November 2008

Just a quick one this time – I’m entertaining family for the weekend, so have less time to get irate about the foolish and shockingly outrageous things I find online.

And shockingly outrageous it definitely is, because the anti-choice campaigners are getting involved. Reported in the Guardian:

“Rawnie Chapman-Kitchin, 15, was aghast when her teacher compared abortion to Nazism”

Whatever happened to the good old days, when I thought that abortion was something I could rely on to be available if I needed it, when I thought that it could never be taken away from me?

I pity the young women in these lessons, that’s for sure.

Onwards, before I get too upset, and I find myself somewhere in the BBC’s education pages, looking with incredulity at the “news” that stereotypes can become a self-fulfilling prophesy:

“Professor Heidi Mirza argues that race-based statistics feed into racial stereotypes which can themselves become “self-fulfilling prophecies”. “

As she says,

“For example, people say: ‘Blacks are good at sport; Chinese are good at maths and make good food; Indians have good business sense’.”

This can mean teachers have certain expectations about pupils based on their ethnic group, she argues.

What can I say?

On one of the walls in my student union, there’s a group of four people – two young men, two young women – involved in different sports. Is it surprising that the one black person (a man) is pictured playing basketball?

That picture is relatively innocuous, although possibly not as thought out as I would have liked. But those kinds of stereotypes are everywhere – and some of them, as suggested in that article, can and do hurt.

Back to the Guardian for the last one for tonight, because I’m starting to feel in need of something fragile to break, and in the education section is a story of discrimination by a private school.

Unfortunately, this is not discrimination in the normal way that private schools do so well – that is, financial discrimination – but instead, discrimination of a somewhat nastier style:

“The school made the 13-year-old boy, who suffers from a connective tissue disorder, stand still in detentions lasting up to 40 minutes, rendering him unable to walk afterwards.”

Right now, I don’t feel I can analyse this is a coherent or non-expletive-filled way, so I’m just going to let the story stand on its own. For the moment at least, I have no words.


A warning here – this is one of my personal peeves.

The conflating of the two terms “girls” and “women” really bothers me. Perhaps it because I tend towards pedantry, or perhaps I’m just easily annoyed. Either could be accurate.

It’s bothered me ever since my (female) friends and I were asked by a pub bouncer: “can I see your ID, please, girls?”

Now, this part is pedantic, but I personally feel that there are two logical options; either I am a girl, and therefore not adult, and therefore will not have ID  – or I am a woman, and adult, and will have ID. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to be addressed appropriately.

It bothered me when I watched The Apprentice back in April.

It bothered me when I couldn’t avoid watching the olympics – although that bothered me for other reasons too.

And I got angry with it again today because the BBC reports the following:

“Conjoined twins born to teenager

An 18-year-old woman gives birth to conjoined twin girls named Faith and Hope at a London hospital.”

Come on! Surely it’s not that difficult – you pick the way you want to refer to her, and you stick to it. Is she a “teenager”, or is she a “woman”?

Yes, I know that technically she can be (and is) both, but it frustrates me. I think because of the wording. When the birth is in the passive voice – when the birth is something that happens to her – she’s described as being a “teenager”. As soon as it becomes active – when it’s something that she does – she becomes a “woman”.

Is it a coincidence, this… infantilisation? I don’t know what else to call it, to get my point across. Too often, women, adult women, are described in ways that make them something other, something less. “Babes”, for example, or “little ladies” or “chicks” or “honeyz”.

I’ve never, ever understood that last one, by the way. Is it meant to mean that women are cloying, sweet and sticky? All the time? The mind boggles.

Fairly often, this happens when the women in question are presented more as objects than as people. FHM is a particularly odious example of this; counting all of the words I can find without moving from their front page, “girls” appears 12 times, “honeys” appears 6 times, and “women” just twice. Incidentally, the phrase “Ladyland” also appears twice; I’m not sure what this means, but it must mean something!

So, actually, I’m going to continue to have a problem with this particular usage of the word “girl”. Partly because I have a deep and abiding loathing of FHM, but mostly because of what it signifies. Because it feels so much that I am being disregarded. Because if a male 20-year-old was referred to as a “boy”, it would be a very deliberate insult. Because I am a fully formed adult, and I wish to be addressed as such, thank you. I would start talking about the way people lose my goodwill when they write to me as “miss”, but I fear this post would go on for ever!

Oh, and also – if we take this to its extremes, we get extreme nastiness, especially from the heterosexual-male-“unbiased”-viewpoint:

“I will not differentiate between the term ‘girl’ and ‘woman’. Thus, in my mind, the two terms are equal; ‘girl’ is equivalent to ‘woman’ and vice versa.

I am attracted to, and may objectify, women, and the media and my society will provide opportunities for me to do so.

Therefore, I am attracted to, and may objectify, girls, and the media and my society will provide opportunities for me to do so.

Right, now separate the terms ‘girl’ and ‘woman’. One now means ‘female child’, the other means ‘female adult’. See where the ick factor comes in?

Would you like to help Rape Crisis launch a national anti-rape campaign?
Think about past public education campaigns like drink-driving or
non-smoking – it really has the potential to make a difference, to change
attitudes towards survivors and even those held by potential perpetrators.
We can do it – but we need your help! is running a competition until March where the charity who
raises the most amount of money through using their search engine can win a national advertising campaign to be seen on over 1,500 billboards and bus shelters. Help us win it!

Log onto everyclick and register as a supporter for Rape Crisis
(England and Wales). Then set everyclick as your homepage or default search engine and every time you look for anything on the internet you take us one step closer to changing attitudes towards rape.

Registering only takes 5 minutes, the competition only runs for 3 months,
but winning it could change the world. And you could be part of that change.

Please circulate this to everyone you think may be interested. Participants are not limited to the UK. Together, we can do this.

News from the meeting:

  • We would like the stop violence against women action in the city centre to be an annual thing and will hopefully link up with Sheffield Domestic Abuse Forum next year.
  • The Christmas Social will be Dec 12th at Affinity on Campo Lane, please let us know if you can make it!
  • We are keeping a eye out for the finalised date of the Million Women Rise, which will be some time around the 8th March, so that we can arrange to go.
  • On 3rd Feb we will be having a discussion about women only space and the meetings.
  • We are looking for a new charity for the coming year, if you have any ideas, please let us know.

We had a lengthy discussion about trans issues and feminism, which didn’t really get minuted, but was very interesting.

Today Harriet Harman asked the WI to help tackle traficking and prostitution.

In theory this is a great idea. In practice it misses the mark and will probably do more harm than good.

Harman urged WI members to scan local newspapers for adverts for massage parlors that appear to be selling sex and where the girls and women in question maybe trafficked and then contact the newspaper in question to ask them to stop publishing the adverts. The proposal has the support of the Newspaper Association and apparently several papers have already agreed to stop printing these ads.

It is certainly true that many men make contact with prostitute through these adverts. However targeting the newspapers is NOT the way to make a difference and help trafficked women. The police are already well aware of the existence of adverts and use them as a way of tackling prostitution, trafficking rings and brothels. By contacting the newspaper and stopping them from printing the adverts the WI will only succeed in pushing everything further underground and hindering anti-trafficking units within local police forces.

This was one of the things that most stuck in my mind from the meeting we had last year with the Officier in charge of the Anti-Trafficking unit for South Yorkshire police. He talked about the way they use newspaper adverts to keep an eye on what is happening local, if the ads aren’t there is will be much harder.

If the WI really want to help, they should make links with Anti-Trafficking units and contact them after scanning the local paper rather then the paper itself. It seems to me that Harriet Harman was on the verge of a great idea here, but failed to see it through by not researching the issue properly. I can’t see how any police force would advise the removal of one of their key sources for information about prostitution, it just doesn’t make sense!

I hope that the WI are serious about tackling trafficking and prostitution, but I don’t think this is the best way to go about it!


Following on from our action in the city centre over the weekend, here a few ways in which you can help the charity Refuge rise more money.

Here is a bit of Info about what Refuge do and why they do it, including some worrying statistics relating to younger women!

One woman in four will experience it at some point in her lifetime, and two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. Domestic violence affects women of all ages; of all social and ethnic groups. Sadly, this means that it is likey that we all know someone who has been, or will be, affected.

Worryingly, recent research caried out by Refuge has shown a lack of awareness among young (18-21) year old women of the issues surrounding domestic violence. Only 57% had heard of the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, which can be contacted on 0808 2000 247. Only 41% of women surveyed said that they would know where to go for help if they were experiencing domestic violence. Even more worryingly, other research has shown that a frighteningly high percentage of young people (as high as 1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls in some studies) think that it is OK to for a man to hit his female partner or to force her to have sex under certain circumstances.

Refuge saves lives, helping more than 1,000 women and children on any given day to escape domestic violence and build a safe and positive future. Our aim is to empower women, and therefore we do not only provide emergency safe accomodation; we also offer counselling and outreach services, give advice and advocacy support on pratical matters such as legal and housing rights, run campaigns to raise awareness and change people’s understandings of domestic violence, and also carry out research and lobbying to influence the governmental response to domestic violence.

So here are 3 ways to help Refuge rise money and help them to keep helping women…

You can donate your old mobile phone. Each phone that is sent off with result in £3.50 being given to Refuge.

You can take part in a sponsered Skydive (or sponser someone else if your not that brave)

Finally, you can use their online shopping facility, which provides them with 12% commission on every purchase.
Direct link here

Refuge do fantastic and vital work, please take the time to do one, other or all of these small things to help them keep working hard to provide much needed services to women who suffer domestic violence.

I know that, once again, I’m a little late with this story, but in my defense, I did see it unfolding during the week. In any case, I think it bears repeating.

According to the BBC,

“BNP members have told BBC News they have received threatening and abusive phone calls and e-mails after a leaked document was published online.

The membership list includes police officers, who are banned from BNP membership, teachers and soldiers.

It includes names, addresses, telephone numbers and jobs of 12,000 people.”

Before I start ripping into the party, I would like to say this:

No matter what these people think, there is no need to publish their addresses or phone numbers.

Names, yes. Jobs, yes – especially since some jobs are incompatible with BNP membership (or rather, it is unbecoming in some professions to have links to far-right nutjobs). But phone numbers? Addresses? That’s cruel and unnecessary.

And it’s still there. Not that I’m going to help anybody get to it, as such, but under ten minutes with Google and a bit of common sense, and I had a chance to get that list. I’m hardly a computer whizz-kid, and frankly, the idea that I could drum up a way into so many people’s lives like that is pretty scary.

Some people have also created “heat-maps” of the areas with most members, thanks again to Google – don’t you just love that handy map feature?! Although I won’t link to them, I will say that they, at least, have been appropriate with the data so far – in explaining the map, the creator says this:

“I deliberately only pulled out postcodes from the file, converted those to latitude/longitude, then stripped a chunk of precision off the end. It gives a vague location, probably to street level, but it’s certainly not accurate by any means.”

Because, you know what? Nobody deserves to have threatening phonecalls made to them for being a member of a political party. Not even Robert Kilroy-Silk, the most odious right-wing nutcase I can think of right now.

All of that said, this does give me an opportunity for semi-gratuitous self-reference. Because I don’t like the BNP. I’ve never liked the BNP and it feels nicely ironic that it should be the people who don’t agree with anything the EU does that have to invoke the Human Rights Act when something goes wrong.

I wrote about them back in May, fuming because they’d managed to get one of their candidates elected to the London Assembly.

In the interests of good writing, I went back to their website to check that what I’d written then still holds true. Unsurprisingly, nothing has changed, but in the course of my search, I came across the leaflets that they use when campaigning.

Which was nicely timed, in fact, because I see in the news today that 12 BNP members have been arrested, suspected of distributing racist material in Liverpool.

Their organiser says that “There was nothing unlawful in the leaflets – all the contents of the leaflets had been carefully vetted, or they would not have gone out.”

And, unfortunately, for most of those leaflets, he’s right. Although the underlying message shines through, they are – in the main – worded too carefully to be able to prove with quotes. Look at them together, though, and you start to see the pattern. There are 12 leaflets listed on the website, 3 of which have no racist content that I could find. They relate to Labour, the Lib Dems and crime. They’re revolting in other ways, but that’s not really what I want to think about right now.

Seven of the remaining nine leaflets mention – with differing levels of venom – immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and the like, with the other two focussing on presenting Muslims in a negative light. Much of what they say is factually inaccurate, which already damns it in my eyes, but even those statements that are not technically untrue are disgusting.

For example, their anti-EU handout says that “millions of Eastern European gypsies… can now travel freely to Soft Touch Britain”. In the context of the leaflet, this is clearly being presented as a Bad Thing – but why? Could they be playing on people’s prejudices against gypsies, I wonder? Unfortunately, this is about the most obvious example I could find. And statements disguised better than this are very hard to call people out on.

Bizarrely, I find myself hoping that the leaflet that the 12 were handing out was as overtly racist as possible Forget what you’ve heard about “bleeding-heart liberals” – when it comes to bigotry, I’m about as intolerant as it gets!

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