Feminism

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Anti-Abortion Groups – Just Cut It Out

At worst, unsolicited junk mail just annoys me. Three menus for Mick’s Curry Pot coming though my letterbox in one week may be taking just that – the mick – but the owner of this takeaway isn’t actually hurting anyone (unless they risk ordering anything.) But laying on my welcome mat this week was an innocuous enough looking colour printed, folded sheet that made my girlfriend feel physically sick and chilled me to the bone.

Little could be less welcome than the leaflet headed Abortion: What everyone has a right to know, kindly (?) provided for me by the people at SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.) Although never mentioned in the text, the whole thing stinks of religion, as I can’t credit this comically acronymed organization having taken this crusade upon themselves out of a genuine regard for women’s well-being.

I’m aware, as I write, that in this instance it would be more appropriate if I were a woman. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. As father to any theoretical offspring, my input, although valid, would be overruled by the owner of the body in which it is brewing – the mother. So the final decision on whether or not to abort is a woman’s. Had a woman written this article its points may have been more valid. Just rest assured when it comes to this disgusting pamphlet that I am trying to be of the same mind.

In the guise of being helpful, and very much in the style of the health advice leaflets you can pick up at your GP surgery, the pamphlet features a photograph of a young, anxious looking couple and promises to contain ‘information about abortion’ with the aim of preventing someone ‘making a decision which could end in regret.’ In fact, the whole piece is filled with prophecies of regret and remorse. True, you may end up regretting having an abortion, but you may also regret going through with the pregnancy and end up raising a child you resent. A terminated pregnancy is not necessarily the last chance a woman will have to have children – there’s no medical evidence that having an abortion affects future fertility – a baby is more final.

Within is a time line of significant development dates – the heart starts beating at three weeks, liver forms from six. But at what point does a cluster of cells deserve the label ‘baby?’ I think of it like this: at what point does a bowl full of ingredients become a cake? Not to make light of what is a serious and often traumatic decision, but sometimes ridicule is the best way to combat facile and ill informed arguments.The argument that possession of hair and fingernails makes a tiny, partially formed homunculus into a person, and its termination into murder, for example.

Nowhere does this set list mention the development of the nervous system, which I would use in the argument of equating suffering. Surely, a foetus without a nervous system, that therefore cannot feel pain, suffers considerably less (if at all) than a mother who is forced to go through with the pregnancy. All sorts of what if scenarios can be thrown into the mix here; what if the woman was raped? What if she or the father has a disease or debilitating condition that will be passed onto the child? What if she or they are simply not able to raise the child? The mother, father and child could spend years or their whole lives suffering from the consequences of the decision not to have an abortion. Anyone able to take a balanced look at both sides of the suffering argument would see the burden of suffering is against the minuscule organism that cannot feel anyway.

The analogy of the cake was for comic effect, as I stated. The moment of birth is not the first point at which a developing offspring can be considered a baby. Appropriately, a deadline for termination is set well before this. In the UK this is 24 weeks, although 90% of abortions occur before the 12th week and usually are given after that only for strong medical reasons.

‘Women deserve better,’ we are told by these SPUCers. ‘Evidence points to increased risk in some women of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress and eating disorders.’ Nowhere is this evidence made explicitly clear. These predictions are such that they almost seem like a threat. You will go mental if you have an abortion, they seem to say. Women certainly deserve better than information like this. It’s an insult to their intelligence and a perversion of the facts.

On the rear, some further facts and figures are given. I’ll not question the numbers, as they’re pretty irrelevant in regards to the conclusion they are used to support. There is apparently one abortion in Britain every three minutes, 570 a day (mathematics is clearly not their strong point either, as 24 hours divided by 3 minutes equals 480) and 4,000 every week (again, a distortion of their own figures.) The denouement to this little tally is that ‘if current trends continue, 9 million children will have been killed under the Abortion Act by April 2018 – the 50th anniversary of the law coming into force.’ It is here I have the biggest issue, and it is with their choice of language. Certainly the killing of millions of children would be a tragic and appalling practice. But it is not killing, and they are not children. They are children in potentia. The accompanying illustration of an embryo, with the label ‘unborn baby at 8 weeks’ says it all. Even though the illustration is half the size of a mug coaster, it is still stated that the picture is enlarged. If these people knew the first thing about embryology, they’d know that in no sense can this tiny, barely noticeable life form be described as a baby.

The whole leaflet is a piece of distorted scaremongering. If it’s facts and figures you want, here are some scary ones this misleading organization omit: worldwide, 70,000 women a year die from illegal, back street abortions, mostly in countries where they are not legally available; around a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion – as the world is over-populated as it is, with resources stretched, can you imagine what would happen if you added 25% to it? Think of the starvation, the disease, the pollution that would ensue. I’m not prophesying doom, but I’m not sure, were these children to be born, they would thank you for bringing them into that kind of world.

The overriding raison d’etre of these kinds of organization is to protect the foetus until the moment of birth, but after that it’s the parent’s responsibility. They care not a jot that the child may be raised in poverty, in an environment of abuse or neglect, subject to disease or disability, hunger and pain. As the pamphlet is keen to point out, ‘every life is worth living.’

Abortion is neither the beginning or the end of the world’s problems. Certainly, I would rather the traumatic and painful decision to have an abortion did not have to be taken by any woman. If SPUC have funding available for such a campaign, it would surely be better spent at the other end of the process – in preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Contraception, freely available to those that cannot afford it, is your friend there. But education about its availability and uses is often blocked and the subject of other negative and misleading campaigns, often by religious bodies, such as the Catholic church, and unfortunately very often from the same groups who are against abortion.

What it boils down to is this: These groups hate the idea of a woman’s sexual freedom. Sex is for making babies, not for fun. If you get pregnant, it’s your own fault, and if you have an abortion you’re a murderer. What I think is this: enjoy your sex life, as long as you in doing so hurt no one else; take precautions and take care of your body; know your own body and know when something is wrong; accidents do happen, and if they do there are options available. Abortion isn’t an ideal solution, but we live in a far from ideal world.

Once this piece is published, I’m going to take great pleasure in ripping this leaflet up, and burning the shreds. Unless an actual dead baby had been shoved through my letterbox, I don’t think I could have been more revolted at an unwanted delivery.

(Source of some information: http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/ )
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In Defence of Mumsnet

Mumsnet, one of the major British parenting network sites, has always come in for a lot of flak, most of which comes from two points of view:

  • Those who think it is the same as the other fluffy pink mummy sites, full of bad spelling and tickers
  • Those who think it is a sinister conspiracy against the country: a Boden and biscuits mafia

Now we have a new one – those who think it is a distributor of “man hate”.  Sigh. *

So, what is Mumsnet?  Why does it cause such a problem?

When people say “Mumsnet” what they usually mean is the Talk section of Mumsnet, which is a huge message board or forum, aimed at parents (although the majority of users are mothers, there are a sizable minority of fathers, grandparents, childcare workers and childless people who also use the site).  There are hundreds of sections, covering all aspects of life, not just parenting.  Each section tends to have its own “feel” – so Pregnancy tends to be fairly gentle, Am I Being Unreasonable? is a hotbed of disagreements and strong debate and Feminist Activism can be pretty militant.  There is a site wide policy of very light moderation, so swearing, heated disMumsnet logocussions and pretty obscene conversations do occur (never, ever google anything users of Mumsnet tell you to google…).  Members can name-change whenever they like, meaning that posters can reveal secret details on one thread then go back to joking with long term friends on another, under their usual nickname, which does not tend to be related to ‘real life’ identities.  There are also no avatars, twinkly tickers, signatures or pictures, and only a very small range of emoticons.

Herein lies one of our problems. Mumsnet is very different to the rest of the parenting forums, and I would say that the main difference is that Mumsnet treats posters as adults.  We aren’t mollycoddled, and the only things that get deleted (apart from spam) are personal attacks and hate speech.  Mumsnet as a body of posters tends to be self regulating – so a poster coming on who doesn’t follow the rules will get very short shrift.  This has given us a bit of a reputation for being bitchy, although, to me, it just means that we say how we feel, like grown ups.  Other sites will tend to ban you if you express any forthright opinions, and so there are a good few Mumsnetters who are banned from other sites.

Mumsnet also tends to be a bit more educated than other sites.  That’s not to say that Mumsnetters all have doctorates, or even GCSEs, but there is a higher expectation of basic education.  Text speak and bad grammar are frowned upon, and there are often jokes about things like classic literature and politics.  This is often given as evidence that Mumsnet is somehow elitist, and that “ordinary” people would be pushed out and ridiculed.

To me, there are endless websites where you can post cute little tickers, use vomit inducing euphemisms and tipe lyk u cant speel 🙂 ❤ ❤ 😮 and I think it is only fair to let one site have its own way of working.  Just because the users of the site are mostly women, and mostly mothers at that, doesn’t mean that we have to act like children ourselves.

justine off of mumsnet.  Because of the general culture of the site, there is a higher than usual concentration of professionals and, in particular, journalists.  Mumsnet is often used as a cheap research technique, with posts (usually without the knowledge and assent of responding posters) being used in news articles as the “opinion of parents” (I have had this happen to me, when I posted about an internet joke, and there was one reply – I was quoted twice, as different users, as proof that mothers in general found the joke hilarious).  Justine Roberts, one of the founders of the site, can often be found on talk shows giving her opinion – she can’t give the opinion of Mumsnet as a whole, because the 2 million users that use the site every month can’t possibly have one opinion.

However, that, and the fact that the site regularly hosts web-chats with politicians and other movers and shakers, gives Mumsnet a reputation as attention seekers who try to control the media.

Why is it that people hate the idea of a site where women can get together to chat about sex, politics, parenting and culture?  Men have most of the rest of the internet, and any woman daring to post anywhere else is often attacked if she dares mention anything feminine in any way.  Parents of young children are likely to become isolated, and there isn’t the support network that used to exist to support young mothers.

So, if my baby is acting weirdly, or the cuts are pissing me off, or I just thought up a really good joke about mooncups…I’ll see you on Mumsnet.

*I have deliberately ignored the ridiculous behaviour of a certain pressure group lately.  Don’t feed the troll and all that.

We Believe You

We Believe You is the name of the latest Mumsnet campaign, launched this week to raise awareness of rape, how prevalent it is and how many myths surround it. Please go and read about their campaign – the research they have done is quite eye opening, to say the least.

“Victim blaming” is so prevalent in our society that I honestly believe that many women are afraid to report rape and assault for fear of being blamed. I just read that sentence back and it sounds really silly doesn’t it? Who, in their right mind, would blame a woman for being raped? Well, a hell of a lot more people than you might think.

Women are criticised if they don’t dress modestly. If a woman is raped on a night-out  people will openly wonder what she was wearing, had she had too much to drink, was she stupidly wandering down an alleyway on her own.

Sound familiar?

If you’re not shocked at these attitudes let me tell you why you should be. There is NO excuse for rape. Placing even a tiny part of the responsibility of an assault on to the victim is wrong. I would like the freedom to wear what I like, walk where I want to without being told it may get me into trouble.

A society, where attitudes like this are prevalent: blaming the victims to a greater or lesser extent – is a society where rape is tacitly accepted. “No, rape is never acceptable,” you might say, and you’d be right. But it appears that we live in a society which does accept it.

That’s not a very nice thing to realise is it?Rape Pre-dates miniskirts - banner at a slutwalk.  Photo: cathredfem

Rapists can, and very often do, get away with their crimes, because our society doesn’t believe the victims who come forward. They say things like “oh well if you go out at that time of night on your own you’re asking for it”. Who say that? You’d be surprised. Men, women, of all generations, think that way.

No. No woman is asking to be raped.

How about if you then learn that in over 80% of cases of rape and sexual assault, the victim knows the aggressor. “Yeah, date rape,” you might think, and millions of us will shudder at that very phrase. Date rape. That’s not real rape is it? Not proper rape. If a girl goes up to her boyfriend’s flat she’s asking for it isn’t she. She can hardly complain if she changes her mind at the last minute.” Can she?

Yes. She can. Date rape, (ugh) or rape within a relationship is rape too. It is just as serious, just as brutal, just as damaging as any other kind of rape. In fact it can be even more so. Because you go and tell your average Joe Bloggs that you were raped by your boyfriend, or husband, or even on a casual date. Most people just won’t take you seriously. It’s not considered real rape. Ask Ken Clarke. The guy in charge of the British justice system.

So, a victim may be accused of having asked for it in some way, or her experience of rape might be belittled and treated as non serious. That’s bad enough isn’t it. But it gets worse. Because lots and lots and lots of people just simply don’t believe women when they say they have been raped or assaulted.

Can you imagine having such a traumatic and life changing experience, and turning to the people around you for support and them not believing you? And when it goes public (because there’s nothing the press love more than a nice juicy rape case) the onus will be on you, the victim, to prove you are the victim. And often people won’t believe you. Lots of people. People who should be helping you, like the police. Some will, some won’t. You don’t want to have to deal with the people who don’t believe you.

A case in the news recently that I blogged about several times was the chambermaid in New York who accused Dominique Strauss Kahn of assault. Regardless of what has happened since (and no, he wasn’t cleared, there were issues with the evidence) the reaction in France when he was arrested was shocking. I blogged about it here.

The Mumsnet campaign makes for some pretty depressing reading. It is the 21st century and rape, how it is treated and how easy it is to report it, hasn’t changed all that much. Far too women are still being raped. And far too few cases are being reported. And even fewer convictions are happening.

It’s very  very sad.

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves…

Life goes on. The world turns – civilisation evolves and adapts. For the travelling community, nomadism – that intrinsic need to roam – is as much a choice as it is a survival technique.

From traditional Yurt communities, to Bedouin tribes and the Eastern European Roma, the gadjo (non traveller) represent a confusing mix of authority and conflict.

Settlement acts passed from the early 1960’s in former Communist states which intended for travelling families to establish themselves and work in the oppressive Land regimes forbade the use of identification as a Roma or Gypsy and forced integration into a society which, for many at that point in time, they neither had a natural affiliation to or comprehension of. Even British legislation prevented ‘vagabondism’ in most forms – causing the outlawing of occluding public by-ways and roads. Yet none of these techniques worked to incorporate a transient and Travellers on the Glen Road, Belfast, 1980. Photo: Bobbie Hanveymobile nationhood of people into host populations. Constantly persecuted, frequently misunderstood and a mystery to both the non traveller and themselves, the history of these people is a fluid and inflammatory story of optimistic struggle and straggling survival. One to which no one is immune, nor alien to.

Current popular interest in the lifestyle of traveller families has highlighted the differences between the old notion of extended support networks – which many Roma enjoy – and the insular autonomy of host nations which prevent, to an extent, the ability to disengage and re-engage at will into everyday life. The majority of Roma have settled due to financial stability which a permanent residence encourages; those that choose to continue a mobile livelihood face prosecution and persecution. This is undeniable. Media fear mongering – the idea of the gypsy as sly, dishonest, dirty – still permeates in news reports which ostensibly serve to both integrate and isolate the traveller community.

No solutions are advanced, the traveller community ‘travels’ and therefore it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to move on when the local community feels that this time has come. No other migrant community has such an uncertain future. Two days, three weeks, four months in one place at the most. When land is acquired, not only do they have to navigate a planning process which is confusing even to gadjo but they face the added suspicion as to how this would impact on local population. But does it really matter, in the long term? Surely a settled community – even one which flouts planning laws, is better than one who is hounded and hindered.

And this can be violent in its extremes. France and Italy have progressively legislated against traveller input into their respective societies. In Romania and Balkans areas violent attacks on settled traveller camps have increased according to the ERRC. Very few of these attacks are prosecuted, out of court settlements are meagre and do not reflect the severity of these. For instance, retributive justice, whether real or imagined, often take the form of burnings. Whole communities set alight. Maimed and broken. Women, children and men – those who have been neighbours – are targeted as embodiments of criminality and treated as such.

Trawling the archives of the ERRC and social sciences departments throw up truly sickening accounts, each followed by interviews by both victims and offenders. Offenders here is loosely used, frequently they miss the justice system. And similar justifications occur throughout these: we don’t want them here. They bring nothing to society. They dress provocatively. They don’t want to work. They have no respect. They deserve everything they get – taking our jobs, our benefits. It is a tale as old as time. One to which no minority community has been exempt. A basic lack of understanding of culture clashing, simplistic, indeed, but sometimes a simple statement starts a debate rolling.

Traveller children are instilled in respect of older generations, often they live in close knit groups and they have a very real feeling of family. In many areas there is a complete innocence toward everyday living. Education is secondary – and this is understandable to an extent. If no one is willing to see the person, the potential to excel, why invest in a system which is geared toward ideals they do not hold. Education is a key to future, a key to employabTraditional Gypsy Caravanility, but if no one will employ a traveller above a menial position, why bother? Why bother sending a child to school to be ridiculed, put in special institutes (a common practice) because they do not conform to a pattern of life which is so skewed against them? Isn’t it better to have the children close, to teach them what has been tried and tested as useful?

Gender is also an issue in traveller communities. Women are often not valued as autonomous people, but as glue to the community. They are an amalgam of mother and nurturer – an old fashioned premise but one which is diffused between all the group. Traveller women are usually proud of this role – and if lack of ambition is to be reviled then they truly lack a feminist impulse. But this is a contentious statement. Feminists everywhere will argue for and against, and here is not the place to pull this apart.

In times of recession scapegoats are easily found. Be they Jewish, Islamic, poor or rich…Aushwitz was home to over half a million Traveller families; marked by a ‘Z’ on entry. Hardly any were liberated. Mengeles systematically medically tested traveller people seeing them as subhuman, denying them an identity and a history. Denying them culture, as the Nazi regime sought to do with most disenfranchised groups, minority ethnicities.

Yet it is only within the last 30 years that the loss of life has been acknowledged by governments. They are a sideline in history, and for most travellers’ this collective amnesia has worked to preserve them. A people with no past or future can glide through life, but they cannot enjoy it fully. They cannot step proudly and say who they are. The controversy that has surrounded recent documentaries, the sensationalistic reporting denotes a change, a change in perspective in the gadjo community – could this be a recognition of the freedom that Roma enjoy – but with an ignorance towards the cost that this represents? Now is the time to see the bigger picture.

Drunk Girls in Mini-skirts: the Rules of Rape

What’s the difference between these two situations?

Situation A: One night, a man and a woman meet at a party and have some drinks together. She’s dressed in hot-pants and a sparkly top. They’re at the party for a while and they get on well. They like each other; sex may, at least, be on the agenda. Other couples around them are clearly about to hook up. An hour after they part, the man accidentally wanders into the host’s bedroom and finds the woman lying on the bed. She is clearly unconscious with drink. He later claims he innocently presumed it was okay to go ahead and have sex with her.

Situation B: One night, a man and a woman meet in a hotel bar and have some drinks together. She’s dressed in a smart suit and low heels. They’re in the bar for a while and they get on well. They like each other; sex may, at least, be on the agenda. Other couples around them are clearly about to hook up. An hour after they part, the man idly tries the handle of the connecting door between their rooms and discovers it has accidentally been left unlocked. In the next room, the woman is lying on the bed. She is clearly fast asleep. He later claims he innocently presumed it was okay to go ahead and have sex with her.

Here’s another example. Somewhere in London, two women go to two parties. Woman A is dressed in a thigh-skimming mini-dress. Woman B is wearing a knee-length skirt and long-sleeved blouse. Woman A gets blind drunk and is escorted home by a male friend. Woman B suffers from narcolepsy and is escorted home by a male friend. On arriving home, both fall unconscious. Both are raped by the men who brought them home. Whose rape provokes the most outrage?skirts of different lengths

However much we don’t want to, we see the difference. We hate and despise this difference, and when Ken Clark refers to “degrees of rape”, we’re rightly outraged. Nonetheless, the difference is there. But it’s not about degrees of consent, or degrees of rape, or even degrees of confusion. The terrible truth is that, when a woman is drunk and in a mini-skirt, the man knows he has society’s permission to rape her.

Very early on, we learn the rules of nakedness, display and sexual contact. Context matters. If it didn’t, acts of attempted rape would happen most often on beaches and in swimming-pools, and Beauty Pageants would need to take place behind closed doors. In this sense, rapists are just like anyone else. And, just like consensual sex, society tells us when and how rape can take place. Like most social rules, the rules of rape are irrational, but – just as we generally don’t wear our underwear to the beach – we abide by them, and we expect rapists to abide by them too. As a bald statement, this fact is appalling; but on a basic level, we know it’s true.

This is why we tell our daughters (but not our sons) that they “can’t go out like that”. This is why reporters speak of drunk women (but not sleeping women) as “vulnerable”. Through these phrases, we reinforce the rules of rape.

“You can’t go out like that.” “Don’t make yourself vulnerable.” When we teach our daughters how they can evade rape, we also teach our sons that raping a drunk woman in a mini-skirt is socially sanctioned.

This is not to say that all men are rapists. I hope and believe that almost no men are. But all men learn the rules; and among them are those who enjoy forcing sex on an unwilling partner.

Here’s a statistic that shows how good rapists are at keeping the rules. I have a friend who is a police officer. She’s damn good at her job; she’s clever and diligent and careful, and her success rates are excellent. She’s worked on the force for seventeen years. In that time, she’s put away one rapist. This isn’t the only case she’s seen. It’s just the only case where the perpetrator was sent down.

Successful police officer. Seventeen years. One rapist. Am I still going to teach my daughter the rules? You’re damn right I am.

Is it possible to change the rules in our favour? I have an idea for this. It has its flaws, but I think it could work. In every alternate year, rape will become the default position for all sexual acts, between all men and woman, anywhere. In every alternate year, for a woman to prove rape, all she’ll have to prove will be sexual contact. If she says it’s rape and sex took place, then it’s rape. Job done.

The only permissible defence will be if the man can produce a standardised form, signed and dated by the woman, confirming consent for the sexual acts defined on the form, on that date, at that time and in that place.

This form won’t be infallible. If she says she was drunk when she signed, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says she was coerced or threatened into signing, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says her signature was forged, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If sex took place on a different date, at a different time (each form will allow a maximum of, say, one hour for the agreed acts to be completed) or in a different place to the ones specified on the form, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape. If she says he committed an act not agreed in advance, it’s invalid and he’s guilty of rape.

Please note: this form isn’t compulsory. It’s simply an optional tool to protect men against wilful rape accusations. You can still have sex without the form. Most couples in established relationships may not bother ever. Probably even most couples having sex for the first time won’t use it. But if men want to be safe – they’ll get that form signed, and get it signed properly.

And men themselves can do a lot to avoid the risks. For example: don’t have sex with women you’ve only just met – you can’t spot a false-accuser by looking. Don’t have sex when you’re drunk – you’re more likely to lose the form, or forget which acts she consented to. If possible, get your form signed in public, and in front of a good friend. That way you’ll have a witness. You might want to carry a tape-recorder to collect proof that she didn’t tell you “no” at any point during the act.

This system will lead to some miscarriages of justice, and I’m very sad about that. Some innocent men with no bad intentions will have their lives destroyed by women who, for some sick reason of their own, abuse the power they’ve been given by society. That will be terrible, and I mean that sincerely. I’ll pray it never happens to my son. If you organise a march to protest about it, I might even go on it.

But you know what? I’ll also know, in my secret shameful heart, that l have the power. I’m a good person, so I won’t abuse it. But I’ll have it.

Okay, even I can see this completely fucking ridiculous. But you know what? At least it’s equally fucking ridiculous. At least this way, everyone gets to experience both sides of the equation. At least this way, everyone gets an equal amount of time in power, and time in fear. And maybe when we’ve all experienced the other side of the equation, we’ll find some way of living together that lets us all get disgustingly drunk in clothes that don’t suit us, without the Rape spectre hanging over us.

The Detective and the Dominatrix

Anybody who watched the triumphant return of Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock on New Years Day will not be surprised to learn that the naked dominatrix, Ms. Irene Adler, was the subject of some controversial debates around whether or not having a female character with no agency outside of her sexuality was a little bit, well, sexist. A great rundown of the points to be made on that side of the argument can be found over at the Guardian. The latest episode, Hound of the Baskervilles featured precisely two female characters, which can’t have helped matters either.

While it is a little weary that Irene had to be introduced to Sherlock as naked as the day she was born, there are some fascinating bits to be picked out of this arguably ill thought out use of stereotype. This was brought to my notice by the fannish safari park that is Livejournal which provided some thought provoking screen grabs.

Irene Adler is presented as the very personification of sex, and she’s a woman and that is reductionist and unfortunate. That is, after all, what many people and particularly in the media would list as a woman’s primary function. However, put in context I don’t think this particular characterisation is as tragic as all of that. What is arguably more tragic is the reaction provoked by carefully framed shots of a naked woman.

There is an important revelation minutes before Sherlock meets Ms Adler that throws each characters representation into a very different light: Sherlock is a virgin. Is Ms. Adler’s blatant sexuality not the perfect antidote for the bane of Sherlock’s stuttering, awkward virginity?

Nakey.
Irene Adler- naked save for a well framed shot & Sherlock- naked save for a bed sheet.

This creates a parallel and a juxtaposition between Adler and Holmes- a literal virgin/whore dichotomy, except with our dashing detective as the virgin and his intellectual equal as the whore. One is stripped naked and shamed, one declares nudity to be her battle dress. One is empowered by sexuality, one is “alarmed” by it (despite his protests to the contrary). Add to this their shared brilliance and mutual fascination and there is an argument for presenting them as two sides of the same coin, albeit with a controversial point of comparison. Although I suppose sex is always going the divide between great men and great women as far as many people are concerned. In the episode, it isn’t until Sherlock flirts back, uses his sexuality to his own advantage, that he manages to beat Ms. Adler at her own game.

Irene Adler- in Sherlock’s Coat

They are also made to look alike. Adler has her hair in curls like Sherlock’s and the same length. She is even wearing his coat.

Looked at in this light, I think introducing Ms. Adler in the nude was a crucial point of comparison between predator and prey. While in this instance, nudity has its use and can be justified, it’s still getting a woman naked and making her sexuality her tool for making her own way. Yes, she manipulates powerful men and women, but without them she would have no secrets and be of no importance. She clearly has a powerful mind but, as Sherlock points out, she chooses to “take her clothes off to make an impression.”

Of course then it becomes about demonising the female form. I don’t recall seeing any complaints about Sherlock’s nudity, though it was more revealing. Is it sexist to present a woman in this way, or sexist to be outraged by a woman presented in this way? Is the female form really so horrific? Is it the fact that she uses it to her advantage or the fact that it’s there at all? There are too many points against Ms. Adler’s nudity that strike me as sexist in themselves that I don’t feel comfortable sticking to one argument or the other.

Both? Neither?

Disney Princesses – Not All Bad…

Confession: sometimes I quite like Disney.

I am totally on board with the “Pink Stinks” campaign. As the mother of a son and a daughter I have tried to select toys that are gender neutral. It hasn’t stopped my son from being car/train/plane mad and hating pink and dolls. However he loves baking and cleaning so I think I am doing a pretty good job. Besides, my nieces were all car/train/plane mad when they were my son’s age! I have been known to dress my son in pink (until he decided pink was for girls – I blame his nursery friends!) and rarely buy clothes in that colour for my daughter.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast with a bookBut I must confess I rather like Disney. Not all Disney. I hate the Princessy stuff that implies you have to be beautiful and get a man to be happy – yes Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, I am talking about you! However I am not ready to dismiss them all. I love Belle(Beauty and the Beast), her love of books and her ability to look beyond the surface to see a man she could connect to on both an intellectual and emotional level.  I am also a big fan of kick-ass Princess Fiona from the Shrek movies and that she chose to remain fat and ugly because to her beauty did not equate to happiness.

There are other good female role models to be found if you squint. Mulan was pretty brave going off instead of her father into war. I have recently introduced my son to Sinbad as well, Eris maybe a bad guy but she is female, strong and articulate. She also knows when to make a tactical withdrawal without losing face. Marina isn’t even a princess – she is an ambassador, presumably on her own merits. She consistently demonstrates strength, ingenuity, compassion and wit, all admirable traits in any person. She follows her heart in the end, leaving her fiance the noble prince (who Princess Fiona from Shrektakes it in good stride) to go with Sinbad – but she does it on her own terms and her need to pursue a different path to what was laid out for her. The only time she needed rescuing was because she had been distracted by the need to rescue someone one else!

These are the sort of Disney Princesses I want to capture the imagination of  both my son and my daughter. I want them both to appreciate that although men and women are different, they are equal and have their own strengths and weaknesses

My New Book Buying Policy

After the whole “perfect princess” thing (see my previous post) I have decided to draw a line in the sand.  It is all very well having a case by case judgement on each thing and all, but sometimes you need to send a clear message to retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and everyone else who is putting these things in front of your children.

I would love it if you could join me.  It is a pretty basic rule.

I will no longer buy any books for my child that are labelled by gender.

That is it.  We’re not talking about colours or subjects, we are not talking about in depth analysis of the message.  Just that simple rule.Child reading a book

Unless it is “how to maintain your genitals”, (which is unlikely to be in a mainstream bookshop children’s section anyway…) there is no need for a children’s book to be gender specific.

So, no more “Boys Book of Football”, no more “Animal Stories for Girls”.  Animal stories and football stories are fine, but why are we automatically excluding half of all children in the title?  Even books with titles like “Girls Can Do Science Too!” are setting themselves up as being somehow unusual.  Boys and girls don’t want or need to be shoehorned into marketing sectors.  Especially not when it comes to learning and books.

I realise this rule misses a lot of books (it would even have missed out our old friend Princess Twinkle) and it may well include the odd book that has good contents, but, you know what, I’m tired of all this.  Publishers need to stop telling my children what is and isn’t for their gender.  If your book is so good, why can’t all children read it?

If enough of us do it, publishers might start noticing.  For now, they can still put a load of pink frilly stuff on the animal book, and a load of muddy boys on the football book, but lets not make it so blatant.

It might be a small, flawed step, but it is something.

Incidentally, a brilliant campaign against the “pinkification” of girls’ toys, clothes and books can be found at http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk/ – go and have a look at the excellent work they are doing.

Is the body more than an object?

In modern western society, we live in a culture where a great deal of emphasis is placed on how we look as opposed to what our bodies actually enable us to do and experience.  This creates a sense of our bodies as objects and creates a sense of disconnection between our bodies and our experiencing of our selves.

In the past, our bodies were experienced and appreciated more as means of production, ensuring we remained connected to, and within them. Before the advent of modern technology we used our bodies more; housework was heavier than it is now, people were more actively involved in the growth and production of their own food.  The machines we use today create a distance between those things and our bodies, and we no longer experience the satisfaction of using our bodies for hard labour. And it seems that the less, as a society, we have the need to use our bodies for production or constructive reasons, the more the emphasis has shifted on to how our bodies look.Detail of a Chinese health poster via no tech magazine  - the body as machine

Turning the body into an object to be sculpted, to be dieted or exercised into an ideal dictated to us by the media and peer pressure, disconnects us from our selves.  Our bodies are part of our selves.  Our bodies are how we present our selves to the world.  Our bodies are from where we relate to other people.  Our bodies are also what enable us to experience our thoughts, feelings and experiences through our five senses.  And yet, by viewing them as objects which need to be changed to fit society’s ideals and expectations, it’s easy to lose sight of, or to lose touch with, the true value and meaning of our bodies; as experiential containers of our selves.

In modern Britain, it’s almost an accepted norm that women especially, but increasingly men too, will be weight and body conscious, or on some kind of restricting diet in order to mould themselves into an ‘ideal’ shape constructed by the media and society.  It seems that many people are more concerned with what society and our culture tell us about how we should look than with listening to their own Selves, to their own bodies. And this is where disordered eating can begin to creep in as people lose touch with their body’s own hunger signals in their attempts to mould their body to fit these ideals. Our bodies, if we learn how to listen clearly to them will tell us what we need to eat.  Our bodies, if we listen to them and satisfy their physiological hunger will settle at a weight that’s right for them; very difficult to achieve though in a culture which prizes thinness, and often thinness to a point below the natural weight of many women.

Our modern Western world is still based on a patriarchal system where the masculine is prized over the feminine. The masculine principles of individuality, rational thought, autonomy and independence are prized above the feminine principles of intuition, feelings and emotion.  A spiritual theory of eating disorders views eating disorders as a ‘Spiritual Hunger’, as a woman’s disconnection from her Self, her Inner Goddess and her inner feminine as a result of trying to fit into this Western world.  People with Greek statue of Aprodite leaning on a pillar - photo credit mharrscheating disorders tend to have highly developed masculine principles to the detriment of their feminine and spiritual side which shows itself both in their character traits and their determination to eliminate their physical feminine body.

The accepted female shape, or what is considered ‘attractive’ has changed considerably over time.  In past centuries, and even today in other cultures, female bodies are valued and worshipped for the amazing vessels which they are; bodies which nourish and create life.   The idea of woman as a goddess, prevalent in ancient times, has been lost in our society, and today instead, we’re fed images of often painfully, or unrealistically, thin models to aspire to.  A healthy woman’s body is meant to contain a percentage of fat (between 21% & 36%, compared to 10% & 25% for men), it’s meant to be curvy to house her internal organs and prepare her for nurturing children.  A female curvy body with rounded stomach, thighs and hips were once valued and worshipped.  Yet today, women strive to eliminate all such curves; and by doing so disconnect themselves from their full experiencing of them-Selves and their experience of living as a woman in a woman’s body.

Why I’m a Feminist

I was a student in 1980s Manchester, hotbed of student activism. And at West Berlin’s Free University, incubator of student radicalism. Feminism was a cool lifestyle choice, though of course there was far more behind it. A rapist terrorised female students in my first year at Manchester. Women refugees spoke of their persecution in their home countries. But we marched together to reclaim the night, I volunteered on student helplines, and there was a palpable shared sense of injustice and of community acting to redress wrongs.

Noughties life as a new Mum in small town Hertfordshire was a Big Shock. And yes, feminism still mattered, and yes the issues were just as present as a first timFeminism is the radical notion that women are people Mum, but it fossilised to a private belief, without the community – or probably my volition – to move to action.

And now 2010 in Nairobi, and I weep at the stories that Kenyan women in my life share with me. The mother who interrupted the rape of her eleven year old daughter by a family member. How the police wouldn’t get involved. How the family had to move districts for security. Of the lack of any support services. The woman who tells of her rape by a family member who was paying her school fees. How she ran away just before A levels, but still hasn’t told her mother. The girls who tell of gatekeepers demanding sex to introduce you to a possible employer. My friend, a single mum, who works as a prostitute when she can’t raise the school fees for her children. The young girl who tells of the night time cries of her sister, being raped by her father.

These aren’t well worn stories which have been wrung dry in the telling and retelling. These are painful explanations of why something didn’t happen as it might have. In my friends’ minds they aren’t the point of the story, but a contributing factor to be endured, a thread in the pattern of their lives. They are the stories of the powerlessness of poverty. Of the impotence of the vulnerable when a justice system doesn’t do justice. The stories of why feminism matters, why we women need to listen and to advocate, and why feminism can’t be allowed to be a dirty word, even in the cocoon of Small Town UK. Take time today to pray for the women of Kenya.

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