Stop Cutting Funding to Domestic Violence Services

On Monday April 16th, the House of Commons will once again debate the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill after the House of Lords made extremely important amendments to the Bill which should improve eligibility for legal aid in family law cases which involve domestic violence. There have already been closures with Haven Wolverhampton closing its counselling services on March 31st. The full scale of the cuts to domestic violence and its effects on women is evidenced in article in the Independent this week.

We have one last chance to ensure that cuts to domestic violence services stop. 
Please email your MP with your concerns about the cuts to services. Rights of Women: helping women through the law has a template letter that you can use. 

Petition Here: Stop Cutting Funding To Domestic Violence Resources.
Responsible department: Her Majesty’s Treasury
The recent cuts to domestic violence resources mean that more women will be forced to return to abusive relationships, thus risking the lives of more and more women and children. We ask the government to refrain from making further cuts to the Domestic Violence resources, which so many women rely on to escape abusive relationships; cuts which risk the safety of women and children across the UK.

The following information is taken directly from the Rights of Women website. I will take it down after Monday but this information needs to be out there:

Briefing for the House of Commons, April 2012

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2011 (the Bill) removes almost all legal aid for private family law cases. The Government has stated its commitment to ensuring that legal aid for family law cases continues to be available to those affected by domestic violence. However, the Government plans to introduce dangerously restrictive evidential gateways through secondary legislation which will exclude the majority of domestic violence victims. Rights of Womens research with Welsh Womens Aid indicates that at least 46% of domestic violence victims would be ineligible for legal aid under the Governments proposals because they will not be able to satisfy these evidence gateways.[1]

The House of Lords introduced vital amendments to the Bill to ensure that legal aid will truly be available to victims of domestic violence in family law cases. Baroness Scotlands amendments 192, 194 and 196 to the Bill ensure that the evidence gateways reflect the reality of victims experiences of violence and the broad range of evidence they are likely to have.

       Amendment 192 ensures the cross-government definition of domestic violence is included in the Bill; which reflects the range of violence experienced by most victims.

       Amendment 194 seeks to widen the evidence gateways to include evidence most victims are likely to be able to produce, for example evidence from a doctor, or a domestic violence support worker, in order to access legal aid.

       Amendment 196 removes the 12 month time limit the Government proposes to apply to most of the evidence; so women can use evidence that is more than 12 months old.

Evidencing domestic violence is very difficult, if not impossible for many women. The routes which women seek to find safety from violence and abuse are many and complex. They are also entirely dependent on a womans individual circumstances. Despite attempts to address it, domestic violence remains a largely hidden crime. Many women will not disclose the violence they are experiencing to anyone and will not report it to statutory agencies for various complex reasons.

The NFWI conducted research into violence against women and legal aid, to inform the development of the Bill. One woman who took part in the research told us;

Ive never reported any incidence of violence with my ex-partner, the only time I reported it was when I got pregnant. And Social Services were involved so I reported it to them. I never saw the police as an option because I didnt think they could help abused women.[2]

In 2010 124,895 women accessed Womens Aid England member services including 17,615 who escaped violence to live in refuges. In their 2010 annual survey only 15% of women in their member refuges had a conviction against their perpetrator, only 25% had a protective injunction and only 19% had been referred to a MARAC (see the evidence gateways proposed by the Government below).

The evidence gateways in Amendment 194

(a) a court conviction or police caution;

(b) a protective court order such as a non-molestation order, occupation order or forced marriage protection order;

(c) relevant criminal proceedings or a police report confirming attendance at an incident resulting from domestic violence;

(d) evidence that a victim has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference;

(e) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party giving rise to the risk of harm to the victim;

(f) a medical report from a doctor;

(g) a letter from a registered general practitioner;

(h) an undertaking given to a court by the alleged perpetrator of the abuse that he or she will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the abuse;

 (i) a letter from a social services department;

(j) a letter of support or a report from a domestic violence support organisation; or

(k) other well-founded documentary evidence of abuse, such as from a counsellor, midwife, school or witness.

The evidence gateways proposed by the Government

(a) a non-molestation order, occupation order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction is either in place or has been made in the last 12 months;

(b) a criminal conviction, or ongoing criminal proceedings;

(c) the victim has been referred to a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference; or

(d) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic violence by the other party giving rise to the risk of harm to the victim

It is worth noting that the alternative criteria laid out in Amendment 194 is tried and tested; the UK Border Agency uses this list to assess applications under the Domestic Violence Immigration Rule.

The twelve month timeframe will unnecessarily exclude women

The Government has applied a twelve month timeframe to most of the evidence criteria. This arbitrary timeframe fails to reflect the reality of domestic violence and the ongoing risk to womens safety. One woman who took part in the NFWI research told us;

He will always be a risk to me and my children and to women generally. I would love to know who the government are getting their advice from.In my case, yes, I couldve shown all that evidence had it been last year. Next year I cant because itll all be out of date.

The twelve month timeframe fails to take into account the fact that women are often put at risk again, after being safe for some time after leaving a violent relationship. For example many women will leave a violent relationship along with their children, years later the perpetrator applies for child contact or custody. At this point women need access to legal aid to effectively negotiate these legal proceedings. If the twelve month timeframe applies, they will no longer have the support of legal aid at this point.

It is therefore vital that the criteria for eligibility for family legal aid reflects the reality of domestic violence and both the legal, statutory and non-legal and informal routes which women choose to tackle the violence in their lives. We urge you to support Amendments 192, 193 and 196 to retain legal aid for victims of domestic violence and to raise your concerns on this issue with Ministers.

Rights of Women: Emma Scott or Katherine Perks 020 7251 6575 / emma@row.org.uk

National Federation of Womens Institutes: Sophie Howes 0207 371 9300 / s.howes@nfwi.org.uk


[1] Rights of Women and Welsh Womens Aid, Evidencing domestic violence, January 2012 (see www.rightsofwomen.org.uk)

[2] Legal Aid is a Lifeline: women speak out on the legal aid reforms, 2011 available at www.thewi.org,.uk

I Never Said Yes

I’ve only just watched BBC 3’s documentary I Never Said Yes by Pips Taylor. I’ve been putting it off mostly because I knew how much it would upset me but actually it disappointed me far more than it upset me. I wasn’t expecting a radical feminist expose on rape but I was expecting something less, well, naive. The questions Taylor posed were interesting:

… what happens when a victim does want to report an attack or rape here in the UK? Do victims have enough support to help them through their ordeal? What is it like to experience our justice system?

But, they were also self-evident questions to anyone who has experienced sexualised violence or has an interest in the criminal justice system and its treatment of victims. It left me wondering who precisely were the target audience of this documentary. I would have thought that the only people interested in watching would have been people in the two former categories. It’s not a subject matter likely to appeal to those with no relevant experience or interest. The mish-mash of survivor stories, interviews and voice-overs was disconcerting and far too Daily Mail rather than in-depth journalism.
The most powerful part of the documentary was the five survivors Taylor interviewed who, simply, deserved more time. There was simply far too much information incorporated into a one hour documentary: the survivors competed with police and attorneys with the focus flipping between personal experiences of rape, to the failures of the criminal justice system and rape myths. It felt like a whistle-stop tour with the survivors merely addendums to to Taylor’s pontificating. They should have been the focus; not Taylor.

Now, I grant you that part of my problem with the documentary is that it definitely fit into the new “shock-doc” television which takes serious problems and bounces them about like balloons in between voice-overs, bad scene settings and “re-enactments”. It was a documentary on rape. It does not need a re-enactment or scenes cut to pop-art to make a “point”. I loathe this type of television as much as I hate reality television as it assumes the audience is too dim to understand what the “experts” say so it requires, usually, someone incredibly chirpy to repeat their words; as if chirpy makes it easier to understand.

What really annoyed me most was Taylor’s handling of an interview with a group of young men. She was asking questions about consent but let the young men bandy about rape myths without really challenging them and, consequently, it ended with the suggestion that men are just “bad” at reading signals. Taylor even repeats this in her BBC blog on the documentary:

The problem that shocked me most of all was young peoples’ attitudes towards consent and what is and isn’t okay. Young people are the most vulnerable, yet it seems that there is a lack of communication amongst them.

Rape is not a communication “problem”; nor is it about inadequate boundaries. Rape is about power and control. Men who rape, rape because they can. Not because they are confused by a woman in a short skirt dancing with her friends. Frankly, if a man is too stupid to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape then they are too stupid to be having sex.


Taylor may have been looking at the devastating consequences of rape myths on the ability of rape survivors to access the criminal justice system but she let some seriously bad myths go unchallenged; as when interviewing a defense attorney who suggested some rapists deserved lesser sentencing because of their “good” character. Technically, she critiqued this theory in one sentence in a voice-over but she never directly challenged the defense attorney. Having a “good” character should not be a defense to rape; nor should it be considered a mitigating factor. A man who rapes can not, and does not, have a “good” character.
And, ending her blog with this:
Although people regard rape to be a depressing subject, meeting the survivors has shown me a hopeful side – that victims can regain power.

Well, it just made me want to bang my head against the wall. Although, the reference to one of the survivors as an “incredible bird” was equally cringe-worthy.


Really, it just made me wish that Kat Banyard of UK Feminista who was interviewed for her credentials as a feminist campaigner had been in charge rather than used for a sound-bite on porn which wasn’t explored properly. Considering the interest in changing and challenging rape laws and rape myths, this documentary could have sparked a series of thought-provoking documentaries exploring the issues in more detail. Instead, it felt like pulp fiction.

Gok Wan Redux: The Tale of Samantha Brick

I’m going to be completely honest here and say I didn’t read the Samantha Brick article. In fact, I spent most of the past two days somewhat perplexed as to why someone I had never heard of was dominating my twitter feed with comments about how ugly she is. Generally, I assume it’s someone from a reality TV program and then ignore. In this case, the level of misogyny and hatred leveled at a woman surprised me enough to google. Now, I have no intention of reading the article and, thereby, increasing the Daily Mail’s revenue streams as the misogyny, racism, homophobia and disablism they perpetuate on a daily basis is without equal. I do think the fallout of the Samantha Brick article is worth examining though, since it represents everything that is wrong with The Patriarchy.

I haven’t read either article written by Brick, but I’m fairly sure Harriet Walker’s article in today’s Independent would sum up my criticisms of the Daily Mail’s incurable misogyny:

Samantha Brick … A glutton for punishment perhaps; woefully misguided, certainly. Doing it for the money? You bet. But Samantha Brick’s message and martyrdom go right to the very heart of a patriarchal culture that we normally just put up with, one that makes everyone a little less well-disposed toward one another. Bear-baiting and cockfighting might be illegal, but woman-baiting is not, and certain institutions are content to cynically set up and sell ringside seats to the most horrid and vitriolic of catfights. … 

Brick is clearly an insecure and socially inept sort of person; she’s also patently not as beautiful as she thinks she is. But that’s the point: Brick is a witless puppet for a male hegemony that derives its power partly from the myth that all women everywhere are endlessly patronising and hurting each other. That women don’t like each other, especially if one happens to be more attractive, is “a taboo that needed shattering”, says Brick. But the real maxim begging to be flouted here is that women – both the bullies and the bullied in this scenario – are set up for this kind of fall again and again. … 

They’re much more likely to be subject to character assassinations because of this – but that has become the system we work by, and we don’t question why the men aren’t getting the same sort of flak. “Why must women be so catty? Men wouldn’t be bothered by this, I’m sure,” snorted one commentator on a radio chatshow about Brick. Yet many of those who were most acerbic about her on Twitter were men: public figures, comedians, TV stars and the like. … 

Generally though, men are immune to this kind of baiting; they are not subject to anywhere near as much scrutiny as women are, either in terms of their appearance or the way they relate to each other. If a woman is sloppily dressed or fat, she can’t be taken seriously; if she’s beautiful, she’s a harpy; if she’s sexy, she’s up for it. The constraints are so embedded now that we take the bait without realising it’s a trap. And the newspaper that perpetuates it all rakes in the cash. …

This is why I find men like Gok Wan so destructive and Patriarchal. Now, I have no idea if Gok Wan has waded into this debate and, frankly, I have no intention wasting my time checking this out. But this situation is precisely why I loathe Wan’s Patriarchy-approved physical attractiveness as the only way to body confidence for women. It’s reductive, arrogant and completely lacking in basic human kindness. Sheila Jeffrey’s talks about women using Patriarchy-approved tools like make-up and high heels as armor against sexualised humiliation and bullying and this is precisely the type of behavior Wan insists is “beneficial” to women. It might be “protective” for women to engage in Patriarchy-approved behavior [and judging individual women for wearing make-up/heels/spanx is unfeminist as Jeffreys rightly points out], but we can not pretend that it’s not a problem for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. That isn’t an excuse to be deliberately rude but rather recognising that the Patriarchy functions by isolating and belittling women.

The Daily Mail set Samantha Brick up to fail as Gok Wan does weekly in his “truss yourself up in some spanx, throw on some high heels that will damage your feet the same way Chinese foot-binding did for a millenium and pretend that make-up is what separates you from poor self-confidence”. Jeffreys doesn’t argue that wearing make-up is the same as plastic surgery or foot-binding but rather that they all exist on a continuum of woman-hating which makes women’s bodies the visible sign of The Patriarchy. What Wan perpetuates is those harmful Traditional Cultural Practices under the UN definition which, as Jeffreys points out, is generally only applied to non-Western practices despite labiaplasty in the “West” having the same consequences as female genital mutilation which is constructing female sexuality as only for the benefit for men by removing/ decreasing women’s pleasure.

We need to stop focussing on whether or not Samantha Brick meets the patriarchal-approved definition of physical beauty and start looking at the reasons why women who do not meet it are punished by becoming unfuckable. We need to stop celebrating breast implants which decrease sexual pleasure and the ability to breast-feed as a “good” thing when it is nothing more than self-harm by proxy. We need to start celebrating women for being women; for being strong, beautiful, incredible and so very intelligent. All that the Tale of Samantha Brick proves is that the Patriarchy hates women. Let’s stop buying into the Patriarchy’s discourse and make our own and be that very powerful Feminist armed resistance of women loving and supporting women.

Twinkling Lights: A Short Story

This is a short story by my beautiful daughter who has finally given me permission to publish it. 

Twinkling Lights.
            Little sparkles filled the dark heavy sky that stretched like a dome over her head. Ellie looked in awe, the back of her neck aching slightly. She blinked and pictures appeared in the night sky. Taking her favourite fairy wand, she traced pictures of people, animals. She imagined a thin sparkly silver trail following the tip of her wand… And the pictures came to life. The great hero Hercules with his sword chased a lion across the night sky. Ellie spun around, her wand wafting in the air and her tutu whirling around her as she pretended to be a lion. Pouncing on Hercules, she jumped onto a chair and clawed the air, growling in the back of her throat. Hercules armour shredded beneath her sharp, mighty claws and then she was Hercules. Raising her sword, she clasped the hilt with both hands and brought it down on the lions’ neck. She jumped around waving her wand and princess cloak in the air. In her mind, the lions’ thick, golden skin was heavy in her hands, and her huge sword glinted silver with red.            

            George carried two mugs of hot chocolate round the corner, and almost spilled them. A little girl in a tutu was dancing round the balcony, waving her wand and cloak. Her luminous pink outfit stood out against the dark marble floor and plain ledge. The whole house, pinewood, looked out over a cliff: a very steep and dangerous cliff. Sharp rocks jutted out of the grass. But George wasn’t worried about that. He smiled fondly at his daughter as he set the mugs on a table.

            “Careful of the hot chocolate okay sweetheart.” Little Ellie kept dancing, yelling something about victory over a lion. George watched her for a minute then suddenly swooped down and picked her up. He tickled her and she screamed with delight.

            “Daddy, stop it!” Ellie giggled. Chuckling to himself, he put her down.

            “What were you talking about?” George asked her curiously.

            “I was pretending to be Hercules and the lion. You know… That story you told me about last night?” Ellie boasted. “When Hercules killed the lion with his sword.”

            “Actually, Hercules strangled the lion. The lion’s skin could not be pierced by any weapon, remember?” George gently reminded her.

            “No he didn’t. He killed the lion with his mighty sword!” Ellie stamped her foot crossly and folded her arms. Pouting.

            George laughed. “Do you want another story tonight?” He asked gently.

            “Yes please! A Greek Mythology one!” (Ellie felt very big and proud at knowing such big words.) She eagerly climbed into his lap, and looked at him expectantly.

            Daddy looked up the sky, and pointed to a group of stars. Gently he told her another story. It was about a princess called Andromeda. Just then the phone rang. George picked her up, and put her on the balcony ledge to admire the stars.

            “Don’t move.” He said sternly. And left.

            Ellie looked up and traced the constellation of Andromeda with her finger. Craning her neck back, she looked at every little star she could see. She counted them. She wanted to touch them. To name them.
            Cautiously, Ellie stood up on the beam. She wobbled, her balance off… And found it again. Ellie looked up at the stars again. Stretching on her tiptoes, She reached with her finger, and pretended she was touching each little star. She took a step forward.
And fell.

            George listened vaguely, twirling the phone chord around his finger. He wasn’t particularly interested. Just then, he heard a scream. A high-pitched scream of terror of a little girl.

            “Ellie.” He whispered.

            Throwing down the phone, he ran to the balcony… But Ellie wasn’t there. Panic crashed through him like a tsunami. It pulled him towards his daughter. A terrifying force that he willingly gave himself too.

            Ellie felt the air battering her cheeks, her hair. One minute, she was gazing at the stars, and the next, she was watching the ground race towards her at an alarming rate. She felt the wind snatch tears from her eyes, and she tried to look up. Up at the stars that were sure to protect her. Protect her from this nightmare. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to imagine it was all a dream. Just a dream. She opened her eyes, and just had time to widen them in fear before she felt the pain of a sharp rock explode against the side of her head.

            George watched in horror at his little girl. He could feel the wind tugging at his clothes, but that didn’t matter. The wind robbed the last of his breath as he tried to take a gasp of air. Tears blurred his vision. But that was okay. He didn’t want to see his precious daughter covered in blood, and limp. Lifeless. Lifeless as she kept falling onto 
more rocks. He choked back a sob of despair as the rock got him too.

            Ellie coughed and rolled over. Her head hurt so badly. It was like a drum was pounding through her head. Her sides hurt. Her back hurt. She tried to stand up, but yelled in pain as her leg collapsed underneath her. A muted thud to her right made her look. Her heart leaped as she recognised the greying hair.

“Daddy?” She tried to whisper. It came out like a croak. The head shifted and looked at her.

            Relief washed through him.

            “It’s going to be okay Ellie. Alright.” He murmured to her. He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince.  Himself or his daughter.

            Crawling over on his belly, he quickly made an assessment of the damage. A broken arm and leg. Several cracked ribs. A throbbing head. He was sure he could feel blood running down the side of his head. He looked at his daughter and realized she must be broken the same way. He gently pulled her towards him, and cradled her.

            Ellie breathed in the scent of his clothes. She didn’t like the blood, but she could faintly smell his scent. She looked at the stars. Twinkling little lights that filled her life.

            “Thank you stars.” She whispered. “Daddy, tell me another story.”
She heard her father draw in a breath, and felt him wince in pain. And then his voice drowned out the pain. But all the time she kept gazing at the stars. The regular, steady heartbeat of her fathers was slowing down. Smiling at the stars, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

            After all, she thought, it’s only a story.

Body Confidence (Or Why Gok Wan is NOT a Feminist or pro-woman)

The first Body Confidence Awards will be held at the House of Commons on April 19th with awards being presented in several categories including retail, fashion, and advertising. I generally ignore these things because they serve only to annoy the crap out of me as its usually an action in narcissism. Frankly, I can’t see how the fashion industry could ever be feted for encouraging body confidence but that may just be because I’ve recently read Sheila Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny.

Really, the only reason I have even heard of this campaign is because Mumsnet is involved with it as a continuation of the Let Girls Be Girls campaign. As a feminist and a mother, the issue of body confidence in children is very important to me so I was pleased to see Mumsnet was behind this campaign including running its own award about promoting body confidence in children. That is, until I saw that Gok Wan was being nominated. Now, I don’t usually watch reality television since I think it is nothing more than the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. I think they deliberately set out to humiliate and belittle people. But, even I’ve come across Gok Wan and nothing he does makes me think he likes women.

Having confidence in your body is about loving yourself for who you are and regardless of how you look. It isn’t about being trussed up like a turkey in spanx and told to suck it in. As a general rule of thumb, men grabbing your breasts is sexual assault, not entertainment. Or, as the very lovely Mme Lindor said:

Not a fan of Gok since his message seems to be that you are FABULOUS as you are, but here is a corset that will pull in all your wobbly bits, make you feel uncomfortable and restrict blood supply to your vital organs. 

I thought we were past all that.

No idea what his teen program was like, but based on his love of spanx, I wouldn’t say he promotes body confidence.

Wan may use feminist discourse to parade about on television but he’s about as far from feminism as you can possibly get. Feminists do not associate appearance with body confidence. Feminism is about real women who have opinions and beliefs and are intelligent; it is not women stripped naked, belittled, grabbed and humiliated on national television. That’s the essence of the Patriarchy: naked, vulnerable women being humiliated and tortured.

My vote remains for Pink Stinks. They are an incredible, small, but utterly brilliant organization who are all about letting girls be girls (and boys be boys) by challenging pinkification and genderisation. Their campaigns, notably against The Early Learning Centre, have been run successfully by 2 sisters with little budget and a lot of will. They are fighting the destruction of childhood and the idea that girls only have value for their appearance. Gok Wan is all about how women look; not whether or not its healthy to wear corsets [because any nincompoop can tell you corsets are bad for your body and that anything which restricts breathing is a stupid].

The idea that someone who dislikes women’s bodies as much as Gok Wan does could possibly be awarded for increasing body confidence just makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. Our daughters would be better served with a non-sexist education without sexual bullying and violence and a copies of Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

Vote here for someone who inspires Body Confidence in Children.

In Defence of Women-Only Spaces

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women-only spaces recently but two events have crystallized for me just how necessary women-only spaces are and how much the requirement that “everyone” be included simply excludes women. At least, when I first started thinking about writing this blogpost it was based on my feelings of two protest marches that I had just attended. Then, the unnecessary violent response of a group of MRAs towards the women dominated safe space that is Mumsnet made me realise just how frightening some men find women-only spaces. Or, as my dear friend Blackcurrants, once said:

Honestly, I think some men walk into a space where they are not likely to be (1) amongst other men and thereby automatically treated as ‘in the gang’ or (2) fawned over by women who think they exist to make men feel good and have a complete existential crisis. If the world doesn’t revolve around ME, an insecure man thinks, it can’t be working right! PANNIIIIC!

I suspect that for some men, women-dominated spaces are a threat to their perceived sense of entitlement to be the voice that gets heard. And women-only spaces are threatening because, as the oppressing class has always known when they try to restrict the ability of the oppressed class to gather together unmonitored- they must be up to something. Protecting women-only spaces is more and more important as formerly safe places are lost under the guise of being “fair” to all sex/genders, which is a policy that just ignores the political, social and cultural implications of The Patriarchy as it affects and effects all marginalised groups.

I’ve been on lots of protest marches: against the war in Iraq, nuclear weapons, against the current destructive cuts in the Welfare Bill, in support of youth and leisure centers, Reclaim the Night, and Million Women Rise. Of these only the Reclaim the Night and Million Women Rise marches in London have been advertised as women-only. There is a very real difference in being in a woman-only protest march. It simply feels safer because the organisers make the effort to include vulnerable and marginalised women. This starts with allowing disabled women to march at the front in a protected space. It does have secondary impact of slowing down the march and ensuring that the march take up as much space as possible for as long as possible. More importantly, however, it ensures that disabled women are considered an essential part of the protest and not simply an inconvenience.

The two events which crystallised this for me were the Million Women Rise March 2012 and the International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts. Million Women Rise was inclusive with transport arranged for those who did not feel physically able to complete the march. This included women who were pregnant and had mobility problems as a consequence. This is a group of women normally ignored because pregnancy is a “choice” and it isn’t “permanent.” Both of these theories require a refusal to acknowledge just how much damage pregnancy can do to a woman’s body. More importantly, no one was bumped into or knocked over and children were free to bounce about shouting slogans and dancing because they were safe. They were safe because they were in a protected space where everyone’s particular needs were catered for and attended to. Being knocked and bumped is a very real problem for many women due not only to physical disabilities which make it extremely painful but also the added trauma of women who have experienced sexualised violence. Being knocked into by men does not make these women feel safer or feel like the protest respects their bodily integrity and personal experience. It simply further marginalises already marginalised women.

The International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts held in Glasgow on the Saturday following Million Women Rise was a very different atmosphere. It was specifically organised to recognise the very deliberate gendered effect of the cuts on women but it was not a women-only space and it showed. Two men holding a large banner kept walking over women in order to get closer to the front of the march. Having a large banner bash you in the back of the head is hardly a pleasant experience. It is also completely defeats the purpose of a march about gendered political experiences when two men decide that their voices must be more visible that women. There was no attempt to make sure that the march was inclusive of marginalised women and resulted in disabled women being left behind and trailing the march whilst the police tried to hurry us on. The police always try to hurry marches up; in a protected march this doesn’t happen because the organisers are aware of the issue. This is not the deliberate fault of the organisers themselves but is what happens when men are involved and women’s [and other marginalised people] needs are not addressed. Men take over the space and make it about them. They marginalise women without even being conscious of doing so because they are so used to being in charge and being heard.

The last two Reclaim The Night marches in Edinburgh resulted in similar behaviour with the distressing addition of the male band conductor repeatedly banging into several disabled women without ever once apologising or making an effort to be more aware of the effects of this behaviour. When men are involved, women’s voices get silenced. We need to stop that. One of the best academic examples of this type of male behaviour is a study of classroom behaviour of men and women undertaken at Harvard. As feminists, we need to stop pandering to these men and make sure that all our sisters are involved and heard.

The second problem with including the men who whine about not being allowed to participate in women-only marches and demonstrations is that they never ever show up nor do they bother to take responsibility for organising their own protests. If they did, I would show up because I truly believe that the Capitalist Patriarchy is harmful for everyone. But, they never do and that is the problem. Women are asked to be “inclusive” which allows men to abdicate responsibility for standing up and being counted. The notable exception to this the White Ribbon Campaign which is organised by men in response to the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989 wherein a male gunman killed 14 women, injured 10 more women before killing himself. However, it is not surprising that when we think of the massacre of these beautiful and talented women, we can immediately name the perpetrator and not his victims. These are the women who paid with their lives for the “privilege” of entering male-space:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

We need only-women rooms to give us space to breathe, to love and support one another and to hear one another. Unless we start hearing each other, we won’t ever be able to support one another and that is what women-only spaces give us: the opportunity to just be.

The True Power of Sisterhood or When MN has got your Back

I don’t want to rehash the proceedings of the past two weeks and the behaviour of a certain male organisation. They have wasted far too much of the time of everyone who isn’t clinically stupid. They are a joke and everyone but them knows this.

What I want to say is thank you to the women of Mumsnet who stood up for me and who stood up for each other in the face of some extremely aggressive bullying. It is incredible being part of a network of women who really talk to one another and share and support and love; who are willing to fight for that support. I am not going to name the hundred or so MNers who got my back either by defending me on FB or by sending me private messages of support because I don’t want them to become targets for abuse. They know who they are and they know how much I love them [even a certain newbie I’d never met before].

This is what the FeMNist sisterhood is really about; no matter how much we disagree with one another’s politics or parenting choices, when it comes to the Patriarchy’s Baboons we are there for one another.

So, thank you. 🙂

School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms?

I’ve been frantically running around tonight making sure my children’s school uniforms are ready for tomorrow morning. This activity never fails to make me cranky; not because of the “laundry” aspect but because it reminds me just how much I hate the whole issue of uniforms. Inevitably, anyone who is acquainted with me will have heard sections of this rant because I truly believe the only reason for school uniforms is to reinforce capitalist-patriarchal norms.

The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards:

This might be very disjointed and take several points to get across because I’ve come to this point from several areas: a background in education, as a mother, as a feminist, and as someone who is beyond angry at how children, and more specifically teenagers, are demonised in Western culture.

1) Educational aspect: the theory is that children in uniforms learn better because they aren’t concerned about clothing and that uniforms denote respect and causes children to behave better.

As a teacher, I think the theory that children behave better in uniforms is horseshit. Children respond to adults who respect themselves, their colleagues and the students. Behaviour is better in schools which have effective management teams with good teachers who are supported. The best uniform in the world won’t make up for shit management. It can’t compensate for serious social problems in children’s families or poor teaching. Kids in jeans in a good school with a good headteacher will preform well because they are respected and want to not because they are wearing or not wearing a tie.

Many, many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as UK school. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, and, in inner-cities, banning gang colours.

2) Poverty: The theory is that all children in the same outfit means that kids won’t get bullied over clothing. This is wrong. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, the poorest parents won’t be able to afford it anyways. Kids can tell the difference between clothes from Tescos and clothes from M&S even in schools which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing thread-bare too small uniform as they are for wearing Tescos brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a shit school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the bully and the school environment which allows them to continue without intervention.

Bullying and our bullying culture is part of the patriarchal structure of our society which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It also marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mold.

3) Conformity: I think maintaining conformity is about maintaining our hierarchical society. I believe it is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not.

4) Material Culture of Uniforms: Uniforms tend to be of poor quality, prone to die problems and rip easily. it is more expensive to keep replacing cheap items of clothing that it is to purchase new better quality clothes. jeans from Tescos (£10) last a lot longer on a physical child that a pair of cheap nylon trousers. If you have more than one child, you are more likely to get more wear out of Tescos jeans than you are the cheap nylon trousers.

5) Respect: This is where I think the issue of uniforms moves into questions of patriarchy. I think, in many ways, they are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay [sanitation workers etc]: jobs which are frequently preformed by women.

I think it is also the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make themselves feel better. Its like the idea that you can never be rude to your ‘elders’ because they are old, they must be obeyed. Why should you have to respect a 90 year old man because he’s old. He may also be a paedophile, have committed severe violence against his wife or children, be a violent alcoholic. Requiring respect for being old means that the opposite, children, require no respect.

I think, as a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

There are so many other things that schools need to worry about [children who are being abused at home, being bullied, ensuring that all kids leave literate even if they have serious social problem which makes continuous school attendance difficult] that arguing over a tie just seems petty. The argument becomes you must wear the tie because I told you to not because it is of any benefit to you.

The other part is the more time we spend faffing about over uniforms, the less time we spend actually ensuring that the kid who is lashing out isn’t lashing out because he’s just testing boundaries [normal for teenagers] but is lashing out because of abuse, poverty, fear or a 101 other reasons. Uniforms are form of hierarchical social control and, fundamentally, only serve to reinforce Patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.

We Believe You

The FeMNist section of Mumsnet celebrated its second birthday this month. Since it’s inception, we’ve expanded from a few regulars into a large community with sub-sections on Activism and two monthly book clubs. FeMNists have been represented at FEM ’11, the UKFeminista Summer Schools, Go Feminism, Muff March, Challenging Porn Conference, Engender, LFN ’10, Reclaim The Night marches in London, Glasgow, Leeds, Edinburgh and Dundee and Million Women Rise London. Members have started new feminist groups across the UK. We have campaigned against Hooters in Bristol, Top Shop’s offensive t-shirts, Harvey Nichols’ Walk of Shame campaign, Pepsi’s End of the World pro-rape ads, the Boots “Here come the Girls” ads and literally thousands of letters and emails of complaints to MPs, MSPs and the judiciary about the suggested “anonymity” for rapists clause that the ConDems thought might be fun. We’ve actively supported Mumsnet’s other official and unofficial campaigns including Let Girls Be Girls against premature sexualisation of children, the Miscarriage Code of Practice, stopping the abolition of the DLA, banning Page 3, removing/ hiding “lad’s mags” from the view of children, better respite care for parents of disabled children, against Nadine Dorries anti-choice bill, and the fight to save the NHS. For this, we have been trolled something ridiculous by Misogynist Rights Activists [MRAs] from all over the internet [but mostly the basement of their parent’s house] and ridiculed by a small number of MNers always willing to stick the boot in. [It has to be said here that the Special Needs forum on Mumsnet is subject to the same vitriol; usually by the same group of trolls.]

The FeMNists are some of the most amazing and inspiring women I have ever come across. They are beautiful, strong, intelligent and real sisters but I have never been so proud to be a FeMNist as I am with the We Believe You campaign. This campaign is/ was ours. It came out of the hundreds of threads written by women asking for support in dealing with their experiences of rape and other forms of sexualised violence; threads where FeMNists were ridiculed for suggesting that most men are not sex-starved beasts. It came out of threads written by FeMNists discussing their own experiences of sexualised violence and encouraging others/themselves to believe that those “small” acts of sexualised violence weren’t really that small. It came out of the theoretical basis of feminism: women supporting women.

But, the real origins of the We Believe You campaign was the Julian Assange rape trial and extradition. Between Assange, Roman Polanski, and the suggested anonymity for rape defendents, the rape apologists were having a field day labeling women as lying whores. FeMNists took a beating from MRAs but also other Mumsnetters who kept insisting that *some* women lie and, anyways, famous leftist-socialist dudes don’t *rape* people. They are falsely accused by evil feminists. It was a distressing period and it did feel like Mumsnet was no longer a “safe space” in which to support one another through our experiences.

In the midst of this discussion and, frankly unnecessarily aggressive trolling by other MNers and MRAs, our lovely Christine de Pizan undertook an informal and anonymous survey of the experiences of sexualised violence of MNers. I don’t think anyone was prepared for the consequences of the survey. Yet, from these competing strands of debate and lack of support came the idea of a campaign about rape myths that Leningrad christened with the name I Believe You. FeMNists took this campaign across the talk boards of MN supporting and grieving with other women.

Last October, we asked MNHQ to run a formal campaign with 2 basic premises: to educate people about rape myths and to make the default position that rape victims are telling the truth. MNHQ more than surpassed our wildest thoughts on this issue. The support for the campaign has been phenomenal with so many amazing women standing together supporting each other. I am proud to be part of Mumsnet and humbled to stand with such an amazing group of supportive and loving women.

The media attention of the campaign, run in support with Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition has been incredible but, more importantly, the campaign’s success in the various forms of social media has given a voice to women who had previously been silenced. The twitter hashtags #webelieveyou and #ididnotreport have been trending with stories of sexual violence and supportive statements [and a couple of misogynistic asshats but they mostly make themselves look like pillocks]. These are just some of the blogs written: saltandcaramel, Gentle Otter, Bidisha, toomuchtosayformyself, Too Many Cuts, and Alreethinny.

What We Believe You has accomplished in just over 48 hours has been to make women’s voices heard.

The survey (completed by over 1,600* women) shows that, of respondents:

  • One in 10 had been raped (10%) 
  • Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted 
  • Almost one-quarter (23%) reported being raped or sexually assaulted four or more times 
  • In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible 

Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:

  • Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police 
  • Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape 
  • Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates 
  • And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame 

The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:

  • Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape 
  • Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic 
  • And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic 

Women’s History Month


March is Women’s History Month. I did have an almost finished blog written on my laptop however I’ve just poured a whole cup of hot sweet tea on the keyboard. I’ve borrowed the teenager’s IPad to write this but it swears I haven’t saved the blog. 


But, it’s Women’s History Month and while there is an argument for it further marginalising the history of women, we need to take every opportunity possible to celebrate women. This is an opportunity we can take from The Patriarchy and make women visible. I’ve already got some great books lined up but I am always looking for more recommendations especially ones about the history of non-European women of which I know very little.

My choices so far are:

Sonja M Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel’s Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust

Rosalind Miles’ The Women’s History of the World

Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore

These are some great online resources celebrating Women’s History:

National Women’s History Project

Women’s History Month: What About Her Story?