Sunday, 30 March 2008

The Power of the ‘No’.

A while ago, Twisty suggested that women should no longer be understood to be always consenting to sex, but instead have a default position of ‘no’. The simple premise behind this idea was that men had to ask permission before having sex or it would be rape. This would differ from the current condition where women are expected to say no when they don’t want to have sex. Now, I didn’t think this was that revolutionary a concept, because naively I believed that men were supposed to ask permission from the women they wanted to have sex with. But it caused a huge controversy over at IBTP, taking up several hundred comments as people debated the pros and cons. And all the while, I couldn’t get why such a simple idea caused such as fuss. Then, I read a post over at Girly Thoughts, where judgesnineteen talks about the difficulty she finds saying no to men, and it reminded me of a conversation with my mother where she told me about how she had been brought up to believe that if was her role to help anyone that asked, and thus she now finds it difficult to say no.

Now I see the power of NO.

Women are socialised to put the needs of others before their own. As a result, they find it difficult to verbalise their own needs, especially when those needs (like the need to say no) come in conflict with the ‘needs’, or perhaps the desires, of someone else. ‘No’ becomes a word that is difficult to articulate. Furthermore, the act of saying ‘no’ puts you in direct conflict with another person; it’s seen as rude. This is difficult for women who have been taught that it is unfeminine to be assertive and especially aggressive or angry, and then run the double-bind of being described as ‘irrational’ or ‘emotional’ if they appear aggressive or angry.

Having the right to say ‘no’ is part of being human. The iconic symbol of slavery is the black woman or man who responds ‘yessir’ to her or his white master. That ‘yes’ is not true consent; it is the inability to say ‘no’. It represents the lack of power that the slave has within slavery and the removal of her or his humanity. The idea that women have the right to say ‘no’ is frightening because it symbolises their right to be fully human.

Saying NO is powerful. As women, we need to learn to use the word no and to recognise its power.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Feminist Theory for a Feminist Revolution.

Today, I was going to post about the need for a feminist theory for a feminist revolution and then I made this comment at Twisty’s in a discussion about ‘sexy-feminism’:

The point is that it doesn't make any difference whether you pose nude or don't pose nude, because you damned if you do and damned if you don't. Under the patriarchy, they can be no truly feminist act; there can be no feminist sex. Because patriarchy is not (just) a behaviour that is performed and thus can be not performed; it is a way of looking and interpreting the world. That is why the removal of patriarchy needs a revolution; it needs us to entirely transform how we understand gender. As Firestone argues, it is not just about removing gender privilege; it's about removing gender distinction.

One of the key problems in my mind is the inability of the current feminist movement to envision a post-patriarchal world- to envision life free of gender distinction. This something that the RadFems of the Second Wave at least made an effort to do, and, yes, they were shot down for their inability to incorporate different world views (notably race and class difference) into their new hegemony- but they tried to do this. Part of the pro/anti sex debate is actually a discussion about the role of sex in post-patriarchy- but a debate that has failed to transcend the boundaries placed upon it by the patriarchy. We need to think bigger, broader and, yes, more radical. Because otherwise we aren't moving forward.

Feminists in academia are often accused of ‘not doing anything’; of being all talk and no action. And this is not always an unfair criticism. But if we want to get rid of patriarchy, we need to have a strategy for moving forward- and this is something that academic feminists engage with. Yet, we are still much better at unpicking and analysing the nature of the patriarchal system, of highlighting how it operates, and what parts need to go, than we are at envisioning a new post-patriarchal future. Part of the problem of course is that there is a feeling, especially amongst feminists in academia, that their vision will never be all in encompassing, and, creating a new hegemony, it will trample on the rights of others. Perhaps, we need, however, to envision a future that is not hegemonic, but is also free of gender distinction. This is not an easy or a straightforward task, but the time is right to start the revolution- we know we need it- and we know it needs to be done sensitively- and that is a start.

I know that this is a call that is easy to make, but less easy to achieve. So to that aim, I am going to give serious thought to what I, as a Feminist, want from the future and if I come up with anything revolutionary I'll let you know. Suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


When trying to do some work, do NOT google procrastination. Then, do NOT realise what a time suck that was and decide to warn other people by blogging your advice, thus procrastinating some more.

[ETA: (more proscrastination) FYI when you google procrastination, it gives you advice for writers who are avoiding writing. Google can see into my soul.]

Official: Having a Vagina is Now Immoral.

Via The Curvature, a report that in Canada women are being denied cervical smears due to ‘conscience clauses’ that allow doctors to refuse medical treatment (usually abortions) on moral grounds. Now, call me naive, but as I understand anatomy, the vagina is just another body part that can get cancer. Cervical smears are a test to ensure that cervical cancer is caught in a timely fashion and that any pre-cancerous cells are treated before they progress to full-blow cancer (saving lives and money in the long-term). How, by any stretch of the imagination, can it be immoral to require such a test?

Now, it is true that women who have sex have a higher chance of getting cervical cancer, but remaining a virgin does not entirely remove the possibility. But, even if this was true, how is having sex immoral? Certain religions restrict ‘moral sex’ to marriage, but married women still require cervical smears. Marriage is not a protection against cervical cancer. Furthermore, how moral is it to punish women who have sex outside marriage to death by cancer?

The only reason that cervical smear could be refused on the grounds of ‘conscience’ is if having a vagina is itself immoral. Women, there is no point in living a holy or a moral life, because you are damned by your vagina. Remember your vagina is your destiny and your destiny has decided that you’re less than human. Basic medical care does not apply to vaginas, because they are immoral. Heaven forbid that a doctor defile himself by treating one.

Now if women are the opposite of men and vaginas the opposite of penises... what does this say about the penis?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Aesthetic Enjoyment Blogging.

For your viewing pleasure, I present an oak tree.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Infantilisation Nation.

Scotland is a nation in love with alcohol. It is a love story with a long history. Look back at the shopping lists of our ancestors and the amount of alcohol purchased is striking. It is a love story that often ends in tragedy. People in Scotland are twice as likely to die from an alcohol related death as elsewhere in the UK. It has always had a contested role within our culture. There have been huge anti-drink movements, such as the Chartists in the nineteenth century and teetotallers in the twentieth. Yet, the extent to which people defined themselves as drinkers or non-drinkers says as much about the importance of alcohol to our culture than anything. In the past, drinking alcohol has been linked to degenerative behaviours, the working class, ill-health and poverty, and currently it is associated with young people, anti-social behaviour and high-mortality. The truth is, however, that while drinking patterns do change with age, drink is a problem amongst all social groups and all age-groups. It is at the heart of our culture. Drink is brought out at all social occasions, whether organised by families, institutions or the state, often with no alternative given. It is given out as a reward or bonuses in the workplace based on an assumption that everybody drinks alcohol. Not drinking alcohol can exclude you from a large part of Scottish social life, and, if drink is calculated at cost, refusing alcohol can be refusing a (sometimes significant) part of your wage. Alcohol is at the heart of Scottish culture and it’s costing us as a nation.

So, what is the solution? Well, the Scottish government has suggested raising the drinking age to 21. Because criminalising behaviour is always the solution to social problems. Underage drinking is already a fact of life in Scotland. Raising the age limit just criminalises the behaviour of another group of people with no real reduction in behaviour. Let’s face it. The people who make a drunken scene on a Friday night in most Scottish city centres are by no means exclusively aged between 18 and 21. Indeed, most studies on the effects on alcohol on anti-social behaviour either classify young people as anyone under 24 or anyone under 35. There are no studies that have pointed to this age-group as particularly culpable compared to any other group under 35. If this change in legislation is about health benefits, then, yes, younger people tend to drink more than older people, but again I am not aware of any studies that say alcohol consumption peaks between the ages of 18 and 21. Indeed, in my experience, people in my age group (mid to late twenties) drink more alcohol overall as we have more disposable income and have not yet got the responsibilities of family.

More problematically, however, is what criminalising the behaviour of a group of adults based on their age says about our society. At a certain point, we grant people in society the rights of adulthood, which include the ability to make choices about their lives, whether or not they are good ones. What age do we want to set adulthood at? There is already considerable social discussion about the ever-increasing boundaries of youth as people put off marriage and family until their late-thirties, allowing them the freedoms of adolescence for longer and longer. Do we want to institutionalise youth into the twenties? The fact is society has a responsibility to protect its young people due to the fact that we restrict their behaviour. It is the pay off we make for not allowing them full human agency. If we raise the age limit for adulthood, we remove full human agency for a larger group of people and thus we change their role in society. We infantilise them and we cannot expect people who are not allowed to be adults in one area of their life to behave like adults in another. Are we willing to take on that responsibility? Furthermore, should we? If we can agree that, in Scotland, people over fourteen can make legally binding contracts, that people over sixteen can have sex, marry without parental consent, leave school, live in their own homes, be held criminally responsible and tried as an adult, work and pay tax, that people over seventeen can drive, that people over eighteen can smoke and have mortgages, credit card debt and all the other rights and responsibilities of adulthood, then why should there be a separate rule for drinking? Especially when drinking is so central to our culture that to make it illegal would effectively cause people to lose out on work related rewards, prevent them from networking with older colleagues and generally prevent them from being full members of society.

I am not saying that we should be proud of the role alcohol plays in Scottish culture. It is undoubtedly damaging to the nation’s health and frequently to our levels of social order. But we cannot deny it. Raising the drinking age pretends that alcohol related problems are about the irresponsibility of youth, while simultaneously reclassifying a group of adults as young people to solve a fictional problem. Our love affair with alcohol is a widespread social problem, institutionalised into our culture, and effecting people at all social levels and in all age-groups. If we want to reduce the harms caused by drinking, we need to change the significance of drinking to Scottish society, not redefine what it means to be an adult.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Post-modernist and the Womyn-Only Space.

The Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at Burning Times and it is very thought provoking. In many respects, it is a call to remember the women of second-wave feminism, who after-all are still among us, and the lessons that they have to teach us. This is absolutely right and laudable. I teach second-wave feminism to my first years, introducing them to the range of texts feminists produced, not least of which was Valerie Solanas’ SCUM manifesto. Yet, much of the writing celebrating the second-wave movement compares it with a third-wave feminism that is seen as stifling, pro-porn and anti-revolutionary. Third-wave feminism is defined by its link to postmodernist theories of gender and identity, and, as someone who is a feminist and who actively uses post-modernist theory, I would like to defend my revolutionary credentials. In doing so, I would like to engage with a number of posts, by writers whose blogs I read and whose opinions I respect, in order to discuss the possibility of a revolutionary third-wave.

One of the areas of discussion that has come up in a few times in the festival is the importance of ‘women-only spaces’, whether they still serve a purpose and the place of transwomen within them. Much of this discussion has surrounded real-life (not just theoretical) demands by men and transpeople to enter women-only spaces. A number of bloggers have defended the right to have women-only spaces and, although not exclusively, are defining those spaces as ‘women-born women’ spaces. I have a number of problems with this discussion, but I would like to preface it by saying that I think that there is a place for women-only spaces.

Because as Michelle at Lonergrrrl, says:

Because it is in women-only space that a woman’s voice can be heard on her own terms. In women-only space she is free of the ‘male gaze’, free of the spectre of patriarchal judgement, that in mixed space- aka the ‘real world’- threatens to denounce, silence, talk over, appropriate, or ridicule her voice.

I recognise that the patriarchy is not gone and the revolution has not been won. We need women-only spaces because we live in a world where women are hurt and abused by men and need a safe space. (I will get back to this later).

But I have few issues with this debate. First, I take issue that the questioning of women-only spaces from a post-modernist perspective is anti-revolutionary, as is noted by Michelle:

But this doesn’t relate to most women’s reality. And getting bogged down in these academic arguments, accounting for every subversion/fragmentation, as postmodernists like to do, prevents ACTION. It prevents women from organising because we’ve been curtailed and distracted by academics/postmodernists, who would rather sit there and denounce and ridicule feminist women for giving a shit and wanting to DO something, stalling the very revolution they purport to be striving for.

I take issue with the idea that third-wave feminists within academia are not interested in revolutionary change, as is noted by Dis-Senter:

Allecto’s answer was: that feminism has been leached of power by universities which have made feminism into an academic abstraction, and that feminism has to get back to being a real, grass-roots movement about real women’s lives and experiences, not academics sitting around in grand isolation spouting theories without knowing what the majority of women’s lived realities are.

And I would like to question the notion that I was born a woman, because as that famous second-wave feminist Simone de Beauvoir: ‘One is not born, but becomes a woman’.

I see postmodernism as potentially revolutionary, although just like not all people are feminists, neither are all postmodernists. But post-modernists feminists are feminist and they are revolutionary. For me being post-modernist is about recognising that all experience is viewed through a lens that shapes how we interpret it. It does not deny physical experience. It does not deny that women are raped; that their bodies bleed; that the live in a world where they suffer pain and horror. It says that the meaning placed on that experience is entirely socially-constructed. It says there is no ’truth’ or ‘nature’ that defines who you are or what you will become. It says that who you are is a product of your society and culture and that even your physical experience is given meaning by the social.

This is not stifling, but liberating. Postmodernist feminism says that, if we could destroy patriarchal society, you could become somebody different, somebody who is not oppressed because of a socially constructed gender assignment, somebody with choice. It says that there is no structure restricting our potential. It says that the way the world is, in all its unfairness and inequality, is not inevitable. It is able to change, because what we are and how we view ourselves and the rest of the world is learned. It also says that how we construct our world is through language. That how we define terms and the meaning we give to words, things and people in our language is recreated in society and in the way we behave. It says that we need to think about ideology or discourse, which is also created through language, but which is much larger and is the over-arching theories, or systems of logic, that help us make sense of the world. Patriarchy is a great example of an ideology or discourse that shapes how we see the world.

Postmodernism can be seen as stifling because it points out that patriarchy is not a thing, but a way of looking at the world. It points out that there are no easy choices, because in almost all situations you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The pro/anti porn debate which I discussed below is a case in point. BUT postmodernist feminism does not have to stop there. Postmodernist feminism says you need to recognise that ‘you’re damned if you do’, but that if it makes women’s lives better then it is for the good. It recognises that there are differences between the long-term, when we will transform how we understand the world through removing gender distinctions and all forms of privilege, and the short-term where we live in a state of war and have to do the best under the circumstances.

Women-only spaces have to be seen in this light. Women-only spaces reinforce gender distinctions by their very nature. For the postmodernist in me, this is problematic. We need to work towards a world where gender distinctions are removed and so we need to be very careful of how and why we use such spaces. But, we do live in a world where women are hurt and abused and need to regroup and plan for change. In this time of war, we need women-only spaces.

However, as a post-modernist feminist, I think we need to be very careful how we use them. Women-only spaces not only reinforce gender distinctions, that we are trying to overcome, but can act to privilege certain groups and exclude others, and, by doing so, they are re-enacting the same male behaviour that has been happening for hundreds of years. Defining women by their genitals is essentialist and it is what men do to us every day when they treat us badly and exclude us. There has to be a place within the feminist movement for transwomen, because otherwise we are just another privileged group telling other women what they are or are not.

Now I have to say that I sympathise with Charliegrrrl’s protest against certain individuals, in the name of trans* politics, who insist on entering women-only spaces:

The very reason why they force themselves into our women only spaces is indicative of their political aims, not for the liberation of trans and queer people under patriarchy, but for the colonisation of women only spaces [...].

The purpose of women-only spaces is to allow women to regroup and feel safe in a space where male domination is limited, and such behavior, whether by a man or a woman, removes their purpose. This is about power and domination, but so is excluding women who do not meet an arbitrary definition of womanhood that was a creation of patriarchal culture. Every time we create a woman-only space, we need to question its purpose, who it includes and who it excludes and seriously consider the political consequences of our actions. We need to ask whether the needs of the women in that group at that moment are bigger than the needs and aims of the movement as a whole. This may well be the case, but we should be careful that such rules and definitions should not be arbitrary or for all time. Furthermore, we need to be very careful of what groups have a narrow definition of women-only. The feminist movement has came a long way and certain groups, especially those that organise large events and have political clout, can be influential in wider society and impact on government policy. Excluding women, and perhaps even occasionally men, from the right to have a voice in that political process is highly problematic and needs to be carefully considered.

Feminism does not need to have absolutes, rights or wrongs in all and every circumstances. That is a lie fed to us by philosophy that relies on essentialist notions of gender; that sees a ‘true’ and a ‘false’, a weak and a strong, a powerful and a powerless. Context is everything.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Follow-Up to Anti-Sex: Rape.

There has been some discussion recently about definitions of rape and whether it is possible for women to realise that they have been raped days or years after the actual event. In modern society, rape is often envisioned as a violent, physical act where a woman is forced, usually by a stranger, to have a penis inserted into a bodily orifice (most acceptably the vagina or anus, but at a push people might allow the mouth) against her will, despite her physical and vocal protests. This cultural narrative is so strong that people have even suggested that rape is practically impossible as long as the woman continues to struggle, which is often subtly reinforced by an expectation that women take ‘self-defence classes’. At a push, we will allow that some women, notably the very drunk, disabled, or unconscious, may not be able to physically fight off their attackers, but these women are so socially despised that rape is usually considered a worthy punishment for their vulnerability. Yet, there is little discussion of why this understanding of rape dominates the social imagination.

How we understand rape is informed by societies conception of sex. As detailed in my last post, contemporary understandings of sex are based on a model of gender that sees men as active and women as passive. This model sees violence as ingrained into the male psyche or body. Men are often seen as ‘protectors’ of women to justify the expectation that they can and will resort to violence, even if that violence is only approved of in particular circumstances. Violence became part of male ‘nature’. Women are meant to be passive under this model, and with passivity came vulnerability. This means that violent women are ‘unnatural’ and other women are in need of protection. As they were passive, women could not exercise agency or choice or consent. They were reduced to appendages of men, designed to reflect and embody male desire.

Closely related to violence is male sexuality. The act of sex was reduced to interaction between penises and vaginas, where penises were active and vaginas passive. Penises were violent and vaginas vulnerable (the penis is a sword, vagina a sheaf; penis is a weapon; vagina’s are cities to be scaled and sacked and won and marked on bed-heads as conquered). The act of sex was an act of domination and thus an act of violence. As women were passive receptacles, they had no sexuality of their own. The feminist movement has challenged this understanding of gender and has tried to give women choice and agency and the ability to consent. They have fought hard to have women recognised as active. Yet, while they have made gains, this cultural understanding of gender still influences how we understand the world.

Women who show active behaviours, such as displaying their sexuality through dress or behaviour, drinking too much (i.e. in a masculine way), being seen or walking in public, interacting with men as equals, remove their passivity and thus no longer need protection from men. Because they are no longer passive, they become active and equal to men. By being active and equal to men, they are placed in a state of war with men. (All men are in a state of war; the state regulates that state of war by offering securities and protections to encourage men to behave.) Yet, unlike men, active women are not entitled to protection by the state as they have broken with the social contract that demands that women are passive. Men rape active women to punish them for their activity and to remind them of what they are missing when they are under male protection. For women not to be raped, they need to learn to fight. And thus, we have the creation of the dominant narrative of rape.

The irony of this situation is that this cultural narrative does not reflect the reality of rape. Most women are raped by their friends, family and people they trust. Coercion is the cause of a huge number of rapes, so that most rapes do not look like the dominant narrative. The combination of these factors means that many women do not realise that they have been raped, because to most people rape involves a physical fight with a stranger. The conflict between how rape is envisioned in the public imagination and many women’s experiences is often blamed for low conviction rates and the concept of ‘gray rape’.

If we want higher conviction rates for rape, we need to change how we imagine gender. We need to remove the active/passive dichotomy. We need to destroy an understanding of gender that expects one half of the human race to be violent and the other to be always vulnerable. This is not an impossible dream. As I outlined in my last post, this understanding of gender is relatively new. We learned to behave this way. Now we need to unlearn it.

Sunday, 16 March 2008


There has been a lot of discussion on various blogs recently about the relationship between sex and feminism, and especially whether to be a feminist you need to be anti-porn. There seems to be considerable difficulty reconciling the place of sex in modern society. Foucault argued that sex became pathology in the nineteenth century, moving from a physical act that had little more social relevance than defecating to a defining part of our persons. As Twisty has recently very aptly put it:
Until you factor in patriarchy and its wacko concepts of property and gender, sex is just a thing, like eating a couple of Cheez-Its, or going to the movies.
More recently historians challenged Foucault’s timeline, arguing that sex had was a central part of people’s identities at various points in history for as far back as there is historical record. Yet, what most historians recognise is that what sex meant and how it related to people’s identities is very historically specific and there is no over-arching or ‘natural’ role for sex in people’s lives. At various points in history, women have been the sexually-aggressive sex; the chaste and pure sex; the frigid sex and the embodiment of sex. Men have not always sought after sex, but often rather reluctantly fulfilled the demands of their insatiable wives. They have also been the insatiable sex, whose ‘natural’ drives have been used to explain away a myriad of sins. The moral of the story is that sex takes its meaning from its social context, not the other way around.

In Western culture today, the place of sex and its relationship with identity is a product of eighteenth century enlightenment ideals, the discovery of the two-sex model of the body (where men and women are understood as different sexes rather than variations of a single sex), and Christian heritage. In the eighteenth century, there was a cultural shift where women moved from being sexually aggressive to passive and chaste, while men became associated with strength, power and virility. This was supported by natural philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes, medical minds and the Church. During this shift, the act of sex was transformed into a symbol of male possession of women. Man’s ability to enact sex on women signified their social characteristics of power and authority, while women became little more than passive receptors of the male penis. Men became inherently brutal, while women became vulnerable. This understanding of sex and gender became naturalised in the nineteenth century as Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ idealised physical strength as the basis of power and Freud created theories of the psyche to explain why sex meant what it did.

In the late twentieth century, feminists, recognising that sex was the symbolic manifestation of male power and realising that there was absolutely nothing natural about this model of the body, attempted to challenge this through ‘liberating’ sex. They wanted to create a new model of sex that allowed women to break out of a mould that depicted them as passive receptors and glorified the ideal of male sexual virility. They understood that this understanding of sex was inherently problematic and stifling to women and men. Yet, while they managed to remove some of the restrictions on having sex, they failed to achieve a major reinterpretation of the body and gender that underpinned this model of sex. The result is that feminists today have conflicting legacies on the meaning of sex and this has led to a divide between anti-porn and pro-porn feminists. Yet, this division is inherently problematic. As Dr Crazy comments:
In part, I think my difficulty with the [sex-positive] label stems from the fact that it preserves a virgin/whore binary. Either one is anti-porn or one is sex-positive. How is that any different from being a prude or being a slut?
As long as we live in patriarchal culture, all sexual relationships, whether paid or unpaid, on or off-camera, consensual or otherwise, are given meaning by a world-view where sex is the symbolic manifestation of male power. Being pro or anti-porn does not make you a better feminist, because, as long as sex holds the connotations that it currently does, there is no feminist-friendly sex. (And that applies to the lesbian-separatists too, because, under patriarchy, all forms of sex are given meaning by their relationship with ‘normal’, hetero-sex).

The challenge to feminists is to change the meaning of sex. To change the meaning of sex, we need to change what it means to be male and female. The first step in that change is recognising that what it means to be male and female is historically and culturally specific and that sex and sexual urges are NOT natural.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Women Blaming 101.

Today, a man was found guilty of the murder of a woman. Not particularly surprising. Neither is the fact that despite this murder being carried out by a man, a woman was held to blame. In this case, it was not the victim, Krystal Hart, but the victim’s neighbour, Angie Brewer, with whom she had a long-standing feud. Angie Brewer had made a number of complaints against her neighbour to the council, many of which the police felt were nuisance complaints. The row between these neighbours had escalated to the point where they had CCTV cameras installed on the doorways and noted the number plates of vehicles parked outside the house. It was a bad situation.

A male friend of Angie Brewer, of whom the judge noted:
It is a sign of your warped mentality that you took the rantings of that demented woman seriously...and thought you would curry favour with her by carrying out those threats yourself,
killed Krystal Hart, in the hope that he would impress Angie Brewer.

Did Angie ask him to do this? No. Did the police find her in anyway criminally responsible? No. And yet, the prosecuting lawyer argued:
This defendant did what he did precisely because of the underlying animosity and him empathising with Angie Brewer. She will have a huge moral responsibility.
Why is Angie Brewer morally responsible for this? Did she ask him to murder her neighbour? No. Did she expect him to murder her neighbour? No. Did she arm him or suggest to him that this was a good idea? No. Did she report him to the police when he confessed to her? Yes. Now, I am not arguing that Angie Brewer was a good neighbour or against the fact that her complaints about her neighbours made their lives miserable. But, there is a fundamental difference between being a bad neighbour and murdering someone.

Why is it when a man murders a woman that a woman has to be held to blame? She is not responsible for this murder, morally or otherwise. A man killed Krystal Hart because he was obsessed with another woman. He killed her because in his sick mind that would ingratiate him to Angie Brewer. This is not Angie Brewer’s fault and to suggest otherwise is to blame a woman for the actions of man. This places women in an intolerable social position where they are not only responsible for their own behaviour, but those around them. Would we ask the same of man? Placing the responsibility of this murder on Angie is anti-woman and it is cruel. A man murdered Krystal Hart and he is morally and criminally responsible for her death.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Full Blown Capitalism is the New Socialism.

If there is still any debate over whether New Labour has thrown off its socialist origins, the latest proclamation by Business Secretary, John Hutton, should remove all doubt. Hutton argues that British culture should "celebrate the fact that people can be enormously successful in this country". He continues:

It is statistically possible to have a society where no child lives in a family whose income is below the poverty line - 60% of median average income - but where there are also people at the top who are very wealthy. [...]In fact, not only is it statistically possible - it is positively a good thing.[...] So rather than questioning whether high salaries are morally justified, we should celebrate the fact that people can be enormously successful in this country. [...] Rather than placing a cap on that success, we should be questioning why it is not available to more people. [...]We want more millionaires in Britain not less. Our overarching goal that no-one should get left behind must not become translated into a stultifying sense that no-one should be allowed to get ahead.
Translation: any vision we had for the removal of power differentials across class, of an equal and fair society, is no longer part of Labour’s future. In fact, class differential is a ‘good thing’. Yeah, for social inequality! Yeah, for pandering to the needs and desires of the economically powerful! Yeah, for failing to understand that society is more than the economy!! Yeah, for forgetting our Marxist and Socialist origins that made us radical and exciting! Yeah, for becoming what we once despised!

Hutton argues that defeating poverty is about allowing people to "be the authors of their own lives".

Translation: the government isn’t going to help you. In fact, the idea of ‘laissez-faire’ seems oddly comforting. I wonder whether this welfare state is all it cracked up to be.

Hutton also notes:

We were making a more fundamental shift - to recognise that aspiration and ambition are natural human emotions - not the perverted side-effect of primitive capitalism.
Translation: whatever I studied at University, it certainly wasn’t political theory and it certainly wasn’t the history and values of the Labour Party.

Marx would be turning in his grave at the suggestion that a) what we have now is not capitalism at its most primitive and b) that it is NATURAL. If you are going to make a claim for capitalism at its most brutal then don’t embarrass yourself by trying to fit it into a ‘socialist’ framework. We see what you’re doing and we are not impressed; in fact, this attempt at reframing your bourgeois, capitalist ideology as good for society is laughable!

Welcome to the New America!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Happy International Women's Day!

Dear Readers,

Happy International Women’s Day! In honour of the event, I am going to blog ‘why I am a feminist’.

Hope you have a good day!
Feminist Avatar.

Why I am a Feminist?

In Scottish culture, there is a tradition of strong women. It has been suggested by at least one male historian of Scottish popular culture, that we have a legacy of a matriarchal culture. English women sometimes remark to me that they are surprised by sights of Scottish men pushing children in prams, while their wives march ahead. It is a standing joke that young Scottish women on nights out will dress scantily despite the rain, sleet and cold that dominates the Scottish weather and it is pointed to as a sign of their hardiness. Historically, English commentators have pointed to the public presence of working women and remarking at the nature of the heavy physical work that women performed. Women were an important part of trade with many men inheriting their trading rights in Burghs through their wives. Until the nineteenth century, women in Scotland did not take their husbands surname, which the English pointed to as a sign of their independence. Women in Scotland have a reputation for strength, hardiness and independence.

I come from a family of strong women. My grandmothers on both sides were both working women who pioneered, with their husbands, different charities. They had the practical skills, the drive, the labour and the vision to ensure that these enterprises succeeded. There is a tradition of several generations in my family of women risking their safety and security for their dreams or to ensure the safety of their family. I come from a family of strong women.

There is another tradition in my family. There is a tradition where the men in my family were recognised and awarded for the successes that my grandmothers helped achieve, while they were overlooked. There is a tradition that the women in my family, despite being strong and successful, did not hold the power or influence of their husbands. This is also true of Scottish culture. Women are strong , hardy and often quite independent, but there is no matriarchy. Until very recently, women had minimal political power; they still earn significantly less than their male counterparts; they are still objectified in the press; they are held to a different standard by the criminal courts and by society; they are still raped and abused without receiving justice.

I am a feminist because, despite being a strong, successful women, society does not consider me equal to my husband.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Hardman and the Page 3 Girl.

Over at Bitch PhD, there is a fascinating discussion on whether the US is more sexist (or perhaps more misogynist) than Europe. Now, because I spend my life trawling US feminist blogs that tend to display the rampant misogyny found in the US, I tend to have a very narrow experience of what it’s like to be a woman there. Whereas, as I live in the UK, I can see the misogyny and sexism, but I also know about all the good stuff too, so I have a more balanced perspective on the situation here. But more than this, I am increasingly coming to realise that, despite a shared language and television, the nature of sexism and misogyny in each country is actually very different and, furthermore, because it is so different, I weight US examples of sexism more heavily than UK examples.

For example, in the US, abortion is a much more contested and heated topic that over here. While I have pointed to the anti-abortion discussions that arise in UK culture, they are not yet mainstream and they are often quite far from influencing government. Part of why they are so frightening to me is, I suspect, because they seem so regressive and so unusual. In the US, it is the government’s restrictions on abortion that feminists are fighting against. To me this is mind-boggling and quite scary. Commenters at Bitch PhD, however, pointed to the fact the page 3 girls are so common in British newspapers as evidence of how much more misogynist we are in the UK. I thought this was interesting as I see this as a really complicated issue, rather than simply a wildly misogynist act.

The appearance of highly sexualised, naked women in the press is, of course, hugely problematic. It perpetuates the sexual slavery of all women and condemns women to being seen as sexual beings for the pleasure of men and little more, rather than fully rounded, complex individuals for whom sexuality may or may not be important. As it perpetuates the idea of women as only sexual beings, it leads to differentiations between pure and sinful women, commodifies women, holds women to a very narrow standard of beauty, encourages a rape culture, sees women as only on earth for the benefit of men, and has a tendency to closely associate women with their biology. I absolutely see the problem.

So why, you may ask, do I not campaign against these images? I think that the reasons for this are multiple and complex. First, while I think these images are problematic, I don’t find them any more problematic than how women are presented on television or in the mainstream press. I don’t think this is any worse than the models of femininity presented in Cosmo, in the Daily Mail or Guardian, or on numerous television shows. They are more overtly sexual, or more directly aimed at men as wank material, but ultimately they are just a slightly less subtle part of the pressure on women to conform to particular models of beauty and behaviour. You may argue that the nature of such work is more exploitative of the women models, in the same manner that any porn is more exploitative than mainstream acting, and this may be true. But this is complicated by the fact that nudity is not of itself wrong or demeaning. It is not the nude women that is itself the problem, but the context in which her image is read. Objectification is in the eye of the beholder. And in our culture any visual representation of a woman can be used to objectify her.

Second, and this is where the ‘hardman’ comes in, women in the UK are expected not to care about such images. Now, as a feminist, I recognise that this is a problematic response, but I think that is why page 3 images are not shocking to me, in the way they are to Americans unfamiliar with our culture. One of the commentators over at Bitch PhD alluded to the hardman culture that is prevalent, at least in some, communities in the UK. And I think there is also a ‘hardwoman’ culture. In many ways, when women entered the public sphere in Britain, as workers in male industries and as readers and makers of the press, there was an expectation that we needed to learn to live in a male culture and those who could not were too weak to succeed. Some of those issues have been addressed through sexual harassment lawsuits and maternity leave, but if you, as a man or a woman, want to succeed in most work cultures you are expected to work long hours, learn to drink ‘like a man’, learn to swear and to not be walked over.

Part of this hardening is learning to immunise yourself to jibes and put-downs and to accept the common sexism, racism and classism that is part of that culture. Teasing and jibing are a really important part of UK culture, perhaps especially in Scotland, where being teased shows your acceptance and knowing how to respond shows your awareness of the norms of the social group. This is not especially problematic except that the focus of such teasing can be closely related to issues of disability, class, gender and race. Being able to look at naked women without cringing at their exploitation, to listen to sexist jokes, to overlook the boy’s mags lying on the toilet floor, is part of demonstrating your ability to survive in the public sphere. It shows that you are not just a man, but a hardman.

Now I do not believe that women are delicate flowers that must be protected or that the hardman culture must change to protect them, because I see everyday that women are capable of living and working in that world. This culture must change because it is unhealthy for men and women, and because such a culture perpetuates a world-view that sees women as less than men. This is bad for women, but it is also bad for society. Unfortunately, it is far more ingrained in our culture than we like to admit and banning page 3 wank material would have only a minimal impact, as long as we continue to view such images in that way.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

When ‘Victorian’ Values Pervade Our Legal System...

The trial of a ‘Pimp’ charged with procuring women for prostitution collapsed today after it emerged that one of the women he had ‘procured’ has a previous conviction for prostitution. The Crown agreed that a legally convicted prostitute could not be ‘procured’ by somebody else. Now, it strikes me that this legislation is saying that once a woman has been corrupted by selling her body, she is forever impure or tainted. And, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch of the imagination to see how such a position would lead to an argument that prostitutes can’t be raped or otherwise abused. What is the purpose of such legislation in our society? Do we really need laws to protect our ‘innocence’ when the basis of such legislation holds women to a very different moral standard and creates a distinction between the moral and impure women? It paints women as passive victims waiting to be used and exploited by men, not agents in their own destiny. It would not be that difficult to phrase legislation in such a manner that allows pimps to be prosecuted without reinforcing such a simplistic dichotomy that is ultimately harmful to the very women the law is trying to protect.

The law plays a central role in a society’s understanding of itself and how it conceives of gender roles has a knock on effect on how men and women are expected to behave and how gendered behaviour is understood. Legislation that portrays women as the passive, innocent victims and the law as her protector from the abuses of the active, morally complex man sits uncomfortably with feminist belief that women are fully human, morally complex beings with control over their own lives. Even as this law protects, it restricts and limits women’s role within society. We need new legislation for a modern society.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

In Better News…

The Scottish executive have announced that £200,000 will be given to Rape Crisis Scotland to fund a campaign that points out that women are not to blame for rape. It will include posters of drunk, flirty and scantily dressed women and the message: ‘This isn't an invitation to rape me’. It is also going to try to make it clear that physical force is not required for sex to be rape. This will partner to rape legislation that, for the first time in Scotland, defines the meaning of consent and places the burden on the rapist to demonstrate (not prove in a legal sense) consent in court.

This is a step in the right direction. Now, if only other governmental bodies would sit up and listen…

Monday, 3 March 2008

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Politics of the Academic Career.

New Kid on the Hallway recently posted about her frustrations at having to live so far from her parents due to her career. As I look for work in the world of academia, this is an issue that has being playing on my mind too. There is an expectation in academia that you will move to find work, which combined with an expectation that you will spend the next 5+ years post-PhD on temporary contracts means moving repeatedly for work. I think there are real political implications to the expectation that you will move around the country for your job.

From my experience most people receive their PhD in their late twenties and early thirties at an age where they have usually settled down with a partner and may be considering starting, or have already started, a family. Neither moving nor living apart from your family is a good choice for people in that situation. The academic spouse usually has a career that he or she wishes to pursue and, unlike for academics, by the time he or she is in their late-twenties, he or she has often established themselves in their careers. Expecting your spouse to follow you around the country, giving up permanent and exciting opportunities, for a TEMPORARY contract is unreasonable. This is not a story of moving and re-establishing yourself- this is a tale about moving for a short time and then moving again. This is also inherently problematic if you have children. Academia can be a demanding world and, while it often has fabulously flexible working hours, having wider family to babysit and for support can be really important. Furthermore, if your children are older, moving them from school to school, with each transition to a new group of friends, can be disruptive to their educations and socialisation. This is an issue that affects men and women, but it can be more pressing for women, who are still frequently the primary care-givers and are more limited in their choices about when to start a family. Waiting until you forty might be too late for a woman.

It is not even as if this situation is entirely driven by the job market. Post-doctoral fellowships (which are so important to the new PhD’s career) often require applicants to move to a new institution to benefit from the experience of working in a new environment, often only for a year. This might be fine if universities littered the country, but they don’t. Most are geographically spaced out, requiring people to move. Furthermore, some specialisms are not equally represented in all universities. There are only two Universities in the UK devoted to my specialism, although I could work in a larger department which houses a range of specialisms. Then, as a new researcher, you are expected to move to a department where you can be appropriately mentored by someone in your field, yet usually the best person for this job was you PhD supervisor, and, beyond this, it can become spurious arguing that x is the BEST person, when he or she is evidently not. As a historian, there is also the issue of sources. Often you selected an institution for your PhD that allowed you easy access to the sources for your field. Moving hundreds of miles away is just inconvenient and doesn’t aid new research. I appreciate the benefits that come from seeing how other institutions do things, but do they seriously outweigh the benefits of being in the right place and working with the right people?

As a Scot, I also think this raises important questions for the Scottish economy. Most PhD’s eventually move to England for work. Sometimes they come back, but most of them don’t. MSPs like to complain about the ‘brain drain’, but what are they doing to make it easier for us to stick around? For those of us who love living in Scotland, it isn’t the best feeling to know that you will inevitably find yourself south of the border. This is exasperated by the requirement to move to a new institution, when there are so many more choices and opportunities in England. This, of course, applies to many other graduates and skilled workers who have to move to England to find appropriate work or, in many cases, significantly better paid work. Yet, it is often worse in academia. In other fields, people move for permanent rather than temporary positions and most of the moving is done while they are still in their early twenties, before the desire and necessity to ‘settle down’ is as pressing. The PhD leaves university old, over qualified and destined never to be rich.

The upside is that academics get to do something they love; something that excites them; and sometimes they feel like they have made a real contribution to society. This is something that few jobs offer and it is why we will continue to put up with the inconveniences. But, it doesn’t mean I am not going to moan about them.