Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Personhood for the superiority of man

Even when their own strategist specifically tells them to do so, Republicans just can’t seem to stop talking about rape. Rape rape rape. They looooove rape. You don’t even need a woman’s consent to MAKE MOAR BABIESZ. It’s a Freudian power-fantasy and the manifest destiny of their superior white sperm, all rolled into one.

Which is why it should come as no surprise that Paul Ryan’s latest version of his seminal “cell clusters and more valuable than the slutty sluts harboring them” bill contains deliberately-ambiguous language that would actually serve to protect the rights of rapists at the expense of the rights of women.

Section 2(2) of the proposed legislation states, “Congress affirms that the Congress of each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its [sic] respective jurisdictions.” Which means if a woman tried to access her legal right to privacy and autonomy in her health care decisions, the man who raped and impregnated her against her will could force her into a courtroom and sue her because the magic fetus he created with his omnipotent male god-sperm is a life.

I’m not sure I can even bring myself to write about the unmitigated horrors of that kind of situation.

This acceptance and legitimization of rape absolutely must stop. Rape is not a “method of conception” or an unintentional “gift from God;” rape is an abomination and a vile reflection of the hellish depths to which our society is sinking. Rapists do not have equal rights; they are criminals.

Do you know how many times the word “woman” is mentioned in Ryan’s Sanctity of Human Life bill? Zero. Exactly zero times. Not that this is shocking, since Republicans have publicly declared via their refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that not all women are people. Women are not guaranteed a “sanctity of human life,” they are only guaranteed their proper place beneath a man and breeding.

None of this Republican crusade to “protect babies” has anything to do with protecting actual, innocent human life. If Republicans had a Jesus-like concern for innocent lives, they would expand protections under VAWA, they would expand social services for underprivileged children, they would increase social support for women so bringing a child into the world wouldn’t be such a financially daunting task, they would cut military spending and increase school meal programs – not the other way around.

They don’t want to protect “babies” – they want to protect the sanctity of their own sperm. Sadly, I’m not kidding. They want legislated recognition that human life spews forth from their uncut dicks, and that they therefor are superior to women in all ways, just as their convoluted interpretation of the bible dictates. Their life-sabre penises are the wand of God, spreading their sacred seed far and wide. By any means necessary.

Sanctifying the result of rape as an act of God negates the very humanity of the woman upon which the crime was perpetrated.

But unfortunately for Republicans, it’s 2013, and the tide in this country seems to be slowly but surely turning. I hope these vainglorious attempts to sanctify fatherhood at the expense of a woman’s very humanity are the last dying gasps of a spiteful breed of misogynists facing the reality that “white male” is no longer an unparalleled virtue. The defeat of nearly every idiot Republican who said something stupid about rape in the 2012 election seems to indicate that humanity in this country is not faltering and falling prostrate at the altar of regressivism and hatred.

Until then, though, we must continue to speak out against these insidious hatemongers and identify their disingenuous rhetorical bullshit for what it is: blatant and deadly misogyny. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The United States and CEDAW

I wrote about CEDAW before – the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women – but I got one fact wrong. Though it was enacted as international treaty and President Carter signed it in 1980, the US never ratified it. In fact, we’re one of six nations, keeping illustrious company with paragons of women’s rights such as Iran, Sudan and Somalia, that have never ratified.

CEDAW creates a blueprint for countries to follow to work toward progress for women and girls. Is it the end-all-be-all solution to discrimination against women? No, of course not, but it is effecting change, slowly but surely.

  • In Bangladesh, CEDAW provided impetus for attaining gender parity in primary school enrollment
  • In Mexico, as of 2009, all 32 states have adopted the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence
  • In Kenya, CEDAW helped eradicate differences in inheritance rights that disparately affected widows and daughters of the deceased
  • In Kuwait, a recommendation by the CEDAW committee led to women finally being granted the right to vote in 2005.
CEDAW is intended to reduce sex trafficking, domestic violence and discrimination in education and employment; to ensure the right to vote; to end forced and child marriages; and to guarantee better access to maternal care.

And therein lies the problem for our always-charming Republicans. Maternal care. You see, the language of CEDAW “protects a woman's equal right to life, health, and to decide on the number and spacing of her children. The full protection of these rights requires the removal of obstacles in access to abortion services, and will also require the state to provide services in some circumstances.”

One hundred eighty seven other countries have - at least on paper - recognized that women have a basic human right to control the outcomes of their own bodies. One hundred eighty seven other countries recognize that yes, women are, in fact, people. But we do not. Because Republicans believe we are God’s broodmares, put on this Earth for the sole purpose of bearing man’s baby, with no value beyond the contents of our uteruses.

We are all God’s children, worthy of saving, unless we are women. Then we are expendable.

Women in the US continue to face the 41st highest maternal death rate (out of 184 countries), over 2 million women a year will report (report!) injuries from current or former partners, and women still make 77 cents on the dollar to men, all because a vigilante group of religious nuts have seized control of the Republican Party and subjected us all to the alleged whims of their imaginary-God-friend.

Not such beacons of progress and freedom in the world anymore, are we…?  

CEDAW is up for vote again in the Senate in the 113th Congress, and I urge you to write to your Senator, particularly if you have a Republican Senator, and urge them to ratify this important treaty. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – women deserve better. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Calling it like it is

I’m done playing nice. I’m done hemming and hedging and countering every ‘the Republicans did this stupid thing’ with a ‘…but the Democrats aren’t that great either.’

The truth is - the current iteration of the Republican Party really is THAT bad. They really are a threat to American democracy as we know it. And allowing the media and ourselves to attempt to seem “fair” by blaming both parties for an anemic economic recovery and fiscal cliff crisis is not really fair at all. Because the Republicans really are to blame.

Money – and religious extremists with money – controls the Republican Party. Money gets Republicans into power and it keeps them there. And once they’re there, they do the bidding of the money that got them there. Thanks to gerrymandering, most Republican representatives are only in danger of being defeated in the primaries by other, more extreme/conservative Republicans, so they have become even more right-wing and polarized than ever before in history. Meanwhile, Democrats have come back to a more centrist position with the nomination and election of Obama in an attempt to secure the independent vote.

This means our two-party system, which is meant to work through checks and balances and compromise, is actually being overrun by a parliamentary-style Republican Party hell-bent on obstructing and damaging the credibility of the Democratic party at every turn.

A bipartisan group of Senators known as the Gang of Six came up with a $4 trillion budget proposal in June 2011 that closely mimicked the balanced budget approach favored by the GOP. The proposal would have cut spending, reformed entitlements and preempted the fiscal cliff crisis and it had widespread GOP and bipartisan support. Until Obama announced he would support it. Then the Republicans killed it.

Why? Because making Obama look bad is far more important than unemployment rates or economic recovery or the welfare of this country. It’s sad, but that’s really what it boils down to. The Republicans have hijacked our government and are jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions just to play a rousing game of “Spite the Black Guy.”

Republicans have manipulated the rhetoric to make themselves seem like anti-tax crusaders fighting valiantly to defend … the wealthy. The biggest point of contention? Tax rates for people making over $400,000 a year. Newsflash – those people are doing just fine, and they can probably continue to take care of themselves.

And now the pro-gun, Obama-is-a-Kenyan-Muslim-terrorist-impeach-the-traitor Republinuts are furious – FURIOUS I say! – to discover that people making $30,000 a year are being hit harder than people making $500,000 a year under the fiscal cliff deal that was finally reached. Newsflash number 2, folks – that’s what you’ve been supporting all along. That’s what this fight has been about – protecting the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the middle class. You elected the GOP hardliners who sacrificed your family’s well-being on the altar of the Koch brothers’ empire.

There are currently more than 100 nominations for public office awaiting Senate confirmation (at this time 10 years ago under Bush there were 13) – something that reflects poorly on Obama because it makes him look ineffectual. But those nominations are still pending because Republican Senators have put anonymous holds on them to block them indefinitely unless specific, ridiculous demands are met. The minority Republican Party has corrupted the nomination process and turned it into a means of preventing the enforcement of already-enacted federal laws. They have thwarted the legislative process to bully the country into submitting to their whims.

The Republicans have set out to make “government doesn’t work” a self-fulfilling prophecy. It certainly won’t work when half of Congress refuses to allow it to work. And naturally the party of “small government” benefits from making it appear that government is ineffective.

The thing is – I’ve never identified as a Democrat and I still don’t officially. I kept my party affiliation as “unaffiliated” when I got a new driver’s license this weekend. I voted Democrat for the very first time in my life in the 2012 election. But I am done pretending that honest discourse about current American politics has to include some caveat that shifts some of the blame away from Republican leadership.

Nothing the Democrats do could compare to the heartless evil of refusing to authorize relief money for Superstorm Sandy victims or to refusing to reauthorize the 68-year-old Violence Against Women Act.

Fear of being perceived as having a ‘liberal bias’ has led to a less-than-the-whole-truth bias, and the Republican Party has exploited that at every opportunity. I’m happy to call Democrats out on bullshit too, but a solution to our current economic and social crisis has to start with recognizing the heart of the problem: religious-extremist-backed Republicans who hate the President more than they love our country. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Get your hands off my flab!

New Year – new diet advice. The magazines are full of pictures of tiny women, ‘weight-loss wonder’ diets and ‘super foods’.  It is our national obsession with weight – you can’t escape it wherever you go. Now even the political sphere is entering the conversation, as Jo Swinson, Minister for Equality, criticises ‘fad diets and fitness myths’, even as a group of doctors call for a ‘Minister for Fatness’ and a think tank proposes that overweight benefits claimants should have their benefits cut unless they start exercising.

Everyone has an opinion on my body, what I do with it, and what I put into it. Mostly I should eat less, and especially less cream and cheese (Grazia would have a fit…)

Feminism is full of a backlash against this, preaching an incredibly positive message of loving your body and eating what you want, highlighting the ridiculousness of adverts that suggest we feel guilty for eating a yoghurt. On the other hand, there is the vitally important post by Squeamish Bikini (www.squeamishbikini.com - Weighting for Change), expressing her worries that this message too can be triggering for sufferers of eating disorders. Differing messages of weight, diet, and exercise bombard us everywhere we look.

This blog is not so much an impassioned piece of political commentary as a confused stream of personal thinking – I really don’t know how to feel about weight and exercise. And it isn’t just my confusion. A series of tweets by the lovely @popbadger appeared on my news feed yesterday and really resonated with me:  ‘Weird being back at the gym (in the changing room anyway). I was so nervous to come back that I sat in my car outside for 15 minutes.” She went on to question her motives for using the gym: “I think that I feel I’m letting down the feminist cause by wanting to change my body.”

I share this fear. I worry about tweeting about exercise and diets – I worry that I may inadvertently be triggering sufferers of eating disorders, I worry that people will read these tweets and look down on me for not being a “proper feminist”. I want to justify myself constantly with the fact that it is for health or sport reasons. “It’s not about being thinner!” I want to cry. But, in the interests of honesty, I must quietly whisper “but it is maybe a little bit about being thinner.” I am ashamed to admit that I like being slim (and I much prefer that word to ‘thin’) – and that I would like to remain so whilst eating all the cheese, roast potatoes, and creamy food my taste buds can take.

We live in a patriarchal society where we are constantly bombarded with images of women with unattainable bodies – whether unattainable through Photoshop or through the sheer amount of training that our wonderful Olympic athletes do. We also live in a patriarchal society where women are constantly being told what to do, what to eat, what to wear, what time we should be safely at home by (before dark, unless accompanied by a big, strong man).

I really want my feminism not to be any part of this. I want everyone to get their hands off my flab and STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!! (This blog post excepted, of course….!) I don’t want anyone to feel that they have to lose weight, or that they are not beautiful unless they are a size 8 with abs like Jessica Ennis. If you want to eat a three-course meal followed by cheese and finish off a bottle of wine on the sofa, I want to say, “Enjoy! Can I join you?” Equally, if you want to lose weight, then I would like to say “Good luck! Have fun! Running in the rain is horrible!”

You can still be a feminist. You can hate beauty magazines and the government telling you what size to be and what to eat – you can make those choices yourself, to exercise or not to exercise, to diet or not to diet. No matter what choice you make, in my opinion, you are no more or less a feminist.

And now I’m going for a run. J

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

It's a New Year in Gilead

Happy New Year everybody! I had a brilliant night last night involving roast lamb, three episodes of Homeland, and then going with my boyfriend up to Trafalgar Square to watch the fireworks. We were entertained at the fireworks by a man with a loudspeaker and an “alternative New Year’s message”, telling us to “keep your eyes on the bright lights and loud noises, don’t stop to think about what you are really doing here and who you really are.” His firework commentary was not exactly the official commentary: “there goes your child benefits, there’s another hospital closed…”

It got me thinking though. 2012 was an incredible year for me, especially as it involved buying a flat, moving in with my boyfriend, and adopting our lovely little kitten, Oscar. But let’s be honest, it’s been a rubbish year for people, especially women, across the globe – ending on the horrific story of the Indian woman who was brutally raped and murdered (but let’s remember that this is not just an “Indian problem” – perhaps there will be a blog post on that later!)

This great article by Laura Bates of the everyday sexism project (www.everydaysexism.com) outlines 2012 – the year in sexism -> http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/2012/12/2012-year-sexism
Her list encompasses the dangerous obsession over female celebrities’ weight, to the joky rape culture that pervades our society. But one instance of sexism per month is nowhere near enough to fully show what women have had to put up with this year. Rape culture is not just found on the pages of the unilad website, but in our courtrooms and from the mouths of our politicians. George Galloway, discussing Julian Assange, stated that he was simply guilty of “bad sexual etiquette” for having sex with a sleeping woman. In December, a judge described a rape victim as having “let herself down badly. She consumed far too much alcohol and took drugs”. The war on women continues in the economic sphere, with the main force of austerity being felt by women – Yvette Cooper in December said that “women are being hit three times harder than men, by a Cabinet with three times more men than women”. There have been real-terms cuts to child benefit, maternity allowance, women’s services such as the Sure Start children’s centres, and to public sector pay – 70% of the public sector are women. With 2013 being the year when the true force of the austerity measures will be felt, this is not shaping up to be a great year for women.

But – is it all doom and gloom? I would argue not. Increasingly the term “feminist” is being seen as something to be proud of. There are growing backlashes against women in the public eye who do not identify as feminists. There are great campaigns afoot in the UK such as the previously mentioned everydaysexism campaign, cataloguing the relentless onslaught of sexism that British women deal with on a daily basis. There is the No More Page 3 campaign, attempting to end the practice of putting a topless woman on page 3 of a national daily newspaper. There is the Women’s Room UK – a database of women with expertise and experience so that never again will a radio presenter have to ask his all-male guests to imagine they are women in a discussion on breast cancer. And combatting the evidence that young girls are no longer interested in feminism is the Twitter Youth Feminist Army (#tyfa) – a group of young girls new to feminism ranging in age from 9 to 28 (I think). I’m very proud to be a member of the latter and am really looking forward to being more involved in the New Year. It is about raising awareness and increasing our own knowledge, about meeting others that share our thoughts, values, and worries about the world we are growing up into. Only by coming together and continuing to fight, in the smallest of ways, in the most important of ways, can we even attempt to make a difference. My hope for 2013 is that it will see the birth of more grassroots campaigns like those I have mentioned. That we will talk and shout about violence against women until it cannot be ignored anymore. That (unlike the handmaids) we will not just sit back and let it happen to us.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Leveson Report

This year has seen something of an implosion in the British press. A huge scandal erupted in 2011 when it was discovered that News of the World had been systematically hacking individuals’ phone voicemail systems for their stories. The hacking scandal snowballed until it seemed that almost every newspaper had been involved in this illegal practice and as a result, newspapers were closed down, arrests were made, and, being British, we set up an inquiry. How could this have happened? What should we do now to stop it ever happening again? This inquiry was called the Leveson inquiry, and its report was released
            I’ll leave a more detailed analysis of Leveson for those much more qualified than I am, but I want to discuss in this blog a small part of Lord Leveson’s analysis which has been virtually neglected by the media: the six pages (out of almost 2000) he spends discussing newspaper treatment of women in the UK.
I believe that in the UK we have a culture that normalises violence against women, normalises the sexualisation of girls and young women, and normalises the silencing and shrouding of older women and disabled women, amongst others. In a twist on the Handmaid’s Tale, it can be argued that in the UK women are seen only for their sexual role. This begins from a very young age as stores market t-shirts to children with logos such as ‘porn star’. It continues until women are past the “acceptable” age of sexual interest, when they become marginalised from our public spaces, fired from TV shows, replaced with younger models.

And the media is seminal in promoting this culture. This takes into account a huge range of sources, from advertisements to the women’s mags we all love to hate. But what I want to concentrate on here is the mainstream British press, as discussed in the Leveson inquiry.

The inquiry was really important for women as the current regulatory system only allows individuals to bring complaints. Thus it had not been possible for a group such as Object to bring a complaint to the PCC about the way that women in general were treated in the media. The Leveson inquiry allowed these worries and complaints to be heard. Leveson makes the point that the inquiry is not there to investigate and to judge issues of taste and decency; as he puts it, a free press is entitled to be tasteless and indecent.
However, the Editors’ Code of Practice states clearly that discrimination in newspapers is not allowed, and also that “details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story”.  I believe the extent to which this occurs in the British press was not discussed sufficiently in the Leveson report.
Leveson does mention numerous newspapers such as the Daily Star, the Sport, and the Sun, that regularly portray women in demeaning ways, such as printing an article who’s sole focus is as an excuse to publish a photo of a topless or nearly-nude woman. He agrees that some of this material should be “top shelf material”, stored with pornographic magazines rather than daily news. He accepts that these images “may reflect a wider cultural failure to treat women with dignity and respect.”

Well, this is true. It does reflect a wider cultural failure.  But more than that, it manifestly contravenes the Editors’ Code of Practice. When Bradley Wiggins was involved in a minor car accident, virtually all newspapers presented this as an accident with a “woman driver” – in what way was this relevant to the story? As Natasha Walter argued eloquently in her book Living Dolls, studies that show marked differences between the genders, especially if they show women to like pink and be more suited to staying at home, shopping, and cooking, receive a lot more attention in the media. A recent FHM article (okay, a magazine, not national press but…) placed women into three categories, “girlfriend / mother / victim”. Seriously. Every morning, if you turn to page 3 of a national newspaper, a large pair of breasts will stare you in the face. While there’s nothing wrong with breasts, it is not exactly news! Women are routinely portrayed as if their sole interesting factor is the way they look or the way they dress, or the size of their belly or bum or boobs. It’s not good enough.  The fact that a woman is the focus of the story is ALWAYS mentioned even when it is of absolutely no relevance to the story is in contravention to the Editors’ Code of Practice. The sheer sexualisation and objectification of women, of a manner and extent that DOES NOT occur to men, is in contravention of the Editors’ Code of Practice against discrimination.

This is not good enough. The media is extremely important in reflecting AND promoting our culture. And right now, they are helping to promote a rape culture in which women are nothing more than their bodies, reduced to a sum of their sexual parts. In a UK where more than a quarter of men believe it is partly a woman’s fault if she is raped when wearing a short skirt, or when drunk (in fact, 36%), a media that does not take rape seriously and constantly sexualises women is not good enough. We deserve better. We need better. We need to be seen not as sex objects, mothers or victims, but as people. People who do incredible things, people who make mistakes, people who do bad things, without reference to gender. We deserve to not be sexualised and infantilised.

The Leveson inquiry was a great opportunity for women’s groups to have their voices heard. It is sad that only six pages were devoted to the issue, and that much of the beginning concentrated on the fact that a free press is entitled to be “indecent”. But what is worse is that only one newspaper appears to have commented on the issue. (Not surprising that it was our left wing newspaper, the Guardian). The fact that no other newspapers have seen fit to comment on it strongly suggests that nothing will change. All that we can hope is that a new regulatory system will allow groups and areas of interest to bring complaints. Then we can regularly challenge our sexist media until we have a media we deserve.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stop calling her ‘Pregnant Kate’

Ever since Kate Middleton and Prince William got married in 2011, there has been incessant talk of the royal heir and rabid speculation about when they’d start a family. And now that she’s officially announced her pregnancy, the media feeding frenzy has gone into full effect.

But what’s absolutely driving me nuts is the insistence on calling her “Pregnant Kate.”

People Magazine:
Pregnant Kate Leaves Hospital

CBS News:
Pregnant Kate out of hospital after treatment for acute morning sickness

ABC News:
Pregnant Kate Middleton’s Hospital Falls for Prank Call From Australian Radio Station
Pregnant Kate Discharged from London Hospital
Pregnant Kate Middleton Feeling Better After Second Day

USA Today:
Pregnant Kate discharged from London Hospital

Pregnant Kate leaves hospital

Chicago Tribune:
Pregnant Kate Middleton leaves hospital after morning sickness

There’s even a website: PregnantKate.com.

As if now that she’s pregnant, she has ceased to be anything more than the contents of her uterus. She is no longer Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge; she’s the royal broodmare. She’s not Kate Middleton, an autonomous person who also happens to be pregnant – she’s the pregnant royal baby-carrier.

Why does this matter? Why does it upset me? Because it’s emblematic of how our culture treats women and understands pregnancy. A man who gets a job is not called “Working Tom,” because he is not defined solely by that one characteristic of his life, so why should a woman who gets pregnant be referred to as "Pregnant Woman"? If you can ask "are men doing this?" and the answer is No, there's probably something sexist about the situation. 

The act of conception does not make the cell cluster in a woman’s body equal in all respects to the woman carrying it. Regardless of when you believe “life” begins, if you remove that cell cluster from her uterus, Jesus will not come down from the clouds and magic it into a tax-paying, bible-thumping, Republican-voting person. That fetus exists and can grow and develop BECAUSE of the woman, not in spite of her.

And the woman’s part in the process cannot be ignored.

Women are not meek and silent baby-ovens, and pregnancy does not define who a person is. It may change who she becomes as a result of the pregnancy, but it does not change her inherent worth as a person. Her humanity is not suddenly secondary to that of the fetus developing inside her.

We have to stop treating women as if their only value to society is to spawn new little humans. Not every woman can or will have children, and that’s okay. Her worth should not be defined by whether or not she has or plans to reproduce. Defining someone by one function of their body ignores or trivializes every other aspect of who they are. Especially in the case of a public figure like Kate Middleton, who has done tons of charitable work since marrying into the royal family - she is and deserves to be more than just her pregnancy.

Yes, biologically, creating the next generation is something we CAN do, but it’s not the ONLY thing we can do. And we deserve to be respected and recognized as PEOPLE at all times, regardless of whether we’re in the process of creating new life or not.

So please, for the sake of my humanity and yours, stop calling her “Pregnant Kate.”