My Favourite Books of 2015!

In no particular order:

Biographies:

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Gabriella Gillespies’ A Father’s Betrayal

Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican – A Memoir

Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road

Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship

Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks

Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life

Fiction

UnknownBucha Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood

Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk

Maggie Harris’ Kissadee Girl

Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their eyes were watching

Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone

Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must GoUnknown

Yejide Kilanko’s Chasing Butterflies

Sarita Mandana’s Tiger Hills

Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy. Snow. Bird

Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters who walk this path

Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride

Tatiana De Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key

Unknown 2

 

Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guave Orchard

Padma Viswanathan’s The Toss of a Lemon

Shauna Singh Baldwin’s The Selector of Souls

Kamaria Muntu’s A Good Lynching Should be Enjoyed

 

Unknown 1Sunny Singh’s Hotel Arcadia

Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love

 

 

 

The following by Jhumpa Lahiri’s

Unknown 1 Unaccustomed Earth

Lowland

The Namesake

 

 

 

And, Andrea Levy:

Levy Unknown

Every Light Burning in the House

Never Far From Nowhere

Uriah’s War

The Fruit of Lemons

 

 

(To be fair, I’ve loved everything I have ever read by Andrea Levy)

 

The Best Rape Prevention: Tell Men to Stop Raping

This post was originally published in the Huffington Post. It was shortlisted for the Best Blog category and first runner-up at the 2014 Write to End Violence against Women Awards hosted by Zero Tolerance, White Ribbon Campaign, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid held at the Scottish Parliament.

 

Last week, New York defence attorney Joseph DiBenedetto made headlines when he used the phrase “I’m not saying she deserved to get raped but” live on Fox News. The comment was a response to a question about the rape of teenager Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Missouri. The case hit the national press because of how the criminal justice system in Missouri handled the aftermath of the rape rather than the rape itself; rape being such a common crime that it very rarely makes headline news.

Comparisons have already been made between the Maryville case and that of the rape of a young girl in Steubenville as both cases involve high school athletes, charges were originally dropped and the online harassment of both young women has been horrific. As with Steubenville, it has been public campaigns, which have resulted in the case being investigated by a Special Prosecutor.

The reaction to DiBenedetto’s comment has been one of outrage, which is interesting because DiBenedetto has not said anything different than many other people.

Victim-blaming is endemic in our rape culture. It is the cause of West Mercia Police’s “advice” for women that blames women for drinking alcohol rather than men for committing rape :

“Don’t let a night full of promise turn into a morning full of regret”, says the headline on West Mercia Police’s web page dedicated to tackling rape. “Did you know”, they ask “if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?”

Oxford Police ran a similar campaign. The University of Kent and the University of Oxford’s Student Union have both come under criticism for anti-rape campaigns that focus on the victim rather than perpetrator.

Slate recently published an article by Emily Yoffe with the title “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” which blames women who have been drinking for their rapes rather than the rapists. Yoffe’s article is hardly new though. The advice within it is the same advice women get everyday despite the fact that the only factor that makes people vulnerable to rape is being in the presence of a rapist. The article itself has been publicly criticised by a number of feminist organisations and publications like JezebelFeministing and Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]. It has also been criticised in more mainstream media outlets.

DiBenedetto’s comments aren’t new either; neither is his suggestion that Coleman has made a false allegation. The public’s reactions to these comments are new. The widespread condemnation of DiBenedetto’s comments is new.

We are at a turning point: we have the power to end rape culture and victim blaming.

The campaigns fighting rape culture and victim-blaming are incredibly inspiring, Rape Crisis Scotland’s anti-rape campaigns: “This is not an invitation to rape me” and “Ten Top Tips to End Rape” went viral because they inverted normal anti-rape campaigns. Parenting website Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign was instigated by members angry at the prevalence of rape myths. End Online Misogyny was created in response to the rape threats directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy. Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming] started in May in response to the press surrounding the Oxford Gang case. Reclaim the Night marches are being held all over the UK now, as are Slutwalks.

Only last week, the CPS published new guidelines for the prosecution of child sexual abuse in England/ Wales that actively challenges the existence of rape myths in trials. These new guidelines were in response to feminist activism and, whilst they aren’t as strong as they could be, they are an important start.

However, we need to do more and we need to start with more anti-rape campaigns which put the focus on the perpetrator rather than that victim, like Vancouver’s Don’t be that Guy campaign. We also need a fundamental overhaul of our justice system :

1. Anonymity for rape victims must remain a fundamental tenet.
2. Rape victims should never be required to testify in open court.
3. Rape victims should never be required to testify in front of the accused.
4. Rape victims should be entitled to their own legal advisor to protect them.
5. Rape myths must be legally prohibited from being used as a defence tactic.
6. The CPS and judiciary must undergo constant (re)training on rape myths.
7. Juries must be giving training on rape myths before the trial starts which includes the real definition of what a “false accusation” actually entails [since we consider rape victims who withdraw their complaints as “false accusations” this is absolutely necessary].
8. The “sexual history” of a rape victim must be banned. The defence should have no legal right to undermine the credibility of the victim by discussing their “sexual history”.
9. The press should be prohibited from publishing the specific details of the rape. It is enough to say: X has been charged with child rape.
10. Anyone who attempts to identify the victim should be prosecuted.

Rape has a purpose in our culture, as does victim blaming. We will not end rape culture, victim blaming or the oppression of women by continuing to focus campaigns on rape prevention that hold victims responsible for being in the presence of a rapist.

Most importantly, this change needs to start with a message to men: rape must stop. Men must take personal responsibility for their own perpetuation of rape culture and men need to call out other men who are engaging in sexually predatory behaviour.

We all have the power to change rape culture, but we need men to take a public stand now.

* The legal definition of rape in England and Wales requires the insertion of a penis without consent . Men and women can be, and are, convicted of sexual assault that carries the same tariff as rape. See Rape Crisis Glasgow for the definitions of rape and sexual assault in Scotland.

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality was first published in 1995 and grew out of her work and activism following the publication of Female Sexual Slavery in 1979. The first half of the book, which is just theory, is brilliant. The second half felt outdated as it is based almost entirely on the research undertaken for Female Sexual Slavery. I would argue that the situation is actually worse now than it was even 10 years ago, particularly in relation to rape as an accepted tactic of war. I’d be interested to read an epilogue to the book which examines the reality of women’s experiences of sexual exploitation now and whether Barry thinks it is worse for women or if its just that I’ve become more aware of sexual exploitation.

I cannot recommend this book enough though. Barry’s theory on the global exploitation of women is incredibly important. She destroys the idea that prostitution can be consented to within a capitalist-patriarchy. She clearly proves that the sexualisation of human bodies renders women passive objects and men active participants. Barry challenges the heteronormative construction of pornography and prostitution and the hegemonic nature of capitalism which is built on the bodies of women.

I am adding this book to my list of Top Ten Feminist Theory Texts (in no particular order):

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. 

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

4. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today

5. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women

6. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny

7. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue

8. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics

9. Melinda Tankard Reist’s Big Porn Inc

10. Kathleen Barry’s The Prostitution of Sexuality: The Global Exploitation of Women

Why is the BBC filing Rolf Harris coverage in “Entertainment & Arts”?

(Originally published in Feminist Times) 

Rolf Harris has been found guilty of twelve counts of indecently assaulting four girls and women over three decades. Six other women testified to their experience of sexual assault during the trial, although Harris was not charged with these offences. As I write this, the police are now investigating numerous new allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Harris.

Since the first allegations about Jimmy Savile’s sexual predation arose, a number of men employed by the BBC, including Stuart Hall and Freddie Starr, have been arrested for child sex offences. Not all of these men have been convicted but they all have one other thing in common: the BBC has chosen to publish articles on their cases under “Entertainment & Arts”. To be clear, the BBC categorises these articles as “news” but then also place them in the “Entertainment & Arts” section of BBC Online.

I’ve complained numerous times, as I believe it is utterly dismissive and minimising to place articles of child sexual abuse, rape and exploitation under the category of entertainment. It implies that the investigation and trials themselves are “entertainment”. It does tremendous harm to victims to see their experiences of sexual violence minimised in such a manner by implying that the former employment of the man charged is more important than the crimes committed.

In the most recent letter from the BBC in response to my complaint, the BBC claims that placing such articles under the heading of “Entertainment & Arts” is exactly the same as placing an article on the use of the internet to share images of children being sexually exploited, abused and raped under the heading of “Technology”. The fact that the BBC’s official response so clearly misses the point shows just how little they understand the impact of victim blaming and the minimisation of sexual violence on victims and on the ability to have sexual abusers and rapists convicted.

Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile were allowed to continue perpetrating sexual violence against children and women for decades because of an institutional refusal to recognise the seriousness of their crimes. It is clear that numerous people were aware of what Harris and Savile were doing but either chose to disbelieve the victims or ignore them. This is rape culture.

Yet the BBC still thinks it’s appropriate to place articles about Savile, Harris and other men under investigation or convicted of child sexual offences under the heading of entertainment. This is only a small part of rape culture but it is one that demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding of the consequences of child sexual violence. It is also something that the BBC could easily change.

I’ve started a petition here asking the BBC to stop considering the employment of the perpetrator (or person under investigation) when placing articles on BBC Online. Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile were allowed to commit child sexual violence offences for years because of rape culture and the privilege of celebrity culture. We need to make it clear that their jobs only gave them greater access to vulnerable women and children and the power to continue. The crimes they committed are not entertainment.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/why-are-the-bbc-filing-rolf-harris-coverage-in-entertainment-arts/#sthash.EuRBmbAR.dpuf

Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Second Shift is a seminal text in women’s studies on the gendered differentiations of responsibility for wifework in families where both parents work outside the home. What The Second Shift demonstrates is the damage that compromise does to women’s emotional and physical health because it is always women who are required to ‘compromise’. Women’s work increases whilst men’s does not. Very little has changed in the lives of women since The Second Shift was published in 1989. Women are still responsible for the majority of wifework and childcare to the detriment of our health.

What has changed is the feminist movement. Rather than focusing on women’s liberation from patriarchal structures and male violence, increasingly the feminist movement is being required to put men’s feelings first. We are being asked to compromise on our goals and our beliefs in order to stop making men feel left out. Feminists who use terms like male violence to acknowledge the reality of domestic and sexual abuse are accused of ‘man-hating’. Feminists are consistently told that they should be campaigning about ‘something’ more important – a will-o-wisp term for something which can never be labeled or achieved. It is, simply, a derailing tactic.

Compromise is simply not possible as a feminist policy. Discussion and debate within the feminist movement are necessary but there must be basic tenets which feminism cannot compromise on. After all, compromise did not get rape crisis centres built or the funding for refuges. Compromise did not result in rape in marriage being made illegal. These were hard-fought battles won by second wave feminists who never compromised. Instead, feminists squatted in abandoned buildings to force the government to turn them over to be used for refuges. Feminists campaigned for the vote, for equal pay and for rape to be recognized as a crime against women, not a crime against men’s property, without compromise. Many times they had to be practical, as seen in the history of the suffrage movement, but this did not mean that feminists compromised.

Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women evidenced exactly how the patriarchy responded to feminist activism. We are experiencing a new backlash to feminist activism: one where sexuality is defined as the route to women’s ‘empowerment’ (but not liberation) and where compromise is demanded by men and women. If we don’t compromise and remain sexually available to men we are labeled man-haters. Now feminists believe that we cannot engage in activism for fear of being labeled man-haters. At least, this seems to be the crux of Natasha Devon’s article, demanding feminists compromise: we must compromise our goals and refrain from publicly being angry.

What Devon doesn’t ask is: who are we expected to compromise with – those who profit from the abuse and torture of women’s bodies? Those who profit from women’s unpaid labour in the home and in the infamous “Big Society”? Those whose profits run into the billions selling women products to make them visible (and therefore fuckable)? Because women who do not pass the patriarchal fuckability test aren’t allowed to exist. We cannot compromise with these industries without causing irreparable harm to women and the feminist movement itself.

It is possible for feminists to wear make-up and be entirely critical of what Sandra Lee Bartky labels the fashion-beauty complex. Feminists do understand that women are punished for not “fitting” the prescribed role for women; one only has to look at the abuse directed at Mary Beard to see evidence of this. Or examine Veet’s new campaign, which labels women with body hair ‘men’. The control of the physical acceptability of women’s bodies in the media is part of the patriarchal control of women that allows domestic violence and female genital mutilation to remain. These are not separate issues but rather inter-connected as feminists can, and do, campaign on more than one issue at a time.

Equally, many women feel safer wearing make-up and ‘dressing up’. I know I do, and this is despite knowing what the fashion-beauty complex does to the mental health of women who can afford their products, and the physical consequences to the bodies of women who are forced to produce these products at subsistence wages and in inhumane conditions in factories. This isn’t compromise. It’s a practical response to a culture, which, fundamentally, hates women.

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign is because they have refused to compromise the goals of their campaign. Changing from ending page 3 to encouraging a wider variety of women’s bodies doesn’t engage at all with the issue that NMP3 is fighting: the normalisation of the objectification of women’s bodies in the media. I support the goal of No More Page 3 whilst simultaneously being critical of their stance on pornography. There is more than enough room in feminism for us to discuss our differences on the wider issue of pornography without either of us compromising our feminism.

This is the problem with discussions over feminism as a ‘dirty word’ – it assumes that debate is inherently negative as opposed to a wider process of change. The success of NMP3 has allowed space for more feminist debates on the pornification of society. This is a positive step forward, regardless of whether or not I personally agree with their stance on pornography.

Feminism won’t become a dirty word because feminists won’t compromise. Feminism has always been a dirty word to those who support the capitalist-patriarchy unquestioningly. We don’t need to concern ourselves with those who think feminism is a dirty word. Instead, we need to focus on the feminist movement and the debates within it. Each of us, individually and collectively, has to define the issues that we will not compromise on and understand why others don’t agree with us. We can disagree on some issues, engage in practical steps on others, but feminism as a movement cannot compromise on issues that affect the liberation of women.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/feminism-cannot-compromise-on-the-liberation-of-women/#sthash.1ewI5Br5.dpuf

Victims of Domestic Violence own 50% of the responsibility

(originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming)

On a daily basis, we read some absolutely egregious examples of victim blaming culture: so many that we rarely have time to even log them, never mind deconstruct them. Today, we were sent a link to an article by Sallee McLaren called “The part women play in domestic violence” which was published in the Australian paper The Age. It is one of the worst examples we have seen in a while. McLaren, a clinical psychologist, claims that women living with domestic violence contribute 50% of the responsibility for the violence they live with. It is a clear example of a mental health professional who has no understanding of the gendered reality of domestic violence, how perpetrators function, or the impact on victims.

Any article which starts with the tagline”(w)omen can only command real power once we socialise girls to take themselves seriously and develop mental grit” is bound to be unsubstantiated drivel. The reason for domestic violence is not how we socialise girls: it is how we socialise men. We raise boys to believe that masculinity involves violence. How often do we hear parents, teachers and news media use the phrase “boys being boys” when talking about boys kicking or hitting each other? We tell 3 year olds that it is normal to behave aggressively and then wonder why they behave aggressively as adults. We tell young boys that they are entitled to women’s time, emotional support and commodities: that their needs supersede those of anyone else. This is made clear in study after study in education which shows that teachers give more attention to male students and allow male students to speak more than female students.

It is ever so kind for McLaren to suggest that perpetrators are always at fault from “a moral perspective” and we’re definitely on board with the idea that we need to understand how and why domestic violence happens in order to stop it. It’s just that we, based on actual research, find McLaren’s conclusions ill-informed and incredibly dangerous. We’re also a little perplexed as to why she doesn’t understand that legal responsibility lays with the perpetrator too. Or, quite how she’s arrived at a 50-50 ‘contribution’ for domestic violence when there is one perpetrator and one victim.

We’re also on board with the need to end gendered stereotyping of boys and girls as it is incredibly harmful to children, and adults, to be raised with expectations based entirely on ill-conceived and factually incorrect assumptions about gender. We just don’t support the theory that girls and women are responsible for being victims of domestic violence:

To explain what I mean, I want to tell you about a scenario I frequently see played out in various forms in my work in relation to domestic violence. Let’s say we have a male and female couple who are living together and he is becoming increasingly violent towards her. In my work, I have to retrain her exactly as much as I have to retrain him to correct this situation.

It happens like this. Early on in the relationship he becomes aggravated for some reason and raises his voice at her. She tolerates it, lets it go by, thinks to herself “he’s not too angry – no need to rock the boat”. At that stage he is at 4/10 in his level of anger. By not objecting she has just trained him that 4/10 is acceptable. So he continues to regularly reach that level.

Women are not responsible for “training” men not to be aggressive or violent. The ONLY person in this scenario who is responsible is the man and it is this kind of deeply stupid theory which puts women at risk by blaming them for men’s behaviour. This is why no qualified clinical psychologist, councillor, psychiatrist or therapist would recommend joint relationships counselling for a couple where domestic violence is involved. McLaren has just told the perpetrator they have the right to behave abusively: that it is the victim’s fault for not saying no.

This might be a shocking piece of information, but here at EVB, we don’t think men are stupid. We don’t believe they need to be told their behaviour is aggressive or abusive because they are confused or don’t understand boundaries. We believe men are perfectly aware that their behaviour is wrong; that they make a choice to commit domestic violence. Men who perpetrate domestic violence, and it is almost always men even when the victim is male, need to be held accountable for their actions. The very last thing they need is a clinical psychologist telling them it’s okay to be abusive if a woman doesn’t say no.

In comparing her own childhood at being allowed to be bad at sport as the same as a woman living with domestic violence, McLaren brings the woman-blaming to a whole new level of stupid:

I can relate this to my own life. As a child I was allowed to get away with being fairly sooky and ineffectual in sport. I was good enough at it technically but I was never really expected to push through into the realm of real mental toughness. Then, as a young adolescent I found myself standing at the top of a cornice (I had snow skied since I was a tiny child) and it was very steep, narrow and ungroomed. My older brother jumped straight off the cornice without a second of hesitation and skied it aggressively and beautifully to the bottom.

Suddenly I thought: “I’m sick of being pathetic – he does it, why can’t I”. At that moment I decided to never again be passive. I took off, forcing myself to trust in my own ability, skiing forcefully, fast and with authority and I have skied that way ever since. Most of the girls and women I knew back then have still not taken this step of mental toughness and although they remain excellent technicians, skiing with beauty and grace, they never really learnt just how good they could be.

Women experiencing domestic violence are NOT pathetic and anyone who suggests this should not be allowed to work with either perpetrators or victims. Girls and boys are socialised differently: boys that risk is good and girls to put the needs of others before their own. This socialisation, whilst damaging, does not negate male responsibility for their own violence.

Let us be very, very clear here: women living with domestic violence are not “tolerating” it. They are living in a violent relationship where there choices and safety are decreased incrementally. For some of these women, ‘objecting’ to the violence will lead to serious physical harm or death – and, they know this. Women do not teach men that “at each stage that his level of anger is tolerable and has no consequences”. People who make excuses for perpetrators, like McLaren, are the ones who teach men their behaviour is acceptable.

Domestic violence involves a pattern of coercive control and it is that control which increases and not all domestic violence involves violence. The failure to recognise the pattern of coercive control shows that McLaren has done very little research or training on the subject.

It isn’t just McLaren who is at fault here. The editorial staff of The Age made a choice to publish this deeply irresponsible article, which contradicts every piece of research-based evidence into domestic violence and abuse.

The only person responsible for domestic violence is the perpetrator. McLaren and The Age have just published an article that tells perpetrators they don’t need to take any responsibility for violence putting women and children at risk. This article needs to be removed from the online version and The Age needs to publish an article from a qualified professional breaking down all of the dangerous misinformation.

A How Not to Guide on Teaching Children Internet Safety

She said X was the closest park to her house

This is genuinely a line in a YouTube video called “The Dangers of Social Media” that claims to teach parents how easy it is for a ‘paedophile’ to groom a teenage girl: by identifying the neighbourhood she lives in to 30 million viewers.

In fact, the video reveals identifying details of three teenage girls, including street views of their homes and their parents’ faces. Rather than giving any information to help parents actually teach their children how to navigate social media safely, the video invites us to participate in the public shaming of these girls. We are allowed to watch the parents shouting at the girls but not actually engaging in why these girls arranged to meet a stranger they met online. If the aim was to highlight their lack of skills in navigating the internet, a more pertinent question was why no one bothered to teach them any. Why isn’t the focus on the parents rather than the children?

There are so many issues with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. The language itself is incorrect – the term paedophile has a specific clinical definition. The vast majority of child rapists are normal men who make a choice to harm a child; they have no pre-existing psychological condition.

The video also reinforces the ‘stranger danger’ myth. Statistically, fathers form the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence – whether this is physical, emotional and sexual abuse of the children themselves or witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers are far more likely to sexually abuse a child than a stranger. If we focus on ‘stranger danger’, we ignore the majority of men, and most child sexual abusers are male, who are actually a danger to children. This isn’t to say we pretend that strangers never harm a child; rather that we need to understand risk and help children develop the skills to keep themselves safe. Pretending that the only person who is a child rapist is a creepy man in a trench coat puts them at risk.

Rather than going for scare tactics like those in the video -having parents dress up in skeleton masks and drag their kids into a van- we need to teach children the skills to negotiate a world where a large number are at risk of experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We can start by using the appropriate words for body parts like vulva and penis.

Children also need to be taught about consent starting as toddlers. One easy way to do this is with tickling. If a child squeals no, stop and ask them if they want you to continue tickling. Then keep asking them. Another way is by telling children that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone anyone that they don’t want to. Granny might want a hug but a child shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to do so. Doing this teaches children that they have the right to bodily integrity and that their boundaries should be respected.

Children need to learn the skills to negotiate social media, including online gaming safely. Banning social media until the age of 13, as Facebook does, and then expecting children to be safe online is simply ridiculous. How are children meant to differentiate between unsafe and safe adults when their parents have 900 ‘friends’ on Facebook? If we depend on ‘stranger danger’ myths, do these 900 adults then become safe because their parents ‘know’ them? Equally, we give children mixed messages if we tell them not to talk to strangers but allow them uncontrolled access to X-Box Live. How are children meant to recognise that the older boy from down the road is a child rapist or that the really cool guy on Minecraft is a safe person if we don’t give them the tools to do so.

More importantly, shaming is not an acceptable teaching technique. Publicly shaming your child will not encourage them to have open and honest dialogue with you. It teaches children that their parents are more interested in the performance of ‘safety’ than their actual safety. It makes it impossible for children to ask for help when being bullied at school, never mind when experiencing abuse by a family member or a stranger they’ve met online.

Parents, and schools, need to take more responsibility for helping children develop the skills to negotiate social media and gaming safely, but, as Lynn Schreiber, an expert in social media, says about the video:

Scaring parents will not protect children. Blaming victims will not protect children. This video also reduces the eSafety message to one (fairly rare) danger, while ignoring the far more commonly occurring issues of children viewing violent or sexual content, cyberbullying, going viral, reputation management, and public shaming. Our children are growing up with this technology and need to be taught how to use it in a positive and sensible way.

The average age a child views porn online is between the ages of 9 – 12. Many children experience online bullying and harassment. Others live with domestic and sexual violence and abuse within the home. These conversations on personal safety, online and off, are very difficult but that is why they are necessary. We need to teach children the skills to deal with unsafe people and navigate the real world. In our global economy, the Internet is the real world.

This is what child protection should start with: teaching children their emotions are valid, that they have the right to say no, and that is completely unethical and unfair to publicly shame them on social media.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 02/8/15.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Everyday Victim Blaming on 17/8/15

Helena Kennedy’s Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice

I love this book. It’s an utterly brilliant deconstruction of the systemic misogyny and racism endemic in the British justice system. Kennedy basically takes a swipe at the hypocrisy, prejudices and ignorance of police officers, lawyers, judges and juries; at those destructive theories of hyper-masculinity and femininity which criminalise women for being women. Kennedy’s main thesis is that “(r)eal equality means treating ‘as equals’ whilst taking account of the context of our lives.” (4): everyone is equal under the law but we treat people as individuals and not as cartoon characters. What she actually says is: “… all I am really asking is that the law should be capable of transcending difference by first acknowledging it.” (11)

I wrote that paragraph last week and then saved a huge pile of notes with it. Obviously, I can no longer remember the clearly erudite statements I was going to make about this book other than it was brilliant and it was very clear not only on the role poverty plays in criminalising women’s behaviour but also how poverty is no longer considered an acceptable mitigating factory for women’s behaviour. (81) Women can be constructed as victims, particularly in the issue of prostitution. Women are victims of the Patriarchy and the physical and emotional damage to our bodies is how the Patriarchy punishes women but poverty is a major reason women are victims. (111) If we talk about poverty, then we have to take responsibility for the structural inequalities which harm individuals and have repercussions throughout society, whereas with victimisation politics we can decant responsibility onto specific individuals. This allows society to deny the existence of the patriarchal structures and rape culture in which we live. Kennedy reiterates over and over again the economic inequalities which punish, isolate and violate the very basis of women’s lives.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book was the discussion of the double oppression faced by Black women in the UK due to race and sex/gender. Kennedy argues that the matriarchal family structures prevalent in Black British families disproportionately result in the incarceration of Black women because the white patriarchal legal system is scared shitless of intelligent strong women, especially intelligent strong women who don’t happen to be “white.” (170-171) The marginalization of Black women within the justice system is simply a travesty. There are no words to describe just how badly Black women are treated, derided and over-punished in the UK. Kennedy’s praise of the Southall Black Sisters is immense but I personally don’t think we can ever commend the work of SBS enough. They are a small, poorly-funded organisation who do incredible work with ethnic minority women within a culture which cares very little for these women.

The only part of the book which I found problematic was one sentence buried in an otherwise important [and incredibly depressing] chapter on prostitution. Basically, Kennedy asserts that there is such a thing as adult consensual prostitution and denying its existence infantilises women. (147) Now, I’m sure Brooke Magnanti engaged in “adult consensual prostitution” but let’s be accurate here: for every “Belle du Jour”, there are literally millions of women trapped in prostitution and other parts of the “sex industry” who didn’t “consent” to be there. What is really perplexing is that the rest of the chapter is a catalogue of the damage and destruction that prostitution does to women’s bodies, the social consequences of prostitution for individual women and the very salient fact that for some women prostitution is the only way to “work” whilst having children. Kennedy is also very clear that “(p)rostitution has been tolerated because of two sustaining concepts: the protection of the private sphere from the hand of the law and an acceptance of male promiscuity which is not afforded women.” (146) The problem is that acknowledging these two points makes the argument that some women “choose” to be prostitutes ridiculous.The quote also contradicted other chapters in the book wherein Kennedy demonstrates that women are disproportionately incarcerated for petty crimes and the amount of abuse and mental illness that women as a group endure before/during prostitution [and prison]. The sentence just reads wrong.

At its heart, Eve Was Framed is a call to arms to rebuild the entire British Justice system so that it is fair for all whilst recognising and encompassing the specific needs of individuals. It is about justice for those who aren’t white, rich and male. Yes, it is 20 years old and supposedly our justice system is more aware of the structural inequities but we all know that’s a crock of shit. Southall Black Sisters, along with Amnesty International and other groups, have been fighting for the “no recourse to public funds” rule overturned in the cases of women escaping domestic violence. The public vitriol, misogynistic bullying and threats that the victim of the convicted rapist Ched Evans received on twitter have gone on without impunity and nothing covers the unrelenting horror of a woman convicted in Wales forperjury after withdrawing her allegation of rape owing to physical threats by the rapist and his family/friends: a conviction that the Court of Appeals refused to squash. Women do not receive real justice in the UK. They never have. We need to change things now and not let our daughters suffer similar fates.

Feminist Mothering with Fibromyalgia

I have fibromyalgia. I rarely admit to having it in public. If people ask why I look exhausted or am limping or struggling to use words, I say I have migraines. People have sympathy for migraines. They know it means extreme pain and sensitivities. When you say, “I have fibromyalgia” the response wavers between “I have a sore knee too” or “I’ve heard of that. My third-cousin twice-removed, next-door neighbour’s parakeet’s beautician has it and they got to go on disability for life.” Neither response makes it possible to explain what fibromyalgia does to your body.

Fibromyalgia has been called the “aggravating everything disorder.” I cannot control my body temperature. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside, my body runs on its own internal thermostat which is, inevitably, wrong.  I’m the one in the school playground in a t-shirt in the middle of winter and a hoodie on the hottest day of the year. I am also light sensitive, which means I’m also the one in sunglasses in the rain. My biggest ‘aggravator’ trigger is noise. When it is bad, the noise is so over-whelming that I can’t differentiate sound. Everything is extreme. I wear headphones to drown the noise out.

My immune system goes on strike regularly and a mild runny nose can result in my being in bed for a week. The last time I had the flu, it took nearly 6 months to recover properly. I get every bug going and, sometimes, it feels like I am always sick. We won’t discuss the side effects of the irritable bowel syndrome that co-exists with fibromyalgia.

A Facebook meme a few months ago made it clear: “my pain is not like your pain”. I have pain everyday – sometimes it’s manageable with painkillers and heat pads and sometimes its not. Sometimes I can’t turn my head because the muscles have seized. On more than one occasion the pain at the base of my skull has been so severe that piercing the back of my neck with a knitting needle didn’t seem like too bad an idea.

I’ve been really open about how hard it is as someone who loves writing to be unable to put my thoughts out coherently: that what ends up on the paper isn’t what was in my head because of the way the fibromyalgia has effected the ability of my brain to communicate clearly. It’s also affected my ability to speak since I lose words and have huge pauses in between words (that I don’t realise are happening). I also find it difficult to process what is being said to me when tired: I know people are talking but I can’t hear the actual words and, even when I can hear some of the words, my brain can’t actually process the message. When it’s this bad, the only thing I can do is nap. This isn’t exactly conducive to being a writer.

It is the fatigue that is the worst symptom. Sleep deprivation is classed as a form of torture for a reason. I am often in a severe state of exhaustion. I can’t sleep so the pain increases and because of the severity of the pain, I can’t sleep. So, I have depression as well. The depression and severe pain require long-term medications, which result in weight gain. Weight gain makes it harder to exercise and the circle continues.

Obviously this pain and exhaustion impact on my daily life, but it is my mothering where it impacts the most. Living with fibromyalgia makes mothering nearly impossible. I can cope on school days when the pain is in a ‘good’ phase because I can nap during the day. Weekends are more difficult. I cannot manage the day without a nap that means I have to plan my time with my daughter around my sleep schedule. It is even worse when the pain is severe or I have a cold.

I have two daughters. My eldest was 9 nine before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I used to take her to castles, the zoo, and to the beach all the time. We would walk for miles in the woods, scramble up hills, and go camping. With my youngest daughter, walking three blocks to school can result in a four-hour nap. Camping outside is a no-go since tense muscles and pain don’t respond well to sleeping on the ground – and this is without dealing with the issue of my inability to control my body temperature.

How do you explain to a young child that the reason you can’t listen to their story is because the distortion in your ears is so intense that you can’t actually hear their words? Or, that the much promised trip to the zoo is impossible as you can’t walk?

The guilt is immense.

The guilt is not improved by media constructions of the “good mother”. How many news articles are written about children watching too much television or spending too much time on an iPad? Television fetes mothers who bake cupcakes, run marathons, and volunteer for the PTA. When they only thing you are capable of on a bad day is making a packed lunch, the myth of the SuperMom feels like an extra massive kick in the teeth. To be a mother with fibromyalgia is to be a failure.

Today is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day and I’m having a relatively good day. I have time for a nap before collecting my daughter from school and I managed to get some work done. I’ve balanced the need to pay my rent with caring for my child. Most days aren’t this good and, even if they were, it wouldn’t change the stigma of being a disabled mother. Or, erase the guilt for not being a great mother.

In child protection, the term ‘good enough mothering’ is used to describe women with multiple support needs who have children – whether these needs involve substance use, alcohol dependency, mental illness or trauma. This is what mothering with fibromyalgia is: good enough mothering. It’s just not that easy to remember this when faced with a disappointed child who only wanted to visit the zoo.

Some Last Minute Christmas Suggestions for Feminist Booklovers

Kids (6-10):

Jump!Books Lucy Evans’ InstaExplorer

The first book in a series of adventure stories for kids, featuring intrepid explorer Lucy Evans. Armed with her trusty smartphone, her wits and an adventurous spirit, Lucy sets out to solve mysteries, explore foreign countries and cultures, and meet interesting people around the world. Her journey begins in a small town in Greece, where between sending messages to her friends back home, and exploring her new home, Lucy makes an intriguing discovery in an overgrown park. Ancient Greek carvings on hidden marble stone – and a clue to a long lost part of history.

Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue

Greta’s best friend is her cat Boris. However, little does she realise her bewhiskered buddy is actually the Prince of the Kingdom of Cats. So when he is kidnapped by the Rat King, a young warrior cat named Kyrie Mi-ke is sent to find Greta, and together they face a mystical and magical adventure to bring Boris home again. Greta must face the challenge of the staircase of the autumn leaves; cross Cloud Top Land and the Milky Sea; end the war between the two tribes of mice and face the truth of the Millpond; before facing the Rat King himself.

Young Adult Fiction:

Five Wounds by Katharine Edgar

It is 1536. The north of England has boiled over into rebellion against Henry VIII and the rebels march south towards London, growing stronger by the day. Sixteen-year-old Nan Ellerton, sent home from her convent when the King’s commissioners arrived, has been promised in marriage to a powerful lord. When both he and his son Francis become embroiled in the revolt, Nan must choose – help the rebels, even though it could mean paying the brutal penalty for treason, or betray her beliefs and risk eternal damnation.

Women’s Fiction

Esmeralda Santiago’s When I was Puerto Rican – A Memoir

Andrea Levy’s The Fruit of Lemons

Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy. Snow. Bird

Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters who walk this path

Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guave Orchard

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

Bucha Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood

Sunny Singh’s Hotel Arcadia

Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love

Non-Fiction

Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks

Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road

Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life

Buy these books and help support the campaign Everyday Victim Blaming!

Iskra: a poetry anthology

Everyday Victim Blaming: Challenging Media Portrayals of Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse

What I Remember: an anthology of short stories

Did you know? an anthology of women’s poetry

 

If you buy any of these books online, please use this Easy Fundraiser link. Amazon and other major retailers make a donation to Everyday Victim Blaming for everything purchased through that link.