New Statesman: Tattooing your name on your partner’s forehead is an act of control, not devotion

“I do it because he’s paranoid and wants to have me branded.” These are the words of Kourtney Leigh, who has the name of her boyfriend, Ryan Wibberley, tattooed across her forehead.

According to Wibberley, she is not the first of his girlfriends to have his name inscribed on their bodies, although none of the others have gone for quite so obvious a location. “It’s a laugh,” he tells the Sun, “It’s not taking advantage because they want it done.”

Should we be judging Leigh for consenting to be, as Wibberley puts it, “branded like Heinz Beans”? Or is it an act of devotion, perhaps not all that dissimilar to Johnny Depp’s famous “Winona forever” – now “wino forever” – tattoo? There might be a gendered context to this, but isn’t getting your partner’s name tattooed on your forehead on the same continuum as changing your name to his? Or reassuring him that the children you bear are definitely his? It’s all about ownership, when all’s said and done.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.


New Statesman: What does it mean when major football tournaments increase incidents of domestic violence?

On Monday evening my sons went to bed in tears. While my seven year old had been taking the fall of the pound surprisingly well, and eight year old had responded calmly to growing anxieties over the UK’s leadership vacuum, the England football team’s defeat by Iceland finally sent them over the edge.

Obviously I tried to tell them it wasn’t all bad. If anything, the sheer ridiculousness of this defeat added a degree of comedy to the national crisis and besides, if incompetence was to be our new speciality, couldn’t it be argued that actually, we were the real winners here? They were not buying this. “Football,” they told me, “isn’t just a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.” (Okay, so they didn’t. But they did cry, a lot.)

Elsewhere in England, fans big and small were absorbing the news that their team had been vanquished by a nation with no professional football league. There will have been disappointment and there will have been anger, not just at players and coaches, but also at fellow supporters and loved ones. It has long been suspected, and more recently been proven, that incidents of domestic violence increase during major football tournaments. According to one chief constable, “many people drink, there is the emotional stress of the game, and there is a whole issue around competitiveness and testosterone levels. Most people will watch the game and will never do anything violent but a small minority will become deeply aggressive.”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Why feminists need fear

To be a feminist is to be brave, but it is also to be fearful. How could you not feel fear, given the power structure with which you’ve chosen to engage? This fear is not an irrational phobia, some deep-rooted disgust in response to sex or naked flesh or cultural transgression. It’s a perfectly rational fear: the fear of male violence. It justified and it is logical.

It is logical to be afraid of sexual assault, rape, beating, harassment and murder. It is logical to fear those who might do these things to you, and to fear those who keep the power structures which enable them in place.

It is not a question of reinforcing #notallmen. You know that not all men will do these things, but you also know that some might. You are reminded of this every day, by newspaper headlines, TV plots, nudges on street corners, gropes on public transport, words called out as you walk down the street pretending to be impermeable while your cheeks burn. You are always moments away from the next message that will whisper in your ear you are not safe, not in that body, not in these times. If you thought about it long and hard – really, really dwelt on it – perhaps you’d never step foot outside your front door (oh, but even there you’re not safe, you know that too, two women per week killed by intimate partner violence). There is no safe space in which to be a woman, other than in your own head, providing you’re lying to yourself about how bad things are. Continue reading

Through the looking glass: women, words and violence

Over the past year I have seen far too many feminists – brilliant feminists, who put their heart and soul into fighting for women – denounced as “violent TERFs”. There have been articles demanding that others shun them. Men demanding that other feminists do not support them (and said other feminists complying). Misogynist diatribes speculating on these women’s sex lives on the basis that this is the least they deserve. Bullshit articles holding these women responsible for the deaths of 50,000. And I haven’t said very much. What little I have said has been enough to get me classed as a “violent TERF” too.

There’s a problem with saying anything, of course. If someone says “you’re an X”, there’s the risk that in saying “I’m not an X”, all you’ve done is validate the concept of X-ness and associate yourself with it. So it is with TERF-dom. A TERF would say she wasn’t a TERF, therefore any denial is, witch trial-style, evidence of guilt. And a TERF just would say TERF is a slur when it’s actually a purely descriptive term used to denote a political position: the political position of some stupid bigoted bitch who deserves to die in a fire. So what can you do? Say nothing, or join in with the kicking, just so you can tell yourself it won’t ever happen to you.

And yet it still might, since it’s hard to keep denying that sex class analysis matters in feminism. If you can’t think why, study some de Beauvoir or some Firestone. Go out into the world and look at what is happening to women and girls. Read some Crenshaw and think about how difference matters – and what a difference being female makes. Ask whether you really believe an oppressor class’s external perception of what women are, no matter how “fluid”, gives the oppressed enough of a voice. If after all that you still believe there is some band of devil women who experience membership of a marginalised group as belonging to an exclusive club, then knock yourself out, but don’t kid yourself you’re a feminist. Allowing an oppressed class the right to their own self-definition and boundaries is Feminism 101.

Anyhow, today I am angry. I am angry because a violent male has been sentenced to four days – just four days – in prison for a sustained sexual assault on a female victim. We are required to refer to the perpetrator as a “she”. We are asked to call the rape of a woman, using a penis, a “lesbian” assault. We are expected not to call this male violence, for that would make us “violent TERFs”. But it is male violence. It is.

If there is a problem with terminology here – if the right to self-define clashes with the right to call violence by its proper name – then that problem is not caused by feminists. It’s caused by males who rape women and all those who refuse to identify them as such. It’s caused by a gender hierarchy which non-feminists both defend and refuse to acknowledge. Feminists don’t owe anyone a solution to the linguistic contradictions emerging from this mess. It’s not for us to tiptoe around with language so that no one feels “erased” by the description of a male penis violating female flesh. It’s not our fault. We didn’t create this gender hierarchy. We challenge it. If you prefer to micro-manage it, making tweaks here and there while those at the bottom of the pile continue to suffer, go ahead. But again you are not a feminist.

I know what the standard narrative for this particular news item will be. All “violent TERFs” do. Just as every act of male violence against women and girls is wickedly “exploited” by feminists who wish to name the problem (making feminists, not murderous men, the baddies), a trans woman committing rape will be “exploited” by TERFs to put the vulnerable trans community at risk. Because those written off as the penetrable class are not vulnerable themselves. Because naming male violence within a community makes you responsible for male violence inflicted on that community. Because you can vilify a whole group (feminists) for violent acts that have not been committed by a single one of them. Because extrapolating that there are issues with language and categorisation which put women at risk is an act of violence in itself, deserving of a lifetime’s denigration and exclusion. Rape? We’ll give that four days. Four days and no one speak a word, because you know the rules for male violence: isolated incidents. Always remember that and never forget that you’re only words away from being denounced, forever, as a violent TERF.

Elliot Rodger and illusions of nuance

Misogyny is not particularly nuanced. It has a long history and manifests itself in different ways across different cultures, but essentially it’s always the same: hating women, viewing them as less than human, denying them their subjectivity. None of these things is very refined; indeed, when you are on the receiving end of misogyny, you know that it is gut-wrenchingly blunt.

Responses to killer Elliot Rodger’s misogynist manifesto have not been nuanced. This is because there are no subtle shades in lines such as these:

Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such. […]I would take great pleasure and satisfaction in condemning every single woman on earth to starve to death. I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die. If I can’t have them, no one will, I’d imagine thinking to myself as I oversee this. Women represent everything that is unfair with this world, and in order to make the world a fair place, they must all be eradicated.

There is no reason for us to pore over these words, looking for the complexities, the justifications, the finely balanced decisions. This is someone who despised women for being women. And yet the language he uses – If I can’t have them, no one will – will be familiar to many of us. It’s there in descriptions of women as sluts, whores, prick teases, temptresses. It’s there in the way men treat women who reject them or try to leave them. It’s there in the belief that all men are entitled to penetrate women’s bodies. Such a view of women is all around us and if that sounds monstrous and extreme, that’s because it is. Continue reading

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

Thanks, Sun! Challenging the mental health system, one lie at a time

Whether you’ve been a mental patient yourself, or merely cared for someone who is, it’s easy to feel let down by system. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of devoted healthcare professionals out there, people who are more than ready treat each patient as an individual, but sometimes it’s not enough. Care provision can be patchy, medication unreliable and wider social support networks non-existent. Thank goodness, then, for the Sun.

With today’s 1,200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS front page the newspaper sent a clear message to an often uncaring society. As Stig Abell, the paper’s managing editor explained on twitter, the piece was all about creating “better communication between agencies” and enabling us to see the “ill as victims”. About bloody time! As the sibling of a paranoid schizophrenia sufferer, I’m sick of seeing the mentally ill being ignored. What better way to draw attention to those who are suffering and marginalised – and garner some much-needed sympathy in the process – than by making other people think that the mentally ill are out to kill them? Genius! Continue reading

Boys will be boys?

I am the mother of two boys. I know I’m not perfect but I do try to be a good parent. Unfortunately it appears that for the past five years I have been remiss. I have failed to “channel” my sons’ boisterousness.

According to James Delingpole – now the Ross Kemp of posh rightwing journalism – “we seem to have forgotten that boys will be boys”.  I for one am guilty of this. I look at my boys and think “they’re boys”. But rarely do I go on to conclude “and thus they will be boys”. This might sound like a minor omission but it’s not.  What it actually means – and this is a serious fact, because the Telegraph says so – is that they’ll grow up to beat the shit out of other boys. And possibly also girls. And maybe even household pets. Basically, because my boys have not been allowed to “be boys” (as defined by the Victor Book for Boys circa 1964) they will grow up to be violent hooligans as opposed to men of courage – the kind of men who win wars, slaughter beasts and present Top Gear.
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Nice or nightmare? More!’s take on “overprotective” men

As the magazine More! is about to close, I decided to buy a copy. I’m pretty sure I bought the first ever edition so it seemed fitting to be there at the end. I haven’t bought it much in the intervening 25 years – and for that my sexual repertoire will no doubt have suffered – but I felt it might be interesting to see what the magazine’s like now. Short answer: still crap.

Long answer: possibly even worse than it was before. I don’t know for sure. I was twelve when More! was launched and while I didn’t religiously follow all the advice the glossies threw my way, I didn’t actively question it, either. I absorbed it passively, as you do when you’re working on the assumption that there’s lots of adult stuff out there which might look weird but that’s only because you don’t get it yet. Sometimes you question it, briefly, but ultimately hurry back to acceptance. After all, who are you to know better? I remember watching James Bond films in the 1980s, disturbed by the fact that it looked as though the Roger Moore character was raping women but concluding that he couldn’t be because mainstream films, like glossy magazines, are “proper”. And after all, this is 007 and he’s a goodie, isn’t he? Now I’m older I ask questions more, but to a certain extent I still have to force myself to do it. If everyone else appears to think something is acceptable, it feels arrogant to argue otherwise.
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Fear, anger and “dangerous schizophrenics”

Dangerous schizophrenics, eh? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t lock ‘em up and throw away the key, at least not until they’ve actually done something. It’s political correctness gone, quite literally, mad.

Yesterday evening I watched an ITV News report on Nicola Edgington, official, card-carrying DANGEROUS SCHIZOPHRENIC. Except apparently she has “borderline personality disorder” instead. I don’t know the precise distinctions – beyond the fact that one seems to make you more criminally culpable than the other – but I do know that “borderline personality disorder sufferer” doesn’t sound as good as “DANGEROUS SCHIZOPHRENIC”. Hence the report was at pains to highlight the link between people being DANGEROUS and SCHIZOPHRENIC. It isn’t much of a link, but still, it’s one that’s always worth exaggerating when you’re aiming to be sensationalist, ablist and utterly shameless in your reporting. Continue reading

Seeing things through a rapist’s eyes: More worthwhile than you’d think

Is there any point in trying to understand how rapists view the world? Funnily enough, I’m starting to believe there is. Perhaps if we were more willing to engage with the rapist perspective, we’d all stop doing those things which increase the prevalence of sexual assault. And no, I don’t mean wearing high heels or drinking too much. Because that’s just silly, isn’t it? I mean seriously, why don’t we actually stop doing those things which make rapists believe that the rapes they commit are acceptable?

According to research quoted by Jil Filipovic in response to a Alyssa Rose’s claim that “Nice guys commit rape, too“, “cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely”. I find this interesting, but not at all surprising. Indeed, it just makes sense. If we define certain rapes as worse than others – if we suggest certain attacks involve “grey areas” – if we perpetuate the idea that most “real” rapes involve violence, strangers and dark alleyways, then we are telling most rapists that they’re not like all the others. We encourage them to believe their situation is different. I’m not saying it’s therefore our fault that they rape, just that maybe, just maybe, some of us should think first before offering supposedly sensible advice to those we’ve chosen to define as potential victims. Continue reading

Family annihilators: Modern-day, murderous Madame Bovarys

A week ago I attended the switching on of the Christmas lights in Coleford. If you have heard of this village during the past year, it’s likely to be because it’s where this family lived. I don’t want to write about this particular story because there’s someone left behind and just trying to imagine her pain is impossible. All the same, it was strange being in that place, for that cheery, festive reason. Perhaps it isn’t so strange if you live there all the time, but to me, because I don’t, there was something unreal about it all. How do these things happen and how do communities go on?

Four years ago Jon Ronson – author of the utterly brilliant Them – tried to make sense of the community Christopher Foster left behind after he killed his wife, daughter, animals and then himself. In an article for the Guardian Weekend magazine, Ronson travels to Maesbrook in Shropshire to talk to Foster’s friends and acquaintances:
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On hearing an unknown couple fight

When you’re lying awake in the dark there’s plenty of time to think, perhaps even to over-think. This Sunday morning – I don’t know the precise time – I found myself in a hotel room, eyes wide open, unable to sleep. Everything around me was silent, but I was still listening, just in case.

My partner and I were spending a night away from the children, just the two of us, as a special treat. At some point both of us had been woken by the sound of raised voices. I couldn’t work out what was happening at first. Two people in the next room, a man and a woman. The man was angry, the woman apologetic, fragments of back story echoing through the walls. Something about a fight in town. He’d been left without his phone or money. The police were mentioned, I’m not sure why. She’d returned to the hotel earlier, and he resented her for having done so. You left me for dead. She said sorry, tried to leave the room. He wouldn’t let her. She started to plead and that’s when we switched on the light.
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Violence at Christmas: Peering through the frosted windows

When the brilliant @therealsgm mentioned she was organising a bloghop as part of 16 Days of Action on Violence against Women, my almost-instant reaction was “I know! I’ll write something on VAW at Christmas!” Not because I’ve experienced it myself or because I’m an expert on the subject, you understand. Merely because I love Christmas almost as much as I hate violence against women, therefore … Well, anyhow, I didn’t think the general ignorance would be a problem. I assumed it would just be easy to look up stuff on the internet. Turns out it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to write about it.

To begin with I was obviously going to adopt a smug, pseudo-saintly position, from which I would inform everyone that actually, abusing others IS BAD and surely at this time of year – AT CHRISTMAS, of all times! – we should all be nice and love one another. For the fact is, Christmas is a time for families and children and … well, that’s the whole problem. Violence really rains on the whole Christmas parade. Continue reading

Smacking: Not “a personal issue”

Here are some things which are personal issues:

  • deciding whether or not to like blue cheese
  • mooncups vs tampons
  • the acceptability or otherwise of being attracted to Lego Han Solo

Here is one thing which is not:

  • smacking other people

Smacking other people is wrong. This is the case even if said people are little and even if said people would not exist without your genetic contribution. I realise this sounds a little judgmental. Well, it’s meant to. After all, the whole problem with liberal lefties is that we’re supposed to be drowning in laissez-faire moral relativism (apart from when we’re being intolerant of intolerance). Anyhow, I’ve had enough of all that. I’m coming out 100% against smacking. Take that, pro-smackers (“that” is not, by the way, a smack). Continue reading

It’s not victim blaming, just common sense

Yes, rape is a crime and men (and in rare cases women) that commit it are beyond reprehensible. But there are ways that you can minimise the risk – this doesn’t shift the blame of the crime, but it can help the innocent. This isn’t blaming the victim – no more than advising people not to stand in certain areas of Manchester with their eyes closed waving a new iPhone around.

Comment on Independent blog, 26 July 2012

If i leave my front door open it doesn’t give thieves the right to nick my stuff but it increases the likelihood that it will happen.And if my insurers feel i was negligent in leaving my front door open they may well not pay out on my household contents insurance policy.Likewise if i choose to make myself drunk and incapable it doesn’t give people the right to beat me,rob me and possibly even rape me but it increases the likelihood that it may happen.So surely i have some responsibility to take steps to protect myself.

Comment on the Guardian Comment is Free, 26 July 2012

When a sensitive topic such a rape is discussed, feminists are often accused of not knowing the difference between victim-blaming and just advising people to take sensible precautions because hey, there are some innately evil people out there, people whose behaviour is in no way responsive to the culture that surrounds them. Well, as a feminist, I would like to show that not only can I copy and paste massive comments then write pointlessly long sentences at the start of blog posts, but that I do ‘get’ this difference. I totally do. Continue reading

Forget the rest – how much is the house worth?

When people do terrible things, it can be hard for external observers to understand why. While it’s easy to rush to judgement, it’s vital to take into account the context in which hateful acts are committed.

Perhaps we’ll never know what was going through the minds of Luke Salkeld, Andy Dolan, James Tozer and Jill Reilly when they decided, in response to the deaths of Ceri Fuller and his three children, to compose an article trawling through the Facebook status updates of the grieving mother left behind. Continue reading

Rehabilitating Chris Brown(s)

The other day I was standing by the printer at work, waiting for my own stuff to appear, when I spotted an invoice lying on top. It was for £360 and it was money to be paid to one Chris Brown. My first thought: what the hell are we doing paying money to that violent tosser? Doesn’t he have enough? And, furthermore, is he even any good at copy-editing? My second: Oh, it’s that nice Chris Brown from downstairs. The one who recently went freelance. That’s okay then. I’m sure his skills are second to none. That’s the trouble with Chris Browns: there’s a lot of them about. But not all of them are SfEP approved.

Before his attack on Rihanna there were two things that struck me about Chris Brown (the singer, not the copy-editor). The first was that you cannot seriously pretend to be hard or radical when you are singing sub-boy-band bollocks like With You (and as for “when I’m with you I don’t need money” — well, hands off mine, matey. I’m sure you got enough for that Disney Channel appearance). Continue reading

I don’t spank my child because…

I’ve been trying to think of a succinct way to respond to the #IDontSpankMyChildBecause hashtag on Twitter. I wanted to add my own comment because a) I don’t spank my children and b) I really don’t want anyone else to spank theirs. It’s an issue that means a lot to me. Unfortunately, 140 characters did not seem enough for me to come up with anything that didn’t sound like one of the following:

  1. I’m damaged goods from a violent childhood
  2. I’m a smug liberal arse of a parent
  3. I’m a self-appointed expert on child psychology

None of these was, I felt, particularly convincing. So I felt the need to explain myself via something a bit longer. Hence this post. Continue reading

Saying goodbye to Lush

Let’s face it, we’ve always known Lush were a bit shit. Naomi Klein said as much in No Logo, and that was published in 2001. And we read it and we thought “yeah, she’s got a point. But they do make exceedingly good bath bombs”.

I’m using “we” but I really mean “me”. You probably weren’t even born in 2001. Besides, I need to take full responsibility for my continued use of Lush products. It’s the smell, you see. I just can’t resist the smell. Gets me every time.

I know some people consider Lush stores to be air pollution, pure and simple, but I love it. It’s all vanilla-y and jasmine-y and almost makes you want to puke, but not quite. It still keeps on the right side of brilliant. But Lush, I shall be sniffing your aromas no more.

Since their latest stunt – misogynist torture porn as a consciousness-raising marketing strategy – their bubble bars are history. Yes, Lush, my consciousness was duly raised. It’s through the fucking ceiling. But surely a nice picture of a kitten or a fluffy rabbit would have done the trick?

So I’m saying goodbye to Lush, but before I do, I have some special words to say to my favourite Lush products. You did me proud. But now, my friends, it’s over.

  1. Lush pudding bath bomb – You are a bath bomb in the form of a Christmas pudding. You used to be called Puddy Holly but changed your name. Why was that? I thought it was a good pun. Anyhow, you looked good but you made a right fucking mess of the bath. I won’t be missing that.
  2. Lust gorilla perfume – You smelled nice and sounded rude. But you made my neck go red. What was that all about? I thought we were friends.
  3. Ultrabland cleanser – Apparently 100% of Lush staff use you, you slag of the cleanser world. Which begs the question, why do Lust sell any other type of cleanser? Unless they only employ staff with a certain Ultrabland-suitable skin type. And that’s discrimination.
  4. Sonic Death Monkey Shower Gel – You smelled of coffee, lime and chocolate, and were suitable to use as shampoo. You were ace and then the fuckers retired you so that now you can only be bought as a “retro” product online. I’m sorry they did that to you. You know I wouldn’t ever have done that.
  5. Cupcake face mask – You look like chocolate, smell like mint and hurt my face. So, you know, I always had, like, mixed feelings about us.
  6. Rehab shampoo – Bought for me as a present, I didn’t read your label and thought you were body wash. I’m sorry. I should never have misused you. Still, you got to wash my pubes, which are almost like a full head of hair these days anyhow.
  7. Massage bars, all varieties – My partner would buy these for me to help ease the stress I experienced while writing my thesis. Now I cannot so much as look at you without all that stress coming back. A Pavlovian reaction, but still, please just fuck off now.
  8. Glitter bug – You are a solid body glitter bar. I also have a “glitter bug” which is a vibrator-type thingy from Ann Summers. But I always preferred you. The other one was like having an undersized angry egg motoring inside me. By comparison, you were tops.
  9. Rock star soap – You are pink and smell of bubblegum. I’d use you and I’d hear Courtney Love in my head, singing the fabulous “Rock Star” by Hole. Hole were fucking radical. You, alas, were not (but if Lush had produced a “Teenage Whore” soap, hell, I’d have bought it).
  10. Ladykillers – Hey you with muscles and the long hair / Telling me that women are superior to men / Most guys just don’t appreciate it / You’re just one convincing me you’re better than them … Hang on a minute. I’m thinking of Lush the 1990s indie band. You were okay, indie band Lush. You can stay.

So I guess I’ve said my goodbyes. Didn’t even mention the bubble bars, but they were never that bubbly. Off to get blood on my hands by buying my superfluous cosmetics somewhere else. And no matter how much soap you buy, you can never wash it off.