The Rapeability Checklist and why it matters

Every so often, police, politicians, newspaper columnists and judges take it in turns to reissue what I like to call the Rapeability Checklist. Should you be unsure what this is then I’m guessing you’re not a rapist. Every rapist is an avid reader of said Checklist. It is, one might say, a kind of informal code of conduct for anyone who’s chosen raping either as a full-time occupation or just a hobby on the side.

Thanks to the Rapeability Checklist, every rapist knows which female behaviours and attributes are officially regarded as provocation. Other people may not realise it but this is incredibly important when you’re out raping. Without an utterly dehumanising attitude towards women and a massively inflated sense of entitlement, raping can be really hard work. You might feel guilty. You might think it’s wrong. You might, God forbid, get the idea that vaginas are different entities to unlocked cars or open windows. Thankfully, the Rapeability Checklist will set you straight. Nothing will boost your raping career like the message that you, the rapist, are unchangeable (it’s your natural vocation! You were born to do it!) and that every single woman is obliged to operate primarily as a potential rape victim (after all, isn’t that what women are?). Continue reading

Dear Cis Men Who Are Sad About Not Getting To Make Individual Choices About Abortion And Therefore Want To Make Choices For Everyone Else

Earlier this evening I sent a tweet regarding the anti-abortion laws just passed in Texas. Not long after I received this response (from a men’s rights activist whom many of us know and love):

@Glosswitch Well, it’s a start, at least. Our post on abortion in the UK

Obviously, when we’re witnessing the rollback of fundamental reproductive freedoms, it doesn’t seem worth getting het up about one MRA’s pitiful decision to gloat about it. Hey, at least someone’s got a brief chuckle out of the real pain and trauma that this ruling will cause. If MRAs want to cause offence, they’ll have to try a lot harder given how offensive the real world is. Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link supplied. Just what IS the world-famous Justice 4 Men and Boys position on abortion? Well, it’s laced with misogyny, naturally. But it’s a peculiarly interesting, childish type that seems especially easy to tackle. Therefore I thought I might as well give it a go. Continue reading

Pregnant women: Not yet anxious and guilt-ridden enough, say experts

According to the headlines, new advice issued to pregnant women by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists could be “confusing”. That’s not a word I’d use. Patronizing, impractical, scare-mongering, guilt-inducing, yes. Confusing, no. Contrary to popular belief, pregnant women are not porridge-brained fools, panicking at the merest mention of “chemicals” and “science”. They’re not confused. They know unhelpful advice when they see it. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t stop them feeling guilty. That’s because, contrary to yet more popular belief, pregnant women are human beings (and, despite what the pictures tell you, they have heads!). 

The latest recommendations from the RCOG state that pregnant women should avoid too many “chemicals”. Not all chemicals, mind – just “some chemicals”. In stuff. Stuff like “food packaging, household products, over-the-counter medicines and cosmetics”. So not things you’d encounter in actual, day-to-day life, apart from all the bloody time. There’s no direct evidence that these chemicals do any harm but it’s best to “play it safe” by being scared witless.
Continue reading

Pre-pregnant women: Now with added iodine

So the latest thing to avoid when pregnant is iodine. No, wait – I got it the wrong way round! When pregnant it’s best to have loads of the stuff. Loads of iodine, and loads of iron. And maybe all the other elements that start with “I”, just to be on the safe side (I’ve heard iridium’s nice).

As with all these things, you’re not allowed just to have supplements, though. That’d be cheating (oh, and taking iodine supplements “stuns” the thyroid. A likely story). You have to get your iodine through eating a varied diet, the kind of diet it’s impossible to eat because you’re so busy trying to avoid anything unpasteurised /raw /caffeinated /unwashed /with a high mercury content (that’s assuming you can keep food down in the first place). Anyhow, do your best, and just to help you, here’s a handy, meaningless table listing the iodine content in mcg per average serving of various common foodstuffs. Just make sure it adds up to 250mcg every day while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding; it’s easy, providing you ignore the fact that the list contains items such as nuts, shellfish and oily fish which, actually, you’re not really allowed (plus organic milk is now worse for you than normal milk, but only in terms of iodine content. Make of that what you will). But hey, in case it all seems too much of a hassle, the British Dietetic Association have even illustrated their advice with one of those photos of a headless pregnant woman. There’s a man standing behind her, hands resting protectively on her bump. So now you know just how important it is. You’re not a person, you’re a baby-brewing machine, and you run on iodine, folic acid and virtue. Continue reading

Mehdi Hasan and abortion: So tell me, is this the right response?

I can assure you that no other lefty will dare touch this subject given the response I got today

tweet from @mehdirhasan, following responses to at his anti-abortion piece in the New Statesman / Huffington Post

Dear Mehdi Hasan

As someone who, like you, would describe themselves as “on the left”, I’m dreadfully disappointed that fellow lefties have let you down so badly following your groundbreaking piece Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty. You have been called “evil, a dickhead, sexist, misogynist, a dictator and the enemy”, and “a self-righteous little prick”. Worse still, bloggers have come up with virulent pieces such as this and this, which go so far as to accuse you, if not of being the type of person who fetishises “selfishness and unbridled individualism”, then at least of being in the wrong. I’m not surprised you’re upset and feel that the other side “effectively dominates and closes down the debate”. Well, sod them. You don’t have to listen to what they say – don’t they realise they’re just meant to listen to you? Continue reading

Jeremy Hunt: You don’t get feminism more “modern” than this

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes the legal abortion time limit should be reduced to 12 weeks. “It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start,” he explains. Well, if that’s your view, Jeremy, who am I – a mere fertile woman with her own body and opinions – to argue? Although to be honest, I’m not quite seeing the link between this and making access to a termination even more difficult and restricted than it already is. The point at which human life begins and whether or not an individual woman’s bodily integrity should be sacrificed in order to sustain the life of another strike me as two completely different issues. Or have I missed something? Is my feminism just not “modern” enough? Continue reading

Sexual assault: The philosophical defence

A woman is sexually assaulted in a public bar in Arizona. When passing sentence, the judge tells the victim “if you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened”. While I’m no expert in English grammar, I find the use of tenses here quite shocking (surely “hadn’t been there”? Or is it me?). Nevertheless, the actual logic is flawless. If that particular woman had not been in that particular bar, that particular event would not have occurred. The judge has since apologised, but I don’t know why; after all, she’s right, isn’t she?

I fully understand that it’s annoying for judges to waste precious court time in stating the bleedin’ obvious. Even so, a public apology seems a bit extreme. I’m sure there are plenty of other things that judges say which don’t need saying. Even the standard stuff – such as “has the jury reached a verdict?” – is perhaps unnecessary, what with the number of Law & Order re-runs we get these days. Continue reading

Husbands, wives and sperm: His body, his choice?

There’s a story in the news at the moment relating to sex, reproduction and consent. Well, okay, there are several (and each is maddeningly offensive in its own special way). But this one stands out from all the others. This one relates to husbands, wives and sperm donation. A woman in Surrey whose husband donated sperm without her knowledge is calling for new guidelines to treat sperm as a “marital asset”, which would mean that in future sperm could not be donated without the spouse’s views being taken into account. Continue reading

My bodily integrity? It was never yours to grant

Today’s Guardian features a piece by Jonathan Freedland advising male politicians on what’s required to appeal to the laydeez. I’ve had a good read and as a full-on, humourless feminist, I’d say it passes the test. The basic rules are:

  1. don’t be a rape-excusing, anti-choice dickhead
  2. when considering new policies, don’t forget that thing about “women being people, too”

And who can argue with that? Not me, and I tend to be someone who could get embroiled in a heated exchange with a corpse. So why is it that the piece still makes me feel so uneasy? Continue reading

The body I’m in – recommendations for the more streamlined ownership thereof

Calling all non-male occupiers of human bodies! Have you ever stopped to wonder whether each constituent part of the organism in which you reside is being owned and deployed in the most efficient manner possible?

I have been performing an audit of the heap of flesh and bones which, using a somewhat inaccurate shorthand, I happen to call “me”. It has come to my attention that the multiple ownership of “me” is becoming unwieldy, leading to serious concerns about productivity. In order to provide a template for other non-male body occupiers wishing to perform a similar analysis, here’s where I – or should I say “I” – find myself in terms of body distribution and possession: Continue reading

Julie Burchill’s Desert Island Anorexics

I don’t remember most things I read in the Guardian yesterday, let alone eleven years ago. However, there is one piece from August 2001 that’s always stuck in my mind. Back then Julie Burchill had a column in the Weekend supplement, and it just so happened that one Saturday she decided to lay into people with pretend illnesses. You know the sort – alcoholism, depression, ME, anorexia – the kind of illnesses which might actually kill individuals, but which are, nevertheless, totally pretend.

In her carefully thought-out diatribe, Burchill muses on what pretend illness sufferers would do were they to find themselves marooned in a completely different environment: “a person with terminal cancer washed up alone on a desert island would still have terminal cancer and eventually die, but an alcoholic would no longer be an alcoholic in anything but name”. Well, yeah. There’d be no booze. This is unfortunate, since in such a setting, I imagine even the terminal cancer patient would appreciate the odd tipple. But hey, what about the anorexics, Julie? What would happen to them?

And what would anorexics do without an audience, do we think? If the desert island appeared to be barren, would they simply sit back, top up their tan and think happily, “Well, that’s all right, then – I’m going to die. Sorted!” Somehow I have the suspicion they’d be stuffing down grass, lizards and whatever they could grab as the good old survival instinct kicked in. On the other hand, if the island was blessed with a fine array of nature’s bounty, would they sit there obsessing, “Oh, there are a whopping 300 calories in half a shell of coconut milk, and 450 in a freshly roasted tuna fish – I think I’ll leave it and have a bit of this grass instead!” Like hell they would.

Now of course, you may read this and think it’s just someone who’s grown too lazy to think, let alone write, deciding to take a few cheap shots in order to outrage a liberal readership. You may think it’s the ravings of an ex-working-class bully who can’t get over her own relative lack of privilege and wants to show how, actually, it’s everyone else who isn’t allowed to suffer. You may think all that but hey, let’s follow the inexplicable example of countless broadsheets and still give Burchill a chance. After all, she may be on to something.

The desert island treatment sounds harsh, but is it any worse than what’s previously been offered to anorexia sufferers (or should that be “sufferers”)? It might be difficult to organise in practical terms – is the set used on Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands still available? – but once we’d got over that, there’d be nothing else to stop us trialling such a treatment method. After all, there shouldn’t be any moral issues involved in packing someone off to a remote location against their will. It might sound extreme, but it’s not any worse than what’s been done to anorexics before.

To set things in a personal, middle-class and entirely self-obsessed context, I ought to mention that I was first hospitalised for anorexia in 1987, at the age of 12. Obviously I went straight to the famous Rhodes Farm clinic, run by Dr Dee Dawson. This provided a supportive community in which “sufferers” could share their imaginary woes and get nice food to eat in the bargain. Then in later years I went to the Priory… Actually, this is all complete bollocks. My anorexia was treated in a normal hospital on a normal children’s ward. The treatment involved two highly complex processes, which must have taken some medical researcher all of two seconds to come up with: force-feeding and the withholding of privileges. There was no psychiatric element because hey, Julie’s right and that’s all self-indulgent shit. Instead, I had a naso-gastric tube inserted (and forcibly re-inserted whenever I tried to remove it) and was denied certain privileges if I refused to eat or gain weight. Such privileges included Topshop vouchers, trips to the zoo, cinema outings … Actually, that’s all bollocks, too. Privileges were things like seeing my parents, having the light in the isolation ward switched on and staff being permitted to engage in conversation with me. I would, to be honest, rather have been plonked on a desert island. At least then I wouldn’t have had the fucking feeding tube. I had no “privileges” but I was getting fat anyhow. And so, eventually, I did start eating. In the long-term it offered the only possible route to having the tube removed and reducing my calorie intake again. Without wishing to get all middle-class and whiny (sorry, Julie!), I did find that whole experience rather traumatic, to be honest. It certainly didn’t stop me being an anorexia sufferer/”sufferer”. It made me heavier, in the short term, but it also made me a whole lot iller.

This weekend I found myself reading about the case of E, a woman in her thirties with severe anorexia who is refusing to eat. Against both her wishes and those of her parents, a judge has ruled that she must be force-fed, even though her chances of recovery remain exceptionally slim. Personally, I can’t see what the sodding point is. Send her to Julie’s desert island. It’ll do about as much good.

Reports into the case describe the treatment E faces as “invasive”. I don’t think that comes close to summing up how traumatic force-feeding will make what are, quite probably, the last few months of this woman’s life. To an anorexia sufferer force-feeding is a complete violation. It is not simply about being forced to live, or even about being “made fat”. It represents an absolute loss of bodily autonomy, and one that is public and lasting. I’d hesitate to compare it to rape but, hey, what the hell, I will. I can see the objections to this, not least in the idea that the anorexic is not in a position to offer or refuse consent to what happens to her. But I think this is crap. The anorexic is a person and one of the most difficult things about anorexia is that, try as one might, one cannot simply tease out and dismiss “anorexic” thoughts and behaviours without seeming to stamp out an entire personality.

In a brilliant blog post on the case, Sarah Ditum notes that “the disease isn’t external to E, it is in her and of her, and if she seems to speak with the voice of anorexia, that is her voice too and should be listened to”. I couldn’t agree more. I think E’s wishes should be respected. And yet I’m only in a position to think this because I’m not dead, and that may, perhaps, be because I was force-fed. Which is, to be honest, a bit of a bummer intellectually. But if I know one thing, it is that force-feeding, while it may have offered some physical support at a time of extreme crisis, did not make me better. On the contrary, it increased my levels of anxiety and fear. Moreover, the force-feeding itself was not without physical risks. When I finally did start to recover, many years later, it was when I entered treatment voluntarily as an adult, into a programme which expressly excluded the use of force-feeding methods.

The downside to this (because there has to be one) is that you run the risk of someone literally starving to death. Which, indeed, someone on my treatment programme did. Obviously she only did it for the attention. If she’d been on that desert island … Oh well, no point dwelling on what might have been. Meanwhile I got better, but it wasn’t easy. A long-term sufferer doesn’t stop being anorexic and become the person they would have been without anorexia. It’s like suggesting someone becomes the person they would have been if they’d been born in a different country, or to different parents, or without the same sense of humour or intellect. It’s impossible. You have to go through several years of not being sure whether you’re a person at all. During that time, not being anorexic is as bad as being anorexic. And that’s without everyone telling you how “well” (i.e. not like you) you now look every single day.

I find it hard to believe any of this is possible for someone like E, at this stage. But then, that’s not for me to decide. It should, surely, be for her. Except it’s been ruled that it’s not. Why didn’t anyone just go and ask Julie Burchill?

Good abortion / Bad abortion: The rules have changed!

Hey, anyone up for a game of “judge the abortion”? Excellent! Let’s go!

Which of the following women should not really have been allowed to exercise her fundamental “right” to choose:

  1. a rape victim
  2. an educated, middle-class woman in a stable marriage who already has one child

So, which of these did you go for? If you chose neither, then congratulations: you are in possession of some basic human empathy! If you chose 2, then don’t worry; we just need to work on your understanding of the word “choice”. And possibly also “person”. If you chose 1, then you are Bel Mooney. Hey, hiya Bel! Been writing any cold-hearted diatribes for the Daily Mail of late? What’s that? You did one only yesterday? Hey, can I have a look?

It turns out that in yesterday’s Mail, Bel wrote a corker of an article, and I missed it (I was too busy ranting about Marie Claire and being fat – it’s an important life I lead). In it, Bel reveals herself to be that very middle-class married woman who has an abortion. And what’s more, she has “no regrets”. Shocking! Can you imagine reading that in the Mail? Shouldn’t we be burning her alive or something? Well, actually, it would appear not. Contrary to all preliminary appearances, Bel’s abortion was in fact a “good” one.

The thing is, Bel wasn’t one of those feckless women who doesn’t use contraception. She simply forgot to take her pill “in the chaos of moving house” (i.e. she’s a probably homeowner – how can you be cross at a homeowner?). Plus she’d had scepticaemia and her first baby “needed specialist nursing skills” (which is of course fair enough). And then her GP told her “if you were my daughter I’d counsel a termination” (who says the medical profession is paternalistic?). Anyhow, the fact is, you’ve got to see a termination such as Bel’s within a very specific human context. There are so many factors to take into account within one woman’s life. The trouble is, Bel, the same is true for every woman. Even those you dismiss of being “grown-up women” who “are just too sloppy to take proper control of their own bodies” (give them a chance, Bel. They might be moving house).

But alas, Bel is angry. Angry because “countless unborn babies are being sacrificed because women [presumably the ones who aren’t exchanging contracts with the estate agent] are too irresponsible and/or indifferent to treat sex and fertility with the seriousness it deserves”. Which poses an interesting philosophical conundrum. If these women are only getting pregnant due to their irresponsibility, then surely if they were more responsible, said unborn babies wouldn’t even exist? And surely some women who’ve been irresponsible go on to have their babies anyhow? Look, can you see where I’m going with this? The thing we all need to ask ourselves is HOW MANY POOR UNBORN BABIES NEVER EVEN COME INTO EXISTENCE DUE TO WOMEN ACTING “RESPONSIBLY”? It’s a fucking tragedy. Perhaps I’d have given birth to the next Einstein if I hadn’t been so sodding responsible all these years.

It’s not that I think a very small proportion of women having repeat abortions is a good idea. It seems a remarkably painful and faffy way of avoiding motherhood, if you ask me. But the sheer numbers involved – as babies “lost” – doesn’t bother me at all. I just can’t see the value in worrying about the never-born. Considering how common both miscarriage and abortion are, I wouldn’t be surprised if most women have had a pregnancy which didn’t lead to a live birth. I’ve had one. The baby, if it had ever become a baby, would have been due on 14th March 2007. Thinking about this doesn’t make me sad. It creates a kind of parallel life, one in which other people wouldn’t exist and other choices would have been made. But it doesn’t really matter. I value the children I have.

Of course, other women suffer as a result of the choices they’ve made and the regret they feel. Just to reiterate this point, Bel publishes a selection of their letters from her “postbag” (I’m presuming she means email inbox and/or letter in-tray; perhaps she just enjoys pretending she’s on Blue Peter). Having established the sheer, incontravertible “rightness” of her own abortion, she dwells in painful detail on the feelings of women who lack the same confidence and have become absorbed in lives that never were. It’s really kind and empathetic of her. I’ll definitely be adding my missive to the “postbag” next time I think I’ve fucked up.

Oh, and the rape victim thing? That comes in the penultimate line:

The old feminist battle cry of “right to choose” certainly never meant getting caught out because you were too drunk to say no.

Erm, I think you’ll find it did, Bel. I think you’ll find what you’re alluding to here is rape. And I think, to be honest, feminists such as myself will be breathing a strange sigh of relief on reading statements such as this. At one time I thought I was weird in believing that a society that doesn’t fully recognise a woman’s bodily autonomy through abortion law is also one which is more likely to condone rape. Thank you, Bel, for making my point for me.