Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Sexuality and Desire.

During my holiday, I read Jed Rubenfield’s The Interpretation of Murder, which places the psychoanalysts Freud, Jung, Ferenczi and Brill together in a hotel in New York to solve a murder mystery. The combination of characters inevitably leads the book to feel like it’s a bad joke and you are forever waiting for the punchline, but it got me thinking about psychoanalysis.* As a postmodern, social constructionist, I tend to treat psychology with a reasonable dose of scepticism, but the nature of my subject area has required a working knowledge of the field, or at least requires me to dance around it. But, as I read Rubenfield, it reminded me (and to be fair I think this is Foucault’s argument) that it was Freud who place sexuality and sexual drive at the heart of human nature.

It certainly seems to be the case that earlier centuries did not place the same types of importance on sexuality and many past societies separated sexual acts from any innate behaviour or drives. Sexual acts were not driven by any need or natural force, but were active choices or, if driven by anything, it was by a person’s sinful nature and therefore no different than any other behaviours. Today, sexuality (in no small part due to Freud and his followers) has moved to be a central part of our identity and as such is frequently explained in terms of the body/ nature/ drives. Sexual behaviour became both naturalised (sex is normal) and yet of key importance to humankind so that it becomes the main marker of what it means to be human. It is interesting then that I have also read recently (although for the life of me can’t remember who wrote it) that freudianism and feminism evolved at the same time.

It makes me ask, who benefits from a model of humanity where sexual drive is key to being human, and sex is more than just another behaviour? Who benefits when we cannot conceive of relationships between people without being blinded by sex? Who benefits when the idea of platonic friendships (between men and women, but also increasingly between men and men, and women and women) are considered to be unachievable or even laughable concepts (a convenient dividing tool if ever there was one)? Who benefits when rape and objectification can never be fully criticised or rejected, because a sex drive is ‘natural’? Who benefits when we cannot reconfigure sex and sexuality to be something new, different and better for women, because we cannot challenge the idea that sexuality is what drives us as people?

It used to be said that humans were social animals, but increasingly ‘social’ has come to mean ‘sexual’, and again I have to ask who does this benefit? Because, maybe it’s just me, but current social conceptions of sexuality and desire seem to be screwing women over.

* The murder mystery is actually quite compelling, but the characters are very flat; the psychologists become little more than their published texts (which I believe is exasperated by the fact that they quote their own works throughout in response to questions). The author also tries to set up different characters to be the murderer in a rather heavy-handed (and unconvicing) ways, which is annoying. But otherwise I thought this was an ok read.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Visiting the Family.

That's my family in the distance (the picture above silly).

I will try to get back to some regularly scheduled posting this week, but I am officially moving house next week, so will also have to pack up this one and do all the tedious change of address, new utilities, etc, stuff- so things might be a bit slow. (It seems that I have over a thousand books- how did I not notice this before?) I also need to find a tenant for my house, as I am not selling right away.

The joys of a new job, eh?

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Away Again.

Sorry for the quiet week, but a combination of technical problems and offline life has kept me off the internet. Let's see, this week I have looked for a new home in new location (and fingers crossed found one- the joys of a new job); looked for a new car (but not found one in budget with eco-friendly stats); celebrated with friends (between the group of us and over a few nights) three new jobs, two submission of thesises, one graduation, and a birthday; in lieu of moving house collected my numerous library books and books lent by friends and took them to work (and/ or distributed them back to owners); photocopied a pile of reading; backed up my entire hard-drive from laptop to allow it to go for repair; fretted about the lack of writing I am doing; cleaned my house; worked my non academic job; went to the gym; visited in-laws to distribute birthday presents (three in the one week!!); possibly arranged some teaching for next year; bought some new clothes that I probably can't afford (yeay for summer sales, including a pair of shorts for my holiday- optimistic much?); went food shopping; packed for next week; ignored the internets.

And for any avid readers, another quiet week to follow as I am once more off on holiday: this time to visit my siblings. I will be away for a week and probably won't get any interneting done. (That reminds me- pack camera!). See you next week.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Technical Problems.

My laptop has stopped letting me access the internet, because it is evil (or broken, or both). So, I am having to send it to get repaired, hence the silence. I can use hubby's computer, but it just doesn't have the same inspiring vibe as my temperamental baby. Hopefully, I shall write something tomorrow (while at work, heehee).

Monday, 14 July 2008

Maternity Leave.

Today, the head of the Equality Commission suggested that employers are discriminating against women of child-bearing age as they are now entitled to up to a year’s maternity leave. She calls for more flexible working arrangements to be more widely available with partners able to take ‘maternity’ leave, so that neither partner’s career suffers. The Federation for Small Business thinks maternity leave is a bad idea, because it’s ‘bad for business’. And so, once more, we stir up the debate that leads to people arguing that that insist that women working is a ‘choice’ (both for individuals and for society); women should ‘choose’ between children and career; that describe maternity leave as a holiday; that treat children like luxuries that mothers use as excuses to skive off work; that ignore that most children have (at least) two parents (in the making, if not the keeping); that refuse to recognise that children are part of society and need to be cared for.

First off, let’s get rid of the idea that women ‘choose’ to work. Women, even mothers, have as much right to work as men. We do not sit around discussing how father’s ‘choose’ to work despite having children, or comment on how selfish or irresponsible they are for fertilising women and then not staying home with the baby. People need to work, women included. Furthermore, the vast majority of women do not have the luxury of ‘choosing’ to work. In the UK, most households, especially those with children, need two incomes to have an acceptable standard of living. Indeed, 83% of married (or coupled) fathers work, as do 68% of married (or coupled) mothers.* And many, many households are run by single parents who need to work to survive (although are less likely to be able to work due to lack of support).

In Scotland, women outnumber men by 7%. There are not enough men for every woman to be married off and happily supported. They need to work. There are more single, adult women (and for that matter men) in the Scottish population than there are married women (or men). Women of working age are more than twice as likely as men to live alone. Not every woman is coupled up with someone to support them. They need to work. Female single parents head 6% of households, compared to 1% of male single parents. Not all mothers have partners to support them, neither do all fathers. They need to work.

Furthermore, the labour market needs women workers. 50% of Scotland’s workforce is female. 72% of the (working age) female population in Scotland works, compared to 77% of men. Roughly 44% of the working female population have dependent children. The labour market would collapse if women stopped working; it would even collapse if only mothers stopped working. They are vital to the functioning of the economy, particularly in certain areas such as Public Administration, Education and Healthcare where over 70% of the workforce is female. With an unemployment rate of only 5%, there are not enough men to even replace a fraction of the female workforce.

We cannot talk about women working as a choice, because it is no more or less a choice than for men. We cannot talk about women ‘choosing’ between a career and a family, unless your baseline is that all women should work and choosing to have children is the luxury.

Now, it is certainly true that more and more women choose to never have children. 31.2% of Scottish women born between 1960 and 1963 have never had children (45 is taken by most scientists as the oldest women will have children so this is considered a completed fertility cycle). The age group born between 1970 and 1973 is heading towards 40%, although this may change as women have children later in life. Furthermore, Scotland’s total fertility rate is 1.6, which means that most women will only take one or two maternity leaves in their lifetime (and which also means that we are not replacing our population- a decline which has only recently been halted by immigration). Both of these things, I might add, make the idea of not employing women due to their potential fertility a bit redundant. But, should this mean that we should consider having children a luxury and a women’s luxury at that?

I don’t think so. Children are an important part of society. They are the future generation. Without children to grow into the next generation, we shall not be able to survive as a society. When we are retired, we need young people to pay taxes to pay for our pensions. We need young people to have jobs, so we can buy food, use services (such as hospitals and transport) and generally survive. Without the next generation, the human race will not only not survive, neither will capitalism! And we shall all have rather uncomfortable endings. Not having children is not a choice for society; we need them. And, as yet, they do not grow on trees.

Children are born to individuals, but they do not belong to them. They are part of society, just like you and me. They are entitled to care from birth and somebody has to have that responsibility. Why are we happy for babies to go to state nurseries (paid for by our taxes), but not to be brought up by their own mothers (or fathers), at a time in their life where they need specialist one to one care? Allowing women maternity leave is not giving women a holiday; it is a vital contribution to society. In a society where more and more women choose not to have children (as is their right), and most women cannot afford not to work, maternity leave is vital to ensuring that people can and do have children (also their right). Not employing women because you don’t want to pay maternity leave is incredibly short-sighted. It fails to recognise that an investment in children is an investment in your future employees and in your future customers. It fails to see that families where women don’t or cannot work do not have the money to buy the luxuries and services our economy relies on. It is also vital to ensuring that women are not disadvantaged by the fact they play such an important role in their contribution to society.

Saturday, 5 July 2008


I am away me holidays people. I will be back in a week. Probably no posting afore then cause I am going to an internetless wonderland (I hope)! See you when I get back.

Friday, 4 July 2008

A Thought Experiment, or Empowerfulising Pink.

I was doing some reading recently that suggested that all cultures are created by men. Now, I would agree that, as far as we know, most cultures predominantly value men and the things they do over those of women. But, historians actually spend quite a lot of time discussing ‘women’s cultures’. They may not have had broader cultural or social significance or authority, but, women, in their various denominations, often had cultures, based around work, leisure, support networks, children and much more. These networks or groups allowed women to share resources, gossip, stories and to create their own values that were distinct (if not entirely removed from) patriarchal culture. They were often a place of power for women, even if that power restricted, and could also work to support women in their interactions with men.

So today I was in Halfords and there was a HUGE range of accessories for cars in, you guessed it, pink. And not a nice tasteful pink, but that particular shade that seems to predominate when things associated with men are girlified. And I thought, who on earth buys this stuff; I could barely walk down the aisle holding it. And it got me thinking about female culture. Do women buy into ‘pink’ merchandise or other similar facets of femininity in attempt to create a shared female culture? Can we see it as an attempt to create a distinct ‘women’s space’ that is exclusive to women and from which they can draw power (through excluding men and shared sisterhood), even if this power is restricted?

Now, I am not really suggesting that pink is the new feminism. Its association with girls, and thus its infantilisation of adult women, plus the fact that it is not a women-created culture, but one placed upon women by merchandisers, make it more than a bit problematic. But, perhaps, it is time to start claiming power in women’s cultures; to stop buying into a value system that trivialises anything associated with women and femininity; to ask what it gives to women and do they gain strength from it, before we castigate it as ‘womanly’ and shun it.

If we want to move beyond gender, then we need to think about what we want a new world will look like, and, perhaps it’s just me, but I tend to be suspicious of a vision of the future that buys into a world where women and anything associated with them is automatically shunned.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Backlash! Or, Feminism is Good for Men.

The Fword reports on the most recent backlash against women’s rights, leading to a discussion of whether women will ever lose the rights we have gained, perhaps especially cogent in the recent attempt to reduce abortion access. While I think that it is very possible that women’s rights may be reduced, and we should be careful to protect them, I don’t think we shall ever go back to previous age.

Why? Because feminism is good for men.

In the patriarchal societies in the past, male power was balanced with considerable responsibility. In a world where women’s economic opportunities were limited, either by domesticity or unequal wages, men were responsible for providing for wives, daughters and other unsupported women, such as orphaned sisters or widowed mothers. They were expected to keep them in ‘ the manner in which they were accustomed’. Feminism made the responsibility for provisioning households more equal.

This restriction within patriarchal societies, in part, justified stringent or non-existent divorce laws. Men, who separated or divorced their wives (and for most purposes this was the practical economic result), were expected to provide for them throughout the remainder of their lives. This alimony was considerably larger than contemporary settlements that expect women to work after divorce. Feminism brought divorce and separation legislation.

In patriarchal societies, women’s behaviour was a reflection of their husbands or fathers. In many cases, this meant that women could impact on a man’s career, reputation, and social standing. In some cases, it meant that a man was criminally responsible for his wife’s crimes (and she wasn’t). Men were meant to be able to control women and an inability to do so reflected on their masculinity and particularly their virility. A gossiping, idle wife was a reflection on her husband’s inability to control her, which was closely related to his ability to pacify her through sex. Feminism removed male responsibility for their wife’s behaviour.

Under patriarchy, a man’s children were his own property, not his wife’s. This may sound good to some men, but it meant custody always went to men. They couldn’t leave their wives and children for a new wife and family. They couldn’t walk out on their responsibility. Wives didn’t get weekend custody- men had 100% of the children 100% of the time. They were also responsible for any ‘illegitimate’ children and more than just financially. Feminism removed the burden of providing for children exclusively from men and shared it with women.

Before feminism, men had to marry a woman to have sex with her. While prostitutes were available, they cost money, frequently had VD, and could ruin a man’s social standing and reputation (chastity wasn’t just for women). You certainly couldn’t try before you buy (ok, I am generalising about social customs here, but generally marriage either preceded or closely followed sex). The sexual revolution wasn’t just for women.

Feminism came with contraception. Enough said.

Feminism reduced male responsibility, by recognising women’s humanity. And this wasn’t a bad thing. Men no longer had to shoulder the burden of power, the stress and responsibility, alone. The buck no longer stopped with them. They were no longer forced into a restricted role of husband and father, because society expected it. They had greater freedom to choose what they wanted to do with their lives (occupationally and otherwise) as they no longer (or less frequently) had to think about other people in making their choices. They could take greater risks; behave more frivolously. When they married (or didn’t!), men could choose to do so for love, knowing they could share intimacy and responsibility for the household with a partner, rather than worrying whether their choice could land them in jail or destroy their social standing. They could have conversations with an educated and informed equal. They could choose to spend more time with their children and even be house-husbands. They had the choice of divorce when things didn’t work out. They could ask for help when they needed it and it wasn’t a sign of weakness.

A backlash against feminism sucks as much for men as it does for women.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Rape Stats.

There are numerous discussions over the webosphere at the moment about rape and rape statistics. In the more misogynistic areas, it is suggested that rape can never be proven and that our incredibly low conviction rape, of 5.7%, is all we can expect, as rape is always a he said-she said situation. (Let’s ignore that fact that this is true of most crimes where a victim reports a crime, and the defendant claims not to have done it). So I was quite interested to hear that rape convictions were as high as 33% in the 1970s. Being a historian, I wondered whether the 1970s were an anomaly, or whether it is our current situation that is odd. And handily I had article close by that detailed the rape cases tried at the Old Bailey between 1730 and 1830 (hardly the most enlightened age when it came to women’s rights, I might add). Now, it seems that over the hundred year period, we averaged a conviction rate of 17%, with the conviction rate reaching 38% in some years. More interesting perhaps was the attempted rape conviction rate (say that ten times fast), which averaged a 47% conviction rate across the period, with a high of 83% in the 1760s.*

Now there are good reasons why attempted rape was easier to prove than rape in this period. To prove rape, you needed evidence that a penis fully entered the vagina (and at certain points in history that ejaculation occurred). And as the death penalty was imposed for full rape, but not always for attempted rape, juries were always a bit queasier about finding guilt (seriously by the way- the death penalty was known to make juries cautious, especially for crimes they personally condoned or for situations they could imagine themselves in). But, it is interesting, once cases came down to attempted rape, which perhaps more closely followed the ‘he said, she said’ type situation (that are claimed to happen today- let’s ignore that most cases that are taken to court usually have additional evidence –both then and now), that the juries took the women’s side almost half the time!

So the question really is why we (juries) are so willing to give men the benefit of the doubt today, when we haven’t been so forgiving in the past?

*Antony Simpson, ‘Vulnerability and the age of female consent: legal innovation and its effect on prosecutions for rape in eighteenth-century London’, in G.S. Rousseau and Roy Porter, eds, Sexual Underworlds of the Enlightenment, (Manchester, Manchester U.P., 1987), pp. 181-205.