Monday, February 22, 2010

"But why would a woman withdraw consent at the last minute?"

[Possible trigger warning]

I keep hearing it. Time and again, in the newspapers, on the television, over the radio. 'If a woman is in bed with a man and suddenly says no, that doesn't count as rape.' 'That's just provocative!' 'Unfair! Capricious! Conniving!' These people literally cannot understand why a woman would want to withdraw consent after she's started getting it on with a man. Obviously she just withdrew consent in her mind so she could then undergo months of humiliation in court with a slim possibility of getting him punished for rape! Yeah, that's gotta be it.

If you really, totally do not get it at all, here is but one scenario I can think of off the top of my head.

Say I was going out one night with a guy, and things were going well, and we decide, 'Hey, let's do it.' And it's all going well until we get down to the act of intercourse, and I notice he hasn't produced a condom. So I remind him to put one on, maybe offer him one thinking he doesn't have any, and he refuses because, I don't know, he doesn't like the way they feel. Or maybe - and this does happen - he starts off using a condom but then removes it halfway through before trying to continue.

That's a deal breaker, right there. We can continue doing other things which don't carry any health risks, but those genitals aren't going near mine without protection. Aside from increasing the risk of unplanned pregnancy, it's for the benefit of both partners' health - he can't be certain that I've been for a sexual health check-up and I am equally unclear as to what his status is. Unless I am absolutely 100% certain as to whether or not someone has a sexually transmittable disease I don't want to run the risk of contracting one. So at this point, whether or not I have already removed clothes, if he appears willing to run the risk of either contracting something or passing something on to me (neither's a good sign - even if I know I'm clean, if he's willing to run the risk of catching something then there's a fair chance he's run that risk countless times before with others) then I'm out. Consent withdrawn. No condom, no intercourse.

That's just ONE reason that a woman might back out at the last minute. It's not flighty or unpredictable, it's just plain common sense. There are many other reasons for such an action, say, not wanting to participate in a particular sexual act that he's suddenly insisting upon. Maybe it's HURTING and she wants to stop.

It is not a crime to say, 'Actually, no, I'd really rather not do that.' And it is REALLY, REALLY easy to respect such a request. All you have to do is STOP. That's it. Clean conscience, nothing against you, you are safe in the knowledge that you haven't forced someone to do something against their will.

Anyone who carries on when their partner has said no (or even, 'No, no, no, no, no... alright, yes, just so you'll let me go home') has committed rape, whether or not the woman admitted to enjoying it, whether or not charges were brought against them. Sex without consent is, by definition, rape. In fact, even if the woman later says 'Well, it wasn't all that bad' - wouldn't you rather not run the risk of doing something she DOESN'T enjoy by just leaving it 'til later? Stopping might make it more likely that there'll be a 'next time'. Continuing means that you're a self-centred prick.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Quick Post: 'Male' as default

I was reading through a news article today when I spotted this little image:

Looks fairly unassuming and inoffensive, right?

Read it again.


Oh, STV link-image-designer. I realize that it would take up an awfully large amount of space in that little box if you were to type 'his or her', and 'hir' still hasn't quite made it into common parlance, but would it kill you to type in 'their'? Lots of people use it as a gender-neutral term. It's only two letters longer. It doesn't break the flow. Most importantly, it doesn't imply that all MPs are male. This probably wasn't your intention, but it's there. When I and many others read 'his', we don't think 'person', we very specifically think 'man'.

Really, this is the 21st century. Despite being in the minority, Britain has had a number of non-male MPs and MSPs for a good while now - by the time I was born, we'd even had a female prime minister, and her time in power was hardly forgettable. There's no excuse, in this day, age and country, for using 'he' as a supposedly neutral default.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Patriarchy's Perfect Woman

From Natalie Dee. Proper blogging will resume at some point.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why I Hate Buying Hallowe'en Costumes

From a website competition to win money to buy costumes:

You don't even need to see their faces to know that the two in the middle are men. Seriously, SEXY FREDDY KREUGER?! The CHILD-MURDERER?! (Dude, where the hell have your trousers gone?) The lady on the left looks more like a cheerleader for Jason Voorhees than the charachter himself. Why is it that so many costumes aimed at girls are so tame and dull like this? Short skirts and cleavage-exposing necklines do have their place on Hallowe'en - my Silent Hill nurse outfit from last year is an example of this, a monster born from a man's entrenched insecurities around hospitals and intensely repressed sexuality. 'Sexy', however, has no place in costumes for these characters. Note the great pains taken in these pictures not to hide or disfigure with prosthetics the women's (pouting) faces. Note the high-heels, footwear that really wouldn't work for Freddy and Jason as they lurch through swampy wasteland and launch themselves at they victims.
Thing is, though, if I wanted to buy an outfit like those the men are shown wearing, I'd be hard pressed to find one that fits. Why? Because all the 'proper' Jason/Freddy costumes that are easily available are made for men. I'd be drowned by them, making a rather comical homicidal maniac at best.
This is why I make my own damned costume every year. Grr.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I've been looking back over my old posts, and a lot of them strike me as either poorly written or no longer in keeping with my views. Which is a bit of a problem, as I don't want to give the wrong impression of myself but I'm not sure I want to delete them either.

I may just shove them into an archive to be polished up and re-written later, if I think that's worth doing.

In the mean time, time are a' changing and this blog has to, too. The list of sites on the right has been cleaned up a little, with those that have been inactive for half a year or longer removed and some URLs updated. A few new ones, mainly on disability, have been added - FWD/Forward and The Deal With Disability are both worth checking out if you have the time! I'm also on a search for someone else to co-blog, as I am, quite frankly, lazy in my updates and it'd be nice to get one or two others on board to keep things going and hopefully post about all the things I regularly miss. If you are a young UK feminist I'd be particularly interested to hear from you, as I feel that the UK blogosphere seems to be a bit small compared to the huge swathe of US feminist bloggers out there. I won't mind hearing from people outside the UK, though! Drop me a line and tell me a bit about yourself if you wish to join me here. Hopefully this site will become a bit more than just me ranting into cyberspace, in time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I do not want to be a Hepburn in anyone's world.

I hate generalisations. I particularly hate them when offered as excuses to dish out shit, misogynistic relationship advice. 'Women just LOVE babies, and thus should be happy to do all the hard work with them - making your husband (never partner or, heaven forbid, wife) share the responsibility will force him to hate you!' Or, 'Men hate women who think for themselves! Never express an opinion unless it's his own.'

Naturally, this quote from the book How To Be A Hepburn In A Hilton World makes my blood boil. In bold, my responses to each point.

It's no secret that we girls start fantasizing about a fairy-tale wedding and happily-ever-after love story around the same time we start teething (I still have a wedding book that I compiled at age six!). Good for you. I did none of that, I was too busy climbing trees and playing with our two spaniels. Relationships are a big deal to us. I agree, my friends and loving partner are very important parts of my life. We want to hear all about our roommate's new boyfriend (beyond his name and whether something's going wrong, I'd rather not hear everything. Your boyfriend, not mine.), have to get every detail of our coworker's upcoming nuptials (weddings are some of the most boring things I've ever experienced. Conversations about planning them, even worse.), and lament right along with Jennifer Aniston over Brad Pitt as if he cheated on us (spare me.). We love to watch TLC's A Wedding Story (no), feverishly scan Us Weekly for the latest blossoming celebrity romance (all I read is the Student BMJ and National Geographic. Why? No dull, vapid, bland, boring celebrity gossip, no fashion spreads, none of that bullshit.), and sob every time we see Sleepless in Seattle (I have never seen this, nor do I plan to.). We spend hours prepping ourselves for a date (about as much time as I'd spend getting ready for any other night out - under and hour. Two hours tops if my hair needs a lot of work to achieve Siouxsie-heights.) and even more time obsessing about what our potential children will look like (I spend more time making plans to never, ever have them. And why worry about their looks? Are you really that shallow?) and whether or not our initials mesh nicely (My previous question is answered. That's... pretty shallow.). Conclusion: girls love love. (Yeah, but none of those things you've listed are equated with love in my mind.)
You see? None of her advice, based upon her perceptions of what women are like, would work for me because her description of what women are like clashes utterly with my own personal experience. Oh, and the whole thing is based on that false virgin/whore dichotomy that everyone worth their salt should know about.

Fuck that. Hepburn was beautiful and a talented actress. I don't think I'm that bad in the looks department and my acting skills are fairly good, but I'd quite like to be me. And that means continuing to ignore stupid, dated advice such as that doled out by Jordan Christy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Every feminist is fallible. Some, unforgivably so.

We all have our idols. I'm rather keen on the musicians Thom Yorke and Amanda Palmer, the activist Julia Serrano, numerous talented and hard-working friends and family. Up until recently, there was also Germaine Greer. There's no denying it, she has written some iconic, challenging, revolutionary stuff in her time. Some of her work is nigh indispensable to the average feminist, providing a foundation to work from or awakening the anger we didn't know we had at the treatment of women. Unfortunately, and more and more often as of late, she has also caused the awakening another anger. Anger at being called non-existent. Anger at being seen as 'less than' - by the very people who claim to be fighting your side. To pick an example, she has belittled the latest generation of feminists, as if nothing has happened at all since the second wave. She has bought into the stereotype of the modern feminist, the female chauvinist pig, the girl for whom 'empowerment' is nothing but lipstick, pole-dancing and being seen as sexy, who sees anything else as dowdy, unimportant, outdated. This image is an insult for the millions who try to be so much more, who tirelessly speak out for our political, reproductive, social, HUMAN rights and are still being judged solely by their fondness for certain fashions.

And of course, she's transphobic.
There still lingers the line of thought, with her and many of her devoted followers, that only the cisgendered woman is truly a woman. That you must be both inwardly and outwardly female, chemically female, raised female to be female. That even if you felt so disconnected with your past gender that you went through years of humiliation and pain to be allowed to live as a woman, did so for decades, tried to 'pass' - no matter what, if you were at any point seen as 'male' before your transition, no matter how briefly, you will never be a woman, and thus it's okay for you to be talked about like some form of mutant. If you haven't transitioned, you will be ignored and dismissed as some wannabe man.

Hell, even when Greer is possibly* speaking in favour of a particular person** she cannot help but let her thoughts be heard on trans women.

Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women's names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn't polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man's delusion that he is female.

Think they are women. Ghastly parody. Delusion. Words written by a woman who has been lucky enough to never have any doubt as to what she is. To listen to her you'd think it was a breezy walk in the park, that every trans woman wakes up one day and thinks, "Gee, wouldn't it be swell to just, like, change? I think I shall be a lady today."

I've read the debate a thousand times, of how trans women will be threatening to cis women who have faced abuse when they show up in changing rooms and woman-only spaces, how they'll never know what it's like to be raised female, et cetera, ad nauseam. I'll admit I cannot speak for women who have faced years of abuse and just want a safe haven. I have not idea what it's like for them - but I also have no idea what it's like to be trans gendered, to be raised as something you have a powerful feeling that you are not. All I can say is that there is no excuse, at any point, to treat anyone as subhuman, to write about them in such hateful language, simply for trying to live their life. They aren't attempting to harm anyone else, yet to hear some of the vitriol directed at the trans community you'd think they want to wipe out the rest of the human race. Remove the 'trans' prefix, and what do you get? PEOPLE. As in, human beings. Men and women. Not monsters. It's little wonder that some just ain't feeling feminism.

The more I read from Greer, the less admiration I feel. I cannot happily align myself with someone who freely dismisses whole groups of people like this, no matter how great their past work has been. Articles like this, I'd expect to see in the Daily Mail. Not in the supposedly progressive Guardian - but we all know what Comment is Free is like.

*The article is so disconnected and fluctuating it's hard to tell exactly what she's getting at.
** My thoughts on Caster Semenya? An androgynous woman is still a woman.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Diary of a Hairy Young Lady: The Reaction So Far?

You heard me. Good press. No hard feelings. People are still treating me like a human being despite the obvious evidence of hair follicles on my arms, shins and oxters. Most people I've met personally haven't made any comments at all about this aspect of my appearance, which is good - I'm not looking to be treated as 'special' or 'different', I just don't want to get any grief. The comments on my very first post in the series tell the stories of several women - one of whom is growing her hair to show support for her daughter who is receiving flack for daring to be normal*. It always makes me smile to hear such positivity around a subject that's often seen as disgusting.

In fact, in all the time since I started posting these blogs, I have only received one negative comment. From a complete stranger. On a Youtube video.
I'd made a short tutorial for a friend who lives in another city on the spur of the moment a few months back. No preparation involved just sat down, made the video and uploaded it so she could see. I didn't mind other people seeing it, but it wasn't one of those 'Hello, Youtube! Check this out!' clips, so I hadn't made much of an effort with my appearance. I was scruffy and my hair was a little greasy, I'll admit, and the commenter pointed this out - whilst also telling me to shave my armpits, saying they were repulsive. I cheerfully assured them that the video was misleading, and that I do actually wash all my hair on a regular basis.

That's it. One insult since January. From someone who I don't know, will probably never see and don't particularly care about.

There is hope yet, my friends.

*I'm not saying that women who remove the 'extra' hair are abnormal, I'm saying that those who don't

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The niqab and the police - a post on 'hiding one's identity'.

I prefer not to delve into this subject too much; I am not Muslim, I have never had any religious convictions of any sort and so I cannot speak much about the compulsion to express one's faith in a very visible way. In terms of gut feeling, I see no problem with the head scarf, jilbab, chador or any other form of modest dress provided that choice to don such garments is a truly free one - there's no reason to force women to either cover up entirely or to wear garments which flash a lot of skin, and it should be left to the individual to decide where on that scale they wish to fall on a day-to-day basis. In terms of covering the face too, that's a complicated one which brings in lots of questions about human nature, the teachings of the Qur'an, the occupations of women, freedom and the nature of free will and choice, amongst other things. I'm not going too far into that here. I just have a single response to a particular point.

I'm currently listening to a debate on Radio 4 about the practice, specifically, of covering the face with the full niqab or burqa. A few people were bringing up the issue of identification and security - what if these 'masked' women go into a bank, or through an airport? Shouldn't they be required to show their faces? The woman responding these questions, a religious scholar and law student who I think wears the niqab, pointed out that in these situations she would go to one side and show her face to a female member of staff, allowing her to be identified without having to reveal herself to any male members of the public or staff in the process. Then more callers went further - what about on the street? They feel 'really uncomfortable' when they see a woman with a covered face. One said they didn't know if such a woman would smile back, so to 'avoid the snub, he wouldn't smile at her, thus he was being forced to be unfriendly'. ('Give us a smile, love', anyone?) Others said they felt there was a 'wall' being put up, that such women were openly refusing to be a part of our society.
There seems to be this huge preoccupation with always seeing a woman's face. In a society where women are constantly Judged on appearances, where our smiling faces are used to sell everything, where a woman is a 'bitch' for not altering her outward show of emotions to make others more comfortable even when she's just trying to walk down the street in peace, we have become obsessed with the fact that some women - for whatever reason - are not conforming to this. We attack them, we call them backwards, we attack their religious views, their husbands, their entire culture. Women must be identified at all times, even though there are no laws against being anonymous, save for in particular situations. We are outraged that a particular group of people are refusing the be identified by anyone who passes them by. Yet, whilst we rain down upon them with insults and vitriol, there is another group of people, very well respected in our society, who are occasionally also hiding their identities - and breaking the law whilst doing so. Not nearly as much fuss is being made about these people, and when someone does speak up they are often called a liar, or told they're exaggerating, or accused of stirring up trouble. Who are these people who are getting away with this blatant anonymity? The police.

Before I go on, here is the obligatory disclaimer - I feel the police are a good thing in many situations. The majority of them are conscientious, upstanding members of society who want nothing more than to ensure that everyone is safe. Yet there are some members who, at some point, have done something serious to undermine the public trust in the law forces and to make our society a less free one by preventing people from exercising their rights, particularly at protests such as the recent G20 rallies, and these people, who were breaking the law and every bit as dangerous to the public as those who ransacked the bank branch, need to be called out and disciplined.
They are the law keepers, the peace keepers, role models to thousands, and regulated by a set of laws themselves. One of these laws states that an officer, when uniformed and carrying out their job, must be identifiable. Their faces must be visible, sure, but there are other things too - it's easy to forget one face amongst many, and in situations where people might want an officer to identify themselves there are often whole groups of police present. Whilst in uniform they must display a number which identifies them, which can be seen on the epaulette*. Just ask Met commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. If asked by any member of the public, they must give this number - they can keep their name to themselves, but the number must be given. This means that, should an officer break the law, this number can be passed on to the relevant authorities and the relevant action can be taken - the police are thus kept in check by the public, without putting their personal lives at risk by showing a name that could be looked up in a phone book. For the most part, this rule is followed to the letter. Yet already there are stories all over the place of officers who refuse to display this number. Not usually from sightings of them as they're on the beat, but often at protests, where tensions run high. You know, where people might actually want to know those numbers. Because things like this are likely to happen.

Picture from here. This officer has been suspended for beating a protester. Where's the number?

"Numbers on riot police are like spots on zebras", to quote one seasoned protester. Either it's not worn at all, or (according to several accounts) a piece of tape is stuck over it, masking it whilst the commanding officers aren't looking. When asked for their numbers by the public, they refuse to disclose this information. Now, when the same members of the public attempt to photograph these officers in an attempt to get some record of identity to pass onto the authorities, they could be arrested. In fact, here is video footage of this happening. A woman requests a number, it is refused, she asks her fellow protesters to take pictures and at that point they are dragged away, forced to the ground and arrested. Interestingly, an officer makes sure that the protester's face was visible to the police camera by grabbing her around the throat and forcing her head up, but the officers had all their own faces blurred and continue to hide their own identities. There is no law that makes the photographing of a member of the police illegal, for the record**. In this case, it was the officers who were ignoring the rules, for the protesters were doing nothing wrong. This is far from an isolated incident, and I've been told by a lot of people that these women were lucky to have avoided being beaten in the process. When it comes to events like this, I wouldn't just feel 'uncomfortable' at seeing an officer without a number - I'd feel threatened. A face is useful but, in a situation like this, often not enough and, furthermore, if it's effectively being hidden by threats of arrest, the police might as well be wearing masks. Yet already, people are speaking out to defend these actions, forgetting all the footage and tragedies from the recent rallies in London.

I ask this: why do we feel so strongly about a few women, a tiny minority of our population, hiding their identities but still respecting the laws around identification, when there are people who have been given power over us, WHO ARE REQUIRED TO BE IDENTIFIABLE IN ORDER TO BE PROPERLY REGULATED, who are just... getting away with it? If all members of society must be accountable, then more action needs to be taken to ensure the example is being set by those who enforce the law. And if you don't think this, then please - stop picking on Muslimahs. You don't need to know who they are at all times. They aren't breaking the law. They're just trying to walk down the street.

*From a Home Office spokesperson: "...the public has a right to be able to identify any uniformed officers while performing their duties."

**"The taking of photographs in a public place is not subject to any rule or Statute and there are no legal restrictions on photography in a public place. Police Officers do, however, have a discretion to ask people not to take photographs for public safety or security reasons. The offence is not intended to capture an innocent tourist taking a photograph of a Police Officer, or a journalist photographing Police Officers as part of his or her job. It does not criminalise the normal taking of photographs of the Police. There are no legal restrictions on taking a photograph in a public place except where the picture is taken with the intent of committing a crime or terrorist act."
- Response from Nigel Battersby, GMPA Legal Adviser at Police Authority Meeting, 1/5/09
Many police officers, despite this law, continue to claim that it is illegal to photograph them under any circumstances and make it difficult for people to do so when they are trying to gather evidence of misconduct. The 'intent to commit a crime or terrorist act' is a rather vague detail that can be expanded to cover pretty much anyone.