Semi-Regular Features


Apologies for my absence last week; I became infected with a particularly evil strain of the Lurgy which gave me a high temperature that ignored all of my attempts to counteract it with paracetamol. It’s a good thing this feature is filed under “semi-regular”, I suppose.


Now, I get fairly picky about the use of language. This is why I sometimes find myself having online arguments with people that lasts for twelve days over the sexism inherent in one word. That word, for those of you that missed that fascinating (ha!) debate, was chairman. Interestingly enough, I recently retrieved my copy of Man-Made Language from the back seat of J’s car where it had been languishing for months, and found this quote, which I thought particularly apt. In fact, my first thought on reading it was regret that the argument was not still going on. Because I am masochistic that way. Bear in mind that this was published in 1980:

“We will probably witness the rise of such usages as female flight attendant (since steward/stewardess has been abolished), woman salesperson (since salesman/saleswoman has been outlawed), as well as lady police officer and madam chairperson. They may be cumbersome usages but they will do the job: they will allow the sexist semantic rule to continue to function. The allocation of negative semantic space to women will go unchallenged.”

Emphasis in original.

Interestingly enough, the only one of those “new” phrases which I have ever seen used was the last – madam chairperson. On the other hand, I do still hear (or say) salesman – but only in the phrase “car salesman”, and then only if the person referred to really is, or appears to be, a man – and policeman – but again, only if the officer in question really is, or appears to be, a man. Perhaps we are making more of a difference than Dale Spender gave us credit for?


Well. I say that. But there are other problems with language that hit just as hard as the pernicious man-encompassing-woman nonsense. One of those problems is in the use of the word “sex”. For example, in the headlines:

The first story is the one that I’ve already mentioned twice in these features – the taxi driver who claimed he’d won the lottery, offered his lone, female victims spiked alcohol and then either raped or sexually assaulted them. Bear in mind, this man has now been convicted of rape. But you wouldn’t get that information from the headline, or even the first paragraph. Instead, it is buried halfway down page, 13 paragraphs from the top.

The second relates to a teaching assistant who has admitted to what the BBC report as “[having] sex with two teenage pupils”. What he’s actually been convicted of is “sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust”. I did think that this came under a catch-all heading of  “statutory rape”, but it would appear that since new legislation came into force in 2004, that is no longer the legal description. Perhaps it never was.

The good news in that story is that he’s been banned from working with children indefinitely. The bad news is he’s been jailed for less than 3 years.


Continuing the nasty “sex” with children theme, how about this gem: Guard made 14 year-old pregnant.

But of course, Scotland’s rape laws are, at the moment, pretty fucking awful, as I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere. So he’s admitted to “intercourse” with the girl, who was described as being “vulnerable because of her learning difficulties”.

Lucky for him that he pleaded guilty. Because, as the judge reminded him, he could have been imprisoned for five whole years otherwise. As it is, he gets 3.5. Joys.


Oh, and thinking of sentencing, take a look at this article. One man, the father, was found to be in possession of over 10,000 images of child pornography. For this, the other man, his son stabbed him, 16 times.

One of the two men was jailed for seven and a half years. One of the men was given a three year community order. Which was which?

Well. It’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of thing before. However, I’m feeling generous, so if, like me, you were entirely unsurprised to discover that the man given the community order was the father, give yourself a gold star.

Clearly, it was sensible to imprison the son. Much though I’d love to be a one-person vigilante group, I recognise that my summarary judgement is not socially acceptable, and this man doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And besides, any man who is capable of driving from Birmingham to Northampton in order to stab his father is not somebody I want walking around – who knows who else he might consider deserving of violence?

On the other hand, I’ll admit to being frustrated that posessing such a vast quantity of child pornography didn’t result in at least a small prison sentence. Goodness knows it’s not like I expect anything more than that, given that you only get 3.5 for actually having “sex” with a child, but still.


This entire edition is, sadly, full of things that are not nice. So I’ll leave you with news that, during one of my forrays into the unimaginable wealth that is a university library, I came across a book that I had to take out. Despite the fact that the damned thing’s in Spanish, and despite the fact that even when I was taking my A-level Spanish (over two years ago) I was never even approaching fluent, I had to take it out for two reasons.

Firstly, although the precise meaning of the title eluded me, I could take a wild stab at understanding the subtitle, mujer y moralidad durante el franquismo, which, translated, means something along the lines of “women and morality during the Franco years”. And secondly, because of a quote inside the book attributed to Lawrence Durrell, which I believe says “because the living have to always remember what those who died could never forget”. So that sounded pretty cool, if a little academic in nature.

Imagine my amusement, when I got the book home, and the word in the title that had been troubling me could be translated – it turns out that Un Inmenso Prostibulo is, in fact, A Vast Brothel. Not at all what I was expecting, but it only makes me even more intrigued to know what the book says. Expect regular updates on this… or, to link this back rather neatly to the start of the post, perhaps I should say, expect semi-regular updates!

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Well, I say that there’s nothing you couldn’t predict. What I mean is, there’s nothing you couldn’t have predicted if your mood veered between blind optimism and blind pessimism at a moment’s notice.


First off, it turns out that the voyeur solicitor I wrote about last week “wanted to get caught”. Oh. Well, that’s alright then. He’s now been suspended indefinitely from practising law. Which, you know, is probably a good thing, considering that he didn’t seem to mind breaking it. I wasn’t feeling optimistic when I read this, which means – given his suspension – that my mood was wrong. Curses.

Also, the knife-point rapist that absconded from a West Yorkshire hostel is being returned to Sheffield. Forgive me if I don’t feel any safer. They found him in Canterbury, which means that this time, my mental prediction that he’d try to get as far away from Yorkshire as possible appears to have been justified. So – optimism says “of course they’ll catch him”, pessimism says “why the bloody hell does he have to come back here?!” The answer being, sadly, that South Yorkshire Police want to talk to him about the murder of a Sheffield prostitute.


Moving away from the subject of sexual crime, I hope this article about racism encountered by PCSOs is met with the resounding lack of surprise it deserves. We’re talking bullying, victimisation, assaults, the works. And – how charming! – there was “no doubting the credibility and consistency” of the complaints. Oooh, it’s almost as though we have to counter victim-blaming smears that haven’t yet even been said, isn’t it? Anyway. Trevor Phillips said recently that the police are no longer institutionally racist. Optimism, anybody?


Hopping between themes once more, and Cherie Booth tells us that the economic downturn provides “an opportunity for women… to be part of the solution”. Off topic slightly, and I confess myself confused that the article refers to her as “Cherie Blair”. It’s not like the BBC had any aversion to calling her Cherie Booth when her husband was running the country. Perhaps they fear that their readers have the memory of a goldfish between them, and couldn’t possibly remember the surname of a woman as being different from her husband’s. Pessimism again, but deservedly so.

Anyway, this all seems very strange to me as it was only a month ago that we were told “Downturn ‘hitting women harder'”.


And, one last thing before I run away to my next tutorial: a gratuitous headless pregnant woman! Joys!

Oh, and an article to go with it, bemoaning the teenage pregnancy rate in the UK. Which has “risen slightly”, apparently. I don’t have the time right now to number-crunch, so I’m just going to roll my eyes and believe nothing for now. Is that optimism or pessimism talking? I have no idea anymore.


As the title suggests, I am a little late with last week’s news round up. Blame my lecturers, who seem determined to give me more work than there are hours in the day. Perhaps, as a maths student, they think I can simply manipulate the time, considering timekeeping to be simply another form of number-crunching. Perhaps they are right. Who knows. Bear with me for the next couple of weeks – I haven’t deserted the blog, honest.

Onwards.

Remember the cabbie who possessed “date-rape” drugs to go with his licensed taxi? Well, he’s come out with a couple of astounding pieces of crap in the course of his trial. Including “she told me she was a lesbian… and then we had oral sex”[paraphrased]. Does he think he was in his own porn film? He also claims that one of the women agreed to sex in exchange for money, but that they didn’t actually do anything. He seems to be going for the ‘path of least denial’ – keeping as close to the truth as possible, without actually admitting to rape. Let’s hope the jury see through it.

A couple of weeks ago, I also wrote about the woman who was arrested and jailed overnight after being unable to complete her evidence that she was giving as part of the trial of George Cummings. He’s now been given a 3.5 year jail sentence for the abuse of his two nieces. He was originally charged with attempted rape of one of the girls (now women), but this was reduced to a charge of sexual assault. The rape charge that led to the woman’s arrest was dropped, and another two allegations that he molested other girls in the same period were found “not proven” by the jury. This trial, of course, was using Scotland’s woefully outdated rape laws, which makes me root even more strongly for the new laws to come into force. I don’t know whether it would or could have changed the outcome, but for sure it couldn’t have hurt.


Other sexual offense laws that could probably do with changing are those that Northern Ireland work with. A man who filmed a teenaged girl undressing in a cubicle next to his at a leisure centre was initially not charged because:

“his victim was wearing a bikini. Because of this it was decided she was not engaged in a private act according to the Sexual Offences Act.”

I would try emphasising this, but I’d have to highlight the whole fucking thing. Seriously? Some douchebag can film me without my consent over a private cubicle and as long as he doesn’t get a flash of nipple, it’s not counted as a “private act”?! Well, I’ll just start changing in the middle of clothes shops, then, shall I? After all, I’ll keep my underwear on – I’ll be just as covered as this young woman was.

He was eventually convicted of “attempted voyeurism”. Four month’s jail sentence, suspended for two years, plus seven years on the Sex Offenders’ Register.


That story unfortunately segues quite neatly into the next, which is about the uniforms that female staff on National Express trains are refusing to wear.

“The outfits were “simply too thin and too cheap”, making them virtually “see-through”, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) has claimed. The blouses, given to more than 500 women who work on the East Coast Main Line, have been sent back to the firm.”

National Express are on the one hand dismissing the claims, and on the other saying that they are “investing in their staff”. Little tip from me, National Express: try listening to your staff. And also, I know what “standard shirt designs” from catalogues can look like. Thin and cheap are the least of your worries when the shirts are designed to show off the belly button of any woman who actually has breasts. Seriously. Listen to your staff. They’ll only appropriate the male uniform if you don’t, and then you’ll lose money.


A mostly-nice story to finish today, because my period is fast approaching, and I like to remind myself what it means that I have them: specifically, a lack of pregnancy, which is good. Although it does mean that I can’t draw pictures on my stomach like this woman. The article starts with the headless torso, as per usual, but in this case I think I’ll forgive it as the story was specifically about the body art. I would like to draw attention to the final paragraphs, though.

“Some women probably don’t see the appeal of taking a photo of their huge, distorted bellies, especially with Michelin-style stretch-marks, veiny skin and wonky belly buttons.

On the other hand, most of us are secretly proud that our body, which we constantly condemn for being too big, too small, too fat, etc etc, is suddenly building, feeding and protecting a new human being. So why not add a lick of paint and some colour?

And when post-natal normality kicks in and we squeeze our dieted, buffed and vain selves back into our size 10 (okay, maybe size 12) jeans, how nice it is to have a memento of that maternal, all-powerful, precious time.”

What a mish-mash. We’ve got some full-on pregnant-body shaming going on here – “distorted”, “veiny”, “wonky” – as though all women are naturally perfectly symmetrical anyway! – tempered partially with a little conditional pride. It’s very much a backhanded compliment, since it seems we ladies should only be proud of our bodies for their capacity to reproduce. Except you’ve got to make sure that you’re suitably embarressed by the physical effects of said reproductive capacity. *sigh*. And what’s with being “secretly” proud? How about you just be proud? Of your body generally, if possible. This all rounded up with some fun fat-shaming for good measure. Plus the assumption that every woman diets. I object. And just after having a baby is no time to be dieting. (Also, please bear in mind, any US readers, that although 12 might be a “large” (ha!) size in the States, over here, the average size is 16. As a skinny teenager with no arse, I wore size 10 jeans.)

This is a shame, as it could have been a perfectly nice story. Still, I can choose to take away the only the idea of painting bright colours on by big belly, and will stubbornly ignore the less kindly messages.


What can I say?


This story came to me in a somewhat convoluted manner – through Tiger Beatdown, via Shakesville. The original article is in the Guardian.

Briefly, because I have unfinished coursework coming out of my ears, the story is… well, not a story.

One quote that stood out for me:

“The brain scans showed that when men saw the images of the women’s bodies, activity increased in part of the brain called the premotor cortex… The same area lights up before using power tools to do DIY. “It’s as if they immediately thought to act on these bodies,” Fiske said.”

It’s not like it surprises me, it’s just the way it’s put. “They immediately thought to act on these bodies“. Not women. Bodies. Things. To be acted on. This is the researcher saying this. The one supposedly pointing out sexism. Being… fucking horrible. Ugh. I feel unclean.

Also, in a comment that perhaps illustrates the value (ha!) of those headless pregnant women, “the men best remembered images of bikini-clad women whose heads had been digitally removed.

Well, there’s a good, solid patriarchal reason to not wear makeup, perhaps the first I’ve ever found – ladies, the sexist, patriarchal men are only going to remember your torsos! No wonder those men always express bewilderment at “how long you take to get ready” – they never even look at your face!

It must be Valentines’ Day, because with four stories about sex , the BBC are clearly obsessed. There’s that old British repression coming through again! Whether the story is that there’s too much of it, or too little of it, or the wrong people having it, they just can’t stop reporting on it, and evidently I am not helping.

Starting with the story that has created “almost universal outrage”, a thirteen year old boy has clearly been having sex, because he is now a father. And yes, that is how it has been reported. Perhaps the story of a fifteen year old girl giving birth to a healthy baby girl just isn’t as interesting? Still, once again, the BBC have done us proud with yet another headless pregnant woman to illustrate the story. If I got my information purely from pictures, I would have concluded by now that pregnancy makes your head fall off.

The Guardian has “MP ‘saddened’ by father aged 13 urges better sex education“, The Telegraph leads with “boy of 13 becomes a father” and The Daily Mail, who are never averse to slut-shaming if they get the merest hint of a chance have the headline “Teenage sister of boy who became a father at 13 had baby when she was the same age“. Rather amusingly, the Mail’s article also contains the following burst of vitriol:

“But its significance may be lost on Alfie, whose immaturity is evident during the brief video clip, filmed after the couple’s story was sold to The Sun and they appeared on the newspaper’s front page yesterday.”

Daily Mail, meet jealousy; jealousy, Daily Mail. Perhaps their bid just wasn’t high enough!


Moving on, Scotland is reforming its sex laws with a new Sexual Offences Bill. This one bill replaces a number of previous common law offenses – “rape”, “clandestine injury to women”, “lewd, indecent or libdinous practice or behaviour” and “sodomy” – which, if the Bill passes, will all be abolished in their previous forms.

It gives new, broader definitions of rape, which includes cases where the penis or vagina or both are surgically constructed, defines consent as “free agreement” (which makes me wonder what on earth it was defined as before this bill was created) and gives an offense of “administering a substance for sexual purposes”, which, paraphrasing, also states that if one person lets another think that the substance given is less strong or less in quantity than it actually is, then this is equivalent to administering the substance without that person’s knowledge or consent.

Which, shortened again, means that if an aquaintance of mine buys me doubles all evening and tells me they’re singles, that’s just as bad as slipping rohypnol into my drink.

The Bill, which has just passed stage one, now has to pass stages two and three before it can be signed off. Roll on the day because, paraphrasing again, the reason that Scotland’s rape conviction rate is 3% is because a lot of things that should be called rape are currently not, according to Lord Advocate Elish Anglioni.


In other news, the BBC can’t make up its mind. Will the recession lead to more sex, or less? Tough call. They also incidentally mention that the day that the Dow Jones Index crashed (29th September last year), the gay dating site “Manhunt” – so it’s gay to mean men, this time, rather than gay to mean “everybody who isn’t heterosexual” – had its largest membership sign-up.

I confess, I’m not entirely sure what this little nugget of information was meant to tell me. Are all stockbrokers gay men? Or, is Manhunt just a really crap site, that happened to have two people sign up one day rather than one?


Lastly, I’m sure you’ve all wondered just how many of us are illegitimate. No? Well, what kind of stable, non sex-obsessed person are you?! Apparently, “urban myth” gives the proportion at 10%, thus bearing out the allegation that 87% of statistics are made up on the spot. Of course, 7/5 of all people don’t understand fractions anyway, so I don’t suppose it really matters.

Anyway, it turns out that “if you look directly at families without any prior suspicion of non-paternity, then you find a value of about 1% or 2%.” The study naturally (ha!) focusses on men, since with the joys of what the researchers call “hereditary surnames” and I call “the Patriarchy”, only men have a link to their (male) ancestors. Women don’t have a hope in hell, since not changing one’s name on marriage is even now linked to being thought of as a pain in the arse.


Which reminds me: a woman I spoke to recently gave me a “feminist dilemma”; whether to change one’s name, or not, on marriage. Actually, she started it with the words “my boyfriend has proposed to me”, and initially I wondered whether she was asking my advice as to whether or  not she should marry him! Anyway, I gave her a short answer then (roughly, that I personally will keep my name, but do whatever works for you) but I’d like to highlight The F-Word, which has at least two – and probably a lot more – articles on the subject: “in the name of the father” and “a bride by any other name” are the two that I found first.



Sometimes, you read an article, and it seems to make sense. And then you read another one, and your mind has a *crash* moment. Which is to say that, although both articles seem, on the face of it, to be fairly reasonable, they just don’t work when you read them both at once. If you’re really lucky, you find one article that contradicts itself, or is otherwise badly thought-out, thereby saving you the bother of reading two. Pregnancy advice is, of course, a prime example of this kind of odd double-think, but there are other things that will work just as well. For instance:


Stories about being gay. Apparently, it’s now fine to be gay in the NHS. It wasn’t before, because of people being worried about HIV and paedophilia. But not lesbians. Presumably, lesbians don’t really exist. Why didn’t I think of that? More to the point, why doesn’t anybody worry about all of those heterosexual women working in paediatrics? You know, because gay men like sex with men and therefore want to molest children; straight women like sex with men and therefore….. No?

On the other hand, it’s not at all fine to be gay in Welsh schools. This time, the article uses amazing things called acronyms, which means that they can explain the meaning of the new Welsh charity, LGBT Excellence Centre Wales, and then go back to just using “gay”. It’s a whole one letter shorter, and of course they have to be concise when they write these articles.


Stories about rape. The first, which is better than most because the woman isn’t treated like a liar and the man is actually convicted, contains the quote that the woman waived her right to anonymity to say that “the police system is better than it was years ago and that there are people who can help you.”

I’m sure that will be a huge relief to this woman in Scotland. She was arrested and held in cells overnight after she “struggled to cope in the witness box”. But of course, she’s only an alleged rape victim, which actually makes her nothing more than a witness. So that’s ok then.


And lastly, because Conservatives annoy me, I’d like to point out that it was the Tories that commisioned this survey. I’d also like to point out that for people supposedly concerned about the “awful story of mothers being turned away from hospital at a hugely emotional time”, they’re pretty bloody quick to vote to get the mothers there. The F-Word listed the voting patterns of MPs on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act back in May last year, and 135 out of the 164 Conservatives present voted against the 24-week limit on abortions, in favour of a shorter time limit (22 weeks). By my reckoning, and given that there was an 85% turnout, that means that at least 71% of the Conservatives would make it more difficult for women to have abortions. Which is the kind of thing that would tend to increase the number of pregnancies. They didn’t win that vote, but they tried. So I’m irritated, although unsurprised, at their hypocrisy now.

Having said that, I’m impressed that they managed to get the pregnant woman’s head into the picture. Well done there. Of course, she’s got her hand over her eyes in an incredibly melodromatic I’M UPSET! kind of a way, but you can’t have everything.

Yes, the semi-regular news-surfing is back, which will of course mean more spam for me from surfing websites. Joys.

First off, there are a couple of things for which I have no sympathy;

The number of British students at UK universities has fallen for the first time in recent history” and “A boys’ club in Bristol has changed its name after the council threatened to withdraw funding if the club did not show girls were also welcome.

Since I have my crystal ball, I can forsee trouble ahead in the guise of being labeled as either a stroppy student, or a strident, man-hating bitch, or both.  Strangely enough, I am neither of those things.

I’m very grateful that I have the chance to get myself a degree. I really am. I just would have been more grateful if, for example, the student loan I get was guaranteed to cover my accomodation costs, or if it was not assumed that, since my parents earn X amount each year, they would of course be happy to subsidise my adult life, and my sister’s adult life, whilst also paying their mortgage and bringing up my seven year old brother. I’ve never believed that getting 50% of “young adults” into higher education was a good idea, and it seems even less so now –  because who, in these “credit crunch” days, wants to saddle themselves with £20,000 of debt before they’ve even found themselves a proper job?

As for the boy’s club, I find my levels of sympathy greatly reduced by the quotes from the club’s leader. Anybody that says things like “it’s this PC bureaucracy gone mad” has automatically lost any respect I might have for them. Or indeed things like “The boys’ club – formerly the lads’ club – has always been a major service, primarily for boys of course.” Which leaves me wondering who else the club served. Perhaps it’s that old nonsense about “man embracing woman” that means that when they say “boys”, they actually mean “all non-adult people”?

As it happens, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the council’s criteria, which says that “if you want funding, you have to show that you are meeting the needs of all young people”. And given that the club remains boys-only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I’m really not too concerned that boys will suddenly start feeling excluded.


In other news, women can harm themselves in new and exciting ways whilst pregnant, by drinking too much water. Interestingly, this article is written without the usual headless pregnant torso photo which is usually a given, so I’ll give the BBC a bonus point for that. On the other hand, it is yet more conflicting advice about what pregnant women should and shouldn’t do. I have to say, however, that I was greatly amused by the final quote: “the key thing is for the woman to listen to what her own body is telling her“. Well, who’d’a thunk it? Letting women decide for themselves? Surely not!

Moving on, before my sarcasm gets the better of me, and the last story of interest is that women are transforming Welsh politics. Why? Because there’s a 47:53 ratio of women: men. Apparently, “political debates were more consensual than adversarial as a result and had ‘non-traditional’ topics on the agenda such as domestic violence.

Happy times. Interestingly enough, we touched on these kinds of topics back in October last year, when we had two members of the Green Party with us. Of course, back then, what was said was that “the structures of the council are very traditional and adversarial which often puts people off”. It’s a catch-22 situation really; the adversarial format of meetings appears to deter women, which means that there is an uneven gender ratio with more men than women, which makes it more likely that the structure will be adversarial, which deters women….

If that cycle could be broken – as it hopefully has been in Wales – we could be looking at a much better governed country. At the very least, we could aim for “a consensual political style, an inclusive politics, and working arrangements which recognise the caring responsibilities of those working within it.” I can but hope.

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