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Feminism; sometimes you have to support women you don’t like much.

A couple of days ago, the campaign organisation Everyday Victim Blaming started a Change petition. This was a response to Keith Vaz and the Home Affairs Select Committees consideration of allowing men suspected of rape to have anonymity.

This is a terrible idea for many, many reasons, most of which EVB have covered brilliantly in their petition. When rape suspects are named, it gives other victims the chance to come forward. Many rape victims won’t report to the police for fear of not being believed or of being blamed for what happened to them. Naming a suspect leaves a space for women to speak up alongside others.

EVB are a hugely successful and influential campaigning group. In two years, they have made significant changes to the way the media report on domestic abuse and sexual violence. They have provided journalists with specific guidance on this type of crime, and have worked in partnership with a number of other women’s organisations to change the culture and language around victims.

The women behind EVB are intelligent, passionate and committed. Between them they have decades of campaigning experience, personal experiences of domestic and sexual violence and backgrounds in academia, women’s services, journalism and activism. The EVB member who wrote the petition has a two MSc in Holocaust Studies both on women’s testimonies of sexual violence. She is a journalist, writer and blogger. She has been published, speaks at conferences and is currently writing a book on mothering. In short, these women are clever.

It is, then, remarkable to find out that certain high profile feminists are refusing to support the petition because they believe it’s not written well enough for them. This smells of, “I don’t like you so I’m not going to support you.” In fact, it doesn’t just smell of it, it stinks. Especially given the subject of the petition. 

How on earth can you claim to be a feminist but only support the women you like? 

How can you claim to be a feminist and then refuse to support a petition that is actively campaigning to keep women safe?

The only reason you would do this, is because your focus is only on yourself and what feminism can do for you. I would suggest that you reflect on your patronising and dismissive attitude towards other women’s campaigning, and remember this; your profile came off the back of other womens support and campaigning. And their money.

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International Women’s Day 2015

The months slip by so quickly, with article after article after blog post filled with thoughts on feminism and women’s liberation. And here we are again, on International Women’s Day, with the news headlines full of the murder, sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse of women and girls. The battle to be safe from male violence in all it’s forms is at the forefront of a lot of women’s campaigning. It never ends and it never stops. It may never stop.

But there are women out there who work tirelessly – often without pay – to keep other women safe and I want to thank them.

I want to thank them for their passion, their drive, their commitment.

Their unceasing determination to make the structural changes necessary to make women’s lives better.

These women work behind the scenes to ensure the safety of women’s services. They are known, and unknown. They are in every arena, from politics and policy to refuges and helplines.

Without them, we would be much, much worse off.

Thank you…

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The Life Cycle of a Social Worker

When you qualify as a social worker, you have no clue how little actual face to face work you will do.

You imagine yourself supporting vulnerable people & working with them to improve their quality of life. 

You start your career, full of enthusiasm and energy. You have all this knowledge bouncing around in your head and you’re desperate to get out there and start making a difference.

Instead, you sit at your computer, repetitively completing assessments and forms and reports and plans.

You review your cases constantly. Have you done everything you were meant to do? Are the child protection plans in place? Are they robust? Have you covered all angles? Are the children safe? Are they SAFE?

You attempt (and fail) to liaise with other agencies. Agencies who have vital information about your cases. Medics, health visitors, teachers, youth workers, probation officers. No one returns your calls, no one is ever at their desk. So you sit at your own desk, on the phone, typing with your other hand. Well, it’s not quite your own desk. You have to hot desk because most of the buildings have been sold off by the Local Authority. They needed the money due to Government cuts. So there’s is a hot desking policy in place. In reality, this means, if you don’t get into the office by 7.30am, you don’t get a desk. 

Your phone never stops ringing, your cases pile up. Other social workers in your team, and other teams, go off sick. You have to cover their work because there’s no money to get more staff in. Your Local Authority has cut its social care budget again so you can’t even get agency social workers in to help out. The team is at breaking point. Cases continue to be referred. The referrals that come in document the worst abuse, suspected abuse and significant concerns about any number of children and families. Who is going to take these new cases? Someone has to.

You sit in traffic, constantly late for meetings. Always running behind, always trying to get ahead – and failing. You feel anxious, frustrated & stressed. It gnaws away at your stomach all the time. 

You know you need to spend time with the children on your caseload but you haven’t got the time. They won’t disclose anything as you rush through your visit.

You have nearly 40 cases, each with a number of children in the family. How can you see them all? Speak to them? Make time for them?

You can’t. So you do the best you can. You stay late, accruing more & more toil that you will never get back. Working til 10pm, working weekends. You lie awake at night, thinking, worrying, trying to remember everything.

Supervision comes around. You should have it monthly but your manager has been too busy. You’ve not had any for three months now.

You want to raise your concerns about unsafe practice, high case loads, unmanageable work, lack of staff & lack of resources to do the job.

Your manager wants to check that you’ve completed the right paperwork, your targets have been met, that national standards have been met.

Your manager doesn’t want to hear your concerns because there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s just the way it is. There’s no money to invest in staff training, there’s no money to employ more social workers to ease the workload, there’s no money, full stop.

So you carry on. You work harder & longer, trying to make sure that safeguarding is in place. You’re so tired.

Eventually, managing so many cases, so many incidents of sexual abuse, neglect & physical abuse with little support takes it’s toll.

You go off sick. You feel guilty. You’re letting people down & putting pressure on the few remaining staff, but you just can’t cope anymore.

A newly qualified social worker joins the team, full of energy & enthusiasm. They wonder why everyone is off sick.

So it begins again.

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I Don’t Agree With You On That

I recently watched a disagreement on feminist view points play out on twitter.
I watched as one woman published her views, and I watched as other women disagreed and it became heated. I then watched as other women stepped in to placate and mediate; effectively silencing the debate and negating the feelings of those involved. Not allowing those women to be angry and express that anger.
I then watched as a woman expressed her support for a particular political stance and subsequently had her appearance at a university student union event cancelled as a result.

Kate Smurthwaite is the latest in a line of women who have expressed a political belief and have been either no-platformed or simply cancelled as a result. Julie Bindel regularly – consistently, even – is banned from appearing at student events, regardless of what she’s debating or lecturing on, regardless of what the topic might be. It’s ludicrous. More than that, it’s harmful and politically stifling.
Women are allowed to disagree. Not only are we allowed, we should actively encourage disagreement. Debate is healthy. Through debate, we are able to examine aspects of a belief or theory that we hadn’t thought of, or explore a different perception.
Do you think people are so fragile that the very presence of one woman performing a comedy act is going to cause the audience irreparable harm?
(I’ve seen Kate perform and she’s funny, so it’s not likely. Although, comedy is a weapon of political dissent so who knows?)
Is it not possible that people generally are quite capable of
1) choosing to attend or not, and
2) leaving if they don’t like it?
Is it not possible that Kate performing her comedy routine may actually not reflect or contain a political belief she expressed on social media?
Is it not possible that Julie Bindel might actually have something of value and importance to share on violence against women?

There is a very pervasive attitude that women – because we’re women – must agree on everything.
It’s insulting, it’s patronising, it’s sexist, and it reinforces the view that women are a homogenous group who are unable to hold, and articulate different opinions.
Men, on the other hand, are allowed to hold opposing political views, argue them in public, and no one bats an eye.
Rarely do men get no-platformed. Rarely do men have to pull out of events because of dissent or disagreement.
Rarely are men silenced. Why? Because men are rational. Balanced. Unemotional. Respected.
Women are not.
Our attitudes towards men and women are reinforced throughout our lives and we act – often unconsciously – in a way that perpetuates them. It takes a lot of hard work to examine and acknowledge these attitudes and not everyone is prepared or willing to do the work.

Having a political viewpoint or belief that differs from someone else is quite normal. That’s why we have a political system that (in theory anyway) allows for debate and discussion of different theories and ideology.
That’s why we have a vote which we use to register our support for different party politics.
Some people vote Conservative. Personally, I don’t agree with them. I don’t like ANY conservative policies, and I don’t know anyone in real life who votes for them. Would I no-platform them? No. I probably wouldn’t attend a public meeting with them, or an event, unless I felt the need to go and register my protest but I wouldn’t no-platform.
Protesting against a rival political party is fairly common. There’s a long history of protest and dissent in politics and, I would argue, it’s healthy.
I’ve worked in academia for many years teaching social work, sociology and criminology. All of these subjects are specifically designed for students to question their world view, and debate their values, principles and belief systems. I’ve regularly had students express views that are sexist, racist, offensive in all sorts of ways. Allowing students to challenge those views in a safe space means that someone might learn something. And before you start assuming that there is no safe space for potentially harmful views, a great deal of preparation is done beforehand to ensure that it is as safe as possible. Students are spoken to, everyone has the right to leave if they feel unsafe or distressed, and disrespectful debate is not allowed. I am also led by students. It’s a collaborative process and I do not dictate the ground rules or content.

Debate should be actively encouraged. Without it, how on earth do you expect to develop an understanding of other peoples oppressions and experiences?
But this doesn’t just apply to the subjects I’ve taught. It applies to students across all disciplines. You are at university to LEARN. Once you achieve your degree, you will go out into the workplace and, no matter what your field, you will interact with other people. Those people will also hold different views to you and that’s ok. I find it utterly baffling that so many student societies are no-platforming speakers. But not just ‘speakers’ – women.

Examine your sexism and misogyny and stop babysitting people.
Stop telling women what they can or can’t say.
Stop assuming that your opinion and beliefs are the right ones.
Stop.

NB: in the spirit of debate, feel free to disagree with me.

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Here We Go Again……

We wake up this morning to yet another headline about child sexual exploitation. I’m not actually sure how many more reports I can read without exploding.

Let me say this loud and clear to all news agencies, academics, researchers, reporters, journalists, broadcasters and politicians; THIS IS NOT NEWS.
The reason it’s not news is because WE KNOW.
Anyone who works in social care, youth work or any professions related to children and young people KNOWS. We’ve been telling you about it for years and years but you haven’t been listening. The tagline for child sexual exploitation is; it’s not hidden, we’re just not looking. Well, actually it should be; we’re telling you, you’re just not listening.
Over and over, the reports talk about how children (predominantly girls) are not listened to, not believed, perceived to be making a choice, unable to be kept safe. All this does is reinforce the idea that young people (predominantly girls) are difficult, out of control, overly sexualised and enticing men into having sex with them.
Over and over, we tell anyone who will listen, that you need a political and structural analysis, that child sexual exploitation is a gendered crime, that these young people (PREDOMINANTLY GIRLS) are being exploited and trafficked and abused BECAUSE THEY ARE GIRLS. They are viewed as commodities to be exchange for goods, or to pay off debts. They are play things, toys, to be used and abused because it’s fun. This is about the drives, urges, power, coercion and control of GIRLS by MEN. Adult men.
The media like to pretend that this is about Muslim men, Pakistani men, those ‘other’ men.
It’s not. It’s not AT ALL. Do you believe that white men don’t abuse? If you do, you’re wrong. And not only are you wrong, you are a dangerous racist. By focusing solely on race and ethnicity, you allow white men, those men JUST LIKE YOU, to carry on with their abuse.
Child sexual exploitation happens in every city, every town, everywhere. It’s not confined to the areas we have heard about. It’s entrenched, endemic patterns of behaviour that are allowed, encouraged and ignored by (predominantly) the police and those in positions of authority.
I want to share a story with you. This is Claire’s* story.

Claire was 16 when we met her. She had been charged with common assault against the staff of her residential home. She was considered to be ‘difficult’ ‘out of control’ and ‘violent.’ The staff were pressing charges against her because that was their policy, and they also felt that Claire needed teaching a lesson.
Claire had been sexually abused from a very young age by her father. By the time we found out about it, she was four years old. Her mother was unable to keep Claire safe so she was sent to live with her grandmother and uncle in Scotland. There, she was repeatedly sexually abused by her uncle over a period of several years. Her trauma response to this abuse meant that her behaviour became more and more difficult to manage and her grandmother could no longer care for her. Claire was returned to her mother’s care at the age of 13. Her mother had since separated from her father by that point and had a new partner. Claire’s stepfather raped her and, when she disclosed, she was taken into residential care because her behaviour was considered too problematic for foster care.
Claire’s life now revolved around using substances to numb the pain of her trauma. She was vulnerable and distressed most of the time and she was almost immediately targeted by older men who spent their time near the residential unit for a reason. They supported her drug habit, fed her alcohol, told her she was beautiful and sexy and that they loved her. Claire didn’t believe that anyone had every loved her like this. She began to disappear for two or three days at a time, refusing to tell staff where she had been. She later disclosed that she had been taken to a variety of parties in hotel and houses all over the Midlands where she had been repeatedly raped by up to twenty men a day. Some of it had been photographed and filmed and used as a way of keeping Claire silent. The staff decided to try and prevent Claire from leaving the home. She had been placed in a unit which operated a physical restraint policy, so whenever Claire attempted to leave she was held down by up to six members of staff. As a victim of significant sexual abuse and assault can you imagine how she reacted? She fought back. She was hugely triggered continually and her only response was to fight her way free. Hence the common assaults. She was criminalised and served a custodial sentence. No one has attempted to help Claire deal with her trauma.

*not her real name
I have heard Claire’s story a thousand times. It might even be your story. The story is repeated in various forms, all over the UK by different girls. Nothing changes for them. They are left to try and survive in a society that doesn’t value or believe them when they tell us what’s happening to them. They are repeatedly abused. They are victims of sexual and domestic violence. They enter the system and rarely leave it, unless they are very lucky.
Today’s report has a number of recommendations. Any professional in the field could have written those. We’ve heard them all before and I am telling you that nothing will change.
Nothing will change because the people who are there to protect, don’t. Until training and development of understanding of the gendered nature of child sexual exploitation is mandatory, until professionals in positions of authority understand the patriarchal system that they operate within, we will continue to read these headlines, reports and articles and NOTHING WILL CHANGE.

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Do You Dare?

Do you dare? Do you dare to tweet?
Will anyone read it? Will anyone follow you?
You’re a woman, you have opinions; why shouldn’t you share them?

Men share their opinions all the time and everyone listens. Surely it will be the same for you.

So you tweet. Cautiously and carefully. Nothing too controversial though, just a little tweet.

You get braver.
What have women been complaining about? It’s fine on here, no one’s given you any abuse, maybe they were exaggerating.

You continue along your social media journey. Commenting here, quoting there. Sometimes joining a conversation on issues that matter to you.
You retweet those you agree with and read interesting articles.
Your interest in feminism and politics and women’s services develops as you meet and connect and engage with other women.
You debate and discuss and agree.
You gain more followers. How exciting! All these people who are interested in what you have to say. Wow.

You start to tweet more and more. You get retweeted more and more.
You read a news item which describes a women’s experience at the hands of a man. Maybe it’s a rape case. Maybe a domestic abuse case. You comment and then…..

BAM

It’s over. They swarm in.

Your mentions are full of abuse; “fucking dyke” “fucking slag” “you need raping” “I’m going to slit your throat” “fucking whore”

You sit, horrified, staring at your screen. What have you said that deserved this?

Your mentions keep filling up. You try to reply to the ones who seem less abusive but that doesn’t work. They just come back with their patronising, low level passive aggression. They tell you you’re wrong to hold the opinion you do. They tell you that you don’t understand the issues properly.
They tell you that you’re a hysterical feminazi.
And you start to block and report. You try to get the worst accounts suspended but twitter doesn’t respond, and if they do, a new account springs up in it’s place.
Egg accounts flood your mentions telling you in graphic detail what will happen to you when they find you.
They are going to find you.
You can’t keep up, you can’t cope with it all.

You desperately try to think of any information that you’ve shared which might identify you. Did you mention where you live? Your children’s names? Anything?

Who are these men?
Why are they targeting you?
Don’t you have the right to speak?
Why aren’t you entitled to an opinion?

You know men in real life. They don’t behave like this, you’re sure they don’t. Well, they’re abit sexist maybe, abit entitled. They speak louder and over you sometimes but that’s just how they are. But they wouldn’t behave like this. These men must be ill. They must be unbalanced, unhinged, mentally ill.

But they’re not. They’re just ordinary men, often with wives and families just like other men. They’re no different to the men you know. They could be a man you know.

You’re scared. Anxiety smothers you like a poisonous blanket. You shake. You jump at every noise. You dread opening your twitter account, not knowing what you might see.
You withdraw. You lock your account. You stop tweeting as much. You quieten down because you can’t go through that again.

You are silenced. They won.

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Are You Safe?

Many people take their own safety for granted. They read the papers and listen to the news and think, “that will never happen to me.”

Many women might think that domestic abuse or sexual violence only happens to women who aren’t strong enough, or who take unnecessary risks. They make judgements about victims. They think they’re weak, or irresponsible or stupid.

Men spend a lot of time online explaining to women how they’re over reacting, or being dramatic or exaggerating. Men tell us all the time that we don’t have the right to speak out on issues that affect us. They do this in a variety of ways. Sometimes through old fashioned sexism and misogyny. But more often through online abuse and harassment.

One example of this is the sustained abuse experienced by Jean Hatchet. Jean has been campaigning about Ched Evans for some time now. She started a petition and, as a result, has been targeted by the worst that the Internet has to offer. She has been vilified, bullied, harassed, threatened with rape and murder, been abused, stalked and hacked. All because she spoke out.

This is not new, if you’re a woman online then the chances are, at some point you’ve been told to shut up, fuck off, die, get raped.

Online, there is an opportunity for women to speak out in a way that they may not be able to do in their real lives. They can be who they want to be, talk about their experiences, gain support and strength from other women in similar circumstances.
There is a reason why so many women choose to be anonymous online.

Imagine you are, or have been, in a relationship with someone who has been consistent abusive and violent towards you. This man has threatened you, harassed you and stalked you. He regularly attempts to bully you, and knows exactly how to frighten you into compliance.
Online, you have a space to talk. You don’t need to watch your language, tread carefully or have to think about how he might react to you. You can be free to be yourself – often for the first time in your life.
Now imagine that someone threatens that anonymity. What does that feel like? How does it feel to know that you are potentially about to be exposed, laid bare for everyone to see? Your real name, your address, your family, your friends. All deliberately put out there online. And more importantly, your abuser will see it. He will know what you’ve been doing. He will be able to see what you’ve said.

Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you think that anyone is fair game. Maybe you don’t believe women when they say they need to be anonymous to stay safe.

Jean Hatchet is anonymous for a reason, and that reason is her own safety. She has had to deactivate her twitter account because she is so frightened of being doxxed.

So, ask yourself this. Why is it so important to you? Why are you so obsessed with uncovering a woman with the sole aim of making her unsafe and vulnerable to more attacks? What will you gain from this? A moments notoriety? The kudos from your Internet peers? Respect for placing an already vulnerable woman at risk?

I suggest that you take a long, hard look at what you’ve become and back off.

Just for once, don’t be that person.

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Most Men

Most men don’t see what we see
Most men don’t hear what we hear
Most men don’t feel how we feel
Most men don’t think about safety
Most men think we’re exaggerating when we complain
Most men think we ask for it
Most men think we’re too angry
Most men think we should leave it
Most men think we should walk away
Most men think if we just shut up it would go away
Most men think we can’t take a joke
Most men think we have no sense of humour
Most men think we’re over the top
Most men think we should block and mute
Most men think we should log off
Most men think we should take more care
Most men think we should not drink so much
Most men think we shouldn’t go out
Most men don’t think they’re the problem
Most men think other men are the problem.

The problem is most men.

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#NHSStrike October 13th 2014

NHS workers are on strike today.
Any kind of industrial action brings out the worst kind of selfish, individualistic people who refuse to understand the purpose of striking.
The media much prefer to vilify strikers rather than support them as to support them might affect their backhanders. Sorry, backers.

Taking industrial action is never an easy option. It’s one of the hardest decisions to make. No one gets paid for going on strike. This sounds like an obvious statement but I do wonder sometimes if people forget this. You lose a days pay; sometimes more. I would hazard a guess that the striking NHS workers today can ill afford to strike, but they’re doing it anyway because they have had enough.

We all use the NHS. Most of us were born in an NHS hospital, cared for by NHS midwives, health visitors, nurses and doctors. As we go through life, we rely on the NHS being there to look after us. I have spent a huge amount of time in hospitals with my son and I have never received anything but the very best care, attention and medical treatment from the staff.
Despite the cuts, despite the changes, despite the governments determined and unrelenting attacks on our welfare state, the NHS staff are consistently hard working, passionate and committed people who want to deliver the best possible service to patients.
If you don’t believe that they deserve to be paid a decent wage then take a good hard look at yourself.
They deserve a lot more than they currently get, and they deserve our unconditional support.

So please, let them know you believe in them and that you support what they are fighting for.

#NHSStrike

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“Men Can’t Be Arsed to Organise Their Own Social Lives” says new report.

I woke up this morning to an extremely annoying news item on the BBC website. Apparently, more men face a lonely old age. “OH REALLY?” I thought to myself, “let’s have a little look at this then.”
“Increasing numbers of men are facing loneliness and isolation in old age.” Oh dear. I guess women don’t.
Men are often reluctant to join clubs for older people.” And???? What are we supposed to do about that?
When their partner dies, often a man’s social life shrinks,” Ah! I knew that it would be the woman’s fault somewhere in here. If ONLY she hadn’t died, the selfish madam.
The report goes on to talk about John. Poor John who simply cannot enjoy life.
The house was always full of kids” Well, presumably they’ve all grown up now.
When women die, people drift away from the man left behind. Women keep the family together and people rally around them.” So, you expect women to fulfil the role of social secretary. That way, you don’t have to do anything. You can just sit on your bone idle backside whilst the women provide you with visitors and entertainment. Got it.
With loneliness and isolation linked with poor mental and physical health, the report says it is crucial to target services for older men more effectively. Many men said they preferred services “that reflect longstanding interests and passions“.
The answer, apparently, is to have more research into how we involve men in designing services. I assume that this is because men are so oppressed and underrepresented? It must be awful for them living in a society that excludes them from everything and doesn’t cater for them.
With social isolation and loneliness posing a serious risk to their health, local activities must be more tailored to suit men’s interests and needs. The marketing needs to be more “blokey.” I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean. Clubs for men where they can shoot things? Club things to death? What?
Quite frankly, I think this is a heap of bullshit. Men rely on women for bloody everything. Basically, these men are whining because their wives have died and selfishly haven’t bothered to leave a plan in place for them to socialise afterwards. What woman would just die without putting in a contingency plan? It’s just so inconsiderate. Here’s a thought. Why not take responsibility for your own lives? Why not build and maintain friendships of your own instead of expecting women to do the work for you? I couldn’t give less of a fuck if men are feeling sad and lonely because there’s no women there to ease the pressure of life. Get a fucking grip, stop whining and go and sort your own social life out.

For fucks sake.