Travels (Part One)

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Rue de Rivoli

Life seems busier than ever and as a result I haven't had much time for writing. I have, however, had a couple of opportunities to travel with work which have been really fun and interesting (if tiring). I'd previously visited Paris when I was just seven so obviously it was great to experience the city as an adult (and one who loves city breaks) rather than remembering little more than trotting around after my parents, riding the carousel by the Sacre Coeur and having a fight with my sister by the Arc de Triomphe.

Our Paris trip involved a lengthy itinerary which took most of the day to complete, although naturally we wanted to spend time eating and drinking so had lunch at Crêperie de Cluny and early evening drinks in Montmartre before heading back to catch the Eurostar (45 minutes late - enough time for another drink!). Armed with a street map and a guidebook I managed to navigate us round pretty much all the main sights of the city without getting lost (who says women can't read maps?!) although it was a bit of a rush at times so I'd love to go back for a longer trip with Luke in tow.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was there on a Thursday in January but the city wasn't hugely busy, meaning that getting around wasn't heart-attack inducing in a going-to-London-on-a-Saturday sort of way.


Notre Dame
Notre Dame


At the Louvre

Rue de Rivoli
Rue de Rivoli

Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde

More pics at my Flickr. In Part Two: our trip to Dublin.

Next Saturday I will be descending on London to take part in the Million Women Rise march, just one of the events celebrating International Women's Day 2010. I've been there at the previous two marches and both were amazing, inspiring experiences. We set off from Hyde Park at midday - come along if you can!

Women 'more likely' to see rape as victim's fault?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A new UK report on rape and sexual assault has revealed that many people believe a rape victim is at least partly to blame for what happened to them – and that women are more likely to victim-blame than men.

More than half the people surveyed believed that ‘there are some circumstances where a person should accept responsibility’ for the attack, with a third of women blaming a victim for going to her attacker’s house for a drink or ‘dressing provocatively’.

The Wake Up To Rape report, commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the Havens services for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted, questioned more than 1,000 London residents and provided a worrying insight into current attitudes.

Other situations in which respondents felt the victim is to blame for rape included ‘dancing in a sexy way with a man’ (22 per cent) and ‘acting flirtatiously’ (21 per cent), with 18-24 year olds most likely to feel the victim should accept responsibility for what happened. 27 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women also felt that ‘most claims of rape are probably not true’.

Despite the best efforts of many organisations and individuals to raise awareness that it’s the rapists we should be blaming, it’s depressing to see that many people still demonise victims and doubt their claims. Sadly it’s also unsurprising.

We think we’ve come so far since rape allegations were routinely dismissed over the victim’s short skirt or sex life, but a week doesn’t go by without the tabloids covering the case of a woman who has ‘cried rape’ and UK rape conviction rates stand at just 6.5 per cent. The comment sections of news stories on rape cases are often full of accusations that the victim is lying.

As women we’re constantly told what we can do to avoid being raped, whether that’s not drinking too much or not going out alone at night. Campaigns tend to concentrate on telling potential victims how to prevent an attack rather than telling potential rapists not to rape. Little wonder, then, that victim-blaming is rife - it’s truly terrifying to think that almost a quarter of people see dancing as incitement to rape, as if men just can’t control themselves at the sight of a packed dancefloor.

Public perception has also clearly had an impact on the actions people would take if they were attacked. Despite the fact that 23 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men said they have been made to have sex when against their will, one in five felt that they would not want to call a helpline or referral centre such as the Havens or contact the police. One respondent said:

“I would be afraid of being demoralised by the police and society during court proceedings, why bother when they are just going to get off the charges anyway?”

Others cited embarrassment, fear of repercussions from their attacker, or worry that their family would find out as reasons why they would not want anyone to know what had happened. Over half said they would not want to tell their partner.

Elizabeth Harrison from Havens said:

“Clearly, women are in a position where they need to take responsibility for themselves - but whatever you wear and whatever you do does not give somebody else the right to rape you.”

The fact that victim-blaming was more prevalent among 18-24 year olds suggests that serious efforts need to be made to make sure schools, young people’s services and campaigns targeted at teens promote a strong message that rape is never the victim’s fault.

I think we sometimes have a tendency to assume that it’s the older generation who have less enlightened attitudes about sex and relationships, but the Wake Up to Rape report seems to prove otherwise.

Just 68 per cent of the 18-24 year olds thought that a man forcing his girlfriend or wife to have sex is rape, with 18 per cent saying they didn’t know and 15 per cent believing it’s not. In contrast, 76 per cent of 35-50 year olds were sure that such a situation is rape.

The survey has drawn shocked reactions from feminist groups, rape victims and support groups. Stopping victim-blaming is just one step on the road to fighting rape culture, but it’s a vital one that we must all stand for.

This post was orignally featured at BitchBuzz. Image via Emergency Photography's Flickr.

Some interesting links

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Dave Warnock has been doing a series of posts on the problems of male headship which I've found really interesting and full of excellent points:

My Wife...
The Forgotten Victims of Male Headship
Included or Injustice
The Dangers of Power in Male Headship

There's been some good discussion in the comments.

I was interested to see a story in the Daily Mail (I know right) yesterday proclaiming Curate ourages congregation by telling women to be silent and submit to their husbands. The story has generated hundreds of comments from right across the spectrum - from obviously hardline complementarians who end up coming across as horribly misogynist:

And quite right, too. Finally, somone with the brass to point to the elephant in the room and call it for what it is - bickering, self-centred, self-glorifying, vain and self-obsessed women. Everywhere you look. God appointed man as the head of the household and woman as his helpmeet. If you don't like it, no problem: don't get married.

- to egalitarian Christians and atheists. Sadly there are a few comments from women who talk about their experiences of abusive marriages where their husband used male headhip teaching as justification for the abuse, which is particularly pertinent in the context of Dave's most recent post.

Sleep: the next big feminist issue?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

If you had to come up with a few examples of what you feel are today’s most important feminist issues, I’m betting that ‘sleep deprivation’ wouldn’t be one of them.

But last month, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and US Glamour’s Cindi Leive resolved to get a full night’s sleep every day – all in the name of feminism.

As they pointed out in the introductory post to their Sleep Challenge 2010, lack of sleep leaves you prone to stress and illness, impairs your judgement and leaves you unable to function at your ‘peak performance’.

“Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires that you to know your own mind—they all require the judgment, problem-solving and creativity that only a rested brain is capable of and are all handled best when you bring to them the creativity and judgment that are enhanced by sleep.”

Citing a study which claims that American women are getting an hour and half less sleep a night than they should, Huffington and Leive claimed that by making sure we’re well-rested, we’ll be better-prepared to conquer the challenges and adversity that we face as women.

Of course there are myriad reasons why women are suffering from lack of sleep – working long hours or dealing with work-related stress, personal issues and relationship problems, caring for children, running a household. Sometimes fitting everything we have to do into a mere 24 hours seems like a bit of a stretch.

I know all too well that even when life isn’t particularly hectic, it’s still so easy for us to lose out on sleep. We just have to write that blog post, read another chapter of that book, watch that television show and before we know it, we're more tired than ever.

Over the course of the month, Huffington and Leive’s challenge often focused on women in the business world. They pointed out that a consequence of women breaking in to the ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere of many workplaces is the pressure to work harder and longer to prove that they’re great at their job, or that they’re the most dedicated. This in turn leads to lack of sleep, causing stress and the inability to work to full potential.

This is a very valid point. Today’s business culture often revolves around being seen to put in the longest hours, doing the most work – at the expense of everything else in life. We’ve all seen friends and colleagues exhausted as the strain of simply doing too much catches up with them.

But in The Times on Saturday, Naomi Wolf addressed the issue from a slightly different angle. While agreeing with Huffington and Leive, she pointed out that for them – and most other women in their successful, privileged position – losing out on sleep is often down to ‘self-imposed perfection’ – a sort of ‘hyperperformance’:

“They have been raised in a culture that tells us that if we have too much of a good thing, there has to be a cost. Hence the impulse to show we are good girls, we are hard working, we truly deserve this good fortune with our over-performance.”

Wolf talks of hours spent at the gym, the salon, the local bake sale, getting involved at the children’s school – all in the name of maintaining an image of success. She urges us all to focus on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, concluding:

“Being willing to be a little less than you can be is a form of revolution.”

It’s a well-known fact that despite gains made by women in the workplace and in society over the last 50 years, there is more pressure on us than ever before to be ‘perfect’ in every way – in our jobs, our appearance, as girlfriends, wives and mothers. It often seems like we can’t win.

In light of this it probably is time that we tried to set aside more time for sleep, chilling out and doing anything but trying to live up to ridiculous expectations. In the long run, we’ll probably feel a lot better.

This piece was originally featured at BitchBuzz. Image via Alyssa L Miller's Flickr.

Take Heart Project: supporting women in leaving Quiverfull

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

To a lot of people, the word "Quiverfull" conjures up images of "famous" conservative Christian families such as the Duggars. Even if you don't know much about them, you've probably at least heard of Jim Bob and Michelle, the Arkansas couple who don't believe in using contraception and recently welcomed their 19th child. Despite the fact that the Duggars have never officially labelled themslves as "Quiverfull", they're often seen as representative of the movement, which is mainly concentrated in the US but apparently has adherents in Canada, Australia and the UK.

The Quiverfull movement emerged in the 1980s after the publication of Mary Pride's The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality, which urged women to live under the authority of their husbands, stay at home and focus on motherhood. Its main teaching is that all children are a blessing from God, urging couples to 'trust the Lord' with their family planning - by refraining from using contraception and having 'as many children as the Lord chooses'. With chemical birth control considered to be abortion and natural family planning seen as showing a lack of trust in God, the emphasis is on 'restoring the family' and raising up many children in order to further the spread of Christianity.

And this is only the most well-known aspect of the Quiverfull lifestyle. Far-removed from people practising such values, I think it's all too easy for us to dismiss them as weird fundamentalists, or people who simply choose to live differently to other Christians. I know that in the past I've been guilty of thinking "I may not understand or agree with the way Christians who do x live, but as long as it's not hurting anyone then that's ok". Over the past few years, however, due mostly to a few high-profile articles, documentaries and books on the subject, the realities of Quiverfull have become more apparent - and more disturbing.

Once you get past the whole childbearing thing and look at the other aspects of the movement it's easy to see why. Quiverfull adherents base their lives on the principles of Biblical Patriarchy, where there is male leadership in all aspects of family life and society, women's dominion is as a mother and 'keeper at home' and children, who need to be 'trained' from birth, are under the command of their fathers until they marry.

Some basic values adopted by Quiverfull families have been defined as:
- Courtship/Betrothal, meaning that fathers have the final say in who their children marry and relationships are generally orchestrated by the parents of the couple, with chaperoned visits, no physical contact allowed before the engagement or wedding, etc.
- Sheltering of children from 'the world'
- Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - very distinct gender roles with men as leaders, teachers, providers and decision makers and women as their 'helpmeets' in complete submission.
- Living debt-free and without government aid, often farming and building their own home
- Home church, meeting only with other like-minded families
- Modesty in women's clothing, which may mean only wearing dresses, the wearing of headcoverings etc.

Looking at training resources, magazines and websites related to the movement, you'll often see an obsession with the 19th century and its morality/values, a commitment to 'simple' or 'frugal' rural life, a lot of time spent reiterating the 'differences' between men and women. Many adherents appear happy and fulfilled. Some don't homeschool; some are slightly more 'liberal'.

But you'll also find a commitment to corporal punishment of children, often using specially-made implements such as paddles and sticks. You'll find forums with posts from women asking what to do about their emotionally or physically abusive husband, with replies telling them to 'examine their own sin', be a better wife or pray more. You'll find men who obviously have an unhealthy preoccupation with subjugating women and children. People who believe that for women to hold any position of power just isn't right - to the extent that a woman as a manager in the workplace, a magistrate or a politician is 'wrong'. People who refuse the help of medical professionals in childbirth and bring up large families in grinding poverty because they won't take government aid. People who feel that women should not be able to vote, drive or leave the house without their husband. People who advocate 'Christian domestic discipline' (that's wife-beating to you and me).

To me (and I would expect this includes most of my fellow Christians), these beliefs have no place in a loving, happy marriage and family life.

It's not difficult to find blogs, message boards and other sites run by women who have left the movement, or people who were brought up as Quiverfull children. The emotional scars left by years as Quiverfull adherents are truly awful for many of them. Some were suicidal by the time they managed to get away. For many, leaving Quiverfull means being shunned or attacked by their families and old friends. Some first-hand experiences are detailed here, here and here at Women's Space, the blog of Cheryl Lindsey Seelhof, a former Quiverfull adherent.

For a while now I've been reading one such blog, No Longer Quivering. Vyckie Garrison, a mother of seven who left the movement, set up the site in partnership with another ex-Quiverfull friend, to tell her story. I was really interested to discover that a group of women from the No Longer Quivering forums have recently set up an organisation with the intention of helping women who want to exit Quiverfull and other spiritually abusive patriarchal groups.

The Take Heart Project site explains:

The Take Heart Project is spearheaded by a group of women who, while exchanging thoughts on Vyckie Garrison's No Longer Quivering discussion forums, noticed a disturbing lack of psychological, legal and shelter services geared specifically toward women attempting to exit their oppressive religious and patriarchally controlled lives with five, ten or even more children to care for.

These women, some having already struggled through the exiting process completely on their own, have gathered together to volunteer their myriad of skills, insights and sheer determination to see that any woman's dream of personal freedom is not further hampered by the size of her family nor by a lack of understanding of the dynamics of spiritual abuse.

The project aims to not only help women exiting the lifestyle, but to educate churches, religious leaders and therapists about the dangers of Quiverfull and the potential it has for spiritual abuse, to provide financial help, shelter and emotional support for mothers and young single women who were raised as Quiverfull daughters.

Although it's early days for the Take Heart Project, I was pleased to learn from Vyckie's Twitter that she was able to refer a 'desperate Quiverfull walkaway' to a counsellor with the group this week. Over the past few years, we've seen several examples of disturbing practices and spiritual abuse within Patriarchy circles come to light. I just hope that women looking to leave the lifestyle in the future will be able to find the support and love they deserve without feeling any condemnation or shame over the choice they've made.

Useful links
FAQs on Quiverfull on the Take Heart Project site
All God's Children, a Salon feature on Quiverfull
Kathryn Joyce's book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Why we need to stop with the 'cupcake wars' already

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

It wouldn’t be a normal day without a fresh dose of outrage from the Daily Mail, right?

I’m a particular fan of those times when the outrage misses the point and gets things completely wrong – personally I’ll never forget the legendary day in 2006 when the Mail warned parents about the ‘emo cult’ sweeping through the UK, leaving a trail of despair, capes and scooters (yes, scooters) in its wake.

This time, however, the paper’s simply arriving late to the party with its tirade against a foodstuff that’s so controversial it’s inspired a thousand articles in recent years – the cupcake.

The story is ridiculously familiar to us. Once upon a time, we ate cupcakes at children’s birthday parties. Then the late 90s happened, bringing Sex and the City to our screens and showing us grown women eating cupcakes from a fancy bakery.

Lo and behold, the rise of the cupcake got so out of hand that these days, you can’t escape them. Cupcake shops, parties, blogs, books. People who appear to base their whole lives around them. It all fitted in quite nicely with the Noughties mania for ‘the new domesticity’, Cath Kidston homewares, shabby chic and ‘make do and mend’.

And by 2008 – the backlash had begun. Who hasn’t seen a good few blog posts and newspaper articles wondering why everyone’s just so damn obsessed? Generally, I wouldn’t say no to a cupcake, but I was in full agreement with Cate Sevilla when she wrote that there can be such a thing as sickly-sweet domestic overkill on BitchBuzz last year.

All this seems to have passed Christy Campbell by, however.

“Who of my generation (remembering fishpaste-flavoured Fifties teatimes with mixed feelings) would have expected a world years later where post-feminist women pour from Cath Kidston polka-dot teapots and nibble cupcakes beneath Keep Calm And Carry On posters?”

“Where did this kitsch recreation of a Neverland of pinafored mums come from? Is there a deep, dark reason behind the new female infantilism?” he rages.

He can’t quite seem to believe that celebrities, the fashion pack and even taxi drivers eat cupcakes these days, writing incredulously about the number of successful bakeries which have sprung up and the people who patronize them as if it’s the newest trend in town, as opposed to something that’s been a fairly regular feature in newspapers, magazines and on the web for at least two years now. Indeed, a quick search of the Mail’s archives throws up cupcake-related stories dating back to 2008 – most of them referencing this ‘new fad’.

And because it’s the Daily Mail, readers are predictably outraged – cupcakes are so tacky, so overpriced, so calorific!

Granted, the piece doesn’t go into too much detail about the oft-discussed implications of the cupcake-baking, floral print-loving, 50s housewife-idolising ‘trend’ and whether it’s anti-feminist or not – and this makes me kind of glad. Can you imagine the drama that would start in the comments section?

We know that unbridled adoration for an era untroubled by equality and choices for women is somewhat dodgy. We know that all too often this fad has involved affluent, privileged women ‘playing at domesticity’ without the associated drudgery. And we know that some people think it’s gone too far. In the Guardian last year, Helen Brown even predicted the death of the trend. She felt that the recession would force middle-class women to stop fetishizing the 50s housewife once they longer had the masses of cash needed to finance a house full of floral aprons and special cake tins.

Bearing all this in mind, isn’t it time for the papers to get over the great cupcake debate? They are, after all, just cakes. Plenty of other foods taste good and look nice.

The endless and pointless discussion has been done to death and it becomes tiresome when people have nothing new to offer on the subject.

This Noughties brand of sprinkles-obsessed twee looks like it’s going to be around for some time – and whether you think that’s a good thing or not, let’s move on to arguing over something else.

Originally featured at BitchBuzz. Image from Dynanna's Flickr.


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