On Friday morning, between getting myself ready for work and my child ready for school, I was tweeted an article on the BBC about a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee which recommended anonymity for rapists. I was horrified. Anonymity for rape suspects is incredibly dangerous for all sorts of reasons – starting with the fact that rapists have a huge rate of recidivism and a very low rate of conviction. Because of misogyny. Rapists commit rape knowing that the general public, the media and the police will label their victims a liar or insist she was partly responsible for the rape for the crime of being born a girl.
I was so angry, I started a petition. Whilst I was writing it, I saw a tweet with a press release from the End Violence Against Women coalition so I added their quotes into the text of the petition.
I started the petition because I was angry. I assumed other women would be angry too. I was a bit surprised at the low numbers of people signing the petition, but I hoped it would be a slow-burner with the lack of signatures due to starting the petition during a solar eclipse.
I was really shocked and hurt to discover on Saturday morning that the reason the petition wasn’t being shared publicly was because a high profile media feminist refused to sign and share it because she doesn’t like me. It’s a petition asking the Home Affairs Select Committee review their recommendation on anonymity for suspects in rape cases – a recommendation made with no research-based evidence, just vague worries about the reputation of rapists. It never occurred to me that there would be anything so controversial about this petition that people wouldn’t share it because they don’t like me.
Yet, this is what happened. The petition wasn’t shared by a high-profile feminist because she doesn’t like me. When questioned, the answer changed to “because it’s not well-written”. I wrote the petition in 15 minutes as that’s all the time I had on Friday to do so. I’m a single disabled mother – my time is limited due to caring responsibilities and my disability. I wanted to get it out as soon as possible to challenge the inevitable media coverage of men feeling sad for being accused of rape – as though the real problem in rape was the rapist’s feelings rather than the fact that a woman was raped.
Now, I’m hearing others say the same thing: they can’t sign because the petition “wasn’t written well” – an answer that smacks of classism and disablism. Under this argument, only women who have Russell group university education will be allowed to engage in public activism. After all, a rogue comma could destroy the feminist movement completely since bad grammar is a bigger sin that anonymity for rape victims.
As a disabled woman who has written at length on my experiences dealing with the brain fog associated with fibromyalgia, I find this idea that women refuse to sign my petition as its “poorly written” humiliating. I know that my illness has affected my writing and my ability to talk coherently (especially when tired as I start to lose words or use the wrong ones). 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 effected my ability to speak since I lose words and have huge pauses in between words (that I don’t realise is 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 mothering or being a writer.
Hence, the humiliation and hurt at being told that my petition isn’t shareable because it isn’t well-written. Because I have a disability that is slowly destroying my life. I know that it isn’t being shared because this particular woman doesn’t like me – not because of the writing style. But, it doesn’t make it less humiliating when people are being told it’s because it’s ‘poorly-written’.
Feminism is a political movement to liberate women. It isn’t about who your friends are or who is a good writer. It’s about changing the world to make it safer for women. That’s why I started my petition to the Home Affairs Select Committee. And, that’s why I hope everyone will sign it.