans that his victim has potentially committed crimes even though she has engaged in no criminal behaviour.

I have noted Evans silence in respect of the bullying of his victim previously. Whilst the investigation by the Attorney General is ongoing, I will make no further comment about it.

In such a context, then, on what basis do we understand Evans to be ‘reintegrating’ back in to society?

What then is the basis for the assertion that Evans is ‘being’ rehabilitated? What evidence is there that, given the all of the above factors, returning to professional football would be the appropriate manner by which any rehabilitation could be continued or completed? Because if all of the above factors are to be considered acceptable, where does that leave our understanding of rehabilitation as a society?

And if all of the above factors are to ignored – do we even have any reassurance that our society is able to offer rehabilitation to those who want it?

 

 

Of course those who support Evans return to professional football because this alone somehow evidences rehabilitation, will also tell you that none of the issues raised above count because Evans maintains his innocence and ‘has a right to do so’.

In which case, why are they even talking about rehabilitation when they don’t believe it is required?

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Ched Evans about your ‘Supporters’.

Dear Ched Evans:

It has been another week on social media of women being threatened with rape; another week of not being able to challenge the rape culture, of not being able to speak freely, without being verbally abused.  Supposed Sheffield United (TW) fans continue to use vile words to undermine any woman who dares speak out against rape.

Two weeks ago, the father of your victim had to speak out because your video plea to be allowed to ‘get on with your life’ and play football, along with the continued harassment of his daughter via social media which led to requiring to take on yet another identity, is having a devastating emotional impact on her. He is frightened for her, worried that she won’t get through this.

But still your supporters come at her.

We know (how could we not) that you claim to be innocent, that you claim that your victim consented – although you certainly never asked her if she wanted to have sex, or of she wanted to be filmed, and she was certainly in no position to answer the question even if you had.  Yet despite all your claims of innocence, you have stood silently by whilst your supporters have engaged in abusive, threatening behaviour, against your victim and a raft of women who have exercised their own right to free speech and dared to challenge such behaviour.

Even if you genuinely believe you are innocent, that is no longer the point: you have your family, a support group, solicitors, lawyers, private detectives and a future father-in-law bankrolling a campaign that has its own website.

What does your victim have? She had to be taken away from her family, her friends, her home town: she can no longer live under her own name: your campaign seems determined to grind her further down, perhaps in the hopes that she will break completely.

You want to get on with your life, you say, but you seem to want to do that at the expense of your victim. All that abuse, all that harassment from your fans: well, when you have such well oiled, well funded campaign machine, your silence about what your fans do makes you look like a bully – the worst kind of bully: the one that is behind the scenes getting other people to do his dirty work for him.

And every bully should be told to stop. Especially the ones pulling strings behind the scenes, especially the ones who stay silent whilst others do the bullying on his behalf.

In the context of what has – and is being done – to you victim, your pleas to be rehabilitated ring hollow; the site of your sorrowful face as you plead for another chance acts only to belittle the woman you raped and continue to victimise, through your campaign and your fans. Yes, a petition was launched against you: but what did you expect? That people would simply keep quiet in the face of all of that, and turn the other way whilst you continued on without a seeming care for any of that?

Whatever the outcome of your latest appeal, and whether or not Sheffield United decide to re-sign you: stop this.  Remember that your sentence is not yet done.

If you are serious about rehabilitation, about making amends, about taking responsibility and earning another chance – close the website, or ask those who fund it and run it to do so. Tell your supporters and fans to leave the victim alone. Tell your fans to stop threatening women just because they don’t like what we say.

If you have any shred of decency in you: put an end to it, now.

Sincerely,

ali

Update 21/12/2014: Hartlepool United’s new manager – Ronnie Moore – has expressed interest in signing Ched Evans, thereby unleashing fresh headlines and speculation which will undoubtedly cause further pain to the woman Ched Evans raped.  This is, simply, cruelty, justified by those who – like Moore – care only about the goals Evans might score, than any pain caused to his victim (and indeed, many rape victims who find these discussions, headlines and speculations immensely distressing).

So I posting this open letter again, and I would like to thank everyone who has shared this previously. Sometimes the only option is to stand up to the bully.

 

#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

Silence, White Guilt and Colonization

So another white feminist writer says stuff and fails to grasp why it is a problem to women of colour – really, twitter is ripe with it and if being on that particular social network has taught me anything, it has taught me just how much I needed to re-examine myself and my newly re-claimed feminism to see just where it was failing to be supportive of WoC/trans WoC.

As a result of these car-crash articles that do so much to illustrate just how codified white supremacy is in white western feminism, I have been having serious (and possibly seriously radical) thoughts on the subject of silence, specifically in the context of the intersection of gender and race. These thoughts, however, led me to confront the notion of ‘white guilt’ and brought me to the inescapable conclusion the white guilt is in itself an extension of white colonial attitudes and is.. well, racist.

White guilt is racist because it keeps thoughts, attitudes, feelings and discussion centred on the white person/people/society. Whilst I am sure that feeling bad about the shit we white people have done (and are doing) to people of colour is all very well, the shit is not being done to us. And beating one’s chest in public about it means that attention is not being focussed where it should – i.e., on the shit being done to people of colour.

It’s logical really, and it doesn’t take an Einstein-like brain to figure it out. (Believe me, if Einstein had had my IQ, goodness knows what E would have equalled).

Adele Wilde-Blavatsk’s article was self-centred – but Eve Ensler (again) took the prize for best example of white colonial supremacy in feminism with her ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing, which is too sickening and awful to link to. So I have to wonder – at the intersection of gender and race – if white women should consider sacrificing their voices in favour of WoC.

There are several reasons for this – and the attitude and entitlement of Wilde-Blavatsk and Ensler is merely an illustration of many of them. But also, frankly, whilst there are white women on the fringes of mainstream debate who have a decent grasp of intersectional feminism, it wasn’t white women who developed either it’s theory or it’s practice and there are too many examples out there of it being hijacked and colonized by white women. This damages women of colour, whose struggles and concerns so often differentiate from ours; a typical colonial thought process in feminism is that it assumes itself the pre-eminent theory in tackling patriarchal structures and continues to fail to do so because it does not recognise – historically or currently – where it carries white patriarchy’s own attitudes to women of colour.

In that context, silence could be valuable – having the grace to stand back and be silent so that the pre-dominant voice is that of women of colour is something that white women could perhaps consider.

Perhaps instead of white guilt driving a conversation that silences women of colour, we could put away white guilt and stand back, shed the need to speak for others whose concerns we probably have not grasped anyway, and listen.

We Need to Listen – But What Are We Hearing?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ~ Isaiah 58: 6 & 7

Sometimes I will read an article and my reaction will be purely instinctive – it will immediately make me cross, or happy, or mad. Or it might trigger me emotionally and psychologically. And I will get that off my chest by praying and thinking it through, and occasionally it will result in one of my sporadic blog posts.  If I blog first, (and think later) I will usually read it afterward and groan to myself about any number of issues I will inevitably find with the language, or the structure.. I’m not a serious writer, but I like words you see.

I like how they can paint a picture in your mind of a time and a place, of complexity of purpose and character.. I like that they can be used to invoke and incite passion, even revolution.. and as a white, cis, able-bodied person I need to read (and in so doing, listen) to those whose colour, gender identity, disability or beliefs mean that the world see’s them as ‘other’.

By ‘the world’ I mean those who hold the dominant narrative. Think of words for a moment as music – indeed words spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and volume, and these are the properties of music, which has the ability to find and move and lift us up.. (err, yes, I did borrow that from The West Wing, but the point is still valid).

Back to my point.. the narrative that dominates the world in which we live is dominated – as it has been for centuries – by a white, cis, usually wealthy, elite. They drive how we see the world, how we understand it, how it is shaped in our minds. It is the view of the world which we first internalize, and if you are white and cis and able bodied, it is internalized to a degree we rarely, if ever, fully acknowledge.

And yet despite this dominant narrative, there are the stories that can draw us back from this status-quo, the words of those whose lives do not conform to that dominant narrative which can call out to us – and call us out.

If we read them. If we hear them. If we listen.

Sometimes, those words are taken by those who have control of that narrative and co-opt them. Words like.. justice and injustice. When that happens, there is an impact. The lived reality of actual injustice is one of oppression wrought daily. The so-called injustice done to a white cis man of wealth and power is worlds apart from the injustice done by society to trans*gendered woman of colour. But it is not her story that the media give the headlines to.

Injustice is a powerful word – but it’s meaning, it’s lived reality and it’s use to convey the appalling wrongs done to those whose lives are subject to the dominant kyriarchy becomes weakened, the parameters by which we judge what is unjust become warped. What do you hear, when Marissa Alexander tries to tell you of the crushing injustice done to her? Do you hear and understand the wrong she has suffered, or just another woman of colour complaining about her lot?

Women of colour, people of colour, the LGBITQ community, the sick and disabled – they needus to hear them, and to hear them properly, truly. To recognise and respond and stand with them, so that the narrative which shapes the world in which we live is, little by little, given back to those from whom it was taken.

If it sounds a little like revolution.. well, I would argue that it sounds like liberation and transformation, a world transforming from one of systemic oppression to one of systemic liberation.

So I loathe the cheapening of words too important to treat in such a manner: it was this article by Allison Pearson a few days ago when (not for the first time) I was struck by how the word ‘injustice’ can be used so flippantly. In writing about the supposed revelation that Nigella Lawson may have used drugs, she said:

“…if the Grillo sisters turn out to be telling the truth – and I hope they aren’t – then Charles Saatchi is the victim of an injustice.”

If you do not know anything about the case, or Charles Saatchi, then I am glad for you. Don’t Google it – there will inevitably pictures which you will find distressing.

Saatchi is a powerful and very wealthy man, who was photographed choking his then wife, Nigella Lawson. He has since insisted – because his reputation is frankly in tatters – that there was ‘another side’ to that story.  As if anything could possibly excuse, or explain away, this materially and physically powerful man’s act of violence against his wife.

What injustice has he suffered then?

No, there is none. His life will continue, and the perception of the general public will go on being unfavourable to him – but so what? It will not affect his wealth, or status, or power. The police caution he received will not prevent him from maintaining these things, and he has not been incarcerated, kept away from his family and robbed of his livelihood.

We who are white, cis, able bodied – who have some or all of the privileges that being those things mean – need to be quite so that we hear and listen.

Let us not make the hearing harder by distorting the words that might have the greatest impact.

The Politics This Christian Cannot Avoid


Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. – Edmund Burke

Faith and politics – they are a dangerous, and frankly unwelcome, combination.  So often the voices raised are those from those whose politics are on the right of the spectrum: the religious who want to police people’s bodies, gender identities and sexual orientation and place these things under the banner of ‘sin’; who maintain a white Colonial stance and are active or complicit in the silencing of People of Colour; whose resistance to state assistance for the poor, disabled and sick ranges from simple apathy to active objection; and whose voices are so often raised in manner which silences, ‘others’ and erases those who do not ‘fit’.

I am a Christian – it is a faith associated with a politics that is right-wing, Conservative and frequently oppressive. It would be too easy for me, in the face of right-wing Christian oppression, to say ‘not in my name’ and try to distance myself from those who deal with the consequences of such ideological representations of that faith. It has too often been my stance.

Not any more.

It is no longer good enough for me to say ‘not in my name’ – it has become the same thing now as ‘not all whites are racist’, as though (as a white woman) I am somehow not a part of the colonial, structural oppression which people of colour are still forced to confront every single day.  And the inescapable truth is that I am, and no amount of ‘not in my name’ changes that fact.

The same is true of cis-sexism, trans*-misogyny, and abelism and the rhetoric applied to those dependant (to a greater or lesser extent) on state support. It is too much like a cop out now to say that these are oppressions occur, but ‘not in my name’ – I do not believe my responsibility begins and ends with not speaking a racist/homophobic/transphobic/abelist word.

Politics and faith have been a dangerous combination because they have all too often resulted in – and continue to result in – oppression. To live my faith, therefore, means engaging with this politics of oppression. How can I ‘spend myself on behalf of the hungry’, or loosen the yolk of oppression without engaging with politics? I could give money to a charitable cause, sure – by how does that address the cause of the poverty in the first place? I can sign petitions for equality rights for the LGBTIQ community – but does that really help address the societal structures which have led to such injustices taking place?

It may not be true for every person of faith, but my faith cannot exist in a bubble, and it cannot avoid the politics of oppression.  Edmund Burke may have been right that, but I doubt in the way he likely meant.

Identity Politics – Respect, Equality and Justice Is Not Dependant on Biology

Let me start by saying that I have very little experience of trans-gender issues. I do know women for whom this is a direct and daily issue, but this gives me no special knowledge or insight on what it is to be a woman who was born or identified at birth as male. So the only perspective I can write from is my own, but there are excellent blogs and articles out there which will help you understand this issue from a trans-gender perspective. (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-birchill-bullying-trans-community or http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2009/12/cis_feminists_s for example).

So if in writing this I say something which offends, then please point this out to me.

On my twitter timeline this morning were many people who rightly (and for various reasons) found Julie Burchill’s(1) article today to be offensive, upsetting and the kind of bigotry which both the Observer and Guardian should know better than to allow. I like the people I follow on twitter – they care about justice and equality, and treating people with respect. It is why I follow them. So in part, my post today is to say to them – you are not wrong in how this made you feel. It upset you because it was upsetting, they were horrible words, the tone was vile and I know that you all care about getting how we treat each other, right.

There has been plenty written about the Suzanne Moore article (and departure from twitter (2) ) which kick started this. So what I also want to speak to is the central issue of equality and respect – because I want to know why, and when, either one of those things  became so bound up in biology that the giving of it became conditional on whether or not your genitals passed some sort of acceptability test. Honestly, when other women do it too, I want to pull my hair out!

I struggle sometimes with the Left – despite my politics being more than ever-so slightly left wing. I struggle with feminism too (I always have). So when they both – as they sometimes do – very publicly argue within themselves about something so extraordinarily simple (and it is) I wonder if I should say anything at all, or say nothing and hover in the background, perhaps occasionally handing out tissues.

Because to me, it’s obvious. (And if that comes across as being patronizing or arrogant then I am sorry, because I do not mean to be).

It does not matter (not one jot) who you are, where you are, what gender you are, what gender you have been, whether you are religious or not, or poor or not, or a child or purple, with antennae. If you are being oppressed because of the gender you are, or the gender you were, or your race or your class or your age – or your antennae – then WE, the human race, should acknowledge, apologise for it, and stop it from happening again.

I know that it is simplistic to say so. I am not naive. So when the Left and feminists (both movements born from the need and desire for equality) act and speak as though there are better fights to win, or that one person’s injured feelings are more important (as with Julie Burchill today) – I remind myself (both in my day to day life and by checking in with those I follow on twitter) that there are so many good people, who get it. Who actually actively seek to learn about it if they don’t. Who try. And who care. You inspire me.

I remind myself that are people whose oppression has not yet been recognized or respected or heard, and who continue to live their lives as they feel called to – women who became women because that is their identity, yet live with indifference at best (and hate, at worst) from other women. Your courage humbles me.

And to the Left and those well known feminists who fail to see that what has happened or what they’ve done is so wrong, who do not get why this matters – I say this:

It matters because if some of us are not equal, none of us are.  It matters because if we cannot treat all with respect, then we failed to be respectful. It’s important because if victories are won when this is unaddressed amongst ourselves, then the victory is hollow. And it shames us all when one person’s equality comes at the expense of another.

(And if you wonder how as a Christian it can matter at all when so many in my Church fail to get their head’s around homosexuality – let alone trans-gendered women and men – I choose to take some things very literally. The bit about ‘there is no male and female'(3) in Christ for example. And breaking the chains of oppression, because God meant to set us free from it, since oppression is so much the work of man.)

UPDATE:  The Julie Burchill article has been removed from the Observer website and an apology has been issued by the Editor. 15.01.2013

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-burchill-suzanne-moore-transsexuals

(2) http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/01/11/guardian-columnist-suzanne-moore-leaves-twitter-following-transphobic-row/

(3) Galatians 3:28

(4) Isaiah 58: 6-12

The Summer of the Dormouse

When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), sleep, eating and swilling, buttoning and unbuttoning — how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse.

[Lord Byron]

I am a woman with faith, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend. In all these roles I strive to be me, just as much as I can.

This blog will be about faith, politics, injustice, history, poetry – and whatever else stirs my imagination. Please feel free to comment, or not, as you wish.