Everyone Knew: The Harvey Weinstein Allegations – my new project

https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/latest-news/2017/43/a-comprehensive-list-of-every-weinstein-allegation-so-far (via @amysoandso)

Everyone knew.

We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.

Somehow ‘everyone knew’ about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; allegations that go back decades. Yet, no one (read men) in positions of power followed even the most basic protection regulations and laws around sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Everyone also ‘knew’ about Jimmy Savile’s predatory behaviour to children and women. Despite multiple allegations made to numerous people supposedly responsible for child protection and multiple reports to police, the media still didn’t want to publish the clear evidence of Savile’s sexually predatory behaviour. Even after he died. Everyone knew; no one talked.

The original plan of Everyone Knew was to list only those men for whom allegations had become public in the immediate aftermath of Rowan Farrow’s expose of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. However, it soon became clear that it was a false division. Part of the reason for including men like Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski, whose crimes go back decades, is to show just how ubiquitous this level of entitlement is and just how many men are perpetrators – men who did not suddenly become perpetrators when named in the press.  We talk about Harvey Weinstein as though it was a watershed point. The simple truth is the complete opposite. These ‘watershed’ moments are continuous and constant. We need to keep pushing back on the silencing of women and children. And, we need to stop pretending that naming Weinstein will change everything. We have been here before and it hasn’t. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight back. We must. Otherwise the abuse will still continue – unnamed because we already ‘solved’ it.

Many of the men named in the past month as alleged perpetrators were business associates or friends of men who already had a documented history of inappropriate and illegal behaviour. A significant number had worked with Harvey Weinstein. Allegations about Academy Award winner Ben Affleck only became public recently, however, his younger brother Casey was the subject of two sexual harassment complaints in 2010. Ben knew about these allegations and, along with long-time friend and collaborator Matt Damon, used his status as a shield for his younger brother. Allegations about the behaviour of Brett Ratner resulted in allegations about his long-time friend Russell Simmons. Allegations about Harvey Weinstein raised allegations about the behaviour of his brother  Bob, who is accused not only of sexual harassment himself but of helping cover up Harvey’s crimes. A number of these lists also list fashion photographer Terry Richardson as a ‘new’ allegation because the publisher Conde Nast has chosen to stop working with him this past month. The fact that Conde Nast knew of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault levied against Richardson in 2010 has been erased in favour of ‘watershed moment’ media coverage.

Over the years, feminist activists and journalists have campaigned for boycotts of celebrity men with a history of violence against women and girls.  The sheer number of allegations and the multiple perpetrators named in the past month make it difficult to keep track.  This is why Everyone Knew was born. It will be a database of convicted perpetrators, as well as naming men who are alleged to be perpetrators. You can find the list here; it is not complete and may never be as many predators will continue to use the their money and their power to silence victims. I have also built sub-categories of employment and industry to show that this is more than just ‘Hollywood’ or some rogue US senators.

You can follow us at @EveryoneKnew17 & #EveryoneKnew

As with many feminist projects, I created this database without external financial support. If you can afford to donate £1 to help continue this project, I would be incredibly grateful.

David Bowie and the issue of statutory rape

*** note*** I wrote this the day David Bowie died. I took it down after months and months of rape threats. I’m republishing now, with more links to media coverage of Bowie’s involvement with the ‘baby groupies’ scene.

 

In the 1970s, David Bowie, along with Iggy Pop, Jimmy Page, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger and others, were part of the ‘Baby Groupies’ scene in LA. The ‘Baby Groupies’ were 13 to 15 year old girls who were sexually exploited and raped by male rock stars. The names of these girls are easily searchable online but I will not share them here as all victims of rape deserve anonymity.

The ‘Baby Groupie‘ scene was about young girls being prepared for sexual exploitation (commonly refereed to as grooming) and then sexually assaulted and raped. Even articles which make it clear that the music industry ” ignor(ed), and worse enabl(ed), a culture that still allows powerful men to target young girls” celebrate that culture and minimise the choices of adult men to rape children and those who chose to look away. This is what male entitlement to sexual access to the bodies of female children and adults looks like. It is rape culture.

David Bowie is listed publicly as the man that one 14 year old girl ‘lost her virginity’ too.

We need to be absolutely clear about this, adult men do not ‘have sex’ with 13 and 14 year old girls. It is child rape. Children cannot consent to sex with adult men – even famous rock stars. Suggesting this is due to the ‘context’ of 70s LA culture is to wilfully ignore the history of children being sexually exploited by powerful men. The only difference to the ‘context’ here was that the men were musicians and not politicians, religious leaders, or fathers.

The basic requirement for a good person is taking responsibility for their choices and the consequences of their choices. At no point has Bowie, or another of the men involved in the sexual exploitation and rape of ‘baby groupies’ has taken responsibility for the consequences. I have yet to see a statement saying, “I participated in this culture. I hurt children by participating in this culture and I apologise to the children I abused and those whose abuse I ignored.” A man with Bowie’s financial wherewithal could have taken the second step and donated funds to rape crisis centres, funded programs working with vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation.

It is perfectly reasonable and rational to mourn a man whose music made a huge impact on your life. It is neither reasonable nor rational to pretend that that person was a ‘god’ and erase their illegal and unethical behaviour because you love their music. I wrote my undergraduate thesis and first MSc to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album Californication. That one album has had a positive impact on my life and I still play when working. I’ve since read Anthony Kiedis’ memoir Scar Tissue and know now that he has a history of sexual exploitation of teenage girls. I had been under no illusions of his misogynistic behaviour before reading the book, but I was not aware of the full extent.

David Bowie was an incredible musician who inspired generations. He also participated in a culture where children were sexually exploited and raped. This is as much a part of his legacy as his music.

 

 

 

Michael Beck: Why labelling men who kill as ‘non-violent’ is irresponsible journalism

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 09.06.42Every single week, 2 men in England and Wales make a choice to kill their current or former partner. Despite the fact that these men consistently have a history of domestic violence, the media insists on reporting comments from random neighbours claiming that these men are ‘caring fathers‘, ‘loving brothers’, ‘quiet neighbours’,  and, as above, ‘non violent’. Men who choose to kill are violent. It’s pretty much the definition of the word since murder is an inherently violent act. As a culture, we refuse to recognise that coercive control is a choice made by men who believe they are entitled to own women and children, and that men who kill are not aberrations, but representative of the consequences of patriarchy.

The Guardian’s coverage of the murder of Nicola Beck by her husband Michael Beck is a quintessential example of how not write about male violence. It insinuates that Nicola’s request for a divorce was irrational because Michael did want it and, therefore, Michael’s choice to murder was rational. They quote Michael’s brother-in-law Hugo Peel who said this at the inquest:

” … Beck was a gentle man. …He had a sort of hope in his heart that he could repair the damage. He was not a violent man, quite the opposite. … He was not courageous in social interaction or dealing with issues. He would walk away from confrontation, he felt unequipped to deal with confrontation.”

Family members and neighbours frequently do not see the violence women are forced to live with. Perpetrators tend to be highly manipulative and very careful with their behaviour around other people. It’s not at all uncommon for close family members and friends to have no idea just how violent a man is. Publishing these types of quotes without making the context of how perpetrators operate clear obscures and elides the reality of male violence against women and children. This is particularly important in the context of Peel suggesting Michael was incapable of dealing with confrontation as it implies, once again, that Michael had no choice; that he lacked the skills to recognise Nicola as a person and so was forced to kill her. It is utterly irresponsible for The Guardian to have published this statement.

The most dangerous time for a woman who has an abusive and controlling partner is when she tries to end the relationship. The risk of physical and sexual violence increases and this is the point when women are most likely to be murdered, frequently with their children, or when children are murdered to punish their mother. It should go without saying that a neighbour, whose entire relationship with a perpetrator is saying hello when putting out the rubbish for collection, or a family member who has not witnessed violence or controlling behaviour themselves, are not in a position to make evidenced judgments about whether or not a man is gentle, good, or kind. Media who report these types of statements are engaged in bad journalism completely lacking in research or reality.

This is a copy of Michael’s suicide as it was published in The Sun (who themselves concentrated on the Beck’s financial status rather than the murder, because it’s more important to note that Michael was rich rather than recognising the life of Nicola). Generally, we do not support the publishing of suicide letters. We have made an exception in this case because the letter is not only a suicide letter but a defence of murder.

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The Sun’s coverage is as senstionalist as one expects of the tabloid press. The Guardian uses less emotive language, but it also glosses over the evidence of Beck’s clear history of entitlement and financial control as written in his suicide note:

“I have spent my entire life fighting over money”

Yes, Michael was a stockbroker, but this quote is in relation to his marriage and not his career. It is not normal to spend one’s life “fighting over money”. The Guardian do quote the assistant Devon coroner, Lydia Brown, who makes it clear that financial control was part of the motive for this murder, without contextualising financial abuse as a form of coercive control. This is without the issue of Michael defining murder as ‘grubby’ and demanding his family punish Nicola’s family.

Where the Guardian truly failed was at the end of the article. They included the hotline phone number for the Samaritans (116 123, UK) but did not include the National Domestic Violence Hotline (0808 2000 247). The Samaritans media guidelines make it absolutely clear that the number should be included in any media coverage of suicide, but this was not just a case of suicide. Michael Beck clearly had a history of domestic violence and this was a murder where coercive control was a defining factor as Michael felt justified in killing Nicola because she tried to escape his abuse. The feminist organisation Zero Tolerance have written a comprehensive media guideline for reporting violence against women and girls that require the inclusion of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Granted, Zero Tolerance’s guidelines are 42 pages long, however the The National Union of Journalists have written a 3 page media guideline on reporting violence against women and girls for those journalists unwilling to take out 15 minutes of their day to do some basic research. The NUJ make it very clear that it is essential to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The question is: why did The Guardian prioritise the Samaritans hotline? And, why did they fail to recognise that this murder was a consequence of male entitlement and coercive control? When will mainstream media start to recognise that murder-suicides are almost always a consequence of domestic violence? That victims of domestic violence matter as much as people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts? That men who kill their children and/or current or former partners are not victims but perpetrators? Because the failure to include the National Domestic Violence Hotline implies that Michael is more deserving of respect and empathy than his victim. And, this is not an aberration but part of the conducive context in which male violence occurs and part of the continuum of violence against women and girls.

Nicola deserved better from The Guardian.

This was first published by Everyday Victim Blaming on August 27, 217.

Sharing images of ‘missing children’: the problems of violent fathers and spiteful trolls

Within hours of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, people across social media were sharing images of those who were declared missing. Some of these were shared by family and friends who knew girls and women attending the concert, but who had not yet heard whether they were safe. These images were also being shared by those wanting to help – a desire borne out of genuine kindness. Unfortunately, by early Tuesday morning, media were already reporting that some of the images being shared were of people who were not at the concert. One of the first images we saw when we logged on to Twitter was of Nasar Ahmed, who died in November from an asthma attack at school. We immediately tweeted out asking people not to share images of children declared missing unless they knew that the source is real. At that point, we didn’t know the scale of the spiteful and cruel trolling. Then we were informed that another image being shared was of Jayden Parkinson who was murdered in 2013 by her boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence. In the end, multiple false images were being shared; many of which originated from a thread on reddit where men were encouraging each other to deliberately and maliciously harm the families and friends of victims with ‘fake news’.

Male violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The toxic hyper-masculinity, which results in suicide bombers targeting young girls attending a concert in Manchester, the mass sexualised violence of children, and the proliferation of violent pornography is also responsible for the so-called ‘trolling’ of victims of male violence. Terrorists, like rapists and domestic violence perpetrators, depend on the support of these men to increase the carnage and fear. Whilst we’re quite sure that these ‘trolls’, who deliberately shared misleading images will have absolute tantrums about being compared to the supporters of Daesh, they are part of the same conducive context of violence against women and girls that allows male violence and toxic masculinity to flourish.

This is the reality of male violence in the global context: men believing they have the right to commit violence against the bodies of women and children; men believing they are entitled to control women and children; and men thinking it is hilarious to maliciously target traumatised victims and their families.

There is another reason to be careful when sharing images of ‘missing children’ online, which is also due to male violence. In this case, it is men who are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.The most dangerous time for women is when they leave a controlling or violent partner. It is this time period which sees an increase in the intensity of violence, such as that requiring medical treatment, but also murder: of the woman, a mother with her children, or the children to ‘punish’ the mother. Violent fathers denied access to their children have been creating fake ‘missing children’ notices for years, relying on the kindness of strangers on social media to stalk former partners and children.

It is essential to ensure that images of ‘missing children’ come from a reliable source: a family member or police in order to prevent violent men finding victims of their violence and, now, preventing so-called ‘trolls’ for targeting victims of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, due to institutionalised racism and misogyny, police forces don’t always recognise missing children as ‘missing’. BAME children are far more likely to be deemed ‘runaways’ and, therefore, not worth ‘wasting’ police time in searching for them. Mainstream media are equally culpable and are far more likely to share images of white children who are missing. Sometimes social media is the only place actively searching for these children. If a missing child image does not come from a reliable source, you can reverse image research to find the origins of the photo.

In a just and fair world, all missing children would be deemed equally important. Mainstream media would give as much attention to a missing 14-year-old Black boy from London as they do a 13-year-old white girl from Surrey. The police would have appropriate resources to find children and support them – after all, children who do run away from home do so for a reason. Sometimes home is the least safe space for a child. Children, and their mothers, would be able to live free of violence, or the threat therein. Perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions and choices. Family courts would ban violent fathers from using them to continue controlling their former partners. Child contact would be deemed in the best interest of the child based on peer-reviewed research, which clearly shows that children do better without being forced to visit violent fathers.

We don’t live in a just world though. And, until then, we need to take care on social media to ensure that the children labelled missing are actually missing. We need to hold the mainstream media and police to account when they fail to investigate and report on missing BAME children. It is a delicate balance that no one will not always get right every time, because it is hard to believe just how spiteful and malicious online ‘trolls’ are. They depend on our compassion for others, which is why we need to hold the men who posted false images of ‘missing children’ legally culpable, as well as those who commit terrorist attacks. Sharing fake images of ‘missing’ children is a heinous act and it is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls. We need to eradicate all forms and this starts with insisting that spiteful and malicious ‘trolling’ of the victims of violence is a serious criminal act so that no other family has to go through what happened to those impacted by the Manchester bombing: as victims themselves or families like those of Ahmed and Parkinson.

 

First published at Everyday Victim Blaming on 7.6.2017

Voting Labour; even if your local candidate is a bit of a buckethead

My local labour candidate is a nincompoop. As 30 seconds perusing Gordon Munro’s election pamphlet would demonstrate. Not only does he include a rather unnecessary amount of information about his history of swimming and water polo at our local pool, he’s also included a huge photo of himself with George Clooney. Quite why no one questioned the relevance of that photo is anyone’s guess. It is not the worst election pamphlet I’ve seen this time. That honour goes to a UKIP candidate who is strangely obsessed with the types of metal used in a Robin Hood statue.

I’ve been involved in local community organisations in Leith for over a decade. It’s safe to say Munro’s questionable tendencies predate his photo op with Clooney. Munro is fairly well-known for supporting projects that increase his prestige and power – such as his insistence that the Duncan Place Resource Centre closure due to the building being condemned following years of council mismanagement isn’t really a big deal. And, that the programs offered by the DPRC could be transferred easily to the Leith Community Centre, despite it being a third of the size and involving only halls rather than community education classrooms and other specialist facilities. 3 guesses which community centre board Gordon Munro has been involved with over the years.

For years, I’ve been saying that I only voted for Munro because my former Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, could be trusted to squash Munro’s more eyebrow raising decisions. Chisholm retired at the last Scottish Parliament election and was replaced by a male SNP MSP who looks about 12 and has zero understanding of male violence (or even what his own parties policies were on this prior to the election). Since a write-in campaign to have Chisholm elected Prime Minister against his will isn’t an appropriate response to destroying the Tory party, I will be voting for Gordon Munro. I fully intend to be as big a pain in his arse when he’s an MP as he was as a local councillor, even though I appear to be permanently off his Christmas card list now.

I’m voting labour because I’m a single mother with 2 children, an obscene amount of university debt, and a disability that has severely curtailed my ability to work, even part time. Gordon Munro might not be my favourite politician, but neither are my other local councillors Chaz Booth (Green) and Adam McVey (SNP). I do trust Munro on a number of issues that are important to me and I’m perfectly content to spend the next 5 years campaigning to ensure that Munro changes his stance on other policies (provision of community centres, massive investment in the crumbling fabric of school buildings, 3 block radius ban on parking near schools for non-residents, the banning of all men from driving cars in my neighbourhood).

I’m voting Labour because:

I’m also a fan of Labour’s leaked policy expanding abortion rights to women living in Northern Ireland. I’d like them to go even further to remove the “2 doctor mental health’ rule for women accessing abortion in England and Wales (Scotland will be reviewing the rule during his parliament).

I’m going to campaign for Labour to do the following over the next few years:

  • Ban Trident
  • Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia
  • Recognise that the child poverty is due to fathers refusing to pay maintenance, which is a form of child abuse
  • Ring fenced massive investment in schools
  • Ring fenced massive investments in the NHS
  • Ring fenced massive investment in community care
  • Fundamental changes to family courts and child access that recognise that viewing domestic violence against a mother is also child abuse. Children have the right to live free from exposure to violence and that includes violence perpetrated by their fathers
  • Higher corporation taxes
  • More post-secondary training programs for young people
  • End to housing refugees in detention centres (and increasing financial support for asylum seekers)
  • End to charitable status for private schools.
  • Expansion of right to vote to all 16 year olds.

 

I’m voting Labour because we cannot afford another 5 years of Tory rule. Too many people have already died because of Tory policy. My local Labour candidate might make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but he isn’t creating policies that force people into poverty or supporting polices that actively kill people. Perfection is a goal, not a reality in politics. And, right now, we need a labour government more than ever, regardless of whether or not you actively like your local candidate or if you loathe Jeremy Corbyn.

We need a labour government now more than ever.

Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow in May 2014. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. 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.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. 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 to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

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.

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.

The Naming Elena Ferrante

(originally published at Everyday Victim Blaming)

The identity of Elena Ferrante is a secret well-guarded by her publisher. At the request of Ferrante. Ferrante has made it clear on multiple occasions that she does not want her art confused with her real life. This may not seem something that our campaign would necessarily concern ourselves with but there are multiple reasons why women deserve anonymity and even more reasons why breaching their anonymity puts women at risk of male violence.

As many of the writers we’ve linked to below demonstrate, authors owe their audiences nothing more than what they write – and even then audiences are not entitled to new material. What concerns us, and is referenced by some of the authors below, is the refusal to recognise the reason why a woman would want to keep her real life private. As with Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy, there is a complete refusal to recognise the reality of male violence against women and girls. Claudio Gatti, the journalist (and his publisher) who believes he’s entitled  to know the real name of a woman despite her refusal demonstrates a total disregard of women’s safety.

Ferrante’s decision to remain anonymous may simply because she values her privacy – something that all women are entitled to. It may be as a way of protecting herself from online harassment and abuse that many women writers experience. It is also entirely possible that her anonymity is a way of protecting herself from male violence – both historical and potential. Ferrante has every right to do so and Gatti, and others before him, simply do not have the legal or moral right to doxx Ferrante just because they don’t like successful women writers (and there is more than a whiff of misogyny here). 

Doxxing women is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls. Ferrante may be able to protect herself better than other women due to her financial resources but that does not mean she deserves to be doxxed or harassed.

The outing of Elena Ferrante and the power of naming by Lili Loofbourrow

…No one knew who the “real” Elena Ferrante was until this week, when a journalist who, perhaps in an eager bid to make a name for himself, tracked her down using financial records and seems to have exposed her real identity. (I will not reveal the name he suggested here.)

There is much disagreement over whether this was a reasonable thing to do. On one side are those who believe the recent success of Ferrante’s books (she is the author of seven novels, including the four celebrated “Neapolitan novels” that have won her worldwide acclaim) makes her a public figure worth exposing. Her extraordinary sales figures make her real name newsworthy, they argue. On the other side are those who believe Ferrante’s rejection of personal fame amounted to a conscientious objection to the way we receive literary art, and female literary art in particular. I am in the latter camp.

Why does this literary tempest in a teapot matter? What’s in a name, after all? What does it mean that she refused to be named, and instead named herself? This is not a clear instance of a woman taking on a male pseudonym (like George Eliot) or using initials (like J.K. Rowling) in order to circumvent a sexist literary marketplace. Ferrante just chose a different Italian woman’s name. Why do this? And why is it a big deal for her to be exposed? …

Who cares who Elena Ferrante really is? She owes us nothing by Suzanne Moore

Rifling through someone’s bins looking for clues about their life or identity is considered a tabloid activity performed by low-lifes who sell information on celebrities. In this game celebrities “owe” us something because we made them, therefore we can take them apart via such intrusion.

Now we have the literary equivalent, and it stinks to high heaven. Elena Ferranteis an Italian novelist whose Neapolitan quartet have become bestsellers. Once you enter Ferrante’s world, you are changed by it. She writes so brilliantly about the transformation of women’s lives. Our bodies, our hearts, our politics. The books speak of what keeps us together and what takes us apart. We know nothing about her own life, as she has chosen – as is her right – to be anonymous. Not for her the book tour, the literary festival, the glam author picture. “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” She has given other, more complicated, meta-explanations of her desire to protect her anonymity, which are to do with the nature of fiction itself. … E

Elena Ferrante has her reasons for anonymity – we should respect them  via @ConversationUK

….The dust from the media storm will take a while to settle. The history of anonymous authorship is also a history of triumphalist “unmasking” at the hands of self-appointed public servants who assume the right to trumpet the spoiler – and who also, if there is justice in the world, tend to suffer their own exposure as the parasitic charlatans they often are.

Gatti thinks he has unmasked the “real author” of Ferrante’s acclaimed books – something that has been the subject of much speculation in the past – but even were this latest round of revelation to turn out to be “true”, there are bigger fish to fry here. The violation of anonymity brings with it, kicking and screaming in Gatti’s face, a host of problems at the heart of power and identity. This is an ethical, political, but also a literary issue of the deepest concern to all of us.