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.

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