This is somewhat of an experiment in flipping the gendered construction of news media wherein male voices and experiences are privileged as “normal” and that of women either erased or dismissed. I decided on it today having finished reading Helena Kennedy’s brilliant Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice which demonstrates just how much women are othered. I want to explore getting my news mainly from women’s organisations, female journalists and female bloggers and see how difficult it is to erase the voices of men; since it is very easy to silence women’s voices in the media.

Interestingly, I had thought I was following only a few men on twitter but I actually deleted 135 different men from Jon Snow at Channel 4 News to Chuck D and a number of male comedians I don’t actually like. I also deleted a number of animals which, I think, proves that I need to pay more attention to who I chose to follow. I was actually quite shocked at the number of men I was following because I was under the impression that I was mostly following the women of MN and women writers.

I had already expanded my #readingonlybookswrittenbywomen policy into only buying music written and/or produced by women. This started when I tried to make an International Women’s Day playlist for my teenager as a present. Turns out, I listen to a lot of music written, performed and produced by men. I turned to MN for help, which, in retrospect, has not been good for my credit card. It did, however, spawn a thread by InmaculadaConcepcion celebrating women’s music. I’d go for listening to only music written, performed and/or produced by women but I’m rather attached to the Red Hot Chili Peppers which is, I know, deeply unfeminist but I think I am allowed one vice and I am choosing them.

So, this is the experiment: reading not only fiction written by women but ensuring that I get most of my news, political analysis and social awareness from women. In this, I have to suggest the brilliant Women Under Siege Project who are currently mapping the sexualised violence experienced by women in conflict zones: violence that is frequently erased from mainstream media sources.

I’m looking for any and all suggestions of women to follow!

Terri White’s Faux Mea Culpa for Playing the Handmaiden Game

This weekend saw an interesting array of anti-feminist articles written by women. I’ve already complained about Caitlin Moran’s complete lack of understanding about feminism as a political theory [despite professing to be one]. That article was utter twaddle. Then I came across Terri White’s faux mea culpa for her work at Nuts magazine and her part in the massive increase in pornographer. White disingenuously suggests she built her career off other women’s breasts. She did not. She built her career off the pornographication and abuse of other women.

It starts with this:

As the sound of jazz filled the air in the office that night I diligently got on with the task at hand. It was slow. It was laborious. It was tedious. It was decapitating topless women. I was associate editor on the best-selling men’s weekly magazine Nuts and tomorrow was the launch of Assess My Breasts – an online brand extension inviting women to upload pictures of themselves (or rather, their breasts) to be rated out of 10. But first, before we went live, I had to populate it; ensuring it launched with a 100-boob bang rather than a no-boob whimper. Faces were a no-no – part of the “appeal” was anonymity so the girls would feel comfortable with being publicly graded. And so, there I was at 9pm, attempting a mass head-chopping on pictures we kept on file and had sought permission to upload.

Decapitationgate was the peak of the “real girl” phenomenon in men’s magazines – ordinary girls, in ordinary situations, pictured in their underwear. A phenomenon we at Nuts had happened upon several months before and one that had made the magazine a huge success. And along with it, a success of the people who worked on it.

Seriously, where do you even start unpacking that? White worked on a project which reduced women to their breasts (apparently, you weren’t allowed to use the word tits, as if that made the blindest bit of difference) and allowed men to rank them. Let’s be honest with this: they were ranking them for fuckability and nothing else. Any pretence at a different meaning is just intellectual dishonesty masquerading as “fun”.

However, White does attempt a half-hearted attempt to understand the extent of the damage that the lad’s mags made:

While lads’ mags alone didn’t create this sexualised culture, they responded to it and reinforced it, helping it grow into a mass-market monster wearing a glossy mask of normality. We told a generation of young men that a woman’s value lay in the pertness of her breasts and willingness to flash in a public place before going home to have sex. The dirty kind. We told a generation of young women that it wasn’t necessary to get an education or build a career to improve your life. Just be willing to bare your breasts and look what you could win! A pot of gold! And a footballer! And I was a part of that for entirely selfish reasons. I tossed any concerns out of the window in favour of the feel of the monthly payslip and the warm glow of success.

It does lack some serious political analysis but as a concluding paragraph would have at least been an attempt at taking some personal responsibility. Instead, White decides to go for this:

But I still feel awkward at the thought of telling women that they should not and could not participate in this culture. The dominant voices in this debate are still those from the middle class, who can only imagine what it’s like to walk in these women’s 5in heels. I remember what it’s like to feel that opportunities just don’t exist for your kind and that when they come along you need to cling on for dear life. And maybe, just maybe, some of the women who claim to do it and enjoy it really do mean it.

Would I do it all again knowing what I know now? No. We did too much damage. While the magazines themselves may be in decline, the culture they helped to create can still be seen in towns and cities all around the UK – from the Saturday-night porny perspex heels to the casual DIY sex tapes and still-held hopes for fast fame. And, in retrospect, I could have built a career and achieved the financial security I hankered for without my Nuts years and without using other women’s breasts as my stepping stone to get there.

Let’s be honest here. This isn’t really a mea culpa for her participation in an industry which deliberately and maliciously harms women and creates a reduction construction of female sexuality which effectively erases it out of existence. It’s a “it’s not my fault. I didn’t have any choice but anyways the women who did bare their breasts totally had the choice not too” argument favoured by liberal, so-called “sex positive” feminists [that would be sex positive if you think turning over control of human sexuality to Hugh Hefner was a good plan. The term is about as sensible as calling the anti-choice wingnuts in the abortion debate “pro-life” when its patently obvious they don’t give a flying fuck about children since they are the same asshats which vote against universal health care, welfare and education in favour of building more bombs].

So, I’m obviously angry here but its a righteous anger. I want my children to grow up and have healthy sexual experiences with people who love them. I do not want my girls growing up in a society that only celebrates the “accomplishments” of women who have breast implants and sex tapes because those aren’t accomplishments. They are the continuing victimisation and degradation of women. White might be feeling some middle class guilt at exploiting young women but not enough to actually take responsibility for it.

And, frankly, the argument that all the men she worked with were “loving, family men” is laughable. It really is. That’s what people say about their next door neighbour who turns out to be a serial rapist, or the violent alcoholic from up the road who kills his wife or the drunk driver. Women say it because we are expected to play nice and never, ever critique men’s roles in propagating and encouraging misogyny. We just get to blame other women. I call bullshit.

Terri White got a financial reward for her participation in perpetuating misogyny; a misogyny that required women at the forefront to prevent those very accusations. White, Lili Harges, Indira Das-Gupta, and Sali Hughes profited off and assisted in the dramatic increase in the pornographication of young women’s sexuality. Sometimes, all we need to hear is: I’m sorry. I fucked up. Feminists know how hard it is to succeed in our Capitalist-Patriarchy which punishes any woman who puts her head above the parapet but false mea culpas are as damaging as continuing to profit from misogyny.

We all know its a game. Let’s just be more honest about playing it.

We Believe You Redux

In light of the recent conviction of Sheffield footballer Ched Evans for rape, and the following avalanche of misogynistic bullshit on twitter by people who are clearly too stupid to be allowed to have sex if they can’t understand the fairly basic legal concept of “consent”, I’m reblogging the Mumsnet We Believe You campaign against rape myths.

The blogosphere is full of discussions of this case; all far more eloquent than I but these myths need to be challenged. When we play nice, the misogynists win.

We need to be louder and angrier than the misogynists we’re battling so that all rape victims get the justice they deserve.

We Believe You – rape myths we’re challenging

we believe youThere are so many myths about rape – about what it is, about who does it, and whom it happens to. Consciously or not, many people in Britain believe these myths, and they’re reflected in the media, and in the criminal justice system.
These myths discourage women from coming forward when they’ve been raped. They know that, unless they were raped in very specific – and statistically rare – circumstances, they will face disbelief. They may fear that they will themselves be put on trial – for their behaviour, their sexual history, their previous relationship with their abuser.
They may fear that they will themselves be put on trial – for their behaviour, their sexual history, their previous relationship with their abuser. So join us in spreading the word on Twitter #webelieveyou and sharing your experiences #ididnotreport
MYTH: Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger, outside, in dark alleyways
REALITY: More than 80% of women who are raped know their attacker(1); 53% of perpetrators of serious sexual assaults are current partners or ex-partners.(2)
In fact, over two-thirds of rapes take place in the victim’s home, the suspect’s home or the victim/suspect’s shared home(3). This myth can mean that women who are raped in these circumstances don’t identify their experience as rape, and therefore don’t report it.

It also puts blames the victim, and limits women’s freedom of movement by implying that rape can be prevented by avoiding certain places.

MYTH BUSTED! By our bloggers AlreetHinny and LittleMeFrance
MYTH: Women provoke rape by their appearance or their behaviour
It’s never your fault.  No woman ‘asks to be raped’ or ‘deserves what she gets’ – only the rapist is responsible for the rape.
REALITY: Dressing attractively, or flirting, is never an invitation to rape. Rape is not a ‘crime of passion’ – it is an expression of power and control.
No woman ‘asks to be raped’ or ‘deserves what she gets’ – only the rapist is responsible for the rape.  Rape happens to all types of women, from the very young to the very old – physical appearance is irrelevant.

There is no ‘typical rape victim’. There is only one common factor in all rapes, and that is the rapist.

MYTH BUSTED! By our blogger DillyTante
MYTH: If a woman didn’t struggle, wasn’t injured, or didn’t report immediately – she wasn’t raped
REALITY: Victims may cooperate with the rapist to save their lives; or they may be paralysed by fear. Following rape, many victims experience shock; this can make them seem ‘unnaturally calm’.
Victims are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured; the rapist may have threatened further harm – or harm to family members – if they resist. The victim’s perception of danger will influence their behaviour.
Victims may experience shame, shock, or denial, which might mean they do not report the rape for some time. The Court of Appeal has ruled that a late complaint does not mean that it’s a false complaint.(4)
MYTH BUSTED! By guest blogger and journalist Bidisha
MYTH: Women who get drunk or take drugs shouldn’t be surprised if they are raped or sexually assaulted
REALITY: Being vulnerable does not imply consent. If a woman is drunk, drugged or unconscious, she is not able to consent to sex(5).
Being vulnerable does not imply consent. If a woman is drunk, drugged or unconscious, she is not able to consent to sex.
If a woman has consumed alcohol (fewer than four in 10 cases), it is the man’s responsibility to ensure that the victim has given, or is capable of giving, consent. If he does not do so, he is committing rape.

Simlilarly, a woman is not to blame if she drinks alcohol and is raped. Women have the same right to consume alcohol as men.

MYTH BUSTED! By our blogger Inside the Wendy House

MYTH: Women often lie about rape, and police officers and jurors should bear this in mind
REALITY:  There is no research evidence that false allegations are more common than for many other crimes. 
Home Office research indicates that between 3-8% of initial allegations are false, but that the lower figure is likely to be most accurate.(6)
Far from being widespread, malicious accusations are rare. A much greater problem in the criminal justice system is the under-reporting of rape – the government estimates that 89% of rapes are never reported to the police at all.(7)
In addition, only 5.3% of rapes reported to the police end in a conviction for rape – the lowest rate of any country in Europe, except for Ireland.(8)
MYTH: It’s not rape if a woman has consented to some sexual intimacy, or has previously had sex with many partners
REALITY: A woman can withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity. Having many previous sexual partners does not imply generalised consent to sex.
A woman has a right to change her mind about having sex at any time during sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at this point, it is sexual assault. All men are capable of stopping sexual activity at any point.

Likewise, having previously consented to sex with other partners does not imply consent to all partners. Women involved in prostitution are as capable of being raped as other women.

BUSTED! by Brian Paddick, London Lib Dem Mayoral candidate and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met Police
MYTH: Rape can’t take place in an ongoing relationship
Previous consent to sex does not imply ongoing consent, and sex without consent is rape.
REALITY: Previous consent to sex does not imply ongoing consent, and sex without consent is rape. It makes no difference whether the aggressor is a woman’s husband or partner, or a complete stranger – 22% of rapes are committed by partners or ex-partners.
It’s irrelevant whether or not a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them previously. Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, told a court to approach rape within a relationship, including marriage, as “no less serious than rape by a stranger”.

Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sex without consent is rape.

BUSTED! By Mumsnetter Mme Lindor

MYTH: Some rapes aren’t ‘serious’ rapes
REALITY: All rape is a violation, whether or not the rapist is a stranger, or uses violence. 

All rapes are serious; some rapes and sexual assaults are compounded by other crimes, such as further violence, kidnapping or abuse, which will add to the woman’s trauma.

Acquaintance rape survivors may feel particularly vulnerable, since they have found that even people they trusted may hurt them. They may often have to face their assailants after the rapes, causing additional distress, fear and humiliation. They also tend to view themselves more negatively, and suffer more serious psychological problems than other victims(9).

    Why Caitlin Moran is wrong on the Samantha Bricks "saga"

    I’ve already blogged about my feelings on the furor over Samantha Brick’s articles in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago. I believe the Daily Mail set her up for a serious kicking because of the misogyny inherent in their organisation. They are the best selling newspaper in the UK because they feed on the very insecurities they encourage in their readers. They are vile.

    I was shocked to see Caitlin Moran’s article in the Times today suggesting that the reaction Bricks got was nothing to do with Feminism. I would have thought it was patently obvious that insulting a woman for “not being as attractive as she thinks she is” is pretty much the essence of anti-feminist discourse. The Patriarchy requires women to police other women’s behaviour in order to survive. Buying into the discourse around Brick’s article just reinforces the Patriarchal structures which blame women for just not being fuckable enough: that would be 21 and malnourished.

    Moran is a liberal Feminist and I generally disagree with her on a number of political issues, however this column just disappointed me with its lack of political analysis. Moran suggests that those of us who think this is a Feminist issue are deluded and that men are derided in a similar manner to women in these instances and that Brick was just acting like a “div”. Frankly, I think that’s twaddle:

    I think we all knew this, really. It’s a Human Behaviour Check Yo’Self 101 not to go around quacking about how great you are, given that it’s wholly self-defeating. People who say, “I’m clever” tend to be thick, people who say, “I’m mad, me!” usually work in accounts and people who say they’re beautiful tend to be fairly average, but apt to spend a lot of money on trouser suits and highlights. 

    So, yes: let us be clear. There is a world of difference between “women doing something” and “it being a matter for feminism”. Lest we forget, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of social, sexual and political equality to men”. It’s got nothing to do with a Daily Mail journalist on a deadline pointing to her arse and saying, “See this? It’s hawt.”

    Feminism is about liberating women from oppression; an oppression reinforced by a Patriarchy that punishes women for not thinking they are ugly, pathetic and stupid. Any woman who suggests she might actually be anything but stupid is, therefore, asking to be humiliated and belittled.

    As for the last part of her article where Moran suggests two subject which aren’t Feminist, well, I’m going to suggest she’s been drinking the Handmaiden Communion Wine.

    1) Beauty routines. There’s been a spate of pieces recently questioning whether a true feminist can wax her legs, thread her eyebrows or wear make-up. While the beauty industry is, as all multibillion-dollar industries tend to be, built on trying to encourage profligate consumerist behaviour through unrealistic imagery, there’s nothing inherently un-feminist about wanting to muck around with how you look. How can there be? If there were then, theoretically, feminists wouldn’t be able to dress up at Hallowe’en, or go to fancy-dress parties rigged out as Scooby-Doo, either. While men can grow beards or wear hats, women can wear eyeliner and wax their legs. Besides, David Bowie wore make-up and it was ACE, ipso facto, Barry M. 

    2) Housework. “When,” I was asked, recently, “will feminism get my boyfriend to do his share of the housework?” Wow. While my slatternly nature is perfectly happy with putting off hoovering by saying, “I’m just waiting for a wholesale societal change to kick in. Come and hoover the front room, instead,” if you really want it hoovered, that might all take a while. Surely here, as with everything else in a relationship with two people in love, you just need to discuss your mutual wants and needs, then come to an agreement. You don’t need the advocacy of rights on the basis of social, sexual and political equality to men, dude. You just need a rota.

    Beauty regimes and housework are the two most obvious ways that the Patriarchy reinforces the oppression of women. There is a reason why women who don’t starve themselves or wear shoes which deform their feet are considered unfuckable and it isn’t because they are frigid. It’s because their existence is a threat; as is the refusal of men to take equal responsibility for the required work to maintain a family. Women will never be equal to men as long as we are required to dress like fucktoys and scrub toilets because men can’t be arsed too.

    Stop the Sexual Objectification of Women in the Press Petition

    This is clearly the week for signing petitions but here is another one which I think is very important that has come via Object who are a Feminist organisation I support:

    Stop the sexual objectification of women in the press

    Responsible department: Department for Culture, Media and Sport
    We, the undersigned, call on the DCMS to ensure that: 

    1) Sexually objectifying imagery which would not pass for pre-watershed material on the television, and which would be considered a form of sexual harassment and therefore prohibited from the work place under the Equality Act, should not be printed in newspapers which are not age-restricted and are displayed at child’s eye level. 

    2) Newspapers or lads’ mags which continue to print sexually objectifying images of women which would not pass for pre-watershed television viewing, and which would not be permitted for adults in the workplace, should be subject to binding codes in relation to their sale and display so that, if sold, they are covered up, age-restricted and put on the top shelf. 

    3) All Local and National print based media should stop carrying advertisements for the sex industries such as ads for, ‘massage parlours’, ‘escort agencies’, sex chat lines and webcam pornography.

    National Stalking Awareness Day

    I have to be honest here. I only heard about this today; via the ultimate news source which is Twitter. Considering stalking is an incredibly harmful illegal activity whose cost, both financially and emotionally, is immense, I would have thought it would have been more newsworthy. Apparently, not so much.

    This is the information taken directly from Action Scotland Against Stalking website:

    National Stalking Awareness Day, 18th April 2012

    We invite all organisations across the country to participate in this landmark historical day.

    On 18th April 2012, Scotland, England and Wales will declare a national campaign to promote a Zero Tolerance to Stalking.

    “Stalking not in our Country!” Has evolved from the changes in Scottish law and the subsequent Parliamentary Stalking Enquiry and the Home Office consultation of the 1997 Harassment Act.

    The campaign will be led by the Scottish National Stalking Group and supported by The Scottish Government.

    This event marks the launch of ‘National Stalking Awareness Day- Talking Stalking’ and the formation of the UK National Stalking Alliance, and should go down in history as a momentous occasion.

    Students across the UK will also declare Zero Tolerance to Stalking under the banner of “Stalking – Not on our Campuses”.

    The launch of student’s national stalking awareness day is being led by Glasgow Caledonian University Glasgow and Bedfordshire University in England. NUS Scotland launched their priority campaign ‘Stalking- Not on our Campuses’ in 2011, and many of Scotland’s universities have already adopted the new NUS anti stalking policy.

    An innovative approach by Ayr College saw stalking awareness being introduced into their curriculum learning development module. Ayr College has since been supporting and advising other colleges who wish to help raise awareness to the dangers of campus stalking.

    ‘National Stalking Awareness Day’ will be officially launched by Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill at the Scottish Parliament and Baroness Brinton will launch the event at Westminster.

    Members of the House of Parliament, Peers, the Parliamentary Enquiry Committee. The Home Office, Association of Chief Police Officers, Charities, Government funded organisations and Victim support services will join Mr McAskill, members of the Scottish National Stalking Group & guests to celebrate the successes in Scotland and England over the past year and encourage people across the country to get involved.

    There will be live links to these events by video, and news coverage.

    The support of the Scottish Government and Westminster will be a strong advocate for further action across the country.

    We will continue to promote the success of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust National Stalking Helpline.

    Kristiana Wrixon Manager of the National Stalking Helpline reminds us

    “It is two years since the launch of the National Stalking Helpline and the service is receiving more calls than ever before from people reporting obsessive, unwanted behaviour that is blighting their lives. Fifty percent of people who contact the Helpline have not reported the matter to the police and 86% don’t know that they could seek advice from a solicitor. The people we speak with know they are scared, know that they are in danger, know that their lives are being turned upside down but too often they don’t know that they can get help.” 

    Let’s keep “Talking Stalking”.

    Help Save the Funding for NCT Practitioners!

    This came to me via a friend who is one of the women who has trained to become an NCT Practitioner.  The NCT is an important support network for women. Let’s try to save this as well.

    Please can you take a few minutes to write to your MP on Wednesday 18th April

    NCT is the UK’s largest charity for parents. Last year the charity provided antenatal classes alone for 91,500 parents, including 14,500 parents who are sent to us by the NHS – 11% of babies born in the UK are ‘NCT babies’. NCT also provides a range of free support to more than 1,500,000 people every year.The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is considering proposals to remove grant and loan funding for people training to become NCT Practitioners (Antenatal Teachers, Breastfeeding Counsellors and Postnatal Leaders). If this funding is removed, it would result in significant strain on local midwifery services, reduced services for new and expecting parents, and prevent many local mothers from entering work after giving birth.

    This is because NCT training is university accredited and of high quality, so that the charity can be assured of providing parents with the very best support when they need it most. The charity recently launched a new strategy with an ambitious goal to reach 20 million parents by 2020- but can’t do that without enough practitioners to support them.

    NCT has launched its Help NCT Help Parents campaign to ask Government to work with the charity to find a solution to this problem so that nobody who wishes to train to help parents is turned away because they cannot afford it.

    You can Help NCT Help Parents by:

    · Joining the campaign on Facebook – take action and tell your NCT story

    · Contact your MP to ask them to help NCT help parents

    · Sign the e petition

    · Get your friends and family involved – send an email like this one!

    · Tell NCT how they helped you – email your story about training or getting good support from NCT Practitioners to campaigns@nct.org.uk

    On Wednesday 18 April NCT is holding an online day of action asking supporters to contact their MPs – find out why and how you can Help NCT Help Parents

    The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is considering proposals to remove funding for people training to become NCT Practitioners, raising the cost of training to £6,000 per annum per person. This is prohibitively expensive and would lead to a dramatic fall in the number of people undertaking training. NCT needs your help to help us help parents and achieve our goal of reaching 20 million parents by 2020.

    NCT currently trains 250-300 people each year to become NCT Practitioners. Once qualified, these practitioners provide antenatal education courses to 91,500 new and expecting parents each year, as well as other support (including breastfeeding support) to more than 1,500,000 people throughout the year.

    We are launching a short term campaign aimed at finding a solution to this problem and are hoping to meet with representatives of the Department to discuss innovative solutions because there are many important social, economic reasons and health reasons for ensuring NCT Practitioner training can continue.

    NCT practitioners provide social benefits by improving people’s parenting skills:
    Children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in pregnancy and the first two years of life. NCT practitioners provide support to parents to help ensure children have the best possible start in life. The Government has estimated that failure to improve these skills costs between £11,600,000,000 and £20,700,000,000 (£11.6bn and 20.7bn), as poor parenting raises the prospect of future unemployment, ill health, and criminal activity.

    NCT practitioners support NHS midwifery services:
    In the past 10yrs, the birth rate in the UK has risen by up to 22%. Over the same period, the number of midwives has risen by only 9%. The NHS spends £2,053,829,000 (£2.05bn) each year on maternity services. NCT practitioners provide a value supplement to this spending and allow NHS resources to be more closely focused on areas of urgent medical need. We help bridge the gap between the growing demand on NHS maternity services and the NHS resources available.
    The Health and Social Care Bill proposes changes to the way local midwifery services are commissioned and will mean varying levels of midwifery provision around the country. This means it may be harder to identify service shortfalls before they happen. NCT Practitioners will be able to mitigate this by providing flexible services which complement midwifery services, improving health outcomes for parents and children.

    NCT practitioners can be trained at low cost: 

    Annual spending on university training currently stands at approximately £25,400,000,000 (£25.4bn). A comprehensive training programme for 250 NCT practitioners could be provided for £1.5m. While this is still a significant amount of money, it accounts for only 0.006% of university spending. We feel this offers significant value for money and would have a disproportionate effect on education and economic outcomes in a number of important areas. Moreover, NCT has established a partnership with Worcestershire University, to ensure training costs per student is limited to £6,000 per annum. This enables us to deliver a comprehensive training programme for 250 NCT practitioners at an annual cost of £1.5m, delivering a saving of £750,000 each year.

    Once qualified, NCT Practitioners are completely self-funded. They require no further investment or financial from the public sector.

    NCT practitioner training provides employment opportunities for women returning to work after having children:

    NCT Practitioner courses offer an effective way of helping women who have had children return to the workplace. NCT Practitioners are overwhelmingly female, 51% are aged 35-44yrs, 15% come from households with incomes of less than £25k, and most have at least two children. Becoming an NCT Practitioner gives women from these demographic groups an opportunity to return to the workplace that they would not otherwise have, and to work flexibly around their childcare commitments.

    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.