Jackie Kay, Edinburgh Book Festival and that pesky issue of class.

Last week, I attended two events featuring Jackie Kay at the Edinburgh Book Festival. She read from her new poetry collection Bantam, which as brilliant as her previous anthologies. I first heard Kay read from her collection Fiere at the Feminist & Woman’s Studies Association conference’ Rethinking Sisterhood conference in 2014. She quickly became my favourite poet; and, at that point, the only poet I liked since my sole previous introductions to poetry were the stale male crap I had to read in school.  Kay is funny, witty, compassionate and so very, very generous. She is also utterly glorious in joy when reading her own work to audiences.

I could gush for ages about Kay, the beauty of Bantam, as well the discussion with Ruth Wishart at the Book Festival. There were some great questions from audience members, however the audience response to one question surprised me. A woman stood up to ask a question and started with the statement “this is a very middle class room”. I didn’t think this was too odd as a statement, but many people in the audience did not appreciate the generalisation and shut down the questioner completely. Now, Kay did say that we can’t ever generalise about audiences and spoke of all the ways she has developed to ensure that her writing is available to as many people as possible, regardless of issues like class.* Her tenure as Scottish Makar has seen her traipse up and down the country visiting all manner of places and pieces. Kay is absolutely dedicated to building generations of people who understand what Audre Lorde meant when she wrote ‘Poetry is not a luxury.’ However,  the Edinburgh Book Festival is a very middle class event. Tickets cost 12 quid, which  is not an insignificant amount of money for many people, and that is without factoring in transport to and from the venue or the fact that I paid 2 quid for a bottle of water having left my refillable one at home.** Having a spare 15-20 quid lying about to go to a book festival is well outwith the budgeting of many Scottish families.

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Susan Brownmiller, Angela Davis, & the erasure of Black Feminist Activism

Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will is one of the most important texts in the history of women’s liberation. There is no debate on its impact on the so-called second wave* feminist movement and on women being able to speak their truth. All movements for social justice need to understand their history in order to create their future. This does not mean we need to see foundational texts like Against Our Will as perfect. Unfortunately, Rachel Cooke’s interview with Susan Brownmiller, published last month in The Guardian, falls into the trap of refusing to acknowledge that our ‘foundational’ texts are not only not perfect but also not written only by white women:

Against Our Will finally came out in 1975, five long years after the first of the key texts of women’s liberation: Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Though it would later be attacked by, among others, the black activist Angela Davis for its attitudes to race (in his piece, Remnick writes that Brownmiller’s treatment of the Emmett Till case “reads today as morally oblivious”), its reception was mostly positive and it became a bestseller (much later, with pleasing neatness, it would be included in the New York Public Library’s Books of the Century).

Calling Angela Davis a Black activist rather than a Black Feminist Activist is deeply problematic. Davis was/ is a significant theorist and activist in the feminist movement. Her book Women, Race & Classfirst published in 1981, is as radical and essential text as Against Our Will, Sexual Politics, The Dialectic of Sex, and The Feminine Mystique. The erasure of the term ‘feminist’ here implies that Davis’ critique was rude and unnecessary; that the experience of women of colour should only be spoken of in terms of sexism, and not the racism (or classism, disabilism or lesbophobia) that women experience. Failing to include the term feminist here doesn’t just imply that Davis isn’t a ‘real’ feminist, it completely erases her from the feminist movement.

 

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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.

 

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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. There are more allegations about Pop, Page, Wyman and Jagger, however Bowie was certainly aware of what was happening.

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.

 

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The Westminster Allegations Redux.

Michael Fallon lunged at me after our lunch, by Jane Merrick

When the story first broke last weekend that a secret list of “sex pest” Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers drawn up by researchers was circulating in Westminster, I decided to talk about my own experience of being lunged at by a Tory MP. By publicly discussing how it felt to be in that position, and how it was not acceptable, I thought it would help others to come forward to report sexual harassment. Yet because my incident happened 14 years ago, I decided not to name the MP in question.

A week on, things have changed. The MP has denied some allegations against him, and minimised others as somehow acceptable because they date from another time. His lack of contrition has made me change my mind. It is time for me to say publicly that the MP who lunged at me was Sir Michael Fallon. …

Bex Bailey, Labour activist, says she was raped at party event and told not to report it, by Rowena Mason, Anushka Asthana and Matthew Weaver

Allegations of sexual misconduct in Westminster took a new turn on Tuesday as a Labour activist spoke of being raped at a party event after a woman had described being assaulted on a hotel bed by an MP last year.

The two women both criticised the lack of proper processes for reporting their allegations, as political parties struggled with a fifth day of serious revelations about harassment and abuse in British politics.

The second woman, who said she was sexually assaulted by an MP on a hotel bed last year, criticised as “inadequate” proposals announced by the government on Monday aimed at enhancing existing reporting systems in parliament.

The Westminster staffer, who works for another MP and asked to remain anonymous, said there needed to be a “credible independent body” to investigate complaints about politicians’ behaviour that was not connected to the parties. …

Damian Green denies making sexual advances towards young Tory activist, by Matthew Weaver*

Theresa May has ordered an investigation into allegations that her deputy, Damian Green, made inappropriate advances to a female activist in the last two years.

Kate Maltby, who is 30 years younger than Green, the first secretary of state, told the Times he had “fleetingly” touched her knee during a meeting in a Waterloo pub in 2015 and sent her a “suggestive” text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in the newspaper.

Green, one of May’s closest political allies, said any allegation that he made sexual advances to Maltby was “untrue [and] deeply hurtful”.

One Tory MP has called for Green to be suspended while the allegations are investigated. Green is the most senior politician yet to be caught up in a wave of allegations and rumours relating to sexual harassment and abuse swirling around Westminster. …

This is why I came forward with my experience of sexual harassment by an MP – anonymous testimony

I am a member of the Labour Party. I was a delegate for my local CLP at the Labour Party Conference this September. I am a Corbyn supporter, a feminist and an activist. And I am also the anonymous woman who has lodged a complaint with the Labour Party over the inappropriate actions of an MP who “squeezed” my bum at our incredible conference in Brighton.

Of course, for the past few days the final statement has eclipsed all the others. Because that is how this works. It is the “bum squeezes”, the “knee touches”, the “lift lunges”, the “handsiness”, and then of course the denials, the silencing, the gaslighting that inevitably follow, this is the arena in which men keep women (and sometimes other men) in our bodies and, ultimately, in our place.

Was I traumatised by having my bum squeezed at conference? Of course not. Do you honestly think a bum squeeze gets anywhere near the list of the ways in which men have violated my boundaries, used their and my body against me to exert a subtle, or sometimes violent power over me? …

BBC News – Lib Dem member ‘referred to police over rape allegation’ 

The allegations emerged in a series of tweets over the weekend, which claimed an alleged victim’s complaint had been “hushed up” by party HQ.

The party said a member was suspended “pending the outcome” of a police probe but gave no further details.

It is the first allegation involving the Lib Dems in the misconduct scandal currently engulfing Westminster. …

Kate Malby wrote about her experience of sexual harassment for The Times. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall. You can find it here. 

This is the current list of Westminster sexual misconduct allegations: the MPs accused so far, written by Haroon Siddique for the Guardian. Here is a collection of articles I collated last week:

Transing children & the myth of an unbiased medical establishment

This is part II of a series on radical feminism and transgenderism. The first, The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism’ is available here.

 

I have many concerns about the current push to medically transition children because of sex-based stereotyping as I outlined here in the case of a child whose mother was terrified he was gay – on the say so homophobic relatives. As a radical feminist, I view gender as socially constructed upon the material reality of female and male bodies. It is also, in the words of Claire Heuchan, a “hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women’. Gender, as a theoretical concept, is inherently harmful. As a ‘reality’, it is responsible for the oppression of women globally through FGM, domestic and sexual violence and abuse, pornography, prostitution, and femicide. Women are not oppressed because they identify as female; women are oppressed because men construct women’s biological sex as ‘inferior’ and women themselves as possessions. As Marina Strinkovsky writes,

if gender is real and biological sex a social construct, if sex is not a “real” and meaningful political or economic category, on what basis did the parents of the hundreds of millions of women and girls lost to femicide know who to kill?”

This question seems perfectly reasonable: how do we decide which foetuses should be aborted and what humans to pay less if not through the material reality of biological sex. Yet, this question is considered ‘transphoic’. Any questioning of gender theory is met with abuse and threats. Suggesting children might not be capable of deciding about medical care is met with derision in cases of transgender children, but not children undergoing treatment for diseases such as cancer. There is a double standard here that needs to be explored more fully and we absolutely need more research into the way in which mental health diagnoses or suicide risks are defined within the transgender movement. However, in this essay I want to focus specifically on gender identity and the theory of an unbiased medical establishment.

 

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#DickheadDetox: The Weinstein Years

It’s been a few years since I’ve written a post tracking abusive celebrity men under the tag #DickheadDetox. The origins came from an article by Eva Wiseman in the Guardian about holding violent male celebrities accountable:

“It’s to do with my problem giving money to dicks, to people who’ve punched their wives or broken their teeth. It’s to do with linking the things they’ve done to the things they’ve made. It’s a rule I’m currently formalising – I’m turning off the TV when abusers appear. I’m leaving shops where their songs dribble from the PA; I’m turning off the radio. Like a juice cleanse. A dickhead detox. And it feels good.”

I’ve been trying to do this, however avoiding financially supporting artists with a history of violence against women and girls is much easier than avoiding those who collude with them by minimising their crimes. Or continuing to work with abusers. You only have to look at the careers of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. And, now, Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein’s actions are not an aberration. He is not an isolated incident.

Harvey Weinstein is the product of a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy which requires women to pass the patriarchal fuckability test whilst holding them accountable for the rape and abuse they experience.

If Harvey Weinstein was an aberration, Roman Polanski would not have gotten a standing ovation at the Oscars; sexual harassment in schools would not be increasing in astronomical numbers; and, the majority of rapists would be in prisons having been found guilty of their crimes. Instead of the exact opposite.

The women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by Harvey Weinstein have been brave in speaking out knowing precisely what the punishment is for holding violent men accountable: being labeled liars and harassed and abused online.

Rape culture is a victim blaming culture and a culture of enabling violent and abusive men. Weinstein’s victims are already being berated for not speaking out sooner to ‘protect’ other women – as though they would have been believed. It is very clear that many, many men in Hollywood knew about Weinstein and did nothing – men who had the clout to refuse to work with him. Men who control the very media companies that could have reported the crimes. Instead, Weinstein is pretending to have a “sex addiction” – the new go to excuse for rapists.

The women Weinstein targeted were famous, young, vulnerable, and equally the daughters of powerful actors. The way Weinstein targeted these women reads like the various Jimmy Savile inquiries: powerful men given access to victims with the active collusion of some and the refusal of others to take a stand. And, the inquiries into the sexual exploitation of girls involved in gymnastics. Children living in care homes. Slate has created a timeline of Weinstein’s known criminal acts starting in 1990, which is distressing in the similarity of experiences. There are many women whose names are not recorded here as they are not in a position to speak out publicly or have chosen not to. Considering how long Weinstein has been assaulting women, it is clear that the number we see now are only the tip of the iceberg.

The #DickheadDetox is about refusing to financially support celebrities. This list is those who originally made my list for male violence against women and girls.

And, a significant chunk of the cast of the film The Expendables 3.

Richard Dawkins got a mention in the original #DickheadDetox for misogyny and rape apologism; Donald Trump for being a white supremacist (before the allegations of sexual assault and rape were made public); Clint Eastwood is also on the list for racism; and Owen Jones is there for whining. Constantly. Perez Hilton got a special mention for daily misogynistic drivel (see also: Jeremy Clarkson and Christian Jessen). The hypocrisy of left-wing dudes is as tedious as it is ubiquitous (see Thomas Gibson and Russell Brand) with the Affleck brothers trading on their status as liberals to erase their history.

The updated list now features:

Quentin Tarantino gets a mention for whining about potential damage to his career for covering up the well documented criminal history of Harvey Weinstein. Matt Damon also gets a mention for covering up the crimes of Casey Affleck (not to mention the whole whitesplaining racism and diversity to a Black woman). Brad Pitt is on the list for knowing about Weinstein but doing nothing to stop him.

Then there is this list, by Beth Winegarner, which includes male celebrities whose history of violence I was unaware of including: Jim Carrey (domestic violence), James Deen, Rob Lowe (sexual harassment), Dudley Moore (domestic violence), James Caan (domestic violence) Billie Dee Williams (domestic violence), Oliver Stone (sexual harassment), Brett Ratner (sexual assault), and Arnold Schwarzenegger whose history of sexual harassment did not prevent him from becoming governor of California.

Carrie Fischer’s last book The Princess Diarist includes her ‘affair’ with Harrison Ford, which started during the filming of Star Wars. A number of male crew members had pushed Fisher into drinking too much at a bar and then tried to take her out of the building. Ford sees this and ‘rescues’ Fisher only to have sex with her instead. This incident received a lot of publicity after publication, but none focused on the inability of an incapacitated vulnerable 19 year old to consent to an encounter with a man 14 years her senior.

There has also been some interesting stories around Tom Cruise and his divorce from Katie Holmes. The Daily Mail, and other gossip sites, are claiming that Holmes had to sign a clause prohibiting her from  ‘publicly dating’ until 5 years after the divorce. There were allegations of coercive control throughout the marriage; always attributed to an ‘anonymous source’. Holmes has primary custody of their only child, who apparently went three years without seeing her father. Cruise’s children from his first marriage to Nicole Kidman remained in Cruise’s physical care following that divorce. Cruise’s name very rarely appears on lists of violent men, but there is a documented history of actions that constitute coercive control.

I had stopped writing entries to the #DickheadDetox because of my mental health. I stopped because it become overwhelming recording so many men. I’ve written very little over the past 2 years and it has taken me 8 hours to write this through panic attacks. I needed to write it.

Harvey Weinstein is not an aberration. Women telling their stories of sexualised violence is not unusual either. Yet, somehow this feels like a tidal wave has been dented. Not stopped. But dented enough for women to feel safe recording their experiences. Where this goes depends on men listening and standing up for women. Right now it feels like we may have a chance.

 

 

*I’m using both domestic abuse and domestic violence because the terms reflect the legal status of the crime in the jurisdictions in which the men were charged.

** None of these men were convicted of child rape. But, that’s because we live in a society that celebrates male violence and doesn’t give a shit about children.

*** I dislike using the term ‘alleged’ since it implies the victim is a liar. I believe victims. The criminal justice system and the laws around libel do not.

 

 

 

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.

 

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

Raising Useless Children – A disaster of Helicopter Parenting.

My eldest daughter’s first year of secondary school included a residential outdoor education trip. She had already been on one in primary school at a similar centre so I wasn’t going to bother attending the parent’s information meeting. Until she came home with not only a list of things required to take but skills needed to be allowed on the trip, including:

  • Being able to butter her own toast
  • Cut up dinner
  • Pour herself a drink without spilling
  • Getting dressed by herself
  • Brushing her own teeth.

As with all comprehensive schools in Scotland, integration for students with additional support needs was policy (although these children never get the actual level of support required due to systemic underfunding). The school also had a unit attached for students with autism who may find a full day too difficult. I assumed that my daughter had collected the wrong form and that the list was to double check children’s support needs in order to ensure the appropriate level of staffing to ensure that all children could attend. I went along to the information meeting assuming it would be a waste of my time (since I’d sat through a similar one the year before).

I was wrong.

My daughter had indeed brought home the right letter. And, the list above: for children without any additional support needs.

 

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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.

 

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