Fundraising to build A Room of Our Own into a multi-media feminist platform!

A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network is a trans-inclusive, women-only blogging platform created to share women’s writing, art, experiences and musings. It was created both to combat cultural femicide – the term coined by feminist writer Bidisha to define the erasure of women from politics, art, and culture – and celebrate women’s creativity in a space without men.

Women only spaces are a fundamental part of the feminist movement and represent women’s right to self-determination and liberation. There are countless studies which evidence the silencing of women’s voices by men. Margaret Atwood wrote about this in the early 80’s and Dale Spender has written on it many times, notably in The Writing or the Sex in 1989 and in Man Made Language. A member of Ending Victimisation and Blame said this in a speech for the opening of the Lincolnshire Rape Crisis Centre on the importance of women-only services and women-only spaces:

Men set the agenda. Men often talk over women, sometimes without any awareness that they’ve even done so. Women need space within which to discuss their oppression and manage their activism.  That space does not need to include men. If men wish to talk about feminism and the oppression of women, they do not need to be in women’s spaces in order to do this – men can use the space they have in the rest of the world, and make it more feminist.

Andrea Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has become worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Feminista Jones – and every single other feminist who dares to speak publicly about male violence, street harassment and video games is targeted to silence women. Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have done very little to deal with abusive behaviour, prioritising profits over the safety of their users.

In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable. Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally for it to act as a silencing tactic.

This is the reality in which A Room of Our Own was born. I wanted to create a space for feminists by feminists – a safe space where women can share their thoughts, their writing, their art and their lives without abusive comments and without men dictating the terms of the discussion. The need for this space is seen daily in the in the number of abusive comments I delete from men and the number I have to block on twitter. More importantly, the women involved have spoken about how significant the space is to them – that an online space where men’s entitlement to women’s time is simply not accepted makes a difference. A space which prioritises women’s voices over mens, that refuses to allow men to dictate the terms of the conversation and that gives a platform for all feminists to speak is essential to health and breadth of the feminist movement.

It has been an incredible 13 months for AROOO. When I started this network, I had no idea if it would work or if only 5 of my friends would join. I worried that the divisions within the feminist movement would make a platform for all unsustainable: that we were too fractured to work together. I was wrong.

So far, 164 women have signed up to the network. They run the gamut of feminism from intersectional to liberal, radical, socialist, materialist and everything in between. We have published articles about male violence, faith, swimming, pornography, friendship, art, feminist mothering, infertility and the UN’s #heforshe campaign – the one thing which managed to unite all our bloggers in disappointment. We’ve been listed as a resource by Engender Scotland and got a brilliant shout-out from Media Diversified.

In the coming year, I have ambitious plans to expand AROOO, including a full professional blog redesign to increase accessibility and optimise sharing of individual bloggers’ writing across multiple social media platforms, as well as publishing feminist reviews of books, radio, television, and film. I also want to expand outside of traditional blogging platforms and start a chat forum. In order to do this, I need to raise £3000 so that I can pay the women web designers for their work. The work I do for AROOO is out of love for women and their writing, art, photography and lives. My tech skills simply aren’t adequate to develop AROOO to its full potential. The women involved with AROOO deserve to have their work shared to a larger audience and this requires financial support.

This platform will remain non-profit, and advertising free, but the amount of work to redesign the site is substantial. This requires financial support – as do all other independent media sites. AROOO has the potential to be an important part of an independent feminist media – inspired and created by feminists and womanists for other feminists and womanists. If you can, please donate so I can pay professional web designers to improve AROOO. Even one pound makes a huge difference to my ability to support feminist writing by creating a professional platform for feminists by feminists.

 

 





What is feminist activism: Jessica Valenti, Julie Bindel and the loss of criticial analysis

(cross-posted from My Elegant Gathering of White Snow)

Jessica Valenti’s latest article in the Guardian made me roll my eyes. It’s yet another in a long line of dreary “who gets to be a feminist” that doesn’t actually discuss what it means to be a feminist, so much as taking out 10 minutes to trash the reputation of other women who call themselves feminists. Interestingly, it’s precisely what Valenti suggests Bindel does in Bindel’s latest Guardian article.

There is a very necessary discussion of the definition of feminism to be had – both in law and praxis. Valenti’s definition rests on gender equality. My definition is the liberation of women, as a class, from male violence and that our liberation requires the abolition of gender. It recognises that capitalism is intertwined with patriarchy and that both are predicated on inequality in law and culture. Women can never be “equal” to men when capitalism requires many to live in poverty in order to allow a small group access to wealth. Gender equality means nothing when we have laws that grant women equal pay in existence for more than forty years and women are still consistently paid less than men and this is without acknowledging the fact that women of colour are paid less than white women. I believe pornography, prostitution, and all other forms of the sex industry constitute violence against women and girls.

Jessica Valenti and I have very different definitions of feminism. I think her feminism actively harms women and I’m sure she would feel the same about my definition. The difference is I don’t doubt Valenti’s commitment to feminism and to supporting women. I fundamentally disagree with her political stance but not her activism.

This is why I am quite disgusted with her article in the Guardian likening Julie Bindel to Sarah Palin. It demonstrates a complete failure to fact check Julie Bindel’s 30 years of feminist activism and erase it based on one article that Bindel wrote over ten years ago. Feminism needs critical analysis. We need to read the research, the personal testimonies, and then make judgements based on fact. Basing the entire career of one woman on one article from 10 years ago isn’t critical engagement. It ignores Bindel’s work with Justice for Women and supporting the Emma Humphreys Prize for Ending Violence against Women. It ignores Bindel’s work on the harm of pornography and prostitution – you don’t have to agree with her position but erasing her work is patriarchy in action.

Julie Bindel is a gender abolitionist – this doesn’t mean she “oppose(s) the very existenceof trans individuals” as Valenti claims. It means she is a gender abolitionist who campaigns to eradicate the hierarchical oppression of gender. Bindel is extremely critical of the behaviour of a small group of transactivists, not all of who are transgender, but Bindel is very clear this is a small group who engage in abusive harassment. She is very consistent in stating that the behaviour of this small group is not representative of transgender people as a whole. This is the exact same argument that liberal feminists use when discussing “not all men”.

Critical analysis is essential to a healthy feminist movement. I have seen far too many feminists claim that Julie Bindel is ‘transphobic’ because they read that fact on the Internet. They know nothing else but that Bindel is transphobic and the NUS no-platformed her for being “vile” (the fact that the NUS engages with all sorts of violent dictators and men whose financial wealth is predicated on human rights abuses of their employees goes unremarked).

Being a feminist isn’t just about a label or recognising “gender equality”. It’s a political theory that requires critical thought. This doesn’t mean that all feminists agree with one another on issues but it does mean that we are required to come to our own political stance ourselves – and not because some dude on the internet thinks a woman is a vile because she wrote an article 10 years ago and has since retracted it. Accepting what we are told without thought is patriarchy in action – not feminism.

 

Abortion on demand is a mandatory requirement for women’s liberation

Whilst abortion is legal in the UK, it is not available on demand.* Abortion can only be carried out in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if two doctors agree that “abortion would cause less damage to a woman’s physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy”. That’s only if you’re lucky enough to live on the mainland. Abortion isn’t available in Northern Ireland. There are some obvious exceptions to the 24 week rule involving saving the life of the mother or preventing grave or serious injury to her; as well as the more difficult issue of aborting a fetus due to disability.**

I find any limits on abortion problematic. I think all women should have access to abortion when they want it without having to faff about finding two doctors who agree to the procedure. Having to find two doctors just extends the unwanted pregnancy unnecessarily causing added stress. The right to decide what does and does not happen to one’s own body is a fundamental issue of self-determination. I believe that women have the right to abortion at any point in their pregnancy; after all 91% of abortions in 2011 were before 13 weeks. There are very, very few abortions after the 24 week point and, no, the Sarah Catt case isn’t representative of anything. She was denied an abortion and therefore chose to self-abort. Catt was also not convicted under the abortion laws; instead she was found guilty of an archaic law from the mid 19th century. Women are perfectly capable of deciding if and when they need an abortion without having to discuss it with two doctors; doctors who may or may not be anti-choicers.

The language around accessing abortion itself infantilises women. We can only have an abortion if someone else tells us we can. Not because we want one. Not because we need one. But, because someone else deems it medically necessary. Abortion should be available to women at any point in the pregnancy because the woman deems it necessary and not because someone else gave her permission to do so. I also dislike the rhetoric around “good” abortions for victims of rape versus “bad” abortions for women who have had the temerity to have consensual sex without wanting to get pregnant. Any attempts to create a hierarchy of acceptable reasons for women to have abortions just limits women’s choices. It is the heart of woman-hating. This is without getting into the fact that many women have to access abortions for financial reasons. It’s hardly a choice if you are having an abortion because you can not afford to feed a child. That is why we have a welfare state [or did before the ConDems destroyed it]. Limiting access to abortion gives others rights over women’s bodies. It serves only as a punishment for the crime of being born with a vagina.

Top Eleven Favourite Books of 2014

These are my top eleven favourite books of 2014 in no particular order:

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place

There is little I can say to give this book justice but Kincaid’s essay on the impact of colonialism, slavery, and corruption in Antigua as seen through the prism of reality/unreality (tourism) is a must read.

Lynn Harne’s Violent Fathering

Harne’s text needs to be read by every single person involved in the family courts, child protection, police and politicians since she debunks the theory that children need fathers, even violent ones, in their lives. Harne examines all the research which demonstrates that children are actively harmed by domestic violence and that forcing women to continue to relationships with a violent partner for the ‘sake of the children’ is all about men’s rights to women and children as possessions and not about the children. She makes it clear that despite this evidence on the harm violent men do to children (and their mothers) government policy insists on the rhetoric children need fathers because of misogynistic, patriarchal assumptions about men’s rights. Preventing violent men from continuing to abuse their former partners through contact with their children is not what is best for children – particularly when these men continue to commit financial child abuse through the withholding of maintenance.

Lorraine Radford & Marianne Hester’s Mothering Through Domestic Violence

This is another essential read for anyone working in social services, education, the criminal justice system, family courts and anyone blaming the victims of domestic violence instead of the perpetrator. Hester and Radford approach the issue of mothering from a variety of ways making practise recommendations from research evidence and knowledge of the law. They also make it clear how the separation of children from mothers, within social services, when dealing with domestic violence causes both groups harm, particularly with the government policy to encourage women to leave violent relationships with very little in terms of practical support and legal protection to offer them and the increase of violence for many in the post-separation period. Effectively, this book is clear evidence that the current responses to domestic violence, in law and practice, work to undermine mothers and blame them for their own victimisation. Far too little professional intervention is aimed at the perpetrators. Good practice should be based on the individual needs of mothers and children, not on the rights of violent men.

Anita Rau Badami’s Can you hear the nightbird call? and Tamarind Mem

I read these whilst in Canada caring for my sister. Can you hear the nightbird call? follows three women after the partition of India, migration to Canada exploring family, love, hate and the seeds of terrorism. Tamarind Mem is the story of Kamini and her mother Soroja, and confronting the past. It is about the love and difficulties which bind mothers and daughters everywhere. These are both incredibly beautiful books and were read at a time in my life when family, love and hate were rearing their heads in my personal life.

Marilyn French’s War Against Women

This book is 25 years old but still relevant. The war against women continues unabated – but with more violence and hatred.

Lydia Cacho’s Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking

Slavery Inc. is incredibly heartbreaking as Cacho tracks the rape traffickers and their victims from Mexico to Turkey, Thailand and the US exposing their not-so-hidden connections with tourism, pornography, illegal drugs trade, arms dealing, money laundering, terrorism and the illegal trade in body organs. The first person interviews with all who are involved in this industry  make this a truly powerful, if terrifying, book.

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

The book was based on Thompson’s PhD entitled: Against the Dismantling of Feminism: A Study in the Politics of Meaning which is a much better title considering the book is about defining feminism and not about the state of radical feminism today (or as it was in 2001). Why the publisher thought the title Radical Feminism Today was an appropriate title for a book on defining feminism is, frankly, boggling.

Thompson is a radical feminist and her definition of feminism is about male domination. In this she critiques a wide variety of feminist  and non-feminist writing which use terms like patriarchy, gender and sex without referencing biology or the reality of male domination and male supremacy. A feminism which does not recognise this reality is not, in fact, feminism.

Thompson deals with the issues of gender, race and class by insisting on the primacy of male domination and supremacy: women all suffer from the effects of the Patriarchy which is historically and culturally contextually whilst acknowledging the importance of multiple oppressions in how women experience Patriarchy. A major theme throughout the text is that we simply are not working with defined terms; instead we allow them meanings which do not have biological realities (gender). In order to do feminism, we must define what it is we mean by feminism and cannot simply be by women for women otherwise it is reduced to the idea that everything a woman does is feminist because a woman does it. Feminism has to recognise male supremacy and domination or it is simply irrelevant.

Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy

Lerner’s thesis is based on the belief that women’s oppression is based on both women’s potential reproductive ability and their potential as sex objects which occurred before the creation of private property and a class society. This is then institutionalised in practise through the creation of slavery, the codification of laws and the creation of monotheism. Lerner’s thesis is, obviously, far more complex than that brief sentence and her work deserves more thought than I’ve written.

Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality

Marina S. wrote a fabulous review of this text for Trouble & Strife that says better than I can why this is such an important book:

As is often the case with the best of feminist writing, this slim volume makes clear something which has been stubbornly inexplicable: what went wrong for the feminist movement? Why was our revolution unfinished? How could we have failed so badly (we think) when seemingly so close to achieving our goals? Two generations of feminists have wrestled with these questions, quite often wrestling with each other in the process. Recrimination and antagonism was bred from a frustrating failure of the liberal paradigm to explain the backlash of the 80s and beyond. If history always marches towards greater equality, and we are not seeing that equality manifest for women, then the fault, the thinking goes, must be in us: we have failed to be inclusive; we have failed to understand race; we have failed to take the correct attitudes to sexuality, marriage, domestic labour, sex work.

In contrast to this soul-searching, Campbell locates the seeming retreat of feminism in a squarely material framework. The reassertion of capital’s power after its brief post-World War II retreat rolled back or arrested not only feminist politics, but the civil rights movement, the student rebellions and other political liberation movements that were active in the 60s and early 70s. What she terms the ‘neo-patriarchal’ paradigm congealed around and in support of the neoliberal economic and political turn in global affairs in the last third of the 20th century. Not just Britain and the US, but countries as politically diverse as China and India went through processes of ‘liberalisation’ beginning in the 70s, and the impact of these changes on women has often been profoundly regressive.

The biggest philosophical difference between neoliberal, patriarchal politics and feminism is that the former is profoundly pessimistic. Human nature in the neoliberal reading is base, selfish, violent and grasping – and incapable of reform. All radical politics is embedded in a confidence that people will strive to cooperate, coexist and care for each other if the material conditions they find themselves in don’t militate against it.

It is no coincidence, in this view, that we live in an age of war without end; an unintelligible series of local skirmishes and conflicts in which women, and the cooperative, relational social capital they nurture, are often the hardest hit, not as accidental ‘collateral damage’ but through deliberate acts of mass rape and disenfranchisement that hit purposefully at the heart of social existence. Violations of human rights, in Campbell’s phrase, ‘are not side effects, but a decisive methodology’. Feminism’s project, in her view, is to bear witness to the ‘wit and heroism that makes up everyday life amid chronic violence’.

Anna Politkovskaya’s A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya

It feels like I have read this book a thousand times. This is just another war with another brave woman crossing into hell to report on genocide, mass rape and the real consequence of capitalism. I have read it a thousand times reading testimonies of Holocaust survivors – Odette Abadi, Eva Brewster, Ruth Elias. I’ve read it when the countries named were Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh. I’ve read Linda Polman’s catalogue of failures of UN peacekeeping forces in Somalia and Haiti. I have read it in Beverly Allen’s Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia  and Anne Llewellyn Barstow’s War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women. I have read Judith Zur’s research into memories of violence among Mayan Indian war widows. I have read about the Rape of Nanking and the slaughter of civilians at Mai Lai. And, I read every blog posted on Women Under Siege about BurmaNorth KoreaLibyaSri Lanka Darfur and countless other war zones where sexual violence is an intrinsic part of genocide. I have read feminist texts like Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality  which demonstrate the direct link between capitalism and the oppression of civilian populations through sexual violence and war.

The names of the perpetrators change. The name of the conflict zone changes. The civilian populations targeted change. The names of the reporters changes. The names of those murdered grows longer. But, still the Twentieth Century remains one where genocide, mass rape and torture were normal – a  century where more people lived in abject poverty without access to clean water, sanitation and even food in order to perpetuate a capitalist economy that privileges very few.

Anna Politkovskaya’s text is powerful, distressing and enraging. It is a catalogue of torture, murder, rape and the acceptability of concentration camps all whilst the rest of the world looks on and does nothing. It is about men’s desire to exert control and power: to control natural resources, including people. We allow children to starve to death and grandmothers to perish from preventable diseases despite having the ability to prevent them because it would interfere with men’s desire for power.

Domestic Violence does not go ‘awry’

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Earlier this week, I challenged a tweet from Warrington Central Police which implies that the victim is responsible for stopping domestic violence and that, once reported, the police will ensure it stops. They did respond to my challenge, defensively, but they did respond which is more than other police forces have done in the past. I challenged because it is this language which prevents women from reporting to the police. Women know that the greatest risk to their life and that of their children is leaving the relationship. Several reports on research in the US suggest that the majority of physical violence resulting in hospitalisation occurs after separation and that the majority of male offenders are not living with women they abuse. Richards, in a London study in 2003, found that 76% of women are murdered by violent men are killed during separation. That study also found that 50% of sexual violence occurred during or after separation.* Women living domestic violence know this – a tweet suggesting that the police will immediately stop the perpetrator does not give women confidence since it suggests a police force which simply does not understand the reality of domestic violence. With ‘austerity cuts’ slashing budgets to women’s services which have resulted in refuges closing, women are quite aware that safe spaces are decreasing. This also assumes that they have no children as very few violent men are actually denied contact with their children forcing women to live with domestic violence even after the relationship has ended. Neither the family court system, criminal justice system nor government services are adequate to deal with domestic violence. Like the tweet above which suggests that one phone call will render everything hunky-dory, the system does not prioritise the safety of victims. Instead, it holds the victim responsible for ‘allowing’ the abuse to continue and completely erases the perpetrator.

I challenge these types of tweets fairly frequently so I would not have thought anymore about it had I not woken to the news of the murder of 8 people in Edmonton, Alberta where the formal police statement includes the phrases ‘extreme domestic violence’ and “domestic violence gone awry’. Identities of the murder victims and the perpetrator have not been formally released (although I see the media is already trying to get around that law), but the police are clear that the perpetrator has a long criminal record that includes arrests for domestic violence, sexual violence and uttering threats in 2012 and this year. I have to wonder why the perpetrator was not in prison since Canadian law does not require the victim to testify in order to proceed with a criminal trial. I await the excuses as to why this man was not being monitored more appropriately considering his history of domestic violence is a clear indicator of the potential to commit fatal violence.

What is most concerning are the statements from police chief Rod Knecht which demonstrate a clear failure to understand what domestic violence actually is: the murder of 8 people is not an “extreme form”. It is domestic violence. These are only some of the statistics on domestic violence in Canada:

  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.  In 2011, In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 
  • Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada.Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
  • According to the Department of Justice, each year Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. This figure includes immediate costs such as emergency room visits and future costs such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering.10
  • In 2010, the rate of intimate partner homicide committed against females increased by 19%, the third increase in four years. During that same period, the rate for male victims fell by almost half. 20
  • Victims are now less likely to report an incident to police.22
  • More women are experiencing violence after leaving their abuser.23

These statistics are taken from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. These statistics are not shocking to anyone working in the sector and they shouldn’t be shocking to a chief of police. Yet, Knecht’s statement ignores this reality by suggesting that murdering 8 people is ‘extreme’ as though non-fatal domestic violence were not really a problem because no one dies (except, obviously, the one woman a week who is murdered). And that domestic violence isn’t really a problem unless it goes ‘awry’ – as if there were a ‘normal’ pattern of domestic violence that really wasn’t that big a deal (unless of course you are one of the 200 women a night turned away from shelters because they are full) and that the number of women reporting to police declining is their fault.

Over the next few days, we are going to hear a narrative of a poor depressed man who was not really responsible for his actions – this is already apparent in the CBC coverage. We will hear statements about ‘good fathers’ or ones like that made by coroner Kevin McCarthy on the brutal murder of Deborah Ruse by her ex-husband Oliver, who then committed suicide:

 “Tragedies like this bring home to us all the complexities of relationships and the frailties of life.”

We will hear a lot of discussion about mental health services and depression. We will hear a lot of excuses made for perpetrators of domestic violence. What we will hear little of in the mainstream press is that perpetrators make a choice to commit domestic violence and that depression does not cause domestic violence, nor does it cause the murder of 8 people. We will hear a lot about father’s rights and nasty women preventing fathers from seeing their children, as though domestic violence has no impact whatsoever on the emotional and physical wellbeing of children in the house. We won’t talk about men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. We won’t take about the fact that police are statistically more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse than the general population and that it is these very perpetrators who are being sent out to investigate domestic violence in the wider community. We won’t talk about the culture of hyper-masculinity within police forces or their failures to deal appropriately with their own officers who are perpetrators. We won’t talk about how language used by the police minimises domestic violence, erases the perpetrator and leaves women with no faith in the very institution who are supposed to protect them.

Instead, we will hear Knecht talking about domestic violence going ‘awry’. We will hear the term ‘isolated incident’ even though 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And, then we will hear of another male family annihilator with a history of domestic violence brutally murdering his current or former partner and children – where the same excuses, minimising language and misrepresentations of domestic violence by police will occur. The media will remain silent on the irony of the organisation with a serious problem of domestic violence being responsible for investigating the very crimes a not-insignificant number of their members commit. And, police forces will continue to tweet out statements which hold victims accountable for being victims.

 

*Scottish Women’s Aid run a training course called Why Doesn’t She Leave? I highly recommend attending for anyone who may be working with women and children living with domestic violence or those trying to support family members and friends.

Realm of the Goddess by Sabina Khan

I first heard of the Realm of the Goddess in a blog with author Sabina Khan on Women Writers, Women Books. As the mother of two daughters, it was this that got my interest:

Disappointed at this obvious lack of diversity to choose from, I decided that I would write one myself. I feel strongly about the need to expose our youth to the magical and colorful traditions that make up our world. I also want my daughters to read about characters like themselves, so that they are not always reading about “others”. Or feeling that they are always the “others”.

My children and others of their generation may or may not want to read about the immigrant experience. But they certainly want to see themselves reflected in the fiction of their time. They want to see characters like themselves battling evil, falling in love and fighting with their parents. They want to know that others like them are dealing with conflicts as diverse as arranged marriage, education, religion and all of the issues that plague young people, regardless of their ethnicity.

As a lover of the genre of fantasy in young adult fiction, I wanted to read a book that was outside the vampire/werewolf/witch theme. I was going to put the book on my Amazon wishlist (600 books long and growing), but it was free on kindle so I downloaded it. And, then couldn’t put it down. It is very difficult to build lego for your kid whilst trying to read a book at the same time and not to  be recommended.

Realm of the Goddess does follow the pattern of vampire/ werewolf / witch books but with Hindu mythology. That alone makes it stand out from the crowd, but it is the richness of detail of Hindu mythology that makes this book so fabulous. The inclusion of the mythology is not forced or that dreadful Wikipedia-style history which made A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book so unbearable. As a history nerd, I do love historical youth fiction and ones which are correct are hard to find. Granted I knew only the basics of Hindu mythology, but reading this made me want to read more (all recommendations of books written by women gratefully received!).

The main character Callie was fabulously written with depth and intelligence. She also ate actual food with gusto – all kinds of food from the traditional dishes of her family to cheeseburgers and pizza. Her hair was never perfect standing straight up on end when she awoke to the frizz of humidity. Callie reminded me of the character of Claire Danvers in the Morganville Vampire books: intelligent, strong, loyal, and kind. The female characters in young adult fiction are frequently unbearable with their desperation to be with a man. Callie does have a love interest (and they do kiss) but the discussions of the relationship focus on what Callie believes is best for her. Realm of the Goddess joins the Morganville Vampires in being as close to feminist-friendly as can be written. This is why it will never get the publicity of Twilight, which reinforced the norms of our patriarchal culture. Callie not only challenges these norms, but also talks about the reality of male violence and rape. In fact, rape and other forms of male violence are integral to the plot and are clearly labelled as the sole impediment to women’s liberation and power.

This is the hallmark of a great book for me, strong female characters who are real. I want to read more by Khan as well as more books written about Hindu mythology.  I want to see Khan publish a fact book on Hindu mythology like Rick Riordan did for Greek mythology with his Percy Jackson books.

I’m also restraining myself from emailing daily to ask when she’s going to publish the second book.

Trashing Boxing Day sales ignores structural poverty within the capitalist-patriarchy

My FB and twitter feed are full of people commenting that they wouldn’t dream of going to the Boxing Day sales – just as it was on Black Friday. I can understand the desire to comment on rampant consumerism that our capitalist-patriarchy is predicated on, but targeting the people buying in these sales is not appropriate because it completely ignores the issue of poverty.

I believe that the patriarchy will not be smashed unless we also destroy capitalism. There is no way to make capitalism ‘fair’ – it will always be predicated on the exploitation of the unwaged labour of women as carers for children and family and the the labour of people who live in “non-industrialised/non-Western” (or whatever othering term is being used this week).

Advertising makes us believe we are shit parents for not buying our kids the must-have toys of the season. We know it’s a scam to make rich men richer and that our kids won’t be scarred for life if we don’t buy them the toy, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t buy the toys because we don’t want our kid to be the one missing. As a single parent, I’ve always shopped in the sales. This is why we have the entire first edition of the Lego Harry Potter castle (75% off at Tescos), Playmobil school (50% off), pink micro-t scooter (25% off plus free delivery but only if you get the pink one) and numerous Barbies, Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies (both the branded and non-branded ones). Did I need to buy these for my daughters as a single parent? No. Did I still line up on Boxing Day, first day of the annual Playmobil sale at Toys’R’Us ( 40% off & if you spend £40, you get a ‘super’ set worth £20 free!) and Black Friday. You betcha.

They didn’t make me a better mother and they didn’t compensate for my eldest daughter’s father being a dick and either failing to even make contact at Christmas (having not paid child support all year) or sending her a puzzle for 18 month olds when she was 6. I still shopped on those big sales day because I didn’t want my kid to be the one at school who didn’t have a gazillion presents to talk about. And, I know most of these are made by people, including children, who are making less than a pound a day and frequently live without clean water and sanitation. It feels shit being in this position but I’m very lucky compared to many single parent households as I never lived under the poverty level.

So many women, and it almost always women, live in poverty because men refuse to financially support their children and the state colludes with these men by allowing them to perpetuate financial child abuse. The state, and increasingly NGOs, collude with multi-national corporations forcing huge swathes of the population of the planet into poverty with farm subsidies in ‘industrialised’ countries, commodifying water, running a “war on drugs” when we have a worldwide shortage of medicinal morphine & have destroyed the cash crops of indigenous famers, and denying workers a living wage (whether they be living in a slum in India or in London).

Capitalism requires people to live in poverty in order to continue. We need to challenge the corporations like Apple (I say typing on my new Apple computer bought on credit card as my old one was dying) who build their products in inhumane conditions or Nestle, who continues to promote their formula in areas with no access to clean water despite the fact that this actively kills babies, or any company who participate in the arms trade – all of whom are culpable in mass genocide.

Yes, there are many people buying in the sales who are ‘middle class’ but let’s talk about why they feel the need to line up at Next at 4 in the morning  for sales. Are they buying work clothes that they can’t afford at normal prices? Buying bags to make them look ‘professional’ at job interviews? Clothes for the kids to wear on weekends (since school uniforms are more expensive because it forces you to buy two sets of clothes)? School shoes which are grossly over-priced and completely impractical for girls to play in? Are they buying that TV because it’s the only form of entertainment they have?

Instead of denigrating people who buy at these sales, let’s talk about the capitalist-patriarchy, consumerism and poverty. Let’s examine why it’s considered acceptable to denigrate those who shop on Boxing Day but not those who line up in the week before Christmas spending thousands to have the Perfect Christmas. After all, spending hundreds on one toy the week before Christmas is as damaging to the planet as it is to spend 1/2 on the same toy on Boxing Day.

Britain’s Youngest Mum was 11 years old [content note for child rape]

(originally published at Ending Victimisation and Blame)

Tressa Middleton was only 11 years old the first time she became pregnant. When first reported, in 2006, the media repeatedly made statements about the father being a “neighbourhood boy”. The focus was on the girl; not the boy and not the circumstances in which an 11 year old child could find themselves pregnant. There was very little discussion about the fact that an 11 year old cannot legally consent to sex and that any sexual relationship with a “neighbourhood boy” older than her would have still been classed as a crime. There was very little discussion about why an 11 year old child was “having sex” or drinking alcohol. Instead, media coverage focused on shaming Tressa and her mother.

Many feminist commentators and people involved in child protection clearly knew the story was far more complex. Those directly involved in the case knew it was more complex, yet could not defend Tressa from the media intrusion without putting her further at risk. When Tressa was 14, it was revealed that her older brother Jason, aged 16 at the age of the attack, was the man who raped her. Jason Middleton was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2009 and has since been released home to live with his mother.

Tressa, a child victim of rape, became pregnant. She also became addicted to alcohol and was eventually placed in a residential unit without her child and placed in a position where she had no choice but to sign adoption papers.

The original coverage of Tressa’s pregnancy was simply victim blaming. It was horrific shaming of a child victim of rape with no attempt to contextualise Tressa’s abuse. The case has once again gained media coverage due to Tressa’s new pregnancy with the Daily Mail publishing an article conveniently ignoring their original victim-blaming. The refusal to acknowledge their own responsibility in perpetuating the harm to Tressa by publishing salacious articles is important to note but equally so is the failure to place Tressa’s experience within a paradigm of male violence and our culture’s refusal to accept responsibility for not supporting Tressa.

Tressa was a child who was raped. Instead of discussing her experience as rape, which it clearly was under law as 11 year olds cannot consent, the media blamed Tressa repeatedly. Whilst I cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation into Tressa’s rape since that is not a matter of public record, I do want to make it clear that child rape is frequently not investigated properly. We simply do not know if the authorities involved in Tressa’s care realised they were dealing with a child victim of rape. The media certainly didn’t think so. If the authorities did realise it was child rape, did they ever investigate the brother as a possible perpetrator? Again, we cannot know that. All that we do know is that an 11 year old rape victim was forced to live with her rapist despite becoming pregnant (and the rape becoming known to the authorities). The reality is that most rape victims are raped by someone known to them yet we don’t publicly acknowledge the reality of rape by fathers and brothers. We talk about stepfathers and uncles but very rarely fathers and brothers despite this not being uncommon.

What the Daily Mail has also failed to make explicit is that Tressa’s daughter was placed for adoption because of the lack of specialist services for teenage mothers and for mothers with substance misuse problems. They failed to acknowledge the lack of adequate support for victims of child rape; for a child with a clear case of trauma. They didn’t investigate the poor provision for teenage mothers. They didn’t acknowledge how traumatic it would be for a young mother to be forced to live with her rapist; to have no safe space. Or, how traumatic it would be for a child to have her own child forcibly removed from her care simply due to the lack of resources to support both.

Tressa Middleton has had very little choice in having her story become public knowledge. We are doing her a tremendous disservice by focusing on her pregnancies without acknowledging that she was originally blamed for being a victim of child rape; that she has been publicly shamed and humiliated.

Tressa’s case is not an isolated one. We do not have exact figures for children who are raped within their own home by male relatives. We do not have accurate figures for children who become pregnant after being raped. We do know that it is not uncommon. We need to reflect on the treatment Tressa received and look into implementing victim-centred support so that no other child is forced to experience what Tressa did.

There are two separate required responses to this case:

1. The lack of services for victims

  • specialist rape support for children
  • better mandatory training for GPs, health workers, social workers, teachers, police and any other front line staff working with children to recognise the signs of child sexual abuse
  • residential units to support all mothers who are recovering from trauma and/ or substance misuse where the babies can live with their mothers
  • foster care for teenage mothers where the babies can remain in the primary care of the mother

2. Enforceable legislation guiding the publication of stories of male violence against women and girls. Guidelines already exist but they are not strong enough and the media ignores them.

We are complicit in continuing the abuse of Tressa by irresponsible reporting and denying services to victims.

We need to do better.

Violence against women and girls is state-sanctioned terrorism

Man Haron Monis was placed on a two-year “good behaviour bond” in 2013 after writing a series of offensive letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. He was then charged as an accessory in the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson. Monis was released on bail. Since then, he has appeared twice in court on 40 sexual assault offences. Magistrate William Pierce, who originally granted Monis bail, said he did not represent a threat to the public. He was not deemed a threat at subsequent hearings. Now, two more people are dead following Monis’ siege of a café.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is asking if the hostage taking could have been prevented. The answer to this question is yes, but not for the reasons Abbott is suggesting. Had Monis’ clear history of multiple counts of sexual violence been taken seriously, he would not have been granted bail. Monis was not considered a risk to the public because we still define public to mean men.

Monis was charged with 40 separate sexual offences and was still not deemed a threat to the general public. This is the reality of rape culture: systemic violence against women is simply not considered a problem. We need to start using the term terrorism to define male violence and we need to start recognising that women are human too. Until we do, men like Monis will continue to perpetrate these crimes, which are not ‘isolated incidents’ but systemic, state-sanctioned terrorism against women and girls.

This is the reality of male violence:

6 Dead, 1 Wounded and Gunman on the Loose in Montgomery County Shooting Spree

Officials have not released a motive for the shooting, but several of Nicole Hill’s neighbors and friends said the woman feared for her life as the two went through a bitter custody dispute.

“She knew and [Bradley] would tell her that he was going to kill her,” said friend Evan Weron. “She would go around to all the ladies in the neighborhood ‘This man’s going to kill me.’ She felt threatened.”

This is the reality of male violence: Nicole Hill Stone knew that her ex-partner would kill her. She knew and she told people. Yet, Bradley William Stone wasn’t considered a risk to her despite being a former army reservist suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a history of violence.

Stone not only killed his ex-wife Nicole, he also killed her mother Jo Anne Koder and grandmother Patricia Hill, as well as her sister Trish Flick, her husband and their daughter Nina. Only 17 year old Anthony Flick survived his gunshot wounds.

The media is already reporting these brutal murders as somehow out of character:

Matthew Schafte, who told ABC News that he’s known Stone for 20-plus years, says he broke down in tears when he heard about the shootings.

“I would describe him as a laid-back guy — loving his family, loving his country. I know he had issues with his children over a custody battle or something,” he said. “A decorated veteran, who would do anything for his country, anything for anybody.”

“I just broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it, because this isn’t the Brad that I know.”

“A couple of months ago, I was hanging out with him, we sat down and had a drink,” he added. “We were just talking about old times, how everybody was doing, and he told me he was going through some things with his kids, but that’s about it.”

Men who kill their children do not love them. They view them as possessions. As with most family annihilators, I expect we will soon learn about a history of domestic violence – all of which will be excused despite the fact that fatal violence is not uncommon in men who perpetrate domestic violence. We are already expected to feel sorry for Stone due to the ‘custody battle’ – as if it is normal that a legal disagreement over child custody should end in fatal male violence.

We need to stop pretending these are isolated incidents and start focusing on the fact that male violence constitutes state-sanctioned terrorism against women and children.