A How Not to Guide on Teaching Children Internet Safety

She said X was the closest park to her house

This is genuinely a line in a YouTube video called “The Dangers of Social Media” that claims to teach parents how easy it is for a ‘paedophile’ to groom a teenage girl: by identifying the neighbourhood she lives in to 30 million viewers.

In fact, the video reveals identifying details of three teenage girls, including street views of their homes and their parents’ faces. Rather than giving any information to help parents actually teach their children how to navigate social media safely, the video invites us to participate in the public shaming of these girls. We are allowed to watch the parents shouting at the girls but not actually engaging in why these girls arranged to meet a stranger they met online. If the aim was to highlight their lack of skills in navigating the internet, a more pertinent question was why no one bothered to teach them any. Why isn’t the focus on the parents rather than the children?

There are so many issues with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. The language itself is incorrect – the term paedophile has a specific clinical definition. The vast majority of child rapists are normal men who make a choice to harm a child; they have no pre-existing psychological condition.

The video also reinforces the ‘stranger danger’ myth. Statistically, fathers form the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence – whether this is physical, emotional and sexual abuse of the children themselves or witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers are far more likely to sexually abuse a child than a stranger. If we focus on ‘stranger danger’, we ignore the majority of men, and most child sexual abusers are male, who are actually a danger to children. This isn’t to say we pretend that strangers never harm a child; rather that we need to understand risk and help children develop the skills to keep themselves safe. Pretending that the only person who is a child rapist is a creepy man in a trench coat puts them at risk.

Rather than going for scare tactics like those in the video -having parents dress up in skeleton masks and drag their kids into a van- we need to teach children the skills to negotiate a world where a large number are at risk of experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We can start by using the appropriate words for body parts like vulva and penis.

Children also need to be taught about consent starting as toddlers. One easy way to do this is with tickling. If a child squeals no, stop and ask them if they want you to continue tickling. Then keep asking them. Another way is by telling children that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone anyone that they don’t want to. Granny might want a hug but a child shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to do so. Doing this teaches children that they have the right to bodily integrity and that their boundaries should be respected.

Children need to learn the skills to negotiate social media, including online gaming safely. Banning social media until the age of 13, as Facebook does, and then expecting children to be safe online is simply ridiculous. How are children meant to differentiate between unsafe and safe adults when their parents have 900 ‘friends’ on Facebook? If we depend on ‘stranger danger’ myths, do these 900 adults then become safe because their parents ‘know’ them? Equally, we give children mixed messages if we tell them not to talk to strangers but allow them uncontrolled access to X-Box Live. How are children meant to recognise that the older boy from down the road is a child rapist or that the really cool guy on Minecraft is a safe person if we don’t give them the tools to do so.

More importantly, shaming is not an acceptable teaching technique. Publicly shaming your child will not encourage them to have open and honest dialogue with you. It teaches children that their parents are more interested in the performance of ‘safety’ than their actual safety. It makes it impossible for children to ask for help when being bullied at school, never mind when experiencing abuse by a family member or a stranger they’ve met online.

Parents, and schools, need to take more responsibility for helping children develop the skills to negotiate social media and gaming safely, but, as Lynn Schreiber, an expert in social media, says about the video:

Scaring parents will not protect children. Blaming victims will not protect children. This video also reduces the eSafety message to one (fairly rare) danger, while ignoring the far more commonly occurring issues of children viewing violent or sexual content, cyberbullying, going viral, reputation management, and public shaming. Our children are growing up with this technology and need to be taught how to use it in a positive and sensible way.

The average age a child views porn online is between the ages of 9 – 12. Many children experience online bullying and harassment. Others live with domestic and sexual violence and abuse within the home. These conversations on personal safety, online and off, are very difficult but that is why they are necessary. We need to teach children the skills to deal with unsafe people and navigate the real world. In our global economy, the Internet is the real world.

This is what child protection should start with: teaching children their emotions are valid, that they have the right to say no, and that is completely unethical and unfair to publicly shame them on social media.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 02/8/15.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Everyday Victim Blaming on 17/8/15

This Is a War on Women: Erasing Jed Allen’s Choice to Kill

Janet Jordon is responsible for her own murder and that of her partner Philip Howard and 6 year old daughter Derin.

At least, that’s what Victoria Ward has written in the Telegraph this week: Jed Allen isn’t responsible for killing his mother, his half-sister or his mother’s partner because he “had a troubled family life and had struggled with his mother’s alcoholism”. Or, as the title states: ” Didcot Triple Murder: Suspect always had family issues and anger problems”.

These statements come from an unnamed ex-girlfriend and Jane Ilott, the former mayoress of Kidlington and one-time landlord.

Ilott claims that two of Jordon’s children were adopted due to her alcoholism. It’s worth pointing out that we only have Ilcott’s version of event since child protection services are legally prohibited from sharing information about minors. We do not know when the children were adopted, how old Allen was and why he remained in the house with a mother who needed support when his two siblings were removed – if he did indeed remain in the house. Ilott mentions numerous examples of Jordon struggling with alcohol dependency but doesn’t mention once contacting social services as a way of accessing support for Jordon.

Ilcott also helpfully suggests that “it must have impacted on (Allen) when when two of Jane’s children were adopted”. There is no reference to the impact it would have had on Jordon or the other two children.

This is the real problem with Ward’s article: there is no mention of Philip Howard and Derin only gets a brief mention at the end. Ward has effectively excused Allen’s criminal act because Jordon deserved to die since she was a ‘bad mother’.

Ward has not questioned why Jordon had problems with alcohol dependency. She hasn’t bothered to ask if Jordon grew up in an abusive home – and, the links between women’s substance use and child abuse are fairly well established.

This is the reality of the war on women and victim blaming culture: the perpetrator’s agency and choice are erased in favour of a narrative of woman-blaming. Predictably, there is no mention of Jed Allen’s father in this article – and, statistically, fathers are the majority of perpetrators of child neglect and abuse. Yet, there is no pattern of children killing their neglectful or abusive fathers.

Karen Ingala Smith, who runs the Counting Dead Women campaign tracking femicide in England and Wales, makes this double standard clear:

Jed Allen made a choice to kill three people. He is responsible for his actions. Yet it should be understood that his actions took place, not in isolation, but in a context: a society where men and women are unequal, a society that is thick with toxic hyper-masculinity. In this same society, too many are quicker to blame women for men’s choices, even where women are victims of that man’s violence. Jed Allen is at least the 15th UK man to have killed his mother in the last year. He is the second to have killed his mother and sister this year.

Jed Allen may have had a very difficult childhood but so do many children who do not grow up to kill. We need to be very clear here: this is about male violence. It is very rare for women to kill and the context is very different. Women who kill their children tend to have a history of post-natal depression rather than the history of domestic violence of fathers who kill. Women who kill their partners do so in self-defence. Men who choose to kill their current or former partners and children do so as part of the pattern of coercive control that defines domestic violence and abuse.

Our organisation monitors media coverage of male violence. Whilst this is the most egregious coverage we have seen in a while, it follows the normal pattern: blaming the victim, erasing the perpetrator’s agency, and justifying violence without recognising the patterns or contexts of male violence.

Janet Jordon is not responsible for her own murder or that of her daughter and partner. Jed Allen made a choice to kill his mother and sister. He made this choice within a context of endemic male violence against women and girls. These types of murders are not isolated or tragic. They are simply the extension of patriarchal control over women’s bodies and lives.

If we want to end familial violence, we need to start tackling our culture of hyper-masculinity and male entitlement which leads men to believe they are justified in killing women and children. Otherwise, we will continue to read stories of families being slaughtered by a male member and the victims held accountable for their own murders.

The war on women exists because we allow these narratives of justifiable male violence to continue. Until men start examining their own privilege and entitlement, women and children will continue to pay the price with their lives.

 

First published on Huffington Post as Everyday Victim Blaming

Why Doesn’t Patriarchy Die

Rahila Gupta and Beatrix Campbell are crowd funding a research project entitled Why Doesn’t Patriarchy Die examining the ways in which feminism flourishes globally:

No matter where in the world we go, we find that men and women are not equal. Everywhere in the world, violence and sexual crime is on the horizon. We want to know what makes patriarchy so resilient and how it fits with diverse political systems – capitalism, socialism, theocracy.

How is it that the 21st century continues to be defined by unequal sexual divisions of labour, and throws up new platforms for sexism? We want to find the fissures and contradictions and the ways in which the rise of feminist resistance is unsettling the new order. This book will investigate where and why patriarchy flourishes and where and why feminism thrives?

This is an ambitious project – we will visit Egypt and speak to the women activists of the ‘Arab spring’ to understand why they were failed by it; we will visit the autonomous Kurdish areas to report on a transformative experiment in gender quality and radical democracy; we will go to India to question whether the law can protect women from sexual violence and what civil society levers can be used to improve implementation of the law; we will go to Saudi Arabia to explore the tensions in the patriarchal trade-off between restricted freedoms for local women in the public sphere against freedoms from domestic chores carried out by imported women ‘slaves’; we will talk to Femen and Pussy Riot to assess how feminist spaces are squeezed when religion gets into bed with dictatorship and why they are expanded in secular dicatorships like Saddam Hussein’s. This is not an exhaustive list.

We also want to look at the culture wars where feminists attempt to wrest popular music from its sexist roots and how the internet has become a magnified version of society, the new stalking ground for policing women’s behaviour; the radical potential of eco-feminism which lies in its direct challenge to one of the fundamental planks of capitalism – chasing growth in GDP; we want to re-examine the category of ‘woman’ as a social and biological construct in the face of the gauntlet thrown down by transgender communities and ideologies.

A thoroughgoing analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of one of the most challenging political and social movements of our age is long overdue. It cannot be carried out without your support.

You can donate here.

Feminist Mothering with Fibromyalgia

I have fibromyalgia. I rarely admit to having it in public. If people ask why I look exhausted or am limping or struggling to use words, I say I have migraines. People have sympathy for migraines. They know it means extreme pain and sensitivities. When you say, “I have fibromyalgia” the response wavers between “I have a sore knee too” or “I’ve heard of that. My third-cousin twice-removed, next-door neighbour’s parakeet’s beautician has it and they got to go on disability for life.” Neither response makes it possible to explain what fibromyalgia does to your body.

Fibromyalgia has been called the “aggravating everything disorder.” I cannot control my body temperature. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside, my body runs on its own internal thermostat which is, inevitably, wrong.  I’m the one in the school playground in a t-shirt in the middle of winter and a hoodie on the hottest day of the year. I am also light sensitive, which means I’m also the one in sunglasses in the rain. My biggest ‘aggravator’ trigger is noise. When it is bad, the noise is so over-whelming that I can’t differentiate sound. Everything is extreme. I wear headphones to drown the noise out.

My immune system goes on strike regularly and a mild runny nose can result in my being in bed for a week. The last time I had the flu, it took nearly 6 months to recover properly. I get every bug going and, sometimes, it feels like I am always sick. We won’t discuss the side effects of the irritable bowel syndrome that co-exists with fibromyalgia.

A Facebook meme a few months ago made it clear: “my pain is not like your pain”. I have pain everyday – sometimes it’s manageable with painkillers and heat pads and sometimes its not. Sometimes I can’t turn my head because the muscles have seized. On more than one occasion the pain at the base of my skull has been so severe that piercing the back of my neck with a knitting needle didn’t seem like too bad an idea.

I’ve been really open about how hard it is as someone who loves writing to be unable to put my thoughts out coherently: that what ends up on the paper isn’t what was in my head because of the way the fibromyalgia has effected the ability of my brain to communicate clearly. It’s also affected my ability to speak since I lose words and have huge pauses in between words (that I don’t realise are happening). I also find it difficult to process what is being said to me when tired: I know people are talking but I can’t hear the actual words and, even when I can hear some of the words, my brain can’t actually process the message. When it’s this bad, the only thing I can do is nap. This isn’t exactly conducive to being a writer.

It is the fatigue that is the worst symptom. Sleep deprivation is classed as a form of torture for a reason. I am often in a severe state of exhaustion. I can’t sleep so the pain increases and because of the severity of the pain, I can’t sleep. So, I have depression as well. The depression and severe pain require long-term medications, which result in weight gain. Weight gain makes it harder to exercise and the circle continues.

Obviously this pain and exhaustion impact on my daily life, but it is my mothering where it impacts the most. Living with fibromyalgia makes mothering nearly impossible. I can cope on school days when the pain is in a ‘good’ phase because I can nap during the day. Weekends are more difficult. I cannot manage the day without a nap that means I have to plan my time with my daughter around my sleep schedule. It is even worse when the pain is severe or I have a cold.

I have two daughters. My eldest was 9 nine before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I used to take her to castles, the zoo, and to the beach all the time. We would walk for miles in the woods, scramble up hills, and go camping. With my youngest daughter, walking three blocks to school can result in a four-hour nap. Camping outside is a no-go since tense muscles and pain don’t respond well to sleeping on the ground – and this is without dealing with the issue of my inability to control my body temperature.

How do you explain to a young child that the reason you can’t listen to their story is because the distortion in your ears is so intense that you can’t actually hear their words? Or, that the much promised trip to the zoo is impossible as you can’t walk?

The guilt is immense.

The guilt is not improved by media constructions of the “good mother”. How many news articles are written about children watching too much television or spending too much time on an iPad? Television fetes mothers who bake cupcakes, run marathons, and volunteer for the PTA. When they only thing you are capable of on a bad day is making a packed lunch, the myth of the SuperMom feels like an extra massive kick in the teeth. To be a mother with fibromyalgia is to be a failure.

Today is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day and I’m having a relatively good day. I have time for a nap before collecting my daughter from school and I managed to get some work done. I’ve balanced the need to pay my rent with caring for my child. Most days aren’t this good and, even if they were, it wouldn’t change the stigma of being a disabled mother. Or, erase the guilt for not being a great mother.

In child protection, the term ‘good enough mothering’ is used to describe women with multiple support needs who have children – whether these needs involve substance use, alcohol dependency, mental illness or trauma. This is what mothering with fibromyalgia is: good enough mothering. It’s just not that easy to remember this when faced with a disappointed child who only wanted to visit the zoo.

Katie Hopkins: Misogyny and Women-Hating 101

According to the Huffington Post, a 14 year old boy called Harvey Cuffe asked Nick Clegg and asked him if he could have Hopkins killed or arrested. Nick Clegg suggested this was a “brilliant question”.

The Huffington Post is under the impression that this is also a great question. Because threatening to kill a woman for having offensive and criminal opinions is completely normal.

Clegg is already on record suggesting that Hopkins would make the best Bond villain, despite telling Cuffe that the best response to Hopkins is to ignore her. I disagree with this: Hopkins article on migrants was a hate crime. But, she wasn’t the only person to commit a hate crime in that incident. The editor of the Sun, which published it, should also be investigated for a hate crime. Every single media outlet that gives Hopkins to spew hatred is responsible for disseminating her opinions.

Hopkins also isn’t the only mainstream figure to hold such views. Hell, Nigel Farage holds similar opinions and he’s on the BBC so often they might as well hire him. Our current government ended rescue services in the Mediterranean to prevent migrants from drowning on over-crowded and unsafe boats. People actually died from this policy but I don’t very much Cuffe would have asked to have the people who voted for these policies killed. Nor, would Clegg have called it a “brilliant question”.

There is no way Cuffe would have asked a politician if he wanted to kill a man who made similar statements. And there are a whole load of men writing horrendously racist shit every single day: Brendan O’Neill, Richard Littlejohn and Milo Yiannopoulos spring to mind. I don’t see exhortations to have them killed or arrested. This is without addressing the misogyny these men also spew.

The very same people blathering on about free speech and #JeSuisCharlieHebdo are the same ones haranguing Hopkins. I have to wonder if the Charlie Hebdo staff were mostly female would we have seen the mass protests in support? Or, if there staff were non-white? Because, I sincerely doubt the Cameron and Clegg would have travelled to Paris for a march in support of the free speech of journalists in Saudi Arabia arrested for being critical of the government. Frankly, I don’t believe they’d celebrate the free speech of journalists and bloggers in the UK who are critical of ConDem policies.

Focusing on Hopkins is an easy scapegoat. It challenges nothing. All Clegg has done is tell a 14 year old boy that it’s acceptable to want to kill women he disagrees with. That’s misogyny. Not a discussion of free speech or an attempt to end systemic racism within UK media.

Katie Hopkins should be investigated for committing a hate crime, as should David Dinsmore and Hopkin’s direct line managers. But, 14 year old boys wanting her killed is as serious a problem as her statements about migrants are.

There is nothing brave about exhorting the death of a woman who writes criminal and offensive statements in the media. It’s just woman-hating 101. And it allows the structures of racism and misogyny to remain in place.

Real bravery would be holding the media accountable for publishing these statements.

The general election doesn’t matter – but only if you’re Russell Brand

Or, any other rich, white guy with a trust fund or 6 figure income or a banker or a footballer.

Russell Brand’s dismissive attitude to voting is well-documented. He’s also right in terms of the general election not having any real long-lasting, major changes to the lives of people living in the UK; or, those affected by policies enacted by the UK government and UK corporations overseas. No political party is advocating a radical shift in politics to end poverty.

Brand is completely wrong about the general election being irrelevant. He is a dilettante with a film to promote.

And, it is unbelievably obvious that Brand doesn’t understand the reality of poverty.

The general election is only irrelevant to Brand because he doesn’t depend on housing benefit to pay rent in a sub-standard council property full of mould; nor does he depend on child benefit to feed his kids. Brand isn’t dependent on public transport or under-funded schools. He’s never had to make the choice between feeding his children or paying the rent.

Brand doesn’t have to jump through several thousand hoops to get a pitiful disability living allowance in order to care for a child or the equally asinine hoops to get a personal independence payment (PIP)some of which have taken more than a year to process. This assumes that people who are disabled will eventually get the financial support they require – many new claims have been denied forcing people into lengthy appeals processes, even when dying.

Brand isn’t forced into remaining in an abusive relationship because devastating cuts to women’s services mean that refuges are closing. Specialist services for BME women are experiencing even more drastic funding cuts. Even if women manage to leave the relationship safely (and the highest risk of extreme and fatal violence is after the relationship ends), the benefits system takes months to process claims pushing women further into poverty. Cuts to legal aid give women little access to justice and the “families need fathers” rhetoric ensures that violent men can use the family courts to continue abusing their former partners and children.

Brand is completely oblivious to the fact that many of the children living in poverty in the UK live with single mothers. They live in poverty because their fathers refuse to financially support them – preferring instead to waste thousands on legal fees avoiding payment rather than ensure their child has adequate clothing and food. Others hide their income and spend it on holidays or equally pointless shit whilst their children’s mothers go without food to buy their child a new pair of shoes.

There are no political parties currently committed to holding fathers financially responsible for their children – and it is almost always fathers who refuse to support their children – nor are any parties will to talk about this as a form of child abuse.

No party is fully committed to saving the NHS and I’ve yet to read a party manifesto which recognises the need for a non-judgmental benefits system that actually supports people instead of punishing them. Good quality social housing is in short supply – outdated heating systems forcing people into fuel poverty aren’t exactly an anomaly. The relationship between poor child health due to substandard housing and the destruction of the NHS is frequently ignored.

Rhetoric around migration remains deeply racist and lacks any concrete understanding of consequences of unfettered capitalism and ongoing colonialism.

Running about the high street in an anonymous mask isn’t going to make this reality understood.

A radical reform of capitalism is necessary, but a rich, white dude doesn’t live with the daily micro-aggressions and consequences of anti-migration, a dismantled welfare state, inadequate housing and a disappearing health care system. It is people living or caring for family members with disabilities, single mothers, pensioners, low-income families and migrants who do: they are being pushed further and further into poverty.

Best of the worst political parties is our only option right now. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s better than the worst of the worst. Voting for the Conservatives and UKIP will result in more people being forced into poverty. It will be followed by the entirely preventable deaths of people.

The SNP can curb Labour’s more asinine policies on migration, benefits, the NHS and Trident, and Labour can curb the SNP’s dependence on some of their more ‘colourful’ members who joined for nationalist reasons and who aren’t fully committed to the newer SNP policies, as well as challenging Scotland’s medieval land-owning regulations.

We need braver politicians and political parties who actually care about people living. We won’t get them by not bothering to vote.

Anonymity for rape defendants is antithetical to our justice system

I started this petition because I’m incredibly worried about this recommendation for anonymity for rape defendants. It is a regressive policy predicated on the belief that all women lie about rape and that a man’s reputation is more important than justice.

PETITION 

Each year in England and Wales 85 000 women and 12 000 men are raped. We know that only 10 -15 % of victims report to the police due to “shame, prejudicial media reporting and mistrust in the criminal justice process”. We also know that rape trials have the lowest conviction rate of any crime because of systemic and institutional disbelief of victims. Our adversarial legal system is predicated on the belief that women and children routinely lie about sexual violence – despite false reports of rape being no higher than any other crime; despite the fact that many ‘false reports’ are due to misogyny within the police who routinely ‘no-crime’ rape without investigating.

We are extremely worried to see the Home Affairs Select Committee suggest that suspects being investigated for rape and other forms of sexual violence require anonymity until charged or police ‘needed’ to name them because of the potential damage to their ‘reputation’. Why is justice now about the reputation of the accused rather than upholding the law?

Would Jimmy Savile’s name been released as a serial sexual predator as he was never formally charged? Would we have seen the numerous inquiries held into the failures of police and the establishment to take child sexual abuse and exploitation seriously following the allegations about Savile? Would David Lee Travis, Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and Chris Denning have been investigated without the media reporting the sheer scale of the rape and sexual abuse committed by Jimmy Savile? Would John Worboys have been investigated and convicted without being named in the media following serious failures by the Sapphire Unit to believe a large number of women who reported him?[5]

The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) umbrella organization response to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recommendation makes it clear that rape is

“…..a known repeat offence, and the police may need the discretion to name a suspect for investigative purposes. Decision-making on this should of course be clear and transparent.”

 and that it is:

“It is notable that this short report by the Home Affairs Select Committee makes little reference to the specific justice issues around sexual offences before making this serious recommendation on anonymity. These include very low reporting to the police rates, vulnerable witnesses, and the fact that rape is a known repeat offence.”

Sexual violence is the only crime where sympathy is with the perpetrator rather than the victim. It is the only crime where decisions and recommendations about the criminal justice response is based entirely on fallacious assumptions, myths and victim blaming. As EVAW also states the Home Affairs Select Committees report:

“…is also alarmingly incorrect about false allegations – recommending that those accused and not convicted should receive “acknowledgement that they were falsely accused” when such cases are not necessarily based on a false allegation.”

We call on the Home Affairs Select Committee to review their recommendation using evidence-based research on anonymity for perpetrators and not assumptions about ‘perpetrators feelings’. We call on all political parties and Members of Parliament to show their support for all victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence by insisting that suspects in cases of sexual violence are treated no differently than suspects in other crimes.

Anonymity for suspects in cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence is a dangerous precedent that puts women, children and men at risk.

PETITION 

 

Five Wounds by @KatharineEdgar

I have had the absolute pleasure of reading various drafts of this book over the past two years. I started the first draft one evening and spent the following day half-asleep. The worst thing you can do when you have fibromyalgia is stay up late reading a book, but I simply couldn’t put it down as it melds all my favourite parts of literature: a brilliant, capable and feministy teenage heroine and historical accuracy.

5 Wounds is the comingof-age story of 15 year old Nan – a fiercely independent and headstrong young girl whose life changes drastically during a period of revolution and rebellion. Nan was sent sent to live in convent school following an unfortunate incident as a young child. This afforded her a level of freedom and education that many young girls of her class would never have experienced.

However, this is 1536 and the schism between Rome and Henry VIII has changed everything. Nan’s dreams of remaining in the convent and becoming a great Abbess are destroyed after Henry’s troops close the convent. Instead, Nan was bartered as a commodity and betrothed, rather unwillingly, to the much older and frequently married Lord Middleham. Nan’s father gains more land from this betrothal and Lord Middle ham a wife younger than his children. Nan’s Catholic faith, nurtured during her years living in a convent leads to her involvement in the Northern rebellion against Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is forced to choose between her faith and her personal safety. Does she chose treason or eternal damnation?

 The true strengths of Edgar’s writing are the character of Nan and the accuracy of the historical context of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Nan is alternately naive and brave, and her flawed choices reflect her optimism, faith and failure to understand the full consequences of rebellion. She is equally a child and an adult – limited by the constraints of her gender but freed by her desire to change the world.

Edgar’s love of history and the breadth of her research only adds to brilliance of the story. 5 Wounds precipitated one of my favourite historical discussion The Great Whether-Or-Not Noble Women Learned to Ride Normally Debate. I voted yes on the theory that noble daughters were valuable commodities and no sensible father would allow an expensive piece of property to remain incapable of escape from the numerous wars/ tantrums and general violence that defines European history.

I loved 5 Wounds. It was fast-paced, exciting and utterly brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough!

You can buy 5 Wounds from Amazon now.

I signed the petition demanding MPs protect access to abortion

I support women’s right to access abortion on demand without limit and without being forced to ask permission from a doctor. Access to abortion, contraception, and the right to choose are a fundamental part of the women’s liberation movement. Without these rights, women cannot and will not be free from patriarchal control.

I am very concerned about the provisions in the new serious crime bill as it criminalises pregnant women for being trapped in a patriarchal, woman-hating society. I signed this petition because any attempt to limit women’s reproductive choices – and a limit that involves criminal law – do nothing to change the system. It just replicates what already exists. The last thing women who are feeling pressured into have a sex-selective abortion need is the added fear of criminal prosecution.

Women must have the right to choose.

On the 23 February the Serious Crime Bill will be debated in Parliament. It includes a last minute amendment to the bill which specifically criminalises sex selective abortion.

We are deeply concerned that this amendment would have an immediate negative impact on women’s access to abortion and is a first step towards further regressive legislation to limit abortion access.

Please sign this petition to ask UK MPs to vote against this amendment and to make the case that their colleagues do the same. If enough people contact their MP they will be more likely to attend the vote and block this dangerous bill from passing.

There are many problems with the amendment. It will:

do nothing to address the causes of boy-preference in some communities

do nothing to stop sex selective practices

set the scene for an attack on abortion rights as a whole, by undermining key principles that underpin the 1967 Abortion Act

lead to racial profiling of people from communities assumed to be ‘at risk’ of sex selection

undermine the doctor patient relationship and patient confidentiality, and will have a chilling effect on doctors who will be less willing to refer for or provide abortion

potentially criminalise women, reducing the likelihood that a woman who is under pressure to have an abortion for sex selective reasons will disclose it to a professional and seek the support she needs.

The consequences of this bill in terms of the threat to abortion law and access in the UK can hardly be considered unintended, as the bill author, Fiona Bruce, is an anti-abortion campaigner.

The amendment also makes no exception for sex-linked genetic disorders.

There are complex reasons for boy-preference in some communities. An amendment to criminalise sex selective abortion does not and cannot tackle any of these. There is no evidence that the proposed ban would prevent a single sex selective abortion.

Please sign the petition to contact your MP to urgently to ask that they oppose this dangerous amendment.

More information from EVAW and a template letter you can send your MP from Abortion Rights

Helen Castor’s Joan of Arc: A History

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I was disappointed by Castor’s Joan of Arc but only because I had not realised what it was Castor was writing. I wanted to read a biography of Joan and chose Castor’s book simply because I absolutely adored Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. It was historically accurate, as well as imaginative. There is so very little writing left by the women Castor profiled that any biography would be contingent on teasing out finely spun threads within the misogynist writings of those around them.

Unknown 1Castor’s Joan of Arc is the contextualisation of Joan within the history of Europe. It is about the France that existed in Joan’s beliefsIt contains little of Joan’s own dictated letters or chunks of testimony from the trials. As I wanted to read more of Joan, I chose to read The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc by Larrissa Juliet Taylor next. The Virgin Warrior contained more direct testimony of Joan but engaged in the hero-worship that Castor was arguing against. Equally, without having read Castor’s book I would not have been in a position to understand the historical context in which Joan was living. I knew the basics of the 100 years war and the various Henrys running about, but not enough about the political situation. Taylor’s text in focussing more on Joan does not contextualise her life and accomplishments within the greater political scene.

I suppose what I really wanted was a history of Joan of Arc that traced the myths as well as the history – rather like Bettany Hughes utterly brilliant Helen of Troy. Whilst I haven’t found that (and I’m always open to recommendations). Castor’s text is a well worth the read. She’s funny, sarcastic, and accurate – a skill set not many historians have. I love the way Castor challenges historical orthodoxy whilst making it clear that how we interpret history actually erases the lived experiences of those we are writing –  making Joan a “legend, icon and saint” but no longer a young girl. Instead, we label Joan schizophrenic without recognising the reality of faith during Joan’s life where talking to saints was considered a gift – not a curse. Castor made Joan real – and that is an essential rewriting of history.

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And, because there is never a moment when Horrible Histories isn’t a good plan: