The year in feminist rage

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

What's been generating debate this year?

1. Government debates giving anonymity to rape defendants

Politicians and activists alike were left reeling when the coalition government announced that it planned to give anonymity to rape defendants. As the tabloids went to town on reports of false allegations and 'evil' women 'ruining the lives of innocent men', those opposed to the move expressed their concern that it signified a move towards further victim-blaming and the insinuation that most women lie about rape, despite the fact that the percentage of false allegations is no greater than for any other crime. A major worry was such legislation would discourage women from coming forward and hinder the police in catching serial rapists, whose victims might report them after seeing coverage of other crimes they had committed.

Thankfully the coalition abandoned its plans in November, but only after months of protest from women's rights groups and some ministers. There was concern that it would instead look to change the way the media can name suspects, but plans seem to have been buried for now.

2. Can the words 'conservative' and 'feminist' go hand in hand?

If you're Sarah Palin and her band of 'mama grizzlies' - yes. For a lot of other women, the answer's a resounding 'no'. We'd had this debate before, around the time of the election in 2008, but it came back with a vengeance in 2010. Sarah P made a speech earlier in the year, using the f-word and 'reclaiming' it for her brand of anti-choice, conservative politics and it hasn't gone down well with a lot of liberal women, who don't feel that those who wish to restrict access to abortion and support the Republican party's somewhat-lacking-in-social-justice goals and policies should be holding up the feminist banner.

Prominent liberal feminists like Jessica Valenti discussed it at length. We had magazine articles, endless news stories. Women argued over whether it was right to debate who gets to call thsemslves a feminist or not. To be honest, there was a time where it looked like it was never going to get off the front pages of certain blogs and sites. As I said when I wrote about it for BitchBuzz back in the summer, will this never end?

3. Mac and Rodarte's disastrously-inspired cosmetics

In July, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte collaborated with Mac to produce a new make-up line 'inspired' by the Mexican city of Juarez and the women who live there. Unfortunately, Juarez just happens to be known as one of the most violent cities in the world, one where at least 400 violent murders of women since 1993 have been left unsolved and the word 'femicide' was coined. Many locals believe that the death toll could be as high as 5000.

The majority of the murdered women were workers in the city's sweatshops - the factories which inspired shades with names such as 'Badlands' and 'Ghost Town'. The outcry at the make-up line, which was branded 'tasteless' and 'insensitive', forced MAC and Rodarte to release statements of apology, in which they said they planned to change the names of the offending products and donate $100,000 to benefit women in the city.

The oversight shown by MAC and Rodarte here was pretty astounding, but at least they moved quickly to rectify their mistakes. In the meantime, there's still no justice for the people of Juarez.

4. Fawcett Society takes Government to court over budget

As the reality of the coalition government's emergency budget and the impact it would have on the lives of the disadvantaged became unpleasantly clear, everyone was feeling pretty disheartened about what looked set to happen. It was obvious that many of the cuts made - to housing benefit, child benefit and changes in the tax system - would hit women much harder than men.

The Fawcett Society almost immediately issued a challenge, stating its intentions to take the Government to court and have the budget declared unlawful under equality laws. Fawcett claimed that politicians had made no assessment of the impact the cuts would have on gender equality. Said Chief Executive Ceri Goddard:

"Women already earn less, own less, and have less control over their finances than men. Yet some £5.8 billion of the £8 billion of cuts contained in the budget will be taken from women."

Many other activists joined in the call for a rethink on the budget, but unfortunately the High Court this month refused Fawcett permission to challenge its legality - despite the fact that the Government admitted it had not carried out an assessment of how the cuts will impact gender equality. The outlook for the next few years, meanwhile, looks ever more depressing.

5. The Assange case: Naomi Wolf branded a 'sell-out'

Nothing has generated debate, anger and drama recently like the reactions surrounding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the allegations of sexual assault made against him. From the start, feminists expressed anger at the way many of Assange's supporters, the so-called 'progressive' men of the liberal and left spheres, dismissed the allegations as 'a conspiracy' and downright lies. To see how dismissive their reaction has been, you only have to take a look at the #mooreandme tag on Twitter.

But then Naomi Wolf weighed in with an open letter, in which she accused the 'world's dating police' of being out to get Assange. Cue the backlash, in which she's been accused of trivialising rape, victim-blaming, letting the side down and generally acting like an unpleasant person. Just this week she went head to head with fellow feminist writer Jaclyn Friedman, in a discussion about the case which left many women - including Friedman herself - feeling appalled and upset by her comments.

Meanwhile, Assange hasn't been helping his case at all by claiming that his accusers had simply 'got into a tizzy' about the possibility of catching STDs from him. Because being patronised is just what they need on top of everything else.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via sizemore's Flickr.

Don't get yourself hit this Christmas, ladies

Thursday, 16 December 2010

We all know that winter is a time when local authorities put a lot of time and effort into telling women not to get themslves raped over the festive season. This year the victim-blaming seems to have extended to domestic violence as well.

Richmondshire County Council is running a 'hard hitting poster campaign' this Christmas, telling women that 'not everyone gets what they want for Christmas' and urging them:

"Don't be on the receiving end"

The rest of the press release thankfully doesn't expand on the insinuation that it's up to victims to combat domestic violence, but local agencies and businesses will be displaying the posters. According to Kate Williams, who did a bit of detective work to find out more about the campaign, it's a police initiative - and Independent Domestic Abuse Services, quoted in the press relase, had nothing to do with its wording. IDAS's own campaigns hold the perpetrator accountable for comabating DV, with slogans such as "Domestic Abuse. There Is No Excuse" and "Domestic Abuse Is Many Things, But It Is Not Loving".

Would it be that difficult for local authorities and the police to go down the same route? Because there's only so much victim-blaming dressed up as 'trying to help' that we can put up with. No matter how good the intentions of a campaign are, those organising it must always realise that the onus to stop abuse must be on potential perpetrators.

Not Ashamed?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Today Christian Concern launches its ‘Not Ashamed’ campaign. This new intiative hopes to provide an opportunity for Christians in the UK to spend December standing publicly for their faith, due to concerns that Christianity is being erased from the public domain.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has declared his support for Not Ashamed – on its website and in national newspapers - by speaking of the way Christianity is being ‘airbrushed’ from UK life, using examples of Christmas cards proclaiming ‘Season’s Greetings’ (forgive me if I’m wrong but cards like that have been around for decades, right?) and local councils using the word ‘winter’ instead of ‘Christmas’, which as we all know is part of our old favourite – the Winterval myth – the festival which, despite having only ever happened in one city in 1997 and 1998, continues to outrage tabloid readers every single year.

Just recently I’ve become aware that Christian Concern is a sister organisation of The Christian Legal Centre, which is, to be honest, not a group I'd want to align myself with. CLC and its director, self-described fundamentalist Andrea Williams - have been on the radar for a while but in the past few years they’ve received much more attention with regard to the debate on abortion and also due to court cases involving Christians who feel they have been discriminated against because of their faith.

The CLC and another group, The Christian Institute, have represented some of these people – such as Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who refused to officiate at civil partnerships due to her beliefs and lost her religious discrimination appeal. Other cases receiving media attention in recent months have been those of BA employee Nadia Eweida - who plans to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights – and nurse Caroline Petrie, who was suspended from her post after offering to pray for a patient who was worried that others might be uncomfortable with this. Mrs Petrie later returned to work.

The inevitable focus on these cases – primarily covered by the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have prompted a host of accusations that Christians are now being victimised by the law and by society, which is supposedly favouring minority groups at the expense of a faith group which has been a major part of British life for centuries. In October, a group of seven prominent clerics wrote to the Telegraph, warning that Christians’ freedom to express their faith is at risk.

Now the groups and individuals at the heart of such court cases and campaigns are often referred to as ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘evangelicals’ and I’ve seen the two terms used pretty much interchangeably in some blog posts, particularly following the airing of the controversial 2008 Dispatches programme entitled ‘In God’s Name’.

It’s important to be clear on this point, that the word ‘evangelical’ refers to certain doctrines and focuses of belief within the faith and is not synonymous with ultra-right wing bigotry, although many fundamentalists would also think of themselves as evangelical. Evangelical Christians position themselves right across the political spectrum and many would be keen to disassociate themselves from the views expressed by Andrea Williams et al.

The use of the word in the pejorative sense is something very common in the US, where as we know too well the ‘Christian Right’ has wielded considerable power for many years and tends to be associated with evangelicalism. But even many key figures in the movement denounce fundamentalism, criticising the way it seems to focus more on attacking people and spreading hatred than anything else. For this reason it’s probably best to continue to refer to people espousing these views as ‘fundamentalists’ (as several of them have actually described themselves) or ‘the Christian right’.

Christian fundamentalism in Britain certainly does not wield influence in the same way it does across the pond. But for your average churchgoer, the way CLC and Christian Concern present their views could start to look very attractive at a time when we’re faced with news stories about ‘discrimination’ and issues which hit all the emotional buttons – abortion and ‘the family’, for example. People are passionate about their faith and want to defend it, so naturally all this talk of Christians being marginalised by society and government is going to have some sort of effect.

On the face of it, the Not Ashamed campaign seems pretty harmless, focusing as it does on declaring that you’re not ashamed to be a Christian, as support for the continuation of the visibility of Christianity in the UK. As a Christian and a person who is ‘not ashamed’ of their faith, I know many others who would say the same thing. But initiatives run by Christian Concern are not ones I wish to sign up to, because I find their bigotry and scaremongering about abortion, sex education, equality and religious freedom unpleasant and over the top. Being unashamed of my faith doesn’t mean signing up to their particular issues. I’ve got my own concerns about our nation.

Abortion is one of the issues we’re seeing the most about at the moment. Sunny Hundal has in the past written about the links Nadine Dorries MP has with groups like CLC and how they were involved with her campaign to lower the time limit at which abortions can be carried out. Indeed, Andrea Williams believes that abortion should be completely illegal. Dorries has of course been spending the past month or so promoting her views about the highly-dubious ‘post-abortion syndrome’ and links with a group, Forsaken, which describes itself as ‘non-aligned’ but seems to be very obviously anti-choice.

While Dorries’s integrity is being repeatedly called into question at the moment, we shouldn’t forget that she’s still an MP who’s getting her views out there and attempting to influence policy, resorting to unsubstantiated claims to do so.

In light of all this, in a month when I'm supposed to be standing up for my religious beliefs, I'll do so because the fact is, I'm not ashamed to be a Christian. But I'll do so independently of Christian Concern's campaign. I’m not ashamed to call myself a Christian but I don’t think that the mere existence of other belief systems is tantamount to the ‘marginalisation’ of Christianity. I’m not ashamed to call myself a Christian but we live in a world where many of my fellow believers die for their faith and I do not think that these UK court cases are evidence of society's hatred for Christianity. I’m not ashamed to call myself a Christian but I also believe in equality and compassion for those who don't share my beliefs.

Edit: Simon Barrow has written a great piece about this for Ekklesia, which you can read here. I totally agree with him when he says:

'That Christians do not rule others in the way they once did, in the fading Christendom era, does not amount to persecution. Rather, it is an invitation, in the midst of some pain and adjustment no doubt, to rediscover patterns of church life in a plural society which show the heart of the Christian message to be about embracing others, not isolating ourselves; multiplying hope, not spreading fear; developing peaceableness, not resorting to aggression; and advancing compassion, rather than retreating into defensiveness.'

Ekklesia is also covering some other criticisms made about the campaign's misleading nature so there are several articles relating to it up today.

It's also worth checking out some posts about the Winterval/'war on Christmas' myth, such as this one at Tabloid Watch. It's disappointing when Christian groups adopt it as an example of 'persecution' when as the post shows, there's really nothing to be concerned about.

Nostalgia edition

Monday, 29 November 2010

I don't know about you but I spent a significant proportion of my primary school years reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching the television adaptation of the series, which used to fit nicely into the slot between coming home from church and eating lunch on a Sunday, if I remember rightly. The obsession became so great that I even remember re-enacting favourite scenes in the playground at school - the typhus epidemic from the TV show and the 'Long Winter' among others in case you're wondering; I suppose it helped that, like most people, we had a friend who was not dissimilar to Nellie Oleson. I read and re-read those books so many times, propped up in bed with a cup of tea and biscuits, that I can still remember huge chunks of their storylines.

So you can imagine how much I loved reading Samira Ahmed's piece for the Guardian, entitled 'Spirit of the Frontier'. Ahmed writes about being a childhood Ingalls fan, re-enactions and the fascination with maple syrup poured onto pans of snow (or with whatever 'molasses' and 'cornbread' were, in my case). As an adult it's intrigued me how preserving the memory of Laura and her family has become such an industry, with books, a newsletter, museums, festivals and a musical - among other things. I mean, there's even a conference called 'Laurapalooza'. This year's extravaganza included presentations such as Looking for Laura: Place, Memory, and the Authentic “Little House” and What is at Stake in Staking a Claim?. I'm not even writing this in a mocking way; to be honest I'd definitely relish taking part in a panel discussion entitled Loving Laura in a Lindsay Lohan World.

Now a couple of years ago I discovered that Christian fundamentalists of a certain persuasion don't like the Little House series. This is bemusing, as it's basically got everything that they usually love - the 19th century, large families, agrarian living and plenty of learning of Bible verses and stories with a moral. With it having been years since I read the books (I still have them but they're packed away in a box) I couldn't remember what it could be that might have caused so much offence. The piece in the Guardian cleared that one up, or at least I'm 99% sure it has, anyway. Ahmed writes about Laura:
"She married in her black cashmere dress to save the trouble and expense of an elaborate wedding, and refused to say 'I obey' in her marriage vows, defying social convention. She wrote, 'I could not obey anybody against my better judgment'..."
Of course I had to go and check this out and there it is, for all to see within the pages of These Happy Golden Years:
"Then she summoned all her courage and said, 'Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?' Soberly he answered, 'Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.' "
" '... even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgement.' 'I'd never expect you to,' he told her. 'And there will be no difficulty about the ceremony, because Reverend Brown does not believe in using the word 'obey'.' 'He doesn't! Are you sure?' Laura had never been so surprised and so relieved, all at once. 'He feels very strongly about it,' Almanzo said. 'I have heard him arguing for hours and quoting Bible texts against St. Paul, on that subject.' "
Clearly Reverend Brown knew his stuff! You learn something new every day.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Thursday, 25 November 2010

I end up writing about violence against women quite a lot on this blog; it's one of the main issues I'm concerned about and it's something you can't escape from. Wherever you look, whichever paper you open, there'll always be a story or report about the major human rights issue that is VAW. It's relentless and depressing and we often wonder how things will ever change.

Today is the 2010 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a day on which we come together to recognise and raise awareness of the injustices of gendered violence worldwide and seek to involve ourselves in initiatives to end it. It is also the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence initiative.

"The word is spreading: violence against women and girls has no place in any society, and impunity for perpetrators must no longer be tolerated. On this International Day, I urge all – Governments, civil society, the corporate sector, individuals – to take responsibility for eradicating violence against women and girls."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
Some stories which have made the news today:
- Harriet Harman has made a speech to ActionAid today about VAW and investing in women and girls
- Ways to take action via End Violence Against Women
- A report by Women For Women on violence against women in conflict-affected countries, with particular focus on Nigeria, will be launched today in London
- The coalition has announced its plans to tackle VAW. Theresa May said that the government intends to "...ensure offenders are brought to justice, victims are given support and most importantly challenge attitudes and behaviour."
- I have been doing some promotion of the great (and relatively new) organisation Restored, which is working with individuals, ogranisations and churches to combat VAW. As a Christian I am excited that Restored is committed to working with churches and helping them do all they can to combat abuse and raise awareness in their congregations. They have produced a fantastic information pack available for download which aims to help churches deal with the issue from a practical, legal and theological point of view and I look forward to seeing where they take their initiative in the future.

Review: 'Quiverfull - Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movemement'

Monday, 22 November 2010

For those of you who have heard the term ‘Quiverfull’, the term might conjure up an image of the Duggar family, stars of 19 Kids and Counting. Although the Duggars don’t refer to themselves as ‘Quiverfull’, they’re the faces often most associated with the movement because they’re the most famous example of many of the things the movement stands for - foregoing birth control, homeschooling, living debt-free, courtship and betrothal, rigid gender roles, Christian fundamentalism.

The Duggars and their rise to fame are mentioned a couple of times in Kathryn Joyce’s 2009 book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. But for the uninitiated, this fascinating account of a belief system that’s very much growing in popularity provides an insight into the lives of many more families and personalities – and with it, a clearer picture of how the patriarchy movement is distorting Christianity. Joyce was able to do a lot of research for her book by looking at blogs and forums representing both people who are very much a part of the movement and those who have left it. With many fundamentalist organisations having a major online presence and many families choosing to showcase their lives through blogging, the internet is an important source of information and for keeping in contact with likeminded friends.

But in recent years, blogs and forums with a different flavour have started to appear. Those discussing the spiritual abuse within the movement and the way it has ruined lives. Those discussing help and healing for women deeply hurt by its teachings, like No Longer Quivering and Quivering Daughters. It’s when you read these that you start to wonder just how much the movement lives up to idyllic image portrayed by the Victoriana-obsessed Vision Forum, the blogs full of pictures of beaming families with ten children.

Joyce has divided the book into three sections – dealing with ‘Wives’, ‘Mothers’ and ‘Daughters’ and the way the teachings impact their lives. She provides particularly thorough explanations of the interpretations of scripture influencing the patriarchy movement – which is helpful because it makes it easy to see, from a Christian point of view, where undue emphasis is being given to some things and where many, many extra-Biblical ‘rules’ are being employed and considered ‘essential’ to living a God-centred life (stopping women from attending university, advising them that they should not vote or learn to drive). This enables us to see how adherents’ core beliefs centre on reformed theology, for example – as well as the importance given to Reconstructionism.

The one word repeated over and over to wives is, of course, ‘submission’. Submission in a way that’s completely different to what’s generally taught in more mainstream churches. And so we see a move from ‘Wives, submit to your husbands’ to being able to call your husband ‘Lord’, catering to his every whim at the drop of a hat, revering him as the ‘priest of the home’, blaming yourself for his shortcomings and above all, never, ever criticising him (to his face, or to friends and family). All this promoted by women’s ministries, books and retreats, usually under the banner of ‘Titus 2 training’. We meet Debi Pearl, author of Created to Be His Helpmeet and wife of Michael, whose controversial teachings on ‘child-training’ have made headlines following the death of a young girl. She firmly believes that love is not a feeling but a voluntary act and prides herself on never questioning her husband, believing that women exist to fill their husband’s sexual needs whether they want to or not and teaching them that female friendships are ‘dangerous’.

What hope is there for a woman trapped in such a situation with an abusive husband? These teachings put so little focus on a husband’s duty to love, respect and care for his wife and could clearly encourage domineering and violent personalities. She’s discouraged from having close female friends, discouraged from discussing marital problems and told that she must do whatever her husband wants, when he wants. As the final chapter in the ‘Wives’ section illustrates, trying to seek help from the church can end up causing untold misery.

Joyce talks to Jennifer Epstein, who wanted to deal with her marital problems within a church setting – interestingly, the very church run by Vision Forum president Doug Phillips. Jennifer maintains that Phillips branded her a ‘whore’ and a ‘Jezebel’, barred she and her husband from taking communion and insisted that she adhere to a set of rules which included letting her husband plan out her schedule of household activities in advance and refraining from having theological discussions with men. Eventually, the family were excommunicated from the church and ‘shunned’ by their friends.

Later in the book Joyce talks to Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff about her experiences of church discipline, which involved giving leadership access to her emails, bank accounts and post. Considering the churches discussed in the book take the view that leadership cannot be criticised and that ‘gossip’ of all kinds is prohibited, it’s interesting to read of the very public ways they have shamed and exposed members of their congregations. Email campaigns, sister churches contacted to spread the word about these ‘sinners’, shunning and interference from other church leaders. It’s clear that there’s a deep vein of hypocrisy which goes far beyond members being accountable to church leaders, having them counsel them on their problems. The women Joyce interviewed for the book had numerous shocking and moving stories to tell about the way leaders in the movement exert control.

So far, so unsettling. However I don’t think it’s until the book’s second section that you can clearly see how very damaging and, let’s be honest, cultish the patriarchy movement is because it pervades all areas of life. Dealing with ‘Mothers’, it charts the growth of Quiverfull from a few Christians criticising birth control and abortion to the aggressive natalist tactics we see today, often accompanied by the old saying that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’.

Quiverfull leaders often teach that women must give birth to as many children as they can, view nonprocreative sex as an abomination and see all their offspring as future soldiers in a war against culture, Satan, left-wing politics and all of Western civilisation. All this thinking is bound up in fear of a ‘demographic winter’ and the belief that white Christians need to be having more children in order to attempt to outnumber Muslims. Prominent patriarchal leaders have denied accusations of racism but the fact is that the organisations they’re part of often have distinct links with kinist groups.

Some adherents are more zealous than others and indeed Joyce claims there’s a worry among some Quiverfull women that their acquaintances have idolised childbirth to the extent that they correlate number of children with holiness and suffer greatly with depression and feelings of uselessness when their childbearing days are over. Terrifying as it is it’s not hard to see how such an extreme way of thinking can foster the idea that miscarriages and morning sickness are due to personal sins which must be repented of. Identity is often heavily influenced by the centuries-old teachings of women being weak and easily led, incapable of knowing what’s best for themselves.

And it’s not just the teachings on childbirth that are causing problems. Something I’ve talked about in a previous blog post is how the compulsion to raise large families in a debt-free, agrarian lifestyle is leading to severe poverty for Quiverfull families. It’s important to note that although very fortunate families such as the Duggars and the Phillipses are the public face of the movement, their comfortable existences are not the norm for those families attempting to build their own homes and grow their own businesses while clothing, feeding and homeschooling an ever-expanding family as well as exemplifying ‘frugal living’.

When fundamentalists get coverage on feminist blogs it’s often down to their attitudes surrounding daughters – purity balls, elaborate betrothal rituals, much talk of ‘authority’ and ‘stay at home daughterhood’, along with very vocal rejection of ‘equality’ and the women’s movement. Understandably it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Joyce’s research into the ‘Daughters’ of Quiverfull focuses mainly on Geoffrey Botkin, a leading light in the Vision Forum ministry and father of Anna Sofia and Elizabeth – effectively VF’s ‘poster maidens’ for unmarried Biblical womanhood. Through their book, DVD and website , Visionary Daughters, they provide teaching on their way of life, centred as it is on homemaking, serving their father and preparing for the day when they will ‘transfer’ to being under their husband’s authority.

Anything that contradicts their lifestyle is ‘feministic’ and therefore wrong. They state that women need to eschew university, jobs and living alone. In case you’d missed out on the somewhat uncomfortable undertones, Joyce talks about the Vision Forum Father/Daughter Retreat, at which young women are set ‘tasks’. These tasks have previously involved a blindfolded obstacle course - so they can learn to respond more effectively to their fathers’ verbal commands – and ‘intimacy-building’ tasks where they must shave their fathers or tie their shoes.

Now Geoffrey Botkin is a man who’s dedicated time to producing an Excel spreadsheet plotting his imagined descendants for the next two centuries. At the culmination of his personal ‘200 year plan’ he hopes to have 186,000 male descendants, all of them believers exerting influence on society. He doesn’t count his female descendants because they, of course, are destined to be part of the 200-year plans of other men. There happens to be a website which focuses on helping young people to overcome ‘Botkin Syndrome’. At this point I really don’t think any more needs to be said.

Joyce’s intention with Quiverfull is not to mindlessly criticise and insult, but to express genuine concern about these churches and groups and what they’re doing to people. As she says, strict followers number in the tens of thousands but the conservative Christian homeschooling movement is reaching millions and ‘converting’ many to more extreme beliefs along the way. And it's not just confined to the USA. This year, the UK branch of women's ministry and magazine Above Rubies, which typifies the beliefs of the movement, held two conferences in Britain. They were fully booked. Joyce has been criticised by Christians who see her writing as being biased by her ‘liberal’ views but it’s clear that the abusive mindset being perpetuated by some of these groups and churches should be a concern to Christians as well, not just the liberal atheists they so often view as ‘the enemy’.

Her book is an important one. Not all families in the movement experience abuse and cultish control and many lead very happy lives. But when read alongside the forums and blogs providing support for those who have exited the patriarchy movement, the book provides an extremely worrying picture of why we should care about these ‘fundies’, so often lampooned as vaguely humorous ‘nutjobs’ then left to their own devices. We should care because it’s down to them that within Christian culture, ‘the family’ is being not just built up and revered but hurt and destroyed.

Just call it what it is

Thursday, 18 November 2010

It's been another bad week for injustice in the world of rape cases.

Yesterday we saw the results of a survey - carried out by The Havens - revealing the depressing fact (among other things) that 23% of young men think that having sex with a woman even if she has said no from the start is not rape. The survey was carried out on people in London aged 18-25 and reveals several somewhat concerning facts, including that 21 per cent of men surveyed would 'expect' someone to have sex with them after kissing and that only 56 per cent of respondents said they would not pressure a partner into sex. Results can be found in full on The Havens website.

The story on the Sky News website quickly received a wide-ranging selection of vitriolic comments. At first I was left wondering if things are getting worse. Has public attitude towards rape always been this unpleasant? Considering the way victims were treated by the courts in the past, I think we can safely say it has when it comes to victim blaming. But as I found when I took a look at the way the Daily Mail has reported rape cases over the last three or four years, the way people comment on these stories has changed. It's now common for the comments on a report of a rape case to consist of a fairly consistent stream of misogynist bile, claims that '90 per cent of rape allegations are made up' and disgust expressed at the 'way women ruin mens' lives'.

People hide behind their computers. It's a case of that not-so-old adage: 'If you don't have anything nice to say, say it on the internet'. People will go much further online than they would in person. But the fact remains that they're still thinking these thoughts and thinking that they're appropriate.

In 2007 there was a notorious incident in the US where a judge refused to allow the word 'rape' to be used during a court case. Jeffre Cheuvront claimed that it was too strong a word to use and could sway the emotions of the jury, affecting their impartiality. Also 'banned' were 'sexual assault', 'victim' and 'assailant'. The victim was instead forced to talk about 'having sex' with her alleged attacker.

I was reminded of this today when I spotted a news story talking about a London policeman who has been dismissed from his job for having 'non-consensual sex' with a woman. Several sources have covered the story but only one - the BBC - uses the word 'rape' to describe what the man did. All others refer several times to 'non-consensual sex' as if the other is too difficult to utter. The reports detail the facts of what happened and state that the Met's discliplinary services, 'based on the balance of all probabilities' found that non-consensual sex had taken place. But the man has not faced action by the CPS as there was 'insufficient evidence to prosecute'. The CPS was unable to prove that the offence had 'occurred beyond all reasonable doubt'.

The disgraced PC was described as 'predatory' and 'despicable'. But he's still a free man.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, the case of an alleged gang-rape victim from South Africa being charged with underage sex has also hit the headlines today. The 15-year-old has been charged with statutory rape alongside her alleged attackers.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world, with 1 in 4 men admitting they had raped someone in a 2009 study - many saying they had first raped as a teen - and gang rape widely considered a form of male bonding. The country's government has been repeatedly criticised for failing to respond what's seen by human rights organisations as an 'epidemic' and yet we're seeing another example of a girl treated appallingly and made to feel as if she is somehow to blame for what happened to her.

There is something very badly wrong about all this. No wonder surveys like the one carried out by The Havens come out with the findings they do. This assumption of consent. This attitude that women are there for the taking and that so much as a kiss constitutes an invitation to engage in sex. The belief that a woman can be crying, saying 'no' or physically attacking you but it's still okay to go ahead anyway. The press, the courts and society are all responsible.

100 posts!

After two years of blogging, I've reached the milestone of 100 posts. As blogging goes, that doesn't make me very prolific, but seeing as I don't usually write about my day-to-day life and I fit it around work, church life, running, other writing commitments and a social life I don't think I do too badly.

I started blogging because I'd been writing about my feminism, my religion, politics and the media in a 'friends only' journal for a long time and it was something I wanted to reach a wider audience. Something I wanted to be able to use to network with people, bounce ideas off people and respond to current events in a way which might be helpful to people. I'm not going to lie - Twitter has also helped with this a lot and so have connections I've made through conferences and marches I've attended. The fact is, I'm really grateful for these connections, the people who make me think and inspire me.

We all know how frustrating it is when we don't have the time to blog about something and by the time we do have a spare moment, dozens of others have said it better, got all bases covered and had the conversations - by which time everyone's moved on to discussing something else. You miss out, but on the other hand you get to read so much quality work from other people. I just hope that I'm able to keep up the momentum in the future and not abandon this place because everything else has got in the way. Since the summer, this has at times been the case and it's been frustrating - however (and unfortunately for you, maybe) I'm going nowhere.

I thought I would use my 100th post to highlight some of my favourite posts - posts that cover issues important to me and posts that mean a lot to me. They sum up why I blog and what I'm all about. Why I keep on blogging.

Noughtie Girls - because it's time to dicuss what our feminism is really about.
Finding My Identity as a Christian Woman: Part One and Part Two - because it's a story familiar to countless women and one which I hope might encourage more to find peace about their place in the world.
This is What a Feminist Looks Like - because our 'click moments' are important too
When Waifish, White and Wealthy Wins - because sometimes I 'do' fashion blogging.
Quentin Letts - Officially a Nasty Little Man - because sometimes you just fancy a good dose of Mail Fail. And because this post has led to someone at the House of Commons finding my blog by Googling 'I hate Quentin Letts'.
An Open Letter to My Christian Sisters - because my views aren't 'evil' and 'poisonous'.
Daily Mail: Getting Creepier By The Day - because we all know it's a sorry excuse for a newspaper. Her's another reason why.
Obsessive Coverage of 'Cry Rape' Cases and Public Perception - because this is one of the most worrying things about the way the British media works.
Equality and the Privileged Woman - because I'm not down with those who take advantage of the victories feminists have won while claiming they 'don't believe in equality' and dismissing our concerns.
This is Why I Believe in Equality - because we need to keep up the fight.
On 'The Menz' - Or Why Patriarchy Is Bad For Us All - because freedom from rigid gender expectations means freedom to be who you really are.
Daily Mail Rape Chronicles: Trawling the Archives - because this forced me to spend a very long time on a certain website and it only served to show how unpleasant the Mail really is.
Relationship Advice from Cheers Magazine - because you never know what heinousness will lurk between the pages of a local community publication. And because the ensuing furore culminated in ITV News getting quotes from editor Dapo Sijuwola through his living room curtains.
Stumbling Blocks, Modesty and Respect - because people need to stop with the legalism already.
Equality Not Superiority - because I want to have debates without being silenced because of my faith.

Breaking news

Friday, 12 November 2010

Here's the news we've been hoping for all week - the government has confirmed that it will abandon its plan to grant anonymity to rape defendants.

This was a plan which, had it been put into place, would only succeed in sending out more clear messages that women who accuse men of raping them are liars, that they are not to be trusted and that they would be likely to face discrimination by the courts. No doubt the newspapers which worked so hard earlier this year to paint all rape victims as despicable homewreckers will be quick to show their anger at the government's decision.

For the time being, as I said in my last post, we need to continue working to support the women who need our help, continue busting the unpleasant myths surrounding rape and continue fighting for fairer representation of violence against women in the press.

Unfortunately the BBC is also reporting that the women jailed for 'falsely retracting' her rape claim has had permission to appeal against the eight month jail conviction she received last week turned down. Her appeal will now go to the Court of Appeal in London.

It's a pity that the good news has to be followed by something so shameful.

Today's lazy links list

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

- Two Saturdays ago I spent a great couple of hours In Cambridge with Michelle and Jessica of Women Speak Out discussing everything from our feminist awakenings to university to marriage and children and church. Look out for their write-up on the blog which should be appearing soon.
- At The F Word people are discussing the fact that five Anglican bishops have resigned and will join the Catholic Church due to the decision to ordain female bishops...
- ...while the Ms. magazine blog is wondering whether or not the 'New Atheism' will make room for women.
- The Indy has claimed that the Home Office will drop plans for anonymity for rape defendants this week due to criticism 'from all sides'. Although it this will be a triumph for all who have spoken out about the anonymity proposals throughout the year we must still consider what needs to be done in order to improve the way rape cases are reported by the press. The Daily Mail et al have let up slightly with their relentless catalogue of 'false accusation' stories in recent weeks but public perception of rape victims will not change unless media attitudes change also.

Following this week's news of a woman who has been imprisoned for falsely retracting a rape claim, I've seen several discussions where many, many women have admitted that they would not want to report a rape because of fear about the way they feel they would be treated by the police and the courts. It is the most depressing state of affairs to see woman after woman saying this and just shows why the majority of rapes go unreported. This case of yet another woman let down by the CPS is no doubt likely to make women feel even less confident about reporting rape and violence.

- November 25th is the International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Sian has blogged about her desire to see the media report VAW more this month as a way of highlighting how common it is:
'It is estimated that this week in the UK 1.5 women have died as a result of domestic violence. A further 500 women who have experienced domestic violence in the last six months will commit suicide this year. Every minute in the UK the police will receive a call from a member of the public relating to domestic violence, resulting in over 570,000 calls each year. Domestic violence has the highest repeat rate of any crime and approximately 77% of domestic violence victims are women. An estimated 100,000 women in the UK will be raped every year, yet the conviction rate relating to reported attacks remains at only 6.5%. Rape is recognised internationally as a form of torture and weapon of war, and 1 in 3 women across the world will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. An estimated 6500 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM.'

I have a bit more free time on my hands for the rest of the month and have finally started work on a couple of posts I've been hoping to write for a while. And when I say 'a while', in the case of one of them I mean 'since August'. Maybe you'll get to see them soon.

Woman imprisoned for 'false retraction' of rape claim

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

As yet another woman is treated disgracefully by the courts, it’s time the courts reassessed their approach to rape cases.

There’s a really spot-on blog post which has been doing the rounds on Tumblr and Twitter recently. Entitled ’The People You Meet When You Write About Rape’, it provides a fairly comprehensive list of the various ‘personalities’ you’re likely to come across if you ever get embroiled in the comments on a blog post or news story dealing with that ever-thorny issue.

The post goes on to detail the thought processes behind characters such as ‘Mr Model Victims Only Please’, ‘Ms You Don’t Just Get To Decide Whether You Consent’ and ‘Ms Traditional Values’. All play their part in making sure that discussions about rape and sexual violence are derailed and all play their part in affecting public perceptions of women who have been attacked.

As of this week however, it looks like we can add another victim-blaming stereotype to the list: perhaps we can call him ‘Mr No Sympathy For The Complexities of Abusive Relationships’.

Now I know that’s a bit of a wordy moniker, but last week we saw the British justice system hand down a jail sentence to a rape victim due to such a situation – with devastating consequences and implications for women in general.

On Friday, the 28-year-old woman was sentenced to eight months in jail – because she ‘falsely retracted’ allegations that her husband had raped her.

The woman said that she had not retracted her claims because she had made them up, but because she was being ‘emotionally blackmailed’ by her estranged husband and his family, who wanted her to drop the charges because they knew a guilty verdict would mean a long jail sentence for him.

She had initially made a call to Dyfed-Powys Police explaining that she had been raped six times by her husband back in November 2009. Yet two months later, she stated that although the charges were true, she wished to drop them.

On Friday she was told that a prison sentence was ‘inevitable’ due to her wasting the time of the Crown Prosecution Service and also for the fact she had perverted the course of justice. She is now set to lodge an appeal.

The decision has caused outrage for a number of reasons. The woman told police that she had retracted her claims because her husband and his family were putting pressure on her to do so. And yet the decision eventually made by the courts shows that the justice system is failing to take into account the complex situations women in abusive relationships may be subject to.

It’s not always simply a case of the victim accusing someone and that being the end of it. When the alleged perpetrator is a family member, the father of your children, someone you have many close links to - other factors come into play.

Rape Crisis England & Wales has issued a statement on the case, calling for the woman’s release and saying:

“We are shocked that this woman has received a custodial sentence and by the length of it. It highlights a complete lack of understanding of the complexity and reality of women’s experience of violence in their lives.”

The fact is, a lot of women who have been raped don’t report it to the police because they’re worried about the treatment they’ll receive by the police and the courts, or because they’re worried what the accused’s friends and family might do in retaliation. They’re worried that their ordeal will be misrepresented by the press or that they’ll be accused of making it all up.

Funnily enough, this unpleasant affair isn’t likely to reassure women that their cases will be taken seriously. And it’s thoroughly disappointing for all the activists and groups working so hard to improve the way rape cases are dealt with. We still live in a society where plenty of people think that a woman can’t be raped by her husband; is this likely to help matters?

This month, initiatives will be taking place building up to the International Day for the Elimination of Against Women on November 25th. One thing I know many people are hoping for is that this month the press would focus on the very real and devastating impact of VAW. It’s a shame that instead, we’re seeing reports of injustices such as this.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via jamescridland's Flickr.

The pinkification of the Bible

Friday, 29 October 2010

Proving that absolutely nothing is safe from 'pinkification' is the slightly nauseating My Princess Bible that I came across this morning. With cover artwork not dissimilar to Disney Princess branding, the 64-page book focuses on 19 biblical women including Eve, Deborah and Miriam. It frames them as princesses, using their stories to teach young girls about desirable character traits.

I appreciate that the 'women as princesses' narrative is a common one in Christian culture and that for a lot of people it is encouraging and affirming to see themselves as princesses based on the fact they are 'daughters of the King'. What I do have a problem with, however, is the way that this has become bound up with pink and sparkles and Barbie-esque artwork, just like everything else aimed at young girls.

The women featured in My Princess Bible were not princesses. They came from very different backgrounds and achieved many great things. As role models for girls they have so much more to focus on. Deborah was a prophet and the only female judge in the Old Testament. Lydia was a businesswoman and a key figure in the early church. Obviously it's necessary to simplify their stories in a way that girls can benefit from but you have to wonder if the diversity of their gifts and experiences is lost.

According to one review of the book, some of the messages given by the stories include "A princess prays for people", "A princess is kind and thoughtful", "A princess loves her family" and "A princess takes care of God's world". I think there are good intentions behind this and I also think it's really good that there are some books out there focusing on the women of the Bible as role models, but I don't think going down the 'pink' route is the way to do it. There's more to faith in God than being 'His special princess' and a whole lot more to being a woman of God than tying your self-worth up with tiaras and Prince Charming.

Members on Amazon have offered several negative reviews of the book - one such review included observations such as:

"...1) It lacked depth and the true Biblical narrative, 2) the stories were written to moralize, and in some cases incorrectly, the biblical accounts and 3) the book consistently promoted a physical beauty of all the women that was Barbie-esque."

My Princess Bible isn't the only book to get in on the act, however. And this next example of bringing present-day stereotyping into Christianity is possibly even worse. Behold, I give you the God's Little Princess Devotional Bible and its boy-orientated counterpart, God's Mighty Warrior.

The boy's version includes Bible stories broken down into the following topics:

* The Belt of Truth (Article on values)
* Guard Your Heart (Manners for boys)
* Stand Strong (Sharing the Good News with friends)
* Shield of Faith (How to make right choices)
* Helmet of Salvation (Knowing right from wrong)
* Sword of the Spirit (Scripture memory)
* Mighty Warriors (Bible heroes)
* Adventure Quest (Encouragement for imagination and adventure)

while girls can benefit from wisdom shared under some different headings, including:

* Down in my Heart (scripture memory)
* Beauty Secrets (how to be "beautiful")
* Bible Princesses (girls and women of the Bible)
* My Hero (scripture promises)
* Take a Bow (dress-up and role-playing ideas)
* I Adore You (kids songs and worship ideas)
* Princess Charming (teaching manners, poise and charm)
* Worthy of Love (ways to love your family and friends)

This is a book which comes with a blurb stating 'Girls long to be loved and adored, and give their heart to their hero'. It's a book where, as one reviewer of GoodReads details, girls are advised to 'Put on a favorite piece of your jewelry, such as a ring or a bracelet. When you look at it throughout the day, remember that you are God's little jewel.' And it's a book which teaches 'poise and charm'.

At Feminism in London I listened to a nine-year-old girl talk about how she thinks there should be better role models for girls in fairy stories, because (to paraphrase) 'the girls just have to be pretty but the boy characters get to do fun stuff and look cool'. I'm currently undertaking a theology course on gender in the Bible and the message is clear. Women of God aren't bound by stereotypes and convention and maybe it would be good for the people writing these books to remember that. There is so much more to life than pink, glitter and princesses, even for little girls. You wouldn't believe it from going into any toy shop or children's clothes shop, but it's true.

Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals has got it right when she says:

"I'm not anti-princess...I’m not anti-girly. I’M ANTI-LIMITATION. I want my daughter to be bold. I want her to be unafraid to be intelligent. I want her to be respected for her accomplishments. I want her to know that she can be an astronaut, a soldier, a pilot, a carpenter, a firefighter. She will not be raised to think that the world belongs only to boys."

Anti-choice pickets hit London

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

US-style anti-choice tactics have crossed the pond this month as part of a religious initiative to picket abortion clinics.

For the first time, protestors have been targeting a UK clinic – Marie Stopes House in central London, which was one of the country’s first abortion clinics.

Reports have suggested that women entering the clinic have been ‘harassed’ and given leaflets containing dubious information – such as the unfounded claim that women who have had abortions have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Staff at the centre also claim that they are being filmed walking in to work, which has raised worries that the actions of the protestors are mirroring those of the more extreme anti-choice activists in the US.

The protests are being run by 40 Days For Life, an organisation which formed in Texas in 2004 and since 2007 has run yearly 40-day campaigns of prayer, vigils and pickets at abortion clinics in locations all over the US.

This year’s campaign is also taking place at various locations in Canada, Australia, Denmark, England and Northern Ireland. According to the organisation’s website:

“40 Days for Life takes a determined, peaceful approach to showing local communities the consequences of abortion in their own neighborhoods, for their own friends and families.”

The London protest boasts an army of 500 mostly Catholic volunteers who are keeping the vigil going for 12 hours each day.

The past two years have seen the anti-choice movement in the UK take things up a notch and make efforts to reduce the cut-off limit for abortions. Although Parliament eventually voted against lowering the limit in 2008, now-prominent members of the government such as David Cameron and William Hague had voted to reduce the cut-off to 22 weeks. Some MPs voted for cut-off point as low as 12 weeks.

And more recently, an early day motion has been tabled which would require women seeking an abortion on mental health grounds to have counselling and assessments and be warned of the consequences of what they are about to do.

Although the 40 Days For Life initiative is supposedly peaceful it marks another shift in the way anti-choice activists are operating here. We’ve had the misleading leaflets and videos that use inaccurate science and shaming tactics already – now come the pickets, which could prove extremely upsetting for women who might have already had to make some really difficult choices and may not be in the best state of mind.

Just this week, an American father has achieved notoriety by filming the way his wife was treated by protestors as she entered a clinic, then berating the activists himself. Aaron Gouveia and his wife were on their way to end her pregnancy of 16 weeks, having discovered their baby was suffering from a congenital condition, was missing internal organs and had zero chance of survival.

The video he recorded on his phone has been featured on several major news sites and has proved that some anti-choice activists are happy to terrorise women no matter what their circumstances may be.

Of course it’s not just their attitude towards patients which could be a problem. As we all know, this movement which supposedly believes in the sanctity of life hasn’t done a very good job of demonstrating this with regard to healthcare professionals over the last few decades.

National Abortion Federation statistics show that since 1977, anti-choice activists have been responsible for eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers.

In addition, there have been 41 bombings of clinics, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings or arsons, 619 bomb threats, 1630 incidents of trespassing and 1264 incidents of vandalism.

Many anti-abortion groups remain committed to peaceful activism only but Abortion Rights UK has already noted a surge in protests recently – this could help to pave the way for extremism and more violent actions.

In the next few months we’re likely to see the government focused mostly solving the country’s economic issues. Whatever’s on the MPs’ agenda, it’s important for us not to forget that a core of people and organisations committed to limiting a woman’s right to choose is growing - and that they’re continuing to pose a threat, even as women continue to fight for safe access to terminations in Northern Ireland and we hear more shocking accounts of backstreet abortions there.

With many more prominent members of the new government holding socially conservative views, it’s definitely going to be an issue to watch closely in the near future.

This post originally featured on BitchBuzz. Image via internets_dairy's Flickr

Feminism In London 2010

Monday, 25 October 2010

There has to be a very good reason for me to get up at 6.15am on a Saturday. Luckily, the largest feminist conference the UK has seen in over 10 years happens to be an excellent reason, so there I was, hopping on the 07:48 to King's Cross.

There were over 1000 of us, men and women, students and pensioners, children and babies - making it the largest Feminism in London conference yet. The mood was excited and expectant and I was pleased that there was a 'speed feministing' session before the conference started to enable people to make new friends. Personally I didn't manage to get there as I was busy looking at all the stalls but as someone who generally goes to these events on my own, I can definitely say that I imagine it was really worthwhile for a lot of people.

The opening session of the day, entitled 'Women in Public Life', provided much food for thought in light of last week's news about the financial changes set to hit so many and was a great start to the day. Throughout the rest of the day when I heard people talking about their favourite speakers, those from this first session were mentioned a lot.

Ceri Goddard of the Fawcett Society was the first speaker and talked about the way women and economic policy have always been seen as completely removed from each other - and that this was something noticeable in the General Election earlier in the year. It made me think about the fact that the only time women and the economy were ever mentioned in the same sentence was when referring to child benefit, as if it's the only aspect of economics that concerns and affects us.

Ceri set the tone for the whole session, stating that the cuts will be hitting women the hardest and that the government did no Impact Equality Assessment to see if this would be the case. She highlighted the problematic nature of tax breaks for married couples where one partner does not work and the fact that the committee overseeing the cuts is completely male.

Helena Kennedy QC delivered a fantastic speech on the nature of exploitation as always involving power and/or money. She spoke of the way activism in 1970s shone a light into the way institutions were run and the way in which they treated women. But as she explained, the gatekeepers of everything in our society are still men and we're still in a situation where just a few visible women in these institutions are seen as proof that 'equality' has arrived. She ended by talking about the importance, therefore, of supporting and promoting women.

Lindsey Hills spoke on the perception of young mothers. As someone who had a child in her teens, she talked about the prejudice she faced and the difficulty of living on welfare - contrary to tabloid portrayals of young women who have babies 'so they can get a house and lots of benefits', Lindsey's experiences showed this is not the reality. She's involved in various projects and organisations which empower young mothers and is keen to help them show society that the negative stereotypes of women who have children young are unfair.

Rahila Gupta discussed women in journalism and writing with plenty of emphasis on the fact that even what we perceive to be 'liberal' spaces are full of prejudice - one example of this being that women of colour are rarely invited to comment on any issues aside from those specifically pertaining to women of colour. She challenged us to think about the extent to which our narrative is compromised or 'diluted' by 'rules of engagement' - for example newspapers and magazines having certain issues they don't talk about, certain things which they don't think their readership would be interested in. As we all know, this often affects feminism as it is portrayed in women's magazines because they feel they have a duty to stay 'on message' about fashion, men and makeup, often ending up talking about how the movement relates to these things over anything else.

Finally, Virginia Heath spoke about women in film and the inequalities of representation there. She also talked about her project My Dangerous Lover Boy, which aims to address the realities of the trafficking of young women.

The morning workshop which was the one I'd actually registered for was 'Violence Against Women as a Hate Crime', with a panel made up of Prof. Jill Radford, Hillary McCollum, Dr Aisha Gill, Pragna Patel and Vera Baird QC. The room was packed out and we were treated to a really interesting discussion, partly because the panelists didn't agree with each other on all points and also because of the wealth of experience they had to speak from.

Jill Radford talked a lot about findings on VAW from the WLM in the 1970s and violence as a strategy of control which was fascinating. One recurring point was the fact that we should not depoliticise the struggles surrounding VAW because we are probably about to enter a period of time where it will be firmly off the political agenda; another was the way that recent state responses to VAW have been more of a form of immigration control which has only pushed the problem abroad.

There was definite conflict over whether classifying VAW as a hate crime would be a positive step. On one hand it's important that VAW does not become any more 'acceptable' than it already is, but on the other, hate crimes have been shown to encourage communities to turn on each other and the very word 'hate' could make it difficult for some people to admit to being a victim. Similarly, it could pose problems with intersectionality and forcing women to identify as being the victim of a particular crime when other factors - for example homophobia or racism - might be involved and just as important.

At lunchtime it was fantastic to meet up with Sian of Sian & Crooked Rib and spend some time together. Sian is doing some fantastic work online and in Bristol so DEFINITELY check out her blog if you don't already read it. Woman is a powerhouse.

I managed to get a seat at the afternoon workshop entitled 'It's Easy Out There For A Pimp', which as you can imagine was pretty intense. The aim of the workshop was to outline how porn culture affects young people and prepares girls and boys to play certain 'roles' when it comes to self esteem, sex, relationships and exploitation - with one of the main points being that our media landscape is such that this is often not questioned and accepted as 'just a part of life' or even desirable behaviour. The role of corporations in portraying sex as something which is bought and sold, something involving degradation and a lack of respect, was discussed, as was the fact that this is something being pushed upon children from a young age and seriously affecting their wellbeing.

The workshop was accompanied by an extensive slideshow dealing with trends in porn and the way the majority of mainstream porn promotes a focus on humiliation, degradation, disgust and pain as well as the explosion in popularity of imagery of very young women. Panelists were Rebecca Mott and Anna Van Heeswijk of Object. As expected there were several conflicting reactions from delegates and questions prompted discussion on erotica, BDSM and the relationship feminists have with sex workers. Rebecca expressed her frustration at the way the movement often excludes the voices of prostitutes and spoke of many women she knows who feel let down and patronised by feminism.

I felt like the day was over much too quickly. I was pleased I chose those particular workshops but to be honest there were so many others that I would have loved to have been involved in. A goal for next year will probably be to go to one of the sessions on parenting. By 4pm we were all back in the main hall for the closing session which provided a truly rousing and inspiring finale.

Natasha Walter talked about stereotyping and the fact it means women and girls are not encouraged to live up to their full potential, which is something we can all agree with. She urged us not to give up the fight however terrible things seem; to 'never give up hope'. Anna Fisher spoke from a anti-capitalist perspective and said that she doesn't want equality with men if this means participating in the exploitation of others through capitalism, highlighting that there is major difference between hating men and hating what patriarchy and capitalism have done to them.

The closing speech of the conference was given by Finn MacKay who was most definitely on form and characteristically emotive and fabulous. Her main points? That we shouldn't have to 'rebrand' feminism as if it's something to be ashamed of, that the emphasis should be on reclaiming it instead. That in a world where it's framed as being about 'choices' and 'doing whatever makes you feel good' we need to remember the women's movement is about politics and the law and life and death. That the UK's rape crisis is not the amount of false accusations and that we must challenge this society that blames us for everything. And that all men have an important role to play by not supporting oppressive structures, by not treating us as a commodity - because we believe in their humanity. It was a speech that earned her a standing ovation.

I was so pleased I'd nabbed myself a ticket for the after-party with its food, bar and entertainment - not just because I felt like I could really do with a drink by that point but because it gave me the opportunity to have a really good chat with Kristin Aune, who I've been keen to meet since I became aware of all the work she's done on women in the church.

Throughout the day I was able to catch up with some lovely people and was inspired to get the ball rolling on a couple of projects (as always, time permitting). After a busy few weeks FIL was a welcome opportunity to engage my brain again. I think it was an overwhelmingly positive experience for the majority of those who attended - all I've seen so far is fantastic feedback - and I know it left so many people inspired and ready to do more.

FInd out more about the speakers and the other workshops. I'm sure lots of other blog posts will appear soon!

Women Speak Out Hits Cambridge

Thursday, 21 October 2010

In a post a few months ago I mentioned a project called Women Speak Out - a project that I was somewhat excited about because it involves two women travelling to cities in the UK to talk to women about what being a woman in 2010 means to them.

Having been to London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester, Jessica and Michelle are on their way to Cambridge later this month and seeing as this happens to be my neck of the woods I'm going to be in attendance. I'm also hoping that a few of you reading this might be from the Cambridgeshire area and interested in coming along too!

If you would like to be part of a project aiming to get an idea of how today's women feel about the issues affecting them and their lives - work, family, feminism, politics and whatever else you can think of, Women Speak Out is for you.

Jessica and Michelle will be hanging out at the Café Project on Jesus Lane, CB5 8BQ, from 1-4pm on Saturday October 30th. Turn up whenever you like and stay for as long as you like - I'm sure it'll be a great afternoon.

For more information here's a PDF of the flyer for the event.

It's 'catfight' time for The Apprentice

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Female candidates on The Apprentice have been criticised for representing women in business badly after last week's episode of the reality show made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In an episode which saw contestants attempt to design and market a beach-themed product, the show's female contestants were seen bickering and fighting throughout - something which undoubtedly contributed to them losing the task and being called into the boardroom to answer to Alan Sugar.

From the moment we saw footage of the all-female group sniping at each other while attempting to come up with initial product ideas, it was obvious that things weren't going to run smoothly and before long, project manager Laura Moore was in tears, claiming that she couldn't handle her team.

Despite her obvious anger at their behaviour, her fellow contestants continued to ramp up the nastiness, resulting in complete mayhem as they argued about how was responsible for the team's overall failure.

After watching the drama unfold, Lord Sugar's assistant Karren Brady stepped in to criticise the way the women were acting.

"Can I just say something? You are representing businesswomen today and I have to say that it is outrageous the way that you are behaving," she said.

"70% of my management team are women and I've never come across anything like this."

Brady was right of course - the rudeness of the contestants and their inability to respect or listen to one another made me realise immediately that in the days following the show's broadcast, commentators and newspapers would be bound to hold them up as a shining example of why female bosses are a nightmare to work for, or why women are naturally 'catty' in the workplace.

I haven't been disappointed. Liz Jones has done it, using words such as 'bitching' and 'backstabbing' for extra emphasis and proclaiming that:

"We are never going to get out of this recession if this is the best British womanhood has to offer."

She's not the only one - a brief search for news stories and blog posts about last week's episode threw up much talk of women 'letting the side down' and 'catfights'.

It's depressing because on one hand I was appalled by the contestants' behaviour, but on the other I knew the backlash against businesswomen was bound to happen and how unfair it would be.

I may not have risen as far up the career ladder as these women but I'm pretty aware of basic etiquette when it comes to talking over people and letting people have a say in decision-making. The difference between being assertive and being aggressive, you might say. But then again, I don't work in a particularly pressured environment and the show puts the contestants into extremely stressful situations.

The fact is though, when male contestants on the show act like complete losers – which they frequently do, they're not seen as representing all businessmen. Their behaviour doesn't prompt a rash of articles on why men are just so awful to work for and why they're setting a bad example to young men who want to ‘make it’.

The reaction of the public to the antics of the female Apprentice contestants underlined very clearly just how, as women, we face particular challenges when aiming for influence and power in any sphere. Very often, our actions will be held up as symptomatic of the behaviour of all women.

Most of us have probably had to deal with an unpleasant male boss at some point, but it's female executives who are usually painted as evil and scheming, the sort of people nobody wants to work for.

Since the recession hit, there has been much talk of making boardrooms more inclusive and even imposing quotas to make sure women are equally represented. Some people are vocally opposed to such actions and last week’s show is likely to add more fuel to the fire in this respect.

Interestingly, the only female contestant not part of the “girls’ team” was put in charge of the “boys’ team” and excelled as project manager. Stella English was praised by her team, who had no problems with her leadership.

Unfortunately, the male contestants did decide that as the sole woman in the group, she should don beachwear to advertise their product, resulting in a particularly uncomfortable scene where they urged her to ‘take one for the team’ and wear a bikini – as they smirked and sniggered. Some things never change.

This piece originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via BBC.

Men, women and food

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Today's Observer features a piece by Eva Wiseman entitled 'The truth about men, women and food'. The article discusses the stereotypes surrounding gender and food and the way that these are often explained away by dubious evolutionary psychology.

Stereotypes about the way men and women eat are so easy to reel off that I could be here all day. Men are supposed to love MEAT. Especially BIG STEAKS. And fried breakfasts. Women order salads and nibble Ryvitas while men scoff pasties and chips. We 'indulge' in a 'naughty' biscuit or a 'sinful' chocolate bar. 'Real men' don't eat quiche. Women pick at their food when a man takes them out to a restaurant because they don't want to be seen as 'big eaters'. We love chocolate more than anything else and see cupcakes as an entire lifestyle rather than a sugary snack.

Of course this is all ridiculous and you don't need me to tell you that. I'm not about to start listing all the ways in which I contradict stereotypes about women and food because actually, most people (if they'll admit it) DO contradict these stereotypes in some way. Sadly we all know a lot of people who buy into it and come out with the sort of comments guaranteed to set off my extra special eye roll. The female work colleague who watched a friend tuck into a certain chocolate bar and yelped 'But they're not for girls!'. The men who laughed at my husband for drinking elderflower cordial because apparently such beverages are 'gay'.

It's something I noticed happens a lot when it comes to male/female-only social events within the church. Men get curry nights and prayer breakfasts involving huge platters of bacon and sausages. Women get chocolate fountains and breakfast meetings involving pastries and fruit. Earlier this year, the women in my small group organised a women's get-together in the form of a curry night just to, you know, redress the balance a bit. I'm a big fan of curry and let me tell you, it was a great evening.

Doubtless, this isn't helped by the way food companies market products. Wiseman's article discusses the chocolate industry and the differences between 'masculine' and 'feminine' chocolate bars.
"Jill McCall, brand manager at Cadbury, is careful to point out the difference between the indulgent, feminine bars (Flake, Galaxy) and the masculine "hunger bars" (Boost, Snickers), which are nut-filled and huge, and fill you up rather than provide a girlish "treat", thereby creating markets within markets."
Wiseman then lists some of the ways brands market 'male' and 'female' versions of their products - the Kit Kat Chunky and the Kit Kat Senses. The Twix and the new Twix Fino. Of course the calorie and fat content of the 'female' bars is always a key selling point. If you ever see these brands advertised they'll always make a big deal out of it, much the same as with other 'feminine' foods like yoghurt, cereal and cakes.

The message they'll want to convey is one of indulgence and luxury, of 'treating yourself' and 'being naughty' - yet remaining comparatively low in fat and calories. On the other hand plenty of men feel that consuming any food or drink claiming to be 'low fat' or 'guilt free' is going against everything it means to be male.

One triumph of culture when it comes to food is of course, the Noughties obsession with cupcakes. Ten years ago they were something small children ate at birthday parties. Now, of course, they're a symbol of a certain sort of woman and a certain sort of lifestyle. They're served at weddings and baby showers. And cupcake bakeries make a fortune from people popping in for their weekly 'indulgence'.

As the article tells us, boys are socialised from a young age to eat big portions and this has a major impact on the way they see food. Concepts of masculinity usually involve the ability to eat huge platefuls and large amounts of meat or dubious takeaways. On the other hand, women are socialised to associate food with shame, guilt and worry far more about what they should and shouldn't consume. Men might be mocked for eating salad or being vegetarian - and eating for so many women has become an depressing pantomime of not eating a big plateful, vowing to go to the gym later, trying to lose just a couple of pounds before Christmas or the summer or a big night out.

This is an interesting piece which casts a critical eye over modern assumptions about food and gender. In conclusion, Wiseman quotes Dr David Bell:
We're living in a culturally rich time, and are more than able to divide food into categories, including one for 'food that people like me eat'. So, men don't eat steak because they are men, men eat steak to show they are men. Women aren't hard-wired to crave dessert – we've learned that women crave dessert, so we follow, mouths open.
So there you have it. As is usually the case, men and women aren't really 'hard-wired' to like certain foods at all. Just as my attraction to the colour pink and my ability at maths has nothing to do with cavemen, neither does the way I eat. Not that this fact is going to stop ridiculous advertisements for chocolate and yoghurts or stop people feeling like they can't eat something which somehow marks them out as a traitor to their gender, but we can dream.

Image via angelsk's Flickr.

More filler and some sad news

Friday, 8 October 2010

With two days to go until my half marathon, I'm sitting around doing very little in my spare time aside from clearing the backlog on my Google Reader and tweeting about how much I love the new-ish Zara website which just about makes up for the fact we don't have a store here in Peterborough.

I'm already starting to look forward to the build-up to Christmas, pointless 'Winterval' stories galore in the tabloids and people landing on this very blog by searching for 'Is Advent Conspiracy liberal?' or 'Is Advent Conspiracy socialist?'. It's a sad reflection on the attitudes of Christians when an organisation challenges them to spend less on presents and instead donate time or money to helping good causes or their church family - yet all they're worried about is whether or not this is an inherently 'liberal' or 'socialist' act and how awful that is.

Yet again I have some links to share before normal service resumes (hopefully) very soon and depending on how busy I am.

- This Comment is Free piece from earlier in the week entitled 'Feminism's Generation Wars' discusses recently-voiced opinions about supposed tensions between women who were active in the movement 30 and 40 years ago and the younger feminists of today. Unfortunately at times it comes across as reinforcing some problematic attitudes and unfair portrayals of younger feminists.
- An interesting and debate-generating post from RedHeadFashionista about journalists, bloggers and the influence they have, in turn inspired by this post about 'influential bloggers'.
- Today we heard the genuinely sad news that the next issue of Subtext magazine will be the last. Subtext has provided me with interesting reading for a long time now and I know for a fact that Gill and Charlotte's efforts have inspired a lot of women who want to create alternative women's magazines themselves and live in hope that one day we'll see more publications like it.

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