Yes, it is Sunday, and yes, that means I ought to have a Weekend News-Surfing post lined up. But, you know, I’m not feeling up to dealing with the myriad of nastiness that’s around in the news this week, so instead, I have taken inspiration from the long-suffering sidekick of Captain Obvious:

I’m going to give you three quotes that have appeared in the news this week. And then, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m going to point out why one of these things is not like the others.

Pope ‘distorting condom science’:

“the London-based Lancet said the Pope had “publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue”. It said the male latex condom was the single most efficient way to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV/Aids.”

School lunch rules too strict:

“The government had been working with local authorities and schools to create better dining facilities and organise lunch breaks better because it knew students were put off if there was nowhere to sit, long queues, unattractive dining rooms or no time to eat.”

Sex attack on woman in alleyway:

“I would advice ladies in the area to take reasonable precautions and if possible avoid walking alone in that vicinity at this moment in time. If they are walking around during the hours of darkness I would urge them to be with a friend or something like that.”

Have you guessed yet?

In fact, there are two right answers. The first is that one of these things is not held to be “conventional wisdom” – and that would be the second story, which says that students don’t want to stand in long queues to get their lunch.

The second, and the one which I was going for, was that, while the quotes from the first two stories are clearly true all the time, the third story is one of those rare occaisions where the “conventional wisdom” for women is actually relevant.

Here’s what gets to me, Detective Inspector Dilly*: if women in our culture don’t know by now that they’re not meant to walk around late at night without some suitably muscular man to look after them, they never will. You saying “don’t walk around in the dark” isn’t anything new or helpful.

I know I’m not meant to walk around in the dark on my own. I know I’m not meant to go out clubbing in a short skirt, but then on the other hand, if I go out in jeans and get raped, the judge won’t believe me because my jeans will have been too tight for the man to get them off without my help. I know I’m not meant to get drunk, because if I do, I can wave goodbye to that rape conviction – after all, just because I was unconscious, doesn’t mean I didn’t consent! I know I’m not meant to use public transport to get home – but then, if I take a taxi and get raped, who will believe me? I know I’m meant to take my boyfriend with me everywhere I go, so that potential rapists know that I’m somebody else’s property, but then, if my boyfriend rapes me, it won’t even get to court because the police will label it as a “domestic incident”. After all, I don’t normally object to having sex with him, right?!

Of course, if you were honest you might have said, “face it, ladies, whether a man rapes you has nothing to do with what you do, and everything to do with whether that man is a rapist”. But that doesn’t make for nice, friendly police officer advice, does it?

Don’t get me wrong – I want women to be safe. I want to feel safe, as a woman. But let’s face it – the only time I could ever consider myself completely free from the threat of rape is if I was the only person left alive. Being pre-pubescent doesn’t mean I won’t get raped. Being post-menopausal doesn’t mean I won’t get raped. Being lesbian… well, in some places, being lesbian might actually increase my chances of getting raped.

I hope they find that man in Portsmouth. Maybe when they’ve done that, they can work on challenging rape myths so that women actually feel confident in reporting rape in the first place.


*yes, his name really is Dilly.

Yes, I’m meant to be revising. And yes, this is the third post in two days. But not only have I suffered from blogging withdrawal, I’ve also been lucky enough to stumble across possibly the most interesting and wonderful set of photographs online, depending on where you rank the BMI project.

This is eleventy billion kinds of awesome, and I’m completely justified in saying that because I’m a maths student, and if I say eleventy billion is a real number, then a real number it shall stay until my tutors wring my neck!

The site is called My Beautiful Cervix, and, funnily enough, it does just what it says on the tin.

It’s a series of photographs of one woman’s cervix, taken each day throughout an entire menstrual cycle, with her comments on other aspects of her cycle, such as her body temperature, her emotions and so on.

I don’t want to reproduce the photographs here, but for those that might not be able to see the site (it’s very picture-heavy, as you might expect, so I imagine that for some it may take hours to load) I thought she probably wouldn’t mind me using the photo that appears as her header:

(more…)

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.

In some of my Statistics lectures this week, we had a quick revision session on the subject of bias – the problem of inadvertantly (or, if you’re a very bad scientist, deliberately) influencing a study in some way.

Clearly, I am a terrible scientist, because my weekend news-surfing only features what happens to interest me at the time. On the other hand, what has caught my eye this week ties in rather nicely to the meeting last Tuesday. Minutes of meetings will now be published the following week, so details of what was said will have to wait a couple more days, but the main ground covered was a discussion about Sexism (and thence to Sex) in Education. Fascinating stuff, and all the more so since the recent news about the UK sex education shake up.

In varying degrees of hysteria, the press has been dissecting the news that Key Stage 1 children are to be taught age-appropriate material on sex and relationships. In order of panic-inducing, we have:

Relationship lessons from age 5” from the BBC

Sex education to begin at 5 in all schools” from the Guardian

Children aged 5 to get sex education” from the Telegraph

Pupils as young as 5 to be given sex education” from the Times

Compulsory sex education for pupils as young as five could become law” from the Daily Mail.


Look at the difference – at the top of the scale, not a mention of the word “sex”. At the other extreme, not only is it now ‘sex’ education, it is ‘compulsory’, and it is for ‘pupils as young as 5’.

Interesting.

Putting all of the sources together, a picture begins to emerge. It would seem that the government has now realised that sex education for UK children is not brilliant, to say the least. And so, rather commendably, they are trying to do something about this. I am impressed, even if I do feel it could have come a little earlier.

Now, although I have said that I am not a good statistician, I know that there are some lows you should not stoop to. In consequence, I am not going to relate any of my various anecdotes on the subject and claim that this “proves” anything about our sex education as it is at the moment – although I would dearly love to.

What I will say is that pretending that relationships, sexuality and sex don’t exist is clearly foolish. We’re talking about children who have just started school. Yes, I know – as young as five! These children as young as five will see pregnant women, probably fairly often. If they have little siblings, they might have an inkling of where they came from. If they don’t, one of their classmates will. There are going to be some answers to the question “where do babies come from” – and if teachers aren’t allowed to provide it, that won’t stop the kids talking.

Also, as an aside, the Daily Mail article quotes a news story about a leaflet produced for six year olds by the Family Planning Association. Their concern? That children “would be asked to name genitalia”. What on earth is wrong with that? Genitalia are the external parts of the sexual organs – you know, the bits we can see. It’s frankly ridiculous to think that children won’t want to know what to call them. However, I’m going to stop there, because attempting to argue seriously with what the Daily Mail spouts is about as much use as arguing with a man who blindly insists that it’s a Tuesday when it is, in fact, Thursday.


And, on that note, I leave you with news (a little belated, admittedly) that the 67th Carnival of Feminists is now up at Jump Off The Bridge.

The 68th carnival will be held at Fourth Wave Feminism, which I’ve mentioned before and is certainly worth a read.