Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.

Rape as Genocide: Understanding sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the context of the Holocaust

This is a conference paper I wrote in 2006. I am sharing it today as part of Holocaust Memorial Day. Since I wrote this paper, more research into rape and the sexual exploitation and violence perpetrated against women and children has been undertaken. Women Under Siege is an excellent source of information as is the book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. My own research in feminist theory has changed my understanding of sexual violence and genocide.

 

In the light of the stories of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape that are a part of the larger narratives of genocide in Darfur, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it is almost becoming a truism to suggest that sexual violence is an intrinsic feature of genocide. In the realms of Holocaust history and studies, however, it is still a subject that has not attracted a great deal of attention. Certainly, scholars who are working on the ambit of female experience, such as Myrna Goldenberg and Joan Ringelheim, have always acknowledged the existence of these stories in Holocaust testimonies, but they have focused on the specific sexual vulnerability of women due to pregnancy, motherhood, and amenorrhea and so mention only small numbers of testimonies of women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted or raped, or even having witnessed these. Furthermore, they have also tended not to look at male testimonies concerning the sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape of female prisoners and even fewer have looked at stories of male sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape.[1]

My own (feminist) readings of the testimonies of witnesses Lucille Eichengreen, Sarah Magyar Isaacson, Thaddeus Stabholz, Weislaw Kieler and Fania Fénelon[2], however, led me to believe that there were more stories of sexual violence than have been acknowledged. Furthermore, if one accepts that sexual violence is not only a common part of genocide but can also be a genocidal act, then it is one that needs to be explored within the context of the Holocaust and the murder of Soviet POWs, the Sinti and the Roma, the mentally ill and differently-abled, and the exploitation of ‘Slavic’ slave-labour during the course of Nazi Germany. This includes not only the sexual violence perpetrated by the German SS, the Wehrmacht, and other Aryan administrators, but also that of the Soviet mass rapes of women at the end of the war and during liberation, as well as the sexual violence by all other militaries, Allied or Axis, and that perpetrated by ‘victims’ of Nazism against other victims of Nazism.

In fact, stories of sexual violence are more common than early feminist Holocaust scholarship has previously acknowledged, which is not to say that it was widespread, although this is likely, but simply that there are more stories than first recognized. There has also been an expansion in the number of stories of sexual violence in testimonies, partly due to new feminist research into rape, pornography, prostitution, and sexual trafficking,[3] which casts some testimonies in a new light, partly also due to the fact that the number of Holocaust testimonies published has increased exponentially since the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These new testimonies include more stories of sexual violence and interpret more events as having a sexual component rather than simply an act of violence of humiliation.

But while the increase in the numbers of stories of sexual violence is partly simply because witnesses now understand and write about specific events in this manner it is also because current feminist reading of testimonies includes a greater knowledge and awareness of sexual violence and reading my/contemporary definitions of sexual assault against the definitions given by witnesses is also essential to my thesis. Furthermore, it is the tension between my reading and what is written/not written that makes this a fascinating area of exploration. It also acknowledges, as Anna Hardman has previously noted, “the difficult interpretative questions as to the relationship between actuality and representation.”[4]

I believe, therefore, that the most significant reason for the expansion in the number of stories are the evolving definitions of the terms rape, sexual abuse, prostitution, humiliation, and choice by scholars, witnesses, and readers of these stories. There are numerous stories now interpreted as sexual violence. These include but are not limited to forced sterilizations of Mischlinge Jews, the Roma and the Sinti and the ‘asocials’, (that is the undesirable elements of society); forced abortions due to race; refused abortions due to race; forced pregnancies; viewing the abuse of others; forced stripping and performance; forced ‘prostitution’; brothels in the concentration camps; and the fear of rape. As a feminist, I feel that these stories needed to be placed in the centre of Holocaust studies along with the stories of abuse, humiliation, torture, starvation, deportation, murder and mass murder, ghettos and gas chambers.

What I consider to be the one of the more common forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust is what Myrna Goldenberg has termed ‘sex for survival.’[5] That is to say, stories of women, men, and children being exploited sexually in exchange for food, clothing, accommodation, work permits in the ghettos, or ‘good’ jobs in the slave-labour and concentration camps. Stories of ‘sex for survival’ exist in diaries written during the war and post-war biographies and oral testimonies.[6]

One such story may be found in one of the most well-known Holocaust testimonies: Fania Fénelon’s published testimony Playing for Time, also published as The Musicians of Auschwitz. Fénelon’s text is one of the most [in]famous memoirs of women written about Auschwitz-Birkenau and, more specifically, about the women’s orchestra in that camp. Fénelon was arrested as a member of the French resistance but was also half-Jewish. She spent nine months in the transit camp of Drancy, where she was tortured, before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. She remained in Birkenau until November 1944 when the Jewish members of the orchestra were deported to Bergen-Belsen, where they were eventually liberated in April 1945. Upon arrival in Birkenau, a member of the orchestra recognized Fénelon as a cabaret singer and her ability to sing Madame Butterfly placed her in the privileged orchestra protecting Fénelon from the severe abuse and torture of the ‘normal jobs’ in the main camp.

Before discussing in depth the stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s testimony one must acknowledge the controversy surrounding it and the subsequent Arthur Miller play and film adaptations based on the text, particularly in relation to the issue of lesbianism and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her testimony Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen.[7] The debate is worth mentioning because of its discussion of identity, the use of survivor interpretations of the behaviours of others, the labels they attribute to other inmates, and the differences in the types of witness testimony, (literary texts, memoirs, poems). Succinctly, the debate concerns Fénelon’s description of the other members of the female orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the boundary between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, particularly of the characters ‘Marta’ and ‘Clara’. Fénelon devotes a section of the text to the relationships between the other prisoners in the privileged orchestra which includes a reference to a lesbian relationship. One of the women involved in the lesbian relationship was a cello player. Lasker-Wallfisch has been very clear that she was the only cello player in the orchestra and that she was not involved in any lesbian relationship and that Fénelon was well aware of this.[8]

There are a number of stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s text but the ones I want to discuss centre around Fénelon’s relationship with the character ‘Clara’ who she meets on the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am engaged in a ‘literal’ reading of the text here in order to demonstrate some of the difficulties inherent in [re]-reading and [re]-writing representations of memory and identity. The problematic status of this particular text is does not lessen its value as a document, rather it is another instance of the problematic use of memory and representation to write a ‘history’ of  the Holocaust. The character of Clara is described as “a girl about twenty with a ravishing head set upon an enormous, deformed body”[9]; a body deformed in the transit camp by starvation, a well-brought up girl who was engaged to a boy she loved. Clara is apparently still a virgin; we do not know about Fénelon. The two young women become friends during the journey and pledge to help one another in the camps.

Fénelon and Clara’s first encounter with the concept of ‘sex for survival’ happened quite quickly after arrival in Auschwitz:

A soldier was walking next to Clara. He had a totally unremarkable face, something between animal and mineral. Suddenly he addressed her in French, in a voice as devoid of expression as he was himself: “I’ll get you coffee if you’ll let me make love to you.[10]

The two girls ignore him and the subject is not brought up again. But the soldier’s statement, so early after arrival, after several days trapped in a cattle car, is a lesson about Birkenau. As Fénelon comments:

Coffee? Either a woman wasn’t worth much around here, or else coffee was priceless. She said nothing and he let it drop.[11]

We do not know if either girl has some prior experience with this in Drancy; both were there for an extended period. It is quite likely that they did but this is assumption rather than factual knowledge. The other, more experienced, girls in the orchestra are quick to point out how cheap a woman’s body, and, by extension, a man’s and a child’s, were in the camps. Jenny, another girl is the orchestra tells them: “All you need to do is find yourself a man; here sausage replaces flowers.”[12]

We can interpret this as a story of prostitution but, while, there is a tremendous amount of feminist research into the coercive aspects of ‘prostitution’ in ‘normal’ society, exchanging sex for food in the midst of a centre for genocide changes and questions the terms we use to define the activity. Not all women who were given the option to engage in sexual activities in exchange for food ‘chose’ to do so, but, some did. Obviously, the term ‘choice’ is also questionable. The terms prostitution, sexual vulnerability, and sexual slavery are debated in feminist scholarship, but once we are within a situation where the intent to commit genocide is evident, trading sex for food, moves outside of common definitions of prostitution. Yet, the term ‘sex for survival’ also seems insufficient to describe the situations that many people found themselves during the Holocaust; indeed, the terms we use to describe these stories seem almost irrelevant in their inability to demonstrate depth of meaning.

Clara, quite quickly, makes the ‘decision’ that food is so important that sex can be traded for it. Furthermore, according to Fénelon, she hoards the food for herself and she is not particular in who the partner is. Several of the other girls have ‘lovers’ whom they sleep with for food, some even sleep with the SS but Fénelon does not describe these other women in the same manner that she describes Clara or her ‘choice’. In fact, Fénelon is extremely dismissive of it, claiming Clara was more interested in food than remaining ‘female.’ Thus it is unclear whether Fénelon is disgusted with Clara because of the sexual act, claiming Clara had lost her ‘womanly dignity’, or that she is disgusted with Clara because Clara is actually transgressing sex or gender boundaries, by refusing to engage in communal survival and share the extra food received. As Fénelon says:

Clara had changed quickly, very quickly. A month after our arrival in the music block, one evening at six o’clock, she’d said to me … I won’t share with anyone anymore.” The next day, at dinnertime, I opened her box by mistake and saw a pot of jam. Clara rushed at me. “Leave that; I told you to keep your hands off it.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. All our boxes look alike. I certainly wouldn’t touch that nobly earned jam of yours!”

There were tears of rage in her eyes, perhaps a last glimmer of a former morality, a remnant of dignity. The donor was probably a kapofrom the men’s camp. Only the kapos, the blockowas, all Poles, Slovaks, or Germans, could come to our block.

Had she been a virgin? It was possible, it wouldn’t have been a decisive factor. Besides, the risk of pregnancy for internees was virtually nonexistent.

I felt sorry for Clara when I saw her twitching her large behind, … She had been an innocent young girl who loved her boyfriend and who still nourished childlike dreams. Living in a sheltered milieu she was innocent of life, like the adorable and naïve Big Irene, who remained so, while Clara changed so quickly and so totally. She had become frighteningly selfish; she would do anything to get food. In the middle of all these painfully thin girls, her obesity was a wonder, a most effective lure for men, who paid court to her in butter and sugar.[13]

But what is ‘womanly dignity’ inside a concentration camp? Can we not interpret part of Clara’s behaviour as an attempt for semblance of human contact or even love?  It is easier to interpret it in this fashion when Clara is engaged in relations with other male prisoners in privileged positions, but it is more difficult to do so when the boyfriend is a particularly brutal (German) kapo who, apparently, voluntarily worked as an executioner for the S.S. guards in the camp, apparently for pleasure rather than requirement. Fénelon posits Clara’s relationships against her own relationships with Leon, her ‘lover’ from Drancy who volunteered for the transport to Auschwitz in order to be with Fénelon.[14] Clara’s ‘boyfriends’ gave her food in exchange for sex, Leon gave Fénelon poetry and letters for, apparently, nothing. Love exists but Clara does not know what it is and is confused.

What is particularly interesting is Fénelon’s construction of Clara’s changing identity, and the way in which she contrasts her transformation from a good virginal girl to a prostitute with her understanding of the behaviour of ‘real’ prostitutes in France. While Fénelon defends the behaviour of French prostitutes who engaged in sexual acts with German soldiers to gather information for the French Resistance in terms of heroism, Clara’s attempt to survive through sex is viewed with disgust, a contrast that is highlighted in Fénelon’s description of Clara’s outrage at her participation in cabarets where German officers were the major clientele:

“I couldn’t have heard you sing,” said Clara rather primly. “We’d stopped going out at night. We didn’t mix with the Germans, and no one went to nightclubs except Germans and collaborators.”

I fell silent, slightly ashamed; it had been very good business. How would Clara have judged the proprietress of Melody’s, who looked like a madam – indeed, perhaps she was – but who protected us? How she would have despised those tarts that hung from the necks of German officers and gave us papers, photographs, and information.[15]

But, why is Clara’s transformation into a ‘prostitute’ to save her own life so negative? Partly, it is because Clara does behave increasingly violently towards the others. Certainly, when Clara is given the job as a kapo, (an inmate barracks supervisor), Fénelon claims she behaves with ruthless and vicious violence, beating the block inmates sadistically for various rule infractions. But this did not happen until after the girls were transferred to Bergen-Belsen; Clara’s ‘prostitution’ occurred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.[16]

This story of ‘sex for survival’ is not uncommon. What is different is the way in which it is contrasted with ‘good’ stories of using sex for resistance. But how is resistance different from survival? Obviously Clara’s brutal behaviour as a kapo in Bergen-Belsen is part of the story and can partly explain Fénelon’s construction of Clara, but we do need to separate Clara’s behaviour in Bergen-Belsen from that in Birkenau to understand how Clara’s ‘choice’ was choiceless and thus to recognise her experience as one of sexual assault. More generally I think this story reveals the complexity of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the Holocaust in that at a certain point Fénelon forgets Clara’s identity as ‘victim’ and recasts her as a ‘perpetrator’ and in so doing, makes the sexual exploitation of Clara a footnote to the dehumanising effects of their situation. In order to rehumanise her (and many other victims of the Holocaust) we must therefore acknowledge and recognise the way in which sexual vulnerability is accentuated by and essential to genocide.

 

 



[1] This is not a criticism of their research but an acknowledgment of the research required. See Myrna Goldenberg, “Different Horrors, Same Hell: Women Remembering the Holocaust”, in Roger Gottlieb (ed.), Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp.150-166; Joan Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research”, in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 10, no. 4, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1984-1985), pp. 741-761. Other examples of this sort of scholarship include Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998). Renate Bridenthal et al., (eds.) When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984); Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000); Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986); Sara R. Horowitz, “Memory and Testimony of Women Survivors of Nazi Genocide” in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1994), pp.258-282.

[2] Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, translated from the French by Judith Landry, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997, 1976); Judith Magyar Isaacson, Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois  Press, 1991); Wieslaw Kielar, Anus Mundi: Five Years in Auschwitz, translated from the German by Susanne Flatauer, (London: Penguin Books, 1982 [1972]); Thaddeus Stabholz, Seven Hells, translated from the Polish by Jacques Grunblatt & Hilda R. Grunblatt, (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990)

[3] Much of this research has grown in relation to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. See: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia (Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1986); Alexandra Stiglmayer, Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bison Books, 1984); Anne Llewellyn Barstow, War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women (Ohio: The Cleveland Press, 2000).

[4] Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000), p. [check notes]

[5] Myrna Goldenberg, “Rape and the Holocaust”, paper presented at Legacies of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust Conference, (Krakow, Poland: May 2005)

[6] Mary Berg, Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, (New York: LB Fischer, 1945); Trudi Birger with Jeffrey M. Green, A Daughter’s Gift of Love: A Holocaust Memoir, (The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1992); Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Hedi Fried, The Road to Auschwitz: Fragments of a Life, edited and translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Gisella Perl, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz, (New Hampshire: Ayer Co., 1992, 1948).

[7] Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen, (London: Giles de la Mare Pub., 1996)

[8] For an excellent discussion of this debate see Anna Hardman, Women and the Holocaust, (U.K.: Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers, 1999 – 2000), pp. 20-27.

[9] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.12

[10] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[11] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[12] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.66: Jenny to Clara

[13] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.105-106

[14] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[15] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[16] This post facto reconstruction of Clara may of course speak volumes about the nature of memory and memoir.

Family Annihilators: The Murder of Luke Batty and the Reality of Domestic Violence

This was first published at Ending Victimisation and Blame: Everyday Victim Blaming on 5.2.14.

Luke Batty was brutally murdered with a cricket bat by his father Greg Anderson in a cricket ground in the presence of his mother.

Greg Anderson was then shot by a police officer in what was apparently a “suicide by cop”.

For 3 days, the media has been reporting Anderson’s poor mental health and writing sympathetic articles about how we must empathise with Anderson for feeling upset at being denied contact with his son. Excuses were made as were demands for empathy with Anderson.

Yet, the evidence of Anderson’s history of domestic violence has been clear from the start. There is also no evidence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness. This line appears to have come from a quote from Luke’s mother Rosie Batty and has been picked up as fact by the media. As far as I have been able to ascertain Anderson had no formal diagnosis of mental illness which has been released to the media although he was homeless for many years; people who are homeless are statistically much more likely to have mental illnesses and ones which remain undiagnosed and untreated than the general population.

We know now that Anderson had been questioned by the police in January for assault and let go despite 5 outstanding arrest warrants. We know that Anderson had multiple interactions with various agencies because of his history of violent behaviour. We know he was only allowed contact with his son in public places because of his violent behaviour. We know that Rosie Batty had an AVO against him because of his violent behaviour. We also know that the murder was premeditated since Anderson took a knife to the cricket pitch.

Despite this, the media have been writing about how much Anderson “loved his son” and that it wasn’t known why Anderson “snapped”.

Anderson took a knife to his son’s cricket practise. He had a history of domestic violence. These are not the actions of a man who loved his son. They are the actions of a violent, controlling man.

As it stands, we do not know the exact nature of Anderson’s health but we do know that men who murder their children very rarely have mental illnesses and that people with mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves than to harm anyone else. This is one of the biggest myths about mental health: that those who have clinical diagnoses are violent.

Men who kill their children, themselves and/or (ex-)partners are referred to as family annihilators. These men have one thing in common: a history of domestic violence.They are controlling men who choose to harm their children and former partners to punish them. If Anderson did suffer from mental health problems, then he is an anomaly rather than representative of men who murder their families.

We need to contextualise the brutal murder of Luke within a pattern of male violence. It is not an isolated event nor is it one which could not have been predicted. Domestic violence does not happen in a vacuum. In the UK, two women a week are murdered by violent partners. 1 in 3 women in the world will experience domestic and/ or sexual violence. Children and women experience violence in the home on a daily basis.

Domestic violence costs the world economy billions every year yet we continue to pretend that family annihilators are “isolated events” and “tragic incidents”. The truth is the opposite: domestic violence is an everyday occurrence for many women and children.

We need to start addressing the issue of domestic violence properly. We need to stop pretending that domestic violence is an isolated, non-gendered crime. Men are the vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence. These men do not have mental illnesses. They make the choice to be abusive.

I am waiting for the results from an official inquest into the murder of Luke because I do not trust the media to report accurately about the mental health of Anderson. The media is complicit in perpetuating male violence through inaccurate reporting and victim blaming. If it turns out that Anderson did suffer from mental illness that went untreated, then the agencies involved with him will need to be held accountable for their failures. If Anderson was not mentally ill and was a family annihilator, then the media needs to be held accountable for perpetuating damaging myths about mental illness and myths about male violence.

We need to the media to stop writing articles which make excuses for violent men. We need them to follow the guidelines set out by the National Union of Journalists on how to report domestic and sexual violence appropriately. We need the media to take responsibility for perpetuating the myths on domestic and sexual violence.

We need to prevent more children being murdered at the hands of their fathers and we can not do this without being clear what caused their death.

 

Update : Anderson had brought a knife with him to the cricket ground and threatened an officer with it which is what lead to his death by shooting. Reports now suggest that he also used the knife to harm Luke. Arriving with a knife suggests premeditation.

The problem is the capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employmentand men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/the-problem-is-capitalist-patriarchy-socialising-boys-to-be-aggressive-not-radical-feminism/#sthash.dTFaIOjm.dpuf

The Incompatibility of Radical Feminism and Capitalism

I am a radical feminist. Radical feminism fights for the liberation of all women from male domination and oppression. The term radical refers to the root of women’s oppression which lies in the creation of patriarchy. Or, as Debbie Cameron and Joan Scanlon write:

radical feminism is radical because it challenges all relationships of power, including extreme forms such as male violence and the sex industry … Instead of tinkering around the edges of the question of gender, radical feminism addresses the structural problem which underlies it.

We do not use the term patriarchy to refer to the rule of the father but rather the systemic oppression and subordination of women rooted in the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity” which, as Gerda Lerner states predates the formation of a class society and the concept of private property but it is nonetheless now inseparable from capitalism. Control of women’s potential capacity for reproduction and sex(uality) has been commidified and politicised with the creation of the state

When radical feminists use the term sex, we are referring to the biological realities of female, male and intersex bodies. We use gender to refer to the social constructions and stereotypes placed on bodies which are culturally and historically contextualised. Gender is a harmful social construct that operates as a system of oppression through the unequal power relationship between men and women: and within the categories of male/female when referencing race, sexuality, class, faith etc. Gender is harmful because it takes the simple biological reality of women’s potential reproductive capabilities to deny women access to public spaces and, therefore, power. Gender creates categories of masculinity and femininity and claims them as real despite the fact that they vary widely in definition across cultures and history. It also eroticises the power differential between men and women rendering women as a “sex class”.

The patriarchy predates capitalism but they are now intertwined so that we cannot dismantle the patriarchy without fundamentally deconstructing capitalism, or, more simply, eradicating it completely. As such, radical feminism and capitalism are inherently incompatible. After all, when the stock phrase “equality under the law” is used, radical feminists ask: equal to whom? What group of men do women want to be equal to when wealth and power are located within a very small group of mostly white men.  This power is maintained through the threat of and the actuality of violence whether this is violence within the home or sanctioned by the state. When

What we don’t do is adequately contextualise male violence within the broader framework of control of women’s reproductive and sexual capacity. The media occasionally covers the mass rape of women in the Congo yet consistently fails to mention that the war in the Congo is caused by capitalism and consumerism.[4] We artificially separate the economic reasons for war from the human cost of those wars.

Human trafficking, for sexual, domestic and labour slavery, is one of the largest industries in the world and is intimately tied in with trafficking of illegal substances and arms.  We allow children to work in sweatshops earning less than a subsistence wage so we can change our wardrobe every 3 months and have a new mobile phone every 12 months. We simply fail to discuss the reality that capitalism requires poverty, racism, misogyny and classism to exist. This is antithetical to radical feminism.

The Equal Pay Act has existed since 1970 and women still earn 15% less than men.  Women of colour continue to be paid less than white women for similar work. Women still do the majority of unpaid work including childcare, housework, caring for elderly relatives or those with disabilities, and the organising of family life. This work is not counted when we assess women’s economic output despite the fact that the unpaid labour of women is worth tens of billions of dollars annually. This is male economic violence against women: both within the family and by the state. It maintains women’s oppression through poverty.

We all know the statistics on domestic and sexual violence: we know that 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence from a male partner during their life. We know that 2 women a week are murdered by their current or former partner, yet we don’t talk about the consequences of male economic violence against women and children which starts with women’s unpaid labour.

Women’s Aid states that the financial cost of domestic violence in the UK, in which women are the majority of victims, is 23 billion dollars. According to the charity Gingerbread, only 38% of single parents receive child maintenance. Despite the fact that children in single parent households are twice as likely to live in poverty, the government has seen fit to dismantle the Child Support Agency, which was hardly fit for purpose to start with, and replace it with an agency that will charge people to use it.

The dismantling of the welfare state in the UK has disproportionately affected women pushing more women and their children into poverty. According to the Fawcett society:

(w)omen are more likely to be employed in low paid, part-time work, more likely to head a single parent household, likely to have less financial assets and more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

Women are more dependent on state benefits than men. In their roles as carers, women are more likely to be impacted by cuts to the NHS, education and social services, particularly if they or their children are disabled.

If we look globally, more than 780 million people live without access to clean water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation. In the US, 1 in 3 women live in poverty. The UN estimates that 80% of female workers in sub-saharan Africa and South Asia are in vulnerable employment.

These are the consequences of capitalism that is predicated on racism, poverty and misogyny. We cannot liberate women from male domination as long as our economic and political power requires many women to live in poverty without access to education, clean water, health care, and nutrition. This is why radical feminism and capitalism are incompatible.

Below are links to research into poverty and women’s rights.

Prostitution, Sexual Slavery and the Sex Industry:

Radical feminism opposes the legalisation of prostitution and seeks to end what is commonly referred to as the “sex industry”. The global sex industry uses women’s poverty and institutionalises and normalises violence against women, racism, and the colonisation of women’s bodies. Aboriginal women in Canada and the US are disproportionately represented in prostitution, poverty and prison. Women involved in the sex industry, from prostitution to lap dancing clubs, have higher rates of PTSD than other groups of women as well as higher rates of substance misuse and histories of sexual violence.

Prostitution, trafficking for sexual slavery and the legal forms of the global sex industry is worth billions of dollars and the vast majority of this money rests in the hands of men. Men control the trade in the bodies of women and childre, profit from the trade and abuse women’s bodies for their personal gratification. As long as women are forced to live in poverty, women will be forced to work in the sex industry.

Beauty Industry :

The beauty industry is a billion dollar industry that prescribes women’s behaviour and appearance. Women are deemed unfuckable unless they meet very narrow guidelines of beauty: tall, thin, and white. Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth shows how the industry keeps women materially and psychologically poor.

The cost of being “beautiful” (and therefore worthy of humanity) includes the billion dollar cosmetic industry, plastic surgery for implants and liposuction as well as designer vaginas. The fashion industry, with it’s obsession with clothes which do not fit adult women and shoes which maim, is also worth billions:  money which women are forced to pay to deemed worthy of employment and life.

International economics controlled by multinational corporations and poverty:

Water Facts from the UN

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
  • 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.
  • 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.
  • Various estimates indicate that, based on business as usual, ~3.5 planets Earth would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American.
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050.
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth (WHO/UNICEF, 2010).
  • With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% (70% by 2050) (Bruinsma, 2009), while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60% (WWAP, 2009). These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions. Yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention.
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for ~70% of global freshwater withdrawals (up to 90% in some fast-growing economies).

Domestic Violence Statistics (taken from Women’s Aid):

  • 1 in 8/ 1 in 10 women experience domestic violence annually
  • 45% of women experience one form of interpersonal violence during their life.
  • There are 13 million separate acts of physical violence or threats of physical  violence each year against women by current or former partners
  • 32% of women who had ever experienced domestic violence did so four or five (or more) times, compared with 11% of the (smaller number) of men who had ever experienced domestic violence
  • women constituted 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.

What is the cost of domestic violence?  (Women’s Aid)

The estimated total cost of domestic violence to society in monetary terms is £23 billion per annum. This figure includes an estimated £3.1 billion as the cost to the state and £1.3 billion as the cost to employers and human suffering cost of £17 billion. (Walby 2004). The estimated total cost is based on the following:

  • The cost to the criminal justice system is £1 billion per annum. (This represents one quarter of the criminal justice budget for violent crime including the cost of homicide to adult women annually of £112 million).
  • The cost of physical healthcare treatment resulting from domestic violence, (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) is £1,220,247,000, i.e. 3% of total NHS budget.
  • The cost of treating mental illness and distress due to domestic violence is £176,000,000.
  • The cost to the social services is £0.25 billion.
  • Housing costs are estimated at £0.16 billion.
  • The cost of civil legal services due to domestic violence is £0.3billion.

The statistics collated by Walby above are recognised as an under-estimate because public services don’t collect information on the extent to which their services are used as a result of domestic violence. The research doesn’t include costs to those areas for which it was difficult to collect any baseline information – for example cost to social services work with vulnerable adults, cost to education services, the human cost to children (including moving schools and the impact this has on their education), and it excludes the cost of therapeutic and other support within the voluntary sector.

The cost of domestic homicide is estimated by the Home Office at over one million pounds: a total of £1, 097, 330 for each death, or £112 million per year.

Information on Child maintenance from Gingerbread:

  • Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)
  • For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)
  • The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)
  • Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)
  • Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

 

Signs of Violent and Controlling Behaviour from Women’s Aid:

  • Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening.
  • Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, commit suicide, take the children away, report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands regarding bringing up the children; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
  • Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
  • Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.
  • Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
  • Harassment: following you; checking up on you; opening your mail; repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you; embarrassing you in public.
  • Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
  • Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex; any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
  • Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling.
  • Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen; saying you caused the abusive behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.

[1] Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (Sage Pub. 2001)

[2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press: 1986)

[3] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press: 1986) p.8

[4] Million Women Rise coalition at UK Feminista Summer School. 2011

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.

No woman deserves to be raped. Ever.

(originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming)

No woman deserves to be raped is a statement that should need no qualifier. Every day we see excuses made for perpetrators and women, children and men blamed for their experiences of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We highlight inappropriate, offensive or misleading language presented by the media. Despite our daily experiences of victim blaming, there are still days when we are shocked by the depth of hatred for women.

This article appeared in the Chicago-Sun Times. We have reproduced the entire document as it exemplifies everything wrong with rape culture:

  1. Contrary to author Mary Mitchell’s opinion, women involved in prostitution are still women.
  2. Being held at gun point is a crime. One that charges around unlawful confinement should be applied.
  3. Women involved in prostitution have the right to say no to a client – especially one who has a gun.
  4. The police are legally mandated to investigate all crimes. Raping a prostituted woman is rape, therefore it is a crime. Insinuating that women involved in prostitution have no right to report their rape to the police is victim blaming.
  5. The police should arrest any man they believe has committed rape.
  6. Claiming that you don’t believe rape victims are at fault and then stating that a prostituted woman is not an “innocent victim” are contradictory statements. Your victim blaming and hypocrisy are evident when you make such statements.
  7. The innocent/good victim narrative is rape culture.
  8. “misled some randy guy into thinking it’s his lucky night” is victim blaming. You may say you don’t believe women are responsible for rape but that type of statement is pretty clear that you do believe *some* women are at fault.
  9. The phrase “off the streets” implies that March only views women raped by strangers at night as true victims of rape. This theory erases the experiences of sexual violence by the vast majority of victims who are targeted by men they know – many of whom are raped in their own homes by fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles and grandfathers.
  10. There are many reasons women are involved in prostitution. None of these reasons make it acceptable to commit rape.
  11. Inserting your penis into the body of a woman without consent is rape. Women’s bodies are not object. It is not “theft of services”. Theft of services is walking out of a restaurant without paying your bill. Inserting your penis without consent is rape.
  12. Charging a rapist with a criminal offence does not minimise the act of rape. It makes it clear that any sexual activity without consent is a criminal act.

Mary Mitchell has made it very clear that she does not view women in prostitution as real women. It is also abundantly clear that Mitchell has no understanding of rape culture or victim blaming culture.

The Chicago-Sun Times must remove the article immediately and issue a full apology. We suggest Mitchell undergo specialist training before being allowed to comment on rape cases again.

No woman deserves to be raped is not a difficult concept. It’s time the media be held accountable for erasing perpetrator’s responsibility for their crimes and for pretending that some women don’t count.

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Esther Freud’s Lucky Break

I have to admit here that I never heard of Esther Freud before getting a freecopy of this book from the Mumsnet [non-feminist] fiction book club. I have vague recollections of thinking that I might enjoy watching a Kate Winslet movie called Hideous Kinky but I don’t think I ever got around to actually watching it.

Clearly, this was a massive over-sight on my part since Lucky Break is fucking brilliant [and that’s not just because I’m still cranky about wasting my time reading the misogynist wankfest which was Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife last month]. It is well-written, funny, engaging with a host of characters that you might actually want to be friends with – as well as some men that should immediately put on the list of undateable wankers.Loved the fact that she left the ending open so I could choose their futures. It’s the only disappointing bit of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The epilogue was unnecessary and ruined my fun of deciding the happiness of the characters. I like the fact that Freud leaves us with an ending which isn’t really an ending. I like being able to believe that Jemma dumps the useless selfish narcissist Dan and waltzes off into her own successful career as a screen writer and actress with 4 children under ten in tow whilst he gets stuck playing a chicken in really bad ads which only air at 4 in the morning. Or, that Nell is actually the successful and incredible actress she deserves to be and finds a real partner and not the usual arsehat that successful actresses end up with in real life. I also hope she waltzes back to the “drama school” she attended and gets to make fun of the directors there who didn’t recognize the real talent when it was in front of them. I like the fact that I can believe that Charlie is finally happy with who she is instead of what she thinks should make her happy.
So, this is obviously an outstanding recommendation since it does deal with the issue of the “casting couch”; that lovely euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women within the industry and the total failure of the industry to take that exploitation seriously. It deals with being invisible for not being a “proper woman” and reading this in conjunction with Sheila Jeffries’ Beauty and Misogyny for FeMNist non-fiction book club this month was a real pleasure. They meshed so well with Freud demonstrating some of those very real harmful cultural practices outlined by Jeffries [and the suggestion of using spanx as rain gear is just genius].

A caesarean performed without consent

Originally published on a previous blog 2.12.13

As with everyone, I am horrified by today’s article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph about an Italian woman, in the UK on business, who was forcibly given a caesarian section and her child taken into care.

A woman being given surgery without her consent is assault. It is that simple. Women are not incubators and any society which sees women as human would not be forcing surgery on a woman without her consent; never mind a surgery which results in a child being delivered. Taking the child into care, without the woman being able to instruct her own lawyers, is disgraceful and inhumane.

But, and this is a huge but, reading Booker’s article, I have more questions that answers. I understand that Booker is limited in what he can publish due to the fact that family courts are closed for the protection of the children. Taking this into consideration, Booker’s article is still low on details.

Don’t get me wrong, there are serious problems within child protection due to chronic underfunding, massive caseloads and staff not being given appropriate training in dealing with sexual violence, male violence, and victim blaming. This is clear from the Rochdale and Oxford grooming cases for a start – and the sheer number of children who are forced to continue relationships with abusive fathers. Yet, child protection is more than just social workers [who inevitably get a bashing in these cases], there are medical doctors, psychiatrists, police, teachers, community support workers and any number of court officials involved in the decision to remove children from the home. Our culture treats children as possessions and we pay a very high price for the damage we cause them. In this case, it is clear that the police and medical establishment were involved before Essex social services were.

These are the questions that first popped into my mind when I read the article last night:

  1. Why hasn’t the Italian government been fighting this? They are certainly not bound by UK laws on child protection which keep family courts closed. Why hasn’t the Italian government gone to the EU Human Rights court on behalf of their citizen?
  2. I do not understand why the family suggested that the baby be adopted, in America, by the aunt of the baby’s stepsister (and does Booker not mean half sister rather than stepsister? If we’re talking about kinship carers, you need to get the relationship right). This isn’t the closest of kinship ties and I do think sending the child overseas is a drastic response. Was there no family in Italy who could care for the child in order to allow the mother to continue her relationship with the child? I support kinship adoptions because I do think they are the best outcome in such circumstances but not if the kinship adopter lives on the other side of the planet. The whole point of kinship carers is to try to continue the relationship with the birth parents, if possible. How would this continue if the child was living in the US?
  3. What on earth does Booker mean by panic attack and “bipolar” condition? These are medical terms which have medical definitions. A bit more detail to make it clear wouldn’t go amiss here.
  4. I want to know why the caesarian was preformed. This is an incredibly drastic move which only takes place, within normal circumstances when the mother can’t legally consent, if the mother’s health was at risk. Having bipolar disorder does not put the mother’s health at risk whilst pregnant. If the hospital performed the caesarian for any other reason than the baby or mother being in immediate risk of death, then they have committed assault. I would expect the Italian government, on behalf of their citizen, to being taking the hospital trust to court over this.
  5. I don’t trust John Hemmings at all. The moment he gets involved in any case involving social services, my brain starts screaming ‘ulterior motive’. Hemmings is never involved for the best interests of the child; he’s all about the publicity.
There are obvious constraints on the publishing of this case but Booker’s article is too full of holes to make sense of. If this is a clear case of the assault of a woman, then the there are a whole lot of people who need to be prosecuted and both the British and Italian governments are complicit in this abuse.
Forcible caesarians are violence against women.
Removing a child from their mother because the mother is bipolar is violence against women.
A society which treats women as more than incubators and believes children are not possessions would invest more money and training in the police, education, health, social services and judiciary to ensure that all have more than adequate training to support women who need a little extra help. A society which cared would offer more support to a pregnant women with a mental illness [and here the Italian government is just as complicit]. This is why we are supposed to have a welfare state: to help those in need and not punish them for needing help.

UPDATE:

Essex County Council have released the following statement in response to Booker’s Telegraph article. The obvious holes in Booker’s piece are clearly answered below. I still think the child should have been returned to Italy, even if the mother could not care for her herself but the case isn’t quite as cut and dried as Booker suggests but then these things never are.

Essex County Council responds to interest in story headlined “Essex removes baby from mother”

2 December 2013

Key Dates

There have been lengthy legal proceedings in this case over the past 15 months.
  • Mother detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act on 13 June 2012
  • Application by the Health Trust to the High Court 23 August 2012
  • Application for Interim Care Order 24 August 2012
  • Mother took part in the care proceedings ending on 1 February 2013.
  • Mother applied to Italian Courts for order to return the child to Italy in May 2013. Those courts ruled that child should remain in England
  • In October 2013 Essex County Council obtains permission from County Court to place child for adoption

Context

The Health Trust had been looking after the mother since 13 June 2012 under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Because of their concerns the Health Trust contacted Essex County Council’s Social Services.
Five weeks later it was the Health Trust’s clinical decision to apply to the High Court for permissions to deliver her unborn baby by caesarean section because of concerns about risks to mother and child.
The mother was able to see her baby on the day of birth and the following day. Essex County Council’s Social Services obtained an Interim Care Order from the County Court because the mother was too unwell to care for her child.
Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.
In accordance with Essex County Council’s Social Services practice social workers liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone  could care for the child:

UPDATE 2:

The judge’s statement has now been released and is available here.

This is the first part:

NOTE BY MR JUSTICE MOSTYN (4 December 2013)

Although no-one has sought to appeal the judgment dated 23 August 2012 during the last 15 months, or to have it transcribed for any other purpose, I have decided to authorise its release together with the verbatim transcript of the proceedings and the order made so as to inform and clarify recent public comments about this case.

It will be seen that the application to me was not made by the local authority or social workers. Rather, it was an urgent application first made at 16:16 on 23 August 2012 by the NHS Trust, supported by the clear evidence of a consultant obstetrician and the patient’s own treating consultant psychiatrist, seeking a declaration and order that it would be in the medical best interests of this seriously mentally ill and incapacitated patient, who had undergone two previous elective caesarean sections, to have this birth, the due date of which was imminent (she was 39 weeks pregnant), in the same manner.

The patient was represented by the Official Solicitor who instructed a Queen’s Counsel on her behalf. He did not seek an adjournment and did not oppose the application, agreeing that the proposed delivery by caesarean section was in the best interests of the patient herself who risked uterine rupture with a natural vaginal birth. I agreed that the medical evidence was clear and, applying binding authority from the Court of Appeal concerning cases of this nature, as well as the express terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made the orders and declarations that were sought.

Although I emphasised that the Court of Protection had no jurisdiction over the unborn baby, I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Instead, following the birth there should be an application for an interim care order at the hearing of which the incapacitated mother could be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor.