Saturday, April 29, 2006

Back to the Mothership

I've been thinking quite a lot at the moment about the way I feel about my mother, specifically as a woman. Talking to my friends, it seems like we tend to see our mothers in a negative light, in that we don't want to grow up to be them, without looking at how much they've managed to achieve. I don't know quite why this popped into my head, I guess it was when I was trying to think about what made me a feminist in the first place. I was drawn over and over again to the moment when I first realised that my mother was a woman in her own right.

That sounds really selfish I know, but it was easy to miss (especially for a self-obsessed adolescent girl). I think on the whole, mothers are quite easy to take for granted. However, there was one morning when my mother was driving my sister and I into town. She was a in a bit of a funny mood and had been snapping all morning and as we were going round a very large roundabout, suddenly exclaimed "I'm fed up with people treating me like I'm a mother and not a person!".

It really shook me, to hear her say it, because I'd never considered before that she was anything but my mother and it seemed awful, because she'd been there for me and I had never been there for her. And suddenly, I seemed to have access to my mother as a woman. I could see how brave and funny and self-doubting she was. I could see a woman who had given up whatever career she might have had for her marriage and then family. I could see her frustration and her anxiety.

Now, I try and encourage my mother to do things she didn't think she could do. After having passed her maths GCSE at an evening class, she's doing teacher training and runs evening classes of her own. When she doesn't think she can do it, because she's not good enough, I try and help her to see that she is. I tell her that I'm proud of her, because I am so very proud indeed.

On the negative side, I think it's made me more scared of having a family of my own. I'd always assumed that I'd be me, and people would treat me as me, but there'd just be children and partner and pets... Now I understand that most women think that, but it's so easy to let yourself get snowed under and feel like you've disappeared. Like everything in life, remaining recognisably your own person seems to require some work. But, at least now I know, from my own mother, that the process doesn't have to be irreversible.

Monday, April 24, 2006

No surprises there...

Apparently, the case against the Cambridge don who touched up his ex-student has been thrown out, and it's unsure whether the prosecution service will move for the case to be reconsidered. Given the feeling I had when I first read about the case, this came as no huge shock.

Anyway, reading the article in the guardian makes me wonder what on earth is going on. The man in question has admitted to slapping the arses of a select few of his ex-students, who are presumably extremely grateful at being singled out for such noble attention. To go further, he was 'flabbergasted' when he was accused of sexual assualt, because he'd done it before and she hadn't seemed to mind. This blew my mind. What kind of excuse was that? Even if the woman had seemingly been happy to put up with this behaviour once doesn't mean this is something she is happy with all of the time. After all, everyone is quite agreed that having had sex with someone once with their consent does not mean that you can then do it whenever you choose.

It got me to thinking whether these women are really as happy with his behaviour as he thinks. If one of *my* tutors behaved like this, ex-student or not, I would be appalled. But would I say anything? Maybe not. Maybe I'd be too embarassed. Maybe I wouldn't want people to think I was making a fuss. Maybe I would be worried that he would turn around and say it was my fault. As many of us know, when people are in uncomfortable situations it can be harder to speak out than we'd like.

The only way to solve this is to make sure this kind of behaviour is not seen as socially acceptable. No, it is not okay to greet me with a friendly slap on the backside etc. It seems obvious, and you'd like to think in most places that it would be unthinkable to attempt any such thing. So why is it okay in Cambridge? Or Oxford? Or any other institution/place of work/social gathering?

At least if that was the case, there'd be very few court cases where a woman is brave enough to stand up to the man who has been harassing her and has to hear that not only did she invite it, she really really liked it. Because what woman doesn't enjoy being assaulted by a pervy old man?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Blog to Raise Awareness of Sexual Violence

I was 18 when I was raped. He was my first serious boyfriend and the man I lost my virginity to, a couple of months before hand. It took me a long time to realise (or admit to myself) what had happened that night. I was shaken up, certainly. I kept thinking to myself that it *felt* like I'd been raped, but didn't go that extra step to concluding that that was because that was exactly what had happened to me. It seems really stupid now, looking back, but I think back then it was the only thing that kept me going. I was a strong person and rape didn't happen to people like me.

The first conclusion I came to was that it was my fault that this had happened to me. Everyone had told me how nice my boyfriend was, and how they wished they had a boyfriend like him, which meant that it couldn't have been something that he'd done wrong. It was my fault - I'd made him do it. I hadn't loved him enough (or at all), I'd made him feel stupid because I was more intelligent than him. It took me two weeks to dump him - two fucking weeks. When I think about it, I feel so angry - that feeling of blame and responsibility has stayed with me. Most of the time I am able to see that I did not ask to be raped, did not force him to rape me - that he is the bad one, not me. But then, at my lowest, the doubts creep in and in a strange way it feels as though he is winning.

The worst part of it is not being completely clear about what happened. My memories of that night are really fragmented - I remember strange things like the feeling of the door handle and the smell of the car seats, but I have difficulty remembering whether or not I fought it, or whether I just gave in and lay there passive. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I could remember, but at the same time, I'm frightened that if I do, it won't be the way I want it to be.

I hate the fact that I wasn't brave. I hate the fact that I didn't manage to stop what was happening to me. Of course, I don't really know what I could have done - get out the car, abandoned in unknown countryside in the dark? Force him to become really violent? - but I'm really fucked off that I didn't manage to do it. That's one of the things that makes me the most angry - why should it matter? I should never have had to have been brave. Saying no to sex should have been enough. There should never have been a situation in which I was forced to make those kind of decisions.

I also hate the fact that I'm not brave now. I read the stories other people write, and they seem so courageous - often they stand up to the person that did it, despite everything. I don't feel I could ever do that. I want to be strong and stand up for my feminist principles, but the idea of even seeing him again terrifies me. I sat in the same classroom with him for the next six or seven months and I didn't tell anyone - not my friends, nor my parents. My current boyfriend is the first person I've told (more than 3 years after the event) and he tries to reassure me that I'm the strongest and bravest person he knows. I try to, but I don't believe him. There is still a part of me - the 18 year old part, who doesn't feel brave at all.

I guess most of all, I'm soul-consumingly angry. I'm angry that he got away with it, that he did it as though it was his right to do it. I'm angry that I blamed myself, that occasionally I still do blame myself. I'm angry that it has shaped my life so much in the way I think about sex and relationships. I'm angry that he still has some power of me. This should never have happened to me. I don't want to live with the fact that I was raped. I don't want to carry this around inside of me. But I do carry it round and I do live with it, so I try to do it as best I can and I tell myself that if it happened now, it'd be different. Hopefully, I'll never have to find out if that is true.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Putting porn in its place

Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about porn. This is in part inspired by some of the articles around (Catharine MacKinnon was in the Guardian today) but mostly from noticing just how much free porn is available on cable tv. It’s everywhere and I’m beginning to feel worn down by constant attack. As you can probably tell from the last sentence, I am anti-porn. I have all of the usual reasons for disliking it – objectification, damaging to relations, encourages rape to be regarded more leniently etc ( I shan’t bother to list them all, we all know what they are) – and some more subjective ones, which I find hard to articulate in everyday argument because they upset me. I guess you could say that I have a bias against porn – my argument could hardly be called impartial – but I’m beyond the need to feel apologetic about this now.

However, when I do engage in debate, I find it hard to believe that the arguments for porn are considered convincing. They are the same kind of arguments that originated in the original split between feminists, and some of the most plausible objections to porn as a Bad Thing rest on the idea that women should not be protected from things judged unsuitable to them – porn today, novels tomorrow and so on. These arguments may have seemed relevant in the seventies, but they seem somewhat empty today. Back then, the issue seemed to be one about invasion into the private sphere – about private choices of individuals, that should not suffer state interference.

Porn no longer solely inhabits the private sphere. In my Oxford (supposedly extremely liberal) college, men sit in the bar and loudly discuss porn and the women in it. In their conversation there is no respect for the ‘liberated’ women in the films or pictures, and the women in the bar have to endure often unfavourable comparisons. They laugh over the idea of raping women (extract from the termly magazine’s ‘amusing quote’ section: “ I’d Rohypnol -----. And I’m not ashamed of it.”) This dazzling lack of respect and understanding is echoed in their relationships, where women are forced to do things they find uncomfortable in both the mental and physical sense. Porn has become so acceptable in modern society that it is brazenly, terrifyingly public.

It is this change in context that those who are pro-porn need to address, and that those of us who are anti-porn really need to hammer home. Old arguments will no longer do – they need to be reassessed and rejected in the face of the increasing threat posed. The public face of porn has changed, and it’s about time the structure of the debate about porn changed too.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Cautionary tale

I was outraged this morning over my cup of tea, as it was reported on BBC News24 that more and more cautions are being given out for rapists. It seems incredible that this could happen - as I exclaimed crossly, if they've admitted they've done it, send them to court and get them convicted. Apparently it is not that simple.

The defense for this move is that many of those cautioned are under sixteen and having sex with other underage girls. However, one of the examples cited in the Guardian today involved a thirteen year old boy having sex with a much younger girl. Excuse me, but I don't think he deserved just a caution. In society today (christ, don't I sound old) it's perfectly reasonable to expect a thirteen year old boy to know that forcing young girls to have sex is not right or legal - rape is not a concept that suddenly gets picked up as soon as you hit the age of consent. From reading other blogs out there and talking to women, those people who were abused during their childhood are just as damaged by their experiences as those who suffered later, if not more so. Surely the punishment received should reflect that?

I'm also rather alarmed by some of the comments left on the bbc news website, by women who are under the opinion that lots of women cry rape when they sleep with someone and then get dumped or turned down. Similarly, the comments that issues of consent between drunken twenty-somethings shouldn't be counted as rape. As a rape survivor myself, I find this hugely offensive, but it's just another example of the myths about rape that we need to work so hard to dispel. It's rather disheartening though...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fly me to the moon

I've spent the weekend procrastinating and watching a couple of episdoes of 'A plane is born' on Discovery Real Time. Well, I say watching. My boyfriend was watching it while I seethed inside over the presenter. He was obviously a complete pillock in the first place, but it was almost as though he couldn't help it. Every so often, out would come these sexist gems: "it's so easy even a woman could do it" etc.

This made me think. How come it's okay to make these kind of comments about women, but not about racism etc? At some point, the comments I heard yesterday would have gotten him and the channel into trouble. However, it is now apparently *fine* to say those things. When did this happen? When did gender equality and respect get so eclipsed?

Perhaps at the moment when lots of young women decided not to identify as feminist (men don't like it, apparently. Well who cares?)and instead giggle inanely whenever someone makes a sexist joke. Because it's liberating, don't you know.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Critical Raunch

Today in the post I received my brand-new copy of Ariel Levy's book on raunch culture and the rise of the female chauvinist pig. I'm always really excited when I get a new book on feminism (or of that kind of genre, should I say), because you never know what you're going to find. Will I have moments of bizarre self-realisation as with Simone? Will I be petrified with fear over the thought of ending up an unfulfilled housewife as Betty described? What about the glorious highs and lows brought on by my all-time favourite read the Women's Room? Of course, it's not all great: the Beauty Myth was something to get angry about I guess, but it left me with an uneasy sense of disappointment. A bit too superficial perhaps? Anyway, she's gone completely bonkers now it seems, so she doesn't get stuck in the same category. Unfair? Who cares, this is *my* blog.

Anyway, after reading part 1, I have a feeling that Ariel is in the Naomi category (although not the mad-Naomi category, I hasten to add). I don't want to sound dismissive, because I think Ariel is right, but for me the argument feels a little shallow. Too many anecdotes, not enough actually getting to the point. Perhaps this is because I come from the hit-them-round-the-head-with-a-shovel school of thought, but generally, I think that arguments never suffer from actually being made, rather than alluded to through socially-available commentary. However, in all fairness, this style of writing has been, arugably, what has got her read by people who wouldn't usually touch a traditional feminist text.

Is this a good thing? Certainly it's a difficult question to answer. Yes, it is good that the message is going out there and, more importantly, getting people *debating* * (see the Kate Taylor article and comments in the Guardian comment is free section). However, I do think that the movement suffers a bit at the same time. Mainly because the media likes to seize upon "new voices" - as in - Ariel Levy is the new voice of feminism. Obviously, this is simply not the case, but it makes people on the outside feel more comfortable if they can lump feminism into one box. Also, shallow polemic is easily dismissed, whereas a heavier, more intimidating read is not. But then we have the problem that the latter might not reach the mainstream and circle right back round to the beginning again.

It seems then, that we're left with a compromise. Accept media-friendly feminism in the form of Ariel Levy and, at one time, Naomi Wolf and find some comfort in the knowledge that they will actually get read by a wide range of people, or be serious and alienated and ignored. To be honest, I don't believe that this really is the choice that we face (although it may feel that way occasionally) and I don't think that it's asking too much to say that we'd like a bit of respect and attention for every single one of the diverse and interesting voices at work in the movement, even if they're not as "sexy" (heavy sarcasm, but forgive me Ariel anyway) as some.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Platonic Friends

Reading Plato today (as you do when exams draw near), it struck me that there are so many different ways to think about feminism in Plato's Republic. For example, many of the male critics reading Plato were absolutely appalled by the idea that the nuclear family would be abolished and women would take on the same tasks as men. They make desperate pleas to the idea of women's *difference* and that taking away the family robs us of our "special excellences". Reading this does cause the blood pressure to rise somewhat, but as most of them are dead, sustained ranting seems pointless.

On the other hand, Annas points out that Plato only gave women freedom because it served the state and what they were doing at home just wasn't worthwhile. This is much to the distress of many other women, who are inclined to treat Plato as the forerunner of J.S.Mill and applaud his stabs at equality. I'm having some difficulty finding articles on this (or indeed books) which were written after 1980, so I think it would be interesting to see how it would be viewed now. Or perhaps the idea is now so conventional and boring that it's just ignored?

Personally, I'm sticking with the view that Plato couldn't give a hoot about equality (as some of his comments would suggest), but was all for the idea of a well-oiled state machine.

This has been a fairly pointless post, but the academic musings have kept me from dwelling on how I might implode with anger at the facebook group I described earlier (which you can find if you can log into and search for f*** the f-word). I went through one of their discussions earlier and had to pace the landing to try and calm down. Today's stunning contribution was the advocation of perpetual fellatio to keep men occupied.

Well quite.

I'm also annoyed by the bloody sanitary towel advert that keeps playing over and over again. As though women should walk out in protest about non-stretchy wings (admittedly it can be a problem on occasion and yes it should be sorted, but really.) when there are so many other things to protest about that are that little bit more important. Like rape. Or domestic violence. But anyway. Perhaps this is a topic for another day.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Baptism of Ire

Sometimes, I’m not sure who I hate more – those people who keep repeating that feminism is dead (what? Have they even been looking? Or perhaps we’re all talking to ourselves?) or those women who refuse to shut up about how they don’t need feminism. It’s hard to remain objective, or calm, or even anywhere close to sanity when these deluded creatures decide to spout off. In fact, I can’t even do pity, because I’m just too goddamn angry.

Prime example of this came to my attention today on that wonder of modern civilisation, Facebook. Without going into too much detail (i.e. rant), a group has basically been set up on the amusing premise that feminism is bad, that they did not ask to be emancipated and that we should all just accept that we’re different from men and learn to deal with it.

Well. Well… (rendered speechless for a few moments).

Obviously, this is meant to be rather amusing and cool, but unfortunately for the women involved, they come across as looking ridiculous. Apparently, they love mascara, leg waxing and using their bodies to get men to buy them things.
A few points:
a) Hairless legs, though it may be a sign of oppression, does not make you not a feminist. Loving leg waxing as a process though, may just be insane. Waxing hurts. There is nothing there to love.
b) Mascara: get over it.
c) Do I need to say anything about using bodies to get drinks? I don’t think I do, but this may be because it beggars belief. Surely no-one can really believe this kind of crap? You’d like to think so…
d) Thanks ladies, for setting back our whole gender several decades. Although that, after consideration, is an insult to a past generation who have fought tooth and nail to get us to where we are today.

Why does this bother me? These people are ignorant and stupid, and (hopefully) no-one is going to take them that seriously. But it is hard to sit back and let this float. No-one is saying that in order to be worthwhile, a woman has to be a hardcore man-hating feminist stereotype. Perhaps, if I’m feeling particularly pessimistic, all I’m saying is that women should have a little respect for each other and realise that being a feminist is a Good Thing.

Oh yeah. And not being a complete bunch of f***ing idiots would probably help.