“Who are you bitch, new lunch? Ima ruin you cunt”

Siân Steans

We’ve reached a point in feminist discourse where the raw honesty of working class women who have been surrounded by “foul”, “vile”, “abusive” language our whole lives, as general chat, can’t speak in our own voices.

I know how to code switch. I don’t know a single working class woman who doesn’t. We have our home voice and we have our work voice. We all know how to enunciate yes sir, of course madam, let me get that for you. Is there a reason our sisters expect the same behaviour when these bitches ain’t even paying us?

Anti feminist slurs. Bitch. Twat. Even fuck off if directed at someone with a vagina. Fuck off is a special case though. It’s not abusive if a middle class woman is directing it at someone who has hurt her. She is angry, hurt and tone policing her shouldn’t even enter your head. It is…

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How Fascism came to Britain?

This is so important.

Feminist Philosophers

I’ve been struggling to write this post ever since last Friday. There are too many things to say. This morning, however, all I want to say is this. The Leave campaign was fought and won, largely on the back of fears about immigration. People worried about immigration come from all sections of British society – including those who are more recent immigrants to this isle themselves. Not all of these views deserve to be called racist or even xenophobic, although they are often summarily dismissed as such. People are worried that there are not enough jobs to go round, not enough houses, not sufficient capacity in the NHS and other services. The country is ‘full-up’. Sharp practices on the part of some employers have meant that it is sometimes true that British people have lost out to cheaper workers from elsewhere. Unions that could show both groups that they lose…

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The Feminist Jackboot Dug Deep in the Buzzer Round

Robinince's Blog

It is just like The Two Ronnies warned us in The Worm That Turned, the women are taking over. It is a putsch by those with a pair of XX chromosomes. By “taking over”, I mean, they will be represented.

I have only read a few snippets on the announcement that BBC television panel shows have been instructed to avoid being an all-male domain. I presume there will be a slew of columns on this feminist fascism and oppression of the penis possessing observationalists. (Personally, I don’t think turning it into a BBC PR announcement was the canniest thing though).

The filthy phrase “positive discrimination” will be bandied around. As a non-Guardian reading Guardianista, I am pro positive discrimination. Why wouldn’t I be, I have been the beneficiary of positive discrimination for most of my life. As a middle class, white, male, I have been brought up in a culture and…

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I believe her. Always.

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Edit: I see I have acquired some visitors from the Mens Rights subreddit. Hi there! Just so you know, this is my space. You can comment if you like (I see some of you have) be aware that I will authorise your coments or not, on my whim. No free speech here.

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So, here we are again. Another ‘high profile’ rape case-and by ‘high profile’, I mean involving someone the media can get plenty of column inches out of. Another acquittal. Another round of calls for anonymity for men (and let’s be clear, the vast majority of cases involving sexual violence have men as the perpetrator) accused of rape. Another round of misogyny. More screams of ‘liar’ against the victims (although to be entirely fair to those who hate women so very much, they scream liar whether the defendant is found guilty, or is acquitted. You have to give it to them, they are consistent).

There has been a lot written about this case (and there will be a lot more), by more eloquent women than I. I am just adding my voice to the choir, or at least adding my howl of sorrow and rage at yet more women failed by the justice system.

What can I even say? I can point out that a not guilty verdict does not mean that he was found innocent. It means that the jury were unable to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. And a not guilty verdict does not mean that the victim lied.

I can offer my unconditional support and belief to all women who come forward to say they have been raped or abused. And I can offer the same to women who can’t come forward (and give the appalling conviction rates, who could blame them).

I can hope that one more voice of support and belief can act as a counterbalance to the appalling media coverage. One more voice of opposition to the sympathetic cries of ‘why was this poor pensioner dragged through the courts’ and discussion of ‘false claims like these’. If these are phrases that make my skin crawl and my throat hurt, then I can only imagine how the women in this case feel.

And I can ask, why is it that famous men are so rarely convicted of the rapes and abuses with which they are charged?
I suspect that the answer lies within their fame, and the crimes with which they are charged. Evidence for rape or sexual abuse (especially hisotrical offences) so often comes down to the testimony of the victims vs the testimony of the abuser. And the jury is to decide who they believe, who they trust.
Trust comes with familiarity. With a face you know. Who is the jury going to believe? Women they don’t know (against a background of a deeply misogynistic media which constantly spins them the story that women lie about sex, and they lie about rape), or a face that everyone knows?
Which story will they accept as true-the well written, well rehearsed, consistent script, or the painful, confused recollections of abuse, memories that shift like smoke.
It’s no wonder so many women have feared coming forward. It’s no wonder so many famous men can rape and abuse with apparent impunity.

So what’s the answer? I wish I had one to give. I’m starting to suspect that the jury system may not be the best one when it comes to judging the crimes of famous men. And the alternatives would only work if judges were given mandatory training in how to deal properly with cases of rape and abuse, to stop them spouting the same victim blaming garbage they are prone to.

In the mean time, all I can do is say the same thing: I believe her. I believe them. I believe you.

Why don’t women matter?

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This morning on the Today program I listened to a very interesting segment regarding deaths of children and young people in the criminal justic system. You can read more about it here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26061816

The charity Inquest has worked with the Prison Reform Trust to produce a report
(called Fatally Flawed, can be found here:
http://inquest.gn.apc.org/pdf/reports/Fatally_Flawed.pdf)
regarding deaths in custody, specifically those of children and young people under the age of 24. They report that in the past ten years 163 children and young people have died in the care of the state, mostly as a result of suicide (although there are cases where the cause of death was a result of, for example, the types of restraint used against them). Of those who died, two thirds of those under 18 and almost a third of those between 18 and 24 were being actively monitored for self harm and/or suicidal behaviour. Today’s coverage is as we await an announcement from the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright as to whether he will acquiesce to the charities’ request to hold a full independent enquiry. He has previously refused such calls, but has agreed to look at the request again.

The BBC article states that the heart of the debate lies with the state’s obligation to protect life (Article 2 of the Human Rights Act), and quotes Deborah Coles (the co-director of Inquest),
“The relentless nature of these deaths is shocking enough but the recurrence of depressingly familiar failings year after year should give most cause for alarm.”

Let me be clear here. The preventable deaths of children and young people held in custody are awful, terrible things, and something needs to be done to address them. I agree wholeheartedly. Any death in custody is to be mourned as a waste.
But I wonder at the comparisons we can draw. 163 children or young persons (mostly young persons) died over a 10 year period. That’s 16.3 a year. There is media attention. There are calls for official public enquiries. There is condemnation and sorrow.
How can we compare? Let’s look at the Counting Dead Women campaign, started and run by Karen Ingala Smith. You can follow it on twitter @Countdeadwomen, and read about it here:
http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/11/what-counting-dead-women-tells-us-clares-law-cannot

How many ways can we count dead women? It is estimated that 2 women a week are killed by current or former partners. But more than that. In 2013 140 women were murdered by men. 140. In a single year. And that only counts cases which were publicly available and acknowledged as being the deaths of women caused directly by men. Women murdered by male violence. That doesn’t include rates of suicide caused by male violence. Women fleeing domestic violence. It is estimated that approximately 3 women a week use suicide as their last resort, their only escape from a violent man. Women traumatised by rape. There are no definitive figures on this, but in the last week a British women ‘fell to her death’ following the acquittal of her rapist. The Counting Dead Women twitter reported another young woman who commited suicide after she was raped, because she feared what her father would say. We don’t know how many women commit suicide as a result of rape or sexual abuse. But we know that around 85,000 women are the victims of sexual violence of one form or another ever single year. How many of them do we lose?
Even if we only take officially recorded figures, almost 300 women a year killed by male violence. And that is in the UK alone.

Where is the media attention for these women? Where are the calls for a public enquiry into this epidemic of men murdering women? It leads you to suspect that women don’t matter. No one cares enough to connect the dots and see that it is men murdering women. There is no official record of male violence against women. The home office doesn’t keep those sorts of statistics. No one cares enough to look.

That last isn’t exactly fair. Karen Ingala Smith cares. She started a petition (found here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-ignoring-dead-women If you haven’t signed it already, I urge you to do so.)
Women’s charities care. Groups like Refuge and Women’s Aid work hard, not only to support women, but to raise awareness. The government doesn’t care. The government doesn’t count dead women. But it does (presumably) count the money it saves by cutting vital funding to women’s refuges.

I care. I care about our dead sisters. I care about the survivors of male violence who can’t go on any longer. And I know the problem. I can name it. So can you. Male violence against women.

Women matter.

References:
http://1in4women.com/
http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/research/Samaritans%20Suicide%20Statistics%20Report%202013.pdf
http://kareningalasmith.com/2014/01/16/more-british-women-were-killed-though-mens-violence-last-year-than-british-troops-killed-in-afghanistan-in-the-last-3-years/

How can a Brand change his sexism?

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Yesterday afternoon, Russell Brand posted this tweet:

‘And finally, through the love of a good woman, teenage, sexist me was slain.’

(https://twitter.com/rustyrockets/status/423605729342128128) along with the picture you can see below:

Russell Brand NMP3

Entirely understandably, the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign leapt on this public display of support from a very public and outspoken figure. Why wouldn’t they. It’s practically a coup for them. He’s young (ish), male, popular, and a well known ‘ladies man’ (ew). What better way to distance themselves from all those feminists in the background.
(This may sound an awful lot like a critique of the campaign. It really isn’t. I fully understand that the proPage 3 lobby like to frame the campaign as being just about a bunch of prudish, out of touch feminists, relying on the public perception of feminists as being marginal and extremist in nature to carry the narrative for them. Much like the pro page 3 lot needing to have women on their ‘team’, the anti page 3 campaign needs men, if only from a public perception angle. In single issue activism, pragmatism is par for the course.)

But this picture and tweet follows on from what appears to be an attempt from Russell Brand to rebrand *ahem* himself as ‘not a massive sexist’. In a ‘Conversation with HuffPost’ in which he fielded questions from an (undoubtably adoring) audience, he said that whilst he didn’t think of himself as being sexist, that women would be in a better position to judge that than he would.

I’m a woman. So I will judge. And I hate to break it to him (that’s a blatant lie, I’d love to break it to him. But I doubt he would read this, so it hardly counts), but yeah, he has been incredibly sexist over the years. Some quick examples in case you need them:

When he was invited to guest edit the New Statesman recently, he wrote, “I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me”, as well as declaring “I bow to no one in my appreciation of female beauty”.
Objectification is so often couched as ‘appreciation’ or ‘a love for women’.

During an MSNBC morning show interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDCtFTyw6fI) Brand commented on a presenter’s cleavage and made sexually suggestive comments about how she held a bottle of water.
Ah yes, women have breasts, let’s not let them forget that. And also make sure that we all think of your penis too.

His article on the death of Margaret Thatcher (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/apr/09/russell-brand-margaret-thatcher) mostly revolved around what an unloving mother he thought she would have been.
Because women are supposed to be nurturing and kindly at all times! And to not be makes you a monster.

When hosting a radio show in 2008 he thought it would be hilarious to call Andrew Sachs and inform him that he had “fucked” his grand daughter.
Woman as sexual conquest. I think this one is almost the most telling. That is how he sees women.

So yeah, definitely a massive sexist. But he’s changed, so he declares! He has discovered that he suffered “from the ol’ sexism”, so is going to ‘check’ himself from now on. And why has he had this revelation? Ah yes, ‘the love of a good woman’. This ‘good woman’ has made him see the error of his ways, made him change. The trouble is, I don’t believe it. Oh I believe that he is trying. I believe that someone with whom he is currently in a relationship has told him uncomfortable truths, so he’s toning it down. But we all know men who can talk the ‘right on’ talk around women, if they think it will help them ‘get laid’. And I don’t think that he has changed in any fundamental way in himself. It is relatively easy to change outward behaviours (pointing out a woman’s cleavage for example), and a lot more difficult to change the thought processes that underpin them (woman as sexual objects, conquests first and foremost).

So what do we do with men like Brand that declare they have changed? I posit that we should treat them a little like unexploded fireworks: observe the current lack of sparks, but approach with extreme caution. Maybe he genuinely wants to change. Maybe. Maybe we should be encouraging change by acknowledgement, by praise (because men are like puppies? We really don’t want them to pee on the rug, so we cheer them when they pee elsewhere). Maybe. But what we shouldn’t do is act as though everything else he has done didn’t matter. One declaration that you don’t think naked women constitute news does not make you automatically not sexist.

So I am glad that Russell Brand has come out in favour of the No More Page 3 campaign (not least because I think that page 3 is awful). But I’m not putting out the bunting just yet.

The science behind sex differences is still in dispute

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In November 2013 a study was published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA’ (link here for those interested http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/27/1316909110, the full paper will be available on open access in May 2014) titled, ‘Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain’. Now if you don’t know what a connectome is, don’t worry, the term was only coined in around 2005. It refers to a map of neural connections in the brain, and it exists as a way of trying to connect the physical structure of the brain with its function (if you are interested there is more on this here  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectome). Fancy new terminology aside, the purpose of the study was to measure structural connections within the brains of just below 1000 young people (aged 8 to 22) and their results showed some interesting differences. Using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (an MRI technique that measures the restricted diffusion of water) they found that after the age of 13 there were significant differences in how the brains of men and women were connected. In the study men’s brains were found to connect more within a given hemisphere. and women’s had great cross connectivity (seen below the connectome maps published, showing the male brain in blue and the female brain in orange:
Image

As you can see, the male brain shows more longitudal connections whilst the female brains shows more transverse connections.
The abstract for the study states, ‘the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes’, having earlier noted that ‘Males have better motor and spatial abilities, whereas females have superior memory and social cognition skills’.

The publication of this paper resulted in a number of excitable and fairly familiar newspaper headlines.
The Telegraph announced boldly ‘Brains of men and women are poles apart’, (demonstrating once and for all that broadsheets aren’t immune to headline puns) telling us that women’s brains are set up to have better memories (for anniversaries!) and gauge social situations better while men’s brains coordinate their actions with their senses, so can navigate better (not to mention be better at parking cars).
The Independent declared these differences, ‘could explain why men are ‘better at map reading”.
The Belfast Telegraph gets the prize for the best reporting on this, by first reminding us that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ before going on to declare that the study has shown ‘men and women’s brains are wired in completely different ways, as if they were species from different planets.’

With the possible exception of the Belfast Telegraph (who seem to have got themselves hopelessly overexcited), you can’t place too much fault on the reporting here. It is a clear cut case of ‘science says’, and in this case has the benefits of a peer reviewed journal to back it up. The study itself made reference to differences in male and female behaviours, stating that men have better ‘motor and spacial abilities’ whereas women show, ‘superior memory and social cognition’. Unfortunately, whilst this paper may make that claim, the preceding study (of which the participants of this study were a subset) does not back that up (abstract here http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/neu/26/2/251/). Of the 26 behavioural measures made for comparison (for example executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition), 11 showed sex differences that were non existent, or as small as 53:47 (the expected sex outperforming the opposite only 53% of the time), Even in those areas where the differences are meant to be the greatest (spatial or social awareness) the performance difference was only 60:40-a measurable and noticeable difference for sure, but hardly enough to declare difference species.

My problem is not with this study or with their results, but rather with the way the conclusions have been drawn, and with the extrapolations. They have shown interesting differences in how men’s and women’s brains connect with themselves, but then rather than taking any further interesting steps, drilling down further into the data, they have attached some male/female stereotypes and called it job done. One of the authors has even suggested that the ‘hard wired’ differences found could explain the ‘gut feelings’ that women demonstrate more than men, and which makes them good mothers (‘intuition’ and ‘mothering’, or indeed ‘nurturing’ was not in fact measured in this study).
There could be other reasons than ‘men are better at map reading’ for the differences observed. Men’s brains are frequently bigger than women’s brains, the difference in the wiring could be due to physical necessity (there are also studies on this).

Then there’s the most interesting part of the study that has been the least discussed: the structural differences are not observed in a significant manner until after age 13. And we have to ask ourselves why. One of the proposed explanations is that this is the approximate average age for the development of secondary sexual characteristics. There are massive changes in the body, hormones flooding everything, the logic seems to be that the brain changes at this time too. However there is a better explanation, and one less routed in speculation. See, there’s this thing called neuroplasticity. It refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour or environment. Literally as you learn, your brain changes shape. Then we have to bear in mind that gender as a social construct is learned. It is taught. Little girls aren’t born liking pink. They are taught that girls like pink, and that they are a girl, therefore they then like pink. You put those two things together and what you end up with is the possibility that, rather than being innate, related to the release of hormones at puberty, the structural differences in the brains are programmed in by telling girls that boys are boisterous and girls play nice, that boys are good at maths and girls are caring, that boys build things and girls decorate them. But no mention is made in the study of any consideration of gendered activities in their subjects, or indeed any activities that may (and in fact do) influence how our brains are wired.
If you take this into account, the claim that ‘sex differences are hard wired’ seems a little less proven than it was before.

I am very fond of saying ‘peer reviewed journal or it didn’t happen’. But we have to be able to treat even these studies critically. Their data may be fixed and immutable (tho that is not always the case) but the conclusions have more room for movement. And the people making those conclusions are not immune from sexism.

The study may have shown that men and women’s brains connect differently. But it hasn’t shown why. And it hasn’t shown that the differences are innate. It has shown they are learned. ‘Men and women are taught to be different’ is a less interesting conclusions perhaps, but it is a more truthful one.

 

Post script: If you are interested in this subject, may I recommend the very excellent Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. Her article on this study was also very useful to me https://theconversation.com/new-insights-into-gendered-brain-wiring-or-a-perfect-case-study-in-neurosexism-21083