Justine Sacco, Racism and Double Standards

Until two hours ago, I had never heard of Justine Sacco. And, I never would have had someone not noticed this tweet and sent it viral:

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This level of racism is so common that I’m actually surprised people noticed enough to complain about it. The Huffington Post clearly thought so when they published an article about Twitter’s response with the headline: Justine Sacco’s Tweet About AIDS, Africa Is The Craziest Thing You’ll See Today. Yep, ain’t nothing so ‘crazy’ as evidence of systemic racism.



This is racism but, let’s be completely honest here, if a man had tweeted this out, no matter how powerful, no one would be sending rape and death threats on Twitter. Much of the response to Sacco’s racism isn’t from people concerned about systemic racism. It’s from violent misogynists who will use any excuse possible to attack women. This isn’t to say that Sacco doesn’t deserve criticism; she quite clearly does. But, criticism of racism doesn’t require rape and death threats. And, we do an incredible disservice to social justice when we allow violent, abusive assholes to dictate the language of criticism. We need to start reporting these abusive men so that the voices we here discussing systemic racism aren’t white men.

I also love this response to Sacco’s tweets. Someone bought the domain JustineSacco.com and directed all the traffic to Aid to Africa. This is real activism. It isn’t just jumping on a hashtag to express rage for cookies: it is taking something hateful and turning it into a positive change; much like the #feministtenner campaign.

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Petronella Wyatt

[Cross-posted from Blogger]

Today, the Daily Mail is running a rather perplexing article by Petronella Wyatt which was clearly meant to be their normal victim-blaming construction of rape and a continuation of their love affair with the idea of a “teenage temptress”. Wyatt’s article, however, is basically nothing more than a series of rape myths held together by stories of Wyatt’s own experiences of sexual violence. The juxtaposition of Wyatt’s belief in the predatory nature of teenage girls with a litany of events in which her father, Woodrow Wyatt, used her physical body as currency to curry favour with powerful men like Laurence Olivier and Robin Day, is a perfect example of how children groomed by sexual predators sometimes blame themselves for their own victimisation.
The fact that Wyatt doesn’t see these events as sexual violence is rape culture. I read the article expecting to be angered and outraged; instead, I find myself saddened that Wyatt was raised by a father who clearly viewed her as nothing more than a toy to be played with. Considering the HMIC has today expressed serious concerns about the way the police handled allegations of sexual violence against Jimmy Savile, the motives of the Daily Mail in printing this article are questionable at best.
Wyatt may have thought she was writing an expose on “predatory teenage girls” but she’s actually written a catalogue of her own experience of sexual violence; sexual violence that she was groomed for by her father. What are we doing to our daughters if we are raising them to believe this is normal?

Feminism, Racism, Misogyny, and Privilege

[This is a cross-post from an earlier blogger which did not publish when I transferred the blog wordpress]

I started this blog post several months ago after I entered a discussion about the existence of Islamaphobia (it does) and whether or not its possible for individuals to “see past stereotypes”. It started as an attempt to clarify my thoughts following the discussion but I couldn’t quite articulate what I wanted to say. As a white, middle class feminist, it felt arrogant to try to write this piece. It felt equally arrogant not to write. I also lost a friend because of that discussion. So, I took the chickenshit way out and didn’t finish writing this piece.

This piece would probably have stayed as a draft in my file marked “too scared to post” had it not been for yet another debate on whether or not Beyonce is a feminist [Frankly, I would have thought that was a question for Beyonce to answer rather than white women deciding for her but, apparently, no]. Now, I haven’t read the article in Ms Magazine which has, once again, kickstarted the debate so this isn’t so much a response to that article as it is burblings from my brain. For a proper response to that article, please read this post on Gradient Lair.

Really, I shouldn’t be conflating these two issues but I’m still trying to work out what I want to say. It’s so hard to articulate effectively in a medium like twitter wherein people seem to want to take offence the moment you disagree with them without actually listening to why you disagree with them and others who want to take offence no matter what you say. I don’t like this idea that there is an official arbiter of who is and who is not a feminist. I also don’t like this idea that we can not have disagreements about feminism without people deliberately taking offence when none was intended. I also don’t want to cause hurt unintentionally. I am afraid I will be by writing this or, at least, I’m afraid that I can’t write this without sounding pompous, patronising and utterly ridiculous. At the same time, not writing feels like I’m deliberately ignoring my sisters.

Basically, I don’t think it’s possible to not be racist, homophobic, disablist or misogynist in our Capitalist-Patriarchal culture. I want to claim that I am none of the above but that feels, well, arrogant, considering we live in a culture in which I, as a middle class white woman with a high standard of patriarchy-approved education, have a tremendous amount of privilege. Regardless of how hard we try, it is almost impossible to live, as a privileged white woman, without reinforcing the White Supremacy. We reinforce the White Supremacy in a myriad of small ways daily; many of these are unintentional but they still function to reinforce the oppression of our sisters.

As privileged white women, it is our responsibility to stand with our sisters: to listen, to support and to challenge those engaged in abusive language or behaviour. In real life, it is generally easy to know (or feel safe) when to call someone on behaviour or language which is offensive: to know when calling a man on offensive language will result in him listening or when it will result in violence. I very rarely call men out directly because I am afraid of male violence. I call the police but that rarely results in the police doing anything. It is hypocritical of me to call women out more than men, when male violence is the problem, but that is our culture. I am less afraid of having my jaw broken when calling out a woman than a man. This does result in reinforcing the patriarchal construct of holding women to a higher standard of behaviour than men but I am not sure how to change this without getting assaulted.

On twitter, it is so much more difficult to know when to call someone out. You cannot know how the person will respond and whilst there is no immediate threat of physical violence, abusive language [and getting their mates along to threaten] does silence people. These tactics on twitter are getting more common and more abusive. There is an assumption that everyone must call everyone out over every written word. There is little attempt to have constructive dialogue; the first response is abusive language followed by having a mob descend on a person. Whilst some people are lost causes [see Dr. Christian], having a large number of people descend on one person using abusive language doesn’t actually help especially if that person did not intend to cause offence. Call out culture on twitter isn’t about changing the language which, sometimes unintentionally, supports the White Supremacist Patriarchal culture. Frequently, it feels like a group of people with boundary and anger issues taking out their personal issues on other people.

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that we stop calling people out for reinforcement of the White Supremacist Patriarchal culture. I am suggesting that we pause before attacking and assess the situation, particularly when it is privileged white women doing the calling out. Yes, we absolutely have to stand up for sisters but we also must ensure that we aren’t speaking for them either. Many of the “call out” rucks I have seen on twitter have been by white women-born on behalf of other women. Whilst it is important that we examine our own privilege and participate in the call-out culture, far too often I have seen women taking offence on behalf of an oppressed group and then speak for them. This is equally unacceptable as it contributes to the Othering of women.

I have called out numerous people on twitter but only those who I think will listen or those whose followers might listen in the case of celebrities. Frequently, I do so via DM because I find people respond better to polite suggestions than angry ranting [although angry ranting at Dr. Christian is quite therapeutic]. I do this for people who clearly intended no harm. I report those who are clearly trolling with abusive language because they are only after the fight. I won’t engage in debate because they genuinely don’t give a shit who they hurt. They just thrive on the attention and we need to stop giving them the attention.

In the personal case I mentioned above, I thought it was safe to call my friend out publicly on twitter as she is a feminist who I have campaigned with for several years. We have never agreed politically on many issues but that has never been a requirement of friendship for me. I thought we had a relationship where we could listen to one another and learn from each other.

I was wrong.

Our friendship ended because I thought she would hear me when I said Islamaphobia exists: that most people cannot see out with the cultural stereotypes they raised within. I was sad at the end of our friendship but I felt happy that I had called her out for racism. Hell, I felt smug.

A few months later, I read a blog by a WofC expressing her distress at the number of white feminists who hadn’t called out The Onion for their disgusting “joke” about Chris Brown and Rihanna ending their relationship. My first instinct was to tweet them with a link to the blog I wrote about it. Thankfully, I engaged my brain before sending the tweet since a white woman hopping up and down shouting “look at meeeeeee” is precisely the problem. I went straight for cookie validation without even pausing to think how I was reinforcing white supremacy.

That was a huge kick to the gut, a necessary one, but nonetheless very painful. And, one that we need reminding of constantly so that in our effort to support our sisters we don’t end up silencing their voices, that we don’t ignore the multiple oppressions of our sisters, that we don’t end up replicating the very same patriarchal structures which punish all women.

I wrote the above two months ago but did not publish. I’m not sure I’ve expressed myself well enough. I’m not sure I would have ever published had I not come across this piece on racism by Michele Braa-Heidner. She is a radical feminist for whom I have tremendous respect and I love her blog, however, I disagree with her most recent post on the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Michele Braa-Heidner argues that the Trayvon Martin murder is not a radical feminist issue because it is male on male violence and that women can not be racist against men. I do agree that calling radical feminists racist for choosing not to focus on the Trayvon Martin case is hyperbolic since Radical Feminism is about women. People are entitled to campaign about that which they deem personally important. I would not call a member of the LGBT community racist for focussing on campaigns that affect them personally. However, I do think that radical feminism cannot exist out with the White Supremacist Patriarchal culture. We are racist as a default position [just as we are disablist, homophobic etc]. Radical feminism’s focus on women’s experience and activism cannot survive without acknowledging how the multiple oppressions of race, sexuality etc change the experience of women within the patriarchy.

My focus, as a radical feminist, is on male violence against women and girls. The murder of Trayvon Martin is important to me because of clearly it demonstrates the gendering of legal culpability within the criminal justice system. The comparison with the Marissa Alexander case is important because it demonstrates how the life of a Black man is considered more worthy of media attention that the life of a Black woman; that stand your ground laws are only beneficial to men. It clearly delineates the hierarchy of race in American culture and how race affects gender.

I believe the murder of Trayvon Martin is a radical feminist issue: he was a child killed because of the structural racism and misogyny in our patriarchal culture. This doesn’t mean I expect every radical feminist space to devote their time to discussing this case at the expense of other female victims of male violence but that I don’t agree with Braa-Heidner that this is not a radical feminist issue.

What is important to me is that radical feminists have a safe space to discuss these issues and that we listen to the voices of all our sisters. We don’t have to agree with one another but we do need to hear one  another.

So, what exactly makes a bad father?

Much has been written online recently about a judge in Oklahoma finding a convicted child sex offender a “good enough” to award him sole custody of his 6-year-old daughter. He was allowed to move the child to the state of California, and away from her mother, despite having been convicted of sexually abusing his stepdaughter when she was 6. In Australia, a man who pled guilty to repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting his young daughter from the age of 5 was let out on a “good behaviour” bond. The only condition: he attends a residential treatment centre for men convicted of incest.[1] In Ireland, a 52-year-old man was given a suspended sentence for the conviction of the rape of a 14 year old girl. The judge ruled that jailing a convicted child rapist would cause serious hardship to his current family.[2]

Andrew Parsons was labelled a “good father” by Judge Patrick Eccles.[3] He was convicted of the brutal murder of his ex-wife Janee at the Oxford Crown court; a conviction based on the taping of the murder by Parsons himself. He stalked his ex-wife before murdering her. Parson stabbed his ex-wife Janee to death in front of their young son but, somehow, he is still a “good father”. Parsons, according to Judge Eccles, was “overwhelmed … by jealous rage” because his ex-wife ended their marriage after falling in love with another man.

Apparently, being jealous of your ex-wife ending your relationship constitutes a mitigating circumstance that makes murder understandable. Parson’s QC David Hislop continued the victim-blaming language[4] by suggesting that Parsons was under “the most extraordinary pressure” and that Parsons “loved his wife, perhaps too much”. The clear use of victim-blaming[5] language designed to minimise Parson’s responsibility for committing murder by labelling the murder a “tragedy” rather than murder is fairly typical. Two men a week[6] in the UK murder their current or ex-partner and we minimise this behaviour with language that blames the victim. Labelling these three cases as aberrations is to wilfully ignore the structural misogyny in our culture.

Yet, these four cases bring up another question: when did we change the definition of ‘good father” to include men who murder the mother of their children in front of their children and men who are convicted of child sexual abuse? When did being a “good father” limit criminal responsibility?

I wrote an article for Father’s Day asking exactly what makes a “good father”.[7] Unsurprisingly, I received a lot of misogynistic abuse and suggestions of violence from men about my article, men angry at my suggestion that the current definition of a “good father” was so low as to be completely pointless. When the definition of a “good father” includes a man who refuses to financially support his children to men who commit domestic violence, I have to wonder what the definition of a bad father is?

What does a man have to do to be labelled a bad father? If a conviction for child rape isn’t enough, what is?

More importantly, why aren’t more men angry about this? Why aren’t more fathers writing complaint letters every time the media claims that a child rapist is a good enough father?

Why aren’t men challenging this patriarchal theory, which claims that a man is “good enough” as long as he sends a birthday card once a year? There are millions of good fathers across the world, so where are they?

The following is the list I wrote for Father’s Day which I felt was the bare minimum to be a “good father”. Why was my list controversial when labelling Andrew Parsons a “good father” isn’t?

Do 50% of the parenting.

Do 50% of the shit work.

Get up in the middle of the night with your sick kids.

Take the day off work when your kids are sick.

You don’t ‘baby-sit’ your kids. You are a parent.

You don’t get rewards for acting like an adult. You shouldn’t get one for being a parent.

If you can’t name your child’s teacher, best friend or medication, you need to re-examine your priorities.

If you can’t name your child’s favourite toy, you need to re-examine your priorities.

If you need to be told what time your child’s school starts or the names of their after-school activities, you need to re-examine your priorities.

Pay maintenance. Not paying maintenance is child neglect.

Show up for contact. There is nothing more important than your children. Do not cancel to attend a football match.

Domestic violence makes you a bad father.

Abusing your partner in front of your children is child abuse.

Good fathers do not kill the mother of their children.

Violent men who assault or murder their partners do not deserve contact with their children.

Good fathers do not murder their children to punish the children’s mother.

If the definition of a “good father” includes men who murder the mother of their children, what is the definition of a bad father?[1] http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/father-who-raped-daughter-9-let-off-by-courts-on-good-behaviour-bond/story-fni0cx12-1226672815342
[2] http://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/suspended-sentence-for-man-who-raped-wife-s-14-year-old-sister-1.1420726
[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-22659300
[4] http://everydayvictimblaming.com/
[5] http://everydayvictimblaming.com/submissions/andrew-parsons-wife-murderer-but-still-a-good-father/
[6] http://kareningalasmith.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/just-a-typical-week-in-june-ignoring-mens-abuse-of-woman-and-children/
[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/louise-pennington/fathers-day-waste-of-time_b_3426832.html

This can’t be feminism. It’s just not how it works

This was retweeted into my twitter feed last night. It just made me so sad thinking  that this what feminism has become: refusing to support a feminist campaign demanding that the government start to take accurate information on fatal male violence against women in order to prevent further failures within the system because you don’t like someone the campaign retweeted. What passes for feminism on twitter isn’t real feminism. Feminism is about liberating women from male violence, regardless of whether or not you are BFF’s with everyone else. You don’t get cookies for refusing to support a campaign to end fatal male violence because someone you hate also supports the campaign. That’s not normal. It just isn’t.

If your feminism involves choosing to support campaigns only based on ones that your mates approve of, you may want to rethink your priorities. This isn’t feminism. It’s childish point-scoring and it has no place in any social justice movement.

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Fathers4Justice, Mumsnet and Me: #shoutingback

I haven’t written too much about my experience of online abuse with Fathers4Justice last year, mostly because I don’t want a swarm of their buckethead members descending on me. Again. However, the recent violent abuse directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez has made me change my mind on this issue.

My first personal encounter with Fathers4Justice was on Mumsnet. F4J members troll the relationships and feminist board on Mumsnet all the time. They are tedious and completely lacking in self-awareness. They frequently come on threads started by women who are experiencing domestic violence and blame the women for being victims. Members also start threads whining about how they aren’t allowed to contact their children due to the hateful mother. A quick google invariably finds that the man has been denied contact after criminal convictions for violence against the ex-partner and/ or drug and alcohol abuse. Their trolling isn’t restricted to attacking women survivors of domestic violence but also victims of sexual violence and rape. They deliberately misrepresent what is being said on a thread in order to discredit women. It is safe to say I have no respect whatsoever for their organisation.

The incident last year started with F4J announcing a new campaign targeting Marks & Spencer’s because of their advertising on Mumsnet who “promote gender hatred” and labels “men and boys as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters”. F4J members trolled both Mumsnet’s talk boards and Mumsnet’s Facebook wall making unsubstantiated and libellous statements about Mumsnet. The also attempted to publish the ad below in a variety of newspapers although only the I-Independent actually published the ad in the end.

There were numerous conversations on the Mumsnet talkboards and FB wall between members of Mumsnet and members of F4J. There was rudeness on both sides but Fathers4Justice members went beyond rude and straight to intimidation tactics and threats of violence. They told outright lies about what was written on Mumsnet, took quotes out of context and tried to silence criticism with threats of violence dressed up as ‘concern’. The F4J FB wall was a disgraceful example of male privilege and violence.

In the end, I posted a link to the Advertising Standards Agency’s complaint form on Mumsnet’s wall. I did so because the ad below is clearly in breach of ASA standards. I received hundreds of abusive messages from members of F4J on Mumsnet, Mumsnet’s FB wall and F4J’s FB wall. One member of F4J responded to my post by stating that I deserved to shot in the head.

According to the senior members of F4J posting on the wall, this does not count as an actual threat of violence because the member didn’t say he was going to shoot me in the head. Instead, this man suggested he’d help pay someone to shoot me in the head. But, this isn’t a “violent threat” and I was told I was over-reacting, whining and being a drama queen for demanding that this man remove his post. Mumsnet staffers deleted the whole wall post at my request. They also deleted almost the entirety of my personal posting history on Mumsnet at my request.

I had my posting history deleted because I don’t trust men who think its acceptable to threaten, intimidate and abuse women online. I don’t trust F4J to remove violent men from their organisation and I don’t trust the police to have taken the threat seriously.

A member of F4J threatened to shoot me in the head after a week of harassment and intimidation by other F4J members. Numerous members got in line to congratulate the man who threatened to have me shot. I have never received an apology from the organisation. Nor have they ever taken responsibility for the threats of violence and abuse made in their name against other members of Mumsnet.

My experience with F4J is commonplace. This is the abuse that all women face online. It was my first experience with a potential death threat [and by no means the last, even from F4J members]. In retrospect, I should have screencapped the threat and reported it to the police. But, at that point, it never even occurred to me. I just wanted the threat gone and my posting history deleted for the safety of my children [which MN did despite the fact that deleting a history as huge as mine was time-consuming and difficult!].*

As awful as that weekend was, I was also very lucky. I was surrounded by a thousands of women members of Mumsnet who stood with me. This is true feminist activism: standing up for other women. Being surrounded by women who have your back is a truly powerful and amazing gift.

This is why I am saddened by those attacking Caroline Criado-Perez as “attention-seeking” and insinuating that she’s over-reacting. I had one serious death threat in a 2 day period of intense harassment and intimidation. Caroline has had literally hundreds; not to mention the sheer number of rape threats. We should all have her back, as we should have the back of every single woman threatened by male violence.

The only people responsible for male violence are the men who perpetrate it and those who minimise it.

Criticism is unsisterly and divisive and it does nothing to destroy the patriarchy. It also ignores the perpetrator.

*A huge thank you to smallwhitecat and HelenMN for their personal support that weekend.

Mumsnet statement about Fathers 4 Justice

Written by Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, on Saturday 17 March
Some of you may have noticed that a group called Fathers 4 Justice has been saying some pretty unpleasant things about us over the last couple of weeks. In an ‘advert’ which appeared first on Facebook and then in Friday March 16th’s edition of the I, the group claims Mumsnet “promotes gender hatred”, and labels “men and boys as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters”. It calls on advertisers to suspend advertising on Mumsnet.
Most people, I’m quite sure, will see the adverts and the ‘campaign’ behind them for precisely what they are: a naked attempt to court publicity by a group of people who, for whatever reason, appear to have tired of climbing cranes in superhero outfits. (And, just coincidentally, in the run-up to Mother’s Day). In fact, it feels a bit like having a particularly irritating toddler repeatedly prodding you with a stick to get some attention.
By and large, it seemed most sensible to ignore them, not least because we’ve had our hands quite full with stuff that actually matters, like Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign to dispel rape myths.
But since Fathers 4 Justice appear to have attracted some grown-ups’ attention, we thought we should tell you a bit about the background to this attack, the truth behind their allegations, and how they are trying to bully us and other organisations.
Here are 10 things you should know…
  1. On 3 March, a Mumsnet user started a conversation about a poster campaign being touted on Mumsnet’s Facebook wall by Fathers 4 Justice, and the fact that Fathers 4 Justice was bombarding a number of sites with this troubling image.
  2. A conversation then ensued on Mumsnet about Fathers 4 Justice and their tactics, which some members of Fathers 4 Justice joined. Some Mumsnetters said some pretty harsh things.
  3. We deleted a number of posts that broke our forum guidelines regarding personal attacks. In total, we deleted 70 posts from the thread, which went on over the next few days and reached 1000 posts in total. Sixty of the deleted posts were posts were made by regular Mumsnet members; ten or so were made by new joiners we believed to be from Fathers 4 Justice. Our community managers reminded users to follow forum guidelines on nine separate occasions, and at least one prolific Mumsnetter left the site in protest at our deletion policy.
  4. On 7 March and 8 March, MNHQ received a series of emails from the Campaign Director of Fathers 4 Justice containing threats of legal action and a threat to contact our advertisers. At the same time, comments on the Fathers 4 Justice Facebook page describing Mumsnetters as “barking mad harridans”, “weird sex obsessed paranoid perverts” and “child-abusing contact blockers” were left unmoderated. As were comments that described me variously as a “dried up old hag”, “an evil woman” and having an “IQ that would return a negative score”.
  5. On 11 March, Fathers 4 Justice posted another attack ad this time accusing M&S of “sponsoring hateful, bigoted and prejudiced comments about men and boys on Mumsnet” and demanding that M&S withdraw all advertising on Mumsnet or face a boycott. It accused the company of “serving up gender hatred for Mother’s Day”.
  6. Other organisations have experienced similar bullying tactics. In recent weeks, Fathers 4 Justice have targeted the lone parents’ support charity, Gingerbread, jamming up its telephone helplines. Senior NGO staff have told us they felt too intimidated to speak out against them.
  7. The suggestion that Mumsnet encourages gender hatred would be funny if it were not so offensive – and plain silly. The central aim of Mumsnet is to make parents’ (mothers’ and fathers’) lives easier. There are many and varied opinions on the site and no one Mumsnet party line prevails, save for the view that we respect diverse opinion. We do not pre-moderate or vet comments made to our discussion boards, of which there are around 30 000 every day.
  8. Men are and always have been extremely welcome on Mumsnet – and we have a Dadsnet forum for Dads to talk directly with other men, should they wish. We estimate that around 5 to 10% of our 2 million odd monthly users are men. Of course you can always find plenty of Mumsnetters whinging about their male partner’s shortcomings – more than there are whinging about their female partner’s shortcomings – but generalisations are swiftly pounced on and we do not tolerate gender hatred, or any other kind of hatred for that matter (save maybe hatred of Fruitshoots). We encourage people to be civil and supportive and, in the main, most people are.
  9. Fathers 4 Justice campaigns for fathers to have access to their children following separation or divorce. Its founder, Matt O’Connor, says parents have “fewer rights than a terrorist”. The organisation was temporarily disbanded in 2006 after it emerged that some of its members had plotted to kidnap Tony Blair’s son Leo. Fathers 4 Justice boasts that it is “the most controversial and high profile pressure group of modern times” but it has struggled to win public attention since abandoning its eye-catching tactic of scaling tall structures in superhero costumes. In recent weeks, it has targeted Cafcass, the body responsible for protecting the rights of children in court proceedings, Gingerbread, the charity for single parents (which it claimed supported “the abuse of children”), and Mumsnet. It has also, somewhat mysteriously, branded London 2012 “the fatherless games”.
  10. We believe that the issue of a father’s access to his children is important and needs to be discussed. We understand that many Fathers 4 Justice campaigners are driven by intense personal anger over what they feel is injustice they have suffered in their own cases. But the recent actions the group have taken against Mumsnet and others constitutes plain and simple bullying and intimidation, and only harms its cause.
  11. Reading this as a Mumsnetter, you may well already be spitting tacks by now. Please do remember that’s precisely what Fathers 4 Justice want. If you post on the subject, please keep it civil. We won’t be bullied, but we don’t want to be dragged into the mire either.

If Jack Monroe was a sell-out, she’d still have my complete support

I’ll be completely honest here. I’d never heard of Jack Monroe until recently and I’ve still not read any of her food blogs. I have read her responses to the slanderous attacks in the Daily Mail which are sublime. All I know about her is the general information you pick up twitter: a single mother who found herself unemployed and living in poverty who created a food blog on creating incredibly cheap but nutritious meals which led to a Guardian column, a book deal and, now, a commercial for Sainsburys.

I’d have thought the response to any woman with a young child living in poverty who manages to create a career which not only supports their child but helps other women living in poverty would be ‘Go Girl’.  Well, I would have gone for something less cringe-worthy like congratulations but Go Girl! has more headline potentional.

So, I was more than a little surprised but Monroe’s column in the Guardian this morning which defends her appearance in the Sainsburys ad against accusations of ‘selling out’. Because a woman making a living in a capitalist-patriarchy is ‘selling out’. A single parent trying to feed her kid is ‘selling out’.

Do people genuinely have no better target for their ire than a single mother? There isn’t anyone more deserving of personal attack for perpetuating the capitalist-patriarchy than a single parent who fought her way out of poverty?

Some people really need to get over themselves.

The following is from the Guardian article. Frankly, this is no one’s business since Monroe had no need to defend herself, after all, no one spends this much time insulting Jamie Oliver for selling out, but whatever:

As for the accusations that everybody has a price? Mine is £1,653 for six weeks’ work. My actual fee is higher, identical to what the other three bloggers in the campaign are being paid, but I am keeping £1,653 to myself – the equivalent of the living wage for the six weeks that the campaign will run for. The rest is going into the tax pot; to a food project in Africa that I am visiting with Oxfam in January; and to my local food bank and homeless shelter. My friends think I’m bonkers. They tell me I’ve earned it, to keep it, to squirrel it away – but if I was in it for the money I’d have leapt at the first advertising deal offered to me almost a year ago for an upmarket butter brand, and all the 50 or so since then. I didn’t. Am I guilty of selling out? Hardly.


Victoria Coren, Roman Polanski and Being one of “those feminists” [content note for rape]

I’ve been mostly too cross to respond to Victoria Coren’s rape apologism in the Observer today. Or, more accurately, I’m too cross to respond to Coren’s response to being challenged on her article in the Observer today. As one of those who was clearly too dim to “understand” what Coren was saying , I’ve  decided to go through line by line to work out what it is that those of us who don’t understand, “don’t understand”. I’m fairly sure I’m “one of those feminists” Coren is complaining about on twitter. Of course, I’m not entirely certain Coren understands what “those feminists” are criticising which goes a long way to explain what’s wrong with Coren’s piece in the first place.

So, this is me, being too dim to understand what Coren meant when she wrote the following:

Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification:

Let’s be totally honest here, anyone who uses the term “sin of simplification” when discussing a case of child rape probably isn’t starting from a child-centric position. Roman Polanski groomed Samantha Geimer. He took topless photos of her. Several weeks later, Polanski took Geimer to Jack Nicholson’s house, fed her a quaalude and champagne and anally raped her. While she was saying no and crying to go home.

A adult man groomed and raped a child. I’m not sure how accurately describing an event counts as “simplifying” but, hey, I’m one of “those” feminists.

The Samantha Geimer/Roman Polanski case demonstrates our terrible dread of nuance

Technically, this is the stand-first so it’s unlikely that Coren wrote it. Whoever did was clearly confused about the topic of the article. I’m fairly sure there are no “nuances” to child rape but I’m basing this on research by Rape Crisis and a number of other women’s organisations who I’m sure Coren would class as “those feminists”.

Samantha Geimer, the girl in the Roman Polanski rape case, has published what might be the most important and valuable book of the century so far.

Hyperbole is perhaps not the best way to start a serious article on a woman writing her story of sexual violence. Geimer’s book is very important, not least because of the sheer number of people who think Polanski’s art should be reason enough to forgive him for raping a child. Geimer has consistently been written out of her own life by journalists and celebrities obsessed with Polanski and his privileges of fame.

It may prove to be one of those books that a lot of people talk about without actually reading, like A Brief History of Time, or The Tipping Point, or most of the school syllabus.But that’s OK.

The value of Geimer’s book, The Girl, lies in the debate it stirs up; this is already happening through serialisation and widespread, articulate interviews with the author. If that triggers a bigger discussion among non-readers, then she has still done something useful and important.

This is the start of the “missing the point completely” bit. The problem with the “debate” about Polanski is that far too many people have an opinion on a topic they don’t actually have any knowledge of.  A brief survey of the comments published under any media piece, blog and arguments on Facebook demonstrates just how many people don’t know about the grooming or the drugging of Geimer and just how many people think that Polanski only “fondled” Geimer. Much of the public “debate” involves people who genuinely don’t know that Polanski put his penis in Geimer’s mouth and anus without consent. They don’t know that Geimer said no repeatedly and was crying to go home.

Suggesting that it’s okay that they don’t read the book whilst participating in a debate about the rape of a child is ridiculous.

And, honestly, this bit: “then she has still done something useful and important.” Really? Did Coren really mean to include a statement that implies that Geimer’s only done one useful thing in her life: start a debate about being raped as a child? Because I keep rereading that paragraph and twitching.

And, really, what “debate” are we supposed to be having? The one where everyone excuses Polanski because he’s an “artiste” because I am genuinely beyond sick of that “debate”. It’s simply rape apologism.

How much do you know about the story? I knew a bit, but still experienced what hurried book reviewers call “an emotional rollercoaster” while reading one of her interviews.

Actually, I know quite a bit. In fact, I know more than I think is appropriate about the rape of a child. I know because I got angry reading article after article written by a journalist squealing about how amazing Polanski’s films are. These articles almost inevitably list Polanski’s rape of a child as something bad which happened to Polanski. And, something that Polanski was almost justified in doing after his wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered. References to Polanski’s status as a Holocaust survivor are frequently mentioned as a mitigating factor.

If we lived in a culture where the bodies of women and children were not tortured and raped on a daily basis, we would not need to know more than the fact that Roman Polanski raped a child. He would be in prison and Samantha Geimer would never have been placed in a position where she was forced to go public with her experiences.

And, frankly, any journalist or reviewer who used the words “emotional rollercoaster” about the autobiography of a child victim of rape would not have their review published.

When Samantha Geimer was 13, the famous 43-year-old film director Roman Polanski said that he was photographing young American girls for a feature in French Vogue. With forgivable naivety, Geimer’s mother allowed him to take her out alone. He photographed her topless, which she did not tell her mother.

This is quite clearly evidence that Polanksi groomed Geimer.  We need journalists start using the correct terms when writing about male violence against women. Terminology matters. The AVA project has guidelines which are easily accessible via google.

Suggesting that Geimer’s mother showed “forgivable naivety” is a back-handed way of blaming Geimer’s mother for the rape perpetrated by Polanski. It was not “naivety”. Most people believe that no one would ever contemplate raping a child. People hand over their children to priests, scout leaders, piano teachers, and relatives without  ever contemplating whether or not that adult will rape the child. We assume the best of men despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary.

The only person responsible for the rape of Samantha Geimer was Roman Polanski. And only Roman Polanski.

A few weeks later, Polanski took Samantha to Jack Nicholson’s house, gave her several glasses of champagne and part of a sleeping pill, then had sex with her. It was statutory rape. Geimer says: “It was rape in every sense of the word. I said no.”

Roman Polanski “did not have sex with her”. Roman Polanski orally and anally raped a 13 year old girl.

The moment we start using phrases like “had sex with her”, we are obfuscating what is a very clear case of rape. Secondly, there is a strange disjoint in this paragraph: Comer goes from “had sex” to statutory rape to rape. Now, technically this was a case of statutory rape since Geimer was only 13 and too young to consent. Children can not consent, however, had Geimer been 18 the case still would have been rape because she did not consent. The use of “statutory rape” within the context of this paragraph reads as a minimisation, like Whoopi Godlberg’s infamous “rape-rape” comment.

Roman Polanski groomed and orally and anally raped a child.

The way in which he had sex with her is indelicate to include, but important. Geimer’s book expresses it with literate sarcasm: referring to a sympathetic psychological report after Polanski’s arrest, which cited his “solicitude concerning pregnancy” as a mitigating factor, Geimer says this was “an interesting new euphemism for sodomy”.

Polanski did not “have sex with her”. Yes, I’m repeating myself but, honestly, it’s not actually that difficult to note the difference between rape and sex: one is a crime. The other is not.

I don’t know how this makes you feel. It fills me with thoughts of violence. I imagine being alone with Polanski, kicking and punching him. The anger I feel, at the thought of this being done to a drugged child, seems to be an instinctively brutal one.

Then you read about the life of Roman Polanski. How shameful and how pointless to punish him with violence, even in the imagination.

I honestly don’t know how to respond to this with anything other than despair. I feel a tremendous amount of anger about what Polanski did. I want him to held responsible by the criminal justice system in the state of California. I am furious that he has managed to evade justice for all these years.

I also know his personal history and nothing in it makes me think that holding him accountable would be shameful or pointless. Punching him in the face does nothing. Holding him criminally responsible for his crimes does change things: it sends a clear message that we do believe, as a society, that there is no excuse for child rape.

Aged six, he saw his father taken to a concentration camp. His mother died at Auschwitz when she was four months pregnant. At 35, with God knows what ineradicable scars, Polanski married Sharon Tate and they started a family immediately. Tate was eight months pregnant when a gang broke into their home, stabbed her to death and smeared “pig” on the front door in her blood.

Polanski is a Holocaust survivor. His first wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered whilst 8 months pregnant. These are both horrific and traumatising events. But, so is being orally and anally raped. It is not shameful or pointless to imagine punishing Polanski with violence. He has been both the victim of crime and perpetrated a crime. One does not negate the other. Yes, Coren’s next paragraph starts with “this is not an excuse” but stating that after having listed excuses for the rape is problematic. Their is a disjuncture between Coren’s intention and what is understood by the reader.

This is not an excuse; other survivors have not become rapists. But it silences my violent instinct immediately and creates a sharp and terrible sympathy in parallel with the anger. A second complicating factor is that Polanski’s work is filled with beauty and humanity.

Ah, the old “Polanski is an artiste” defence. I honestly cannot count the number of times I’ve read this exact same defence in the Guardian, never mind the rest of the media. There is absolutely no correlation between Polanski’s “work” and the brutal rape he committed.

The idea that Polanski’s work is a “mitigating factor” is rape apologism. It doesn’t matter how much “beauty and humanity” are in Polanski’s films: he raped a child.

Polanski groomed and drugged a child. Then he orally and anally raped her. His career is irrelevant to this. After all, a plumber convicted of a similar crime wouldn’t be excused because of their job. Artists must be held to the same standard as anyone else, which, frankly, in our culture isn’t that  high to begin with.

These are unfamiliar feelings; our modern world does not invite us to treat anybody as nuanced. People are heroes or villains, victims or victimisers; sometimes neither, but never both.

People are nuanced. Child rape it is not nuanced. It is a crime, regardless of who perpetrates it.

And, yes, our modern culture does create a dichotomy of heroes or villains and victims or victimisers. But, articles like this do nothing to challenge that dichotomy. It is very clearly arguing that Polanski is a hero because of his “art”. He is a hero because he is a victim. Our celebrity culture with its obsession with “important men” doing “important art” is something we need to destroy. But, let’s do this without giving excuses for child rapists.

When Roman Polanski, who has lived in exile from America and its justice system for decades, was nominated for an Oscar for directing The Pianist, Samantha Geimer called on the Academy to “judge the movie, not the man”.

She has been exchanging emails with Polanski for several years.

I’m not quite sure what Coren is trying to say here. It reads as though Coren is suggesting that we all stop being mean to Roman Polanski because The Piano was a good film and Geimer emails him. I’m sure this not quite what Coren intended to say but, as with the rest of the piece, Coren seems to be arguing the exact opposite of what she meant to say.

She says that the police investigation, hospital exams and reporting of the case were more traumatic than the attack itself. She says: “I did something wrong, I was stupid… To pose topless, and to drink and to take the [sleeping] pill.”

Many rape victims feel that the police investigation, hospital exams and reporting of the case are more traumatic than the rape itself. This is not news. This is the result of of a woman-hating culture where women are held responsible for being victims of rape. Our first instinct is to believe women are lying. It is to make excuses for their rapists. The treatment Geimer has received for the past 30 years by the media, by Hollywood and by the justice system is a disgrace to humanity. Her voice has been silenced. Repeatedly.

Coren hasn’t done much to ensure that Geimer’s voice heard here.

It is so easy and tempting to knock this into a pigeonhole: the misguided self-blame and denial of the victim. But this woman is too smart and articulate for us comfortably to assume we know better. She puts these complicated thoughts out there, alongside her anger, not because she’s too damaged to think clearly but because she can’t bear the world’s oversimplification.

Does this mean that women who aren’t “smart or articulate” aren’t allowed to define their own experience? Can we “comfortably assume we know better” than other victims for sexual violence? I am also very uncomfortable with the idea of victims being “too damaged to think clearly”. That’s precisely the excuse given by rapists, the police and the criminal justice system to prevent rapists from being held accountable for rape.

We know that Roman Polanski orally and anally raped Samantha Geimer when she was just 13 years old. No one who has experienced sexual violence or has actually listened to victims of sexual violence would ever assume there was a “pigeonhole” for victim’s experiences to be slotted into. That “oversimplification” is rape culture. Suggesting that there are victims of sexual violence who are “too damaged to think clearly” fits into that discourse and not in a helpful way.

When a therapist on the Oprah Winfrey show explained that Geimer was suffering from “victim’s guilt”, she said this was “patronising”; who would dare patronise her further by saying that it wasn’t?

In The Pianist, Polanski transformed his ghastly knowledge of the camps into an act of artistic self-expression. In The Girl, Geimer does the same with her rape. That is a powerful response, from both of them. But what an incredibly complicated common bond.

I honestly just want to put my head on my desk and cry at this statement. The arrogance of Coren in writing this is just breathtaking.

Polanski raped Geimer. They do not have “an incredibly complicated common bond” through art. Polanski is a rapist. Geimer was raped.

It is the complication that we need. People have become desperate to reduce everything, including each other, to mindless categories of good and bad, as if the world can be divided into Facebook likes and dislikes.

And, it most certainly is not a “complication” that we need. And, frankly, if anyone is guilty of the sin over-simplification, it’s the mainstream media who reduce everything to soundbites with little analysis.

When I wrote about the Muslim women in Birmingham who were protesting against a ban on the niqab, and the argument that they are so deeply in the patriarchal grip that they cannot choose as freely as they think, I pointed out that people have said the same to me about taking my husband’s name. Many readers asked why I was defending the veil. Others pointed out the differences between veiling your face and changing your name. It was as though there is no room for analogy unless it’s a direct comparison and no room for words on the niqab other than “Hurray for it” or “Ban it”.

My first thought when I got to this paragraphy was that Coren only wrote about Geimer and Polanski because she was still having a tantrum about being questioned over the piece on Muslim women in Birmingham. Having read this paragraph, the rest of the piece seems to be nothing more than an adult whining about being “misunderstood” and demanding people apologise for deliberately “misunderstanding” here.

Here’s a hint: if a large number of people don’t understand your point, it’s possible you didn’t do a very good job of conveying your point. This is a time for a little bit of self-reflection and not writing articles about the “sin of simplification” in cases of child rape.

Similarly, we yearn to know if we should be cheering or booing at Operation Yewtree, political leaders or the idea of bombing Syria.

So what is to be done with Samantha Geimer’s story? She does not condemn Polanski nor exonerate him. She does not blame herself nor refuse to examine herself. Her voice is strong and complicated. You cannot simplify her, or him.

Her current battle is not with her original oppressor but the reporters of then and now, the lawyers, the psychologists of reality TV and everyone watching – all of whom objectified her further. She is fighting against reductive simplicity. She forces us to think hard, to use muscles that must not go slack.

There’s an irony in this last paragraph in relation to Coren’s response to the criticism of this piece on twitter. Her immediate dismissal of any response which she does not approve doesn’t make me believe Coren is actually arguing against over-simplification within the media.

Mostly, it sounds like a woman cross at not being lauded for another article and using the rape of a 13 year old girl to get in some snide digs at those who disagreed with her last week.

I’m not overly upset at being dismissed as one of “those feminists”. It’s always code for that group of weirdos who think women are human too. And, I’m okay with being too dim to understand what Coren thought she was saying since the problems within Coren’s piece reflect pretty much everything which is wrong with rape culture.


The #SharedGirlhood tag caused a ruckus on twitter. Again. I read the tag thinking about the biological realities which impact on all girls due to hormones and not just during puberty. Mostly, though, I read the tag thinking about the reality of male violence which impacts on the lives of ALL girls. I read it recognising my privileges as a middle class white women who had access to a good education.

I know the reality that Indigenous women in Canada are seven times more likely to experience sexual violence than white women. I know that Women of Colour experience more street harassment and sexual violence than white women, frequently at the hands of white men. I know women who are disabled are far more likely to be victims of domestic and sexual violence and that, due to funding, services to support the specific needs of these women just aren’t good enough. I know the reality of puberty is fundamentally different for women based entirely on access to clean water. I know that maternal health is one of the biggest problems facing women worldwide and that, regardless of issues I had with the NHS, my baby would have died from a stroke in large swathes of the planet. I know that my cousin and her son would have both died from complications of pregnancy. Poor access to healthcare is a form of male violence against women. It is as damaging to women’s health as rape and sexual violence.

When I read the tag, I was thinking of both the common experiences of all girls whilst acknowledging the differences: race, class, sexuality, disability. education, all impact on how women experience violence (and how often they are believed for being victims of violence). What I learned from the tag is that white women need to say we are listening to Women of Colour: that we do know that they are more likely to experience sexual violence than white women. And, that if you didn’t know this before, then you need to acknowledge that you have helped silence the voices of Women of Colour. Feminism is a steep learning curve and none of us are perfect. We need to stop reacting defensively when this is pointed out.

I also saw a deliberate attempt to derail the tag by the same group of people who attempt to derail much of the feminist activism on twitter. I do often wonder why, if the rest of us all are shit, this group don’t actually engage in some activism themselves. And, by activism, I mean: not just insulting and denigrating the work of other women. Activism requires positive change: not just trashing people you don’t like. It saddens me to see women who are trying to learn and be heard being silenced for not meeting someone else’s arbitrary definition of what “feminists” are supposed to think. It makes me very, very angry when I see women who claim to be feminists using misogynistic language to silence other women. If your feminism involves calling other women cunts or frigid or using sexually explicit threats to silence them, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself.

And, frankly, when a shitload of women are sharing personal stories of sexual violence and rape, you need to shut the fuck up and listen to them. Don’t whine about feeling excluded. It makes you sound like a narcissistic misogynist.

Where are all the “feminist” men?

This is the question constantly posed: can men be feminists or must they call themselves allies? Once upon a time, I believed men could be feminists and then I changed my mind: feminism is a label for women only. Now, well, I’ve changed my mind again. I genuinely don’t care what men call themselves as long as they stop whining about being excluded from labels and get off their asses and do something! If they want to call themselves Chipmunks Anonymous whilst fighting for the liberation of women then they can.  Or, Hamsters ‘R Us. Or, the Doodlebug Network. Whatever. Just stop freaking whining about being excluding all the freaking time.

We are constantly told we must not exclude men from Reclaim the Night marches and that we can not talk of women’s experiences of male violence as a class because it hurts men’s feelings. When we fundraise for rape crisis centres and refuges for women, we are accused of ignoring male victims of violence. When we discuss the objectification of women’s bodies, the harm caused to women working in the sex industry, the grooming of young girls or even the pinkification of toys, someone always pops to shout ‘what about the men’?

Well, what about the men? Where are the men campaigning to end violence against women.

I have been on Reclaim the Night marches which have capitulated to men’s demands to be included, to see those men who whined the loudest not bother to turn up. No one mentions the women survivors of sexual violence who don’t feel safe to attend a march which includes men; women who are silenced by male entitlement.

What about the sexual harassment and threats of sexual violence and death experienced by all women? I see women standing up to defend their sisters and I see men saying it’s wrong. What I don’t see is large numbers of men challenging abusive and violent men online. Where are all the men tweeting those who are sending death and rape threats? And, I don’t mean by including the target of the harassment in the tweet. If you are genuine about supporting women, you don’t need to inform us. Just get on with it. If you tweet the victim too, I’m just going to assume you’re in it for the cookies and blowjobs. Feminism doesn’t need anymore men pretending they’re cool; The Good Men Project already occupy that space of anti-woman hypocrisy.

If ignore those who post rape and threats, you might as well send them a card saying you approve of their actions. You don’t need to publicly call them out. Reporting abuse to Twitter, Facebook or the police is as important, if not more so.

Every time a man stands by silently whilst another man makes jokes about rape, they are saying it’s ok.

Every time a man stands silently whilst another man assaults a woman, they are saying it’s ok.

Every time a man stands silently whilst another man makes crass jokes about women’s appearance, they are saying it’s ok.

Feminism doesn’t need more men whinging about whether or not they get to call themselves feminists. It needs men to stop babbling and just get on with doing.