The Battle Starts Young

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My son was two when I first gained an interest in feminism, and initially, I found myself keeping him out of the conversations that arose from a subject that has come to be very close to my heart. Over the past five years, however, matters have shifted and I have found that feminism hasn’t so much become an occasional conversation for us, but one that heavily underlies a way of life.

I rarely blog about my son for several reasons. The main being that the voice of male children so often over-rides that of female children in feminist circles. Even now, these words will not be entirely my own, but touched with the thoughts of a seven year old. The reason, this time, being that I feel it’s important to discuss why feminism – along with other forms of equality and liberation – is a discussion that our children need to be included in. Regularly.

In a strange manner, my own conversations around feminism are rarely discussed in our household. As many of my conversations in the feminist community involve and revolve around matters of rape and men’s violence against women, it is difficult to find a way to discuss these matters with a child. The conversations on these matters are rare and watered down, levelled in a way that he can understand without getting overly upset. But instead, I find that the conversations about feminism – albeit basic ones – are often initiated by my son, and frequently in response to something that has happened at school.

Yesterday, my son returned from school with a comment about how children at school were saying ‘silly things’. He had been greeted with comments about how there were some things only boys could do, and some things only girls could do. In a fashion that has become almost synonymous with his name, he found himself challenging the topic – robustly – before returning home to discuss the matter. But there’s been a recurring theme over the past year of his school life. Most of his disagreements have centred around such topics, with him coming home one day a few months ago, telling me of a falling out that he’d had with a friend. The matter of the falling out? The friend in question had failed to respect another friend’s ‘no’. I tried to hide my amusement as a child of seven sat on my sofa telling me how “when someone says ‘no’, you shouldn’t try and change their minds.”

The fact that he deals with topics such as respecting boundaries and gender stereotypes at such a young age is one that leaves me in awe. The messages he brings to his school friends are often met with disagreement, but this has lead to a new discussion amongst ourselves. But there are other children in his class with whom he has found an allegiance. And in time, I’ve found that he stands up for any perceived injustice, even when this means holding the unpopular opinion or calling his friends out.

Although the conversations are basic, at best, and possibly sound a lot like liberal feminism for beginners, that is what this is. Feminism not just tailored to, but adopted by, a child. So if you excuse my son for discussing why it’s perfectly fine for two women to marry, or why there is nothing wrong with boys liking Frozen or his girl friends at school liking Star Wars – If you can excuse him applying discussions of consent to playground politics and cuddles, then perhaps it’s worth seeing that the conversation around feminism doesn’t shut off once it reaches our children’s ears. Our interactions within the feminist community reach further than we could ever realise. And sometimes it is adults that our words impact on. But other times, it is the next generation, and whilst those words come out in a manner that adapts our meanings, those messages are there all the same. And with time, those messages mature.

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Zayn Malik and how we have yet to learn to respect the emotions of girls.

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By now, there are few people who haven’t heard of Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction. News of his departure has been greeted with a variety of reactions, from the slight mocking of the band, to jokes that Jeremy Clarkson was taking his place, and from the fans of the band, genuine upset. It’s something that has become a point of mocking, and –in a more worrying aspect – a point of genuine derision.

Upset at band members leaving successful groups is by no means a new phenomenon. I was in junior school when Robbie Williams left Take That, and remember genuine upset between my friends. In a way, many of my friends entered a sense of mourning for the band they had been invested in since the band had first become famous. Even before the days of social media, the days of Tumblr and Twitter, there was that united grief for a day or two, before the class discussions moved on to other matters. Had the internet been as widely accessible in 1995, I suspect the Take That fans would have received much of the same treatment that has been afforded the predominantly young and predominantly female fans of One Direction over the past few days.

Since Zayn left the band on Wednesday, Buzzfeed has published 40 articles regarding his departure. These articles have ranged in tone, from the remorseful to the mocking – in some cases, posting the reactions of their fans in articles that hold a slightly mocking tone. But this isn’t to say Buzzfeed is alone in doing so; in fact, searching for ‘Fan reactions to Zayn leaving One Direction’ brings up 11,200 results (from 25th – 26th March 2015).

The problem we hold is this culture of holding the reactions of teenage girls as entertainment. We already mock teenage girls at every turn for their interests, be it from peers to family members, from the media to sites which are supposed to hold somewhat feminist ideals. Yes, Jezebel, we’re looking at you, and we’re noting the irony in you throwing teenage girls to the dogs.

The problem we’re posed with is that so many people have reached a point where they consider it acceptable to mock young girls. The over-emotional insult comes out, in a more subtle way, but we blame these girls for ‘making fools of themselves’.  We blame them for not yet knowing that society prefers not to have to deal with the emotions of girls and women, and we humiliate them for it. Websites screenshot their thoughts, their photos, their comments – without their consent – and take it from what these girls think to be a safe space of sorts. They expect their thoughts in the ‘One Direction’ tags on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram to be shared amongst other people who empathise. Friends, if you will. They expect it to go no further than their followers. But the Buzzfeeds and Jezebels of the internet see their emotional outpouring, and they use it to teach these girls a lesson. One that exposing your sentiments will see you opened up to mockery.

But this goes beyond harassment. This has become a policing of how teenage girls handle their emotions, and a policing of their interests. This tells them that the punishment for being too emotionally invested in the wrong thing will earn you insults in the comments of Buzzfeed, sarcasm in the words that precede the screenshot of your Tumblr post, and snide comments about those ‘One Direction fans’. It’s a painful reminder that your interests had better be pre-approved, and your reactions deemed appropriate. It’s a reminder that you will be contrasted with the general public whom have reacted ‘normally’. And it is a treatment that we so rarely see extended to boys of the same demographic. And in doing so, we teach these girls to fall into silence about subjects that matter to them. We tell them to stop expressing their upset about a band splitting, or a band member leaving. We tell them to shut up about a TV show they’ve become interested in, and we teach them that their thoughts and opinions don’t matter. And it stops them from talking out when things really matter to them, whether it is something we consider trivial, or whether it is something much deeper and far more important.

Perhaps, there are lessons to be taken from this. One that, at the heart of it, teenage girls are having to handle emotions which can often be heightened by the effects of puberty. But this doesn’t make their emotions any less valid. But furthermore, we need to learn to respect the boundaries of the next generation of women. We need to learn not to criticise their interests whilst applauding the interests of boys. We need to learn to ensure that we discuss emotions with them in a clear and thoughtful manner – one that encourages them to be emotionally aware, emotionally open, and to work through their feelings in a manner which is healthy. And we need to teach those who should know better to respect the boundaries of teenage girls when they react, whether it is done in person, or through social media.

It’s simple. The reactions of teenage girls are not for entertainment.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/teens-mourn-zayn#.jr64Axnj6

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tahliapritchard/goodbye-sweet-angel#.sdBorayMP

http://jezebel.com/watch-the-worlds-teens-sob-lose-their-shit-over-zayn-q-1693601288?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

The personal may be political, but that doesn’t mean your political should be petty.

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Feminism. At some point along the way, many of us seem to have convinced ourselves that the ideal feminist utopia was a universal ideal; that it was one we all agreed on. For those who vehemently support a woman’s right to choose prostitution, this meant that feminists who provided in depth critiques of prostitution could be likened to the devil, their feminist badges revoked as they were kicked out of Eden. For those who unwaveringly support a person’s right to self-identify with whatever gender they choose, this meant that those feminists who engage in discourse around gender were walking a dangerous line which meant every word that followed them thereafter could easily be discredited with ‘TERF’. I’ve seen many feminists thrown under the bus this way, and it is getting – quite rightly – fucking exhausting.

But more than exhausting, the attitude that accompanies any campaigning by these women – labelled bad feminists by the liberal feminist community – is one that involves so much work of importance being discredited, ignored, and even boycotted. I saw it when I campaigned for a change in how Twitter handled the reporting of abuse, with a certain corner of the internet seeking out evidence that I was a bad feminist in order to discredit my work. And of even more concern is that I’m now seeing this logic applied to Louise Pennington’s latest campaign – a campaign which aims to protect the rights of women who are reporting a rape to the police. A campaign that should be unanimously supported by those who claim to have the best interests of women at heart.

The critics of Pennington, however, are those guilty of rarely listening to what is truly being said, those guilty of being selective in what they read about an individual, and those guilty of putting their personal feelings about an individual above the need to prevent laws which are set to harm victims of rape and sexual assault.

This post isn’t written with the intention of changing the minds of these individuals when it comes to their perception of Pennington. However, I do urge those who refuse to sign a petition they would otherwise sign, on the basis that it has been created by someone with whom they disagree on other points, to take a moment to reconsider the implications of their decisions. The message one sends out in these instances is one that is heard loud and clear by both your supporters and the feminist community. It’s one that echoes through to those who would otherwise attack the feminist community at any available opportunity. It’s a message that the feminist community can be divided, and at a time when we need to unite in order to protect the rights of women, a wedge can be driven between us.

Feminism was never about having to approve of everything each and every feminist says. It was never about the need to agree on every topic. However, what has always mattered is that we unite on protecting the rights of women, even if that means putting personal dislikes – or in some cases, an opposition to other political stances – to one side.

No more ‘No means No’ -New changes in the handling of rape cases

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Yesterday, changes to the way that rape cases are to be handled were announced, with the old mantra of ‘no means no’ slowly being recognised for the archaic view on consent that it is.

Under the latest changes, men accused of rape must prove that they had reasonable cause to believe that their partner consented; a U-turn on the former requirement for the victim of rape to prove that they didn’t reasonably and freely consent. It’s a move that has been heralded by the press as a toughening of rape laws.

Because proving someone wanted to have sex with you is oh so unreasonable.

However, these new rules aren’t quite as new as one may think, but more a case of reaffirming the Sexual Offences Act (2003) which states that

 “Person A is guilty of an offence if:

-They acted deliberately

– (B) does not consent to the act

-(A) does not reasonably believe that (B) consented to the act.”[1]

Whilst all along, these guidelines should have demonstrated the need for the onus to be on the defendant to prove that they had consent, the focus has been on having the victim prove their lack of consent throughout the case. This shift in focus is one that is long overdue, and one that has the potential to change the way we discuss consent and sexual relationships with our children.

The need for the conversation to move away from ‘no means no’ is one that recognises that consent isn’t something that is assumed unless otherwise stated, but something that is absent unless explicitly and freely given. As Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions said, cited in yesterday’s The Telegraph,

 “We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue – how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?”[2]

This isn’t asking men to pull out a contract before intercourse begins, but instead asking them to take their partner’s needs into consideration. Is their partner an active participant? Is their partner freely able to consent, without threat or pressure to partake in sexual activity? Is their partner fully aware of their actions, or is their judgement or ability to consent impaired by alcohol, drugs or any other possible impairment? It requires men to prove they had reasonable belief that their partner consented.

By no means does this mean that the changes in how rape cases are to be handled means all rape cases will be handled perfectly. But we expect this progress to mean a change in how consent is handled amongst all parties.

No more ‘It’s your word against his’. No more ‘But did you say no’. This shift is long overdue, and it’s time that the media recognised that too.

[1] CPS Guidelines, ‘Rape and Sexual Offences: Chapter Three’, Crown Prosecution Service,  2003, http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/rape_and_sexual_offences/consent/

[2] Rayner, G and Gardner, B., ‘Men must prove a woman said ‘yes’ under tough new rape laws’, The Guardian, 28.01.2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11375667/Men-must-prove-a-woman-said-Yes-under-tough-new-rape-rules.html

Why Ched Evans’ ‘apology’ leaves a bitter taste in the mouth

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Today, convicted rapist, Ched Evans issued an apology for the effects of ‘that night in Rhyl’; the night he raped a nineteen year old woman as his cousin and friends filmed the event. Today, The Guardian reported

Ched Evans, the former Sheffield United striker convicted of raping a 19-year-old, has for the first time apologised for the “effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned”.

Two and a half months after release, two and a half years after conviction, Evans finally apologises. For this to come on the day that Oldham have backed out of signing Evans makes the message behind this clear. Evans has noted the criticism surrounding him and his attempts to return to professional football. He feels a half-hearted, carefully rehearsed apology will lead to the campaigners getting off his back. The campaigners whom Sheffield United referred to as a mob.

There are apologies forced, and there are genuine apologies. Evans is clearly the former, a desperate attempt to alleviate the pressure. It comes conveniently timed, carefully written, and absolving himself of any responsibility for raping the woman in question, a woman who has since had to relocate five times to escape those who have taken to hounding her in Evans’ name.

“Upon legal advice, I was told not to discuss the events in question. This silence has been misinterpreted as arrogance and I would like to state that this could not be further from the truth,” he said.

Evans  misunderstands; he thinks that his silence is the cause of our objection. It remains that the cause of our objection is that he raped a woman and fails to admit that what he did was rape. Evans applied for leave to appeal several times throughout his sentence, each time receiving the same response. But the fact he continued to apply for leave to appeal, and has since applied for his case to be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission tells us that Evans still refuses to accept responsibility for his actions.

“It has been claimed that those using social media in an abusive and vindictive way towards this woman are supporters of mine. I wish to make it clear that these people are not my supporters and I condemn their actions entirely and will continue to do so,” said Evans.

A campaign funded by the father of Evans’s girlfriend, who has stood by him through the case, includes a website dedicated to proving his innocence and undermining the victim’s version of events.

While there is a relief in seeing the people who have hounded the woman whom Evans raped discredited by Evans’ own words, one can’t help but wonder if this was a stock condemnation, upon which he was advised on. His condemnation comes two and a half years too late; two and a half years after the woman’s name was first leaked, and two and a half months after his his relief.

Time highlights Evans’ lack of remorse and shows us that this apology from Evans is nothing more than PR, and an attempt to recreate himself as a tragic victim of a miscarriage of justice. Until Evans takes down his own website, which has had a huge detriment on the abolition of rape myths, and until he accepts guilt for his actions, Evans’ apology is as meaningless as it comes.