This is why the “Die in a Fire” meme constitutes VAWG

This morning, a headline on the BBC announced: 3 small children were killed in a house fire. The sub-heading read: 2 adult women and 3 small children killed. There were very few details released about the incident at first. My instinctive response to this information was that the fire was started by a man to punish an ex-partner and that the two women may have been in a lesbian relationship. Clearly, this is a massive assumption based on no information whatsoever except that fire is a common weapon used by men to murder women or murder their children as punishment.

More details have been released in the last few hours and the victims are Shabina Begum, the children’s grandmother,  Adhyan Nazim, 9, Amaan Nazim, 7,  Anum Parvaiz, the children’s aunt, and a nine week old baby girl. The children’s mother survived the fire. At this moment, the cause of the fire is unknown. 

My immediate assumption that this fire was set deliberately to punish a woman was not unusual. Many women across twitter were worrying that this was a deliberate fire. And, this is why the “die in a fire” meme constitutes VAWG. It isn’t just a random threat: it is a real and common way for women to be murdered throughout history. It isn’t just “one of those things people say”. It’s a deliberate attempt to frighten women into silence. There is no acceptable excuse to use this language. Ever.

The fire in Sheffield which took the lives of 5 people may turn out to be a tragic accident but that doesn’t change the immediate fear women had in response to the news: the fear that another family has been destroyed by male violence through the use of fire.

The “die in a fire” meme is triggering for women and it is not acceptable.

Trigger Warnings/ Content Notes are Necessary

I missed the New Republic’s article on trigger warnings last month. There has been a lot of debate in feminist circles about the importance of trigger warnings versus the erasure of women’s experiences by labelling. I have read a lot on trigger warnings from feminist writers on whether or not trigger warnings are helpful or harmful. Rebecca Mott argues eloquently for feminists not to use trigger warnings. Her piece “Being Alive is a Trigger Warning” is an essential read on this discussion, as is her piece “I Do Not Put Trigger Warnings on the Reality”.  I have thought a lot about this because I do understand the import of Mott’s words. I have chosen to use warnings, although I also fundamentally agree with Mott’s reasons for not using them. This is, simply, a very difficult decision to make because either way it has the potential to harm other women.

I have chosen to use the phrase “content note” rather than trigger warning as the latter is mostly used for people with PTSD. I use content note on my blog and when sharing posts on twitter and Facebook.

The New Republic’s article focuses on trigger warnings in lectures which is a slightly different situation. I do think it is important that universities use content note in lectures and readings. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t teach the material because, they must. However, it is not inappropriate to warn students if a lecture will deal with rape or trauma in some form. It will, no doubt, result in history classes being taught with content note at the top of each lecture but that is rather irrelevant. What we need to do is ensure that students still engage with the material, even if it is difficult.

I have taught the Holocaust at primary level and at university level. Most of the university  students refused to read the texts on the Holocaust claiming it was “too depressing”. These are students doing history degrees  a subject not known for it’s joy-enducing lectures. These students weren’t worried about feeling triggered. They were, in many cases, simply unwilling to do the reading and were using the term depression as an excuse. It is absolutely essential that students studying the Holocaust read personal testimonies from survivors. We cannot allow them to escape from dealing with difficult topics just because they want too. We can teach it in such a way that students suffering from PTSD aren’t triggered.

We absolutely need to be up front with secondary school students about the racism, misogyny, homophobia, sexual violence and suicide in the texts they are reading for literature and history. Refusing to teach the history of slavery to 16 year olds because it might upset them is utterly ridiculous. It is upsetting and they should feel upset. They should feel angry, confused, disgusted and horrified. We simply need, as teachers, to be aware of those students who will find the material difficult without allowing lazy students to use it as an excuse to get out of doing the work. Or, allow over-protective parents who think their 16 year old will be traumatised for life from reading Beloved or The Handmaid’s Tale to dictate educational policy.

Posting a content note on art galleries and films so that people understand the graphic nature before entering/ viewing is a simple act of kindness. Using content notes doesn’t mean we should stop teaching the topics, nor does it mean we’re raising a generation of kids who are wrapped in cotton-wool. It just means making students aware that the material will be difficult before starting it so that those who will need emotional support can access it in advance of teaching.

Using content notes online is also a simple act. I frequently save blogs with a content note tag for when my youngest child is in bed because I don’t want her accidentally coming up behind me and reading something over my shoulder that she is too young to access. This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about the Holocaust or slavery or violence in general. We talk about it in age-appropriate manners and in a place where it is conducive to her understanding the topic.

 

Update: 

I’ve had some very thoughtful conversations with some friends via twitter on this blog and want to add two points to this point.

1. The conclusion to the New Republic article was really quite snide with a throw away remark about letting “vulnerable” people dictate policy. It was completely unnecessary.

2. I have seen a lot of dismissal of the idea that it is impossible to suffer PTSD from online harassment and that people who claim they do are making it up. Personally, I think this position is horseshit. It is absolutely possible to experience PTSD from online harassment. Granted, there will always be 1 or 2 who use any excuse to get out of taking personal responsibility for their behaviour but that has nothing to do with the potential for people to experience PTSD through online harassment.

I have no time for the argument that online harassment and abuse is less traumatic or less real than “real-life” harassment and abuse. It is all part of a spectrum of male violence against women and children which needs to end.

Shoes which require surgery to wear are a harmful cultural practise

The UN has been discussing gendered violence and harmful cultural practices for years. I like this definition:

By harmful practices, we mean all practices done deliberately by men on the body or the psyche of other human beings for no therapeutic purpose, but rather for cultural or socio-conventional motives and which have harmful consequences on the health and the rights of the victims. As such, these practices do negatively impact often irreversibly on the life of the girl, the spouse, the mother, the husband or their family members; it is therefore a societal phenomenon.

There are very obvious forms of gendered violence which are internationally recognised such as forced marriage, FGM, forced feeding, corrective rape, foot-binding, and breast ironing, yet the two biggest forms of gendered violence aren’t generally written about as harmful cultural practices. We discuss FGM as a harmful cultural practise with ease because it happens “over there”*. Yet, we ignore the reality of vaginoplasty being undertaken by young women here in the UK despite their being no medical need. We other the victims and perpetrators of FGM so that we don’t need to examine the fact that domestic and sexual violence and abuse are harmful cultural practises which occur in the “West” by “educated” people on a daily basis. We don’t talk about the brutal murder to two women a week by an abusive current or former partner as a harmful cultural practise despite the fact that it clearly is.

Gendered violence by men against women and girls, in all its forms, are cultural practises. They do not exist outside of our culture and they are not ‘anomalies” or “isolated incidents”. We focus on practises committed elsewhere because we do not want to acknowledge the reality of misogyny, racism, classism, and homophobia. We live in a white supremacist culture which defines violence against women in “non-Western” as cultural, yet we refuse to acknowledge the same violence within our own culture in a similar manner.

This week, the New York Times published an article on the increase in foot surgery among wealthy women in New York so the women can wear shoes created by Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. We know that high heels cause permanent damage to women’s bodies, which are exactly the same as the damage caused by foot-binding. We know this, yet we pretend that having surgery to be able to wear designer shoes is a “choice” women make – that women do so out with any cultural pressure.

If we are serious about ending violence against women and girls across the world, we need to stop pretending that harmful cultural practises are things which only happen to “other” women from “over there”. We need to start examining the rise in plastic surgery in the “West” as a harmful cultural practise. We need to start examining the fashion-beauty complex as part of these practises: from shoes to make-up to surgery to fit an idealised version of female beauty which is young, white, thin, and utterly unattainable.

We need to recognise that gendered violence does not exist in isolation. We need to recognise that domestic and sexual violence and abuse are harmful cultural practises regardless of where they occur. And, we need to recognise that a culture which bases women’s value on their physical body and ability to pass the patriarchal fuckability test is harmful.

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* All of the terms in quotation marks are clearly problematic and inherently racist.

Celebrate Sexual Violence on Campus with Cake!

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(image from here)

Columbia University, following the age old tradition of pretending rape doesn’t exist on college and university campuses across the US, has felt the need to celebrate Sexual Violence Prevention with CAKE! Because nothing says we take the safety of our female students seriously like cake.

And, not just any cake. Nope they’ve gone with one festooned with red roses and hearts. Because, celebrating sexual violence isn’t completely awesome unless it comes covered with the traditional signs of romance: red roses and hearts. It’s a wonder they didn’t go for the whole hog and have female students hand-deliver long-stem red roses to every male student on campus accused of sexual violence and rape.

Al Jazeera has recently published a damning indictment of sexual violence on American campuses with colleges replacing the term rape with non-consensual sex. There are countless examples every year of universities not punishing rapists appropriately and effectively stating that men’s rights to a post-secondary education are more important than the safety and post-secondary education of women.

This is rape culture in action: popping a cake into the canteen as an “awareness” raising comment which basically congratulates men on being rapists whilst helpfully telling rape victims that all they deserve for being a victim of a violent crime is a piece of cake.

Our young women deserve the right to access education without worrying about their rapist living down the hall from them. Men need to learn that rape is a serious crime with long-term consequences which should include immediate expulsion from university (and a long jail sentence).

All university staff need to have mandatory training in sexual and domestic violence awareness, and not by RAINN who do a great number in victim blaming. Universities need to use the term rape and not “non-consensual sex”. They also need to fundamentally rewrite their policies on dealing with violent crime so any reported is handled by the police and not the university. Expulsion can be the only appropriate punishment for sexual violence.

And, seriously, whoever thought this cake was a great idea needs to stop drinking the stupid kool-aid.

On Josie Cunningham and abortion

I am pro-choice. I believe that every woman knows what is best for herself at the moment she makes the decision to have an abortion or continue a pregnancy whilst living within a capitalist-patriarchy.

I support Josie Cunningham.

With no ifs, ands or buts.

I just support Josie Cunningham.

Is this the end of Terry Richardson?

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This is a message sent from photographer Terry Richardson to model Emma Appleton. Currently, Vogue US is trying to distance themselves from Richardson in a desperate attempt to not look like rape apologists by supporting Richardson’s continued campaign of sexual exploitation of vulnerable young women.

Problem is: they are 4 years too late. Jezebel has been covering this story, which wasn’t exactly a hidden secret in the industry since at least 2010. The story hasn’t changed: model after model has come forward to describe the sexual harassment and abuse they received at the hands of Terry Richardson and yet the fashion industry continues to work with him. Jezebel has conveniently listed the publications which have continued to work with Richardson since the allegations rose in 2010. This is just the section on Harper’s Bazaar

March 2014 Cover Lady Gaga
February 2014 Editorial Bar Refaeli, Wale, Diane Von Furstenberg
November 2013 Cover Madonna
October 2013 Cover Miley Cyrus
September 2013 Cover Sarah Jessica Parker
September 2013 Editorial Lindsey Wixson
August 2013 Cover Sophia Vergara
June 2013 Editorial Alessandra Ambrosio
April 2013 Cover Selena Gomez
March 2013 Editorial Lily Aldridge, Emily DiDonato
March 2013 Editorial Catherine McNeil
December 2012 Cover Lily Donaldson
November 2012 Cover Nicole Kidman
November 2012 Editorial Chloe Norgaard
October 2012 Editorial Jacquelyn Jablonski
September 2012 Cover Gwen Stefani
September 2012 Editorial Barbara Palvin
September 2012 Editorial Miranda Kerr
June 2012 Editorial Kate Moss
May 2012 Editorial Kate Upton
Jun/July 2012 Cover Kate Moss
May 2012 Cover Penelope Cruz
April 2012 Cover Mila Kunis
April 2012 Editorial Dolce, Gabbana
April 2012 Editorial Miranda Kerr
March 2012 Cover Gwyneth Paltrow
March 2012 Editorial Lindsey Wixson
March 2012 Editorial Lily Donaldson
February 2012 Editorial Candice Swanepoel
November 2011 Cover Beyoncé
November 2011 Editorial Eniko Mihalik
November 2011 Editorial Gisele Bundchen
October 2011 Editorial Lindsey Wixson
September 2011 Cover Karmen Pedaru
September 2011 Editorial Georgia May Jagger
August 2011 Editorial Michael Kors
May 2011 Cover Lady Gaga
April 2011 Cover Courteney Cox
March 2011 Cover Kim Kardashian
March 2011 Editorial Magdalena Frackowiak
January 2011 Cover Lily Donaldson
November 2010 Cover Christina Hendricks
August 2010 Cover Cameron Diaz

The list doesn’t include ad campaigns he’s worked on, videos he’s directed or the new project with Lady GaGa.

The fashion and music industries, as well as Hollywood, have continued to work with Richardson despite the clear evidence of his harassment. Women like Madonna, Nicole Kidman and Gisele Bundchen have continued to work with him despite being in a professional position to refuse. Charlie Hunman, Pharrell, and Jeff Bridges have continued to work with him. Modelling companies, who have the power to protect their young models, choose to send vulnerable women to work with a man who has a reputation for harming them. Fashion houses continue to hire men.

So, do I think this is the end of Terry Richardson?

No.

I think young vulnerable women will continue to be placed in positions where they have very little choice but to work with Richardson. Because all the fashion industry gives a shit about is making money and being a spectacle. They don’t care about the health and well-being of their models. If they did, they would have addressed the issue of eating disorders within the industry years ago. Vogue US is only backing off now because they are humiliated – not because of Richardson’s abuse – but because Richardson made it clear that Vogue’s cover was up for sale.

This is all about the money and not about the young women.

 

 

Yet, More Offensive Advertising from Dove: The Beauty Patch

Anyone familiar with my rants, knows how much I detest Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaigns aimed at making women feel better about no longer having prepubescent bodies in their 40s whilst flogging them over-priced moisturisers and face creams which certainly don’t do what they are advertised to do and are made from animal by-products. And, this is without getting into the whole Dove is owned by Unilever who also flog women Slim-Fast because they are simultaneously “real” and fat, as well Fair & Lovely & White Beauty skin lightening products – the racism of which is self-evident.  They also produce the hyper-sexualised Lynx ads which treat women as fuck objects for men’s pleasure incapable of making rational decisions because of a man’s smell.

Dove have hit a whole new level of hypocrisy with their new Beauty patch ad which is part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty”.

This was the opening advertisement for the move Spiderman that I took my youngest, super-hero obsessed daughter to see. I sat for the first few minutes trying to decide if Dove were marketing a real product or not. And, this is the problem.

Dove think the “Beauty Patch” is an interesting new advertising gimmick when it’s just the same old body-shaming bullshit dressed to make women feel stupid about not believing they are beautiful so they go out and buy the entirety of Dove’s range of products.  And, not only do Dove imply women are stupid, they are actively propagating the myth that women are too stupid to know that a patch on your arm can’t make you feel beautiful when you are living in a culture which is predicated on body-shaming women into buying unnecessary products fuelling the capitalist economy.

Dove isn’t interested in women feeling beautiful and powerful. If we did, there would be no need for their campaign.  We need to start examining these advertisement campaigns under the UN definition of “harmful cultural practises”.  This term is usually reserved for things other people do somewhere else to women over there and is inherently racist because it assumes western women are enlightened and empowered and are not subject to cultural practises which are harmful to their physical and emotional well-being. It ignores the reality of eating disorders, body dysmorphia and the increase in plastic surgery on everything from breasts, thighs and tummies to vaginas and anuses being deemed imperfect.

Our culture raises women to be nothing more than fucktoys. This is a harmful cultural practise and Dove, and Unilever, are complicit in perpetuating this harm to make money.

Because all this is is a way to make more women hate their bodies so they will spend all of their income buying products to make their bodies fit the checklist of the patriarchal fuckability test.

Frankly, Unliver can just fuck right off.

 

Defining “Real” Feminism: A response to Natasha Devon

It is fair to say I had a number of concerns about Natasha Devon’s article in Feminist Times on why feminism must learn to compromise. I wrote a response for the Feminist Times here about why feminism can never compromise on its goals. Natasha has since written a response for her blog  responding to some of the criticism. I don’t normally engage in discussions of this sort but I want to address two issues that Devon raises.

Firstly, I am very uncomfortable with the trope  of ‘militant feminists” being used to denigrate the activism of other women. I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate to create hierarchies of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminists. And, I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to say that anger is bad or that women shouldn’t be angry. I am angry at the oppression of women and I do refuse to compromise my goals in order to placate the very men who (re)create the political, social and cultural structures which privilege them at the expense of women. I’m okay with being angry at women being raped and murdered daily and then blamed for being victims. I’m okay with refusing to believe that women’s only worth is in their physical appearance and that we must be super-duper nice to the men just in case we hurt their feelings. Labelling anger as ‘bad’ in women is a silencing tactic. It also ignores everything women have accomplished because of their righteous anger:

  • the right to have a career
  • to have her own bank account without requiring the signature of her husband or father
  • to rent or own a home without the permission of her father or husband
  • Equal pay legislation
  • rape crisis centres
  • refuges
  • domestic violence legislation
  • education
  • child maintenance
  • healthcare
  • the right to abortion
  • the right to prenatal and postnatal care
  • maternity leave
  • the right to serve as a politician
  • the right to vote
  • the right to be classed as a person

All of these are rights women have because of “militant feminists”; women who were angry at women’s oppression and stood up and fought back. The dismissal of “militant feminists” is to erase the entire history of our movement. It is to erase the work of generations of women.

And, really, could we not class Devon as a “militant feminist” because of her belief that pornography is not harmful to women as a class? What makes one woman a “bad (militant)” feminist and another a “good” feminist.  Why are the women Devon disagrees with automatically “militants”. Using words like “militant” pejoratively is a silencing tactic. It’s a way of dismissing valid concerns of other women and this isn’t feminism. We may not agree on these issues but classing every single woman who disagrees with you as “bad” helps no woman. It just reinforces the very patriarchal structures in which women live.

I also want to respond to one paragraph in that post which demonstrates the fundamental difference between Devon’s feminism and my own:

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Devon’s feminism is contextualised within capitalism as a positive force whilst I believe that capitalism is inherently harmful and toxic for women and that women’s liberation will not come through materialism, pornification or political structures created by men for men. Suggesting that “REAL feminism is strutting into a boardroom in 4 inch stilettos, cleavage boldly on display” erases the vast majority of women from the feminist movement. Capitalism requires a hierarchy which subordinates 99% of the population for the benefit for 1%; most of whom are male.

Suggesting that women are only “real” feminists if they leave men thinking how “witty and intelligent” they are is just requiring women to preform for men. It requires women to meet a very narrow definition of “woman” – one which is based on a harmful and reductive gender construction. This is inherently unkind and one that I find antithetical to a campaign for “body confidence”. Confidence, nor feminism, can come from stilettos and lipstick; nor can it come from an audience finding you witty or intelligent. It comes from within.

This definition of “real” feminism ignores the double bind of oppression faced by women of colour who very rarely see the inside of a boardroom (unless as a cleaner). Does this make them less of a feminist because they are victims of institutionalised and systemic misogyny AND racism?

What about women with disabilities? Women who can’t stride anywhere in 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists?

What about the women living in inhumane conditions, working in factories with no safety net who earn a $1 a day to make those 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists? Should we not care about them because they can’t meet this narrow-definition?

My feminism is anti-capitalist because I don’t believe women’s liberation can be found in a boardroom or via the very political structures which oppress us. I don’t believe our liberation can be found through our appearance or our performance of acceptable gendered norms. A feminism which ignores the fact that the vast majority of women in the world are living in abject poverty with inadequate access to sanitation and clean water is not a feminist movement I want to be part of. I want to dismantle our political structures which are based on the unpaid labour of women. I also respect the work of women who are fighting within the system for change – for equal representation in politics, the workplace and a welfare state to protect the most vulnerable (most of whom are women).

Devon and I have very different understandings of feminism but I am very uncomfortable with the idea that only one of us is a “real” feminist.

 

Maria Miller must be replaced by a woman.

Maria Miller needed to resign as a cabinet minister. Frankly, she should have resigned as an MP and be under police investigation; although, to be fair, that applies to rather a large number of people currently in parliament.

What cannot happen is for Maria Miller to be replaced by a man. Cabinet reshuffle all they like but the number of women simply cannot drop.  Parliament itself is unrepresentative of our country; the cabinet even more so. We need more women in cabinet. Not another rich white man.

At this point, I’d be open to any woman being promoted to cabinet.

In the realm of beyond fucking creepy we have ….. man marries daughter

Dying man “weds” 11 year old daughter in fake wedding because he won’t get to see the real thing.  In what universe is this anything but seriously fucking creepy? And, horrifically traumatising to a child?

Jim Getz, who is 62, got a priest to “marry” him as “Daddy and Daughter” and he put a ring on a finger. People actually donated money to buy a “wedding dress”, cake and the rest of the shit involved so that an old man could assert his ownership of his daughter’s body one last time before he died.

There is nothing sweet or sad about this. It’s just fucking creepy and patriarchal and horrendously unkind to a child putting her in the shitty position of being solely responsible for her father’s dying wish. What if she doesn’t get married? Or, what if her husband is an abusive shit-bag?  The emotional manipulation and blackmail here is disgusting.

This is all about the father’s desperate attempt to retain control and ownership of his daughter and nothing to do with her emotional well-being and health. It is, simply, fucking creepy.

And, it’s no surprise that the creeps at Good Men Project think this is awesome. As a general rule of thumb: if they think it’s a good idea, it’s not.