Friday, August 29, 2008

BBC in 'stupid reporting' non-scandal.

From the BBC Breaking News Alerts in my inbox:

Obama names Biden as running mate

and, a few seconds ago

McCain 'picks woman running mate'

Because, you know, her name isn't important enough to be a headline. Those crazy women are all the same, so rather than give the Republican candidate's newly-chosen running mate a name, we'll just alert everyone to the fact that she has ovaries and only give her an individual identity in the body of the alert. For the record, this woman is Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. According to the BBC website:
At 44, she is younger than Barack Obama and is credited with reforms during her first term, but she is relatively unknown in US politics.
Well, thanks for making her that little bit more well-known as 'a woman'. She was, apparently, an unorthodox choice when compared to her more high-profile (male, but that's the default so it's not mentioned) rivals for the post, and maybe there is a bit of political motive behind choosing a comparatively young woman considering the high profile of sexism (against Clinton and Michelle Obama, for example) in this race, but I seriously doubt that she was chosen solely based upon the number of X chromosomes she carries. Heavens, her gender would have been clear had they mentioned her name in the headline, but instead the BBC chose to make that her sole identifying factor.
'A woman'.
'A Non-Male'.
'An Other'.
Also, making her femaleness seem more important than it truly is? The BBC is now as patronising as those who think women always vote for women just because they're women.  Sisterhood's all well and good, but there are many other things factoring into our decisions and most of us realise that a vote for Palin is a far cry from a vote from Palin/McCain.  One of them, for example, isn't very pro-woman at all.  Guess which one.
I'll sign off with a few of Palin's achievements, nabbed from her Wikipedia article.

When elected, Palin became the first woman to be Alaska's governor, and the youngest governor in Alaskan history at 42 years old upon taking office. Palin was also the first Alaskan governor born after Alaska achieved U.S. statehood. She was also the first Alaskan governor not to be inaugurated in Juneau, instead choosing to hold her inauguration ceremony in Fairbanks. She took office on December 4, 2006.

Highlights of Governor Palin's tenure include a successful push for an ethics bill, and also shelving pork-barrel projects supported by fellow Republicans. Palin successfully killed the Bridge to Nowhere project that had become a nationwide symbol of wasteful earmark spending.[9][16] "Alaska needs to be self-sufficient, she says, instead of relying heavily on 'federal dollars,' as the state does today."[10]

She has challenged the state's Republican leaders, helping to launch a campaign by Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell to unseat U.S. Congressman Don Young[17] and publicly challenging Senator Ted Stevens to come clean about the federal investigation into his financial dealings.[9] Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard praised Palin as a "politician of eye-popping integrity" and referred to her rise as "a great (and rare) story of how adherence to principle—especially to transparency and accountability in government—can produce political success."[10]

In 2007, Palin had an approval rating often in the 90s.[10] A poll published by Hays Research on July 28, 2008 showed Palin's approval rating at 80%.[18]

On the negative side, she is pro-life anti-choice and is in favour of abstinence-only education, she promoted drilling in Alaska, and, despite wanting to reduce greenhouse emissions in the state, is of the belief that global warming has nothing to do with us at all. She opposes same-sex marriage and only grudgingly allowed such couples benefits but excuses this with 'I have gay friends'. THESE are things I'd want to know about a politician, they give insights into what messages a presidential candidate would want to promote, who they are reaching out to. Yes, I say again, her gender may be an ill-advised factor in the decision, an attempt to attract ex-Hillary supporters (how naive) but Palin would not be where she is now had she not also been a successful Republican politician - she's not just 'some woman'. McCain would not want an unpopular, incompetent unknown as his sidekick, regardless of their sex.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Don't Be That Guy

Just a quick post tonight. Head on over to synecdochic for a detailed explanation of what makes a man in a feminist space into That Guy - the self-absorbed, entitled, careless idiot who couldn't give a damn about what you think because his opinion's way more important than any woman's. This one point rang very true for me. When I talk about rape, or unfair treatment, or the damage patriarchal society causes to people, I spend half my time* in arguments tying myself in knots trying to take everyone's experiences into account so that I don't get guys doing this, as they inevitably will:

6. Co-Opting The Argument.

Okay, if you're still with me, first of all, thank you. Second of all, I'm about to say something that (in my experience) makes a vast majority of men I've ever said this to sit up, open their mouths, and say "But --":

The absolute last words you should ever say in a discussion of sexual assault are "men can be raped too".

Or "but men can be falsely accused of rape". Or, well, pretty much anything that attempts to shift the focus of the conversation, subtly or not-so-subtly, away from women's problems and onto men's problems.

Because most women have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About Men's Problems. (In fact, we can generalize that: most people without $Privilege have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About $Privileged_Group's Problems.) When a discussion is happening among people without a particular privilege, it's ridiculously common for a member of the privileged group to come across it, see that rage or upset directed towards the people with the privilege, feel like they personally are being attacked (because they are a member of that group!) and leap in, guns blazing, to talk about how their group is also affected by the systematic brokenness of our society.

This doesn't calm the rage. I think it's probably pretty safe to say that no woman, ever, has heard the words "men can be falsely accused of rape" and suddenly said "Yes! You're right! Let's stop talking about how angry we are that women worry about being raped and start talking about how angry we are that men worry about being falsely accused of rape!" Whether or not it is a problem (and I so do not want to have that debate, and if you're tempted to bring it up in comments, please go reread points 1-6 again), by co-opting the argument like that, by attempting to re-focus the argument like that, your actions will be taken as not giving a shit. Your actions will be taken as trying to make it All About You.

On the surface, this can look like women doing the very same thing I've been cautioning you against: them trying to say that your experience isn't valid, and that their way of viewing the world is the only way possible. And yeah, in some rhetorical circles, that might be happening, because women are no more automatically enlightened than men are. Having a vagina does not make a woman automatically not-an-asshole any more than having a penis automatically makes a man an asshole.

But ultimately, the fundamental difference is this: because men are the group with the privilege, every conversation, if not stated otherwise, is assumed to be about men's worldviews and men's issues. And for a woman (who's used to running smack into that default assumption a hundred times a day), finding that she's in the middle of a very good conversation about something that matters to her in a place where her worldview is being given due weight and consideration can be so tremendously uplifting that to have someone come in and (in essence) say "Whups, just kidding, let's restore that status quo, it's still all about me" is either a). very frightening, or b). very enraging.

Co-opting the conversation like that is a rhetoric-specific form of Point #1 all the way back up there. By coming into a conversation in that fashion, it does not matter what your intention is. There is a much-greater-than-nontrivial chance that the women who are listening will view it as an expression of entitlement and a manifestation of your privilege. And in a predominantly-female space, there is a much-greater-than-nontrivial chance that the women inhabiting that space will feel empowered to tell you to sit the hell down and shut the fuck up.

Sometimes it is not about you. If you have ever received a LiveJournal response anywhere along the lines of "your life, so hard", or "let me tell you, internet, it is tough being a white man", or "get off the cross, we need the wood", this is a sign that you have been That Guy.

Does this make you angry? Does it make you feel upset? Do you feel like your right to speak, like your right to be heard, has been silenced?

That's the space many women live in all the time. And we can't put it down and go back to a place where that silencing doesn't exist the way you can. Because for us, the conversation you just took over was that space, and we are sick and tired of repeating this fact over and over and over again.

Don't be That Guy.

*This is difficult in fast-paced online arguments where, by the time I've finished writing my all-inclusive, non-judgemental post with full disclaimer, people have moved several points on and my post is now out of context. Oh, and people are now discussing how hard it is to be a man, regardless of the original subject.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reclaim the night? I do it all the time.

The ghetto boys are cat-calling me as I pull my keys from my pocket
I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective?
Has any girl in history said, "Sure, you seem so nice, let's get it on"?
Still I always shock them when I answer, 'Hi, my name's Amanda'.

Amanda Palmer, "Ampersand"

Time for some anecdotes!
When it comes to acts of personal feminist freedom, I, like many other, have to do it alone. I've never shaved my legs, but until recently I wouldn't bare them at all outside of the swimming pool or P.E. class either. So going out and overcoming the self-conciousness of showing my legs at all, and them being the unpopular hairy kind on top of that, was a bit of a challenge at first. Now I chuck on a shirt, skirt and shoes and stride down to the shops without a care in the world, no tights necessary. It took a while, but I got there. One thing that I had to do without the chance of phasing it in, however, was walking home at night. Alone.

I'm not talking about a quick walk down a couple of streets from a nearby corner shop or a friend's house. This is a half-hour journey from a pub or nightclub when I've missed the bus (one-hour wait at a quiet bus-stop in the small hours of the morning? No.) and there are no taxis in sight. I can't book taxis from these places, it's against their policy, and calling them, as I have done a few times, will lead to a minimum half-hour wait - on my own, again. Sometimes I stay the night with a friend and head off at a more sensible hour. If we're both out and leaving at the same time I can walk about half the journey with a different friend before we split off in opposite directions, which still leaves me with a twenty-minute lonely walk ahead. Like it or not, the choice is often waiting around alone or getting a move on, also alone. The latter strikes me as more sensible. I'm sober, I'll be able to walk fast and I won't lose my bearings.

So what can I expect as I march through the town, head held high like I couldn't care less? Leers. Cat-calls. Occasionally ducking into a nearby late-night eatery if I think I'm being followed (which has happened before). Oh, you get different kinds of harassment. Some try to 'converse' with you - 'Hi, how are you, you look tired, where've you been?' These men tend to persist until you take a different direction to them, ignoring the fact that I'm stonewalling them asnd clearly have no interest. Others swerve and block my path, forcing me to look at them as I avoid them. Groups in cars (usually on the way out to meet everyone) whoop and holler. Some men don't seem interested in anything other than pissing you off - they walk past you, saying 'You, me, in here.' whilst staring at you, but never drop their pace and continue walking straight past, seemingly just to make you feel like a piece of meat. There is nothing to do with attraction* here - I just happen to be a woman with no male guardian. When I'm with a female friend, we draw fewer comments but still get them - when I'm with a male friend, we get none. The worst kind is the man leaning casually against a wall, who notices you and leers at you as you pass, continuing to stare as you go down the street. I always check a second time with this kind, as I don't want to have to shake off and lose someone in a residential area again.

I also notice that I'm often the only girl walking home alone. Other women are in crowds of friends or, if they are alone, they clearly weren't on a night out in the first place. This very thing seems to attract unwanted attention, as if a man walking solo down the street is somehow 'normal' but I'm a weird freak of nature. What with all the warnings against being a woman alone, and my actual experience with men (and yes, it's men, a lot of them each night and not just one or two. When I get harassed even once by a woman, for being a woman, then I'll stop talking exclusively about the men.) on the street, I'm not surprised.
I tend to wait out the night with others more and more these days.

*Especially as men behave quite differently when they are trying to attract you as opposed to merely piss you off and intimidate you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm glad I hadn't fetched my tea just there...

... for I most assuredly would have spat it all over my monitor. The Guardian reports that rape victims are having some of their compensation withheld if, before they were attacked, they had been drinking alcohol.

I'll break that down for those who don't quite understand this.

1) A woman goes out for a drink, or has a glass or two at home before going out.
2) A man, who statistically speaking has probably also been drinking*, attacks the woman.
3) If the man had indeed been under the influence it has for a long time been seen as a mitigating factor (by the public and thus, the juries as well as a few terrible judges) as his 'judgement was impaired' and he may have thought the woman was 'leading him on' when she wasn't. This can sometimes lead to reduced sentences despite the fact that whether he was drunk or not is hard to prove unless he was caught and breathalysed pretty quickly.
4) However, because the woman was drinking, instead of punishing the man for breaking the law and taking advantage of a women in a more vulnerable state than him, she is being punished for doing something that isn't against the law at all, in a public place where almost everyone else was doing the same thing as her and where there were no warnings that there was a rapist in the room.

Punishing the woman for having the audacity to hope that she wouldn't be raped is quite simply abhorrent. This is victim blaming, being thrust in the faces of women who are already traumatised enough by their ordeal as it is.

Helen, a beauty therapist who has not worked since the incident, said: "When I read the CICA letter I just had no words; I could not take it in. It felt like I was being punished for having the audacity to step up and say 'I don't think this should have happened to me.' It was like going back to the 70s, saying 'she was asking for it'. How else could you read the letter but as saying it's my fault I was raped?"

Helen told the CICA she had been drinking but did not say how much alcohol she consumed. The police submission said it was "possible" her behaviour had contributed to the incident, because she had drunk a "large amount" of alcohol.

Maybe I'm just reading a slightly ambiguous section wrongly, but sounds to me like the police are taking a few liberties here. She didn't disclose how much she'd had to drink- does that mean she gave an unspecific estimate of 'a lot' or did she just say she'd had something to drink and then someone else decided she'd had 'a lot' because, in some peoples' minds, drunk women are the only women who get raped? I can't tell from this. However, the police should know better than to say that being drunk makes a women a rape target. As we all should know by now, the likelihood of a woman being raped is dramatically increased by her proximity to a rapist. There aren't little disembodied penises that fly around targeting any woman with a glass of wine or a pint in her hand, no matter where she is.

In a second statement, issued later, the CICA said a mistake had been made in Helen's case and its policy was not to reduce awards to rape victims on the basis of alcohol consumption.

Oh, really. So how come 14 victims in the past year have had this very thing happen to them? Clearly there's something going on here. Hopefully, this won't be happening in the future but, cynic that I am, I don't think this is the last case of its kind that we'll be hearing. CICA may try to make amends, but they're a drop in the ocean. Attitudes still haven't changed in many places.

*In this study, for example, over half of the men who had attacked women had been under the influence.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Support for working mothers declining

Ugh. Go read it, click the title. Public opinion is turning against working mothers (more so) as, both here and across the pond, surveys show that more and more people are believing that those women who have kids and also go out to work are compromising their family life.

"While British attitudes are more egalitarian than in the 1980s, there are signs that support for gender equality may have hit a high point some time during the 1990s," said Scott. "When it comes to the clash between work and family life, doubts about whether a woman should be doing both are starting to creep in."

First, I can't help but notice that the public opinion of what a family is consists, yet again, of mummy, daddy and the kids. I'm not sure that the 'family life' of single mothers would be vastly improved if they dropped out of the workforce and relied solely upon benefits purely so that they can fit into the idealised role of the stay-at-home mother*. I'm sure that their children are happier when there's money coming in too, but maybe I'm just crazy. What about stay-at-home fathers, are they just not up to scratch? And as for lesbian couples who are allowed to adopt here, which of them counts as 'house-mummy'? Dear public - think. Cheers.

Focussing upon the 'traditional' family now. There are poor families. There have ALWAYS been poor families, and in these families a second income is extremely helpful. Not every family unit is fortunate enough to be able to rely solely upon Daddy's income. There seems to be this bizarre notion flying about that, 'back in the day', no married woman ever did any work outside of the home, taking her away from her children. What wash. When living below the poverty line, it has always been that those women able to bring in more money for the family have gone out to do work along with the father. They may have been able to get the children looked after by the extended family, friends or neighbours, or they may have had to hope that the children could look after each other, but when times are hard women have always tried to do something about it. It's about survival, about looking after yourself and your offspring. It is, in short, motherhood.

Moving on to the middle classes - the ones with a well-earning father where the woman 'chooses' to work. (Note that Daddy never 'chooses' to work, it's just assumed that he will be the default. No matter if Mummy was also working successfully before her marriage and the birth of her children, once that wedding band's on it's her who's choosing.) If both parents are working, the numbers show that it is still the woman shouldering most of the parental role. Oh, no doubt that more and more fathers are taking a more active role in family life aside from breadwinning, but in a breakdown of hours, mothers are still disproportionately more busy here. They are the ones organising the babysitters, cooking and clearing up, laundering the football kits and so on. They are getting more worn out in general - social attitudes about the division of family labour here aren't equalising at the same pace as working rights, and women are feeling the pressure as a result. At the same time, many workplaces aren't adjusting to allow for the flexible hours that such women require. Women do still want to be there with their children, particularly at the beginning, but for some dropping out for a year may mean losing their job or being demoted to a lower-paid role. If they do manage to hang on their careers, not everyone can afford a full-time nanny upon their return to the workforce. So, juggling difficult work hours with their household roles is hard and this will have a knock-on effect for their family if the struggle is particularly bad, making more mothers feel that they must make the decision between working and having a family.

Social attitudes are clearly outdated too. There's still the idea of mummy always being there personally for her children, the father being an authoritative but slightly more distant figure. Many people grew up with this, little boys and girls grew into men and women without ever having this notion challenged, and the lesson is sometimes hard to unlearn. It's time we started teaching our children that a family is no longer about gender roles. When children grow up expecting to be modern parents as opposed to the traditional Mummy or Daddy, change will be far closer than it is now. We're getting there. There's been progress. But we aren't at the finishing line yet.

*I say idealised, but I do recognise that many women who do want to stay at home receive a lot of flack for it. You just can't win, t'would seem.