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The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards: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 (ÂŁ10) 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 

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a fairly significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published to little to no fanfare. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated under a Patriarchal discourse which suggests that if didn’t happen to men then it wasn’t important [which is fundamentally bizarre because men were raped during the Holocaust. Rape during warfare is gendered and most victims are women and children but to pretend that men weren’t raped is equally problematic.]. Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

Since it’s inauspicious publication, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust hasn’t exactly been getting lots of publicity; partly because its an academic text and academic texts don’t usually make the New York Times Best seller list but, mostly, because of the subject matter. That is until Gloria Steinem, one of the original reviewers of the book, got properly involved. Her outrage at the failure of sexual violence to be located in and considered part of genocide and modern warfare partly inspired the founding of the Women Under Siege online project. Women Under Siege is possibly the most important piece of feminist activism of 2011. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive military-industrial complex and the Patriarchy.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. Sinnreich

Rape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)

Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)

Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

 

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.

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?

Black History Month


February is Black History Month in North America so I thought I would read books written by women who identify politically as Black; although not necessarily American. I’ve lined up Harriet Jacobs slave narrative, Patricia Hill Collin’s From Black Power to Hip Hop, Jennifer Hayashi Danns with Sandrine Leveque’s Stripped, Sapphire’s The Kid, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m looking for more recommendations of Black women writers in time for Black History Month in the UK in October.#readingonlybookswrittenbywomen

Naming

I couldn’t chose a name that accurately reflected my political aims with this blog and my love of literature. Instead, I’ve taken the name from the first book I read when embarking on feminist activism against the cultural femicide of women writers: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish. It is a celebration of the power of sisterhood, the power of silence and the phenomenal women in our lives. I could not be who I am without the support and brilliance of those women around me; particularly my FeMNists without whom this would not exist.

Reading Only Books Written By Women

This is a Feminist blog but it is one inspired by a man: V.S. Naipaul to be exact. Inspired isn’t quite the right word to use here since it does imply some sort of artistic vision and a lack of anger. Mostly, it inspired a lot of rage; I’d like to think righteous rage. And, really, I don’t actually want to give Naipaul any real credit for inspiration when it was his dismissal of all women writers for their “sentimentality [and] the narrow view of the world” that made me froth with rage. Naipaul is obviously entitled to his opinion, even if it is misogynistic and all kinds of stupid, but the real problem is that his opinion is reflected in the purchasing and reading habits of men across the world. This is what we need to challenge: the erasure of women from the literary and cultural world. Feminist writer Bidisha calls this cultural femicide. I’m inclined to agree with her.

As Bidisha puts it so eloquently in her blog piece “Literary women, literary prizes. Not often found in the same room:”
… women are everywhere in the book world and even on the bestseller lists. We are the overwhelming majority of book buyers, book readers, book editors, agents, PRs, event attendees, festival-goers, champions of literature, literature teachers, writers and book club members. We read the comically major majority, in a really major way, of all fiction. We support the entire industry from within and without. We are everywhere except in the nicest place: the prestige podium, that zone of acclaim furnished with prizes, honours, respect, speaking invitations, special commissions, credit, mentions, recommendations and a place in the canon.

Women read and buy more books than men and we read with a fairly close approximation of gender parity. Men do not give women the same respect. Most men who read only read books written by men. J.K Rowling is the most well-known example of this phenomenon in the 20th century: she published the Harry Potter series under her initials because her publisher felt they could not market the book to boys if it was written by a woman. The fact that it is one of the highest selling series of books ever seems beside the point: written by a woman and it simply wouldn’t sell. Even if the books are brilliant and engaging.

Strangely, women are the majority of employees in the book industry: everything from publishing companies to literary prizes to conferences. So why do we support male literary efforts when they do not accord us the same respect? Why do we not take advantage of the biggest tool for activism that we have in a capitalist Patriarchy and stop financially supporting male authors? Why don’t we demand publishing companies spend as much money advertising books written by women as they do by men? Why do we still buy anthologies of poetry, plays and short stories when the default is always male? Why do we still live in a society where some of the greatest writers are accorded no respect because they have vaginas? Why are we still in a system that forced the Bronte sisters and Mary Anne Evans [George Eliot] to publish under male pseudonyms? Why do we support an industry that required the same of Joanna Rowling 200 years later?


This blog, then, is a piece of feminist activism because it is about celebrating the literature written by women and about women: about our friendships and our lives. I’m not going to stop reading books by men altogether [mostly because I run the Mumsnet Feminist Book Clubs and we’ve already picked this year’s books which do include some by men writing about domestic violence and porn] but, rather, this is about only buying books written by women. It is about taking the only stand possible in capitalist patriarchy and financially supporting brilliant women writers with a view to ending this cultural femicide. It is about loving literature and loving the brilliant women who write it.

On twitter: #readingonlybookswrittenbywomen