Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture – the practice of inheritance of estate and title by the eldest male child.  She explains why she believes it is a feminist issue here.  I’ve already written about becoming class conscious before sex-class conscious and self-identifying as a feminist here.  It didn’t take me long to work out how to reconcile class and sex oppression but I will never  forget that feeling of alienation, difference and being “less than”, when I first experienced ‘posh girls’  en masse (and yes, that’s exactly how I saw them and also exactly what I called them) at ‘A’ level college in Yorkshire in the mid-1980s.  So Campbell’s sentence: “ “Why the hell should we care about posh girls?” I hear you say.” gave me a good dose of ear steam.

Of course male primogeniture is wrong.  Of course.  Of course anything that privileges men over women is wrong.  But that doesn’t mean that ending the sex inequality is more important than ending the inequality.  Campbell ends her piece by saying that if we wish to sneer, then we must also sneer at Brahmin women and Senate Masupha too.  She’s right and I will.  I’d also ask her whether she is using cultural liberalism and the fear of appearing racist to bolster her argument in favour of maintaining inherited class privilege.  Indeed, she uses the practice of female genital mutilation, a form of abuse that for years many white liberals squirmed to condemn because of the fear of condemning a harmful practice in a culture subjugated in the UK, to illustrate the problem of female doorkeepers of patriarchy and the difficulty of dissent for a culture’s daughters.  Please don’t compare a girl’s right to survive with her genitals intact to another’s to be called Lady Blah-di-blah and inherit the family mansion.

Campbell describes the dilemma of being someone who “by accident of birth, finds herself the daughter of an earl.” She says that she doesn’t use her title and is deracinated from that life.  She says that refusal to help her struck her as the worst sort of inverted snobbery.  I might just probably be too busy to help her ‘cos I am too busy googling ‘deracinated’ because my life chances haven’t brought that word in to my vocabulary just yet. Though seriously, I am not going to help her because the answer to one form of inequality of accidental birth (male primogeniture and indeed maleness per se) is not to overlook and ignore other forms of inherited privilege.

I do agree with Campbell that everything is connected.  Though where she argues that “every struggle for women’s rights should be supported; every infringement resisted” I cannot agree. No-one should inherit titles. No-one should inherit wealth, privilege and status over others. No-one should inherit a free-pass to a privileged education that will set that person up for privilege for life. No-one should inherit poverty under the benefits-cap, insecure housing, being born in a war zone.  Food, shelter, safety, education  – and world equality in our right to access these – are surely our goals.  I wish I believed that I’ll see a world in which inequality between people has been erased before I die, but I don’t.  However this will not stop me trying to contribute to creating that world.  In my vision of an equal world, women will be liberated from patriarchal oppression,  male primogeniture will not exist, but I am not interested in ending it for the benefit of privileged women.

Thanks and all, but no thanks: I don’t want men in my feminism

Yes, I’m one of those feminists who doesn’t want men in feminism, the type who doesn’t think men can be feminists.  I’m quite happy to talk with you, work in partnership with or alongside you, even count a select bunch of you amongst my friends, but call you feminists: “Nah.”

Men – you’ve had since time immemorial to get your shit together.  For the sake of argument, let’s start from the assumption that as a species we’ve been around for about 200,000 years.  Evidence suggests that early societies were egalitarian but that with the development of agriculture and domestication around 11,700 years ago, came the emergence of patriarchy, of men’s domination of women.  What we refer to as first wave feminism gained prominence from the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, though this is western-centric and writes out women’s earlier struggles in Europe from the 15th century.  Even if we take  Mary Wollstonecraft’s  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792 as the start of women’s fight for our rights, men had eleven and a half thousand years to do something about sex inequality – if only a) you had wanted to and b) you weren’t too busy enjoying the benefits.  What’s suddenly happened for you to want to get in on the act?

Feminism is more than the demand for rights for women or equality between women and men. For me, feminism is the fight for the liberation of all women as a class from subjugation under patriarchy.  Loose the structural analysis and feminism gets lost in the rights of the individual, in identity led politics and notions of choice and agency fail to take sufficient account of context and impact.  Get men in and feminism is almost inevitably reduced to the problem of inequality and usually it isn’t so long before the ‘men suffer under patriarchy too’ line is trotted out.

Men, revolutionaries,  when you fight for equality you’re too quick betray your sisters.  Women were fighting for the rights of women as a class, as well as the overthrow of totalitarian regimes in the Arab Spring, but women’s status has been seriously threated in the countries that achieved changes of government.  The end of communism in Eastern Europe, and with it the rise of choice and consumerism furthered the commodification of women and men’s right’s to choose to profit and purchase. In the UK,  the Socialist Workers Party handling of rape shows that misogyny, sexism and sexual violence were seen as equality issues of lesser importance.

Men, you take up too much public space.  This post by End Victimisation and Blaming cites Dale Spender:

“Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.”     […]

“There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.”

Spender is absolutely right if my experience is anything to go by, the situation she described was not atypical. In the media men dominate, they take up disproportionate space. In politics men dominate, they take up disproportionate space.  Even on public transport men dominate, you take up disproportionate space as illustrated by this blog and this.  Seriously fellas, we know that your balls aren’t that big.

This piece by Glosswitch on the vitriol directed towards a twitter hashtag #sharedgirlhood and its protagonist Victoria Brownworth (@VABOX) explores the importance of a collective approach to women’s oppression.   Too few women get to know the joy of mass women-only spaces. It’s increasingly rare to find even a feminist event that is women only, and those that seek to provide this, increasingly face challenges.  Bullying from men’s rights extremists led to the London Irish Centre cancelling a booking for the women-only radical feminist conference Rad Fem 2013 for safeguarding reasons and because the venue could not handle the volume of complaints, though the conference went ahead peacefully elsewhere.  What’s the big threat?  Are you afraid that we’re plotting to overthrow male privilege or something?

Men, how about you prioritise taking responsibility for your violence above asking ‘What about the men?’  Services for women who have experienced sexual and domestic violence are increasingly required by commissioners to offer services to men too, despite evidence that this is not what women want, despite women being overwhelmingly the victims and men being overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Despite even the recognition of this by the government in its strategy to end (male) violence against women and girls. Incidentally men, if you focussed on ending male violence, you’d be helping a whole lot more men – and women – than you are by overstating your victimisation by women.

Men, how about you challenge the pornography tastes of some of your brethren?  Other men and boys listen to you, use their sexism for the greater good.  How about you challenge the sexual objectification of women without needing to call yourselves feminists to do so. Just do it because you recognise that objectification is damaging to women, a cause and consequence of inequality that upholds patriarchy.

Men, how about you sort out the rest of society – that in which you dominate – and make that more equitable and safer for women before you insist on occupying our space?  There is a role for you, plenty that you can do,  and I really hope that you will be influenced by feminism but in my experience, it is the men who exclude themselves from identifying as a feminist, who instead see themselves as allies, supporters or pro-feminist who have the more sophisticated analysis.  Men who realise that feminism is not about or for them, not about what they think.

The silencing of women by men in the public sphere is deafening; the habit of overlooking and failing to respond to women’s subordination is entrenched, structural and serves men as a class. By insist on inclusion in feminism, once again, men’s wants and needs are prioritised over women’s and women’s subordination is reinforced.

Feminism, single issue campaigns and disagreeing

I’d like to be able to write this without referring to the campaign that has prompted this piece, I’d like to but I’m not sure that in doing so I’d be able to express myself well enough; I’d like to because I support the single objective of that single issue campaign and I don’t want to knock women who are trying to make a difference. Sadly however, as described in this blog by Terri Strange, by describing themselves as “not anti-porn” the campaigner(s) behind ‘No more Page Three’ have located the campaign within a feminist political position that I cannot ascribe to.

I supported the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign because the sexual objectification of women – like men’s violence against women – is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.  My support of the single issue campaign was and is consistent with my wider perspective.  Pornography is the eroticisation of unequal power relations and women’s subjugation. Add a racial analysis to that perspective and the problems are exacerbated. This is not my feminism.  My feminism is rooted in a structural analysis of power relations rather than identity politics and choice.  A feminism based on a structural analysis of power relations is just as able – in my opinion, better able – to encompass multiple forms of advantage and oppression, such as class, race and disability within and in addition to analysis of sex-class inequality, as identity based feminism.

The eroticisation of women’s bodies as objects of consumption works because women’s and men’s bodies serve different purposes in a patriarchal capitalist society.  For a decent and thorough analysis, please read Julia Long’s ‘Anti-porn or Gail Dines’ ‘Pornland’. For the purposes of this piece, the parody Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version)  illustrates my position perfectly well.   In patriarchal society, treating women and men’s bodies the same, isn’t the same.  It just doesn’t work.  Why?  Because of sex inequality.

I understand why some feminists are reluctant to support single issue campaigns.  They’re absolutely right if they argue that we are not going to achieve the liberation of women, the end of women’s subjugation under patriarchy though relatively easily achievable single issue campaigns.  I however, can live with that.  As a feminist whose primary focus is male violence against women, I was  more than happy to support Caroline Criado-Perez’s bank notes campaign and explained why here:

Violence against women and girls is both a consequence and cause of inequality between women and men.  Of course, I am not suggesting that the inclusion of a woman on banknotes would reduce male violence against women and girls.  But I do believe that when we have a choice about whether our actions reinforce or challenge inequality between women and men, if we chose to ignore or exclude women, then we are guilty  of relegating women to a second-class status.  If we think that making women invisible is acceptable, then we are part of the problem.

The problem is different where single issue campaigners knowingly place their objectives outside or in opposition to a wider political analysis.

As a feminist, I have learned a lot from women who have disagreed with me and challenged me, women who have pointed out the inconsistencies within my own comfort zones.  It’s still happening all the time and yet I still cling to behaviours, habits and thought processes that I  know don’t cut it. And I recognise the inadequacy of the choice based defence that I occasionally fall back on.  However, sometimes I listen, sometimes I learn, sometimes my position shifts.  That’s why I cannot agree with those who are critical of the feminists who are critiquing the “not anti-porn” position of the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign.   I am not criticising their campaign, the huge time and energy that has been invested in pushing for change, but I am challenging, questioning and disagreeing with the political – or lack or political –  analysis.  As a feminist, I hear and learn from women that I sometimes agree with, sometimes disagree with, all the time.  Most disagreements do not negate the value of the things I learn.  We need to be able to discuss and disagree.

I hope that the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign achieves its aim.  But I want to see the campaign succeed because pornography is a cause and consequence of inequality and I want to be able to support the campaign because it is part of the solution, not just shifting the problem. And I want to be able to say that – in the hope of spreading a structural feminist analysis –  without it being seen as an attack on other women who are fighting for a better world.

On becoming a working class feminist and ‘choice’: a personal reflection

history is history of class struggles

I’ve been to two feminist events this year where the issue of class was presented by women who were not working-class or of working-class background. Each woman (three women, two events) was an articulate speaker who raised interesting and valid points but that isn’t the issue, as feminists there is no need for us to make class an anthropological issue.  Sure, feminism has a class problem, but that does not mean that there aren’t any feminists who are able to articulate class issues from a position as anything other than ‘other’.  It’s only as I wrote this that I realised how much I talked about ‘choice’ and how my own story is about the ways that class and sex influence and limit choice.

I’m not going to even try to define class here, I’ll leave that to the sociologists; but rather than continue to gripe about middle-class feminists commandeering class, I thought I ought to talk about what being a working-class feminist means to me.

My mother and biological father met working in John Crowther’s Mill, a textile manufacturing mill in Milnsbridge, West Yorkshire. It was 1967, the year that the Abortion Act was passed in the British parliament.  Pregnant at 17 to a married Sicilian immigrant who didn’t speak very much English, my mother married her on-off boyfriend,  I’m not sure how much ‘right to choose’ she really had.  She doesn’t recall knowing that abortion was an option –“I never even thought about it,” –  and the same with the pill, which had been available since 1961 “I never even thought about that either, I might’ve heard of it ….”.  There was perhaps a 50-50 chance that she was marrying the father of her soon-to-be child, but she wasn’t; the best-man, not the groom was the daddy, though it was  much later that I became aware of this.  As far as I was concerned, up until my early 20s, I was the daughter of an ex-mill worker/factory packer/auxiliary-nurse/shop-worker mother and a plumber/builder dad.

Class is not simply about poverty.  We weren’t poor. My mother had been, she’d grown up as the third child and oldest girl of 12 siblings.  I’ve heard stories of six-mile walks in winter by children to borrow coal from relatives; the need to get home early to get the best pick of clothes for a night out; shared beds, not just shared rooms; coats that doubled as blankets and lying to friends about birthday presents that never transpired.  I never went hungry and most of our meals were home cooked, the smattering of convenience foods being more about exciting 70s fashions than anything else.  My ‘dad’ was controlling (tight) with money, though I’d say this was more about control and power than poverty, he drove a flash American imported sports car, but my sister and I grew up in a mixture of new clothes, family hand-me-downs and jumble-sale bargains, but if that was poverty or disadvantage, I was barely aware of it .  My mum’s youngest sister, my aunt, was less than four years older than me and I looked up to her, growing into the clothes that she was growing out of was a welcomed rite of passage,  The annual jumble sale at my primary school a much anticipated event among all my friends.  Memories of a new coat from C&A (for anyone who doesn’t know, by no means an expensive brand) are bittersweet, my mum cutting the price label out and telling me to pretend that it had cost less than it actually had because she wasn’t supposed to spend that much on clothes. Years later,  she told me that one of the reasons she’d returned to work was because ‘she wasn’t given’ enough money for clothes for the children. I remember walking to school with a friend, I would have been any age between 8 and 11, and her telling me that her dad said ‘if he had your dad’s money, he’d spend more of it on his children’, and trying to argue my way out of the stinging indignant humiliation.

I was educated at local state schools, attending one of the country’s first purpose-built comprehensives, long before the concept of choice was widely used in free education.  For whatever reasons, I did ‘well’ at school.  My secondary school was large, I think approximately 1,800 pupils;  some classes were streamed according to ability, so in time, though I wasn’t conscious of this, my peers became increasingly (but by no means exclusively) those doing well at school  and, therefore,  not coincidentally, increasingly those from relatively privileged backgrounds.  Looking back, class meant my subject choices at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level weren’t hampered by the parental influence of the need to build a good career foundation, less pressure to revise and no pressure to stick at learning to play an instrument, things that I experienced as freedoms and which were sometimes the envy of friends from more advantaged backgrounds. So, I picked ‘O’ levels based on a mixture of what I wanted, which teachers I wanted to avoid and some minor school regulations based on what was deemed appropriate –or not – for a bright kid. (Therefore a language and not typing or the wonderfully named ‘office practise’, and physics not general science.)

I didn’t really choose to do ‘A’ levels but picked some because that’s what my peers were doing (again free choice so: Sociology, Geography and Art) and a further education college rather than the  small school sixth form because I’d snogged and was avoiding too many of the boys that would have been in the sixth form.  I wasn’t sure that I’d end up at the sixth form college anyway, I applied for jobs over the summer holiday and remember receiving a lovely hand-written letter from  Batley’s Cash and Carry telling me that I had ‘far too much going for me’ to leave school and work there.  My ‘dad’ asked me why I was bothering, I’d only be having babies, so I was just wasting time.

‘A’ level college was the first time I recall experiencing class making me feel different.  The main intakes were from local fee-paying schools, or so it seemed, maybe it was just that I knew only a handful of similar stragglers from my old school and they were a slightly larger,  but much louder,  pack. I felt silenced by their confident chatter, although also from Huddersfield their accents were different from mine.  I didn’t mix with them. I couldn’t like The  Smiths, ‘cos they did. I dropped ‘A’ level art because I couldn’t find my voice amongst theirs, I had a nagging feeling that I was as good as most of them, better than some, but I knew that after college, if this was what I had to compete with, I would be lost.

Around the same time, I started doing an evening class in psychology.  I hadn’t chosen biology ‘O’ level, so this was my introduction to dominant and recessive genes. The tutor of my class must have been relieved when I decided that my impossible ‘dominant gene’ brown eyes from parents with recessive gene blue and green eyes and my blond and blue-eyed younger brother and sister meant that I must be a ‘genetic throw-back’.  I remember coming home and talking about it, and what now I might call the sound of tumbleweed.

Through sociology, I found a name for the feeling of being different: class.  It was 1984/85, although Huddersfield was a mill not a mining town, the miners’ strike felt alive around us and anyway the job losses were echoed in the decline of the mills.  I discovered Billy Bragg and pop and politics merged in my teenage identity. Sometime after ‘class’, sociology introduced me to the concept of feminism.   “How stupid!”, I thought, how could I ever have more in common with the posh girls from the private schools than a man who worked in a pit? Luckily though, as we moved on to socialist and radical feminism, the ideas of women like Shulasmith Firestone and Sheila Rowbotham showed me how class and feminist politics needn’t be mutually exclusive – and honestly, since the exposure to ideas through ‘A’ level sociology,  nothing has been the same.

I drifted into university much in the same was that I drifted into ‘A’ levels.  My mum had left my dad.  I was the first of my family to go to university, though my grandparents’ twelve children have had twenty-five children between them and several of my cousins and one of my aunts have also since attended university.  I was in the South at the University of Kent. Northern, working-class, from a broken-home, back-combed hair, second hand 50/60s dresses and old men’s coats.  I felt different and I wanted it that way, but when the daughter of a doctor (she was studying law)  told me I was lucky, that I had a credibility that she could never have, I knew she was talking shite.  I stuck with sociology, read more about Marx, about domestic and sexual violence, about patriarchy.  We marched for miners, we marched against Thatcher, against Clause 28 and against the Poll Tax.  I learnt the truth about my parentage and those dominant gene brown eyes.  I wasn’t a genetic throw-back but half-Italian. What I saw in the mirror now made sense. I met my biological dad (if I was expecting Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, I got Danny De Vito) a handful of new half-brothers and sisters and my Sicilian/Italian family.

Having the benefit of a degree (through a free education) and a working-class background places me on a class margin, add to that a sense of always feeling ‘a bit different’ in the home I grew up in but not knowing why.  Neither one thing nor the other, always a bit too much of ‘something different’ to truly feel in place anywhere. If I’d ever doubted it, my work history in women’s refuges and hostels means that I have met countless women and children whose backgrounds and life chances make my own look steeped in advantage and privilege.  I can compare my own life to that of my mum, to my sister and brother and know that I have had opportunities that they have been denied.  But still, attending meetings with people whom I don’t know, especially ‘higher-ranking’ professionals means that when I first open my mouth and speak and my working-class Yorkshire accent comes out, I frequently detect a quick flicker of surprise in their eyes.  Being a woman and working-class means that I am no stranger to hearing an ignored suggestion that I have made earlier,  later  repeated by a man, or in a different accent or both, accepted and valued.  Being a woman and working-class means that only very recently, I stopped telling myself that long-haul holidays, talking on the radio, writing a blog, buying the car that I wanted were not for ‘people like me’.

Unlike age, disability, gender reassignment, disability, marriage/civil-partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation, class it not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 which sought to protect people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society, replacing previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act.  It means that the analysis of class, of poverty, of the importance of access to education and their impact on life chances is missing from most equalities training and equality policies.  Its inclusion could potentially have created a tool with which to fight the policies of class-hate, the welfare reforms that disadvantage the poor  and stigmatise poverty,  the erosion of free education pushed through by recent governments of all persuasions.  Many of the accidental and fortuitous ‘choices’ that I made, are now denied to children who are like the child I was.

My mum has told me that she doesn’t know where I got my ‘strong opinions’ but I do: free education, a sociology degree and feminism.  Choice doesn’t exist without the limits of social context.  My life experiences and my education have made me the woman that I am, the choices that I didn’t have are as much part of me as the choices that I made.  Professor Liz Kelly recently made what seemed at the time to be a passing comment, that class was about access to ideas.  Looking at myself, this was absolutely critical.  The thing that changed me was access to ideas.

To those through history who fought for free and compulsory education for all children, for equality for girls and women, for every feminist, class warrior and teacher who shaped my ideas, and my mum –  accidental teenage parent without the choice of the pill or abortion and with a baby to ‘the wrong man’ – thank you for giving me somewhere to grow ‘strong opinions’.  To organisers of feminist events who, rightfully want to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of life opportunities according to class, let us working-class women with strong opinions speak for ourselves. We can, you know; and we have things to say that are worth listening to.

Respecting Life

Respecting Life photo

Yesterday afternoon, in Euston, central London, I walked past a small group of women with a banner urging us to “Respect Life”, to say no to abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. They belonged, as is clear from their banner, to the Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society.  I rejected one of their leaflets (which I now regret) even so they were happy for me to take a photo of them.

Of course I am one of the pro-choice majority when it comes to abortion.  I oppose forced pregnancy, I oppose forced abortion.  Women’s rights must include bodily autonomy and the freedom to choose what is best for them, albeit within the confines of patriarchal society.  Being pro-choice does not mean the same as being pro-abortion.  It does mean   making sure that women are supported, that though promoting and increasing access to contraception we reduce unwanted pregnancies, that through education we ensure that everyone understands how to avoid getting pregnant, as well as how to get pregnant.  Pro-choice means increasing ease of access to legal, early, safe abortion.  Pro-choice means not judging women who have abortion (s). I’ve heard that some infertile women oppose abortion, criticising women who have an abortion as ‘selfish’ when some of us can or could not have a child. I can’t see how reducing another woman’s liberties can ease the difficulty of infertility.   Women should never be reduced to baby-making machines, just as those of us who cannot have babies are no less women.

Pro-choice means believing that every child should be a wanted child, that seemed so clear to me until a few days ago, until I thought about sex-selective abortion as a result of a failure to prosecute two doctors who had carried out abortions on the basis of the sex of the foetus.  I am not comfortable with the position that  ‘a woman’s right to choose’ can be extended to femicide.  Like so often is the case for a radical feminist, the answer lies in ending the inequality between women and men.  The answer here is to change and challenge those beliefs that see a woman as ‘less than’ a man, a girl as ‘less than’ a boy. Until this happens, I remain uncomfortable with sex-selective abortions. I oppose femicide, but a foetus cannot be more important than a woman,  wanting every child to be a wanted child cannot be extended to forced pregnancy.  Being pro-choice is respecting life, it is respecting the lives of women and children.

Euthanasia, assisted suicide and/or the right to die should never become the duty to die for fear of being a burden on others, should never become elder abuse or  neglect.  The costs and difficulties of care  cannot be permitted to become reasons to kill.  It’s clear that strong laws, an ethical legal framework and guidance are necessary.  But being pro-choice and pro-bodily autonomy mean respecting the right to choose to die. Respecting life means respecting the right to die.

The Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society is opposed to the death penalty.  They do not think that the state has the right to murder murderers and violent, repeat sex offenders.  And neither do I.  Neither does the UK government, the death penalty was abolished  for murder in 1965, (in 1973 in Northern Ireland).  It was not finally abolished for high treason, piracy with violence, arson in the royal dockyards or espionage until 1998. According to Amnesty, across the world  21 countries carried out 682 executions (excluding China where figures are not released but are known to be very high) in 2012.   The top five executing countries in the world are China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and USA, with Yemen closely behind. I hate violence but the death penalty is no solution.  Though I understand the anger,  the hatred for and the desire to punish those who abuse, rape and kill, the state should not be a killer. It’s illogical to argue that murder  is wrong through murdering.  Statistical evidence does not support that the death penalty deters crime.  In the USA for example, murder rates in states that do not impose the death penalty have remained consistently lower than in states with the death penalty.  It is also used disproportionately against those who face structural discrimination, people from black and minority ethnic groups. Respecting life means that the state should not be sanctioned to kill.

Worryingly, the Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society say that they provide counselling and moral education for children. Worryingly, I say, because  I don’t believe abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty are the same, I don’t believe that saying “No!” to them all is respecting life.  I don’t want those that conflate them to have any role whatsoever in educating children.  Respecting life does mean respecting the lives of killers and rapists. Respecting life means respecting choice, respecting life means respecting bodily autonomy. Respecting life means respecting women.  Respecting life means respecting the right to die.

Femicide: UK women killed through suspected male violence January – July 2013

66 UK women killed through suspected male violence so far in 2013.  66 women in  212 days, that’s one  woman every 3.2 days.

Name Age Date killed
Janelle Duncan Bailey 25 02-Jan
Akua Agyueman 23 03-Jan
Anastasia Voykina 23 07-Jan
Myrna Kirby 57 11-Jan
Suzanne Bavette Newton 45 13-Jan
Virginja Jurkiene 49 19-Jan
Chloe Siokos 80 22-Jan
Debbie Levey 44 28-Jan
Sasha Marsden 16 31-Jan
Una Crown 86 31-Jan
Hayley Pointon 30 03-Feb
Pernella Forgie 79 07-Feb
Ganimete Hoti 42 11-Feb
Samantha Medland 24 17-Feb
Alexis Durant 42 20-Feb
Glynis Solmaz 65 20-Feb
Dimitrina Borisova 46 21-Feb
Victoria Rose 58 02-Mar
Chantelle Barnsdale-Quean 35 04-Mar
Susan Cole 54 06-Mar
Christina Edkins 16 06-Mar
Jennifer Rennie 26 11-Mar
Daneshia Arthur 30 18-Mar
Pamela Jackson 55 last seen 20 March
Mary Roberts 50 27-Mar
Janis Dundas 63 05-Apr
Deborah Simister 45 08-Apr
Lisa Clay 41 09-Apr
Mariam Ali Shaaban Hussain Khesroh 24 11-Apr
Dawn Warburton 40 13-Apr
Naika Inayat 52 17-Apr
Jabeen Younis 32 19-Apr
Irene Dale 78 27-Apr
Heather Arthur 50 29-Apr
Salma Parveen 22 29-Apr
Christine Baker 52 30-Apr
Margaret Knight 77 01-May
Sara Bates 33 04-May
Margaret Mercati 63 15-May
Margery Gilbey 88 24-May
Georgia Williams 17 26-May
Yvonne Walsh 25 02-Jun
Krishnamaya Mabo 39 03-Jun
Myrna Holman 76 03-Jun
Reema Ramzan 18 04-Jun
Katie Jenkin 20 08-Jun
Alice McMeekin 58 08-Jun
Marianne Stones 58 09-Jun
Lilima Akter 27 14-Jun
Zaneta Kindzierska 32 16-Jun
Mushammod Asma Begum 21 20-Jun
Linzi Ashton 25 29-Jun
Rania Alayed 25 Inconclusive, her body still has not   been found
Louisa Denby 84 01-Jul
Kate Dixon 40 02-Jul
Denise Williamson 44 05-Jul
Sabeen Thandi 37 07-Jul
Shavani Kapoor 35 10-Jul
Jane McRae 55 17-Jul
Julie Beattie 24 19-Jul
Rosemary Gill 48 20-Jul
Alexandra Kovacs 25 Inconclusive
Jean Redfern 67 22-Jul
Sarah Redfern 33 22-Jul
Keisha McKenzie 28 29-Jul
Linah Keza 29 31-Jul

Funny Old World

I’m pleased to see the widespread media coverage and condemnation of violently misogynistic social media, including the death and rape threats to Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy, both women that I respect and who are working to make changes for women.  I’m pleased to see that so far two arrests (of men) have been made in relation to these threats.

I’m pleased to see how many women and men have spoken out in support of Caroline and Stella and against the cowardly bullies who seek to silence and intimidate them and many other women who dare to raise their voices.

I’m hopeful that we might be reaching a point when misogynistic abuse is no longer accepted as an inevitable consequence of women’s use of social media.

Ironically though, I haven’t seen one headline about actual rapes.

  • Maybe I missed the headline telling us that 350 rapes were reported to London’s  Metropolitan Police last month (June 2013).  A 40% increase on June 2012.

Ironically, I haven’t seen much coverage of actual murders of women through male violence.

Maybe I’ve missed the media coverage that looks at death and rape threats in the context of femicide and sexual violence against women.

I’m fed up that connections are not being made. Male violence against women and girls is not just about threats through social media.  It is a reality of life across the world. What is it going to take before we all say that male violence against women and girls needs to end?

Femicide: UK women killed through suspected male violence January – June 2013

52 UK women killed through suspected male violence so far in 2013.  52 women in  181 days, that’s one  woman every 3.48 days.

Janelle Duncan   Bailey 25 02-Jan
Akua Agyueman 23 03-Jan
Anastasia Voykina 23 07-Jan
Myrna Kirby 57 11-Jan
Suzanne Bavette Newton 45 13-Jan
Virginja Jurkiene 49 19-Jan
Chloe Siokos 80 22-Jan
Debbie Levey 44 28-Jan
Sasha Marsden 16 31-Jan
Una Crown 86 31-Jan
Hayley Pointon 30 03-Feb
Pernella Forgie 79 07-Feb
Ganimete Hoti 42 11-Feb
Samantha Medland 24 17-Feb
Alexis Durant 42 20-Feb
Glynis Solmaz 65 20-Feb
Dimitrina Borisova 46 21-Feb
Victoria Rose 58 02-Mar
Chantelle Barnsdale-Quean 35 04-Mar
Susan Cole 54 06-Mar
Christina Edkins 16 06-Mar
Jennifer Rennie 26 11-Mar
Daneshia Arthur 30 18-Mar
Pamela Jackson 55 last seen 20 March
Mary Roberts 50 27-Mar
Janis Dundas 63 05-Apr
Deborah Simister 45 08-Apr
Lisa Clay 41 09-Apr
Mariam   Ali Shaaban Hussain Khesroh 24 11-Apr
Dawn Warburton 40 13-Apr
Naika Inayat 52 17-Apr
Jabeen Younis 32 19-Apr
Irene Dale 78 27-Apr
Heather Arthur 50 29-Apr
Salma Parveen 22 29-Apr
Christine Baker 52 30-Apr
Margaret Knight 77 01-May
Sara Bates 33 04-May
Margaret Mercati 63 15-May
Margery Gilbey 88 24-May
Georgia Williams 17 26-May
Yvonne Walsh 25 02-Jun
Krishnamaya Mabo 39 03-Jun
Myrna Holman 76 03-Jun
Reema Ramzan 18 04-Jun
Katie Jenkin 20 08-Jun
Alice McMeekin 58 08-Jun
Marianne Stones 58 09-Jun
Lilima Akter 27 14-Jun
Zaneta Kindzierska 32 16-Jun
Mushammod Asma Begum 21 20-Jun
Linzi Ashton 25 29-Jun

The Coalition Government and broadening the fight to end violence against women and girls beyond the Criminal Justice System

On the 25 November 2010, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Coalition Government launched the Call to End Violence against Women and Girls, just over six months after it had come in to power. It was followed in March 2011 by an action plan comprising 88 supporting actions for taking the strategy forward. In the foreword, the Home Secretary Theresa May acknowledged:

“The causes and consequences of violence against women and girls are complex. For too long government has focused on violence against women and girls as a criminal justice issue”

and went on to say that prevention would be at the heart of the government’s approach, along with working with families and communities to change attitudes. Lynne Featherstone, then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities and Criminal Information added that

“This suffering is a form of gender inequality and it is wrong”.

It almost sounds like we have a government that is ready to recognise that violence against women and girls is both a consequence and cause of inequality between women and men. The problem is, despite Theresa May’s assurances, the government seems to be wilfully ignoring many of the ways that they could address violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System.

Starting with the cuts that followed the comprehensive saving review, the austerity package has hit women hardest. Data from the Women’s Budget Group revealed

  • Of the welfare savings (cuts) 74% came from the pockets of women.
  • Two-thirds of those who have lost jobs in councils and schools since May 2010 were women, in 19 English local authorities, 100% of the jobs that were lost were women’s jobs
  • For the first time in decades, the pay gap between women and men has stopped decreasing and started increasing.

The Universal Credit scheme, the government’s next big step in welfare reform, is scheduled to start in October 2013. The government says it’s about fairness, about making work pay and making the welfare system simpler by providing a single monthly payment for those in receipt of benefits. Where a couple are claiming, benefits will paid jointly to just one of them. This is despite the finding, in the British Crime Survey 2004, that 41% of women who’ve experienced domestic force have also suffered financial abuse. Where women are in receipt of benefits and in violent relationships, perpetrators are being mandated to have increased control over finances.

The wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System don’t appear to extend to personal finances.

Lynne Featherstone has spoken about her outrage at the pressure for women to look a certain way; that she can see how body image affects women’s confidence and even goes as far as saying that it can be a kind of violence against women. She went on to say “There’s obviously sometimes a good rationale for plastic surgery. When you’ve had five children and your breasts are hanging round your waist and it’s affecting your life, then I wouldn’t really have a problem with women getting that sorted”. Try as I might, I cannot see how identifying the effects of feeding babies on a woman’s body as a good rationale for surgery are anything other than misogynistic. She has also said of herself, “I have the power of all middle aged women, the power to nag” “I have the powers of high level nagging”.

The wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System don’t appear to extend to addressing the pressure on women to conform to the patriarchal fuckability standard or avoiding descriptions of women’s contribution to politics that conform to negative gender stereotypes.

Nadine Dorries has been busily trying her best to erode abortion rights, to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 20 weeks, a measure which is reported to be supported by Theresa May, Maria Miller and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Yet in 2011, 91% of abortions took place before 13 weeks and the number of abortions post-13 weeks has been steadily declining since 2008. There are bigger issues in reproductive health care that need attention, such as reproductive violence, access to contraception and improving access to early abortion.

The wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System don’t appear to extend to considering the impact of reproductive violence or an attack on women’s bodily autonomy.

Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities has recently set out plans for a ‘Guide for Girls’ information pack to help parents bring up ‘aspirational young women’. The aim is to help girls ‘realise their potential’ in response to concerns raised by the Women’s Business Council, including the fact that the number of female chief executives in the FTSE 100 has fallen to just three in the past year.

Miller told the Observer:

“Making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy. Encouraging women to fulfil their potential doesn’t begin when they are already working; it starts when they are young, still at school. A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications.

“Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions.”

Yet since the Coalition Government came to power, more than 400 Sure Start children’s centres have closed and more than a third (£430m) has been cut from Sure Start government funding between 2010-11 and 2012-13. Sure Start was launched in 1998 with the aim of “giving children the best possible start in life”. In the first year of the Coalition Government an additional 300,000 children were plunged into poverty. The British Crime Survey has identified poverty as a risk factor to some forms or domestic and sexual violence. Poverty is a strong predictor of low educational performance. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation demonstrated that disadvantaged children are more likely to be reluctant recipients of the taught curriculum, influencing different attitudes to education at primary school that help shape their future and their future aspirations. It may be a cynical position but it does not seem likely that the target audience of Maria Miller’s ‘Guide for Girls’ is parents living in poverty.

The wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System don’t extend to addressing the educational attainment of girls raised in poverty.

Also this month, Labour proposed an amendment to Clause 20 of the Children and Families Bill to make relationships and sex education a mandatory part of the school curriculum. This seems wholly consistent with Theresa May’s stated aim of increasing the focus on prevention and working to change attitudes – for example the attitudes of the 43% of young people who agree that it’s acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive under certain circumstances. Yet all but two members of the government, including Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone, voted against the proposal.

The wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System don’t extend to the full potential of the school curriculum to be a force for attitudinal change.

One of the steps that the Coalition Government has introduced to tackle domestic violence is The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, or Clare’s Law, that enables people to ask the police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

It was created following a campaign by the family of Clare Wood, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton, in 2009. A pilot is currently being run in Greater Manchester, Wiltshire, Nottingham and Gwent. Greater Manchester police revealed that approximately half of the requests they receive result in the disclosure of information whilst Wiltshire police have revealed that they received 10 applications in one week alone. Whilst the principle of allowing women access to information held by the state about violent men is welcome, there remain questions, these include how a woman may be judged in the light of actions that she takes or doesn’t take if she is informed of a man’s violent past. There is a huge potential for shifting the culpability for violence back on to the victim and for agencies to absolve themselves of their responsibility – after all, she knew about him and didn’t leave. There is also the question of whether women will be held responsible for harm that a violent perpetrator does to children, after all – she knew about him and didn’t leave. There is also the matter of access to specialist support which is vital for women, whether or not they find out that a man has a history of violence. Those that are told that there is no history on record have surely asked for information because they have legitimate reason to feel concerned. We know that most domestic violence is not reported. “No history on record” is not the same as “no history” or “no risk”.

Theresa May said at the launch of The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme: “Domestic violence is a dreadful crime which sees two women a week die at the hands of their partners and millions more suffer years of abuse in their own homes. That is why we are constantly looking at new ways of protecting victims.” I welcome this; but what about the full range of wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System?

And what of the specialist services, the ones that support women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence? A Freedom of Information request to 152 local authorities found that of the 101 councils that responded, there had been cuts of £5.6m to services including refuges, domestic violence advocates, victim support centres and centres for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted between 2009/10 and 2012/13. Remaining services are increasingly subject to competitive tendering, with contracts frequently awarded to organisations that are not specialists, that are not run from woman centered perspectives but that are chasing business and able to make low-cost bids.

The wider measures to end violence against women and girls outside the Criminal Justice System don’t extend to maintaining and extending specialist service provision. Until we see effective steps being taken that actually do result in a decrease in male violence against women and girls, cuts to services speak louder than empty promises.

The Home Secretary was right, for too long successive governments have focused on violence against women and girls as a criminal justice issue if they have focused on it at all. However, if the Coalition knows that a wider approach is needed, its actions and inactions belie that commitment. When we have a Prime Minster who resorts to sexist put-downs of women MPs, when there are only five women but nine Oxford alumni in the coalition cabinet, when the Deputy Prime Minister cannot bring himself to condemn a rich and powerful man putting his hands around a woman’s throat because it might have been “just a fleeting thing”, the government is undermining and contradicting the fine promises of its strategy to end male violence against women and girls.  Male violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of structural inequality between women and men, and until a government seriously approaches the issue from that perspective, women and girls will continue to be beaten, raped, assaulted, abused, controlled and killed by men.

This post is an updated version of a piece that appeared on the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association blog. My thanks to FWSA for inviting me to write for them. http://fwsablog.org.uk/2013/06/19/the-coalition-government-and-broadening-the-fight-to-end-violence-against-women-and-girls-beyond-the-criminal-justice-system/

UK women killed through suspected male violence January – May 2013

41 UK women killed through suspected male violence in 2013.  41 women in  150 days, that’s one  woman every 3.66 days

Janelle Duncan   Bailey 25 02-Jan
Akua Agyueman 23 03-Jan
Anastasia Voykina 23 07-Jan
Myrna Kirby 57 11-Jan
Suzanne Bavette Newton 45 13-Jan
Virginja Jurkiene 49 19-Jan
Chloe Siokos 80 22-Jan
Debbie Levey 44 28-Jan
Sasha Marsden  16 31-Jan
Una Crown 86 31-Jan
Hayley Pointon  30 03-Feb
Pernella Forgie 79 07-Feb
Ganimete Hoti 42 11-Feb
Samantha Medland 24 17-Feb
Alexis Durant  42 20-Feb
Glynis Solmaz 65 20-Feb
Dimitrina Borisova 46 21-Feb
Victoria Rose 58 02-Mar
Chantelle Barnsdale-Quean 35 04-Mar
Susan Cole  54 06-Mar
Christina Edkins 16 06-Mar
Jennifer Rennie 26 11-Mar
Daneshia Arthur 30 18-Mar
Pamela Jackson 55 last seen 20 March
Mary Roberts  50 27-Mar
Janis Dundas 63 05-Apr
Deborah Simister 45 08-Apr
Lisa Clay 41 09-Apr
Mariam Ali Shaaban Hussain   Khesroh 24 11-Apr
Dawn Warburton 40 13-Apr
Naika Inayat 52 17-Apr
Jabeen Younis 32 19-Apr
Irene Dale 78 27-Apr
Heather Arthur 50 29-Apr
Salma Parveen 22 29-Apr
Christine Baker 52 30-Apr
Margaret Knight 77 01-May
Sara Bates 33 04-May
Margaret Mercati 63 15-May
Margery Gilbey 88 24-May
Georgia Williams 17 26-May