Headless and scapegoated

Our government’s MO becomes more obvious all the time: transfer ever-more wealth from the poor to the wealthy, dismantle the welfare state, look after the interests of wealthy campaign donors, including bankers and far-right Christian groups, and pander to every ugly stereotype in existence in order to get the 99% to blame austerity measures on each-other rather than on the elites who are truly responsible.

This is why we have punitive changes to the benefit system coupled with endless rhetoric about “scroungers” and “benefit cheats”. The cuts to benefits will save an insignificant amount of money (and will cost more than they save in the long term), but saving money isn’t the point: the point is to set the 99% against each-other; people who see their lives becoming more difficult as a result of cuts to the NHS, benefits, and education, are encouraged to blame not the government and bankers who caused this mess, but the supposed “scroungers”. This is why the government encourages us to report our neighbours to the police as “benefit cheats, and disabled people say that hate crime against them has increased as a result. This is why government rhetoric about “broken Britain” and the importance of (heterosexual) marriage not-very-subtly blames single mothers for society’s ills, and why David Cameron privileges Christianity above other religions in a bid to promote racism and Islamophobia.

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Facebook Link Roundup: 21-Dec-2011

Feminist Action Cambridge also has a facebook group here, which people use to post feminist links and have discussions. Not everybody uses Facebook, so here’s a roundup of the latest links, along with some (anonymised) comments on them for context.

The very last item is a roundup of responses to Cambridge police’s Christmas victim-blaming. As it includes some responses in quotes, it’s behind a “Read More” link – just click through to read them. Opportunities for activism here if you’d like to add your responses to the existing ones on Twitter!

I think it’s sad when articles like this dehumanise the women who are skinny and have that frame naturally. They aren’t emaciated skeletons or unreal, they are our sisters.

I think the thing that frightens me isn’t the person, or the body shape, but the social forces which cause that person to be chosen over other people, and the pressure others will feel because of the choice that was made. I don’t think Brashich’s body is what’s at fault here. But that horrible language keeps slipping in to these conversations. Her body isn’t our property to comment on.

I think it makes sense to criticise the image and not the model. The model herself probably doesn’t look like that 99% of the time, and she probably had no control over how she was photographed. But I do strongly object to that image, and the hundreds of similar images we see every day. The image treats women’s bodies as commodities, while enforcing a strict beauty standard for women: white, very young, very thin, and very passive. How sick is that?

The narrow margins of fashion and what is seen as desirable is ‘sick’ as you put it but that woman exists and she probably receives a lot of hatred daily for the way she looks. Her body type is a valid and beautiful one, we just can’t let it be the only kind we see in the media. Not really disagreeing but yeah, dismantle the institutions, not the people caught in them.

Yeah, I think we’re both saying that no-one deserves to receive hatred for the way they look.

Gross beyond belief – I can’t believe someone actually sat down and came up with this ad…

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Toward a “Dental Hygiene Model” of social justice conversations (and also, of every other kind of conversation)

“When you believe that you must be perfect in order to be good, it makes you averse to recognizing your own inevitable imperfections, and that lets them stagnate and grow.” – Jay Smooth

This is possibly the laziest blog post ever, because it mostly brings together some ideas from other blog posts and video presentations. I’m going to start by riffing off Brene Brown’s TED presentation: The Power of Vulnerability.

Brown, a sociology researcher, says that what gives meaning to our lives is a sense of connection to others. What prevents us from forming connections is shame; shame is fundamentally the feeling of being unworthy of connection. She found that people who do feel connected are willing to be vulnerable, to take risks, and to accept their own imperfections. They accept that they are imperfect and nevertheless feel compassion for themselves – and it turns out that those who don’t feel compassion for themselves, also have difficulty feeling compassion for others. Perfectionism, the need to feel that you never do anything wrong, gets in the way of vulnerability and compassion. I’m not summarizing it very well but it’s a really entertaining presentation, go watch it!

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Some thoughts on safer feminist blogging

Trigger warning for threats of violence including sexual violence.

Several months ago, before this blog was properly set up, a few of us from Feminist Action Cambridge got together to talk about how we wanted to collectively run it. We started with a go-round of our ideas and concerns about running a feminist blog. It quickly became clear that all of us were horrified by the amount of trolling and harassment that many feminist bloggers face. On the upside, other feminist bloggers had done all this before, so we can learn from their experiences.

In this post I’m trying to express some ideas from the blog meeting, and also some ideas from the Feminism and Social Media discussion, and also some thoughts that just come from inside my head, on the pitfalls of feminist blogging, and I’ll offer some partial solutions or responses. Here goes…

Pitfall 1: Trolls

We feared that lots of troll comments could create an unsafe place, and prevent the awesome, constructive discussions we hoped would take place. We also feared that high levels of trolling might lead us to spend too much time on comment moderation, leaving us with less time for other things we wanted to do, and possibly leading to burn-out.

We have a comments policy (mostly copied from another website). Since our blog is fairly new, so far we’ve been able to get away with letting comments got up automatically, and moderating after the fact. However as soon as we start getting trolls we’ll switch to a system where comments by first-time commenters go in a moderation queue and do not appear until approved by an administrator. Comments would also get put into the moderation queue automatically if they contained certain words.

Comment moderation attitude / philosophy

We talked about how comment moderation is a form of unpaid labour. The goal of comment moderation is to create a discussion space that we find to be interesting / inspiring / thought-provoking / generally awesome, without creating too much work for ourselves. If someone leaves a comment we think is inappropriate we’ll delete it, and if someone asks a question we’ll answer it only if we happen to want to. We don’t owe anyone a platform or an explanation.

Many feminist blogs have found the trolls they get to be completely unmanageable, and some amazing blogs have shut down because of this. In my view, if this ever happened to us, turning off comments completely would be a completely valid response – much more valid than allowing ourselves to get stressed and burned out! After all, I’m pretty sure there are one or two other places on the Internet where people can discuss our blog posts if they so choose.

Pitfall 2: Harassment beyond the blog

For example if a harasser found one of us through the blog, and was able to find that person’s email, Facebook, Twitter, phone number, or address, and used it to harass that person.

It is common for bloggers to get nasty comments, and unfortunately women bloggers get particularly virulent and scary abuse, often including threats of rape or death. Some feminist bloggers have stopped blogging, or cut down on their blogging, because of this.

In the past there was a knee-jerk reaction of “It’s just the Internet, don’t take it seriously”, but in the last year or so more and more feminist bloggers have been pointing out that when a person receives threats of violence, they feel scared, and this is an entirely reasonable, normal reaction. Furthermore the idea that the threats are made by “bored teenagers” is being replaced by a realization that these threats often represent misogynistic hate speech, made with the deliberate intent to terrorize and silence women.

There is no right or wrong way for a blogger who is targeted for this abuse to react. She might shrug it off, she might go to the police, she might blog about it, or she might do something else.

In an online discussion on the Geek Feminism blog several writers who had experienced online harassment wrote about how useful it was to have a support network. As a collective I think members of Feminist Action Cambridge can offer unconditional support to anyone who experiences harassment, no matter how they choose to react to it. This way even if a person doesn’t wish to go public or go to the police, she still has a supportive group of people to talk to.

Reporting harassment to the police: it seems the police are pretty rubbish at responding to online harassment, but they do sometimes take action if a group of people pressure them to do so (and maybe publicly shame them on Twitter or by talking to the media). The police are more likely to help if the harassment is documented as thoroughly as possible. If the harassment was happening through Twitter, it would be important to copy the harassing tweets and keep a record of when they were sent, since Twitter doesn’t necessarily allow you to access older tweets.

Avoiding harassment: the simplest way for a blogger to avoid the possibility of harassment beyond the blog is to create a new identity that is not linked to any of the blogger’s other identities. This means creating a new email address and username in order to sign up to WordPress or Blogger (or whichever platform is used), and being careful not to mention self-identifying details on the blog. However it’s important to recognize that for some people this isn’t feasible because their blogging is part of their professional identity, because they want friends from real life to recognize them as a blogger, or because they feel that using their real life identity gives what they say more credibility. Another possibility is that identity leakage has already happened, and the blogger doesn’t want to start again with a new identity because that would mean abandoning the readers, friends, and reputation they have built up over time.

Pitfall 3: Undesired identity linkage

Some people just have one identity that they use all the time, but many people are forced to have multiple, separate identities.

Undesired identity linkage can be a problem because:

  • It can leave people open to the sort of harassment discussed in part 2.

  • People with marginalized identities (e.g. queer, feminist) could be outed against their wishes.

  • People who have power over the blogger, such as an employer, prospective employer, teacher, parent, or abusive ex-partner, might find out things about the blogger that could lead to the blogger being discriminated against or abused.

  • It can lead to self-censorship, which could lead to less awesomeness of blog articles and discussion, and a narrower set of ideas represented.

I think many different people have developed strategies for figuring out what identities they need to have, and how to keep them separate, and exploring this would be a whole other blog post at least. (I am actually thinking about writing that blog post though, maybe leave any ideas / questions for it in comments?)

Finally, I’m sure I left out about a billion things in this post. As always feel free to add stuff in comments!

Gail Dines Lectures on Pornography: Video Links





Facebook Link Roundup: 10-Dec-2011

Feminist Action Cambridge also has a facebook group here, which people use to post feminist links and have discussions. Not everybody uses Facebook, so here’s a roundup of the latest links!

Domestic Violence: Another woman and child murdered

Trigger warning: domestic violence

Samantha and Genevieve Day died yesterday.

Genevieve was 7 years old. Her mother Samantha was 38, and was a nursery worker at Swallowdale Primary School. They lived in Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. Samantha’s other two children, 15-year-old Kim and 13-year-old Adam, are in hospital with stab wounds. They are also now orphans, because after their father Toby had murdered his wife and youngest child he committed suicide.

There is an epidemic of domestic violence in this country and in every single country in the world. Internationally, one billion women have been raped, abused or beaten. In the UK, 2 women are killed every week by a current or former partner. Patriarchy is killing us. It’s killing our sisters, our daughters, our friends. How many more women and children are going to die before society takes this seriously? How many more children are going to be left without their mothers? How many more abusers are going to be let out on bail so that they can kill their former partners?

Samantha Day has been silenced twice. First by her husband. And now, less than 24 hours after her and her daughter’s death, by the patriarchy-controlled media. They are not naming these murders as domestic violence. They are not talking about two victims and one perpetrator. Male journalists instinctively empathise with the male murderer. They feel sorry for him because he’d just lost his job and was “depressed”. They quote his friend on what a “great character” he was. They talk about the bravery awards he won as a police officer. They even get the headline wrong: the story here is not “Former Rutland police officer, his wife and daughter die in tragic incident in Melton”, these 3 people did not die together as a family in some freak hurricane. In all these articles, Samantha and Genevieve barely get a mention – it’s all about him, his personality, his life, his possible motives. In death as in life, they like all women and girls are mere extensions of him, a wife and a daughter who exist only in relation to the man who owns and controls them.

Enough. We’ve had enough of male violence, enough of rape, enough of beating and burning and humiliation and silencing and killing. We know that things can be different, that the world we dream of where there is no violence or inequality or fear can be real and we can make it real. We need to demand changes in the law. We need to promise to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. We need to speak out for all the women who have been silenced, either by shame and stigma or silenced by murder at the hands of their own partners as Samantha Day was yesterday.

For domestic violence support, contact your local Women’s Aid or Refuge.