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.

 

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Lisa Hilton’s Athenais: When spite is mistaken for women’s history

I came across this book in a charity shop. I’m glad it only cost 50p, otherwise I’d have to write to the publisher demanding my money back for mis-selling a deeply spiteful text as a “biography” of Athenais, mistress of King Louis XIV of France.

Whilst the premise is ostensibly biographical, it’s mostly a treatise on how ugly women deserve to be treated like pieces of shit. And, any man who cheats on his ‘ugly’ wife has every right to; especially if you are the King of France and like pretty things. Then you get to be as abusive, cruel, and selfish as you like. You can humiliate and insult your wife, pretend she doesn’t’ exist, and still be considered a good guy, Because, hey, you’re the king, And, even the ugliest guy doesn’t deserve an ugly wife. Even if they are violent and hateful and cruel.

Even Athenais is dismissed as irrelevant once she stops being beautiful. Her beauty gone because she got fat. After giving birth to 9 children and being in a relationship with a man who forced all of those around him to eat too much.

 

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Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 09.16.07Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is part of Vintage Hogarth Shakespeare 400th anniversary series, which sees modern writers reinterpreting Shakespeare. Generally, I’m not a fan of Shakespeare finding the desperation to name him the greatest writer ever deeply tedious with an unpleasant under current of nationalism, racism, misogyny and classism. I only came across the series when I read Jeannette Winterson’s retelling of a Winter’s Tale (Gap of Time), which is excellent. I had never read Tyler, but had high hopes based on this description: 

Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work – her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.

Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?”

It was a complete let-down.

 

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What’s your number – an interesting take on consent

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 14.50.34What’s your number is a typical asinine rom-com starring Anna Faris as Ally Darling and Chris Evans as Colin Shea. The simple premise is Darling discovering that the number of sexual partners she has had (19) makes her a slut – as evidenced in a “women’s magazine” she read after being fired from her job. So, with the help of deeply slimy neighbour Shea, Darling tracks down all her ex-boyfriends to see which one should be her partner for life. Because there is a magic number of men that having sex with  would make her even more of a slut than she actually is. Shea is an unemployed musician who has sex with a different woman every night and spends his mornings hiding in Darling’s apartment so the (many) woman will leave his apartment without anything creepy like having a conversation. Strangely, at no point do we ever hear Shea’s sexual history being as being slutty.

And, yes, by know you are all wondering why I continued watching the film. As did I.

 

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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.

Criminalising Pregnancy is simply Misogyny

(Originally published on Mumsnet as a guest post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Another Example of Male Entitlement: Man demands access to women-only breastfeeding class

A male student midwife complained about being prohibited from attending a women-only breastfeeding class run by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). You did just read that right. Chris Butt is pissed off because the NCT put the needs of their paying clients above a male student midwife. Obviously, he has felt the need to go off whinging about this. His article was published in a subscription only magazine, however the Daily Mail covered the story here.

So, Chris Butt went whining to the press because the NCT wouldn’t let him into a women-only breastfeeding support group. Here’s the thing, many women wouldn’t care about having a male midwife. Many women wouldn’t care about have a man in a breastfeeding support group. But, these women do. They joined a women-only group for a reason. We don’t need to interrogate each of them to decide which of them has a Patriarchy-approved reason for choosing a woman-only group. They did. Now, their choices need to be respected. It’s not like the NCT banned him from all their groups; just the woman-only one. And, yeah, as a midwife, he will get to see lots of women naked but these specific women don’t want him too. So, why should his desire to be in a women-only group trump the desire of these women to access support in a women-only environment?

Frankly, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather not have deliver my baby than a man who doesn’t get the need for women-only support groups. By putting his selfish desire above the wishes of a group of women who aren’t even his patients, Butt is demonstrating a distinct lack of empathy which I’ve always thought was necessary in the medical profession. Does Butt not understand that a large percentage of domestic violence starts during pregnancy? That these women-only groups are sometimes the *only* place a woman has to access support without the violent partner being involved? What about women who aren’t allowed to be in the presence of men they aren’t related to? Shouldn’t those women be able to access support too? Or, victims of sexualised violence who feel uncomfortable around men? Thankfully, the NCT said no but we shouldn’t even be having these discussions. There is nothing wrong with women-only groups. The fact that some men think there is says more about male privilege than it does about anything else.

And, doesn’t it strike anyone else as just a little bit creepy that this man is demanding the right to access a women-only breastfeeding group, even though, the NCT had offered him an alternative group that men could attend. I mean, why?

 


I Never Said Yes – a documentary

I’ve only just watched BBC 3’s documentary I Never Said Yes by Pips Taylor. I’ve been putting it off mostly because I knew how much it would upset me but actually it disappointed me far more than it upset me. I wasn’t expecting a radical feminist expose on rape but I was expecting something less, well, naive. The questions Taylor posed were interesting:

… what happens when a victim does want to report an attack or rape here in the UK? Do victims have enough support to help them through their ordeal? What is it like to experience our justice system?

But, they were also self-evident questions to anyone who has experienced sexualised violence or has an interest in the criminal justice system and its treatment of victims. It left me wondering who precisely were the target audience of this documentary. I would have thought that the only people interested in watching would have been people in the two former categories. It’s not a subject matter likely to appeal to those with no relevant experience or interest. The mish-mash of survivor stories, interviews and voice-overs was disconcerting and far too Daily Mail rather than in-depth journalism.
The most powerful part of the documentary was the five survivors Taylor interviewed who, simply, deserved more time. There was simply far too much information incorporated into a one hour documentary: the survivors competed with police and attorneys with the focus flipping between personal experiences of rape, to the failures of the criminal justice system and rape myths. It felt like a whistle-stop tour with the survivors merely addendums to to Taylor’s pontificating. They should have been the focus; not Taylor.
Now, I grant you that part of my problem with the documentary is that it definitely fit into the new “shock-doc” television which takes serious problems and bounces them about like balloons in between voice-overs, bad scene settings and “re-enactments”. It was a documentary on rape. It does not need a re-enactment or scenes cut to pop-art to make a “point”. I loathe this type of television as much as I hate reality television as it assumes the audience is too dim to understand what the “experts” say so it requires, usually, someone incredibly chirpy to repeat their words; as if chirpy makes it easier to understand.
What really annoyed me most was Taylor’s handling of an interview with a group of young men. She was asking questions about consent but let the young men bandy about rape myths without really challenging them and, consequently, it ended with the suggestion that men are just “bad” at reading signals. Taylor even repeats this in her BBC blog on the documentary:

The problem that shocked me most of all was young peoples’ attitudes towards consent and what is and isn’t okay. Young people are the most vulnerable, yet it seems that there is a lack of communication amongst them.

Rape is not a communication “problem”; nor is it about inadequate boundaries. Rape is about power and control. Men who rape, rape because they can. Not because they are confused by a woman in a short skirt dancing with her friends. Frankly, if a man is too stupid to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape then they are too stupid to be having sex.

Taylor may have been looking at the devastating consequences of rape myths on the ability of rape survivors to access the criminal justice system but she let some seriously bad myths go unchallenged; as when interviewing a defense attorney who suggested some rapists deserved lesser sentencing because of their “good” character. Technically, she critiqued this theory in one sentence in a voice-over but she never directly challenged the defense attorney. Having a “good” character should not be a defense to rape; nor should it be considered a mitigating factor. A man who rapes can not, and does not, have a “good” character.
And, ending her blog with this:

Although people regard rape to be a depressing subject, meeting the survivors has shown me a hopeful side – that victims can regain power.

Well, its just cringe worthy. Considering the interest in changing and challenging rape laws and rape myths, this documentary could have sparked a series of thought-provoking documentaries exploring the issues in more detail. Instead, it felt like pulp fiction.