Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and the labelling of sexualised violence as “erotic” (spoilers)

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 11.17.18Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest The Clothing of Books is both an essay on the art of book jackets and  love story of books from the perspective of a reader and a writer. It is beautiful and thought-provoking essay examining the way in which book jackets impact on how a book is understood and marketed. It is a short read at 70ish pages, but also one of my favourite books this year.

I read The Clothing of Books the same day I started Han King’s The Vegetarian, which won the Man Booker International Prize (2016). King’s book is also beautifully written. It also exemplifies Lahiri’s thesis on the complex relationship between writers and their books once the publishing company takes control. And, not in a positive way.

The front cover of my copy of Kang’s book includes both the emblem of the Man Booker Prize and a not quite inappropriate quote from Ian McEwan who calls it a “a novel of sexuality and madness”. Unfortunately, I suspect McEwan believes that the two apply to the same character. They don’t.

The blurb on the back is the following:

A darkly beautiful modern classic about rebellion, eroticism, and the female body. One of the most extraordinary books you will ever read.
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The Vegetarian is an extraordinary book, but it’s not “erotic” unless you view multiple accounts of rape as erotic. The book’s central character is Yeong-hye who, following a dream, becomes a vegan. Her husband, described as a “normal man” is abusive before Yeong-hye’s conversion. His abuse increases when Yeong-hye refuses to capitulate to his demands that she eat meat. He ignores her quite clear mental illness and anorexia and punishes Yeong-hye’s “defiance” by raping her on multiple occasions. Yeong-hye’s father also physically assaults her at a family meal for “shaming” her family. Yeong-hye’s husband abandons her after she is incarcerated in a mental institution; as do her parents. Later we learn that the father has a long history of emotional, physical and psychological abuse of Yeong-hye when she was a child.

The Vegetarian is an incredible, beautifully written book but it is not “erotic” since that which is being deemed “erotic” is rape. Yeong-hye, despite being schizophrenic and having anorexia, is read, by those who wrote the various blurbs on the book, as consenting to “allowing” her brother-in-law to paint flowers on her naked body and then “have sex” with her. The brother-in-law, who is already a lazy and incompetent husband and father, uses his position as a ‘trusted’ family member to target Yeong-hye. It is his sexuality and desire that is responsible for the destruction of his own family. His desire is not “taboo” as another comment on the books suggests. It is criminal. He chooses to sexually assault and rape Yeong-hye because he likes the idea of a birthmark on her bum.

In the end, the only person who stays with Yeong-hye is her sister, yet none of the comments on the book jacket mention sisterhood as a theme within. In-hye does everything that is demanded of a women: she is financially successful, the mother of a son, does all the caring and lifework so that her husband, “the artist”, has no responsibilities. She is the quintessential “good girl”. And, is punished, repeatedly, for being so.

In The Clothing of Books, Lahiri ponders if those designing her book jackets or writing the blurbs actually bother to read her books. Reading The Vegetarian, I too wondered whether or not those writing the blurbs had read the book. Or, if they simply failed to recognise the patterns of male violence and its impact on women. As with Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, which is described as “deeply romantic” on the book jacket, The Vegetarian,  demonstrates the unwillingness of readers and reviewers to define male violence as violence.

I gave The Vegetarian two stars on Good Reads. As I write this, I wonder if the number of stars is a reflection of the book itself or a visceral reaction to the book jacket’s definition of the book. There is certainly a huge disconnect between my reading of the text and the blurbs on the book jacket.

#womenwrites

UK judges change court rules on child contact for violent fathers by Sandra Saville

Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform? by Amanda Merger

Babette Cole, anarchic creator of Princess Smartypants, dies at 66 by Danuta Kean

First Class Racism by Jamelia

Lesbian Anxieties, Queer Erasures: The Problem with Terms Like ‘Subversive Femme’  via @LucyAllenFWR

Generation treat yo’ self: the problem with ‘self-care’ by Arwa Mahdawi

Response to ‘Transgender Kids:Who Knows Best‘  via @fairplaywomen

TRIGGER WARNING by @extreme_crochet http://buff.ly/2jFtCBH

The Importance of Recognizing the Murder of Women as a Hate Crime  by Zoe Holman via @broadly

Me and my accent(s) by Sara Salem

Liberal feminists ushered Ivanka Trump into the White House by by RAQUEL ROSARIO SANCHEZ  via @FeministCurrent

Transforming a victim blaming culture

evb-logo-1Media discussions of male violence against women focus on the actions of the victim rather than the perpetrator. How can we challenge this narrative using survivor’s testimony without putting them at risk of online harassment?

 

“If I was Ched Evans i would find that whore and actually rape her this time!!”

This is one of the many abusive and threatening messages directed at the victim in the rape trials (and appeals) of footballer Ched Evans’ over the past 4 years. She has experienced an incessant barrage of abuse and threats of physical and sexual violence via Twitter, alongside a deliberate smear campaign including repeated breaches of her anonymity. She has also received a tremendous amount of support from women across the UK. Her experiences demonstrate both the importance of centering the voices of survivors, who are frequently disbelieved, but also the limitations, particularly with the development of social media platforms predicated on notions of ‘free speech,’ that allow survivors of rape to be labeled ‘a fucking cunt’ or ‘lying psycho bitch’.   Social media platforms have, to date, been unwilling to have honest discussions of the reality, representation, and ubiquity of male violence against women and girls, despite a recent EU report that suggests 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18-74 have experienced sexual or physical violence. …

Read the full post at Open Democracy.

16 ways to End Violence against Women and Girls

These are just a few of the ways that you can support women’s services during the 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Male Violence against Women and Girls.

  1. Donate £1 to a different specialist women’s service like the national organisations Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, or Refuge every day.
  2. Donate £1 to your local service providers supporting women who are living with domestic and sexual violence and abuse. BME women’s services have been disproportionately impacted by so-called ‘austerity’ so please don’t forget them.
  3. Share fundraisers for women’s services across social media. We understand that many women can not afford to donate £1. Sharing fundraisers is just as essential as being able to donate £1.
  4. Host a coffee morning for your friends to raise money.
  5. Bring some baked goods into work and ask for donations to a service of your choice from your co-workers.
  6. Collect clothing, bedding and any other unused household items to donate to your local refuge or those support services for women who are homeless, living in poverty etc.
  7. Donate toys to a local refuge for children who will be living in them at Christmas or those support services for women who are homeless, living in poverty etc..
  8. Donate new toiletries and another nice gifts for teenage girls and women living in refuges.
  9. Make a donation to your local food bank. All women are disproportionately impacted by poverty and austerity measures. Women living with violence are disproportionately impacted by cuts to housing benefits and women’s services. 
  10. Donate sanitary products to food banks. These are essential for women and teenage girl’s access to education and work. 
  11. Write to your local councillors, MP, or MSP to demand ring-fenced funding for women’s specialist services, including those for BME women or those with disabilities.
  12. Write to local councillors, MP, MEP, or MSP and ask them to undergo specialist training on domestic and sexual violence and abuse from specialist organisations.
  13. Write to your MP and MSP demanding they support the campaigns to end the detention of refugee women and children.
  14. Write to your MP and MSP demanding mandatory sex and healthy relationships education in schools, as well as campaigns to make schools safer for girls.
  15. File complaints with media about inappropriate, misleading and offensive coverage of domestic and sexual violence and abuse.
  16. And, if you’re a man, stand up for women’s rights. Challenge men who make rape jokes. Call out male friends who refuse to financially support their children. Insist your employer implement the equal pay legislation. Donate money to rape crisis centres and refuges. Wearing a white ribbon isn’t enough. Your need to do the work to end violence against women and girls.

You can find the address and contact details of your local councillor via  WriteToThem.

 

This post was originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming.

#womenwrites (September)

MPs call for end to abusive men using courts against families by Sandra Laville

Getting real about bad advice  by @wordspinster

A high school student accused a classmate of sexual assault. Her school suspended her by Nora Caplan-Bricker

Councils to be allowed to opt out of child protection laws  by Sara Ogilvie

Should feminists talk about “pregnant people”? 

Men are increasingly invading feminism – excluding them isn’t ‘man hating’
by @bindelj

Bad science misled millions with chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s how we fought back by Julie Rehmeyer

The Science Museum and the Brain Sex game by Young Crone

Trust > on men in the feminist movement

“He had the house, the kids – I had nothing” by anonymous @thepooluk

How has rape become such a common trope of television drama? by Ellen Vanstone

Glasgow Women’s Library: a treasure trove that shows how far feminism has come by Libby Brooks

Domestic abuse: Coercive control in Scottish Law by Vicky Allan

The scale of historical sexual abuse in the UK is a catastrophe. We need catharsis | Beatrix Campbell

Angela Bassett, the genius that defies age by Rooney Elmi via @WritersofColour

Medieval Embroidery, ‘Proper Art,’ and the V&A’s ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition  via @LucyAllenFWR

Calling selective schools ‘new grammars’ won’t eliminate the old problems by Iesha Small

Why we have to take white working class people’s fears seriously by Jacinta Nandi  via @WritersofColour

£4 BILLION – the current outstanding child maintenance bill

£4 billion.

This is the outstanding arrears of child maintenance owed in England and Wales. According to a report by the charity Gingerbread called Missing Maintenance, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) estimates that only £467 million will ever be recovered.This leaves nearly one half of single parent families, the vast majority headed by women, living in poverty.

The current Conservative government is in the process of closing the Child Support Agency (CSA) to replace it with the Child Maintenance Service, which charges women £20 for the privilege of opening a file and then a sum each month if some semblance of the maintenance is actually paid. The new vaunted system has seen only 53% of the families registered receiving maintenance with 90 000 people having not paid during one three month period. There is already nearly £53 million in unpaid maintenance. Many of the families will receive only negligible amounts of money, as the DWP does not require the full maintenance to be paid in order for the account to be registered as compliant. Realistically, a father of 4 earning £70 000 a year can pay only £5 a month and still be included within the 53% statistic.

Equally problematic is the fact that the Child Maintenances Service is actively writing to the primary caregivers to request they ‘forgive’ the debt owed by non-paying fathers – as though the primary caregivers of children, who are overwhelmingly women, can neglect to pay rent, council tax and the credit card debts they rack up buying groceries knowing these debts will be ‘forgiven’. As Polly Toynbee makes clear,

Some 90% of CSA cases have now been transferred over to the CMS, but only 13% of mothers affected have decided to pay the new fees and apply to the CMS: the DWP must be pleased, as it had publicly estimated that 63% would pursue their claims. All the pressure in official letters is to deter mothers. The £20 fee may be a mild block, along with charging fathers 4%, but the evidence suggests mothers just give up when prodded by these letters.

Charging mothers to use the Child Maintenance Service is simply a way for the government to abdicate responsibility. They are very clear that the sole purpose is to force more parents into dealing with child maintenance themselves. In doing so, they have refused to recognise the reason why men, and it is overwhelmingly men, refuse to pay maintenance: it is both a punishment and a form of control over their former partners. This is male entitlement writ large by men who do not care about the welfare of their children.

We need to start calling the refusal to pay maintenance what it really is: financial child abuse. Forcing your children to live in poverty because you cannot be bothered to support them or refusing to punish the mother are not the signs of ‘good fathers’. It is the hallmark of an abusive father.

It is not difficult to implement child maintenance policies that are effective and ensure that men cannot hide their assets. Placing the Child Maintenance Service under the heading of HM Revenue & Customs so that child maintenance is garnished directly from the salary of the non-resident parent. This coupled with actual punitive policies for those who refuse to pay, such as a fee for every missed payment, interest accrued on outstanding payments, and the use of enforcement agents (bailiffs) to confiscate personal property, and, potentially, criminal proceedings would see an immediate increase in the number of men who start to pay their maintenance. Canada’s maintenance enforcement program has the right to suspend the driver’s licenses and passports of men who are in arrears recognising that the legal obligation to pay maintenance being higher than the desire to vacation in Hawaii.

There is a quote bandied about in discussions of child contact and child maintenance that says ‘children aren’t pay per view’, as though children were nothing more than a possession to be passed about. As with Women’s Aid campaign, Child First: Safe Contact Saves Lives, we need to stop talking about children as possessions and start talking about children’s rights.[7] Children have the right to live free from violence. Children also have the right to live outwith poverty.

The erasure of men’s financial responsibility for their children, supported by government policy, is an absolute disgrace. It is, simply, state sanctioned child abuse.

 

Gingerbread’s Missing Maintenance Report

Child First: Safe Contact Saves Lives Petition

 

 

This is rape culture: That ‘tired mum and quickies’ meme.

This rolled up on my Facebook feed this morning – one of those ‘suggested posts’. Usually, these posts are just dire. This one is heart-breaking. The website someecards.com have shared the text below with the photo and name of the woman who wrote it. I have redacted both because what is below isn’t the story of a ‘good marriage’ as someecards.com suggests but a story of emotional blackmail, male entitlement, sexual harassment and coercion within marriage. This is what rape culture looks like:

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Making space to have sex when you have small children, jobs and other caring responsibilities can be difficult. That is no excuse for whining and sexually harassing your wife. Being put in a position where you have to ‘trade’ sex in order to eat what you want or listen to your music isn’t a healthy relationship. It’s a coercive relationship. Passive aggressive ‘dry humping your leg’ and asking if you want ‘sausage’ is gross behaviour. Jabbing his dick into your back to push you into sex isn’t romantic. No woman should ‘feel bad’ because they don’t want to have sex and a man who makes you feel that way should be divorced.

This is male entitlement writ large – the belief that he is entitled to sex whenever he wants regardless of his wife’s desires. It’s sexual coercion at best.

Rape culture isn’t just the stranger who sexually harasses you in the street or the man on public transport who touches you without permission. It is men who believe that marriage entitles them to sex and that women should be bullied and harassed into it for daring to say no. It is conducive context in which men ‘pestering’ for sex are seen as somehow romantic. It is the context in which a woman’s right to say no is erased. It is the context in which controlling behaviours (eating chocolate/ listening to music) are deemed ‘normal’ rather than evidence of domestic violence.

I’ve redacted the woman’s name because I believe victims of sexualised violence have the right to anonymity. This woman is a victim of sexualised violence. She deserves anonymity. And a life without a man who thinks fucking her is his inalienable right by dint of marriage.

Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence and the Problem of Gender Identity (Huff Post)

Currently the Office for National Statistics cap the number of crimes that one person can report at five. The Office insist the cap is necessary as

“otherwise the sheer number of crimes committed by perpetrators against the same individual would skew the rest of the statistics.”

As research by Professor Sylvia Walby evidences, there is only one crime that would be impacted by lifting the cap: domestic violence. Lifting the cap would make the ubiquity of domestic violence and the consistent failure of successive governments and police forces to deal with the issue clear. It would have long-term consequences on financing of policing, housing, and healthcare and would make women’s secondary status in political life obvious. The cap disproportionately impacts women who experience the vast majority of domestic violence and erases the sex of the perpetrator: who are overwhelmingly male. The decision to create a cap was not to make it easier for statisticians, but a clear policy of eliding the reality of all forms of violence against women and girls from public awareness.

The cap also functions to inflate the number of men who experience domestic violence making the 1 in 6 men statistic a misnomer. It also includes incidences of retaliatory violence, aka self-defence, where a woman lashes out at the male partner who is physically harming her causing injury to his person, such as a woman scratching a man whilst he attempts to strangle her. The victim, therefore, becomes a perpetrator of domestic violence. In this case, the man’s one experience (caused by a woman defending herself which should not included in statistics) is given more credence than a woman who may have experienced 365 separate incidents of which only 5 count in official statistics. Conflating retaliatory violence with the pattern of coercive control that is domestic violence harms women as a class and makes it more difficult to campaign for specialist services for women. The cap makes domestic violence look ‘gender-neutral’. …

 

Read the rest of the article at the Huffington Post

Murder Is Not a ‘Domestic Incident’

Geraldine Newman was murdered alongside her two children Shannon (11) and Shane (6). Two days later the body of Paul Newman, father of Shannon and Shane, was found in North Wales. Police believe Paul committed suicide after killing his ex-wife and children. The police have also claimed this was a “domestic incident”.

The murder of a Geraldine, Shannon and Shane are not ‘domestic incidents’. Burning dinner is a ‘domestic incident’. Making the choice to kill your ex-partner and children are criminal acts predicated on a patriarchal culture of male entitlement and male ownership of the bodies of women and children. Using the term ‘domestic incident’ minimises both Paul’s personal responsibility for his choice to perpetrate domestic violence, which resulted in a 17-week custodial sentence in 2013, as well as his choice to kill. It is crucial to recognise that the man is the risk factor: not the relationship or the woman. Focusing on the victim implies that they are responsible for the actions of the perpetrator.

Obviously, the police want to allay fears in the wider community, however the correct statement is NOT: “We believe this was a domestic incident and we are searching for only man known to the family”. It is “We believe these murders were perpetrated by a man known to the family and we do not believe he is a risk to the wider community at this moment”. …

 

Read the rest of the article at the Huffington Post.

 

Frank Maloney is not a ‘butterfly’. He is a violent man.

Frank Maloney has a history of domestic violence. Quite a few people seem keen to forget this fact in their rush to deify him since transitioning. Today’s erasure of male violence comes from Polly Toynbee in her article ‘Here’s why feminism must embrace transpeople’:

there was also the jolt of a macho boxing promoter emerging like a butterfly as Kellie Maloney.

Granted, anyone who refers to political disagreements between women as ‘catfights’ isn’t exactly practising feminism, but completely erasing Maloney’s history of violence is inherently anti-woman. Transitioning does not magically make one a better person. And, it helps no one to pretend it does.