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 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Top Eleven Favourite Books of 2014

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

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place

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

Lynn Harne’s Violent Fathering

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

Lorraine Radford & Marianne Hester’s Mothering Through Domestic Violence

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

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

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

Marilyn French’s War Against Women

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

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

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

Denise Thompson’s Radical Feminism Today

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

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

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

Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy

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

Beatrix Campbell’s End of Equality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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