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Now that I’m unemployed again, I have found time to read and watch stuff that interests me. I think it really started with Freddie Gray. I wasn’t sleeping well during the protests, so I’d wake up around 4am and read Twitter updates and articles they linked to. I learnt a lot about the reality of police brutality in the US, and the lack of awareness of institutional racism (and the denial of its existence). I hope to write something about this soon.

Somewhere along the way, I found marinashutup on YouTube and have since watched loads of her videos and follow her on Tumblr. She is yet another woman writing and talking about feminism, and getting a shitload of shit for it! But she’s fab and really smart.

As well as feminism she talks about intersectionality, which is something I was already aware of (but not what it was called).

Intersectionality (or intersectionalism) is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.  An example is black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black, and of being a woman, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other (source).

She has a video about things not to say to person of mixed race. I totally understood all of them except one: “where are you from?” (meaning heritage). I understood that she meant just because someone is mixed race doesn’t mean they don’t identify as being American (or whatever country they were born in/live in). But I didn’t understand why it would be insensitive to be curious about someone’s heritage. From my point of view, if I was to ask, it would be because I have a genuine interest in people’s personal histories and family trees. I’m also a ‘supporter’ of migration (that sounds weird): people have moved around the globe pretty much since the beginning of human history and there’s nothing wrong with that. I hate that migration (or specifically immigration) has such negative connotations and I like finding stories of people who have migrated, or whose ancestors have migrated to question people’s “return to your country of origin” mindset.

But I also know that it’s not about my ability to understand why it was an issue, so was willing to accept it and know that, if I want to ask about someone’s heritage, I must ask permission and accept it if they choose not to answer. Not that I’m the kind of person who would ask a complete stranger anyway, but at least now I know for sure!

So following on from this, I read a bit more about intersectionality and something I read linked to the Microaggressions Tumblr page. And now I absolutely understand why these questions are a no-go. Some people really suck. If ever you wonder why people are sensitive about their identity or don’t want to come out or open up, just read some of the posts on this page. I was massively disturbed by the things people have been subjected to, and often from someone in a position of power (teacher, boss): someone who should know better. And the stuff parents say! Does unconditional love mean nothing?! And total strangers who have no boundaries or shame! It was eye-opening.

One of the key points about intersectionality is that minority people (whether that’s race, ability, ethnicity, orientation, gender, religion, etc.) have safe places to themselves, free from the ‘majority’ people. This often gets referred to as ‘reverse racism’ or something equivalent because white people (or equivalent) are being excluded. And this then becomes the problem that people want to talk about, rather than the larger structural problems that led to the need for such places.

As a white, (lower) middle class, able-bodied, cis-gendered female, there isn’t much about intersectionality that applies to me. This doesn’t mean that I can’t talk about it, but it’s more important to listen to the voices of the minority groups it does apply to.

And my advice to people who can’t wrap their head around that is to put themselves in the position of the minority. Choose an aspect of your life where you are in the minority and people question you about it, or don’t understand it, and think about how that makes you feel. For me this would be the fact that I’m vegan (and to a lesser extent the fact that I don’t want to get married or have children). Various aspects of my life are made a bit more complicated and frustrating. Companies are generally awful for labelling their products. People assume every day is a struggle to avoid animal products that I must be craving. Food service staff are badly trained. I often have to book ahead to ensure I can get fed when eating out. I went to a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Cambridge at the weekend. It felt like a real weight was lifted just because I had multiple choices on the menu and knew I was surrounded by others like me (even though I was there with 3 omnivores). I felt the same when I visited Portland, Oregon in 2007. It is one of the biggest pull factors when I consider moving to a city.

This is nothing compared to what real minority people go through in their everyday life, but I find it helps me understand the need for a safe space with others who are like me. Without the need to answer questions or explain or justify your position, or educate people. The internet is so full of information that it is not that complicated to educate ourselves in such matters: just more effort. But if you really want to understand, surely you wouldn’t care about the effort?

Activism Sociology

Happy International Women’s Day!

We’ve come a long way baby. But there’s still a lot to be done.

  • Every minute, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth, and another 20-30 suffer serious injury or disability.
  • Unmarried women in Saudi Arabia must remain under male guardianship.
  • Around 10% of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been raped, as part of warfare.
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) is widespread, affecting up to 90% of girls in some countries.
  • Today, 1 in 3 women worldwide will be a victim of violence.
  • 60-70% of the world’s poorest people are women.
  • 1 in 7 girls in developing countries are married before they are 15. Almost half are expected to be married by 20.
  • An estimated 60 million girls worldwide are sexually assaulted on their way to school each year, leading to less girls going to school, less education, and thus fewer opportunities.
  • Worldwide, nearly 50% of sexual assaults are against girls 15 and under.
  • The current US Congressional hearing about contraception lacked any female representation on the panel.
  • In the UK, 2 women are killed every week by their partner or former partner.
Activism Sociology

Outrage at NY Times article about rape of 11-year old girl

I was reading something today that linked to this story about an 11-year old girl being raped by a group of boys. Or more rightly, the link is to an article outraged by an article in the New York Times about said rape.I was just as outraged and wanted to sign the petition demanding that the NY Times apologises, but this story is from ages ago and it has timed-out. So I’ll say my bit here about some choice comments from the NYT.

Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

They weren’t drawn into such an act. They chose to rape. The 11-year old girl was the one drawn into it.

the girl had been forced to have sex with several men

Say rape. It has more impact. It has more meaning. In fact, ‘forced to have sex’ has no meaning because sex is consensual. You can look up ‘rape’ on Wikipedia and see that to be the case.

A relative of one of the suspects arrived, and the group fled through a back window. They then went to the abandoned mobile home, where the assaults continued.

So they had some inkling that what they were doing was wrong and tried to hide it? Heaven forbid we actually say that though. Much better to let readers infer that for themselves. Notice also that the 11-year old girl has been essentially thrown in with the fleeing group. In legal terms, have they not also kidnapped her? I very much doubt that after being raped and assaulted by a group of boys and men for some time, she chose to go with them for it to continue.

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.

Well this changes everything. She visited the area regularly? She talked to teenage boys? She dressed older than she was? Clearly she was asking for it then (sarcasm). Clearly she wanted to have sex (sarcasm). Clearly this behaviour means we can excuse what those boys and men did (sarcasm).

This story reminded me of an episode of LA Law that I watched a few years ago and have been trying to find a video of to embed or link to. In the episode, Grace was prosecuting a man accused of statutory rape and rape [I’m not sure of the exact legal terminology, but as I understand it, statutory rape is sex with (or rape of?) someone under the age of consent; and rape is non-consensual]. Grace loses the statutory rape charge as the girl – 16 I think – was dressed maturely. The defence argued that the man did not know she was underage, and were able to have the jury see the girl dressed as she was on the night in question. I can still remember Grace’s closing argument about the rape, in which she stated that no matter how old a girl is or how old she has made herself look, or where she is, or whether you’re already kissing; no means no, stop means stop. She won the rape charge.

LA Law aired until the early 90s, and I can’t believe people still don’t get this. You would think the fact that not all boys and men go around raping any girls or women that talk to them, or wear make up and revealing clothing would prove that boys and men can control their sexual desires and understand that rape is wrong.

So to really hit the message home, here are some placards from SlutWalk Brisbane via Creatrix Tiara:

“Not fair game when drunk, not fair game EVER, deal with it!”
“Yes means yes, no means no, however we dress, wherever we go”
“We’re not asking for it – our clothes are not our consent”
“Only rapists can stop rape”
Sociology Television

Sarah Palin is apparently Feminist

Just been reading an article from Jessica Valenti in Newsweek and had to post this. Quote from the article:

In much the same way Obama-supporting feminists were criticized, women who didn’t back Palin were swiftly denounced as hypocrites by those on the right. Rick Santorum called Palin the “Clarence Thomas for feminists,” blasting women who didn’t support her. Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America said, “Even feminists—who supposedly promote women’s equality and the so-called ‘women’s rights’ agenda—are questioning a female candidate’s ability to get the job done.” The criticism of women who failed to back Palin even indulged in sexism. Dennis Miller said that women who weren’t behind Palin were simply jealous of the candidate’s sex life, and Time magazine reporter Belinda Luscombe wrote that some women had a “hatred” for Palin simply because she was “too pretty.” (My favorite, however, was Kevin Burke’s argument in National Review that women who didn’t support Palin were suffering from “post-abortion symptoms.”) Palin even managed to divide some feminists. Elaine Lafferty—a former editor of Ms. magazine who had endorsed Clinton but then signed on as a consultant to the McCain campaign—condemned feminist leaders for “sink[ing] this low” and called feminism an “exclusionary club” for not welcoming Palin with open arms.

Or perhaps people didn’t like her because of stuff like this:

Or that an actor knows more than she does about dinosaurs:

I’m not American so this isn’t something that directly affected me. But apparently as women, if we get a female candidate, it is our duty – as women – to support them. No matter how ridiculous that particular woman might be, or how little she knows about politics. If Britney Spears decides she is running for president, all women must vote for her. Quite frankly, if you think that way then you can fuck off. I was too young to really understand the Thatcher years but looking back on it, I don’t much like her. When white men had to choose between Al Gore and George W, were the younger ones told to vote for Al because he is younger than George? Or was it based on their height, build … favourite colour? What about when British men are (likely) to be asked to choose between David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg? Support the same football team perhaps?

I feel I should also note how lovely Katie Couric was about the Sarah Palin interview when she appeared on David Letterman. She could have completed slated her – as most people were doing – but she was very polite.

I do not claim to know everything about feminism. In fact, the more I read about people’s issues with feminism, the more I realise how much I have to learn. But the version (or brand or label or whatever) of feminism that I adhere to is about social justice. Not something I associate Sarah Palin with.

Activism Sociology

Rape and Victim Blaming

I’ve really been getting on a feminist trip recently, reading many, many articles written on feminist blogs, such as The F Word, Geek Feminist, etc.

One subject that comes up time and time again is rape, and more specifically the culture of victim-blaming. While reading all these articles, I found myself not getting entirely on board with what was being said, and I think (and hope) I’ve finally figured out what I mean. Although this has changed while I have been typing this out!

First of all, let me be clear that I do not believe anyone who is raped is in any way to blame. The act of rape is entirely in the hands of the person who chooses to do the raping.

Calls from police and safety groups that urge women not to go out alone at night might mean well, but seem to forget that men get raped too, and that there is not necessarily safety in numbers: rapists might think the same way and group together! I understand the idea behind sensible drinking campaigns that urge you not to be a victim, but again, missing the point. These also ignore the fact that you can be raped in your own home.

Now to my issue. Again, I must be clear: I have not been the victim of rape, and to my knowledge, I do not know anyone who has been. I do not pretend to know what it must be like. The only thing I can equate it to is when I was mugged by two boys of about 16 when I was in university in Leeds in 2003.

I was walking home alone after a few drinks in the pub with a friend, and these two boys took advantage of the fact that we were alone on the street. One grabbed me from behind, holding my arms down, while the other grabbed my bag from my hand. I was thrown to the ground while they ran off down a side street. I was almost ready to run after them, but a car pulled up and those people drove me home while calling the police.

The police arrived very quickly and were excellent. They were very sympathetic and drove me to where it happened and where the boys ran off towards, in case anyone was still around, or if any of my belongings had been dropped. I should note that I was quite useless in this whole process: the muggers wore jeans and hoodies, I didn’t see them from the front and couldn’t tell you anything more than their height and build. I also could not tell where exactly it happened (bloody terraced housing all looking the same!). Nevertheless, the police were patient with me.

I do not blame myself for being mugged. That was entirely the decision of those boys who I remember laughing as they ran off. But that doesn’t change all the shoulda woulda couldas I told myself over the next few days/weeks/months. If I didn’t have so many drinks, I would’ve been more aware of my surroundings; or I wouldn’t have walked so quickly and overtaken lots of other people, leaving myself alone. I knew mugging was a possibility, so I should’ve taken better precautions. Etc.

There was also an occasion when I got so drunk that I left a bar without my bag and ended up walking into a part of the city I didn’t know, completely unaware until I seemingly ‘woke up’ a while later, and spent several hours trying to figure out how to get home. I got home completely safe and thankfully my friend (who I left in the bar) had my bag. While my friends thought I was a legend for this drunken behaviour, I still kick myself: it could’ve ended quite differently.

This is the part where I second guess myself. I started by wanting to say…

Let me reiterate again that I do not know what it is like to be raped, and nor do I blame the victims. But looking at the only experience I can equate it to (one of exploitation, control, etc.), I hate how much I tell myself that I should’ve done something differently. Mainly because as a victim I felt I was quite useless, and thus I blame myself for the lack of justice.

I wish I had taken more regard for my safety not because I deserved to be attacked or was ‘asking for it’ or anything else that someone else might tell me. I wish I had taken more regard for my safety because of how much I beat myself up following these incidents.

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I agree with my own opinion! What if I hadn’t been drunk, took a taxi and got raped: what would I tell myself that I should’ve done differently then? And I haven’t changed my behaviour. I walked home along similar roads and in similar conditions (although less drink) the following weekend and many other times afterwards. I returned to university (Northumbria) last year and, upon deciding that that area of Newcastle seemed safe enough, walked around alone at all times. Even after warnings from the university that women had been attacked. I also walk around the countryside and woods at home at all times, more afraid of Blair Witch than anything else! This was the case before all reading all the feminist blog articles, and after reading, I become more and more angry with my own opinion above, and the world at large.

I’ll finish by saying that I think we all (men and women) have to take a certain amount of responsibility for safety in a world where you can be raped, mugged, or attacked in any way. I do not think this amounts to curfews or having to find men to escort us from A to B (do men have to find bigger men?!). I do think self defence is a good idea.

But most importantly we need to wholeheartedly agree that it is just plain wrong to attack anyone (men or women) in whatever situation they may put themselves in. Everyone should be able to feel safe at any time of day or night, anywhere, without being attacked. And this comes back to chipping away at the culture of victim-blaming.

So in a very long post, I’ve gone from not entirely agreeing, to being totally on board!

And for those still not agreement:

Only 11% of serious sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

Finny, A. (2006) The cost of domestic violence, Women and Equality Unit; quoted in VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Why an Integrated Strategy in Wales?