Socialist Resistance and Sisterhood

Last year I wrote a piece for Socialist Resistance.  I talked about my work for a feminist women’s charity working with women who have experienced men’s violence in the context of some of my thoughts about feminism and social class.

I have asked Socialist Resistance to take the piece down following their behaviour towards another feminist, Glosswitch.  You can read about what happened – and the piece that she was asked to write –  here.

As a working-class woman, my sex-class is as important to me as my socio-economic class. Women’s oppression is biologically based and reinforced by socially constructed gender.  Though not the same, there are similarities to the way that access or lack of access to material resources is reinforced and reproduced by the different life chances and opportunities afforded to a person on the basis of social class.
I will not turn my back on my sister.
The piece I wrote for Socialist Resistance, which was written in the format of an interview, appears below for anyone who is interested in the challenges of balancing feminist activism and work in the women’s sector.

                                                                                                                                                             

SR: You run the blog Counting Dead Women. Fatal male violence is perhaps the most easily measurable indicator of violence against women. What is the extent of the problem as revealed by official data and your knowledge of the subject?

KIS: I started counting dead women at the beginning of 2012 when 8 women in the UK were killed by men in the first three days of the year. I was frustrated that connections weren’t being made and the systemic nature of male violence against women was being ignored. Once I started counting, I found it difficult to stop, partly because through doing the counting, I feel like I’m learning so much that just isn’t there in the official statistics. Plus, I think the way official statistics are presented takes away the humanity of the women and it’s too easy not to be horrified by what is happening to women at the hands of men. I’m not sure that fatal male violence is the most easily measurable indicator, mainly because, as your question suggests, official data hides the extent of the problem, and I know how much time I have to spend trying to keep a record of women killed by men in the absence of official statistics.

Currently available Home Office statistics tell us a lot about the relationship between a murder victim and their killer. We can see the sex of the victim and whether they were killed by partner/ex, their child, parent, other relative, acquaintance or a stranger but the sex of the killer within or across these categories isn’t revealed. For example, official statistics tell us that on average in the 11-year period between 2001 and 2012, 11 women a year were killed by their child. Through Counting Dead Women, I’ve found that in 2012, 16 women were killed by their son, in 2013 it was 13 women and by the end of September it’s 9 women. So most –almost all – women killed by their child are killed by their son, and this has been completely hidden by the official statistics.

There’s also the issue of whom to count, for example, what about men who aren’t found guilty of murder, but manslaughter? (Murder’s a bad enough word for disguising the sexist nature of fatal male violence against women but the word manslaughter wipes women right out of the picture). On top of that there are cases where the man is found guilty of neither murder nor manslaughter, including a woman killed last year who was found hanging naked above her bloodstained bed with more than 30 injuries and the man who the court deemed innocent of killing her, found by police sleeping below her.  I’ve grappled with the issue of defining fatal male violence against women since I started recording women killed. At the moment, I’ve settled for women, aged 14 years and over, women killed by men in the UK and UK women killed overseas. Regardless of the relationship between the woman and the man who killed her; regardless of how he killed her and who else he killed at the same time; regardless of the verdict reached when the case gets to court in our patriarchally constructed justice system created by men and continually delivering anything but justice to women; regardless of what is known and not known of his motive.

SR: The organisation you work for, Nia, was formerly called the Hackney Women’s Aid (HWA). On the site it says it’s “committed to working within a feminist ethos”. How does that make it different to other groups doing similar work?

KIS: Sadly, even us calling ourselves feminist makes us different, it’s increasingly rare that women’s groups do that. But of course it’s more than that.

It means that our work names male violence and that services are provided in a framework which recognises that there are inequalities between women and men in society, and that male violence against women and girls is both a cause and a consequence of inequality.   That we don’t see male violence against women as reducible to individual acts perpetrated by individual men, but as a key instrument of men’s domination of women, supported and normalised by patriarchal institutions, attitudes and social norms and values.

Having a feminist approach means that we believe women when they tell us about what has happened to them and we do not blame women for what has happened to them.

It means that when we talk about empowerment, we’re not talking about women feeling good if they make certain ‘choices but that we recognise that power imbalances exist between individuals and groups and  sex, race, class and other forms of structural inequality limit choice and life chances, and ‘choices’ are made within a context of power imbalances. We see our role as to help women and children understand the options available to them and to support them in making choices within the limits of those options and to advocate on behalf of the women and children that we work with as individuals and collectively.

Delivering feminist informed services means recognising that women and girls have specific needs that are not met by services not informed by feminism, that women, girls and children who have experienced male violence have a diverse range of needs, that we provide services that are sensitive and responsive to women’s individual and collective needs, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach

It means that we don’t just deliver services but try to raise awareness of male violence and power imbalances and campaign for change.

SR: Organisations like the HWA emerged with the rise of a mass feminist movement and many of them vanished. Others have been “professionalised”. This makes them more accountable to local and national government and, perhaps, less obliged to be answerable to the women who use the services. Is this a tension in the work that you do?

KIS: Absolutely. I’ve been working in the sector for 24 years, and I’ve seen domestic and sexual violence become much more mainstreamed, but as that’s happened, the feminist perspective that was central to the movement has become diluted.

I’m angry that in the 1990s more secure funding was offered to independent organisations running specialist services that had been developed by survivors and activists; funding that came with a contract for services from their local council. But since around 2005, these contracts have been put out to tender by the local authorities that provided the funding and too often sold off to the lowest bidder able to meet a service specification. We’ve lost too many specialist women’s organisations and it is continuing. It’s harder and harder for independent women-led organisations to survive, and the fight to survive takes away energy that we should be spending on supporting women, girls and children and campaigning for change.

I wouldn’t say ‘professional’ and ‘feminist’ have to be mutually exclusive – and that’s a balance we try to maintain all the time – but nia is currently funded by around 20 different funding streams, each with its own set of targets, outputs and outcomes, usually but not always set by the funder. We have to meet those targets or we lose funding, and if we drop out of the picture and the work goes to an organisation that isn’t built upon a feminist understanding of male violence against women, then that’s a massively retrograde step for women, in my opinion.

It’s a constant struggle – and incidentally one of the reasons that my blog and Counting Dead Women are so important to me. Most of my working hours are spent on ensuring the viability of nia and the quality of our services. It’s only in my own time that I get the chance to think and write about male violence against women.

SR: The government is determined to pare services to the bone. How is this affecting services like yours and the women who use them?

KIS: I’ll give you an example of something that happened with a refuge: In 2010 a contract was advertised at a maximum value of £419,000 per year to provide 33 bed spaces in 5 refuges, the local women’s group had been providing refuge for over 30-years. When the contract was awarded, it went to a large organisation that wasn’t a specialist women’s organisation, they had bid for the contract at £338,462.

The local area did not lose refuge spaces but in order to meet the lower contract value, the new organisation managed to circumvent employment protection laws and made all the existing staff team redundant, offering them new contracts at lower rates, more hours per week and less annual leave. Most accepted. Since then, as staff left and new ones were recruited, salaries were offered at lower rates. With this sort of contracting the central focus becomes not ‘What could we do for women and children with this money?’ but ‘How could we deliver the specification outlined in this contract – and nothing more – for the least possible cost?’

I have heard from former colleagues working for such organisations that they have been pressurised to offer jobs to applicants that they do not believe have sufficient skills, experiences and aptitude.

With the loss of that contract, the viability of the area’s specialist women-led charity was threatened. Charity central management and administrative charges are frequently the subject of scrutiny, with the assumption that a charity with lower central costs offers better value. But it isn’t that simple. In order to operate legally and safely, there is a point at which further cuts to core costs cannot be made. The higher the organisation’s turnover, the more there is available for central services, and the more opportunity there is to introduce economies of scale. In this example above, the charity has survived – only just – up to now, but across the country many have closed, including specialist BME women’s services.

Quality services protect but quality costs. Nia holds three separate quality marks: Rape Crisis Service Standards for East London Rape Crisis, and both the Advice Quality Standard and CAADA Leading Lights for our Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy service. Attainment of all three service standards requires provision and proof of quality of service, of management, of policies and of governance.   It is more expensive to provide better quality services and even more expensive to demonstrate that you do.

How does this affect women? I regularly hear of women being turned away from refuges because they’re deemed to have support needs that are too high, or because they don’t speak English. One refuge turned a woman away saying she had an alcohol problem because she said she drank two glasses of wine a night. Women are provided services by fewer staff and by staff who are less skilled and have less experience. And the gap between us and them, staff and ‘service users’ changes fundamentally. Women’s services used to be primarily run by women who knew that we were no different from the women using them, many staff ourselves survivors of male violence. I see that less and less now, and think women ‘service users’ – women who have experienced male violence and are responding in a completely rational and natural way – have become pathologised.

SR: The idea of women only political spaces is one that has always been contested. Why isit an important idea to defend?

KIS: Men dominate, they take up disproportionate space, whether we’re talking politics or public transport. Men define and steer parameters of discussion and women are socialised to listen and allow this.

I think with male presence, it’s all too easy to lose what feminism is – the struggle for women’s liberation from male oppression – and for it to become about equality and before you know it, the discourse becomes one of men’s suffering. Men get too defensive when women discuss male power, male violence, male entitlement, male privilege; frankly, we’d get nowhere because we’d take up all our time responding to men who manage to make the issue about them all the time. Get a bunch of men together talking about male violence and see how quickly the subject of male victims comes up, or take a bet to see whether ‘male victims’ or ‘not all men ‘comes up first.

It’s good to experience being a woman away from the male gaze, away from men’s agenda, I don’t think it’s possible to stand back and truly understand how women are affected by men with them around. Even outside of politics, women only spaces are rare and precious, something that too many women never even experience, even for that reason alone they’re valuable.

SR: You wrote that ” feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression”, quickly adding that you’ve no idea what a society without patriarchy would look like. How does that translate into action and change?

KIS: I think it makes it clear that sweating over the small stuff isn’t going to get us very far. That doesn’t mean small localised actions aren’t important but that we need to frame them within a broad structural framework. For example, when women are killed by men, there are frequently references to police failure. But all the tinkering with police procedures in the world won’t end male violence, not in a society where women are objectified and commodified, where socially constructed gender is a vehicle for women’s subordination, where the law was created by rich white men and serves rich white men’s interests. It means I’ve got low expectations for genuine large-scale change within my lifetime and I can see that could lead to despondency, but I hope that my actions as a feminist take us a small step closer to such a society.

SR: You are from a working class background. Has that influenced your feminism?

KIS: I’m not only working-class, I grew up in the North in a mill town in the ‘80s, when the decline of manufacturing, like the decline of mining in other parts of the North and Midlands, meant that the day-to-day lives of ordinary people went through a massive change in a generation. I genuinely couldn’t see how my life could have more in common with what I called ‘posh girls’, than the lads who lived in my street that I hung out with. I was social class conscious before I was sex-class conscious. So the first thing my class influenced was me thinking that the premise of feminism was daft.

And then I started to learn about how sex class and social class combined to create a particular set of circumstances for working-class women that were not the same as those for working-class men and to understand how things that I accepted as inevitable were anything but. Although I was too young to have been a risk as a victim, growing up in Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s meant growing up knowing that we weren’t safe because of ‘the ripper’ (Of course we didn’t know he was Peter Sutcliffe before he was caught). There was male violence against women in my family, friends’ families and friends’ relationships, like many young women I had direct experiences of male sexual violence, but without a feminist analysis I had no concept of this as part of a continuum of male violence that functions to control and restrict all women. I was surrounded by male violence but unable to see it.

That the Equality Act 2010 covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class and not poverty, should be scandalous. It’s a bit like us not being able to analyse and challenge male violence, if we can’t name it. There can’t be a strategy to address life chances that are reduced by class and poverty if we don’t recognise them as fundamental causes as well as consequences of inequality and disadvantage. And it’s not just about a reduction in social mobility, because to have social mobility you need ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. I honestly think that class has become one of the least well understood inequalities. I’ve had people who don’t understand class politics tell me that I’ve ‘lost my working class credentials’ because I’m a CEO. That’s what happens when politics gets reduced to identity politics, ie non-politics. Being working class too often means having lower aspirations, settling for less and certainly being judged as less. I still see the surprise register when I speak in meetings full of people that haven’t met me before and a Northern working-class accent comes out.

As my life experience has broadened, it’s helped me understand the need for feminism to take account of multiple inequalities, like race, disability, heteronormativity; and to understand that if we don’t stop and think, we end up making assumptions that exclude and ignore and won’t change the lives of women who are not always in the forefront.

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Feminism: Nope, it’s still neither for nor about men

Hooray!  Feminists have managed to make inequality between the sexes so obviously ludicrous, so obviously discriminatory, so unpalatable, that even men want in on the act. Sadly though, I think this is more an ‘own goal’ than a cause for celebration. It’s not unusual any more for a man to say that he’s a feminist, and it’s even less unusual for women to say that men can and should be involved in feminism.  But for this to have become possible, it has been necessary for a shift in the understanding of what feminism is. Feminism, women’s fight for liberation from male oppression, has become widely understood as the struggle for gender equality.  That this shift has happened as men have clamoured to be involved, is not a coincidence. Invite the oppressor to the game and the goal shifts. But the shift renders feminism meaningless.  Gender is a social construct, it is one of patriarchy’s best tools for maintaining inequality and the illusion that inequality between the sexes is natural and inevitable.  Gender is a hierarchy, it is subordination and domination sugar coated in pink and blue. Gender equality is an oxymoron, gender is inequality. Feminism needs to fight for the eradication of gender, not for it to be enshrined and protected in legislation.

As Andrea Dworkin identified, feminism requires that which patriarchy destroys in women, our ability to confront and resist male power.  As women, too many of us are caught up in societal Stockholm syndrome.  As an oppressed group too many of us have bonded with those who hold power and see society though their perspective.  It is an understandable survival strategy, but it is also one of the ways our collusion is created.  I understand how women love their male partners, their sons, fathers, male friends and relatives.  I understand that some men, maybe even many or most men, are good men who respect women and purport to or even genuinely desire equality with women. As a sentient human being I understand that masculinity encompasses ways of being that some men reject or even feel imprisoned by.  As a human being, I can sympathise with and support their desire for change. Yet cries that ‘patriarchy hurts men too’ leave the feminist in me unmoved. These positions are not mutually exclusive, but feminism needs to centre on women’s oppression, tinkering with gender equality will never produce the change for women that feminism demands. Whilst feminism must ensure that the additional structural oppressions faced by some women are not ignored and cannot be blind to the ways that class and race bring advantages for some women and disadvantages for others, the focus must be on women’s oppressions, not on men.

When we look at male violence against women, the difference between a liberal and a radical feminist analysis is the difference between looking for individual or class solutions.  One of the biggest gains of feminism is getting male violence against women on to the policy agenda and almost seen as a mainstream issue.  The biggest threat against this gain, is that those male dominated institutions of power, under the auspices of dealing with the problem, have shaken all but the barest hint of feminist analysis from discourse on the issue. To end male violence against women, we need to end male power, and dismantle all the institutions that uphold male supremacy.  It is this power that creates and is reinforced by male violence against women.  We will never end male violence by believing that we can change one man at a time, though sensitising education programmes. We will never end male violence against women by being gentle to men and sympathetic to the harms of masculinity to men, not without destroying the institutions that uphold and create male supremacy. We will never end male violence against women, against children, even against other men, if we fail to recognise and name men as the overwhelming primary perpetrators of  almost all forms of violence.

A 2014 study of the worldwide cost of violence, found that domestic violence against women and children costs $8 trillion each year and is the biggest single form (and cost) of violence, yet that same study fails to name the issue ‘male violence’ against women and children. Male involvement in the field of male violence against women became ‘men can be victims too’, became the failure to name male violence and this allows male violence against women as a cause and consequence of inequality to continue. How many men genuinely choose not to see the massive imbalance that is violence between the sexes, male violence against women? How many men do not know that rape, assault and murder of women are wrong? Men who want to support women in our struggle to end male violence need to join us naming the problem, they should not need to demand access to our spaces to do so.  Men need to see male violence against women as the problem, not create women’s violence against men as a false equivalent and not place this as secondary to them learning how not to be harmed by masculinity.  When we look at homicide, there is no sex equivalence, women are overwhelmingly killed by men; men too, are overwhelmingly killed by men.  When men kill their women partners and ex-partners, it is usually after subjecting them to years of abuse, the comparatively few women who kill male partners or exes, usually do so after they themselves have been subject to years of abuse. There is no equivalence, not in rate, not in precursor to killing. Men need to learn to listen to feminists, to learn from us, rather than fight to have their voices be the ones that feminists listen to.

Men, through their socialisation, their training to be the dominant class, dominate space.  Mostly they can’t see this happening, and women, through our socialisation are equality taught not to see this. Last month I attended a conference on fatal domestic violence.  According the delegate list, 91 out of 101 attendees were women.  After the first session of speakers, questions were invited from the floor, the first two ‘questions’ were from men. Taking the composition of delegates to be 10% men and ignoring all other differences between the sexes, the statistical probability of this happening is one percent. One percent, but any feminist attending similar conferences will be able to tell you that this isn’t unusual. Why? Gender.  Male entitlement and men and women’s socialisation in to our genders make this unnoticed and accepted.

Feminism needs to be radical, not liberal.  Radicalism understands that oppression is group based harm, liberalism is individualist.  Not only has feminism been reset as gender equality, the notion of ‘choice’ of the individual has become one of its central tenants. This is another false lead. Of course women must have the right to choose, but our choices need to be understood in their wider social context. Women ‘choose’ to wear restrictive and uncomfortable clothes and footwear, to maximise our assets, to flaunt our curves, to sell sex, to view something called beauty as desirable and saleable because society has been constructed to maintain inequality and the best way to maintain social power is to persuade an oppressed group to collude with their oppression. Men are raised to believe in their entitlement to women’s bodies; sexual objectification, pornography and even non-sexual objectification of women create this. Women have been socialised to view ourselves through the lens that is the male gaze because society is built upon those foundations. The objectification and commodification of women, like male violence against women, like gender, are means of maintaining male supremacy.

Men, I do not want you in my feminism. I want something a bit more complex than that. I would like you to realise that feminism is not about you, it is not about what men need but it is about what your class does to women. I would like you to shut up and listen and learn.  Then I would like you to take that learning and communicate with and change other men. You do need to want to change society. You do not need to call yourself feminists to do this.  You do not need to be part of the women centered space that is feminism. You do not need to alter the goals of feminism so that you are included.

By the time the precious few men that ever realise that they are advantaged by patriarchy get round to realising it, they have already benefited from being socialised as men and their awareness does not prevent them from continuing to benefit from their socialisation and from how society treats women and men as a class.  Every man benefits from male supremacy. Feminism cannot succeed if we allow the very goal of feminism to be hidden or extinguished. If our goal as feminists is not mass social change, the eradication of male power, but gradual blurring of the boundaries between what is deemed masculine and feminine, then sex inequality will never be erased. None of this means that men do not have a role in creating change, but that feminism has a particular role in creating how we understand the change that is needed.  We can’t create equality from a system that is predicated upon inequality. We cannot afford for feminism to become the fight for gender equality rather than the end of male supremacy. This is why feminism cannot be for or about men. If our feminism does not make this obvious, which sex benefits from things staying as they are?

What does it look like, this equality that you speak of?

To everyone – woman and man – who says they’re a feminist because they believe in equality, I have to ask you, what does it look like, this equality that you speak of?

Gender.  You probably want gender equality, don’t you?  But gender is inequality. Gender is the convenient invention, the way we train women and men to be different, to be unequal. Gender equality is a smokescreen. Gender is a hierarchy.  Feminine, masculine, they can never be equal, they are subordination and domination dressed up in frilly pink and crisp blue.

You mean wage equality, right? Are you going to achieve that by equal pay for equal work? Yes? Or no? ‘Cos that’ll never do it.  Work has no inherent value and just somehow, we’ve ended up with women’s work undervalued, so unless we all do more of the same, or unless we increase the value of what we see as ‘women’s work’, we’re stuck.  Wage equality without radical reform, is an impossible dream, never to be realised with the Equal Pay Act.

Child birth? Are you looking for a brave new world where that is equal? Or a world where bearing and rearing children does not render women unequal?  Are men gonna wipe an equal number of bums? Babies bums? Sick folk’s bums? Old folk’s bums? Equality of sharing, caring, cleaning and weaning.

What about valuing women for how we look? You know, the patriarchal fuckability test?  Are men going to be equally judged by what they look like, rather than what they do? Women can chose to walk in painful heels, to maximise their ‘assets’, to flaunt or enhance their curves. Some women enjoy that femininity shit, don’t they? You surely believe in a woman’s right to choose, don’t you?  Of course you do. But what do we chose? Why do we? If we’re equal, would we? And those that choose not to, will they be equal too?

What about war? Do you want women to start an equal number of wars to men?  To fight and die in equal numbers to men? To rape in equal numbers to men? For men to be raped in equal numbers to women? Which is it?  How’s that going to work under your equality? What about no war? Maybe no war. But in this man made world of arbitrary boundaries and power struggles, how’re you going to achieve no war?

Democracy’s great, isn’t it? A cornerstone of equality, maybe, for sure?  But only 24% of the UK cabinet are women.  You’ll sort that out in the name of equality, won’t you? And where’s the equality when 6 percent of children go to independent schools but make up 45% of the cabinet?  When 61% of the cabinet graduated from just two universities?  5% percent of the cabinet – two people – are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.  What’s democracy again?  Power of the people,  ruling through freely elected representatives? It’s just that not everyone gets an equal chance of representing.  Just not rule by representative representatives.

What about the sale and purchase of women? Are men going to be commodified just the same?  Objectified? Pornified? Trafficked?  Pimped?  Ah, yes, but what about choice again?  That old turkey.  A woman’s right to choose to sell sex? Are men going to make the same choices? If not, why not?  Where’s the market? And how come it’s poor women, black women, in some counties indigenous women, who disproportionately make that choice?  What about their equality? What about mine? If some women are commodities and some men are buyers, how can any of us ever be equal? If my sisters are for sale, they cannot be, I cannot be, equal.

Equality under the law?  Yeah, surely you want that too.  But how are you going to get that, with laws written by rich white men to protect the interests of rich white men? When we have a legal system celebrated for innocent until proven guilty. When insufficient evidence is synonymous with lack of guilt, with innocence. Can’t you see how it’s stacked? When poor people, black people and women who have been abused are disproportionately found guilty, disproportionately disbelieved, where’s the equality?

When the Equality Act 2010  covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class, not poverty, what is even the point of pretending it’s about equality?

Male violence against women? Bet you believe in equality there too, don’t you? Domestic violence is gender neutral, right? Rape?  Those hidden male victims?  If you refuse to see inequality, if you don’t even believe that most violence is perpetrated by men, how are you going to achieve equality?  Which equality are you going for there?  Increasing the number of male victims? Increasing the number of female perpetrators? Can’t be reducing male violence, can it?  Male violence isn’t a thing, is it?

In all this and more, equality just doesn’t provide the answers.  Equality is a condition of a just society, not a cure for an unjust one.  So when I say feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression, this is what I mean.  Ending inequality is a big part of feminism, of course it is. But equality is impossible in the society that we have. That’s why feminists talk about smashing patriarchy because we need to think bigger. I don’t even know what a society free of patriarchy would look like.  I don’t know how we’ll get there, but I know we’ll never get there down the road called ‘equality’.

Early this year, I heard Bea Campbell ask ‘What would a world without male violence look like?’ Shit. I can’t even imagine that.

Naked headless women golf tees, it’s all a bit of a laugh

Naked headless women golf tees, it’s all a bit of a laugh, eh?  Adding, according to Dunlop, “a little humour to your game” or “the perfect gift for someone who takes the sport a little too seriously.”  Bend down and stick the nice bit of pink plastic tits and arse in the ground, balance your golf ball head, swing and “thwack”. Hilarious.

But what about those of us who aren’t laughing?

I grew up in a village in Yorkshire with a pub called The Silent Woman.  The pub sign was a picture of a woman carrying her head in her hands.  To be silent a woman had to be headless.  A misogynistic leap of association, dragging in the nagging wife, the fishwife, the gossip: to be silent a woman must be headless. Is there a feminist on social media who hasn’t experienced attempts at silencing when she expresses her opinions?  I’ve lost count of the number of men who have told me “Don’t start with ….”, “Shut up,” or called me variations of screeching, bleating feminazi.  The Silent Woman in Slaithwaite did not have a unique pub name, there are several across the UK, with The Headless Woman as a variation.  Sometimes the  name appears with the couplet: “Here is a woman who has lost her head,  She’s quiet now—you see she’s dead” (Author unknown) just in case the inference from name alone isn’t clear enough.  Carl Jung talked about cultural archetypes. Cross cultural , universal concepts that he believed indicated a collective unconscious.  Unconscious forces that are expressed in images, religion, stories and mythology as they enter consciousness and shape our interactions in society.  The silent woman, synonymous with headless woman is a patriarchal archetype. It reflects sexist misogynistic cultural values.  Not convinced about the concept of patriarchy?  Remember Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects? “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”

The objectification of women, reducing us to hilarious little objects that exist to titillate men, to give them a giggle, is another means of keeping us unequal.  Reducing us to hilarious little objects towards which to swing a golf club makes hitting us fun.  Making a joke out of the objectification of women and male violence against women is another way of normalising and reducing our ability to stop and stand back, to confront the horrible reality of what is happening.

Male violence against women does not exist in a social vacuum, it simultaneous reinforces and is reinforced by inequality between woman and men, given more than a helping hand by the objectification of women. Two and a half years ago, I started counting UK women killed through male violence.  Since I started counting in January 2012 and the end of May 2014, 333 UK women had been killed; amongst them, I am aware of six women who were decapitated.  Anyone still laughing at Dunlop’s golf tees?

Is it funny if I remind you of 29-year-old Gemma McCluskie?  She was actor living in London. In March 2012, her brother Tony McCluskie, 36, killed her by hitting her head and then chopped her up with a cleaver and a knife.  The next day, he took a cab carrying a heavy suitcase.  A week later, her torso was found in the suitcase in the canal close to where he was dropped off.  A week later her arms and legs were found in black bags.  It was another six months before her head was found.

Will you laugh if I tell you about Elizabeth Coriat? In March 2012, Daniel Coriat, 43, killed his 76-year-old mother Elizabeth Coriat in their shared home in London.  She was found on her bed, fully clothed, decapitated and mutilated with various weapons embedded in her head and body, injuries to the wrists and ankles in a ‘crucifixion-like’ pattern. She had suffered almost 50 separate injuries inflicted by weapons including carving knives, secateurs, a chef’s steel and a pruning saw.  Her head had been cut off completely off, rotated 180 degrees, and placed back on her body.

Will your golfer stop talking the sport so seriously if we think about Catherine Gowing, a 39-year-old vet who was murdered by a serial rapist Clive Sharp, 47, in October 2012? He raped her for 4 hours before killing her. The next day he bought bleach, petrol, a hacksaw and spare blades, and a Halloween mask.  He dismembered Catherine’s remains in open ground before disposing of her body in various locations in North Wales.  Only her torso, right hand and foot have been recovered; her head and remaining body parts were never found.

Will the story of Reema Ramzan bring back the missing humour to your game? 18-year-old Reema from Sheffield was murdered by her boyfriend Aras Hussain, 21,  in June 2013. According to forensic evidence although he had stabbed her in the chest,  Reema was likely to be alive while her head was being cut off, though would of course have lost consciousness at some point.  A post mortem showed Reema had also been stabbed in her shoulder and leg.  Injuries on her hands were consistent with self-defence.  Judge Mrs Justice Cox told Hussain  “”The pain, terror, anguish and desperation she would therefore have suffered, as you inflicted these appalling injuries upon her and ended her life, is truly horrifying to contemplate.”

Finally, if your sense of humour needs a final nudge there’s 60-year-old Judith Nibbs  who lived in Hackney, London. Judith had been active in the local community for many years and had worked delivering meals-on-wheels to the elderly for the last 6 years.  She also cared for her disabled daughter. In April 2014, police responding to a call found her decapitated body in her blood-splattered flat. Her estranged husband, Dempsey Nibbs, 67, was also there.  It is believed he had stabbed and seriously injured himself after killing Judith.  Police are not looking for anyone else.

Those golf club thwacks to the head have a broader context beyond beheaded women.  There are numerous women  murdered through blows to the head: garden ornaments, kitchen implements, hammers, feet, fists, blunt force trauma, fractured skull, brain injury. There’s also 68-year-old Sally Hingston, murdered by 25-year old and 6ft 10 Benjamin Radojezic: Sally survived a brutal beating – with a golf club – only to be dumped half naked in a ditch where she took 17 hours to die in Buckinghamshire in 2009.

Off with her head.  Oh, such a laugh. The naked headless woman – a little bit of humour for your game of golf.  I’m not laughing. After reading this, could anyone be?

 

Jo Sharpen has stated a petition to Dunlop to remove the naked woman golf tees from sale.  You can sign it here https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dunlop-sport-remove-the-misogynistic-nudie-tee-product-which-features-a-decapitated-woman-s-body# %85naked woman golf tees picture

Forgiveness, Christianity and men’s violence against women

Desmond Tutu has been eulogising about forgiveness, he’s written a soon to be published book about it.  He’s a fan of forgiveness.  He has forgiven his father for his violence towards his mother, violence that Tutu witnessed and was powerless to stop as a child.   He explains that it took him years to realise that he needed to forgive himself, or the child that he was, for not protecting his mother.

No one needs to be forgiven for being a child unable to prevent one parent’s violence towards the other (usually a father’s violence towards the mother).  The child is never responsible.  There is nothing to be forgiven for.  But is it for the child to forgive the abusive parent?   What does it mean for a boy child to forgive his father for violence towards his mother, essentially for a man to forgive another man for violence against women?

Tutu has also, with difficulty he says,  forgiven himself for not making time to respond to his father’s request to see him the night before he unexpectedly died, an occasion which, Tutu imagines, might have been the time when his father sought to apologise for the violence he inflicted on Tutu’s mother.  There’s nothing to suggest that Tutu is correct in this belief.  It’s a convenience upon which he can pin his forgiveness.

It’s probably fair to say that Desmond Tutu is big on religion.  He’s a retired Anglican bishop.   I’d go as far as saying that he appears to have used his power and influence for good, but however closely allied to social justice, religion is conservative, it protects the status quo.  In a feminist analysis that identifies patriarchal society, religion has been shaped to protect men’s oppression of women.

Apparently,  in the bible there are two types of forgiveness: God’s pardoning of the sins of ‘his’ subjects, and the obligation of those subjects to pardon others. Being able to do so is so important that a believer’s eternal destiny is dependent upon it. Refusing to forgive is a sin.  Forgiveness then is a selfish, not a selfless act.  But it’s more than that, when talking about violence, it is an act that absolves the abuser of their responsibility. “No one is born a rapist, or a terrorist.  No one is born full of hatred,” explains Tutu.  He looks at how life chances have an impact upon the person we become, how none of us can say that we would not have behaved as an abuser behaves.  I disagree.  We are more than the product of our experiences.  We have consciousness, we make choices, we can see if our behaviour is harmful or hurtful to another. Abusers are always responsible for their abuse.  If someone’s ‘god’ , or indeed another believer, can absolve someone for the choices that they make, their responsibility is erased.

By reducing male violence against women to an individual relationship, one in which someone who is neither perpetrator nor primary victim can bestow forgiveness, we are ignoring, condoning – forgiving – the wider impact of men’s violence upon women, upon all women above and beyond that individual relationship.  We cannot allow a person to say that this is okay, that this is forgiven, but it appears that religion encourages us to do just that. Indeed, male violence against women can be forgiven by god.  That’s just a little bit convenient for patriarchy.

Male violence against women does not simply take place in the cocoon of an individual relationship. It is structural, it is systemic.  The pattern, the overwhelming consistency with which women are the victims and men the perpetrators  should be a big clue.  Male violence against women is not random, it has a function and that function is to maintain the social order of male dominance: patriarchy.  Male violence against women is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.    In the UK, the mainstream is very quick to identify ‘other’ religions as oppressive to women but this is equally true of Christianity. Religion reinforces and upholds patriarchy, forgiveness is just another of its tools. We do not need to forgive male violence against women unless we want men to continue to dominate women.

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Here’s a thing: women exist

Insult us from the playground to parliament: Bitch. Witch. Slapper. Cow. Dog. Mouse. Mousse. Tart. Whore. Slut. Slag. Slattern. Fish-wife. Bossy. Bag. Harridan. Hag. Man. Man-hater

Strengthen the cage: reinforce gender by making girlhood pinker, shinier, sparklier
Princess, pretty, doll, lady,
Sweeter Sweetie: sugar, honey, treacle

Abort us. Kill us, rape us, burn us, drown us
Constrict us: corset, girdle, spanx. Tie us in, tie us down
Restrict us. Write us out of history. Block our education
Pay us less. Prevent us from voting, driving, ski-jumping

Sell us lies
Fill us with botox, collagen, PIPs
Our lips, wrinkles, breasts, bottoms: bigger, puffier, perter
Our skin too shiny, too dull, too dark, too pale
Cut out our fat, labia, clitorises
Heels higher, towering, teetering, toppling
Hair longer, straighter, blonder
Strip it, pluck it, wax it, shave it

We promised to obey
Treat us as property
Legalise our commodification
Prostitute us. Objectify us
Hide us in modest clothing
Shame our bodies
Camel-toe, nipple-block, vagisil

This is society, not biology, not psychology
Man-made
Patriarchy

Infiltrate, assimilate, vilify
Turn the tables, accuse us of hate-speech
Deny us a platform
Segregate us
Try to ban us from meeting

I am woman, hear me roar
Phenomenal Woman
Keep trying. Try harder
Your hatred
Your need to subjugate, dominate and place your interests first will not silence me and my sisters
You will not erase us
Still I rise. We rise.

 

Just because it’s art doesn’t mean it isn’t racist sexist objectification of women

Bjarne Melgaard who as described by art critic Roberta Smith,  “never met a taboo he didn’t like breaking,” has a reputation to maintain as an aging enfant terrible .  He has produced a ‘chair-as-art’  based on a similar one created in the 1960s by Allen Jones. The chair is a woman on her back with her thighs pulled up to her chest and her calves and feet sticking up in the air.  The backs of her thighs make the seat.  She is wearing black knickers, long gloves and boots.  The difference is that Melgaard’s chair is a made to resemble a black woman and Jones’ is white.

Russian fashion designer and the editor-in-chief of new bi-annual art and fashion magazine GARAGE, Dasha Zhukova (note – it really isn’t acceptable to reduce a woman to that of girlfriend of a man, however rich and famous he happens to be) is a white woman who has been photographed smiling beatifically from the chair. The image is of a fully-clothed white woman sitting on top of a pornographied black woman. The photo-shoot accompanied  an interview with on-line fashion website Buro 24/7 about the launch of Zhukova’s magazine and has sparked what has been referred to as a ‘racism row’. The editor of the Buro 24/7 Miroslava Duma and Zhukova herself have since apologised. Duma’s apology reads:

“Dear all, Buro 24/7 team and I personally would like to express our sincerest apology to anyone who we have offended and hurt.  It was ABSOLUTELY not our intention. We are against racism or gender inequality or anything that infringes upon anyone’s rights. We love, respect and look up to people regardless of their race, gender or social status. The chair in the photo should only be seen as a piece of art which was created by British Pop-Artist Allen Jones, and not as any form of racial discrimination. In our eyes everyone is equal. And we love everybody.”

Zhukova is reported as saying: “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an artwork intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics.”  Art critic Jonathan Jones has waded into the furore and defended  the piece arguing that the intention is the opposite of racist:

“in making this woman black he means to retoxify the art of Allen Jones, to offend people with an image long since accepted. It is to question power and representation. Are you offended by this black woman’s abuse? Then why is it OK for white women to be similarly humiliated in a respected pop art icon in the Tate collection?  Offensiveness in art is often a way to satirise injustice.”

Firstly, yes,  I am offended by Jones’ original piece.  The sexual objectification of women is taken to the further depth of a literal objectification by turning us in to a piece of furniture.  But whether art critic Jonathan Jones realises it or not, the objectification of white and black women is not the same.  Black and white women are rarely treated the same in pornography, depictions of black women are rarely free of racial stereotypes.  In Miroslava Duma’s world, everyone might be equal – though I would be interested to see a breakdown of the sex and race of contributors to her magazine – but in the real world they are not; and black women are doubly oppressed, through their race as well as their sex.  The model of the objectified pornographied black woman is made more offensive when it is sat upon by a fully-clothed white woman.

There’s nothing inherently big or clever about breaking taboos,  there’s nothing new about dressing –up porn as art or the art elite explaining to us plebs that we just don’t get it.  Miroslava Duma and Dasha Zhukova are absurdly wealthy white women making Duma’s protestation that “everybody is equal’, at best  ill-considered and uninformed.  Bjarne Melgaard, Allen Jones and Jonathan Jones are white men.  As people who have experienced neither racial nor sexual oppression, their defence of either is worthless.  Pornography is the eroticisation of unequal power relations and art or not, pornography reinforces, not challenges inequality.