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.

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First of all, thank you to Thefems, who have kindly allowed me free rein over their shiny new website. They are awesome.

Writing here has its own issues, though. On my own site, I can talk about the things that interest me in any way that I choose, secure in the knowledge that it is my own space. On a collaborative website, though, things get a little tricky.

Partly this is because the Sheffield Fems as a group don’t have one single collective opinion on anything. I cannot and will not ever claim to be writing on behalf of the whole group, because we always see things differently. Which makes us almost like a little model of what feminism is about, I suppose.

With that in mind, anything written by me as an individual will be just that – an individual response. And so, to business.


Islam

The BBC and the Guardian both reported yesterday on Professor Amina Wadud’s leading the Friday prayers to mark the start of a conference on Islam and feminism in Oxford. (The Guardian also has an interesting Comment Is Free article on the issue. Since it is in the CIF section, I’m issuing a Risk of Rage warning – you do always get the good, the bad and the ugly commenting there.)

It’s an intriguing situation all round, with the kind of quotes you might expect; on the one hand,

“This is something divine not human. We have to do it in the way it has been ordained by God to do it. Women can lead prayers before other women but for this very specific point, in this situation before a congregation of men and women, a man must lead.” – Mokhtar Badri, vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

and on the other,

“We believe Islam is a gender-equal religion” – Dr. Taj Hargey, Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre Oxford (MECO).

Dr. Hargey also cites an example in which the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) allowed a woman to lead a mixed-gender service.

Perhaps the most interesting point that was made was the reference to Catholicism made by Mokhtar Badri:

“I also don’t think this is a subject confined to Islam. Even in Christianity Catholics still don’t accept female priests”

Frankly, I’ve always had higher hopes for Islam than for Christianity. Although there is always room in religion for patriarchal norms to take over, at least Islam has a better starting point. You’d never find Catholics claiming that theirs was ‘a gender-equal religion’.


Abortion

Moving away from religion a little, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is raising its head again. As mentioned in a recent meeting, now is the time to try to make a difference.

It’s interesting to note the different approaches to the story given by the Guardian and the Telegraph – not surprising, but interesting nonetheless. I was told recently that the USA doesn’t have newspapers that are so openly affiliated to one political leaning or another, but that they all seek to maintain a conservative status quo – and present this as being unbiased. Of course, this only makes me appreciate British newspapers more – how better to practice freedom of speech than to have a system whereby you can read whatever version of reality suits you best?!

I don’t really want to go into the minutiae of what each paper has said and why. Suffice it to say that where the Guardian categorises its article under Health, Politics and Women, the Telegraph categorises it under Religion.


USA

And lastly, a few days late but still worth noticing, given the topic above, is the American news on abortion, and other women’s rights, with pre-election dramas being played out everywhere you go online, and some pretty angry bloggers. I don’t want to try to regurgitate what’s been said, because there’s a hell of a lot of it, but have links:

From Hoyden About Town: Third Debate Thoughts, and Video of McCain’s air-scarequotes “health of the mother”

From Alternet: McCain Mocks Women’s Health

From Fourth Wave Feminism: Debate Summary

This last post wasn’t made in the context of the recent debate, but instead talks about two form letters that a woman recieved after writing to each of the candidates in turn. Although not strictly on-topic, it’s well worth a read (and indeed, I recommend Fannie’s Room in general for her “political, social and homo writings for which the first amendment may or may not have been intended”).

From Fannie’s Room: Maybe My Definition of Straight Talk is Different

News from the meeting:

We need to keep an eye on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as it goes to the report stage in the House of Commons.

Certain MPs are likely to try to tack on more anti-abortion amendments. Now is a very good time to be emailing and writing to MPs – every letter counts. The Abortion Rights website has a model letter available to download.
At the same time, it is worth contacting MPs regarding the issue of legalising abortion in Northern Ireland. It is currently not legal to have an abortion in Northern Ireland, and soon the power to decide on this matter will be devolved to the NI assembly. Since it is very unlikely that they would ever legalise abortion, now really is the time to make a fuss.

The Family Planning Association has more information, and a link on their website to a petition on the Downing Street website that everybody can sign.

We are thinking about making Abortion Rights our next charity to fundraise for, but this will be formally decided soon.

Discussing the Playboy campaign:

The issue for the moment is the prevalance of Playboy branded merchandise available for young children; specifically, stationary and bedlinen.
This is available most prominently in two large chains in the UK, WH Smiths and Argos.
Our campaign will therfore be focussing on these two stores, although for obvious reasons details will not be posted here as yet. For further information, to submit any ideas for the campaign or to get involved, please contact us. The Bin The Bunny website also has some useful links and information.

Other issues:

As ever, we are looking to develop better links with other feminist groups. If you’re part of one, or know of any that might be interested, drop us a line at the usual address!

An RAF poster has been brought to our attention that specifically mentions equality whilst simultaneously saying that regiments are open only to men. It sounds like a wonderful example of double-think, and we’d like to check this out.

Freshers’ Week at the University of Sheffield has come and gone, and there have been a startling number of posters advertising club nights that feature pornstars, schoolgirls, semi-naked women and other such lovely images! Yet another thing to keep an eye on and try and try and think of a good course of action for.