To Combat Drug Violence and Corruption, Mexican Police Detain Student Activists…..

This post was written by Cath Andrews (@Andrews_Cath) and was first published on her blog.

This afternoon, unidentified police officers snatched a student activist from the street in Mexico City. The student, Sandino Bucio Dovalí, studies Philosophy at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and has been active in the recent protests in Mexico City against the kidnapping of 43 student teachers and the murder of three others in from a rural teaching college in Ayozinapa in the southern state of Guerrero. The 43 student teachers were detained two months ago in confrontation with municipal police from Iguala and Cocula. According to Mexico´s Federal government, they were later handed over to a drug gang. It is believed they were murdered and burnt in a rubbish dump.

Armed agents from Mexico’s Special Investigative Police Department for Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada or SEIDO), detained Bucio Dovalí as he left a busy metro station near the Autonomous University. This detention was captured on video. In the recording, it is clear that the agents –who were not wearing uniform- used excessive force and violence. When on-lookers tried to intervene to prevent what appeared to be a kidnap attempt, police agents threatened them with heavy duty rifles. SEIDO later confirmed the detention of Bucio Dovalí.

Bucio Dovali is not the first student activist to be arrested in the wake of the large demonstrations in Mexico City and a number of other towns and cities in Mexico. Last week, ununiformed elements of Mexico’s Federal Police attempted to arrest Bryan Reyes and Jaqueline Santana as they walked on the street. This attempt was thwarted by uniformed police officers who responded to the students’ cries for help. Federal police have accused Reyes and Santana of stealing 500 pesos (25 UK pounds or 45 US dollars) from its agents. Both students are now in prison awaiting charges.

These detentions appear designed to intimidate students from protesting against the disappearance and murder of the Ayotzinapa student teachers. The news of this event has provoked protests around the world and has severely affected the image of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the two months since the student teachers vanished, there have been on-going protests throughout Mexico. Demonstrators want the Mexican government find the missing students and undertake actions that would put an end to the drug cartel’s violence. There is abundant evidence of collusion between Mexico’s politicians and the cartels, most obviously from the events of Ayotzinapa. As a result, the legitimacy of Peña Nieto’s government is being questioned daily in the press.

Moreover, in recent weeks, President Peña Nieto and his wife, Ángelica Rivera have also been facing allegations of corruption concerning a house built for Rivera by the building contractor who has undertaken many lucrative building projects for the Federal Government during Peña Nieto’s presidency.

In a speech delivered a few days ago, Peña Nieto threatened to use Mexico’s security forces against demonstrators. The detention of Bucio Duvalí and others in the past week suggest that he has resolved to fulfil his promise. Moreover, it appears that these arrests are only the start, as reports indicate that arrest warrants have been issued for many other student activists.

Instead of directing his energies to combatting the murders, kidnapping and people trafficking undertaken by the drug cartels, it appears Peña Nieto has decided to target students who are protesting against his handling of the disappearance of the student teachers from Ayotzinapa. In this context, the fact that the students arrested during last week’s demonstrations have been charged with inciting terrorism and participation in organised crime is chillingly ominous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.

Some reservations about the coverage of Bill Cosby

I’ve seen speculation about the possibility of Bill Cosby abusing one/ some of the children who appeared on the Cosby Show. I’m very concerned about this speculation because it is extremely harmful to survivors and non- survivors. No one has the right to speculate publicly about whether or not a woman has experienced rape. No one has the right to identify rape victims publicly without consent.

It is clear Bill Cosby is a serial rapist who has been allowed to continue perpetrating rape due to his position in society. Women have spoken publicly about their experiences. We cannot allow other women be forced into speaking publicly about rape, regardless of whether or not they experienced it.

Women have the right to privacy. We don’t need to name other women. We already know he’s a serial rapist.

#IMD2014 : Manhood Rites of Passage

It goes without saying that I believe International Men’s Day is the ultimate example of whiny-arsed men having tantrums about the entirety of the female population of the planet lining up to suck their cock. This year’s tagline is:

The ability to sacrifice your needs on behalf of others is fundamental to manhood, as is honour. Manhood rites of passage the world over recognise the importance of sacrifice in the development of Manhood.

Men make sacrifices everyday in their place of work, in their role as husbands and fathers, for their families, for their friends, for their communities and for their nation. International Men’s Day is an opportunity for people everywhere of goodwill to appreciate and celebrate the men in their lives and the contribution they make to society for the greater good of all.

You know who also makes sacrifices every single fucking day: women. It’s women who do the vast majority of caring in our  world: for their children, extending family members and their communities. It is women that do the “volunteer” work needed  to maintain libraries, hospitals, and youth facilities. How many men do you see running parent councils at schools? Running fundraising for playgroups and nurseries? Which parent shows up at school to help with reading? This isn’t because women “don’t work”. Women do all of this on top of working full time (whether in paid employment or not). If women went on strike tomorrow and refused to do any care work, volunteer work or paid employment, the economy would collapse. And, this  is without acknowledging women’s reproductive labour through pregnancy. If men went on strike tomorrow, women would step in and pick up the pieces.

How the fuck is being a grown up a “passage to manhood”. Seriously, this is even bigger claptrap than the appalling shite they ran last year on role models.

How many men do you know who can do the following:

  • name the school crossing guards
  • take the day off work when their kids are sick
  • name the teacher/ dentist/ GP
  • know how to operate the washing machine
  • even know where the washing machine is located in the house
  • spend their evenings sewing costumes for World Book Day
  • stand in a queue for 5 hours to get their kids a ticket to see Mr Tumble
  • do 50 % of the childcare and housework

Because I don’t know any. I know a lot of women whose partners think cooking dinner constitutes helping out at Christmas and have no problem whatsoever in taking 3 days off work when they have a sniffle but don’t lift a finger when their wives have the flu.

I also don’t see a whole lot of men working to end violence against women and girls. When we live in a world where:

  • men choose to kill 2 female current or former partners a week
  • one in three women experience domestic violence
  • more than 30 specialist refuges for women have been closed due to funding cuts
  • more people are upset about Ched Evans being denied the right to play football than they are about him committing rape
  • where the BBC can write articles confusing child sexual exploitation and grooming with affairs
  • where the majority of children living in poverty due so because their “fathers” refuse to pay child maintenance

I don’t see men “sacrificing” their salaries to ensure that their children are properly clothed and fed. I don’t see men “sacrificing” their hobbies to care for their children or vulnerable relatives. I don’t see men running fundraising projects for their kids school or their mother’s residential centre. I don’t see men fighting for laws that would protect vulnerable people from sexual and economic exploitation. I see a whole lot of men benefiting from these laws though.

The real difference between International Men’s Day and International Women’s Day is that men are whinging about behaving like adults and women are campaigning to stop rape, domestic violence and fatal male violence against women and girls. This is just another example of Margaret Atwood’s famous quote: “men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them”. These aren’t equally valid campaigns. International Men’s Day is a joke and men who think they “sacrifice” requires cookies and a special day are the kind of men who need to be kicked off the planet.

Allison Pearson & Rape Culture

I storified my responses to Allison Pearson’s suggestion that feminists weren’t in the least bit interested in the sexual exploitation of young girls in Rotherham here.

Criminalising Pregnancy is simply Misogyny

(Originally published on Mumsnet as a guest post)

Right now, the Court of Appeal is deciding whether or not a council in the North-West of England can hold the mother of a six-year-old girl born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome criminally liable under the Offences against Persons Act of 1861.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a number of diagnoses that result from prenatal exposure to alcohol. This exposure can cause problems with memory, attention, speech and language and behaviour, a weakened immune system, and damage to the liver, kidneys and heart. The long-term consequences include addiction, chronic unemployment, poverty, depression, suicide, and the criminalisation of the child themselves.

It is a horrible condition. I know, because my nephew has FASD. I have seen him struggle with his physical and emotional health. He finds everyday activities difficult, and his behaviour is very challenging. It is heartbreaking, watching him trying to navigate life with intellectual and physical impairments that could have been prevented. He finds school difficult because he cannot cope with unstructured learning, such as break time. He requires a very strict routine with clear instructions and finds choices difficult. He also has physical disabilities and needs a very strict diet – another control on his life that he does not fully understand.

As an aunt, I don’t want any woman to drink alcohol whilst pregnant because I worry about the consequences for their children. As a feminist, I am utterly opposed to the criminalisation of women’s bodies and any attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

Criminalising mothers who give birth to babies with FASD would do nothing to support women, and would make accessing services even more difficult. How many women would inform their midwife of their alcohol consumption if they believe they’ll end up in prison? Even if women were to approach their midwife or doctor, there aren’t enough programs in place to help them. How many beds are there in rehab facilities that are appropriate for women with substance misuse issues? How many are there that cater for women with other children? I refuse to believe that criminalisation would be followed by investment in mental health services. Already, a vast number of women in prison are there as a consequence of trauma, and criminalising pregnancy would increase that number.

As an aunt, I don’t want any woman to drink alcohol whilst pregnant because I worry about the consequences for their children. As a feminist, I am utterly opposed to the criminalisation of women’s bodies and any attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

The most frustrating thing is that there are so many other things we could do. Research has shown us how to minimise the effects of FASD. For example, we know that access to a healthy diet has a positive impact, which is why poverty remains a major risk factor. This isn’t because women living in poverty are more likely to misuse alcohol – it’s because a healthy diet can minimise the effects of alcohol on a developing foetus.

We know how to prevent FASD. It requires a properly funded NHS to provide support for women with substance misuse issues. Access to a midwife and GP who understand addiction and its causes is the most important prevention method. We can’t see alcoholism in isolation. Amongst women, it is frequently linked to trauma following male violence – and we need a social care network that understands the reality and consequences of this.

This is why criminalising women is not just nonsensical – it’s misogynistic.

Despite the fact that our economy would be destroyed if women withdrew all their labour, society still believes that women have less economic value than men. The control of women’s reproduction – from access to birth control to abortion, from prenatal care to maternity leave – is about controlling women’s labour. Preventing the “bad” women – the drinkers, the drug takers – from giving birth means that they are free to do low-paying jobs, rather than depending on the welfare state. Of course, criminalising them is much easier than fixing the root of the problem by providing better health and social care, and it suits those who should be stepping up to the plate: the local council, which is refusing to take responsibility for its failure to support a vulnerable woman appropriately during her pregnancy, and our society, which is refusing to take responsibility for the harm caused by misogyny and violence against women.

The only effective way to tackle FASD is to create a culture in which women have equal value to men, where male violence is eradicated, and in which women have access to free healthcare without judgment.

I don’t want any child to suffer the way my nephew suffers. I also don’t want to see women imprisoned for substance misuse. If we genuinely cared about women with substance misuse issues and children born with FASD, we’d be standing on the barricades demanding better investment in social care, the NHS and education – that’s where the support and intervention for pregnant women should be. They won’t get this support if they’re forced into the criminal justice system.

My nephew deserves better than the criminalisation of his mother. And his mother deserves better too.

Fuck you Jezebel

So, Jezebel weighs in on the discussions around Lena Dunham’s troubling passages in her autobiography by insinuating Women of Colour are just being a tad hysterical about the whole thing and the follows it up with this charming paragraph:

It is fundamentally difficult for people—parents, researchers, peers—to identify the fuzzy and necessarily, inherently self-defined line between normative childhood behavior and potential sexual abuse. Women, and people who have worked with victims of sexual abuse or been victims themselves, are (quite understandably) more likely to describe a behavior as abusive that other people would describe as normal, unremarkable, fine.

Us survivors of child sexual abuse are just too damn emotional to be able to do things like read books and come to conclusions. It’s understandable that people working with vulnerable children are more likely to describe a behaviour as abusive: not that they are more likely to recognise the signs of child abuse than someone who isn’t.

The sneering tone of the article makes it clear that any challenge to the construction of Dunham The Quirky Wondergirl is women over-reacting. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Lena Dunham and the importance of appropriate language.

I am not a fan of Lena Dunham. Her type of humour has never appealed to me and this is without acknowledging the very valid criticisms of her work from Women of Colour. Dunham’s casual racism has been well documented and isn’t something we can pretend doesn’t exist just because, as feminists, we think women’s representation on mainstream television is important. We can believe it is important without ignoring issues of racism (or classism, homophobia, sexism). After all, it’s hardly an accurate representation of women if you create a television program based in New York with mainly white women. Disney isn’t capable of producing television which isn’t full of white middle class kids. Feminists should be held to a higher standard.

When I first read the passages from Dunham’s book listed online, I honestly didn’t even know where to start deconstructing them. At best, they demonstrate some truly problematic behaviour – even if the only problematic behaviour turns out to be what she was written. It is possible that Dunham, who describes herself as an unreliable narrator, has written events that perhaps never happened. Even if it turns out to be all exaggeration, their inclusion and the language used is a problem.

Here’s the thing: children exploring their bodies isn’t new and it isn’t always a sign of an abuser. Baby boys frequently play with their penis when they discover it feels nice. Little girls play with their vulvas for the same reason. Some children are also obsessed with sticking objects in their noses and ears that I’m not overly shocked that a one year old might stick marbles in their vagina as Dunham claims her sister did. I’m also not surprised that a one year old might think it funny to be found out. Children wanting to look at each other’s bodies isn’t exactly abnormal either. There is a power difference between a 7 year old child and a 1 year old baby. This power differential in siblings cannot be underestimated (and I say this as as oldest child).  Abusive or manipulative behaviour isn’t uncommon in children either. It doesn’t mean the child is an abuser – or will grow up to be abusive.

What I do find shocking is Dunham’s language when she discusses her treatment of her sister: trying to kiss her and masturbating in the bed beside her. The behaviour Dunham describes isn’t necessarily abuse but the language used in the text is deeply problematic. It is also not unusual for children who have experienced sexual abuse to engage in these types of behaviours. This may be only poorly written descriptions of childhood exploration but it would inappropriate for a teacher or social worker not to raise it as an issue of concern if they had known. I don’t mean every example of this type of incident must go to a full children’s panel but it does necessitate some investigation.

The language used is hyperbolic. It isn’t the language I expect from an adult feminist who understands the power of language. Dunham is a comedian: words are her financial security. To write about these incidents in the manner she did, Dunham has left herself open, at best, to valid criticism from survivors of child sexual exploitation. At worst, Dunham has admitted to grossly inappropriate and abusive behaviour to her younger sibling. I also have to wonder if Dunham asked permission of her sister to write about these incidents. If she didn’t, then Dunham has used her position of power to once again cause her sister potential harm and embarrassment.

This line in particular is deeply worrying:

“anything a sexual predator might do”

Whilst it’s not commonly used in the UK, the term sexual predator has a specific legal meaning in the US and Dunham will have known that. Dunham, regardless of whether or not she calls herself a reliable narrator, will be well aware of the context in which she wrote this text. Even if Dunham felt it necessary to discuss her behaviour as a child towards her sister, this language is unnecessarily inflammatory and, frankly, utterly ridiculous.

What I also find incredibly problematic is the response from some that Dunham can’t have been sexually abusive to her younger sister because she’s a feminist. It is entirely possible for a woman who self-defines as a feminist to be abusive. It is possible for them to be sexually abusive to other women. Labelling oneself a feminist does not preclude taking responsibility for the consequences of our words.

It may be that Dunham made much of this up in order to sell more copies of the book – it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a celebrity  has exaggerated their behaviour in order to get more attention.  Whatever scenario this turns out be, Dunham needs to step up and take some responsibility for her actions and the consequences of her words.